|These past two months have been busy. In Dismember I edited the 250,000 word fantasy novel, Key to Chroma, second in the ChroMagic series. No, I haven't yet found a publisher for the first novel, Key to Havoc, but I like the series very well and believe it will find a publisher in due course. If not, there's always Xlibris. That month I also read for blurbing an even larger fantasy, the 300,000 word Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. This is not garden variety fancy; it has exquisite characterization and considerable power. A couple of samples may suggest its style: "But Pierre Cantrel had a weak head and strong passions, so when coin swelled the purse at his belt and seed filled to bursting the purse between his legs, it was to Jasmine House, indolent and sensual, that he hied himself." Thus was the heroine, Phedre, conceived. She was a pretty child, but had a flaw: a red spot in her left eye. That was Kushiel's Dart, and marked her as an anguissette, one who would get sexual delight from masochism. Indeed, the novel does not stint on that aspect; we see her suffer all matter of tortures by lovers male and female who are turned on by sadism. Her services are expensive, so only the most powerful nobles of the realm can afford her. That enables her to get to know many significant figures, and ultimately to participate in the detoxification of a plot against the kingdom. Among them is a beautiful woman: "To describe Melisande Shahrizai is, as the poets say, to paint a nightingale's song; it is a thing which cannot be done." The story builds like a pyramid, slowly, course by course, until at last it achieves the savage heights. There is very little actual magic in it, but it's the strongest fantasy I have read in years, and I'll be surprised if the author does not soon become known. |
Then in Jamboree I edited my 20 year old science fantasy novel Mute, for republication at Xlibris. It was 190,000 words, but cut for publication, so this will be the restored edition. I wrote an Author's Note this time, and rather than discuss the novel here, I'll append that Author's Note as a postscript to this column. I'll just say here that I loved revisiting that novel, and am glad to restore it to print. I also updated the Internet Publishing survey, adding about 50 entries. That took me 29 working hours; I tracked the time. More Internet publishers are popping up like toadstools, and I doubt I have a majority of them yet; I'm just doing what I can as I go along, helped by readers who provide corrections and additions. Finally I got into Linux. After five months the store finally had the system stable, and bit by bit I found out how to make aspects work. I still don't have sound, but can address a floppy disk--that's not intuitive, in Linux--and am able to go online. In fact much of the survey update I did on that system. So I do believe I will write my next novel on it, and then we'll see. I expect the system to become more comfortable as I use it.
We also bought an adult tricycle. I have a good recumbent bicycle, and a RowBike, but my concern is that as I age I could start losing my balance, and I don't want to give up cycling if that happens. So we have a Joy Rider, and compared to the others it's a toy, but it does do the job. One doesn't really ride it, one trundles it. The front wheel is only one foot in diameter, but suffices. The frame is like an elongated oval, with a section cut out, making it like the letter C. You step into that aperture and sit down; it is obviously meant to be convenient for infirm elderly folk. It has a big rear basket that should be handy for packages. So now I rotate between cycles as I fetch the newspapers or close the gate.
Daughter #1 Penny gave us a subscription to MOTHERING magazine, as she is now much into mothering. I like it. It makes the case against circumcising of non-Jewish babies, and I'm glad to see that case made. Why should a religious mutilation be routinely performed on babies not destined to join that religion? Why not let them grow up first, and choose it for themselves if that's what they want? There is also the medical idiocy of doing it without anesthetic, on the theory that babies don't feel pain. Really? Then why do they hold the baby up and spank it to make it cry, so that it draws its first breath? Of course babies feel pain, and now it is known that those subjected to it develop a greater sensitivity to it than those who aren't; they have been traumatized. I can suggest the real motive behind involuntary unanesthetized circumcision: the point is the pain, to make a boy hurt sexually, punishment for the sinful urges he will later feel. It's a pseudo-moral agenda, and of course it doesn't work; circumcised boys are just as horny as uncut ones. The idea that the sexual urge is sinful is one of the abominations of certain religions. In some other parts of the world they do it worse to girls, trying to prevent them from ever getting any satisfaction from sex. Anyway, I wrote a letter to MOTHERING because it had an article on non-surgical treatments for fluid behind the eardrum: when it happened to Penny as a baby, one doctor was all set for surgical implantation of drainage tubes in the ear drum, but we got another opinion, and the second doctor suggested blowing balloons. So we tried that, and it worked, clearing her inner ear. A few months later the condition returned, and the balloons banished it again, and thereafter she had no further problem of that nature. I can hardly think of a more pleasant alternative to a less pleasant prospect, because children love balloons.So what about that US election decision? Al Gore won the nation by over half a million votes, and actually won Florida by up to 40,000, but they wouldn't count either the over-votes (that nefarious butterfly ballot) or the under-votes (the hand recount), depriving him of the win. The US Supreme Court, having stopped a fair recount that was already in progress, then said there was no time for a recount and declared Bush the winner. This was a political rather than a legal decision; it seems that the majority wanted to perpetuate itself by putting in a Republican who had promised to appoint more conservatives, and was willing to cheat to do it. As many as four justices should have recused themselves for conflict of interest; they could hardly plead ignorance of that ethical requirement, but evidently lacked the honor. We are stuck with that fiat. I am a naturalised citizen, politically independent; I would feel uneasy being a Democrat, but at this point, downright pained being a Republican, because few if any of them at any level showed much integrity; all they cared about was winning, and the end justified the means. So is there a remedy, lest we go the route of Germany in the 1930's? Yes, first a holding action: there should be no Supreme Court appointees confirmed until a legitimately elected president of either party holds the office. It is just about that simple in principle, if not in detail. Meanwhile there should be serious campaign finance reform, to stop candidates being bought by special interests. The Electoral College should be abolished, so that never again will the majority will of the voters be thwarted. And a uniform error-free voting procedure should be established, so that people's votes are no longer trashed without their knowledge. Such measures could rescue our democracy from the oblivion that otherwise threatens. But any such reforms will be an uphill battle, because those who have illicit power will not readily let go of it, as we have seen.
