|Some few of you may not have believed that the magic of Xanth can on occasion leak through to its Mundane counterpart of Florida. I trust that the recent election has satisfied you. I was writing Xanth #26, Up in a Heaval, and finished the first draft the day before the election. Thereafter I edited it for about two weeks. This meant that the channel was open, and sure enough, the magic pied the election. At this writing the election remains like a flipped coin standing on edge. But the novel is done and on the way to agent and publisher, so the channel is closed, and the magic is fading; in due course local Mundania will return to normal. I just thought you'd like to know why the election got all up in a heaval. Sorry about that. |
But for those who aren't up on politics, I'll say that there were two major party candidates and several minor party candidates on the ballot. Al Gore won the rest of the nation in both popular and electoral votes, by narrow margins, leaving the decision up to Florida. Then the magic struck, and now we are struggling with magical concepts like butterfly ballots and hanging chads. The main issue is in Palm Beach County, where the ballot confused about 22,000 voters. George Bush was listed first, Al Gore second, and the others following. To vote for Bush, the voter had to punch out Chad #1. To vote for Gore he had to punch out not Chad #2 as you might think, but Chad #3. If this does not seem to make sense, remember the magic; Chad #2, also opposite Gore's name, was for Buchanan on the opposite page: the other wing of the butterfly. Thus about 3,000 Gore voters mistakenly voted for Buchanan. 19,000 more realized their mistake, or thought the two chads were for Gore and Lieberman, so also punched out #3--and the authorities, rather than count them as intended, instead threw them out. This loss of votes was enough to tip the state to Bush instead of to Gore. That's when the feces hit the fan. There have been ugly things, such as intimidating demonstrations against ballot counters, death threats, party members allowed to promote official absentee applications for their own party only, and a partisan official doing everything possible to guarantee success for her candidate. The question is whether the evident will of the voters should prevail, or the confusing ballot and thug tactics. I see it as like a bad call in a televised game: do the officials correct the call, or do they insist that once called, it must stand, though the video shows the error clearly? Usually they seem to prefer the bad call. But this is not a game; real consequences ride on the decision. We'll see. We saw one bit of Internet humor that related: before the election a note said that due to an anticipated large voter turnout, the load would be divided, with Democrats voting on Tuesday, Republicans on Wednesday. I hope no one fell for that. An email provided a link to the Florida Election Recount: count the total the black dots for Al Gore and white dots for George Bush. Recount to confirm. It was an optical illusion, with black dots appearing only in peripheral vision. Those votes you know are there, but can't quite nail.
On to lesser things. I have just updated the Internet Publishing survey, adding several ePublishers. Next time, FeBlueberry 2001, I'll try to bite the bullet and do a complete review, looking up all the 100+ publishers and services. I do this as a service to my readers and hopeful writers in general, but as the list has grown it has become a burden, and I don't expect to do full reviews often. I am glad when folk tell me that they find the survey useful, but I'm a writer rather than a surveyor, and I hate the days it takes from my writing.
I alternate exercise runs with recumbent bicycle rides, going out to pick up the morning newspapers, a 1.6 mile round trip. One morning on the way back I encountered a boar pig, maybe 200 pounds. I yelled at him, and he considered, then finally gave way. When I go out alone off the drive I like to carry a boar spear or other defensive weapon, but in this case I was on a newspaper run. That makes me nervous. But that's not the only animal contact. One day we also found a red headed woodpecker in the pool enclosure. I opened the doors, but the poor thing kept flying into the screen, dropping to the floor, and lying there whimpering. Finally I picked him up in the butterfly net and took him outside, and in due course he recovered and flew away. I'd whimper too if every time I tried to get moving an invisible barrier knocked me down. Why does that remind me of the average hopeful writer's lot? Also, remember that wasp nest on the doorsill? At its height it featured perhaps 20 wasps. Then the number diminished, down to three, and then none, and the nest was deserted. We didn't see what happened; I conjecture that a wasp-eating bird came by and cleaned them out. Our miniature wasps disappeared similarly on a prior year, to my regret. Nature can be rough; our species has largely abolished the ever present threat of early death, but other creatures have not.
And several remembers: Remember Stephen Donaldson? There turned out to be two of that name, with the writer surviving. I finally had an email from him, confirming his existence.
