The last column, two months ago, ran novelette length, 12,000 words. One reader had told me that I ran on too long, but since then several have told me to take all the length I need. Well, this time I hope to run only story length, under 6,000 words. I have just completed my Internet Publishing survey update, which took me twelve working hours, and that's enough. It has about 60 entries, virtually all of them checked and updated, and I have put it in alphabetical order. Hereafter I hope to modify it only in spot detail as Internet publishers appear, disappear, or change, hoping that this suffices for hopeful writers who want to know what prospects exist.
Perhaps the biggest associated story is about the two I invested in, Xlibris and Pulpless.com. I am blowing the whistle on the latter, pronouncing it dead in the water, my investment lost. But the former has made a strategic alliance with Bertelsmann/Random House and is greatly expanding its operations; I suspect it will in due course become the major self-publishing services facility in the world, and yes, my investment therein has now quadrupled on paper and more than made up the loss I'm taking with Pulpless. So in this case I am doing well by doing good. Of course paper profits are not real until cashed in, like poker chips, and I'm not cashing in; I'll let it ride, for good or ill, because I don't need the money and do want the company to succeed. Every writer shall publish: that's its motto, and I want to see it happen. Already many formerly balked writers are appearing in print, at Xlibris or elsewhere, and I suspect that the future best successes and greatest art will rise from exactly this kind of opportunity. No longer can a narrow minded, whimsical, or stupid editor stifle genius; only the readers will have that power.
I do have a sour grape. At one point I sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter to some of the most successful genre writers, telling of Xlibris and asking that they consider investing in it, while also warning of the highly risky nature of venture capital investment. I thought others might share my motive, the desire to open things up so that everyone could have a similar shot at success, not just the one in a hundred who presently squeeze through the grinder of Parnassus. I did not invest to make money; I was quite prepared to lose it, and in one case did. I invested because of ideological conviction, the desire to change the ways of Parnassus for the better. Xlibris was in a perilous state, with a cash flow problem, and I hoped that other writers with resources similar to mine might step in and help me save it. But as far as I know, the response was nil. I don't think anyone even inquired. Maybe their agents declined to relay the letter to the writers, but some must have received it and ignored it. Instead it was the Empire that struck back, the biggest publishing complex on the globe, Bertelsmann/Random House, investing and making Xlibris viable for the long term. The supposed enemy saved my dream. I am going to have to ponder that. I had been reluctant to do business with that colossus, and have not sold them a novel in a dozen years, but I find my attitude changing. Meanwhile I wonder: can I be the only successful writer who wants to build a bridge for every other writer's dream? That bothers me, and I hope it is not true. They can't all be "I got mine, tough luck for you."
Let's get mundane. My life continues in its petty pace, with here and there an interesting detail. For example, there was the puzzle castle. This was a jigsaw puzzle that assembled in three dimensions to form a lovely fancy castle. My wife and daughter Cheryl worked together on it several years ago, gradually piecing it together until finally they had it whole. I did not participate; I love puzzles of all kinds, but I knew if I got started, I'd get locked in and use time I should be devoting to the writing of novels, answering of letters, and similarly exotic pursuits. So I admired their effort from a distance as it were. It sat resplendently in the living room, and I recommend this sort of thing to those who have a secret desire to live in a castle, but who lack the means. Some few American writers have indeed moved to castles and zero taxes in Ireland, but I'm naturalized American and like it here. Then Christmas came, and we had to set up for that. Daughter Penny helped, and she moved the castle out of the way. Next morning in the darkness as I went to the closet for my coat I stumbled on something that clung to my feet; I tried to lift it clear, but it tore apart in my hands. What on earth was it? I turned on the light and discovered the castle in ruins; I had kicked it apart. Oh, no! I set the wreckage aside and went on with my business. Then Cheryl discovered it. That could have led to internecine internal family war, but I explained that I had done it by accident, not knowing it was there. So the matter rested, but I felt guilty. I prefer to build castles on clouds, not destroy them. I put the fragments in a box and set it on a lower shelf, hoping to repair it at some point. Then, years later, when I had to clean off that shelf in order to set up new shelving--remember the bleeding eyeball screwing incident?--I decided that this was the time. I brought it to the living room, and thereafter did a spot of repair each time I passed by. Later Cheryl helped, and the castle was restored, with the exception of two roofs that were lost in the mayhem. So now it is back in the living room, and my guilt has abated somewhat.