Normally reviews don't have much impact, and of course it became proper for reviewers and critics to pan Xanth when it became successful, so real readers tend to ignore such commentary. But in this period there was an exception. Emily Jenkins ran a Xanth review at the online magazine Salon.com Books titled "I was a captive of Xanth." She says she first discovered Xanth in ninth grade and was hooked. (There is magic dust between the pages, that wafts out and instantly addicts the unwary reader to magic; that's the hidden secret of the series success.) Thus she continued reading it despite the protests of her rational brain. "There are lots of naked bodies because all the Xanth books carry a frisson of naughtiness, which was no doubt an even larger part of their appeal to my teenage self than it is to my adult one." Darn; she's catching on; I hope no parents of teens read that commentary. As I like to put it, Xanth may be unsuitable for the parents of teens. She mentions the Jenny Elf origin, and visits this HiPiers site, concluding: "I believe reading can, and should, be fun. Who cares if it's cheesy? I can return to Xanth as often as I like, and going there feels like coming home." There is much to like in this commentary. Here's the sequel: I received news of this article from agent, family, and readers. Salon must have an extremely broad circulation. It provided a link to HiPiers, and the week following the article the daily site hits jumped from 9525 to 14781. Thereafter they faded back to normal, which is now in the 9000-10,000 range. So Emily Jenkins sent me five thousand folk. Thank you, Emily.
Some readers send me electronic cards. That's okay, except for two things: some require me to download "Flash" in order to see them. I tried to do that several times and wound up with wasted time, frustration, and no ability to make it work. So I won't try to look at a Flash card again, or any other that requires a special download, and please don't send me any more; your effort will be wasted. Second, some folk have no sense of proportion. One has been sending me two to six cards a day, clogging my email. I looked at the first; it was generic rather than personal. A week later I tried to look at another, but the card server was down. That's wasting my time. The purpose of those cards seems to be to advertise the card outfit. I'm not amused.
My wife and I gave ourselves a new set of mobile phones for Christmas. We liked our old ones, which consisted of four with a common base, but they had two problems: we could not talk conference style on them, and they would not dial out if any light, TV, or computer was on in the house. So if, say, Xlibris called with important information for us as significant investors, one of us had to scramble for a wall phone. We prefer to be free to wander around the house when on long calls. And if I wanted to call my father, I had to take the phone out of the house to dial the number, then come back in once the connection was made. That was a nuisance. Still, I regretted letting those old phones go. I'm the only one I know who gets nostalgic for machines. I can't stand to hear the plaintive beep-beep as a phone's battery expires; the poor thing is dying. The old phones didn't know that they weren't quite adequate for our needs; they were doing the best they could. Well, the new ones are better; conferencing is easy, and they do dial out in the vicinity of other devices. They also have little computer-like windows so you can make your way to a list of saved numbers and dial one; that's handy. I no longer have to look up my agent's number each time. This may be old hat to others, but a novelty for me. I'm intrigued by the way they identify numbers: say you want to record Jerk's number. First touch 5 once, for the J, then touch 3 twice, because E is the second letter there, then touch 7 thrice because R is the third letter, and then 5 twice for the K. That name labels the number. Neat. Still, there is that lingering guilt about the old phones now languishing in a coffin-like box.
One chore I had in Dismember: the lawyer who vetted the sequel to my autobiography, How Precious Was That While, got in touch about permissions for the Ligeia poems in Chapter 5. Ligeia, as you remember, is the joint pseudonym I gave to the whole class of suicidally depressive folk. Most are teen girls, but not all; some are adults and some are male. Some of their poems are savage, some are painful, some are thoughtful. I don't much like free verse, but one of them, "I Knew To Be A Woman," I think may be the finest poem I have encountered, though it is dreadful in the terrible beauty of its dark message. That's by "Colene," the pseudonym for those who suffered sexual abuse, as was the case with my character in the Mode series. But there are others that are hard hitting too. It may be that the most outstanding chapter in my autobiography is the one authored by others. But here is the problem: many of the authors were under the legal age of consent. This meant that though they were happy to have their material published, they could not give permission themselves; their parents or guardians had to do it. But in most cases their parents did not know about these poems, and could not be told. I mean, would you tell your parents that one of them was sexually abusing you, and ask for permission to publish your thoughts on this? Would you tell them that you were searching for a clean, efficient way to die? Where would that get you? I refused to violate their confidence; the parents would not be told. I would not identify the real people behind the pseudonyms unless they wished to reveal themselves. But the publisher was concerned about legal liability, understandably; I did not have legal permission to publish those poems, even though I had the permissions that counted: that of the authors. Of course that could be solved by deleting those poems. I didn't want to do that either; those voices need to be heard. Well, time solved much of it; it took several years for the volume to find a publisher, and in that time most of the contributors had passed the age of consent. So now they could legally give permission. But in that time I had lost touch with most of them. Some might be dead; some just had moved on to other things. So I couldn't reach them to get those renewed permissions. It was an irony. Well, eighteen hours of working time--yes, I track my time in the manner of a lawyer--got me the original permissions from the correspondence files now at the University of South Florida, and I wrote letters to those I could reach, and we summarized some, quoting only briefly in "fair use," and some were after all of age when they gave the original permissions. So a number were lost, but more were saved, and it remains a hard-hitting chapter. But if any of you who contributed--you know who you are--and lost touch, if you see this, contact me now so that I can send you a copy of the book when it is published this July. You aren't obliged to read the rest of it, but I want you to have your published poem, even if it happens to be one of those we had to abridge for legal reasons. Any that were abridged or eliminated I will run here on HiPiers in full, if their authors wish it.
A reader emailed me that I was in the new Almanac. Oh? So I checked, and lo, it was so: THE WORLD ALMANAC 2001, page 337, under "Writers of the Present." I am listed. Not many genre writers are on that list. There's Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, J K Rowling (Harry Potter), some borderline cases like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Kurt Vonnegut, and me. I'm not sure how I got in, as critics normally pretend I don't exist; writing ability has nothing to do with it. Maybe I have a secret fan on the staff who slipped my name in when the authorities weren't looking. I hope he doesn't get in trouble for that.