Remember my long-awaited Linux system? The store could not make it send other than gibberish to the printer. At last they figured that out and I finally got it, after 11 weeks. I played some of its computer games, since they required only the mouse. My wife changed the keyboard to my Dvorak layout and it worked fine. Then she reset the system so it would stay--and thereafter the system loaded and locked, like a backwards firearm, completely unusable. Even for that it took five minutes to set up each time, and refused to turn off, forcing us to crash it. So I still have not used it. Fortunately I have other work to do on the old system. I finished writing and editing Heaval, and next will edit the quarter million word second ChroMagic novel Key to Chroma. But around the turn of the year I will need the new system. So far Linux is proving to be every bit as ornery and difficult as Windows, but I mean to tame it eventually.
Remember those corrections for Xone of Contention? I sent them in to the editor, and he sent them to the appropriate department, and they corrected--only those in the first 50 pages. They must have figured nobody would check beyond that. So it seems our efforts were for not much; the anonymous functionaries who do these things were not interested in making corrections. This is not the first time I have encountered this sort of thing in publishers. Readers ask whether anyone bothers to proofread published novels; they do, but the corrections are not necessarily made. Internet publishing has much to offer, if it will.
Remember that urban legend I fell for, about the cookies? So I dug out the Urban Legends book, Too Good to be True, and read it. I was amazed at how many other stories turned out to be legends. For example, the alligators in the New York City sewer system. Some time back, as I recall, H L Gold, former editor of GALAXY MAGAZINE, claimed to have started that story, and was sneering at the gullible folk who believed it. As it happened, I didn't like Gold, ever since he told me not even to try to compete with established writers--most of whom I was later to pass by in success--so I challenged him in a fanzine, pointing out that L. Sprague de Camp had documented those alligators. And de Camp then wrote in, giving his source. The alligators may be a story, but that story was circulating before Gold spread it, so he did not start it. Still, I thought it was true, and am actually a bit sorry to find that it is not. And now L. Sprague de Camp, a grand old master of fantasy and historical fiction, is dead. Sigh.
My sister forwarded a five piece plastic puzzle: fit them together to make a square. Simple, right? I have a good eye for such things, and have always liked puzzles, but maybe I'm getting old; this one balked me. Finally I went to my library and looked up the answer in one of my puzzle books, and it was obvious in retrospect. So why couldn't I see it before?
I take care of my mouth, but my teeth continue to give trouble. I have had something like a dozen root canals over the years, and two apicoectomies, one gum surgery, and assorted reconstruction and bridging. Remember, at one point they found a cracked root whose surfaces slid across each other when I chewed, like the San Andreas Fault only on a rather smaller scale. Still problems, so finally my dentist took the most affected teeth out entirely, leaving an empty space. And it worked: the nagging pain stopped and I am now chewing freely. Too bad I had to spend those thousands of dollars trying to save teeth that in the end were lost.
There was a sex case in Tampa involving a 40 year old woman and a 12 year old boy. No not what you may think; he raped her in the park. He was a big boy with an attitude, and she was a small woman with four small children. She finally got away and ran naked, her children following, to flag down a passing car. Is it my imagination, or are things getting worse? In my day, 12 year olds were victims rather than perpetrators.
Scooters are now the rage. But there is a danger I learned the hard way. No, not crashing into cars and such, though that is happening. Let me explain. I was given a scooter to use when I was as I remember about seven years old. I loved it, and scooted everywhere. Years later I was having some obscure physical problems. My father took me to see a chiropractor. He took one look at me, and fetched two scales, and bade me put one foot on each. I weighed 100 pounds: 60 on the left foot, 40 on the right. Because when I used the scooter, I had always pushed with my right foot, to the extent that it distorted the growth of my legs. My right leg was longer than my left, tilting me over to the left. I had to wear a corrective left shoe to tilt me back, evening the weight and getting my body level again. So I still think scooters are neat--there is a big-front-wheel scooter I'd love to use, but it costs about $250, which is too damn much--but whoever uses one needs to alternate feet regularly. I wonder how many of today's kids do?
I don't pay a lot of attention to TV commercials, but on occasion one gets my notice. Yes, the Victoria's Secret ads, of course, but that's different. Some are actually clever. There's this one for a heavy duty car, a Jeep I believe, covered in mud. The people get out, and they are immaculately clean. Then the car shakes itself like a dog, flinging mud everywhere. At the end the car is shining clean, and the people and buildings are drenched in mud, not looking particularly happy. I love that ad.
Then there are the new TV programs. Two stand out in my mind: CSI because of the intriguing ways science is used to unriddle crime scenes, and Boston Public, for its devastating look at high school teaching. I was once a high school English teacher, and didn't like it. I never encountered anything as extreme as what appears here, but I resonate. Some items are choice, such as the girl who resists being tested for drugs: "e;Want me to pee in a cup?" she asks the male administrator. "Want to watch?" It does not ignore the difficult realities of high school: students who fall for teachers, and vice versa. Cheating, sometimes on a grand scale. Bullying. Unrealistic dreams. The focus is mostly on the teachers and administrators as they try to deal with students relentlessly dedicated to mischief and parents who can be completely oblivious. Actually I relate in several ways. I was first a student, then a teacher, and finally a parent. At each stage, the other groups were idiots. Ah, perspective...
