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The Ogre's Den image
Piers Anthony at work
JeJune 2004
My snail junk mail is filled with investment, health, and device ads. I look at it all before tossing it, just in case, and once in a rare while I bite. A couple years ago it was Indium, that supposedly facilitated the absorption of other minerals and promoted well-being, such as needing less sleep. It had no effect. This time I'm trying Dr. Sinatra's Q-Gel, a concoction of Coenzyme Q10 with Vitamin B-12 and others, which is supposed to address the mitochondria, the energy cells of the body. With my chronic fatigue, I'm interested, though the thyroid pills have alleviated that somewhat. Well, after two weeks I can report that those pills have--you guessed it--no effect. I'll finish out the trial month and be done with it. Meanwhile my wife has had better luck: her new doctor put her on a low salt diet, and her intractable medicine-resistant high blood pressure suddenly came down to about 130/80, barely above normal. I remain low pressure, 115/65. The thing with ogres is that they don't suffer high blood pressure themselves, they give it to everyone else. Examples will follow.

I hope in these columns I project an aura of ornery knowledgeable fair-mindedness, regardless of my true state. Typical is the amendment I'm making this time to my ongoing Survey of electronic publishers and services: I do not check with publishers before running positive or negative feedback on them; this survey is of the nature of a review, and anonymity of sources is maintained. If I may summarize the general gist of publisher responses to bad reviews, it is "You're a liar! We'll sue! Tell us who blabbed so we can destroy them. Who the hell are you to make such judgments anyway?!" To which I reply "Tough feces, folk. Clean up your act." But when, on rare occasion, the publisher turns out to have the right of it, I will grudgingly amend my entry next update. Okay, the ogre persona is fun, but sometimes I really do foul up. This time I discovered that I hadn't listed Preditors & Editors. That site gave me an award back before I started this survey, and I checked it out then. Since then it has enhanced its features enormously, including vast publisher and agent listings and ratings. So I'm adding it this time, hoping no one will notice that I was remiss for so long.

I get feedback from readers of this column, and sometimes that makes a difference. For example, Charles Borner noted that I was unable to play DVDs on my primitive little TV set because it lacked the proper connections. He told me about the RF Modulator, which is essentially a device to fix such problems. Plug your VCR/DVD player into it, and plug it into your TV, and lo, you have it all. So my wife bought one at the local department store, and I connected it, and voila! I could play both on the TV. Maybe everyone else in the world knew of this fix decades ago; I didn't. Thank you, Charles.

Remember Patty Page, the doll JoAnne Taeusch, my collaborator on The Secret of Spring sent me? I love those curves, and have her posed bare-breasted with one bare leg lifted toward me. (I am referring to the doll, not JoAnne; that wasn't clear?) I finally watched the video I bought to find out just who Patty was. She is said to be the leading pin-up girl of the 1960s. Well, she has the body, but those video scenes are feeble peanuts compared to today's norm. She's never unclothed, has a limited repertoire of motions, and some sequences are grainy in the fashion of bad TV reception. So I love the doll, but won't be watching the video again.

My wife found some little pots of phlox on sale, so bought them and we planted them. Phlox is a small flower that grows and blooms in the spring along our local roads with pretty multi-colored flowers. We planted them around our front birdbath--those baths get a lot of business, especially in drought times--and they are doing nicely. The pots were hopelessly root-bound, so we used knives to slice them like three dimensional pies and make six clumps. I feared that I had inadvertently severed the roots of one clump, but it never even wilted, so evidently that wasn't the case. Our flowers range from pure white to pure purple, with several combinations between, such as purple centers with white fringes, as well as red and blue. Because the wild rabbits have been voracious, we bought fine-mesh chicken wire and made a fence around the flowers. That was a bare area of our lawn; now the grass is growing vigorously within the little enclosure, and is absent outside it. Too bad we can't rabbit-proof the rest of our yard; our entire sodded back yard is gone, and only fenced tomatoes and potatoes survive. Those plum tomatoes are doing well; they come up from our kitchen garbage and I protect them and water them when I see them appear. We are now eating their fruits. I like to think that we are contributing to their life cycle rather than destroying it. One got chewed off, maybe by a rabbit that reached up, just as it was starting to fruit; I put the stem in the pool and it endured for several weeks, but basically that plant was destroyed. The rabbit didn't eat it, just bit it off. I hate that.

A decade or so back there was a giant hornet's nest in a tree by our back yard. I admired it and left it alone, even after the hornets left, but birds or squirrels then tore it apart, perhaps looking for honey. That bothered me; it was a kind of work of natural art. This past year there has been another, by our drive, so when it seemed it was no longer in business I used the extensible pruning hook to bring it carefully down and save it. It measures 1.5 feet long by one foot thick, which may not sound big, but it feels giant when you figure how many hornets could have lived in it. It has twisty curls of gray paper and an off-center entry hole that make it remind me of the planet Jupiter.