I have a sign a reader, Karen Clay, sent me nine years ago. It's an indecipherable series of blocks, but if you retreat about twenty feet you can read it: NO SEX CAUSES BAD EYES. Well, I have a corollary, based on recent experience: Screwing improves vision. We have tools around the house; in fact we raised our daughters to know how to use tools, so as not to be helpless females. When there's a repair job around the house, like as not it's my wife who tackles it. But there's one I have to do, and for it I use the smallest tool: a tiny screwdriver whose total length, handle included, is one and a half inches. I use it for my wife's glasses; periodically their earpieces loosen and need tightening, and she can't do it because she can't see without her glasses on, and the screws are microscopically small. So at this point in the column, I dug out my tiny tool kit and screwed for her, and now her vision is improved.
Each week I dutifully check the stats for HiPiers, and as usual there are about as many hits in a day as the counter on the home page records for a week. For the last week in Marsh it suddenly jumped to an average of 7,428 a day. I try to check to see whether it takes several hits to make a counter click, but the addresses seem to be from all over. Apparently 51,994 folk passed by this way, that week, without pausing at the home page. I do hear from some of them. For years I answered an average of 150 letters a month. Then about three years ago it suddenly dropped down to closer to 100 a month. This year it is running at about 125 a month, plus about 10 emails a day that I read and HiPiers answers. So I have letter contact of one sort or another with about 400 folk a month, and I still do take two days a week on that. Sometimes there are oddities: in this period I received a letter by accident. It had been addressed to one Peter Antinori but got in my pile of mail instead, forwarded by a publisher. It was asking how much the publisher would charge to publish a novel. I concluded that that accidental correspondent was probably better off with me, and I told her about the basic nature of commercial publishing, and about Xlibris and Internet publishing. She had been in touch with vanity publishers who were quoting charges of tens of thousands of dollars; I freed that maiden from that fate worse than death. It is for folk like that I have made the Internet Publishing survey, and supported Xlibris. Garbage to garden: I mentioned before how I started burying organic garbage in the garden when our sink grinder broke, and plants started growing therefrom. That continues. We have concluded that the main patches are green peppers; the first two patches are fading, but the next two are surging strongly. We also planted a sprouting onion that is joyfully growing. There's also what I called a cabbagy plant, though we planted no cabbage. It started as a few little leaves, overshadowed by the peppers, but slowly expanded, and now it's the single biggest plant, with leaves nine inches long on steps of similar length. Our best guess is that it's a rutabaga. Time will tell. I have an affinity for things that start slow and small, but it time become increasingly successful, having been that route myself. For those who haven't heard before, I took three years to make it through first grade, and later graduated from my ninth grade class as the shortest and smallest, male or female. But I'm neither small nor stupid any more. I was also one of the unremarkable students, finishing in the third quarter of my class (and not the top of that) with no accomplishments worthy of note under my high school graduation picture. That, too, later changed; I may be the most public and commercially successful member of that class. But I remember, and sympathize with those who are struggling to make it in an indifferent and often heartless world.
Last time I discussed Vitamin C: why our species forgot how to make it internally. My conjecture is that cancer is a greater threat to the long-lived than to the short-lived, and C interferes with cancer resistance. Since then two things: comment from a reader who says that hamsters don't make C either, and they don't live long. Hm. And a news item that those who take half a gram of C a day have arteries thicken faster than those who don't. Double hm. Could it be to save our arteries we don't make C? Cancer does cause the body to grow blood vessels to feed it, so C might help choke that off. But that's the reverse of my case, so the answer is by no means clear. All in all, I think we need another study that says that C does not clog arteries and that hamsters live longer than their C-bearing cousins. After all, we can't let my lovely theory be lost. We got a short census form. One of the questions was how many people lived at our residence as of Apull 1th. So we waited, because until that date came, we could not say for sure. I think many others did the same. And we all got hassled for not sending in the forms promptly.