Last time I ran the address of the Onlooker Stamp Club, a prison group of stamp collectors. I mistyped the zip code. I have also been advised that though the club does not have a prison number, the person handling it does, and prisons are wont to bounce letters automatically if they lack prison numbers. So here it is again, complete: ONLOOKERS STAMP CLUB; SECRETARY: CLIFTON SMITH #46160; PO BOX 2500; LINCOLN NE 68542-2500. I heard from a couple of readers who planned to send some stamps; I hope they got through okay. Prison correspondence is notorious, with lonely women getting taken for money by unscrupulous male prisoners, and lonely men taken by theoretically sexy appreciative female prisoners. So send stamps and/or letters, nothing else. I have corresponded over the decades with a number of prisoners, male and female, and sometimes it has soured as I refused to budge on basic principles, and for years a fanzine condemned me for supposedly dropping correspondence with a prisoner whose letters the fanzine refused to publish. The hypocrites we shall always have with us. But apart from such pitfalls, this is a legitimate prison club, and your used stamps will be truly appreciated.
Prisons are not the only institutions that can get arrogant. I was once a state social worker, and of course my impressions differed with perspective. When I found I could not do a satisfactory job, considering the wrongheaded limitations of the state and desperation of the clients, I quit and become a writer instead, thus giving legions of critics reason to mourn. But this does give me some basis to form an opinion; I have been there. Here is the essence of a letter I sent to a social services office in small town Wisconsin: "Ana Margaret Volin is a long-time reader of mine and a writer in her own right who once came to interview me for an article. Our correspondence goes back a dozen years. I have been sorry to see her fall on hard times. Now I understand that she is on welfare and on assorted medications, some of which on occasion interfere with her functionality. I thought she was doing better recently, but then learned that she went shopping for some clothing, so as not to be cold this winter, and got in trouble for that. Apparently for that offense she was recommitted to court and stuck with a number of monetary charges in that connection. Can it really be that clothing is considered a luxury that a person is not allowed to have? This action seems wrongheaded at best and mindlessly punitive at worst. Will you clarify the rationale for me? I'd like to share it with my readers." I did not receive a reply, so I am sharing my letter with my readers, keeping the relevant parties partially anonymous. I sent a copy to my correspondent, who said "I was committed to court before the clothes incident and also socked with a big legal (fine) before it. The rest was accurate." She had been told that clothing was a luxury, but it seemed that buying lipstick was what triggered the punitive legal action. This is not social work the way I practiced it in my day; this strikes me as more like getting an incompetent editor who thinks that every verb should be modified by an adverb ending in "ly." I think women are attractive with or without lipstick, but it is an aspect of their presentation and hardly cause for punitive court action. Meanwhile they continue to treat Ana as if she is a criminal on house arrest. She can't go out to see a movie if that would prevent her from being present for one of her many pill appointments. The phone rang while she was in the bathroom, and she didn't reach it in time; she got in trouble, because she is supposed to be right there to answer it. She could not even have an appointment in a doctor's office if that meant she would miss a pill time. When she was in the hospital for seizures her roommate stole her clothing, but she was not allowed to take it back. She kept a diary, and that disappeared, perhaps taken as evidence against her. She has a regular counselor who understands her, but apparently they refused to let him see her in the hospital. She was doing okay on her medication, so they almost doubled the dosage, leading to complications. You know, if you subjected a perfectly healthy, normal person to such a routine, he would soon enough go crazy. Maybe that's the point. Woe betide those who fall into the power of Little Caesar. She wrote a little poem whose full text I can't run because I heard it only once over the phone, but the key line is "My king is always in check." I find that marvelously evocative.