Last year a flock of birds nested in our chimney, making constant noise; once in a while one would fly too low and get trapped in the closed off fireplace, and we had to let it out, catch it in a butterfly net, and let it go outside. They are back this year, same story. We pored over our bird books to identify them; not chimney swifts, not wrens (they nest everywhere else around the house), maybe tree swallows. This year I thought to check the nesting range: tree swallows are here, but nest north. Sigh. Best bet now is purple martins. We wish them well. As I have mentioned, we moved to the forest to share it with forest creatures, not to displace them.

Meanwhile there are the magnolia trees. Our long drive has many of them, as we did our best to save the ones that were there first, including especially the little one I spied when the bulldozer operator was clearing the way for the drive. I had him go around it, and I still give it organic nitrogen when I pass it in the morning (translation for those who don't know ogre ways: I piss on it) and two years ago it had its first flower. Last year it had six flowers, and this year it has had 20 so far. I love that. Of course the more established magnolias are doing better. One near our house had seven flowers in one day. But the Little Magnolia is special; it's the one I tell paralyzed Jenny about. And for those interested: she remains paralyzed; that's why I don't say a lot here. This spring we have discovered a number of persimmon trees along our drive also; we welcome them too. They don't count as a crop for the tree farm, but we value them. Our crop is slash pines, the kind that die in droughts and fall across the drive, providing me with involuntary additional exercise. Had we owned this property at the outset we would have planted longleaf pines.

I continue to struggle with my archery. Twice a week I loose twelve arrows right handed and twelve left handed at the tiny-seeming two foot square target 150 feet distant. One point for the marked one square foot center; minus one when I miss the whole target. Last sessions before this column were +4 right side, -5 left side, typically in negative territory overall, and +5 right, -4 left, squeaking into rare positive territory. I have tried to figure out the problem, and conclude that on the left side the arrows simply are not going where I'm aiming them. That of course sounds like bad self-serving logic, but my conviction is growing that this is the case. I aim at the center, careful not to twist the bow with my hand, but they fling out wildly left and right. I don't see the misses, but hear them thwack, while the ones hitting center I do see. I am of course looking where I am aiming, by definition; when I am left looking at a spot the arrow doesn't hit, I know it has not gone where I aimed. The conic arrow-rest I got solved the problem of arrows falling off as I draw, but hasn't solved the wildly erratic strikes. So I'll try yet another kind of arrow-rest, and if that doesn't help, I'll have to figure it's me. I am getting older, but if I'm that unsteady, how come I'm scoring okay on the right side? As far as I can tell, I am as steady left side as right side. There will be a subsequent report; this bugs me. Readers have offered advice, such as drawing the string with the tips of my fingers or using a sling so I don't have to grasp the bow, but I have found these unworkable. I have to do it ham-fisted like any other ogre.

There was another Shroud of Turin report on TV. Now I have no belief in the supernatural; I regard it as fantasy, and I earn my living writing fantasy. A primary tenet of my philosophy is Realism; I try to get at the reality of whatever I encounter. So you might figure I'd be a Shroud skeptic. Well, I am, but that doesn't mean I reject it out of hand. As I see it, there could have been a man called Jesus who preached as described in the New Testament of the Bible, and could have been executed by torture. I studied Jesus when I wrote Tarot; I believe in him. I did not go to see The Passion, because I am turned off by gratuitous torture, but it could have happened to Jesus. There could have been a shroud, saved by his disciples, surviving to this time. Back when the issue was hot, I was more impressed by the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church than I was by the skeptics, because the Church was open minded about the validity of the Shroud, while the skeptics were not; they knew it was a fraud from the outset. I am wary of anyone who knows the answer before he reads the question. At that time, according to my imperfect memory, radio carbon dating did suggest that the Shroud dated from medieval times, not the time of Jesus. Okay. But more recent research has unsettled that conclusion. The kind of material and the kind of weave turn out to be typical of the earlier time and place, not the later ones. The pattern imprinted on it turns out to be not from paints, but from body contact. There are seeds in it from the region where Jesus lived. The sample taken for the dating was from a contaminated edge, not the center, and could be wrong. If this is a fake, it's an amazingly intricate one. It just might be authentic. That does not mean that Jesus was a supernatural being, just that he was a mortal prophet who inadvertently started one of the world's great religions, and was executed for it. My sympathy is with him; he was grievously treated. And the Shroud remains, like Vitamin C, which I tried and verified, one of my private tests for objectivity: those who are too damned sure it is either divine or a fraud are flirting with subtle or unsubtle bigotry.