I continue my exercise regime. Apart from thrice weekly jogging the 1.6 mile round trip to pick up the newspapers, and the cycling, there are my 8, 10, and 20 pound dumbbells, and there is the archery. I fire my right handed 60 pound pull compound bow at a range of 150 feet, and my left handed 30 pound pull reverse curve bow at 100 feet. They actually feel similar, because the compound bow has a let-off that means after drawing I can hold it at about 20 pounds, while the other has no lot-off, and indeed I draw it back farther, so probably get about 40 pounds that I have to hold while aiming. I keep crude score: +1 for each arrow I get in the one square foot center square or circle (the circle is about 13 inches in diameter, to have the same actual area as the square), and -1 for each arrow that misses the target entirely. I have several baffle targets above and to the sides, so I seldom now lose or damage an arrow, but only the center target counts. Originally I preferred the compound, because it was more accurate, ever at the longer range. I might get 5 in the center, and miss 2, for a score of +3. Then I'd do the same 12 arrows with the left, and they might be 2 centers and 3 misses for -1. It was especially bad on low arrows that plowed into the ground, and fluke right misses, when the arrow simply took off where I hadn't aimed it. That drives me crazy. I mean, I have front and rear sights aligned with the arrow; how can it ignore that? But it sometimes does. Well, one day a year ago it was cold, so I was bundled up--and my arrows were forming perfect shot groups to the side of the target. We figured it out: the extra clothing was causing me to hold the bows farther out from my body, and my hands were twisting the bows. Thus when I loosed an arrow, the twist took effect and skewed its flight. So I learned to hold the bow very loosely, closing my hand carefully only as I fired, and that fixed that. Until this winter, when I was bundled up again, and the arrows missed again. I tried to avoid twisting, but it happened anyway. My record good score is +14 for 24 arrows, and my record bad score was -4. This time my right hand score was -7. Then my left hand score was 1-8 = -7. Total score: -14, breaking the record by 10. Hm. It was a challenge. So next time I went out bundled up the same way, and this time focused on my hand, making absolutely sure it didn't twist. The arrows were back on track. Once I forgot, and the arrow missed. Left handed I didn't forget, and missed none. So I cured it. But it takes constant vigilance, because that twisting is unconscious, and it doesn't show--until the arrow is loosed. And yes, I used the metal detector to find the arrow I lost in that bad session; it had plowed into the ground under foliage. But about the jogging: when it is warm, as it normally is in Florida when the northerners keep their frigid winters up north where they belong, I run in shorts and T-shirt. When it is cold I run in a sweatsuit. We seldom see temperatures below freezing, until this winter; in Jamboree alone we had eight nights in the twenties. The sweatsuit sufficed, buttressed by a headsock and gloves, since I was generating heat at a good rate, except for one small aspect: the tip of my penis got painfully cold. I finally took a spare headsock and tucked it into my pants like the front of a loincloth, adding an insulating layer, and that did it; no further discomfort. Of course now I will be subject to remarks about exactly where I carry my brains, since that's what a headsock normally protects.
The ultimate revenge of parents is when their know-it-all children grow up and have children of their own; then, as a poem puts it, "But with the coming of little feet, ten thousand million words to eat." We suspect that Daughter #1 is already gaining some sustenance thereby. But there's another aspect: When Penny was a baby, I kept records of her various accomplishments. That's the sort of thing writers do. So now we have sent her the records of exactly what day she first sat up, walked, smiled. teethed, and all that, plus the complete list of her 500 word vocabulary at age 18 months. The average child, according to the book, speaks and understands 10 words at that age. That shows what an idiot the book is, especially when applied to a bright hyperactive child. I remember taking Penny outside to stand beside a hedge. "Do you see a hedge?" I inquired. She clapped her hand to her head. Oops, she had misunderstood the word. So I explained the distinction between Head and Hedge, and a few days later verified both in her vocabulary. Of course later when she hit school, as a hyperactive dyslexic, much of her early progress was threatened with destruction, and I waged what amounted to a sixteen year battle to prevent the schools from doing to her what they had done to me in my childhood. It helped that I had actually been a teacher myself, so I knew what was what. There are surely teachers who don't remember Penny, but they remember her father. You may have noticed that I'm expressive and ornery, and while I don't seek quarrels I'm actually a very bad person to cross, as several publishers discovered; I wanted my children to grow up to be nicer folk than I. I think I succeeded.
One day I found an old bit of mock-Germanic humor going through my mind; I encountered it when I was an electronic technician, circa 1960. It was the definition of the hydrogen bomb: "Das eargesplittinger Loudenboomer mit grosse Holingrund and alles kaput." Two years of German almost washed me out of high school, but that isn't it.
From time to time I ponder what it means to be human, and of course have never come across a perfect definition. What distinguishes mankind from animalkind? My standard conclusion is man's art: no other creature cares whether something is beautiful or symmetrical or otherwise esthetic. Now other creature appreciates music, poetry, painting, sculpture, dance, or story-telling. (Well, maybe whales sing.) Wherever you find human beings, you find art. Even the dullest of us appreciates a good joke. Yes, I regard humor as an art, and it comes in everywhere. But is art all? Oh, of course man is the only speaking creature, with fully developed and intricately nuanced languages. Except that animals are more communicative than we may be aware, such as the way elephants send subsonic messages or whales make songs. So there may be other languages that we haven't recognized. We also have the biggest brains in proportion to our size, and are the world's smartest animals. But if we encountered a very smart ape, would it then be human? I'm not quite satisfied. Increasingly I have pondered another aspect: empathy. That is, to feel the feelings of others, to put ourselves emotionally in their places while knowing that we aren't them. Animals typically don't much care what happens to other animals, except for a mother with her offspring. Humans do. We wince when we learn of unkind deaths, and we can to a degree appreciate the suffering of some animals, especially if we have familiarity with them. Would you eat horsemeat? Dogmeat? Catmeat? How about a cow you had known? Humans typically have to close their minds to the horrors of the slaughterhouse, lest they feel too much. That's empathy. I believe I suffer from this awareness more than most; that's why I'm a vegetarian. I don't like hurting plants either, so I have to close my mind to the natural lives and rights of vegetables. We have volunteer potatoes and squashes, sprouting from the remnants of our Christmas dinner, growing in our compost/garden patch; I cover them against the freezes lest they suffer. Our star jasmine plant grew too big to be covered; it has been severely damaged, and I hate that. I feel its pain, to a degree. Empathy. We all have it, a little or a lot. When a man kills another man we hate it, because it could have been one of us he brutalized, but then when he faces execution we are uncomfortable, because we think of facing such extinction ourselves. Perhaps conscience is a refinement of empathy. The Golden Rule may be empathy: do unto others what you wish they would do unto you. Compassion seems to be mainly empathy. So as I ponder my triad of values, Honor, Compassion, Realism, I wonder increasingly whether the middle word shouldn't be Empathy. THE HUMANIST Jan/Feb 2001 issue quotes a dialogue relating to the Nuremberg trials: "What is evil?" "When someone shows no sign of empathy." Maybe so. I will be pondering this more seriously soon.