Sometimes I watch video movies while writing. As a workaholic I hate doing just one thing at a time, so often do two or three things at once. I have found that I can watch a movie on my video picture in the corner of my screen while writing, because it does not require full attention. I can't read and watch video, because the two inputs conflict, but writing is output. There are reasonable limits, however; when I put on Totally Nude Aerobics my writing slows dramatically because peripheral vision and sound won't do. I have to watch those bare pretty girls bending and bouncing; it's like reading. But regular movies are fine. I have amassed a small collection of videos, and just ordered 20 more that I'll watch gradually next year, ranging from Eyes Wide Shut to The Babysitter's Seduction. Men in Black, Fantasia 2000, Being John Malkovich, Erotique, Felix the Cat Cartoon Compilation, Anne Get Your Gun--you get the idea. My taste is eclectic but leaning toward the cerebral, the fantastic, and the sexy. As if you didn't already know that about me. But there were two from last year's ordering spree that I hadn't watched, because they were foreign movies with English subtitles: the three and a half hour Das Boot and two and a half hour Stalingrad. I would not be able to write while focusing on evanescent fine print at the base of the picture. When I finished Heaval I grabbed the chance to watch them both--and discovered that I had after all managed to get the English dubbed versions. I could have watched them before. But both were disappointments. The first is a famous submarine story, featuring a World War Two German U-boat, but once you've seen one such movie--and I have--you've pretty well seen them all. Go out to sea, torpedo a ship, wait anxiously for the depth bombs to hit or miss you. No romance, not much personal development. The second I got because I researched the siege of Stalingrad for Muse of Art and have a 50,000 word chapter on it there; it was arguably the turning point of the war, one of the most significant battles of our time. Ignorant Americans tend not to know about it because the fight wasn't American; it was German vs. Russian. We think we were the most significant aspect of the war; a study of that siege could open some wide-shut eyes. But the movie itself seemed to have almost none of the momentous significance and irony of it; it followed a few German soldiers who deserted and finally died of exposure in the Russian winter. War is hell, and it shows it, but similar tragedies were happening all across the world; this was hardly unique to Stalingrad. They could have made a better movie from my chapter. So call me sour grapes. But it caught me up on videos, for the nonce.
I read Stephen King's nonfiction book On Writing. He does go into some of the basics, and would-be writers can profit from that, but my main interest was in the personal bits. Such as how one of his baby-sitters would throw him down and laughingly fart in his face. He says that prepared him for the later responses of critics. I rather like the analogy. He describes the way he got put in the hospital by a careless driver; it was the kind of thing he could have written into a horror novel. He writes lucidly, but seems oblivious to the crudity of "whether or not" when "whether" is sufficient. He also says that a number of fantasy writers, myself included, are really trying to recreate hobbits, questing for the fantasy realm that Tolkien fashioned. I suppose with similar justice I could say that he is merely questing for the beloved horror of the smelly farts of childhood. We trivialize at our peril.
The physicists are closing in at last on the Higgs boson. This is perhaps the last of the elusive particles of physics. I'm a fan of the boson; years ago I told Jenny about it in a letter, then said that maybe she should give that Higgs boson she kept under her pillow to the scientists so they could study it. Oh, yes, she has one there; in fact, probably billions. They should be everywhere. The Higgs boson is supposed to be the source of the mass of everything else in the universe. I'm not clear why, but then a number of things confuse me about nuclear physics. I remember how Einstein explained that gravity was not so much a force as a way mass interacted. The analogy was of a huge rubbery sheet stretched out across the universe, and the stars and planets sit on it and make different sized dents according to their mass, distorting space itself. So other things tend to roll into those indentations not because of any attractive force, but because they just naturally slide downhill. Okay--so why, then, does there have to be a particle called the graviton to convey the force of gravity to those various objects? I thought we had just abolished the concept of gravitic force. The subatomic Higgs boson is another mystery: I always thought that mass was inherent in any object, be it a star or an atom. Why do we need a particle to bring mass to it? Suppose that boson goes astray; will that leave something without mass? Where is the universe's storage room of mass that the boson carries to the other particles? So it seems like a lot of nonsense to me. But I'm not a nuclear physicist. At any rate, they have not been able to find a Higgs boson, until maybe just now. They are keeping a collider at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, open a while longer to verify what they think they saw: evidence of Higgs. So with luck and keen observation the Large Electron-Positron collider will nail the Higgs boson soon. (No, they're not banging large electrons and positrons together; it's the collider that is large.) There may a Nobel prize in it if they succeed.