I still do my archery twice a week, firing my right handed compound 60 pound draw bow at 150 feet and my left handed recurve bow at 100 feet. Usually I hit the center section more often than I miss the target completely; in fact I subtract the latter from the former for my net score. My worst in this period was -4 and my best was +12. So what made that one day so bad? My first three arrows all missed to the side, and my aim hardly improved thereafter. But damn it, I was aiming for the center, using the sights; the arrows simply were not going where I was aiming them. How can that be accounted for? I understand that some professional archers have that problem, and it ruins them. So it became a challenge: how was it possible for an arrow to go where not aimed? My wife said maybe it was the heavy jacket I wore on that cold day. I doubted it, but I humored her, removing the jacket--and the arrows turned accurate again, so that my score was not as bad as it had been trying for. But, damn it, my jacket is not collected to the bow; how could it affect the arrow? And I came up with an answer: the thickness of the jacket affects the way I hold the bow. In effect I twist it, so that though I am sighting from rear to front sight, the string is at a slight angle to the bow. When I loose it, that string tries to get back in line with the bow, in the process changing the trust of the arrow. Not a lot, but at 150 feet, an inch can change its strike by up to four feet. If it varied only half that, it would account for my problem. So I think I have the answer, thanks to my wife. My aim would surely be worse, but for her. There's something about wives, who sometimes make the most irrelevant sense. And if any archers are reading this, I hope this solves their problem. Don't twist the bow with your tight grip as you draw the string.
I received anonymously a video titled "The Early 70's Horror Trailer," so I watched it. It was a melange of images and swatches of sound, apparently taken from assorted horror movies. No cohesion, just things and people and special effects. I guess I'm not much of a fan of horror movies if they don't have bare breasts; I prefer things that make some semblance of sense. However, serious reader Daniel Reitz sent me two Steven King videos: Salem's Lot and The Stand. I read the first novel back circa 1980, and saw parts of the TV series of the second, so I'll be catching up on those in due course. One of the differences between King and some others is that his horror has some coherence, and his text is readable. Meanwhile we saw Flowers For Algernon on TV and it was okay. The novelette and later novel, in contrast, represent perhaps the finest science fiction published. And I watched Starship Troopers on video. We had skipped it at the movies, because I remember Heinlein's novel as a dark, serious, thoughtful story of war as it could be in the future, while the teaser was just spacemen shooting big bugs, obviously junk. So I didn't expect much, but the video was cheap, about twelve dollars, so I got it from morbid curiosity. And lo, it turned out to be just about the best video I've seen recently, a sharp Heinlein juvenile story--today's readers may not be aware how good the later Heinlein juveniles were compared to standard fare--of cadets going for training and war against a truly horrendous enemy. I no longer remember the novel enough to know whether the movie is true to it; I assume it is not, because movie makers seem almost incapable of being true to a book, especially if it is a good one. But taken for itself, it's a memorable young-person-adventure show. I watched it once, while working on something else, as it my wont, so my attention was partial, but it impressed me enough so that I will surely watch it again with more attention. Some bits remain in my mind, such as the unisex shower, with the girls stripping and casually joining the boys, and no one taking any note. No leering, no sex, just a sharing of facilities. Would that it could be that way in real life. That does not mean the young folk were sexless; at one point the main Boy loses his Girl because she must strive for a better career, and a secondary Girl at a dance makes known her interest in him. She is worthy, but not quite as pretty as Girl #1, and he curtly rejects her. Then the training sergeant comes by and proffers advice: "Never pass up a good thing." So Boy reconsiders, dances with Girl, and they wind up in bed together amicably enough. Later in the story she performs heroically against the Bugs, but gets gutted by one. She says bravely to Boy "At least I had you," and dies. The movie doesn't pause, but that remains in my memory as a bit of philosophy: if Boy had not done something with her when he had the chance, that chance would have been forever lost, for both of them, and she would have died unfulfilled. There are indeed things like that in life. So maybe the story is shallow and