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The Ogre's Den image
Piers Anthony at work
Apull 2005

My writing is suffering. December I started in on ChroMagic #4, Key to Liberty, about the world of Charm with the colored magic volcanoes when Earth comes to reclaim her colony. I'm writing it as a labor of love, without a contract. December I wrote 78,000 words, a really great month. January I wrote 50,000 words, which will do. February it was 18,000, and March, 17,000. The future is likely to continue low. I am also losing weight, and getting behind on reading, sleep, and relaxation. What happened?

Well, I became a house husband. I have taken over the meals, dishes, mail runs, grocery shopping, laundry, housekeeping, dog care, and the other chores my wife was handling. She did for me for several decades; now it's my turn to do for her. It's the nature of marriage. It's an adventure. Would you believe, I didn't know how to buy gasoline with a debit card, or get money from a machine similarly; such newfangled modernistic devices did not exist in my day. I didn't know where the stores were in town. She handled all that, while I focused on writing. Getting gasoline I am reminded of an ad I saw, with the male car marrying the female gas pump. But it seems to me that's backwards; if ever there were male and female anatomy, its the pump male and the car female. Thrust the big long hard nozzle into the recessed round hole, pull the trigger, and squeeze out gallons of high octane fluid. Don't quit until she's ready to overflow. That's sex. The pump even proudly chalks up his conquest in numbers of gallons ejaculated, while the car just takes it all in, satisfied. He may get to service a hundred cars in a day, and be paid $2 a gallon for it. Talk of ideal employments! I wonder whether conservatives, religious fundamentalists, feminists, old maids, and other sex-aversive folk have trouble pumping gas? What weird thoughts pass through their craniums as they push the thing in to full depth and feel the virile flow? Do they keep their knees tight together? Or do they patronize only those stations where the personnel handle those censored details? I may get some angry emails about my supposedly filthy mind, as if a sexual analogy is dirty. As if sex itself is dirty.

So how is grocery shopping? Prices are outrageous, of course, but my parameters were set in 1970 when my wife's complicated pregnancy had me doing the shopping. Two pounds of bananas for 29 cents, that sort of thing, just as I first remember gasoline at 29 cents a gallon. Cheapest tomatoes now at two dollars a pound?! Today I can spend over $70 on a routine shopping. They pretend inflation has been tamed; don't believe it. I also wonder whether that store doesn't see me coming and remove key items from the shelf. Sometimes I use the cell phone to call my wife, who then directs me to the secret niches where the stuff is hiding. But sometimes even that doesn't avail; our kind of Publix dried milk has been gone for a week as I type this. Making out my wife's shopping list can be tricky, too. Once there was 1% yogurt listed , so I bought yogurt cups with 1% fat content. Turned out the 1% meant 1% milk, which I didn't get, not the yogurt, which I had bought wrong. But mainly it's just that there will be what looks like a thousand brands of an item on the shelf--all except the brand specified. I dare not get the wrong one. Once the shopping list said 3-cheese frozen meal, but all they had was 1-cheese, 4-cheese, or 5-cheese. So I bought 5-cheese. I won't do that again. Once when I bought something I focused on putting away my change and walked away without the item I had just paid for. I forgot to get cash from the presto machine and feared I would not be able to pay for my basket full. I left the basket it the aisle, went out to the money machine, got money, returned, and then took the cart through the checkout counter. And it turned out I would have had just enough money anyway. No, no one laughed out loud, though I picked up a look or two. I think I see a thousand husbandly heads nodding; they've been through similar. Or will, when they get there. I have learned to pick over produce, too. There may be bugs on the inner leaves of the lettuce, bruises on tomatoes, dead stems on the onions. I check a carton of eggs before taking them, as there can be cracked or leaking ones therein. I check sell-by dates. I fear I am becoming more like a woman every day.