We bought two bug zappers shaped like little tennis rackets some time back. The idea is that you swing them at a mosquito and its wings contact the electrically charged mesh, making a shortcut, and ZAP! it is electrocuted with a spark or pop. Well, they work, and I have eliminated the mosquitoes that cluster near our doors in the hope of intercepting succulent living meat. So we bought two more, of a different brand, and they work too. We're in a drought and the mosquitoes have largely faded; but I found enough to verify the new bats. Come the rains, I'm sure I'll have far more use for them. Meanwhile, for those elsewhere who are plagued but don't want douse themselves in bug spray, I recommend these zappers. They are easy, fast, and satisfying.

I said last time that after months we finally had our new heat exchanger working. I spoke too soon; it wasn't. I hate having temperatures in the 90s and still having to heat our water the old fashioned way, while the device intended to transfer the air heat to the water, doesn't.

I've been watching videos, and we've been seeing movies. My movie-freak daughter sees to that. We saw Hellboy, Van Helsing, Troy, and Shrek 2. The first two were fun but not for the ages, though I did like the flying nude vampire Brides in the second, whose wings became robes when they landed, just in time to conceal their shapely bodies from close view. The last was great fun, flatulence humor and all, and is equivalent to the first Shrek movie. Maybe there will be a third, when they have an ogret. I'm something of a fan of ogres, for some reason my thick head can't quite fathom. My only caveat is that I didn't pick up on why Puss 'n Boots thought Shrek saved his life; I must have blinked. But let me comment a bit more on Troy. That's based on the Iliad, the Greek story of the siege of Troy that I had to struggle through in high school. Um, no, I wasn't in high school in ancient Greek times; I mean it was part of the curriculum, like Latin. I still hate Latin, and am fond of the joke: Teacher: "What was the greatest achievement of the Romans?" Student: "Learning to speak Latin." I wasted three years barely passing two years of Latin, and am proud to say that I never learned to speak it. I'm just not good at language, as critics have said all along. Anyway, as a movie it's a lot more interesting, a great ancient adventure concocted mostly of myth, though the movie sensibly deleted the considerable supernatural background. I'll bet you didn't know that the god Zeus assumed the form of a swan and raped the mortal woman Leda, who then laid two eggs, from one of which hatched Helen, the most beautiful woman of the world who triggered the siege of Troy. Anyway, my interest is that the same folk who made that movie are working on a Xanth movie. That is, Warner Brothers, producer Wolfgang Peterson, screenwriter David Benioff, and Diana Rathbun of Radiant Prods, though they may be supervising this one rather than doing it directly. They hint they want to make Xanth as successful as Harry Potter. Since Warner also did the Harry Potter movies, this looks promising. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, of course, the moment it was announced in the trade newspaper DAILY VARIETY reactions started coming in: is this wonderful thing true? from fans, and from a critic: "For those of you who don't know, there are 30 Xanth books, each more aggressively juvenile than the last...The Xanth books were sort of a blast when I was 12, and the first few don't actually suck as much as they're just sort of cringe-inducing--heck, Centaur Isle [sic--he means Centaur Aisle] isn't that bad at all. But as films? Here's hoping they're making these as cartoons." Actually I haven't yet written the 30th Xanth novel, but the critics are already cringing in anticipation, as is evident.

The videos were Snaker, a Thai fantasy about a human woman who falls for a big snake, and her crossbreed daughter. It has English subtitles; after a while I just sort of heard the dialogue without being conscious of visually translating it. And The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which I got because I remembered the song from 40 years ago and was curious. It turns out to be one of the greatest Westerns ever made. No sex of course, precious little romance; I've already commented on the 1960s ideas of such things. One wonders how the species ever propagated before 1980. But it's a great violent adventure with a surprise ending. And Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore's anti-gun treatise. This is fairly simple and straightforward, making a devastating case against America's gun-totin' attitude. Other first world countries have gun homicide rates above and below 100 per year; America's is above 100,000. If more guns make for safety, Moore says, we should be the safest nation on Earth. Yet underneath things are not straightforward, as it also shows. Other nations watch violent TV, and have access to guns, yet don't blow away their neighbors at anywhere near the same rate. Why not? He asked Charleton Heston that, and he couldn't answer with certainty, and finally walked away. I'm essentially anti-gun, but I'm with Heston on this: he declined to give an answer to a question that as yet has no answer, and departed peacefully when Moore wouldn't stop bugging him. What else can you do with a pushy nut, on any issue? I've had nuts come at me on Arab/Israeli relations, homosexuality, politics, religion, whatever; I have to limit the time I waste on closed minds.