They put Titanic on TV and we watched the last 2/3 of it. We saw the movie when it came out, and it was great; the TV reminded me of the craft with which this was put together. I admire good story craft. They give it verisimilitude, that seeming reality, by starting with the exploration of the sunken wreckage, and tie in an old woman who was there. Then they flash back to her lovely youth, interweaving a fine romance with an awful tragedy. The craft comes in that weaving; in the course of the foreground romance they manage to show just about every part of the ship, first in normal action, with its decks, restaurants, ballrooms, cabins, boiler rooms and all, then in gradual destruction as the water infiltrates. They are chased by the alienated boyfriend and his henchman so that they pass through many interesting sections and finally make love in a car being transported in the hold. One thing they excised in the TV version was the way the girl gave the pursuer the finger as they escaped down an elevator. I suppose the TV audience is too upscale to be assaulted by an image like that. Then as the ship sinks the young man is chained in a low stateroom, so the young woman has to find her way down there, through the surging water, to rescue him. It is harrowing, especially when she closes her eyes and whams the fire-ax down on the chain between his wrists. Another nice tour as they make their way back to the surface. She gets put on a lifeboat--then changes her mind and jumps off to rejoin boyfriend, and there is more chasing through flooded holds. Finally the ship cracks asunder and they are stranded awesomely on the rear fragment, before it sinks and they must brave the frigid water. This is a phenomenal tour, masked by the tension of the romance. And I'll bet you folk out there never realized, until this moment. That's craft.
We received a notice from a British outfit: hipiers.co.uk is now available for only £35.99 for two years registration. Thanks, no thanks; this regular HiPiers.com suffices, as it reaches England too. Of course piersanthony.com is not me, and neither is the old 800 HiPiers number, which was taken by a sex outfit, to my annoyance; I still get calls from appalled readers, but AT&T claims it can't do anything about it. That's an intercoursing shame. Eventually there will surely be legislation to oust squatters from established names. Meanwhile just keep in mind that right here is the only real me on the Web.
I got an email saying that the girl had read years ago that I don't believe in God, but God loves me regardless. I guess I have to clarify this, too, periodically: I am politically independent and religiously agnostic. That means I don't subscribe to any one party line, preferring to go for the best candidate, and that I don't presume to be able to define the nature of God. I see little real evidence that a separate sentient all-powerful god exists, but can't prove that he doesn't, so I'm officially on the fence. If you define God as a man with a long while beard sitting on a cloud and rewarding only those who openly worship him, no, I don't believe. If you define God as truth, justice, compassion, beauty, honor, and similarly uplifting concepts, then yes, I believe. But I see little evidence that most of those who subscribe to the great religions have that kind of belief. Not when they condemn all nonmembers of their particular sects to eternal damnation, or when they torture or kill those of other faiths. I never cared to join such a religion. So by their definition I am doomed, but I will continue to do what I feel is right as long as I live, and by the magic of an estate trust, for some time after. My activities here at HiPiers represent some of that. And yes, I believe Jesus Christ, Buddha, and other religious leaders would approve.
I don't always get thanked for doing right. A reader sent me part of his manuscript for comment and advice. My advice was not to try to publish it in its present form, as it would embarrass him in print; it needed work. He responded that he presumed I was an established writer (he had never read anything of mine) but that he had 25 friends who thought it was great, and he hoped to have it made into a movie. I am obviously off his Christmas list. But that's why I don't like to critique amateur manuscripts; I feel obliged to tell the truth, and there is no kind way to tell a hopeful writer that his piece stinks. I don't get my jollies from putting down dreams; I am a dreamer myself. You may wonder whether 25 friends can be wrong, and one ornery reader right. Yes, in this case. Here is the fact: your friends won't tell you the truth, because they will lose your friendship if they do. Writers have notoriously thin skins; it comes with the territory of being sensitive enough to write. But when you come up against an editor, he will cut you down without compunction, if he even bothers to read your piece. A critic picks up where the editor leaves off; he does get his jollies that way. No, not all amateur fiction turns out negative; last time I mentioned James Martin's Push Not the River, a fine historical novel that deserves publication. He is now checking with agents Xlibris put him on to, and I hope one of them has the sense to take on the novel. Even a good novel has a problem breaking through the ice.I actually look at Spam before ditching it, as I do junk mail. You never can tell. One came in NoRemember 27: The Hottest XXX Site Ever Created!!! You Have To See It To Believe It!!! FREE ENTRY HERE. etc. So I clicked the link--and got an error message: Does Not Have a DNS Entry. I remain bemused: why send out such ads if they can't deliver? I was unlikely to be a paying customer, but I was curious what they thought was so hot.
I get constant requests for autographed pictures, and I generally oblige, but I do check to see whether given folk have had them before, because duplicates tend to turn up on eBay for sale. Some folk send repeated identical requests regardless of my response, and after a time I express my annoyance. In one case I asked what he had done with the prior picture: thrown it away? He replied that he wouldn't want a picture from someone who had such a bad attitude. Uh-huh. No, I don't take this as evidence that I have feces for readers; I doubt he was a reader. Others, in contrast, have sent heartfelt thanks. I wish I could tell which was which ahead of time.
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