I had a prostate biopsy, because both blood test and digital exam indicated swelling of the organ. I think about half of all men my age have prostate trouble, so it's not surprising. That was a spot adventure. In my mind's eye it would be simply a matter of “Drop your pants. Bend over.” “Ouch!” What a place to get the needle! No such luck. I had to go to a clinic, strip, be granted a towel about the size of a doily to cover my midriff, or maybe it was one of those bottom-baring hospital nighties, get set up with an IV, and be wheeled into the operating room--where three women ranging in age from maybe 20 to 30 stood as tittering spectators. Old fogies don't get no respect. I had forgotten to put in my “flipper” false tooth so had a gap in my mouth, but I doubt anyone noticed; it was my rosy red rectum that interested them. I had to roll into my side and present my bare anus to the ladies up close. What was this, a petting zoo? Kiss my ass. Then I felt the sting of the anesthetic coursing into my vein--and then a nurse was waking me, the procedure done. So whatever remarks there were had to be left to my imagination. “You call that a rectum? I've seen a better pucker on my pet dog!” “Wow--look at the TV image. What an ugly colon that fogie has.” “Yes, he ought to put a brush in there and clean out some of the crap.” “Are you sure you're sticking that long needle in the right spot? That looks more like a gizzard to me.” “Oops--don't make me laugh while I'm doing it; now I'll have to stick him again.” “Well, he's seventy years old; what does he need it for anyway?” Then I learned that following a prostate biopsy my ejaculate would be red. It was--well, brown, anyway. Like old menstrual blood, my wife suggested. I'm glad I was warned; it would have freaked me out worse otherwise, not to mention my wife's reaction, being on the receiving end. No pain, just color. After several weeks it faded, fortunately. So what was the result? No cancer; the swelling is from inflammation. Why the inflammation? I don't know.

I participated in a speculative fiction panel at the University of South Florida, sharing the stage with veteran genre writers Harry Harrison and Joe Haldeman. There were maybe 150 people there, and it went well enough. That may be the last public event I do for some time, as I can no longer commit to leaving home for more than an hour at a time. They tell me that I can't legally leave my wife alone in the house at all, but then who would do the shopping?

Last time I remarked on the “Gullible” bit in an “Ask Marilyn” column. Several readers emailed me: didn't I realize it was a joke? No, I hadn't realized, and so I'll explain why. I made my fortune on humor; I fancy I know a bit about it. To me, something that depends on an untruth is not necessarily funny, just as with jokes that depend on a black man being embarrassed, a fat man slipping on a banana peel, the anatomy of a Jew, a homosexual person's love, or a woman being awkwardly exposed. Indeed, some don't find my frequent fond references to panties to be funny. (The rule is, panties aren't the best thing in life, just next to it.) I have the dictionary habit, and look up words daily, not depending on my fallible memory. I like to be clear-cut with words, as with Humpty Dumpty, except that I don't define their meanings so much as I verify them. I regard them as precision tools. A fellow writer once challenged me on “ploy”; he thought I had made it up. Then there's “bloviation,” which means loud, defiant, boastful talk, blowing, like that in this column; see if you can find that in your dictionary. (I know, I know: it is spelled T H A T.) And would you believe it really is true that there is no such word as “Mundania.” Not in Mundania, there isn't, except among fans. So I looked up gullible, to make absolutely sure, and verified that my memory was correct. So that makes me foolish? Let's extend the principle beyond the dictionary: “Your house is on fire--gotcha!” “Your child was just abducted and killed by a terrorist--gotcha.” “There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq--gotcha.” “Social Security is in imminent peril--gotcha.” (Actually it's Medicare/aid in more immediate trouble.) Are we laughing yet? As it happened, a librarian queried Marilyn, also not seeing the humor. Marilyn said she herself had looked up the word, and, evidently discovering what it meant, laughed out loud and passed the joke along. But she won't do it any more. I suspect she got too much feedback like mine, and she's not stupid.

I received a query about my attitude on Gypsies, especially as evinced in the Incarnations of Immortality series. In fact an article was forwarded to me, accusing me of writing inaccurately and prejudicially about them. Well, considering what I just said about what I don't consider funny, and my accuracy with words, this is fighting language. Rather than go into this erroneous charge again, let me quote at length from the Mayhem/JeJune issue of HI PIERS #18, the printed predecessor to this online column. Here it is:

On Mayhem 7, 1994, I received an undated letter from Sam Connick, secretary for the INTERNATIONAL ROMA FEDERATION, INC, evidently an organization of Gypsies. The name Gypsy is sometimes considered to be denigrating, but historically it derives from Egypt. When these traveling folk appeared in Europe, they said they had come from Egypt, so they became knows as Egypsies, Gypsies. If the Egyptians don't object, no one else should. Actually they weren't from there; they originated in India. So now they generally prefer to be called Roma, as in Romania, but this too is partial; they did stay there for some time, however. Gypsy remains the common term, and I shall use it.

I think “fair use” entitles me to quote from Mr. Connick's letter: “Your book, Being a Green Mother, is a very damaging piece of racist, anti-Gypsy fiction.” He went on to suggest that I would not have depicted Jews or Irish or anyone else in so hateful a manner. He enclosed material that named me and quoted from my novel, as an example of my anti-Gypsy prejudice, part of “white racist attitudes.”