I sometimes view videos in the corner of my computer screen as I write, and on occasion we go out with Daughter #2 Cheryl to see a movie. Most are unremarkable, but some are memorable. Instinct was a good video, the story of a mute prisoner and why he wouldn't speak: he had been a scientist studying and living with the gentle gorillas, when they were slaughtered; he in turn slaughtered the killers, and was convicted of murder. I relate. Different for Girls is perhaps less well known; it's a British movie about a male transvestite who takes the additional step of getting surgically altered to fully resemble a woman. A classmate who knew him as male later encounters him as female, and struggles as he realizes he is falling in love. Would you romance a pretty woman whom you had known as a boy? Sensitive and difficult, a movie that makes you think. And yes, a surgically transformed male can perform sex as a female; this too is clarified. Then there was Eyes Wide Shut, on the surface a simple story of a man in distress because his wife was once unfaithful, but marvelous in its execution. He sneaks into a private party where lovely women are nude except for facial masks, and all the men are masked. The others catch on, and he is in peril for his life until a woman volunteers to take his place. Next day is a news item: former beauty queen found dead. Hm. He makes up with his wife. The most recent movie we saw was Cast Away, which resembled a two hour commercial for FedEx but was a good show for all that. A FedEx official is in a FedEx plane that crashes in the Pacific, and spends four years surviving alone on an island. Talk of empathy; you feel his struggle, especially as that plane is going down. Then he is rescued, and finds that his fiancée, thinking he was dead, has married elsewhere. He must start anew. But I have one problem with it: he delivered a FedEx package to a woman, saying that it saved his life. It did? I didn't pick up on that. He had opened and made ingenious use of a number of washed-up packages, such as using video tape to make rope and an ice skate to chop wood, but this one was never opened. If someone understands this aspect, let me know.
These days I write novels mainly because I like to write and love storytelling; I don't actually need the money. Critics condemn me for writing Xanth, but that's really all publishers want from me, and I like Xanth too. I do have trouble placing non-Xanth novels, but do manage on occasion. Reality Check is one; that's about a house whose front door opens on a city street, and whose back door opens on an ancient forest that surrounds the house. When it missed traditional publishing, I put it on the Internet, and you can buy it at Xlibris. But contract negotiations are now in progress with a small traditional publisher, WRITE WAY, and it may see print this summer. Stay tuned. Similarly, my erotic novel Pornucopia should be electronically published by ELECTRIC BOOKWORM soon, so that curious adults need no longer be ripped off $150 for this dirty book. That bugged me. But if you are under 18, forget it; you can not obtain it honestly. They will also publish my X-rated Xanth short story, "Adult Conspiracy." Meanwhile I expect to write my first novel on the Linux system: The Sopaths, an idea I had over a decade ago but didn't develop because it was too awful a horror. I finally realized that I could blunt the horror and maybe make it writable, so I am ready to make the attempt. I have tried horror twice before, and each time turned somewhat aside: Shade of the Tree, which became science fiction, and Firefly, which became a sexual study. I just don't seem to have the mind for straight horror; it bores me. "Sopath" is short for "sociopath"; it starts when the world runs out of souls, so that children start being born without souls, and therefor no consciences. No empathy. They are born sociopaths, and there are more and more of them. That may not sound like much, but this is potentially an utterly brutal story, if I can stay with it. There are levels and levels of horror, as was the case with the first Space Tyrant novel Refugee. Will it be salable? I'm not much concerned, because there is Xlibris and a hundred online publishers. Horrified editors will not be able to suppress or denature this one. If I can write it.
Artemiy Artemiev in Russia sent me some more of his music CDs. I can't say I understand his music, but it seems like a good background for a space travel story, with long celestial notes and obscure elements. I can recommend it to those who have a taste for what is different. Check the website at www.electroshock.ru.
Sundays I take our big dog Obsidian for a walk through the forest. About seven eight years ago Daughter #1 Penny passed a store, and outside it was a box of puppies free to good homes. When she passed again later, one pup was left: they would take that one to the pound. So Penny took the puppy home. She hoped to place her with the seeing-eye or hearing-ear people, but they rejected her; too lively a dog, I think. But Penny already had two other dogs in the house, and a third was a burden. So it was Mother to the rescue, and Wife #1 Carol brought Obsidian to our house. She's really a one woman dog; she growls if I approach my wife. But I become #1 on two occasions: when I am slicing cheese for a snack, and Sunday midday for the walk. We loop around the edge of our tree farm peninsula--it's the shape of Xanth, by sheer coincidence--and see the sights and smell the smells. Obsidian is the most nose-oriented dog we've had; if there had been a smelling-nose outfit she would have been a prime candidate. The forest is full of smells, but that's not all. There is deadwood all through the forest, because so many trees died in last year's draught; some are standing deadwood, others are littering the forest floor. That makes me nervous, because summer is promised to be the worst fire season ever, locally; the drought resumed after a brief summer wetness. It actually rained all during the writing of this column, but we need not inches but feet of rainfall to abate the mischief. If a fire starts elsewhere and reaches our tree farm, there will be no stopping the carnage. We could lose our house. We used to be protected by the lake, but that's gone, and fire could sweep across its basin. We'll be watching apprehensively. Anyway, the newspaper published a comparison of dog ages to people ages, and I discovered that in dog years Obsidian is now as old as we are. No wonder she's slowing down. I haven't slowed down yet, but of course ogres are too stupid for that.