Last Christmas my daughter the video freak gave me the collected first three seasons of FAMILY GUY. Out here in the back woods, physically and intellectually, we don't have cable or satellite, so are ignorant of whatever is current. I have now watched several episodes of this adult cartoon feature, and you know, I like it. The animation is primitive, but colorful, and of course the point is the story. It features a family of six: fat jerky father, svelte decent mother, jerky teen son, innocent teen daughter, malicious genius baby with a football-shaped head, and a talking dog. What's not to like? It is free with adult language and references to natural functions, some wild stories, and has oddball and often naughty humor. Trust my daughter to know my tastes. For example, baby remembers his genesis: he was in a sperm cell like a spaceship, zapping other sperm ships into oblivion so as to be first to reach the egg. Then he suffered 9 months incarceration in the womb, to his enormous disgust. Daughter joins a social group that turns out to be a suicide cult with poisoned punch, and never realizes what she's missing. Dog stands on two feet before a fire hydrant, making like at a urinal. Yes I find this funny; this is my kind of warp. So I'll be watching more of it.

Remember the orphaned baby mouse last time? Collaborator Alfred Tella, The Willing Spirit, sent me a link www.rmca.org/Aarticles/orphans.htm that covers the situation, explaining exactly how to care for such creatures. (I think the rmca stands for Rat & Mouse, Care Of.) It's really not a five minute business; you pretty well have to be prepared with rehydrating solution, syringe, heating pad, bedding, special powdered milk replacement, distilled water, and a gram scale. But it can be done if you're dedicated.

I am of the ardently liberal persuasion, and tend to think that it is difficult to be a conservative and intelligent or honest. I try to keep my politics out of my fiction, as I do my religion; you wouldn't know from the Incarnations of Immortality novels that I do not believe in the Afterlife, Heaven, Hell, or God. As an agnostic I don't claim that none of these exist, the way an atheist would; merely that to date I have seen no persuasive evidence. As a registered Independent from 1959 on (I was not an American citizen before 1958) I reserve the right to pick and choose. But it is true that the Republicans seldom put up candidates I can stomach. Yet sometimes there are odd juxtapositions. Stephen Smith sent me his proposed outline for the 8th Incarnations novel, featuring Nox, Under a Velvet Cloak, and I have now completed a 99,000 word first draft of that and will be editing it in JeJune. But Stephen Smith's politics are not mine. Rather than argue at length with him, taking time I wanted to write the novel, I elected to see if I could get a reader to take up the cause. Here is the conclusion of his long letter:
In conclusion, I found that the democrats and Vice-President Al Gore did knowingly try to steal the election by selectively recounting only democrat counties, while refusing to recount republican counties, by selectively trying to declare illegal thousands of legal votes (predominately republican, but also containing thousands of democrat votes), by using laws which benefitted them, even when clearly unconstitutional, by purposely delaying the election certification, thereby drastically shortening the period in which a contest of the election could occur, denying the republicans the chance to respond, was willing to risk disenfrachising the more than six million voters in Florida by placing their electoral votes in jeopardy, and possibly bring about a situation in which the deciding votes for President and Vice-President would be cast by Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. They repeatedly tried to deceive the American people by loudly proclaiming they wanted to make sure every vote was counted, while their actions clearly showed they only wanted to count democrat votes. They repeatedly attacked the republicans, saying they were only trying to stop the recounts because they were afraid to let the will of the people be heard. They violated their Oath of office: "To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." And they showed they clearly felt democrat votes and democrat voters were more important than republican votes or republican voters and deserved preferential treatment. George Bush and the republicans, on the other hand, never tried to declare any democrat vote illegal, they continually pointed out the injustices being inflicted by the use of unconstitutional laws, but never accused any democrat of wrongdoing, they tried to get the recounts stopped because they were unjust, unfair, and unconstitutional, they defended both republican and democrat votes from attempts to get them declared illegal. They chose to support the US Constitution, the rights of both democrat and republican voters, did their duties as concientiously as possible, and seemed to behave with much less anger against democrats than the democrats were displaying towards them. In their press releases and speeches, they did not try to conceal their actions, and did not attempt to deceive the American people by saying one thing in public and doing the opposite in the courts. Even when the other four close elections were decided in favor of Gore, they did not dispute those elections, showing they were willing to accept the will of the people. I don't know if both sides would have behaved differently if the situation had been reversed. It takes little courage to defend justice when doing so helps you and your side. It takes greater courage to choose to defend justice when it hurts you and your side. Doing the right thing often takes great will power to resist the temptations set in your path. During the election of 2000, Al Gore and the democrats (with the exception of the Florida Supreme Court who tried their best to bring some justice out of an unjust situation) failed to show the courage and will power needed to resist temptation and defend justice.