Well, now. Folk who know anything about me know better than to come at me so. The fact is that my portrayal of Gypsies in the Incarnations of Immortality series is favorable. My protagonist in Green Mother, Orb (later the Incarnation of Nature), when searching for the fabulous song called the Llano, seeks out the Gypsies, in the hope that they will have information on it. Gradually she comes to understand their ways. She travels from band to band, inquiring, until stopping in Basque country, in southern France/northern Spain. But they hide from her. So she goes to the center of the village and plays her magic harp, and that so charms them that they appear and form a circle around her. She is summoned to meet Nicolai, a local elder, who presents her with his blind daughter Tinka. “Teach my child your music,” he says. She does, and in the process changes Tinka into a lovely and desirable young woman. In this manner she gains the favor of the Gypsy community. Nicolai dances with her in public, something he has not done since Tinka's mother died. “Tonight there is only one more lovely than my child,” he murmurs. Orb looks around, but sees no woman more lovely than Tinka. She doesn't realize that he has paid her his ultimate compliment: Orb herself is the lovelier one, because of what she has done for Tinka. Tinka remains Orb's close friend for the rest of the series, even caring for her baby later, and Orb likes the other Gypsies too.

But Sam Connick, who evidently had not read the novel, called it racist, anti-Gypsy fiction. He assumed that because I showed anti-Gypsies accurately at the beginning, that the whole novel was similar. I replied in part “You are acting like bigots of exactly the stripe you thought to condemn. I suggest you reform your attitude before you approach another author as ignorantly and maliciously as this. You surely have enough trouble with your enemies, without pointlessly alienating your friends.”

So did Sam Connick take the trouble to read my novel and discover its true nature? No. Like a true bigot, he clung to his misinformation. He said he stood by his prior statements, and that my book would remain on their blacklist. Thus no one else in his group could read it and ascertain its true nature, either. Then he repeated his charges, and suggested that I was deluding myself. And he enclosed some more material, in the form of an article by Chris Purvis that evidently saw publication, “Media and the Gypsy.” It named Being a Green Mother as one of the publications that perpetuate the damaging stereotype of Gypsies. Purvis evidently did read the novel, and shows some respect for it. He quotes a description from it, not questioning the accuracy (I did research my material) but calling it a stereotype. He questioned my description of the origin of the Gypsies. Well, I should explain: the Incarnations series of novels are not set in our “real” world, but in a parallel realm where magic and science both work. For that fictive realm, my origin of Gypsies is correct. It is the conjecture of my main reference, though it is not generally accepted now. He strives to make his case that my novel's larger effect is negative toward Gypsies, and calls out “errors”: “There is no Llano nor a tanana dance in the Romani culture.” Obviously there is no Llano in the Gypsy or any other culture of the real world, because I made it up, and today there may be no tanana dance--but there was such a dance in earlier times, as my reference documents. If my reference was mistaken, then so am I--but, frankly, I think it is Mr. Purvis who is mistaken, or is being overly technical in order to make an essentially invalid point. He also says I don't “make one mention of the years of slavery in Romania, or of the genocide during the holocaust.”

Well, Mr. Purvis didn't read far enough. In the next novel, For Love of Evil, my main character Parry taunts Chronos until the Incarnation of Time changes an aspect of history, causing the holocaust never to have happened, thus saving both the Jews and the Gypsies. That's why the Gypsies are far more common in Europe now (in my fiction) than they are in reality. In Chapter 14 of that novel Parry says “And every Gypsy too. Do you know about the Gypsies? They are named that because they claimed to have come to the west via Egypt, but actually they came through Romania and are better called Romani.” Then in the final Incarnations novel, And Eternity, Tinka's father Nicolai becomes in aspect of Fate, and thus an Incarnation. So now the gypsies are represented among the powers that govern the universe.

So I challenged Mr. Connick to a debate on this matter in the pages of HI PIERS and whatever other publication he wished. So did he finally get the message? No, he remained true to his bigotry: “I certainly have no intention to get into a debate with you in the pages of a newsletter aimed at thirteen year olds. Evidently you find this issue rather a trivial one.” I suspect he was beginning to realize the likely consequences of such a debate, so he retreated in Parthian fashion, still slinging his barbs. Too bad; it was already too late for anything much on his part other than an apology. So I shall send him a copy of this issue, and will report his response, if any, in due course.

