It was just a little dead mouse lying belly up in front of our house. Then it moved; it was alive. I couldn't tell where it had come from; there was no nest in sight. I conjecture that a hawk was carrying it and dropped it. That put me in a quandary: we don't want a mouse in the house, and don't have a way to feed a baby, but I couldn't just leave it out there with a cold front coming in; exposure would soon kill it. I am a vegetarian because I don't like hurting animals. I make exceptions for things like mosquitos, biting flies, critics and the like, whose purpose is to draw blood, and I know nature is red in tooth and claw. But a baby mouse? What it needed was its mother.
I brought it inside and made a crude nest from paper in a box; at least it had the limited comfort of warmth. When the temperature rose outside I took the box out and put it near a tree. I left it, and next morning the mouse was gone. Did its mother find it? Was it able to move out and forage for itself? More likely a snake came by and swallowed it. I am surely happier not knowing. But the question remains: what can a person do in such a circumstance?
Three days later the news was of a Tampa science teacher who found two day-old rabbits, shunned by their mother and near death. She knew they couldn't live on their own, and decided the kindest thing was to kill them quickly. She had her students dig a hole, and she dismembered the bunnies with a shovel. Now she's charged with two counts of animal cruelty, and facing a fine of $620. Yet would it have been less cruel to let them die of exposure and hunger? Should she have contacted an animal welfare organization? I don't want to be too blunt here, but typically those folk have better things to do than rush to the aid of dying baby bunnies.
What do you do when confronted by a situation for which there seems to be no kind solution? I don't have a pat answer, and it bothers me. I couldn't bring myself to kill that mouse cleanly, yet that might have been the kindest answer. People who can answer such questions without wincing are a pain in the soul.
On to another dilemma: I maintain an ongoing survey of electronic publishers and services, elsewhere on this site. I started it because I wanted to have an answer for aspiring writers whose dreams get trodden on by the spike-nailed boots of traditional publishers. Those publishers are mostly corporations, and a corporation doesn't give half a fart whether you live or die unless it affects their markets. Dreams are like baby animals, harmless, easily hurt, and unable to survive long without assistance--yet with the potential to move mountains if they survive, mature, and find their leverage. Some are beautiful; some are ugly; most are in the indifferent middle range. Regardless, each one deserves some kind of chance.
Electronic publishing offers that chance to ten times as many writers as does traditional publishing (Parnassus), and self publishing can accommodate about ten times as many again; all the remainder. But the sharks prowl these waters also, and some kind of guidance is helpful. I don't claim to be expert here, and my survey has no authority other than my observation. I have had several decades of mixed experience, and am known by a good many readers, so I make my list and comment candidly for anyone who is interested. They don't have to be my readers; it's a public service. I am receiving feedback that suggests it is indeed helpful for writers. That justifies the effort. I have done very well as a writer, and am satisfied to give back some for others.
But the moment I make a negative comment about a publisher, the hornets are roused. They remonstrate, they plead, they threaten. That's another reason I do it: I am beyond blacklisting, having survived that decades ago. I don't need any electronic publisher, and anyone familiar with my career knows it. So I can speak truth without effective retaliation. Aspiring writers can't, and publishers use their clout to silence anyone they can. Thus not many negative exposes get publicized. That means in turn that new writers continue to get ripped off by unscrupulous outfits. Someone needs to speak out, and so I do it because I can. It's not fun, but necessary. My survey is dedicated to the truth, whatever it may be, regardless of those who want it suppressed. And yes, I do also run negative comments on those with whom I have had positive interaction, such as Xlibris and Double-Dragon, if I receive them, and positive feedback on some I may not like. There may be errors in my listing, but no deliberate bias.
Okay, all fine and noble. But there's nevertheless a problem: I don't always know the truth. I could speak in generalities, as there have been several cases, but this time I'll use a specific. In my FeBlueberry update I said of NEW CONCEPTS PUBLISHING (NCP) "But I have a very bad report on their sloppiness and nonresponsiveness and possible cheating of authors." I did; I don't make such things up. Naturally that brought the publisher down on my neck, and I had a fair amount of dialogue with their representative "Madris" and three complainants whose anonymity I protect. The first said it took her a year to get their contract, and the book did not come out by the time another year had passed. She queried but got no answer. Then nine months after that, she learned that it had been published two months before, when she saw it listed at the site. She had not been notified. She ordered copies. It took four months for the books to arrive, and there were errors, such as the title being misspelled on the copyright page. She sent a list of errors, asking that they be corrected for future printings. No response. And the royalty statements showed no sales. She queried, and was told they would check on it. Then, suddenly, without notice to her, her book was gone, though there were two years left on her contract. She queried again, but received no answer. So she withdrew her book, citing NCP's violation of her contract, and demanded that any owed royalties be paid. Then she received a "Dear Authors" missive announcing that Young Adult category books had been dropped, and the rights were returned to her. But the book remained on sale at a number of outlets. She wondered if she would ever get her royalties. At that point she wrote to me. Now you know my basis for my "very bad" report. That was just the first of three similar reports, from three different writers.
So was this bad publishing, followed by blacklisting when she queried? Publishers don't openly post blacklists; they might get sued. They just find other reasons to exclude the author from any participation, so there is seldom any tangible evidence. But word gets around, and others know, and many other publishers honor the blacklist, and other writers get the word about what happens to troublemakers who get uppity about their rights. I have been the route, as my published autobiography documents. It is my private pleasure that in time I prospered and all my blacklisters washed out, in one lovely case because he had not been able to develop successful authors like me. That publisher who named me didn't know that their own editor had been blacklisting me, refusing to consider novels and series I offered him that subsequently did well elsewhere; that's what made it so exquisite. I hadn't done anything directly; I had simply proved my potential, that would have worked for him had he edited by merit instead of by spite. But that kind of outcome is prohibitively rare; I'm the only case I know of. Most other victims are finished. But that's also why the fur rises on the back of my neck when I smell blacklisting or cheating. That's why a publisher under suspicion of that will find me unyielding in my pursuit of the truth, though I try to mask the blood on my teeth. I have gone after traditional publishers with lawyers, and have made my case, though for some reason they don't seem to like to publicize my victories.