I'm a workaholic, but I try not to let it spoil my health, so on occasion I take a break playing one of the computer card games. We got a couple of new CDs for Christmas, and one of them had Mahjongg. We'd never played it before, but I tried it and found it a good game. I told my wife, and now she plays it regularly. The Linux system has it too, so sometimes I play it. On one level it's stupid, as all you do is match up diverse little tiles, yet it is compelling. Meanwhile my wife discovered a variant called Gravity Tiles; that's a fun game, and a challenge. You click to remove any two or more tiles that are adjacent with the same color, and the ones on top come clattering down to fill their places. The object is to get rid of all of them. She says it is not difficult with three colors, harder with four, and just about impossible with five.
I built up my library over the course of forty years, concentrating on research references for my GEODYSSEY series, which was to be the major writing project of my life. I have remarked before (and surely will again) on the idiot critics who blame writers for turning out superficial material, when this is the actual choice of publishers who care only about fast early sales. If you turned supposedly shallow writers loose to write what they truly wanted to, money no object, you'd see a rare flowering of original material. Kevin Anderson, for example, does a lot of high-commercial, low intellect work, but he showed me some of his serious writing and I saw how much more he has on his mind. But as long as writers have to eat and pay the rent, they must write for Caesar rather than God. I'm a bit too ornery to settle for that; I built up a fair stake writing for Caesar, then started in writing for God. Never mind that I'm agnostic; this is figurative. My literary clout and some hard-nosed packaging got four GEODYSSEY novels into print before that market was gone, so I did achieve part of my dream, though few critics take note; they are locked onto the Xanth-is-trash mantra, perhaps lacking the wit to read my serious novels. But this is about the library: I would drive myself crazy spending half an hour at a time looking for a reference I knew I had but couldn't find amidst all the other books. So I set it up like the Library of Congress, labeling each book and entering it in a Cat.doc (I think of it as cat-dog) computer file. Now when I want a reference, I do a Find on it in the file, and that gives me the coding to find it on the shelf. But the system has to be maintained, and that's a chore. I buy books and let them pile up a while, then bite the bullet and classify and shelve them. Theoretically each has the Library of Congress number in it, but many do not, and some have it wrong. So I have to do it myself, and some are really tricky to classify. Mathematical riddles: are they math, literature, or psychology? Today I'm not heavy on archaeology, anthropology, history, and the like, as I'm trying not to accumulate more volumes I probably won't be able to use. Still, books come in like fan mail. Here is a sample of what I checked in, in Jamboree:
Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey, sent by the publisher in bound galley form, a magnificant fantasy novel I have commented on already. Its number is PS 220 C18. The PS 220 is the designation for American Literature, fantasy; the C is the first letter of the author's name, and the 18 is the coding for the second letter of her name. That one was easy, because I check in a fair amount of fantasy.
Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind, 6th in The Sword of Truth series: PS 220 G75. Bound galley from the publisher.
Vladimir Nabokov--The American Years by Brian Boyd. Second volume in a huge biography: PS 3527 B80.
On Writing, by Stephen King: PS 3561 K51. More interesting for the personal bits, incliding his near-fatal accident, than for the basics of writing.
Secret Windows, by Stephen King: PS 3561 K51.
The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, by A. S. Byatt: PS 220 B99. This small 1994 collection of five stories looks interesting, which is why I bought it, and I may read it for pleasure after I catch up on the other stuff I am reading for business. I seldom read for pleasure.
A Haircut in Horse Town and Other Great Car Talk Puzzlers, by Tom and Ray Magliozzi: QA 95 M13. That's a fun program on public radio; even my mother, who had precious little interest in the mechanics of cars, liked it. They give the puzzle answers, too.
Masters of the Macabre, by (no author given): PS 222. That was a bonus book for an order. Maybe I'll look at it when I'm writing The Sopaths, to study horror mood.
Model Trade Book Contract and Guide, by The Author's Guild: PS 129 A98. It's not really a book, but if I don't classify it I'll never find it when I want it, so I checked it in. It's a fine guide.
Island of the Sequined Love Nun, by Christopher Moore: PS 3563 M77. It was for sale at remainder rate, and looked interesting, so I ordered it. It's fun: the hero nearly castrates himself when he tries to have sex with a woman while flying, and crashes the plane in the process. But he finds another job flying, on an isolated Pacific isle, and then it gets interesting, and, yes, sexy. The cover shows an airplane's mascot-picture, of a shapely nude young woman. This was "time off" reading.
Reflections on the Umpqua, by RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program), an Oregon local history group; Daughter #1 Penny sent it to acquaint us with her new homeland. It's an anthology by their local writers. F 880 R90
Lizards in the Well, by RSVP: F 880 R90. Tales of the Umpqua.
101 UnUseless Japanese Inventions by Kenji Kaawakami: TT 100 K23. A gift.
The Magical Monarch of Mo, by L Frank Baum: PS 220 B19. A reader inquired about this book, not remembering the author, and I mentioned it in a column. Finally we found it at DOVER and bought it and several others, including Queen Zixi of Ix, The Sea Fairies, and American Fairy Tales, all by Baum. You thought all he did was OZ? I read Mo, and was surprised to discover that either I never read it before, as I thought I had, or I had completely forgotten it. It's a collection of stories about various inhabitants of Mo, fantasy for children.
The Darwin Awards, by Wendy Northcutt: BF 431 N67. A compendium of the most stupid things idiots do, "commemorating those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it," such as they guy who was killed by a Coke machine that fell on him as he was trying to tip a free soda out of it. A gift from Daughter #2 Cheryl; is she trying to tell me something? I don't even drink Coke.