I hope that Sam Connick is not typical of contemporary Gypsies, because as I said in my last letter to him, he is doing his cause no good by such unfounded charges. I suspect he is instead typical of the lunatic fringe. Meanwhile, if any Gypsies among my readers care to comment, I'll try to run their responses here. I believe in fairness.

I did send the issue. No readers commented; maybe I lack Gypsy readers. That blacklist, you know. Here is my comment in the following issue of HI PIERS:

My letter was rejected unopened, stamped OFFENSIVE TO GYPSIES. So I'll just add for general consideration the dictionary definition of the term “bigot,” so readers can judge how well the shoe fits. “A person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.” RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY. Sam Connick came charging at me with provocative accusations, and literally refuses to look at my side of it. He is not interested in my opinion, or in the truth. He is a bigot. That doesn't mean that all Gypsies are bigots, or even that any others are; I suspect they have experienced enough of the receiving end of bigotry to know better. But this guy is. It's too bad, because there are intriguing aspects to Gypsy culture, and it could use a better press than characters like this one generate.

So now it seems to be starting again. The article that was forwarded to me is by Ian Hancock, first published in 1996, two years after my Hi Piers discussion quoted above. It quotes from Being a Green Mother “Gypsies! Beware--they steal children!” and says this is an indication of the depiction of Roma throughout the rest of the book. Well, that bit of dialogue does occur, but the rest of the statement is a lie. The first words are an accurate indication of the way ignorant folk view the Gypsies; the rest of the novel shows Orb's discovery of their real nature, quite a different thing, as shown above. The novel remains in print; anyone can read it and verify this. Then this article takes off on my mention that the Gypsies had no words for “duty” or “possession.” Okay, my source for that was Gypsies Their Life, Lore, and Legends, by Konrad Bercovici, originally published in 1928. Mr. Bercovici, born in Rumania, made a lifelong study of the Gypsies, and clearly was well familiar with them; his book is fascinating and highly sympathetic. Frankly, for a later critic to come along and cite Mr. Bercovici's statements as myths strikes me as in bad taste. It is possible that at the time the author wrote, there were no such words in the Gypsy language of Calo, and that they were added later, borrowed from another culture, after an issue was made. Or that the dialect Mr. Berkovici spoke was different from the dialect Mr. Hancock checked. Berkovici was pre-holocaust, remember; after one and a half million Gypsies died, the surviving remnants may have reconstituted a slightly different language and culture. My alternate reality version reflects the earlier culture, and I think is thus more true to the original.

Regardless, I will not accept inaccurate statements about my novels any more readily than I did before. If a critic can't at least get right what he criticizes, his opinion is hardly authoritative and his other statements come into question. I do not tolerate fools gladly. Stay tuned; this may not be over.

Let's move on to more pleasant matters. I get frequent queries about the movie prospects of my novels; I've lost count of the people who want to write, or actually have written, screenplays for On a Pale Horse. I have to tell them no, those rights are not available. Disney has a movie option on that novel, with Jamie Foxx working on it. Warner Pictures has an option on a Spell for Chamleon, with the Troy folk in charge, and seems to be moving ahead. Another party is working on Split Infinity; they showed me their screenplay, which largely follows the novel. All these options, of course, also reserve the rest of their series. Now options are notorious; maybe only one in twenty actually becomes a movie. So what do I think my chances are? I expect all three to be exercised and to become movies in the next two years. Stay tuned, again.

I have been reviewing the first three volumes of the ChroMagic fantasy series, as I write the fourth one. A proofreader has gone over them, and I have checked them, and we have found three quarters of a slew of typos. These have been sent in to the publisher, MUNDANIA, and corrections are promised. My apology to those of you who bought the volumes and found them riddled with errors; it is my theory that typos grow on the page after the proofreading. But look at it this way: those early volumes may become classics, their errors their proof of authenticity. You may get good prices for them on eBay.

Our daughter and four year old granddaughter visited. That was nice, but they brought us the ugly cold they had been suffering. It was a brute. I use Vitamin C to stave off colds, and have not had a cold in a decade or more. Those who try to tell you Vitamin C doesn't work may be tools of the drugstore nostrums industry, who know that if everyone used Vitamin C, their sales would plummet. But some colds are tougher than others. Normally three days of one gram per waking hour does it for me. When I found myself still fighting it on the fifth day, I checked my temperature. Sure enough, I was running a half degree fever. Vitamin C doesn't stop a fever, for me. So I did get a runny nose, and some coughing, but in a few more days that passed. I'm not quite back to normal; I have lost about five pounds, not from the cold, but rather, I think, from the fact that I am now doing more than I was, as discussed at the opening of this column, while I had not adjusted my diet accordingly. So I'm trying to eat a bit more. I maintain my weight at 150+ pounds clothed, 150- pounds bare.