Okay. Madris began "One of our customers forwarded the information that you had posted derogatory, if not down right defamatory, remarks about my company on your site. How DARE YOU POST UNSUBSTIANTED REMARKS like THIS?" This was not her smartest opening; that music you hear in my background is the theme from Jaws. Madris blithely continued: "As it happens, I can trace this exactly to its source. Why? Because I do NOT cheat my authors. I not only pay my authors well, but within my limited abilities--yes we are overworked, understaffed and, as a small company, do occasionally have cash flow problems--pay my authors on time EVERY DAMNED CENT THEY HAVE EARNED, and quite often, money that I haven't even collected yet--if there's another publisher in the world who does so, I'd like to know it." Okay, if other electronic publishers care to write to me about this, I'll name them in my next, JeJune 2004, column. Offhand, I can name Xlibris and Mundania, two publishers in which I have a financial interest; I suspect there are others. She also said: "Now, regarding THE author who wrote you. It has been my unfortunate experience having been in business since 1996 to occasionally run across people who WILL NOT BE HAPPY." Okay, one useful device I have found is to ask the publisher to name the writer. Sometimes they can, which is persuasive. I did once delete a bad report. Sometimes they can't. This case wasn't that easy, as there were three, though I had announced only the first; the other two came in after the column was posted. She concluded "If you're not satisfied, I'm sorry to hear it. But I'm going to sue the hell out of the next person who posts ANY accusations about my company when they haven't even bothered to contact me and ask me any questions."
Well, the last time I was sued, I made the suer pay me. I did that so other potential suers would get the word, in the manner of a blacklist. It's not nice to rile the ogre. About the only thing a bully understands is superior force. Yes, I have not been sued since, though that may be coincidence. But this shows why I protect the anonymity of my informants, and why I generally don't check with publishers first: they are not about to admit fault, and are more likely to go after the wronged writer or the messenger, me. As I mentioned, I have been the route, and emerged snarling. Whoso sueth me today will get his bottom chomped, but regular writers can't afford the lawyers I can. And yes, it cost me more in legal fees than I got from the suing party; it was a pyrrhic victory, but it made the point and I'd do it again. The other party had to pay its legal fees and the money to me, so surely got the message. I don't get into legal action for the fun of it. And yes, had I been fairly treated originally, I would not now have it in for errant publishers. It does come around.
There was a good deal more to her letter, but I trust this shows that the publisher's view was quite different from the writers' views. It was enough to suggest to me that this was not a clear-cut case of publisher malfeasance. I repeat: my interest is in the truth, whatever it may be, even if personally I'd like to lay waste some geography. How DARE I, indeed! How little she knew. I have been in business as an ornery pro writer since 1962, and have occasionally encountered publishers who WILL NOT BE FAIR to writers and who react to legitimate queries with foaming muzzles. But I responded mildly: "Nevertheless, I have several complaints. I know that confusions are possible and that some writers have unrealistic expectations. But the details these writers have provided me are persuasive and damning. Perhaps some things are going on that you don't know about." Sometimes the top brass does get torpedoed by malfeasance of an underling.
Our dialogue continued, and tones moderated. I recognized the possibility (this was my own thought, not a charge by the publisher) that a single aggrieved writer might be trying to smear the publisher by sending complaints under several bylines. I do not wish to be used by anyone in that manner. But how could I fathom the truth while preserving anonymity? That was the dilemma. So I asked the publisher to list the authors she had had trouble with, and I asked the authors to list their titles with this publisher. Both cooperated, somewhat to my surprise. The publisher did name one of my three, and all three authors named their titles. One even listed a number of sites where her book remained on sale, and I verified this. But the publisher deleted the authors from its listing when it closed down that line of books, so couldn't name them. So I was satisfied that both sides had some merit: if the publisher routinely wronged its authors, it would not have been able to name even one special case; but there were three different authors, showing it wasn't limited to one, and they seemed to have been treated outrageously.
So what was the real situation here? My conclusion is that it really is mostly a case of tardy performance and misunderstanding. NCP really is understaffed, so queries can get passed over or lost. It found it was not doing well with a certain line of books, so it shut it down. To the authors it may look like retaliation, but in my judgment it wasn't. The publisher said that writers whose books were selling well were happy, and those whose books were not selling well were unhappy. This seems to have been the case here. The publisher was arrogant and neglectful about properly informing the authors concerned, but it wasn't cheating or punishing them. So what about those books still on sale after being withdrawn? NCP had withdrawn the books from sale, but the outlets didn't update their listings. I believe no sales were actually made there. Similarly some outlets that were selling books before were slow in relaying payments--months slow. That explains why known sales were not yet listed. It does happen; this is an advantage of my 40 years dealing with publishers: I have seen it before. So while I can't say I really like the attitude of NCP, I also can't say they are deliberately wronging their authors, other than by foul-ups and maddening insensitivity to complaints. There's a whole lot of that going around; just about every publisher has surely been guilty to some degree at some point. Should other writers do business with NCP? Yes, with the hope that the publisher will after this run-in ameliorate its attitude and shore up its responses to queries. I say once more: this is no unique case; many publishers are similar.