I check all my email, even the spam, just as I check junk mail the Post Orifice disgorges. Most gets short shrift. Multiple or chain letters are another category. I forward none of them, even if they threaten disastrously bad luck for that failure. Some are interesting. One was a poem, starting "I went to a party, Mum," and describes how the girl was careful to follow all of Mum's sage advice, but was struck by a drunk driver, and is dying. I am much with it in spirit; it is what happened to Jenny, my paralyzed correspondent. When will we take effective action to get these stewed rectums off the road? Another poem, from a different source, starts "Misty, My name is Misty," and goes on to describe serious abuse, concluding "Tonight my daddy Murdered me." It is an appeal to prevent child abuse. I relate to this too.
Then there's the long ad for Hunza Diet Bread. It is supposed to make you absolutely healthy, and enable you to readily reduce weight: eat a slice and you cease to be hungry for several hours. Send $20 in cash to the address in Sweden for the recipe. I am skeptical, but if any readers have tried it, I'd be interested in their reports.
I object to rebates, because it seems to me that if a company really want to encourage sales, it should just reduce the price of whatever it is. But when something I want comes with a rebate, I feel the rebate should be honored. So it means that when the company tries to stiff me, I need to make a protest. Okay, we have done a fair amount of business with TigerDirect.com, cumulatively maybe $4,000 for computer and related, as it has good prices. This time we ordered two BlackoutBuster uninterrupted power supply boxes, with a $30 rebate. They said they would honor only one rebate. Okay, we could have made two separate orders, but I agreed to only one. The boxes came in NoRemember and are in use. The packing slip listed the rebate and it was initialed, but there was no information how to get it. Well, maybe they were mailing that stuff separately. It never came. Maybe it was automatic, needing no input from us? I gave it time, two and a half months. No rebate, and now the rebate period has ended. So I phoned, and got the press 1, press 2 litany and a series of recordings. So I noted the email address for queries about orders and sent an email detailing the problem, complete with date and order number. Of course they can ignore it. But I added one sentence that I recommend to others: "I will not do further business with TIGERDIRECT.COM until I receive my rebate." That puts the ball in their court; they can stiff me once, but will not have another chance. They will lose more in my future business than they gain by stiffing me. I think this is the most feasible way to deal with this problem. It's no bluff; I'll simply toss their catalogs until they come through. I have given them fair notice. If everyone were to do similar to every outfit that offers rebates, I suspect reform would come. Rebates, if offered, should be automatic and prompt; I see no honest reason for requiring complicated paperwork and months for fulfillment, and you may have to make a federal case to get it even after that, and companies that do that should lose your business.
I write a monthly newsletter to family members and friends. I started it in 1963 when I was crowded for time and didn't want to repeat myself to each individual person; instead I took time to say it well and, if possible, entertainingly, and made carbons. I still wrote individually if there were private business, but a general letter seemed sufficient for news that I had made my first story sale, that I was taking classes leading to a teaching certificate, that we had the flu, that one of our parakeets died, and so on. Thus the Family letter detailed the rise in my writing career, the arrival and tribulations of our children, my rage when neighborhood boys beat up my little girls--I went to the errant house and was minded to do to one boy's father what his son and sycophants had done to my girls, and maybe it was just as well that the man retreated to his house instead of facing me, and then I called the police and lodged a charge, and you know, funny thing, those boys never touched my girls again--and other similarly dull minutiae of family existence. The letter list started with my father, mother, and sister, and gradually grew through the generations, and now it is a mail-merge letter to about 16 folk of three generations, including daughters, nephew/nieces, in-laws, former researcher and family--it's amazing how many family ties there are. And no, I will not add Xanth fans to the list; you get your own newsletter, and this is it. What I know about mail-merge technology is not much; fortunately I have a wife to run my life, and she set it up. This time I needed to add a name, and I did it myself, as it was just a matter of filling in the address on the correct lines; even I should be capable of that. It had a space for designating the entry, I presumed so we'd know what was what for easy reference, so I filled in the first name there, as that's how we think of her. Then when the letter printed out, that was what was filled in after "Dear ____," the salutation. Oh--by sheer mischance I had done it right. But that made me wonder: suppose I had been adding the address of someone I didn't like, like a book reviewer, and put my private designation, thinking it would never see daylight? I could unwittingly have mailed off a letter addressed to "Dear Blivet Brain."
Remember how the lady doctor prescribed thyroid pills for me? Their effect seems small, but there are indications. I no longer think passingly of death when I get up in the morning, and in fact I think I have nudged from marginally depressive into the lower edge of normal. I hope that doesn't destroy my career as a writer. Can a non-depressive make it as a writer? I also seem to be a little warmer. I used to need more blankets at night than my wife did; now I need less, and when I take my exercise jog I get warmer faster. My fatigue remains, but I think diminished by maybe 20%. So there must be something else wrong with me, causing the fatigue, but I haven't yet found the pill for that. I don't make a big thing of it, because when I first went to a doctor for my fatigue, and he couldn't find its source, my insurance excluded coverage for all mental diseases. The arrogance of the medical profession is amazing: if they can't identify it, the patient must be crazy.
Junk mail addressed to Anthony Piers: MEADVIEW MANSION CELEBRITY ESTATES, a real estate development exclusively for celebrities, near the Grand Canyon, with sunsets to die for and "no luminary affect" so that you can see the Milky Way at night. That would be nice, but they don't seem to be educated enough to know the difference between "affect" and "effect." I did not respond. The Ayn Rand Institute would like my support. Oh? How come it doesn't make it all by its own heroic self, needing nothing from nobody else? Dr. Schulze's SUMMER SURVIVAL MANUAL, with 911 herbal cures. Interesting number, that; makes me wonder what number you'll need to call if a herb goes wrong. The pitch is to sell expensive bottles of pills. But the guy goes into his fractious childhood and life history, and he writes well, and I rather like his ornery attitude. So I'm not sending off for his newsletter or pills, but neither am I throwing away his literature; he comes across as another ogre. HUBBERT CENTER NEWSLETTER--every few months I receive one of those, about world oil supply and consumption. The author, L F Ivanhoe, really seems to know his business. When worse energy crises come, you can bet that this newsletter will have called the shots years in advance. And here's a Spam: "Dear professional, You have been selected as a potential candidate for a free listing in the 2001 Edition of the International Executive Guild Registry coveted honor" and a form to fill out. I didn't answer. Another Spam: "Delicious. My friends and I are finger licking good. Come join us for some orgasmic good times. You'll never be the same once we get our legs wrapped around you " So of course I clicked the link. Error message: not found. What is it with these ads for nonexistent delights? And here is a spam scam: help this man in Ghana, Africa, to sneak 35 kilograms (I think that would be about 75 pounds) of gold dust across the border, and you'll get a rich cut when that gold is sold. Don't fall for this; if they get your banking information they'll rip you off for whatever they can get from your account.