I'm not saying much about my wife here, by her preference, but will mention one thing: she smoked for 50 years, unable to break the addiction. Now, suddenly she's off the cigarettes. What's the secret? Nicotrol inhalers. This is a prescription device, that looks like a cigarette mouthpiece, that provides nicotine when sucked on. So the body's craving for that drug is satisfied without the smoke, tar, and pollution. The things aren't perfectly easy to assemble and use--one broke rather than fit properly together--but once you have the knack, they do do the job, and I recommend them to others who want to stop smoking and can't. They're not cheap--our Medicare co-payment was $122--but that's cheaper than the cigarettes they replace, in more than one way. And I think it fitting that it was a troll (nico-TROL) that accomplished it. Trolls have a bad press, and I know folk hate to see the signs saying STOP--PAY TROLL, but they do have their uses.

One day my six working files loaded without proper titles. They all said Piers, which is the title of my personal diary file, my thoughts not intended for publication or review. No, it's dull; I note the temperature ranges, whether it rained, my archery scores, running times, and how I encountered illegal hunters on my tree farm and told them to get out. Also that knockout young woman I saw in the post office one Saturday: what was a creature like that doing here in the backwoods instead of Hollywood? So I'm 70; I'm not dead. I notice. What's it to you? Anyway, it wondered about the glitch, but went ahead and retitled my other files. Then next day none of them called up. I searched: they no longer existed on my system. Uh-oh. I needed those files, and my backups were not current. It's in the Big Book of life: backups are never current when files are lost. The infernal machine waits its opportunity to score. But I needed those files. One was my Xanth notes file, listing the hundreds of reader ideas and puns I'll be using in the next Xanth novel; my backup was two months old and turned out to be corrupted, unrecoverable. The next most recent backup was five months old. Was I going to have to research through the 400 a month emails to ferret out all those notions, surely missing some? Another was my Idea file, where I note the ideas that occur to me while I'm doing something else. I may save ideas for years before using them when the right occasion comes. My backup was a year old. Ouch! Another was my daily work record. I note in one-line-a-day form what I'm working on, what I read, who visits, and so on. I do print out recent lines at the foot of my daily Piers file notes, so the information was there, but it would be tedious to type it all in again for the past eight months since the backup. One file was my table of contents for Key to Liberty; that backup was almost current and I simply remade it. The last was the ongoing survey of electronic publishers, the backup about a month old; I could probably recover that. But overall the prospect was appalling. My writing had already plummeted; this would take yet more time away from it. What to do?

Daughter Cheryl to the rescue. She had friends who knew computers and Linux. She prevailed on one to come from Orlando. He sat down at my computer, and in five minutes he had all my lost files recovered. He had simply known where to look to find the automatic backups StarOffice makes. I hadn't known about that, not being a computer nerd. So he saved me. He wouldn't take money for his lost day--remember, he had to get here from across the state. He had a better notion: he's organizing next year's Oasis Con in Orlando. Would I attend? Time in exchange for time. My daughter plans to attend anyway, and could drive me there. Sigh; now you know what it takes to get me to a convention these days. Expect to see me at Oasis in 2006, assuming the state of my wife's health permits. That will, coincidentally, be around our 50th anniversary.

When I was marking corrections on Chromagic volumes, my red pens wouldn't work. Two were new, unused, but apparently had clogged. So I tried soaking one in hot water. No luck. So I put it in the water, in the microwave oven for one minute. Yes, that's a no-no; I got red ink splattered over the interior of the oven and my hands, which looked bloodstained. But after that the pen worked. I guess it realized what the ogre could do to it if it balked again.

Last time I mentioned some of the fun TV ads, and some readers wrote in agreeing with me. Here are a couple more: the bee with allergic congestion, so he can't approach the flower; getting treated. “I have returned, my flower, a changed bee.” Now there's a sequel, where he has a girlfriend, not quite as clever. Also there's the hunter in the mighty jungle, a tawny cat in a garden. Then three birds sing a chorus; I think they are shrikes. I love the way the music fits their appearance.