I'll finish with a report from a satisfied named author: Ellen Fisher firstname.lastname@example.org, who has in the past been published by Bantam, a solid traditional publisher. "I sold my second historical romance to New Concepts in March 2003. It was issued in October and since then I've had two more romances released by them. I received my first royalty statement this spring and have no reason to believe they haven't sent me everything I've earned. They strike me overall as a very good little company trying very hard to increase their customer base. They recently established a discussion loop for their authors, which has led to a lot of good ideas for promotion being developed. Like most e-publishers, NCP is understaffed and overworked, and they don't always respond as quickly as I'd like. In addition, much of the promotion is up to the authors (which is true for a lot of New York-published authors nowadays too, if you're a new author!) but NCP has released all my books on schedule, with no formatting problems, no introduced typos, and with really great covers that rival New York quality romance covers. Sales are low, but that is expected in e-publishing, and NCP is doing their best to increase sales. NCP's site was hacked at the end of last year, which meant it was offline for over a month. Naturally there was some 'unresponsiveness' during this time, as the employees worked to get the entire site moved to a new server. This was unfortunate, but a risk of doing most of your business online. There are some NCP authors that are annoyed they have been cut from NCP's list--but most of their books were not selling, and they were no longer actively producing books for NCP. NCP's decision to focus on the books that are selling, and the authors who are committed to the company, makes sense to me. I also know some children's and YA authors are irked because NCP is no longer selling these lines. But again, a small company needs to focus on what sells, and children's books have not sold well in e-format. I don't know what the story is behind the author(s) that wrote you, and won't speculate. But there are lots of romance and fantasy authors currently writing for NCP who are quite happy with the company." Actually, I did hear from several of them.
So there you have it: a single case history, similar to others. I have amplified aspects so that I won't have to do so again; I'll refer future folk to this discussion. Now you know some of what goes on behind the scenes in my Survey, and perhaps have a better notion of the issues that distinguish publishers from authors. My recommendation to publishers is to KEEP YOUR AUTHORS INFORMED, and to writers to do what these three did: query, try to work it out with the publisher, be patient, and when that fails, contact an outfit like Ask Ann, Preditors and Editors, The National Writers Union, EPIC, or me, depending on your membership and mood. Aggrieved poets can check Elite Skills; my Survey has a link. Such entities can, if they choose, make publishers respond or be sorry. Not that my career has been noted for patience with publishers, as the tone of this discussion suggests. Being fair minded can be a real chore.
On to other things. A reader complained that I typically have huge long paragraphs so it's hard to keep one's place. HOW DARE--oops, I'm out of that section; I have to be polite. Now as a commercial writer I know about paragraphing; in fact I think my sense of it is sharper that that of many other writers I see. You will seldom see a cumbersome paragraph in my published fiction. It's something of a spot science. But this column isn't commercial, it's just my ramblings on assorted subjects, a sort of blog, so I have tried to group all of particular subjects into single paragraphs. Still, having been jogged by a reader, I am reconsidering, and this column is more responsively parsed, as it were. If readers prefer this, I'll continue.
Hipiers.com receives a good deal of email, most of it spam. We dump the spam, and I look at everything else. Lately we have been getting multiple copies of legitimate letters, because the server sends back "undeliverable" messages while actually forwarding the mail here. We objected, but it's like complaining to a publisher: you get ignored, or a bug letter, and nothing changes. We have been generally satisfied with our server, hitherto; I hope this doesn't reach the stage where we have to change servers to make our point.
I write these columns in the last days of the month preceding the column dates, then edit them on the first of the month. Last time I did so efficiently--I do prefer efficiency when I can manage it--and finished editing the 7,600 words of it before supper. Sigh: that meant I didn't get to comment on the Superbowl. Think of the fun I could have had with Janet "I have a Breast" Jackson making a clean breast of her wardrobe malfunction. Now I'll never have the chance. However, I can mention that later the British magazine THE ECONOMIST deplored the depths to which other publications sank by publishing pictures of the exposure. To demonstrate that depth, THE ECONOMIST published one of those pictures, tongue in cheek. It was a much better angle than that provided by the brief TV shot; the girl has quite a figure. Good thing THE ECONOMIST has a higher standard. So how was the football game? Oh, there was football?
Several decades back we subscribed to CONSUMER REPORTS magazine, the one that tests and rates assorted products, you know, a bit like my electronic publishing survey. They can get sued when they make a negative report, too. We dropped CR then, because their check-rated product seemed seldom to be on sale locally, while what was on sale wasn't rated. Once I even sent in a description of a portable radio I had bought and liked, that they didn't rate in their radio survey. They replied that if they had tested it they would have listed it. Duh! My point was that they were not addressing local consumer needs. Well, time has passed so we're trying them again; maybe they have finally learned how to do it. And the first thing I noticed was that they flunked the Vitamin C test. There are two classes of people in the world: those who know that C does not stop the common cold vs. those who have actually properly tried it. That is, one gram per waking hour at the onset of cold symptoms, continued until the cold fades out; meanwhile all you feel is a slight roughness in the throat, no running nose, no coughing, no fatigue. There can be some mild digestive disturbance--a gram an hour is one hell of a lot of C--but that's about it. I'm a hard case; it takes three days to stifle a typical cold, but others can do it in less. A single one gram dose used to work for my mother. The medical profession seems reluctant to actually test C. Oh there have been trials, limited to something like a fifth of a gram a day, which is like trying to dam the tide with a child's toy shovel. I understand that once they tried a double blind study with the proper amount, but that immediately the subjects knew who was getting the C, because their colds were stifled, while the others suffered full symptoms. So the anonymity was ruined, and they stopped the test. Since it was incomplete, there were no official results, and they continued reporting that there was no proof that Vitamin C worked. I think they're in thrall to the expensive commercial nostrums that treat symptoms alone. I'm sorry to see CONSUMER'S UNION parrot that line. Dammit, they should have tested C themselves. Do they accept Ford's word that its cars are superior the the junk GM puts out, or do they actually drive the cars? Why do they accept popular wisdom here, instead of verifying the case? So they flunked that test, in more than one sense, and that makes me wary of their other judgments, as I was thirty years ago. I'm sorry to see it. (To C it?) Note to readers: C will stop a cold, but not the flu; if you're running a fever, get help.