THE NATIONAL WRITERS UNION sent a newsletter, RIGHTS & WRONGS, with an article on urban myths relating to writing. #1 is mailing a copy of your piece to yourself and saving it unopened to secure ownership. The trouble with myth exploders is that they don't necessarily know what's what. That device is to establish a dated text, so if someone steals your work and claims he wrote it first, you can haul out your certified package and prove you wrote it a year before his date. Nonetheless, the NWU is a good outfit that all serious writers, published or unpublished, should join.
And some notices: I commented before on Jim Martin's historical novel Push Not the River. He'd like you to know that it is available at www.xlibris.com/PushNotTheRiver.html. This is a historical novel about Poland that I think is worthy of traditional publication. Allen Hamilton would like to trade his hardcover copy of Zombie Lover for a paperback edition, as his collection is in paperback. He's also looking for the game Companions of Xanth. His email address is Blackwolph@aol.com. And my URL has been added to "Famous SO and SO" at http://famous.soandso.com, so I am now officially numbered among the famous. Critics and regular readers of this column know better, of course.
And as I was about to edit this column, came one more email from a young woman advising me that my fictional women need not be bound to toilets for a natural function; they don't have to squat to pee, but can use a urinal, and there's an online site to tell them how. So I peeked into that ladies' room, and here is my report, as a public service: check RESTROOMS OF THE FUTURE at www.restrooms.org/, and read their literature. If you are too embarrassed to visit such a site, then I, being beyond shame, will clarify the pees and queues of it for you here. Say you're a woman traveling in jeans, changing airplanes, ready to burst, have just five minutes to spare in the terminal, and the ladies' room is backed up six deep while no one's even using the men's room. Life and terminals are unfair; you've always known that. Now you can fight back. Pretend you're a boy, walk boldly into the men's room, and use a urinal. With luck no one will ever see you, and in any event, you never take down your pants. There are two methods: one is the use of a six inch long (penis size, surely by no coincidence) device called a Travel Mate that is essentially a tube opening and shaped at one end to mesh with female anatomy. Think of an oxygen mask that conforms to your face; this is a similar principle, a bit lower down. Open your fly, clear aside whatever you're wearing under, apply the device, and pee. No fuss, no muss, no mess. Finish, zip up, rinse the spent device and put it away for the next airport. You could do this in a forest, too, so no stray animals could see your bared bottom. If you don't care to spend four bucks dollars for the device, use the Finger Assist method. That's essentially making a V with two fingers to spread and lift the labia so you can get a clear shot at the target. You don't have to lower your jeans, but you had better know what you're doing. It is strongly recommended that you do try this at home first; practice makes perfect. 70% of women are able to use this method, giving themselves the finger, while virtually any can use the tube device. The site has a nice picture of a woman standing beside a man, using the adjacent urinal, he looking somewhat askance, she looking smug. I suspect he's about to have trouble completing his own business, ironically; she's an attractive woman. There are several endorsements by women, who have their own variants of the technique. This should go far toward equalizing one of the nuttier bastions of gender discrimination: pee cans. If not, well, piss on it.
I had just finished editing this column when I saw a newspaper item: Gordon R. Dickson died at age 77. My relationship with him was mixed. He was president of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) when a technical complication prevented my 1969 novel Macroscope from getting on the Nebula Award ballot, and he agreed that it should have been on but refused to allow write-in votes. The later SFWA Nebula anthology commented on the nominees and added praise for my novel, in effect recognizing that a major contender had been denied. He was also president when I made a query about a publisher cheating me, but he did nothing while I got blacklisted partly through SFWA action, and I had to get a lawyer to make my case. That caused me to drop SFWA, and I remain alienated from it thirty years later. So you might think I would hate Gordon Dickson. No, I knew him as a good writer and a decent man, and we got along okay. He did what he thought was right at the time, admitting his mistakes, and I think that had he been able to reverse time and play both cases through again, he would have taken different courses. It can be much easier to distinguish right from wrong retrospectively, after all the facts have come out, than it is when in the throes of the storm. Dickson stood up for writers and tried to help them, and his initiatives helped me, and he was kind to me personally. I watched with dismay as alcoholism took its slow toll on him, blunting and perhaps destroying a writer with enormous potential. He is best known for the Dorsai! series and for an award-winning fantasy novel, The Dragon and the George. There too we related indirectly: his novel won the British Fantasy award for 1976, and my A Spell for Chameleon with the same publisher won it for 1977. But it took him, I think, sixteen years to do a sequel, while in that time I averaged a Xanth novel a year and became a best seller, passing him by in commercial success. If only he had followed up his opportunity! Which is not to say that Dorsai! was incidental; I regard it as some of the finest writing the science fiction genre has seen, with action and spirit, and aspects of it had a profound emotional impact on me. And so I say a regretful farewell to Gordon Dickson; he was a flawed near-giant I am glad to have known.
And here appended is the Mute Author's Note. That novel is not yet at Xlibris, but in due course should be; I thought this might be of general interest even if you don't plan to read the book.
I wrote Mute in 1979, after selling it to AVON BOOKS on the basis of a summary. It was published in 1981, and went out of print in 1994 after something like eight printings. It was my psi-powers novel, and at the time I wondered whether it was not too close in nature to Xanth, with each person having a psi talent instead of a magic talent. But it really is a different kind of fiction, far more brutal, with serious constraints on the psi. I consider it to be science fantasy, with space ships, galactic colonization by mankind, and a planet-sized computer, but the psi aspect so wild as not to be seriously believable. I enjoyed writing it, and enjoyed editing it for this republication. Psi is fun, and is indeed much like magic.