So, I have given you the evidence to support my conclusion that Gore tried to steal the election. I failed to find any evidence that Bush stole the election. If you have any evidence to support your conclusion that Bush stole the election, I'd love to hear it.
There you have it. To say I disagree violently is to understate the case. I have voluminous notes saved from the year 2000, but feel my time is better spent on writing fiction. If there is a knowledgeable person out there who would like to tackle this, in refutation, agreement, or other, get in touch and I'll send the full letter presenting the case, without Stephen Smith's address. What we want here is a reasoned discussion, as his is, not invective. Cases and statistics, facts and insights. I will relay such responses to Mr. Smith, similarly anonymous if that is desired, and try to assemble a quotable conclusion for the next column. Meanwhile, those concerned about the next election may want to check http://petition.democracyforamerica.com/page/p/verify/30183. It is a petition to count every vote, next time, to be sure there is no fraud; you can make your position felt if you wish.

I have also read some books. For Us the Living, by Robert Heinlein--his first novel, unpublished until recently. It's mostly a lecture, presenting ideas that he later developed more thoroughly and interestingly in stories and novels. As fiction it's dull; as an insight into the development of one of the finest writers of the science fiction genre, it's instructive. Heinlein hadn't ripened at this stage, but shows potential. North of Sunset by Lisa Maliga. She's the one listed in my Survey as I'm a Published Novelist Ha Ha! Ha!, a pertinent warning for starry-eyed aspiring writers. Her web site www.lisamaliga.com/ is worth checking similarly; she tells it as it is. If you took a few decades off my age and changed my gender, the result might resemble Lisa. North of Sunset is fun, about a Hollywood producer and his temporary secretary, showing a good deal of what I presume is reality. It is written with the omniscient viewpoint, which I dislike, but it held my interest regardless. Transmigrant Blues, by IM Chatter. This one is different. It has excellent thoughts, particularly on alternate lifestyles, is well written, and might do well if it can find its market. The problem is to get through to an editor who might recognize its qualities. It concerns a kind of lesbian girl who shares a body with a reincarnated man; there was a plan, but it got fouled up. There is a phenomenal lesbian sex scene that I found interesting though I am very far from that persuasion. Blue Light, by Walter Mosley. I bought this for three dollars from DAEDALUS because it looked interesting: a blue light from afar comes to our solar system, transforming those it strikes so that they rapidly evolve to become all that they can be. In that respect it is disappointing; what they turn out to be is a rag-tag collection of losers who gather around a Christlike figure who then gets killed by a devil like figure, and the others go to a private forest to work things out. It's weird in various ways, but does have a nice orchestra of giant trees. Split Infinity, the screenplay--the adaptation of that novel for a movie. I like it, because it hews as closely as is feasible to the original. A book has lots more room than a movie does, so much has to be cut, but they are saving the key aspects, such as near-nude serfs, a small protagonist, a lovely lady robot, the Game Grid, and the musical unicorns. I feel the twin worlds of science Proton and fantasy Phaze could make a stunning movie, and maybe it will happen; these folk seem to be dedicated. Currant Events, the galley proofs for Xanth #28. I started reading it just after seeing Troy, and it seemed tame, but next day it seemed fine, and builds to a solid denouement. So maybe I was simply unable to come down from blockbuster movie mode to regular print mode right away. That novel features Clio the Muse of History, who has to search for a red berry, the currant, and finds rather more than she anticipated, including several slews of dragons. Look for it in hardcover this OctOgre.

As I have mentioned before, much of my mail now comes as email. I pencil answers on the printouts, which are then transcribed and sent. If they run a hundred words or more I count them as letters and list them in my letter list. Most answers are shorter, so I can keep up without dedicating my life to the mail. Sometimes one of these impromptu scribbles rises to the level of public interest. Here is an example: Tovi Spero is writing a fantasy novel and asked for some writing tips. I replied:
There's no easy formula. You just have to try it and see how it flows, then revise and amend until it gets where you want it. In general you should try to have a main character who an ordinary reader can identify with, and a story that interests you and other readers. Rather than have a whole lot happen, try to make it realistic. Yes, even in fantasy you want realism, so that it seems as if a regular person is stepping into an amazing realm. You have surely read many fantasy novels; study them with this in mind to see how they do it, then try to do it better. Here's one oddity: the passages that read as if they came to the author in a lovely dream may actually have been a great struggle to write and revise. As with a smooth highway, there's a great deal more effort making it than using it.
Irene L Pynn had to discuss deliberate rule breaking in writing. "What suggestions do you have for new writers who are just learning the rules? What experiences have you had with these issues?" I replied:
I think new writers should follow the rules until they can write well enough to start breaking them. Otherwise it will simply seem like bad writing.