Andre Norton died. She was 93, one of the few genre authors who have had more novels published than I have. She used to live in Florida, and I knew her. When my first novel, Chthon, was published, she wrote a comment that the central character needed to be compatible for the reader. Mine really wasn't. I took that advice to heart, as the rest of my career indicates. A favorite memory of the Nashville fantasy convention I attended in 1987 was the three quiet breakfasts I had with her, chatting about agents, publishers, and whatnot. We were two early persons traveling with two late persons, so it was just us at that hour. No stress, just relaxing, though we were both guests of honor. I told her that I regarded the two of us as being in a contest to see who could attend the fewest conventions, and she smiled. Now I will carry on the few-convention tradition alone.

Reader input is mixed. There's a lot of it, and sometimes it is a burden because it subtracts from my writing time, especially now, but I try to keep up with it. Most is positive, but there are exceptions. One wrote in relation to getting his novel published; I recommended the electronic publishers and referred him to my list; that's why I put so much time into it. He wrote back “Thanks for no help at all.” I checked, and it turned out that he had written last year, and already had a publisher, so my answer was irrelevant. But his letter had been phrased like a first-timer, and I hadn't checked for possible prior contacts, which as I mentioned pile up at about 400 a month; it would have been a hassle turning on the computer just for that, and I have other concerns taking my time. So I was mouse trapped after trying to help; had he had the courtesy to tell me of the prior contact I could have addressed his situation more relevantly. Then he sent his novel, unasked, for my comment. No, I did not torpedo it; I like to think that I am more mature than some of the readers and writers I encounter, and wa-a-ay more than the typical critics. I read 20 pages and commented on those. It's a worthy novel. But this shows that writers are not necessarily more considerate than non-writing ilk; they can demand much while denigrating what they receive, taking no note of what else a busy writer like me might be trying to keep up with. All this is courtesy; I make my living writing and selling fiction, not by advising writers, for which I don't charge. They could hardly afford the value of my time if I did.

In contrast there is Wendy. She cross-stitched a board game, XANTHOPOLY, that she worked out, and sent to me. It's a cross between Monopoly and Xanth, with squares saying things like Pick up a Pun and Love Spring, with four Xanth castles in lieu of the railroads. It's a nice job. Of course it couldn't be commercial, because of infringing Monopoly or Xanth rights, but it's lovely as a sort of tapestry.

And Susie Lee of the Ferret & Dove Sanctuary, that I mentioned last column, www.angelfire.com/theforce/ferret_rescuer/. She sent an ecstatic note: after my mention, in five days five ferrets were adopted out, apparently as a result. I had no idea that would happen; I mentioned it for human/ferret interest. It seems ferrets make excellent pets for those who understand them, and of course Susie Lee loves them all. She also mentions some of her dove names: Neysa Unicorn Dove, Karia Centaur Dove, and Stanley S Dragon Dove. For some reason I like those names.

In the interest of not boring readers with repetitive stuff, I skipped comment on my archery practice. So I received queries on it. Sigh. It remains typical. I count one point for each time I hit the one foot square center of the target, and subtract one for each time I miss the target entirely, at 150 feet. My last session before this column was 3-2 right handed, and 0-7 left handed, same arrows and target. The arrows simply are not going where I'm aiming them; apparently I put a slight twist on the bow, through I struggle not to, and that's enough to through half the arrows well off the target. So my overall score was -6. Okay, I can already hear the critics saying that's how my writing scores, too.