As most readers of this column know, in the past few years I have changed from Windows computer software to Linux. I don't yet recommend that route to others, because Linux still has too many Geek-sensitive features. (Could that be the origin of the age-old complaint "It's Geek to me"?) Once they fix it so you can put in the installation disk, let it percolate, then run Linux programs without hassle, it will be ready. If you want to sign up for AOL you can do that, so it should be possible for Linux. At any rate, having struggled through the process, along the way utilizing the services of three separate geeks, I am quite pleased with StarOffice 7 and Linux in general; my only remaining significant problem is that I have to print out a novel in 50 page segments, because it will neither do a full novel nor accept a chain of smaller files in a queue. It used to; its the recent versions that don't. But apart from that, I am in love with StarOffice/OpenOffice (they are variants of each other, the latter being the development phase of the former) and figure to continue using it until I croak. So it seemed time to take the last step: going to the Linux database. I've been using the Windows Access, my last Windows connection. I dreaded the change, knowing that it would be a horrible hassle on my own. Did I mention needing geeks for Linux? Well, it was. StarOffice makes it a point to read Word files, but it couldn't read Access files. Access is a relational database; both Linux and StarOffice have relational databases. But it seems the one can't read the content of the other. Finally we broke the Access component files into separate entities and translated them to StarOffice files on a Windows system, then translated those to my Linux system. It's not relational; I'm tempted to wonder whether the Linux folk actually know what relational is. But it works. It takes three minutes to call up. But it works. So I have it here in my Linux system. Maybe some day I'll fetch in another geek and see if it can be translated to a full functioning relational database. For the rest of you my advice remains the same: not yet. I think too many of the Linux folk are refugees from Microsoft, and bring that user-be-damned attitude with them. In time, I hope, that will pass. Then Linux will conquer the world.
And I practice my archery. After my last column comment on the conic arrow-rest, I received two reader comments. One suggested that I use a bow sling. This is a strap that holds the bow to the hand, so that the hand does to grasp it at all, and no twist is applied as you loose the arrow, making for more accurate aim. I experimented, liking the idea, but discovered that my bows are top heavy--probably from the weight of the sights--so will tilt up or down if not held in place, spoiling my aim. The other recommended drawing the bowstring with the tips of the fingers, rather than curling knuckles around it. But my bows, right and left, are set at about 57 pounds draw weight. I can't do that with my fingertips. Remember, I'm pushing 70; I'm not the physical specimen I might once have had the potential to be. So I use knuckles like other ogres. I concluded that I simply have to learn to hold the left side bow firmly but without twist, as I do with the right side. I'm working on it. One Sunday I made a combined score of +9. That is, nine more arrows struck the one square foot center, at the 150 foot range, than missed the target entirely. I loose a total of 24 arrows, 12 for each side. Meanwhile my cone started dropping arrows into the ground. I concluded that since that was the light version, the warmer spring weather must be making the plastic more flexible, and my heavy arrows are weighing it down. So I swapped it for the heavier cone--and suddenly I was missing them all high. That was more confirmation than I liked. I adjusted, and missed them all low. So on that session, my right side had two centers and two misses, 2-2. My left side had 0-11. I think I have a bit more zeroing in to do. You can see why I use baffle targets on all sides, lest I lose that many arrows. But I also think I'm on the right track. I like the cone, as I like Linux; it just requires some adjustment.
I am now writing Incarnations of Immortality #8, Under a Velvet Cloak, featuring Nox, the Incarnation of Night. I am slavishly following the outline made by Stephen Smith, and am about 26,000 words into it. This is the first time I have written a novel outlined by someone else. But it's a good outline, and should make a decent novel. Stephen Smith was the same one who suggested the bow sling. It seems readers can have more than one interest.
We saw a sale in a catalog: Seiko kinetic watch, list price $375, for less than half price. So we splurged and bought two of them, his and hers, as it were. Kinetic means that it doesn't need battery replacement; it is powered by the ordinary motion of the wrists. They are good watches; I'm checking accuracy by the hourly time beeps on the radio, and mine seems to gain about 3.5 seconds a month. Since all they claim is to be within 15 seconds, I'm pleased. I hope they last a decade without mischief. That may assuage my underlying guilt for buying an expensive watch when I already had a good one. I don't like to waste money or things; I still wear the blue jeans I've had for decades, though my original 30 inch waist has expanded to about 33 inches (my weight hasn't changed, but some sand has shifted with age) and I can no longer button the tops. I surely look like a hayseed; well...
Reader Sam Reeves had to do a research paper for Freshman Composition, so asked to interview me. I try to oblige such requests on general principle, as I'd like to get more of my books into schools and colleges, and email is easy. I also liked his attitude:
The subject of my paper is why the literati should not denounce science fiction and fantasy as inferior to traditional "literature" taught in American schools. I believe this elitist literary community often levels a blanket judgment against science fiction without regard to the quality of material contained in the pages, possibly without even reading it.I'm sure any genre writer will agree that this attitude is worthy of support. So I answered his questions, and because I feel the interview deserves more exposure than an audience of one--his professor--I am running it here, with Sam's permission.