Meanwhile I have my own rules, to which the same rule applies: follow them until you know how to get away with not following them. First, clarity: write intelligibly, so that the average reader can readily understand. If he/she gets lost early, he'll never get to the rest of it. Second, have interesting characters; they can be quirky or eccentric, but have to be so in ways the reader will appreciate. The dullest scenes can become interesting if the characters live. I have an example from my own experience: I had three men exploring an alien planet in my novel Omnivore, but it wasn't working because despite my care in working them out, they were just, well, men. Then I tried changing the middle one to a beautiful, conflicted woman--and it transformed my scene and my novel. If any readers are curious, they can look at Omnivore and think about how it would read if the woman Aquilon were a man. I think that would make the point. The dynamics of male-female interplay are important, even when there is no romance. Third, do try to write a story that interests you, the writer. If it bores you, it's likely to bore the reader. I spend a lot of time trying to find compelling stories that make sense. Bang-bang you're dead doesn't do it for me.
R J Neil said "I was wondering, what 10 books have been the most influential in your life?" That sort of question generally stumps me; my vaunted imagination disappears when I have to pick favorite books or gifts for relatives. It's an ogre thing. But I tried:
That's hard to say. I was truly impressed by The World We Live In, a TIME/LIFE book that showed past creatures including the dinosaurs. I really liked The Hobbit by Tolkien; it showed me what fantasy could be. The first book I read on my own was The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade and it really moved me. I loved City by Clifford Simak and The Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov, and they surely affected by view of science fiction. Rationale of the Dirty Joke by G Legman, which gives thousands of dirty jokes and discusses how they show underlying truths about human nature, I regard as one of the most significant nonfiction books ever. African Genesis by Robert Ardrey satisfied me that human beings evolved in Africa, and I have believed that ever since. Others have clarified my understanding of Dark Matter, Plate Tectonics, Evolution, and many other sciences.

Actually my own books have been influential [in my life]. A Spell for Chameleon started the Xanth series that put me on the best-seller lists and made me a truly successful writer. On a Pale Horse addressed the topic of Death, helping me deal with it, and may become my first movie. Chthon as my first published novel established me as a novelist.
Sometimes what looks like spam turns out to be otherwise. I quote from one: "We all know that it is a sin for an Islamic male to see any woman other than his wife naked, and that he must commit suicide if he does. So this Sunday at 4:00 PM Eastern time all American women are asked to walk out of their house completely naked to help weed out any neighborhood terrorists. Circling your block for one hour is recommended for this anti-terrorist effort." It works for me.

Three items from the Sunday supplement PARADE: Why is Ralph Nader running for president again? Doesn't he know he might help re-elect Mr. Bush? "Nader, 70, knows--and he doesn't care. In recent years, Nader's old crusading spirit has been buried under a mountain of megalomania." A reader whose girlfriend readily floats on water, but he sinks. How come? Answer: he has little body fat so is denser than water; his girlfriend has fat in places so is less dense. Yes, when I was a child I had trouble learning to swim, because I simply sank to the bottom. Others had the trick of floating, but it didn't work for me. Only when I got older could I float. Now I know why: I was lean and dense. Today I am less so. And a feature on the danger of hospitals: how you can protect yourself. It seems that overworked, minimally trained staff, a shortage of nurses, and tight budgets degrade the quality of care. The number of patients dying after common surgeries in hospitals jumps when there are more than four patients per nurse. It rises 7% at 5-1, and 31% at 8-1. So what can you do? Check out the hospital in advance, if you can; some are worse than others. Designate an advocate: a person to speak for you if you are confused or unconscious. Know your pills, and balk if you get the wrong ones. Check to be sure doctors wash their hands before handling you; the last your doctor touched might be dying of loathsome sepsis. Learn all you can about your case ahead of time, and complain if there is pain or swelling. In sum: be prepared and alert. It might save your life.