A reader sent me a link to a challenging commentary. You know how mild and peace-loving ogres are, so of course I enter this fray with reluctance. But some issues need to be aired. It seems that one Ward Churchill, a professor of American Indian Studies at the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder wrote an essay that set some teeth on edge. A member of the Board of regents said that this raises a fundamental question: what are the boundaries of free expression, academic freedom, and tenure protection? “This question is especially salient in the face of the most offensive--the most appalling--political expression, such as many of Professor Ward Churchill's comments in his essay regarding the events of September 11.” Well, now; I'm on record as being appalled by that attack, as my published essay in one of the post 9/11 books indicates. That's in My America edited by Hugh Downes, published on the one year anniversary of the tragedy. Governor Bill Owens wrote “Mr. Churchill's views are not simply anti-American. They are at odds with simple decency, and antagonistic to the beliefs and conduct of civilized people around the world.” Okay, you get the gist. They don't like what he said. So what, exactly, did this villain say? A couple of brief quotes from a considerably longer essay may convey the essence: “The men who flew the missions against the WTC were not 'cowards.'” Indeed not; they willingly sacrificed their lives for their cause, which is a viable definition of bravery. Ignorant folk throw the word “coward” out promiscuously at anyone they don't like. And: “Looking back, it will seem to future generations inexplicable why Americans were unable on their own, and in time to save themselves, to accept a rule of nature so basic that it could be mouthed by an actor, Lawrence Fishburn, in a movie, The Cotton Club. 'You've got to learn,' the line went, 'that when you push people around, some people push back.' As they should. As they must. And as they undoubtedly will. There is justice in symmetry.” Okay, Mr. Churchill is in a position to know in rather thorough detail just how the white man pushed around the red man and took his land, violating treaty after treaty and at one point destroying 95% of his population, though this was largely through the illness brought from Europe. My research for Tatham Mound acquainted me with some of this. It is far from the only example. America is a global bully, known in Latin America as the Colossus of the North. Iraq is merely a recent example. So Mr. Churchill called a spade a spade, as is his right. You may agree or disagree with him, but it is un-American to try to silence him merely because you don't like his words. Or to try the same with me, as some religious or conservative types do; I do paste them back. I would have to study his essay more carefully to know to what extent I agree with him, and my time is pressed. But others are welcome to look up the discussion at www.politicalgateway.com/news/read.html?id=2739. You might also go to Google to look up Stephen Ambrose's book Other Losses, which documents the manner in which America supervised the extermination of three quarters of a million disarmed German soldiers after World War Two was over, in an attempt to permanently cripple Germany's war making ability. The Nazis weren't the only butchers. Most folk prefer to pretend the book is fiction, but my researcher and I studied it carefully when I was researching my World War Two novel Volk, and concluded that it is accurate. That was America's darkest hour of this century, so dark most folk are in denial about it, as some bigots are about the Holocaust. The New York Times ran a killer review by an Eisenhower supporter, but then came the responses from some of the few survivors of the atrocity, men who had actually been there. I am a naturalized American; I chose this country and I support it, but that does not make me blind to its faults. That's one reason I'm so dead set against the current administration, which is almost openly contemptuous of our Constitution. I don't want to see the true American values destroyed by those who preach patriotism and godliness while practicing opposite policies.

Another reader forwarded my some fantastic art. I can't give a site because this was in email, but the pictures were of an aqueduct that becomes a line of sailing ships, a winter mountain scene that is also a herd of horses, a vase/face scene with the faces formed from courting Mexican villagers, a huge jigsaw puzzle on the floor that becomes a live scene to enter, a waterfall that becomes standing hooded monks, and so on. A family member also forwarded pictures of things like the pregnant belly of a woman with a baby footprint showing from contact inside. Remarkable.

Cute and punny pictures of “Tater People” can be found at www.americanbridge.com/taters.htm.

Another 809 area code scam warning: don't ever dial it. You may receive a message that a family member has been arrested, or you won a prize, or something, and to call the 809 number right away. You can be charged $2,425 per minute for a long recording. Not every 809 number is a scam; most are legitimate. Just be sure you know whom you are calling.

US NEWS & WORLD REPORT had a nice special report on Abraham Lincoln, who was a much more ordinary man than the legends pretend. Some sources claim he was gay, but most deny that. He was not honorable early on, but after slandering an official and getting challenged to a duel, he discovered the virtues of honesty. He had a hugely successful law practice and became wealthy. Once he legally defended a slave owner, but later changed his mind about slavery. His first love was politics.

Research now suggests that some folk have a “God gene” that predisposes them toward religious faith. I must have been in the men's room when that one was passed out. Ah, well.

New Scientist has an article asking whether there are two types of gravity. This is one of those theories, along with dark matter, that interest me. Could it be that there is no dark matter, but that we simply don't properly understand gravity? At first it diminishes by the cube, but farther out only by the square, and farther out yet, it starts repelling instead of attracting? That would explain a lot. Stay tuned; it just may be. Discover Magazine conjectured what would happen if all the people suddenly disappeared from Earth. The answer: Earth would recover, in time.

Column in the local newspaper, the Citrus Chronicle says the president's private investment scheme for social security is a clear example of his dishonesty. Oh? Since when has political dishonesty been news? Another reader in Pennsylvania tells me that voting machines in his area came pre-loaded with 1,000 Bush votes. I don't know whether that's true; it seems too obvious. The Washington Spectator says that there was a report that there was a bulge inside the back of Bush's jacket during his first TV debate with John Kerry: a radio receiver designed to allow White House aides to cue an inarticulate Bush in his replies to Kerry. Apparently the New York Times was set up to run the story, but it was spiked by the paper's top editors.