1. The Left Hand of Darkness was once criticized by The New York Review of Books because of its use of "funny names." Yale professor Harold Bloom said of Stephen King when he won the National Book Award for lifetime achievement in 2003, "He [King] is a man who writes what used to be called 'penny dreadfuls.' . . . That [members of the National Book Foundation] could believe there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply testimony to their own idiocy." Have any of your stories been met with hostility simply because they were labeled genre? Explain.
Worse, speaking generally; there are always exceptions. Mine have been met with hostility by SF/F reviewers and critics simply because I became a best-selling writer. My most successful fantasy series, Xanth, is routinely trashed, and never appears even on any "recommended" list for fantasy in genre magazines. It is claimed that I am merely a writer of frivolous fantasy, while my serious fiction, such as the GEODYSSEY series, is ignored. Thus the ignorant and spiteful mainstream attitudes are mirrored within the genre. Critics just don't seem to appreciate readable, interesting fiction. Fortunately readers do, which is why there is a disconnect between critically approved and commercially successful fiction.2. What motives do you believe could lie behind this herd mentality of instinctively rejecting genre fiction?
It is difficult to see any reasonable motives. It seems to be masked jealousy of success. Deliberate ignorance contributes.3. More and more, I see professional writers of speculative fiction make self-belittling remarks such as, "I'm just a story teller." An old saying rooted in the slavery era is "Tell a man he is stupid enough times and he begins to believe it himself." Remarks of modesty can start out as shields against criticism, but they also can grow into a self-concept in time, bolstered by negative judgments of the literati. Has your ability to write ever been undermined simply because of genre-specific criticisms, and/or have you witnessed aspirant science fiction or fantasy writers give up because they believed to be respected they must produce mainstream?
No and No. I am a commercial writer, which means I write what readers like to read, qualified by my intellectual interests. I reject the tacit bigotry of the critics, and I believe most genre writers do. The acceptance of readers is a considerable counter to the rejection of literati who really don't seem to know much about the real nature of writing.4. What is your opinion toward the common phrase that genre writers are "simply in it for the money"?
That is at best a half truth. Most writers could make more money bricklaying, and know it. The ideal is to earn one's living doing what one loves, and that's writing. So we write what will sell, preferring to be commercial about writing rather than commercial about bricklaying. That does not mean we write junk; literary elements are there, unnoticed.5. What benefits could you imagine if science fiction and fantasy were equally respected alongside mainstream?
In the motion picture industry, they are, and it is leading to some real success for genre writers. But I suspect mainstream critics will never be satisfied with anything less than effective racism, with genre fiction shut into closed enclaves. However, I do believe in categories, separate but equal, so that readers can readily locate their preferences, whether fantasy, western, mystery, romance, erotic, or, yes, literary.Okay, back to main text. I mentioned motion pictures: I now have serious options on the Xanth, Incarnations of Immortality, and Adept series. By serious I mean not only are they paying healthy money, they are doing things like hiring script writers, directors, and pondering actors. Few options get exercised--that is, result in actual movies--but I believe my chances of coming out of this with one or more movies are better than even. Stay tuned.
There was a bad scene in Sarasota, Florida, the southern edge of the Sun coast. An eleven year old girl disappeared. This sort of thing happens distressingly often, but this time it was caught on an outdoor security camera, so there was a video of the man intercepting the girl, taking her by the hand, and leading her away. They got the man, who had a record, but by then the girl had been raped and killed. So what's my take? That we need better sex education. There is no lower age limit for sexual predation, so there should be no lower limit for protective education. To be female (and sometimes young male) is to be a target. Those who campaign to stop realistic sexual education in schools are contributing to exactly this kind of murder. That girl should have known not to just go with any man who pretended to be official. She should have protested, and if he grabbed her, screamed, kicked, bit, and fled. He wouldn't be able to chase her far without attracting attention, and it could save her life. I also feel that all women should carry the Impact Kerambit I have discussed before, the L shaped plastic device that enables a person to break the hand or face of an attacker. Hit him and run, screaming. It might save more than your virginity.
I completed my Relationships collection of mainstream stories, at about 80,000 words. A dozen stories ranging from 1,000 to 20,000 words long, mostly about boy meets girl or vice versa, but the frameworks vary and some are shockers. The only one with any hint of the supernatural is "Dragon Girl," and it's no sweet trifle. The dragon represents the vicious side of a sweet girl's nature, which turns out to be amply justified. But other stories, like "Bully," are nice: he's a not-bright reforming school bully, she's a near-genius freaked-out victim of rape, but each turns out to be exactly what the other needs. Some stories are suitable for maiden aunts; others are X-rated sexual. A wide range, in short. I figured there would not be much traditional print market for this--"Piers Anthony? Mainstream stories? Get real, idiot!"--so asked my agent to let me offer it to electronic publishers. But he said there might be a market, so he's checking. So I can't do my bold experiment of soliciting Internet publishers via this column. If any are interested--and none are barred from consideration, even those I've fought with--they can let me know and I'll make a little list for such time as my agent gives up on Parnassus. The thing is, I don't write fiction to be hidden in buried files; I want it read, and I am not in financial need. And I'm proud of these stories, which show what I can do independent of genre. There are no potboilers here.
I've been reading. I'm a slow reader, and it cuts into my writing time, but when I'm not on a book deadline I do try to read. Also, there are galleys of my own books that I have to read. So gives with an abbreviated summary of these last two months reading. Medalon, by Jennifer Fallon. This is a forthcoming fantasy novel from TOR, sent me for blurbing, which I did. The days of gentle children's fantasy by lady writers have given way to savage adult fantasy by lady writers, and this is an example. There are political scheming, levels of mystery, ugly combat, difficult romance, and yes, magic, well enough done; readers who like getting into well-realized realms should find this worthwhile. Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. This is the one I mentioned last column, where I said GET AN AGENT, and it may have made a six figure difference. It's a rousing good boy and dragon story and another well-realized fantasy realm; this is clearly a writer who will be known. Lowly Origins, by Jonathan Kingdon. Nonfiction, about what happened when our ancestors first stood on their hind legs. This is a subject that has interested me for some time, as my GEODYSSEY historical series shows. The author is phenomenally knowledgeable, yet somehow misses key aspects as I see them: how two footedness led to the phenomenal visual sexual appeal of women, how it led to man's development of the most effective body cooling mechanism in the animal kingdom, and exactly how it lead to the giant brain. Still, this volume is worthwhile for those interested in paleontology and the derivation of mankind.