unrealistic, but it's damn well done regardless. A E van Vogt died. This may be another name that current readers don't recognize, but he was considered to be part of the Golden Age of science fiction in the 1940s and 1950s, and his passing brought eulogies by a number of prominent genre writers. My relations with him, and opinions of him, were mixed, as mine tend to be with others. He was the author of the Slan and World of Ã novels, The Weapon Shops of Isher, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, and others. At his best he was as good as any writer in the genre, and certainly one of my favorites. But when Ron Hubbard invented Dianetics, a hack psychology later to become a similar religion, van Vogt joined and set up his own sub domain, and I think that destroyed his career as a writer. Then once in a fanzine he remarked that my novel Hasan was an attempt to cash in on the fantasy fad. Hasan was actually my effort to introduce contemporary readers to the fabulous Arabian Nights tales; it was an adaptation of one of the longest and best of those tales to a fantasy novel, done in the 1960's before fantasy hit it big on the market. So it was a cheap shot. So I responded in kind, to give him a taste of his own medicine, saying that in that case, Slan was van Vogt's attempt to cash in on the juvenile fad. Another reader, the late Richard Delap, applauded the aptness of my comeback, which was purposely as specious as his dismissal of my novel, and it shut van Vogt up for several years. Until, after I had left SFWA, he wrote there that he had made an objective comment on one of my novels, and received a savage response, so had stayed clear thereafter. He was making himself out to be reasonable, and me a wild man. That was hardly the true case. Of course my own memory favors me, and van Vogt can't come to his own defense, but a reader is now researching my voluminous contributions to fanzine fandam, and will surely come up with the original exchange, and see who is closer to the truth. So I regarded van Vogt as a great writer who had descended into pseudo religion and cheap spite. But for all that, Slan was a great novel, a classic, and readers would do well to look it up.
Each Sunday I take Obsidian for a walk. She's a 90+ pound dog who growls when I happen to get close to my wife, resenting any attention my wife might spare for me, so the dog and I don't interact a lot. She lives to ride in the car when my wife goes to fetch the mail, but there is no snail mail on Sunday, to I take Obsidian for a half hour walk instead, and that is one of the two times I become her favorite person. The other time is when I'm cutting some cheese for my snack; I give her a fragment. She is highly smell oriented, and our forest has much to smell. I mostly give her her head, and we follow the forest paths I have made, but sometimes she likes to veer into the thorny tick-infested underbrush. So I try to make new paths, so we can go there without mischief. One day we crossed the dry mudflat that is what the drought has made of Lake Tsoda Popka in our region and forged through the jungle back to our drive and thence the house. So I cut new paths to make that access easier--and of course the dog lost interest in that region, so we have hardly used them. But an incidental aspect assumed meaning. I clip brush back from our drive and paths to keep them open, but I don't really like doing it, because I see all the small trees reaching desperately for the light, and there's more light on drive or path, so that's where they go--only to get destroyed by my clippers. They aren't trying to do me any harm, except for the savage thorn bushes, but I behead them. It seems like an analogy of life, with some innocent people getting killed just for being somewhere at the wrong time, such as crossing the street when a drunk driver chooses to run the light, as was the case with Jenny Elf. If there is a God (see my discussion below), maybe he has purpose in this, but it seems unfair to me. Yet if I don't sacrifice those innocent plants, there won't be any paths or drive. So I do it with regret. And one of the plants I clipped back had nice leaves similar to maple. Maple doesn't grow down here, but I remember it from my youth in new England, just as I remember all the birds I knew there, and miss the mountains. I actually get jealous of other states' mountains; you'd think they'd be able to spar a few little ones for flat Florida. So I put them in Xanth. So that five pointed leaf was probably sweetgum, and I brought the small branch home to show my wife. She said to put it in water, so I put the stem in water and the wilting leaves revived. It's been three weeks now, and not only do they remain firm, new leaves are growing. It's obviously alive, though it has no roots. If it should start roots, I'll plant it, perhaps in that way atoning in partial measure for the damage done when clipping my path.