Newspaper items: in 2003 the average CEO of a major company received $9.2 million in compensation, while the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour provides employees a gross annual income of $10,712. The CEOs earned more than 300 times as much as the average worker, and the differential is growing. The number of American millionaire households is 3.8 million. Of course a million dollars isn't what it used to be. I learn from the National Writers Union that salaries have dropped 21% on average (I suspect that is in Constant Dollars), and writers are losing their writing income; only 6% of Americans earn enough for a comfortable life. A 20 year old Tampa Bay girl, Stephanie Oliveira, has become a sex columnist. She writes about things like sex toys and anal sex and seems well informed. Spam scams are mushrooming; they trick folk into giving private financial information to what they think is a legitimate outfit, like their bank, but isn't. A columnist followed up on another spam ad: "Find out the truth about anyone." He found that for $29 he got nothing; the service couldn't even find the folk who gave it nice blurbs. His conclusion: stick to Google. How long do writers live? Globally poets average 62.2 years, playwrights 63.4, novelists 66, nonfiction writers 67.9. Hm; I am 69, pushing 70; as a novelist I am evidently living on borrowed time. Another article says that the life expectancy of white males born in 2000 is 74.9 years, and 68.6 for black males. For all American men born in 1940, it's 65.5. They are thinking of raising the age for collecting Social Security from 65 to 67. Guess where that leaves you folk drawing nigh retirement. On average, you'll be dead a year and a half before you get any SS payment.

I do slum some on TV, and have watched all the Survivor episodes. Sure they have stupid contests and the liars beat the honest folk. But they also show some nice girl flesh, supposedly incidentally, and there is a certain frisson waiting for the vote on who gets skunked next. In the final four of the all-star session, whatever possessed Jenna to turn against Rupert, her one ally? Naturally the foolish girl sealed her own doom as well as his. But I was pleased to see Rupert get the bonus million; he was the most deserving competitor.

One of my prime concerns is population: there are too many people in the world, and it's getting worse. We are squeezing out most other creatures, except for those that prey on us like mosquitoes or bedbugs. But an item says that fertility is falling, leading to a general aging of populations. So will the problem be self correcting? Surely so, but not in a benign fashion. AIDS is burgeoning, depleting populations in Africa and Asia, and they haven't yet stopped malaria, and hunger stalks large areas. The survivors will inherit a world largely stripped of worthwhile natural things. Fortunately I won't live to see the worst of it, though I fear my descendants will.

Case in point: the halfway point of an oil field is known as "The Hubbert Peak"; after that it gets harder and more expensive to draw the oil out. Most of the US fields have passed that point. We need to get seriously into alternate energy, preferably renewable and nonpolluting, like wind, geothermal, and solar. Liberals can appreciate that; conservatives, it seems, can't. President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House. Ronald Reagan's first official act was to remove them. Then he repealed Carter's tax incentives for renewable energy. Thus long after we should have acted, we remain dependent on oil from the mid-east, and American blood is being shed in what seems to be a largely futile struggle to get more of it. It's not mere ignorance, it's a determined drive toward disaster, for the sake of oil profiteering. It isn't just oil; the current administration is easing up on dangerous mercury pollution that is infiltrating our food chain, largely from fish. I'm glad I'm a vegetarian.

Items on prison abuse, as outrage in Iraq makes the news. Unfortunately it is nothing new, nor is it limited to Iraq. Power corrupts, and prison is a power situation. Yet many criminals should not be released back into the population. I don't know the answer, though I think more should be done with rehabilitation. Heinlein had a notion of Coventry, where the seriously asocial folk were banished to a lawless region reserved for them. That intrigues me, though I fear a closer examination would vitiate its appeal.

I work the daily newspaper chess puzzles, but sometimes they annoy me. The one for Apull 4, 2004, asked for White's Worst move, and said it was too easy for a hint. Its answer was a move that allowed outmanned Black to achieve a draw by stalemate. My answer was KD5, which allowed Black to Queen a pawn and put White's king in check, giving Black a likely win. Makes me wonder about the common sense of the folk who make up these puzzles.

Here in Florida they don't allow catalogs of seriously erotic videos. Fortunately a reader obtained some for me--I was curious about things like sex toys, after reading an Ellora's Cave erotic romance (I sent them The Magic Fart in exchange, and never heard back; maybe they had thought I was joking about violating taboos, and freaked out)--and I got to see the toys in action, as it were. Now I learn from the British ECONOMIST what I didn't from the American press: one of the "performers" in the California porn industry tested positive for HIV. That made 13 women freak out. Reminds me of an old joke: three secretaries were talking, and one said "I played a joke on the boss: I put three condoms in his desk." The second secretary said "I saw those condoms, and I took a pin and poked three holes in them." The third secretary fainted. Anyway, they had to quarantine about 40 "second generation" porn actors--those who had been with those first 13, and now there's a regulation: gotta use condoms. This threatens to drive out a three billion dollar industry. In future, porn films, too, may be outsourced to countries less sensitive about health. I also received a solicitation to join the InsightOut book club, featuring all manner of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender books like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or Men Are Pigs, But We Love Bacon. Sorry, but my pig eye is for the panties of the opposite gender. Meanwhile there is growing evidence that marriage of man and man or woman and woman is good, not bad for the institution of marriage. Why are some folk so eager to stop other folk from uniting in love?