Then I read Omvivore, my 1968 science fiction novel of alien contact, galleys for the Mundania Press republication. So how does it look to me, 35 years later? I was pleasantly surprised; this is well done, with literary touches and a theme I haven't seen elsewhere: sapient development of the third kingdom, which is the fungus realm. Then my more recent novel, Key to Destiny, Mundania galleys, third in the ChroMagic fantasy series. To my surprise, this seemed to start slow, with a good deal of review of prior material. That's necessary for readers who haven't read or don't remember earlier novels in the series, but not normally my style. However, the complex conclusion wraps up the trilogy in style, and makes me want to get into the fourth novel, as I love this setting and its characters, one of whom is only about three months old, yet who must contest for global dominance with a monstrous sapient machine. So what will baby Voila (pronounced vwa-LAH) be like when she's a teen?
Daydreams Undertaken, by Stephen L. Antczak. This is a collection of 15 science fiction stories by a lesser-known Florida writer my daughters knew, sent for blurbing. Some stories are challenging, such as "Reality," about a weird large sculpture that people can walk through and whimsically change. But when they do, it changes reality; some people disappear, human nature shifts, Earth's second moon vanishes, that sort of thing. So folk get a bit wary. "Captain Asimov" has a dull household robot don a cape and go out anonymously to right wrongs and rescue folk in trouble. Possibly there's a screw loose, but he's fun. Other stories range all over. This is far from spaceships and ray guns; it's the thinking man's science fiction, mentally and emotionally challenging.
And of course earlier I read the three finalists for the Double Dragon contest. This turned out to be awkward, because I had read one of them before, when a small publisher sent it to me for blurbing; I had declined to blurb it, then, but it turned out to be the winner, this time: The Steel of Enadia, by Kevin Hile. I had hoped it wouldn't be the best, but of the others one was historical rather than fantasy, and the other had too much violence and not enough magic for my taste in fantasy. So my limited experience being a contest judge leaves me not entirely satisfied. Oh, the winner is readable, with plenty of good fantasy elements; you'll enjoy it. I just wish I hadn't read it before, as that may have queered my objectivity.
And I saw movies and videos. Hidalgo, routine man and horse adventure with a save-the-mustangs theme I agree with; much action, no real romance. The video anime Princess Mononoke, demonstrating that story lines and characterization in this sub-genre are getting more complicated, with an ecological theme I like. (I looked up "anime" in the dictionary, and learned it is a part of medieval armor, and also an ingredient in varnish. Nothing about movies. I wonder what politically correct fantasy purists make of that?) Video Spanking the Monkey, whose title phrase I didn't understand until my daughter clued me in: it means masturbation. This is actually about a young man who has to take care of his mother, who has a broken leg, during his father's absence, and winds up having sex with her. Well enough done, not really my type. And I got a Betty Page Pin Up Queen video, because of the Bettie Page (yes, spelled differently) doll I mentioned last time; I wanted to know who she was. Apparently she was the top pin-up queen of the 50s. I graduated from high school and college and got married and spent two years in the US Army in the 50s, but somehow never was aware of her; maybe I had other things on my mind. I haven't watched the video yet. My VCP (video cassette player) stopped rewinding tapes, so my wife found a full VCR/DVD on sale and got it, and it works, but I can't play DVDs on it because the cheap little TV I have lacks the connections. Our propensity for shopping the sales can lead to mischief. But I can play DVDs on my computer system. I just don't like wasting capacity.
Family matters: There was a fire at one relative's house, seriously disrupting their home life. He is a chemist, and was experimenting with cocoa beans; his stock got inadvertently roasted in the fire. So those interested in obtaining incorrectly roasted cocoa beans can check him at www.chocolatealchemy.com. He'll restock, so in due course there will be correct chocolate. No, no one was hurt; the fire occurred when they were out, gutting the house. At almost the same time, another relative had a son, whose middle name is after me: Piers. In the past readers have named a cat and a horse after me; perhaps I am moving up.
Last time I asked readers to help me explain the change in location of Mount Pinatuba. They came through: Jason Kincaid said it might be on a tectonic saucer, more mobile than a tectonic plate, and Steve Fisher suggested that it might have found a mustard seed's faith, so the mountain moved. These should do, and I'll explain in a future novel, with credits to them. Steve Fisher also advised me of a nice site to view: www.domai.com, dedicated to esthetic nude women. No sex, no porno, just nice nudes. No clothing at all, no artful covering up, merely artfully displayed. Apparently the girls send them in, much as readers send me puns. That's my type of site.
I saw a newspaper article about a man's crusade for a low-cost hearing aid. It says they could be made for $100, but required standards bring the average cost to $2,200. "The prices are obscene" one authority says. I agree; they are ripping off folk who might do just fine with a simple sound magnifier, just as some can make out small print with a magnifying glass and don't need expensive prescription glasses. My wife suggested that I check the archery catalog. Sure enough, you can get sound magnifying hunting aids for around $100. The article mentions that: they played two recordings before an audience of 50 audiologists. One was by a $149 sporting goods device, the other by a $2000 digital hearing aid. The audience rated the $149 device as having clearer sound. So maybe all you need is a sporting goods catalog to make your hearing aid affordable.