I saw an item in the newspaper that brought other memories. A while back I head from a survivor of Waco, a woman who hid under the bed with her children while bullets flew in the first Waco incident that lead to the siege and subsequent murder of that entire community. Her husband was shot to death, her children were taken away from her, and she spent three years in prison for, I think, "resisting arrest." She survived because she had left the compound in the interim between shootings, but obviously the government was out for vengeance just because she had been part of the cult. No, I'm not an anti-government conspiracy nut, and I certainly didn't like the ways of the cult; I just think that in this case the conspiracy was more that of the government than the cult. Evidence is gradually emerging to make that case. I didn't want to bring any more mischief down on my correspondent's head, so kept quiet. But now that her story has appeared in the newspaper, I feel free to comment. I don't like to see wrong done anywhere; it is not suddenly all right when our government does it. That's my case in Volk, about the American death camps for disarmed German soldiers after World War Two, that I think made that novel unpublishable at Parnassus. At least the truth is slowly coming out about Waco. Maybe some justice will yet be done.
Al of which reminds me that occasionally I do have famous readers. Years ago a woman broke her leg a mile deep in a western cave, and it was national news as they put together a mission to get her safely out. She was one of mine; I met her thereafter in New York, still wearing her cast. Another had been a hitchhiking teen girl; a man picked her up, then raped her, chopped off her arms, and left her for dead in a gully. She somehow survived, and they got the man and put him away for a few years; when they let him out, he killed another woman here in Florida. But the armless one was a reader of mine, finding some solace in my novels. So I may not be much, but I do have some interesting readers.
Last time I commented on Robert Rimmer's Proposition 31. This time it's Thursday, My Love. This is an argument for open marriage; Rimmer feels that the present format is too restrictive. But actually the book barely gets to that before it ends, so it's essentially the story of an affair between a man and woman both happily married to others. They are satisfied with their marriages, but want something more, and that is what they get with each other on Thursdays. It is well enough done, with considerable reflection along the way, replete with a number of relevant quotations, but I think not an earth-shaker. If you want literate, thoughtful discussion of the nature of love and marriage without cheapness, this is it, despite what the cover says.
I was considering getting a cell phone, so that at least I could call out when lost in airports, but two things changed my mind. First the expense; it's a lot of money for what would be very little use for me. Second, I saw a study that tends to confirm that there is a health risk associated with the use of such instruments, because they have strong radiation right next to the head. I have enough craziness already, thank you.
I have also been considering moving to the operating system Linux. Hitherto it did not seem to have a good competent current word processor, but now Corel has a Word Perfect edition for Linux. That may make it feasible. But the word is that Linux can be beastly to try to install, and that it is best to have competent help close by if you aren't a computer geek. Since I can't afford to get hung up long by a difficult computer system, I'm waiting for that last aspect to fall into place. But I rather expect to make the move before the year is out.
I came down with a pain in the left side, just over the ribs. I didn't seem to have strained anything, but in the course of three days it became strong, interfering with my exercises and giving cruel jolts when I coughed or sneezed or even blew my nose. The pain was exactly where the book shows shingles most often appears. I had shingles four years ago, in the right upper jaw, and thought I shouldn't have it again, but I wonder. At any rate it crested and slowly faded, and after a month was gone. There is normally a skin rash or breakout in the region, and I didn't have that, but maybe it was a very mild case that did not reach that level.