The publisher liked the novel, but wanted 20,000 to 25,000 words cut. This sort of thing is common in publishing, where length is more important than content, and there is little the average writer can do about it. If he balks, he may lose publication entirely. The early adult novels of Robert H Heinlein, arguably the finest write the science fiction genre has seen, were cut; decades later his wife had them republished, restored. Thus I got to reread novels like Stranger in a Strange Land and The Puppet Masters in their original versions, and I feel that they should never have been cut. But until he got famous, and thus had the clout to stop it, Heinlein was subject to editorial dictates too. I understand that Jack Vance's big novel Big Planet was severely cut, but I don't think that one ever got restored. I'm sure there are many others. I call it Procrustean Publishing, from the Greek legend of Procrustus, who made travelers fit his bed the hard way, but either stretching them out or by cutting off the excess. Seldom does either person or novel really benefit from such treatment, regardless what Procrustus might think.
So I had to cut Mute, to my regret, lest the publisher do it for me, such as by lopping off the last 25,000 words. I took out 20,000 words, reducing it to 170,000, by removing Knot's return to his enclave at the beginning of Part II, up to where he hid in the closet in the Solar Power station on Planet Macho. Also part of his escape from the lobos, including one of my favorite passing scenes, that of the machine that dug and set fence posts in one stage, and the false lead in the mod-mute enclave where the breeding prospect for Thea Mermaid turned out to be gay. All this was painful, because I felt it was better to have a proper introduction to the society of Planet Macho before running afoul of it, and the fencepost machine was part of my best single day of writing, when I managed to write 6,000 words in pencil. Later with the computer I managed a bigger day on a Xanth novel, but since a normal day is 3,000 words, this was quite a feat of penciling. We had been setting posts, you see, for fences to contain our daughters' horses, so this was big in my mind at the time, and I would have loved to have the service of such a machine. So the published novel was more jammed than it should have been, and of course a reviewer tagged it for that, blaming the author instead of the publisher. Caught between dictatorial editors and heartless reviewers, neither of which necessarily know or care much about effective story telling, writers get stuck for a lot that isn't their fault.
There are over a hundred characters in the novel, and one of the challenges of writing is coming up with original names for so many people and creatures. I try to move around the alphabet, so as not to have several character beginning with A or B or whatever. Late in the novel I needed a name in the H part of the alphabet, and considered Harlan. But there is a well known genre writer named Harlan Ellison; would readers take it to connect to him? I decided that if I let existing folk limit my free selection of names, soon enough I'd have no names left. Harlan was the right name for this character, so I named him that. And sure enough, a reviewer claimed I was taking off on Ellison. Well, I wasn't; Harlan is a baby in this novel, but was slated to be the main character, twenty years later, in the sequel novel, and no shame for anyone to associate with if so inclined.
Ah, yes, that sequel. I can't find my original notes on it, and in any event doubt I'll ever write it. But from memory, here is what it was to be: Moot, as in something being of no further account, impractical, doubtful. Yes, like the psi powers of other folk in the presence of Harlan, who can damp any of them out. Between novels, after Mute, Knot marries Finesse, and they have daughters. So it is twenty year old Harlan who goes instead to meet Thea's normal daughter, as Knot and Thea had agreed. But it's one hell of a trip, because there are all manner of complications in this restless galaxy, and all of his formidable anti-psi ability is needed. Probably the dark force lopsi is trying to stop him, because his quest will somehow prejudice its case. He is accompanied by two small animals--I wonder how he got that notion?--whose psi abilities help greatly. Hermine Weasel and Mit Hermit Crab, unfortunately, have not lived twenty more years, having lesser lifespans, so can't participate. I had very nice animals--and can't remember them, to my frustration. Harlan will surely win through and find happiness with the lovely girl after changing the power balance in the galaxy. That's one phenomenal novel I won't be writing; now you know.
Since Mute was written five years before I computerized, there was no electronic file. So my wife scanned in the original carbon of the manuscript. What a bitch! I mean the job, not my wife; the carbon was fuzzy and the interpreter got all manner of weird effects, like different sizEs and fonts, skipped material, and odd symbøl$ in 1iëu of lett£rß. She struggled with it day by day, quitting when the frustration level got too high, and starting again another day. Thus she made it easy for me to edit, as I did not have to wrestle with those effects. Still, some slipped through. At one point Knot encountered a phalanx of elegant fighting cooks. Intriguing as that mental picture was, I nevertheless corrected it to fighting cocks.
I also edited out quite a number of surplus dashes and exclamation points, corrected misplaced "only" and fixed awkward parenthetical construction. It is possible to drift into bad habits without realizing, and I have done it. So when I get the chance, with the clearer perspective of time, I fix them. That perspective was enhanced by a juxtaposition of reading events. Late in the year 2000 I edited the 26th Xanth novel Up in a Heaval, then edited the quarter million word ChroMagic series novel Key to Chroma, then in early 2001 read for blurbing the excellent 300,000 word fantasy novel Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey, and then edited Mute. Thus I got to compare two of my own current fantasy novels, one potent fantasy by a new writer, and one of my own twenty year old novels. And you know what? I conclude that I remain more or less at the same writing level, neither improving nor fading. That will do.
I noted familiar Anthony themes, such as concern for the environment and the welfare of the other creatures of a planet, not just mankind. It is no accident that in this novel animals have psi powers too, and even insects, and seek parity with man. I didn't get to plants (though I do in that ChroMagic novel), but they will surely figure into the sequel. My concern with honor shows; Knot is a great liar and manipulator when he needs to be, to the telepathic weasel's delight (Naughty man!), but he is true to his word and to his own. Finesse is a pretty woman, but not just an empty skirt. You will not find anyone quite like these characters elsewhere; they are unique to this novel, and alive in their own particular fashions. That's the way I like it.
So it was a good experience, returning to this novel after two decades, and I'm sorry to leave it again. I hope my readers find it worthwhile too.
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