In my snail junk mail came a push-poll by NAACP, remarking somewhat sourly on elected officials who openly long for "the good old days" of segregation. They say that a Gallup Poll indicates that the average American thinks that 18% of all Americans are Jewish, when it's really 3%; that 20% are Hispanic, when it's 13%; that 32% are black, when it's 12%. Ignorance, thy name is America.

Matt Holcomb saw my prior comment on the Impact Kerambit, that L shaped hard plastic that women can use to beat off molestors. He put me on to the Wild Kats & Dogs Keychains www.selfdefenseproducts.com which look like cute dogs or cats, but their hard plastic pointed ears can be devastating. Think of brass knuckles with spikes; you put two fingers through the eye-holes and punch. The man will let you go, girls. Matt also mentioned www.escapeschool.com, which is not for kids to play hooky, but lessons on how to escape captivity if you need to.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST suggests that the war on obesity is based not on sound science, but on cultural hysteria, and that fat may be healthier than thin. You mean I have spent a lifetime staying lean for no purpose? Sigh; I'm too old to change now. But they do make a case; solid evidence that fat is bad may be lacking. (Inadvertent pun there; I'll take it.) Another article suggests that folk with chronic depression may be brain damaged, so it's not about chemistry at all. Again: now they tell me? Can the critics have been right about the state of my brain all along? And one titled "Flower Power." No, it's not about gardening. Plants do something we have not fathomed how to duplicate: they convert sunlight into power by splitting water molecules into oxygen, hydrogen ions, and electrons. You see, hydrogen power may be the coming thing, but it takes more energy to split up the water molecules than is obtained when they merge again. If we could change that, what a non-polluting energy ball we could have. Plants do it via photosynthesis. If we could only do likewise. Well, now at last we are getting close to photosynthetic water splitting. That could change everything.

NEW SCIENTIST ran information on Quack Watch, www.quackwatch.org, a site that blows holes in countless quack cures and such. But later came a warning: it is medically conservative and dismisses all forms of therapy that isn't orthodox. I wonder if that means it doesn't believe in Vitamin C? So check it out, but remember that some quackery is orthodox. Another letter remarks on those who compare corporations to psychopaths, and points out that that's wrong. Psychopaths are, well, crazy. Corporations are not. They are sociopathic. A sociopath lacks all capacity for empathy, is relentlessly self-interested, and feels no remorse. Doesn't that describe your neighborhood CEO?

Shorter items: in the 2000 election Gore carried 9 of the top 10 states in IQ, while Bush swept all 10 lowest IQ states. Why does that not surprise me? Photograph of the prices listed at a gasoline filling station: Regular--$2.33.9; Plus--ARM.9; Premium--LEG.9.

The greatest known global extinction was not the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but the Permian, 250 million years ago, taking out 90% of all species. If it was the result of a meteor impact, where's the crater? Now they may have found it in northwest Australia. Some say it's not impacts but volcanic eruptions responsible. I say it is both: a meteor impact on one side of the globe, whose shock transmits around and through and causes a lava blowout at the opposite side. Think of the kind of head injury motorcyclists get: it may look bad outside, but worse is the way the shaken brain gets splatted against the back of the skull, the rear injury being worse than the fore injury. My wife says that's true in the shaken-baby syndrome, too. Now picture our Earth's skull getting clonked on one side, its viscous interior then splatting against the far side so that basalt forges up and oozes out through whatever crevices and holes exist. It takes some time for that massive injury to heal, and much of surface life is rendered extinct by the extensive lava flows and heat. Too bad about that incidental corollary damage; it was just a hard knock on the noggin. This process seems elementary to me, but scientists still are mystified by the seeming coincidence of meteor strikes on one side of the globe, and volcanic activity on the far side. Duh! However I have confidence that one day science will wake up and catch up with me, in this and perhaps other respects, such as the way the mammals survived the dinosaurs because they were small and lived in protected deep caves, or the nature of dreams as a cross-referencing process for memories. Still, don't hold your breath waiting for science to acknowledge that a dull ogre thought of it first.

The morning of the editing of this column, Jejune 1, I rode my recumbent bike through drought-dried sand at a curve; the rear wheel skidded out and dumped me on the drive. Don't believe those other stories about how I skinned my knuckles.

Thus my thoughts for this time. I remind readers that this is of the nature of a blog, lacking authority other than my own experience and opinionation.

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