I am openly agnostic, and that bothers some of my readers. I don't have the temerity to claim to know the nature of God, and I doubt any other mortal really knows it either. But I can't prove absolutely that there is no God, so I'm not an atheist; they are also claiming to know God's nature--nonexistent--and that is similar arrogance. A reader sent me two pamphlets by John N. Clayton. One is "A Practical Man's Proof of God." It starts with an analogy to the universe: either we had a beginning, or we did not. It says the atheist says we did not have a beginning; matter is self existing. But the expanding universe suggests that there was a point source beginning several billion years ago. Also, if the present system of hydrogen-consuming stars had existed forever, they would have used up their fuel long since. So they can't be eternal. And what about the laws of conservation of matter/energy? How could matter and energy be created from nothing? Therefore the atheist is wrong and the Bible right. The atheist also says we are the products of sheer chance, and this is not to be believed. So God must have made the universe to a particular design. Okay; I don't buy this. I'm not sure the atheist position is being correctly stated, and refuting it does not necessarily mean that God exists, any more that proving that a duck is not red means it is blue. There are other choices, and the exploration of the nature of the universe is a continuing and fascinating exercise not much given to simplistic either-or choices. My inclination is to apply the same arguments to God: either he had a beginning or he did not. If he had a beginning, who made him? If he is eternal, why hasn't he long since used up his energy? I don't think the answers are any easier than they are for the universe; in either case, something must always have existed or have been generated from nothing. The other pamphlet addresses this matter: "Does God Exist? Who Created God?" It replies that the Bible says that God is a spirit, existing outside the bounds of our physical realm, unlimited in time, so the rules don't apply to him. God created time, God began the beginning. The Bible says so. Okay, if God could do that, why couldn't the universe do it likewise? I think it is unfair to apply rules to the universe and exempt God. I could claim to be God myself if I exempted myself from the rules of the universe. I point out that if the universe is physical, God must have a physical component in order to create it, or he is violating the rules of the universe in making it. God can't be purely spirit. So I remain in doubt about both the origin of the universe and the existence of God. However, the concluding statement of this pamphlet takes a shot directly at me: "The agnostic position that there is nothing that can be said to support God's existence that cannot be said against that existence cannot, in the opinion of the author, stand in the face of this evidence." Really? The author's evidence is selective logic and the Bible. It all boils down to faith. That, in the opinion of this agnostic, cannot stand in the face of a more objective analysis. There may be God, but these faith-based pamphlets have not proved it. I remember the small boy's definition of faith: "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." So my position remains as it is for ghosts and flying saucers: show them to me, and maybe then I'll believe in them. Meanwhile I regard them as no more than ideas, useful for fantasy fiction, but without tangible substance. Just like theories about the origin of the universe.
Other references: Artemiy Artemiev sent me more CDs from Russia. This is electronic music, interesting, with an otherworldly flavor, that would surely make good background for a deep space science fiction movie. I received an email calling my attention to The Kingdom of Talossa, so checked its site at www.execpc.com/~talossa/main.html. This is a sort of fantasy realm, an independent sovereign country which seceded from the US in 1979, and is an ongoing political adventure. An idea, if you will, perhaps as real as God. I was also advised of the book-a-minute site at www.rinkworks.com/bookaminute/sff.shtml. This purports to simplify a person's search for reading matter by providing extremely brief reviews. So I checked to see what it said of mine. Here it is: "The collected works of Piers Anthony: I'm Piers Anthony. I can write nonsense and sell it." See--now you know what you're reading. Another email said "Looking for some hot teen girls?" It turned out to be Nude Celeb Teens, described as barely legal. The sample pictures are sexy enough, with partly clothed pretty girls, some in sexual poses. I don't mean sultry glances, I mean genitals in contact. So it's a porn site. What I wonder is why it feels the need to call attention to their supposed youth; the implication is that the most sexually desirable girls are beneath the age of consent. That's mischief; too many twelve year old girls are already getting raped and murdered. And a notice from THE WRITER: the magazine has been sold to Kalmbach Publishing Co. The editor says she still would like to have material from me. This is the magazine that refused to run my last article unless I deleted my reference to Internet publishing, so I withdrew the article and ran it at HiPiers. No wonder the magazine is fading out; it seems to be determined not to let its readers know that they need no longer be bound by the whimsical editorial restrictions of Parnassus. It is doing those readers no favor. I did not answer. And to finish on a cute note: Dawna D emailed me an address to check while I was writing this column. I checked it, and it said: You have reached the Last Page of the Internet. Now turn off your computer and go out and play.
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