Another newspaper article says that women and girls really are more depressive than the male gender. It's partly genetic, partly circumstantial; many women are abused. Pre-menstrual and postpartum depression are two that men don't encounter, too. It is complicated by the fact that women tend to internalize, to dwell on it more. So is there anything they can do to alleviate it, short of medication? Yes: stay active physically, as that is a distraction and has physiological benefits. Cultivate friends; sympathetic discussion can help, and if a major relationship is lost, there is something to fall back on. My interest of course is two fold: I have experienced just enough depression myself to have a serious respect for it, and I hear from a number of depressive girls and want to find the words to help them. Of related interest: item in US NEWS & WORLD REPORT discusses hypergraphia: the driving compulsion to write. Its opposite is writer's block. Alice Flaherty birthed twin boys who died, and she went into postpartum depression. Then some emotional switch flipped, and she was bursting with ideas and had to write. She wrote a book, The Midnight Disease, exploring these extremes of the creative process. They may be related to mental disease. What is written isn't necessarily great literature; in fact the author says much of it is cringingly embarrassing garbage. But the writing compulsion will not be denied. Hm--maybe that explains both my output and the critic's reaction to it. Except for one thing: I don't recall ever suffering from postpartum depression.
I was sent a link to a site that sells the Netti Pot. This is a little device that looks like Aladdin's Lamp, used for washing out the nose to ease allergies. You put warm salt water in it, put it to one nostril, tilt your head to the side, and pour in the solution so that it flows through and out the lower nostril. Nice, but it occurs to me that similar could be done without the pot. When I had nose surgery in 1992 I had to rinse with a salt solution by tilting a cup to my nose, sniffing it up, and spitting it out. A little practice and it became routine. Next time I suffer a siege of the sneezes, I'll try it.
Another article is on the rules of attraction: lust, romantic love, and attachment, something I have read about and commented on before. It says that love is not an emotion but a drive, like the craving for food and water. That's what's new to me; I always thought it was an emotion. It seems that chemistry underlies it, and it is suppressed during a long-term relationship. That explains why that first phenomenal flush of fantastic feeling does not last. There was also an article in NEW SCIENTIST with further insights. It says the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. I hadn't thought of that, but probably agree. It says the sex drive evolved to enable our ancestors to seek intercourse with any remotely appropriate individual. Romantic love developed to enable our forebears to focus their attention on preferred partners instead of wasting their energy randomly. And long-term attachment evolved to motivate mates to rear their babies as a team. So now you know. I think the author of the newspaper article had read this one. Another item says that the three states of lust, love, and attachment can happen in scrambled order, or with different partners at the same time. Hoo--isn't that a formula for mischief! Of related interest: an item in SCIENCE NEWS says that a mathematical model can predict whether a marriage will end in divorce with 94% accuracy. They videotaped 15 minute conversations about things like sex and finances, analyzed them, made predictions, then checked four years later. So what's the secret? In destined-to-be-successful marriages, positive interactions like joking and laughing outnumbered negative ones by 5-1. If one partner showed contempt as the other spoke, doom. Interesting. My wife and I don't argue about sex or money, and we laugh often. I like to say we have an old fashioned marriage: I make the money, she spends it. I take care of the big things, she the little things. Big things are global policy and whether boy gets girl in my current novel. Little things are where we go, what we eat, and everything else. We're coming up on our 48th anniversary this year.
I tried five health newsletters, and gradually over the course of years whittled them down to one: ALTERNATIVES, by Dr. David C Williams. Of recent interest is his statement that as much as 80% of stroke damage can be reduced by administering an experimental drug called Caffeinol within two hours. He says this is a combination of caffeine and alcohol; neither component helps, but in combination they work well. Similar protection could be achieved by consuming two or three cups of strong coffee and a cocktail. Or Irish coffee. Mix 2 cups strong black coffee, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2 ounces of Irish whiskey and stir well. Alcohol opens up blood vessels, and caffeine increases blood flow. So if you have a stroke, this may be a way to reduce its damage while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. He says cranberry juice may also help. I'm not a coffee or a whiskey drinker, but this interests me. Another issue quotes a poem seen on a T-shirt to which I can relate: "The Golden Years Have Come at Last/ I cannot see, / I cannot pee, / I cannot chew, / I cannot do. / My memory shrinks, / My hearing stinks. / No sense of smell, / I look like hell. / My body's drooping, / Got trouble pooping. / The Golden Years Have Come at Last." Sigh.
The email keeps me busy on a daily basis, mostly with the reading and brief responses. Some are interviews, as shown above; I try to oblige, though if the amount should increase I might have to cut back. If, for example, any of those movie options pan out, I could suddenly have ten or a hundred times the business on this site, and would have to hire a secretary. (Confucius say: "Secretary not permanent fixture until screwed on desk.") I typically answer the questions, then forget to check online to see if the material is run. I did remember in one case, so can say that the new publisher www.keepitcoming.net posted my interview at its site, and if the length of this column doesn't leave you surfeit, you can go there for more. This does not imply any support for this publisher; it doesn't have a track record. No, you gutter minded jokers, it is not a porn site; it's the fiction that keeps coming, in the form of serial stories. See my Survey. Meanwhile I received an email saying "It has come to my attention that you are being under police investigation. Is that true? Have you really committed such crimes?" And a link. I didn't click it; this is obviously a fake, despite what critics may say.
I read some of the daily comics, like Curtis, Doonesbury, Luann and such. Foxtrot had one I appreciated: they got hold of a Windows source code leak, which went IF browser_type = "Internet_Explorer" THEN smooth sailing ELSE IF (browser type = "Netscape") AND (justice_department NOT looking) THEN REPEAT crash (random). I have oft noted the Windows tendency to poke its finger in the eye of competitive programs running on the Windows base so that if you want reliable performance, better stick to Macrohard. It is one of the reasons I don't have any Windows on my main system, which does not connect to the Windows based email system. Linux, essentially, doesn't crash. Sometimes it does supernatural things, but no crashes.
Every so often we hear from someone who likes the HiPiers site but finds it stodgy, and would like to jazz it up. Sorry, no; this is intended as a public service (the electronic publishing survey), as information on my works (biblio, Xanth database, etc.), and a place for me to express my unfettered opinionations (our current political mess is because they put a kid in charge of the candy store). I don't want something that takes forever to load, or dazzles with special effects, or is larded with commercials; I want it to be fairly clean and easy to use. So we are satisfied as we are.
There's a new social fashion: flexitarianism. That's part-time vegetarianism. That is, there are the great majority of ilk who are omnivores, eating everything from snails (escargot) to bee regurgitation (honey), and there are the vegetarians who skip the cooked corpses, and now those who stay clear of most carrion but do like some. So how do I, as a strict ovo-lacto vegetarian (I do eat eggs and milk), feel about this? I approve it. Here's the rationale: I avoid butchered flesh because I don't like hurting animals; that's a personal credo. When they start growing meat on trees, I'll reconsider. It doesn't hurt that vegetarianism is healthy, despite what critics say--statistics aren't available, but I suspect I would be in the top ten per cent of all men my age for physical and mental health, though there is more to it than vegetarianism--but that's not the reason. My interest is in saving as many lambs, bunnies, and chicks as feasible from the brutal grinder. So if more people eat less dead meat, that saves more innocent creatures from the bloodstained ax. As meat substitutes become more versatile, it will be easier for more folk to shift entirely into the light. Then fewer fawns will lose their fathers. (I trust readers appreciate the obviously unbiased nature of this discussion.)
Margo Hammond, book editor of the ST PETERSBURG TIMES had an article on reviewing. She once interviewed me and didn't torpedo me, so I respect her. This time she discussed a literary leak: somehow the names of thousands of anonymous reviewers on Amazon.com were outed, and it turned out that some were friends of the authors, or relatives, or even the authors themselves. Others were arch enemies of the authors, intent on destroying them. Wow! That explains a lot. I never knew I had so few friends and so many enemies. Ms. Hammond concludes "Buyer beware." Amen. I have railed for years about reviews that do not reflect the quality of author's works; this vindicates my attitude. No, the reviews I get are not universally negative; that's just my pose as the aggrieved writer. I forget whether I have mentioned this here before (memory is one of the things age damages) so my grudging apology if I am repeating: there was once an interview with the disgusted wife of a writer. She said that if he got a good review, that washed out the rest of the day. But if he got a bad review, that washed out the rest of the week. My reaction is, well of course: he's a writer; what do you expect? But it remains true that reviewing is an act that needs to be cleaned up, beginning with anonymity.
It turns out that Dr. Atkins, of the Atkins Diet, died last year weighing 258 pounds with a heart condition at age 72. That figures; I have always regard that diet as faddish nonsense, and curse the day my father discovered it and suffered its degenerate effects. Sure, the Atkins folk claim that diet had nothing to do with the doctor's obesity and bad heart, just as the Bush administration claims that starving the poor to benefit the rich has nothing to do with the country's economic problems. About all the Atkins diet proves is that you can lose weight on anything, even fat, if you cut your overall intake down far enough. And that you won't keep it off in good health unless you develop a consistently healthy life style. Duh!
Eric Smith, of Hot Damn! Design sent a frightening expose of the current political and voting scene. It's not just that the party in power has triple the money to spend on campaigning, but that they are fighting dirty. Gerrymandering, impeachment, recess judicial appointments, and now they have made it a crime for third parties to criticize the president during the election's critical phase, while they blatantly misrepresent the opponent's record. More than a quarter of the vote will be tallied on electronic voting machines that can be hacked to fix the results, without trace. Yes, that bothers me; it was clear in 2000 that a majority of the people who voted in Florida tried to vote for Gore, but various devices and foul-ups nullified their votes, and when it seemed that he'd win anyway, the Supreme Court stepped in to prevent the full tally being used. That did give the Republicans the election they had lost. I believe a greater majority of Floridians will vote against the current regime this year, but I am not at all sure their votes will count. So this is a call to activism, and if you are interested, the address is email@example.com. It has been said that the current administration answers the description of a coup, and what is occurring is a form of looting. It scares me. No, I'm not a Democrat; I'm a registered independent. My interest is in seeing an honest election, whatever way it goes.
Amnesty International is the watchdog for man's inhumanity to man. Their literature is always depressing. This time they are campaigning against violence against women. It's a global phenomenon. In Russia 14,000 women die every year at the hands of their partners. Every two minutes in England there is a call for help from a woman threatened with violence. There is rampant abduction and rape of women in occupied Iraq that goes mainly unreported and unpunished because women fear they will be killed by male relatives for besmirching family "honor." Around a hundred million women are at risk of genital mutilation. www.amnestyusa.org. Actually there is violence by women against men too, a problem that goes largely unrecognized, but in general men have more physical, economic and political power, so the women get the brunt. I deplore it all, and am ashamed of my species.
We put in an $800 heat exchanger last fall, to make our air conditioning more efficient, putting the heat from the air into the hot water. But it was misconnected, and never worked. Finally today, Apull 1, as I edited this column, they came and fixed it. We should be set for the summer. We hope. No fooling.
And so another long column, over 10,000 words, crunches to an awkward halt. Have a nice two month respite before I get going on the JeJune effort.
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