I received an ad for Newsweek that said it has won ten national magazine awards, Time has won seven, and US News two. Since US News is by far the best of those magazines, this is a curious statistic. Of course I have been disenchanted with awards in the SF/fantasy genre, after seeing how they were corrupted, and I suspect this is typical elsewhere. Even the Nobel prizes can be affected by politics, it seems.

I live in Citrus County, Florida, which is pretty much of a backwoods area, though it is filling in rapidly. It is predominantly conservative, but on occasion it makes the news. Such as the case of nine year old Jessica Lunsford, a cute girl who went to bed one night and was missing in the morning. There was a spreading search of the area that turned up nothing. Finally they identified a registered sex offender who had evaded observation and stayed at a house in sight of Jessica's. Sure enough, he did it, abducting, raping, and killing her, then getting the hell out of town; they ran him down in Georgia. Now there's a petition circulating to mandate 50 years in prison, no parole, no time off, for all sex offenders, and allow the death penalty. I didn't sign it, because it is overkill that would likely generate more mischief than it abates. Say John is 18, Joan is 17, they're in love, engaged, and having consensual sex. This is what loving couples do; we all know that. He could wind up in prison for 50 years because she's underage? I do think that identified sex offenders should be kept the hell out of circulation, but a judge's discretion is apt to be a better guide than a blunderbuss bill. And they need to track them better, obviously. This particular case has a personal aspect: a man at the grocery store told me I looked like the culprit, who was bearded at the time of his arrest. I assured him I was not. But in the climate following such a case, a chance resemblance could be dangerous to my health.

And in Tampa Bay the Terri Shiavo case made national headlines. Terri suffered from bulimia, brought her weight down from 200 to 110 pounds, then had a heart stoppage that deprived her brain of oxygen for just a little too long. Her body survived, but in a persistent vegetative state. She was fed through a tube while her brain slowly dissolved into spinal fluid. She had not wanted this, but had not written out a living will. Her husband tried to let her die as she had wanted, but her parents refused to acknowledge brain death as real death. After a decade her case attracted some notice, as repeated motions and appeals wended their way through the glacial court system. The Florida legislature passed a bill to keep her “alive,” but the courts nixed it. Now, about fifteen years after the onset, the last appeals have given out. The US Congress, in a pretty naked example of pandering to the religious right, passed a bill to keep her body going, and again the courts stopped it. Seventy per cent of the general public wanted to let her go. And so at last the feeding tube was removed, and in thirteen days the body expired. No what can we make of this? First, if you don't want to be stuck brainless forever living off the tube, make out a living will. Second, I note that one of the few legislators who voted sensibly was our local representative Ginny Brown-Waite, for whom I have had no use. She investigated, talked with people, and decided it was wrong to artificially prolong the agony. Where does that leave me politically, when many of the liberals I support go wrong and a conservative I don't support goes right? Third, why is it that the politicians who are systematically vitiating welfare and the needs of the poor are so supportive of a woman who has no chance for real life? That's rhetorical; they are shamelessly catering to their political base, logic be damned.

Interesting views: The HUMANIST magazine mentions that the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” That is evidently still true. The Random House dictionary defines fascism as a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism. Others say it is simply the mergence of political and corporate power: government by the special interests. Why does that seem somehow familiar? And a Time magazine poll finds a big leap in happiness when a person passes the $35,000 income level. So it seems money can buy happiness. A Dartmouth College study indicates that increasing sex from once a month to once a week brings as much happiness as a $50,000 raise. So now we know: the secret of happiness is money and sex.

People: News anchor Dan Rather retired. I never watched him, ever since the network screwed Roger Mudd who had seemed to be in line for the job and seemed nicer. Sure enough, it went from #1 to #3. I hadn't realized that my business would make quite that much difference. And as I write this Pope John-Paul II is fading. And he died as I edited this. I remember when the College of Cardinals met and struggled and came up with the wrong man, Pope John-Paul I. So God took him out in a month and sent them back to do it again. This time they got it right. It reminds me of a familiar question: if such folk truly believe what they preach, that there are significant rewards in the afterlife, why do they cling so determinedly to life? I suspect they know, deep down, that it's all make-believe, and this is the only life they have.

Just say no: statistically those who pledge virginity get more sexually transmitted diseases than those who don't. Why? Because they don't take precautions when inevitably they succumb to the lure of sex. The underlying rule is if you can't be good, be careful. We need better sex education, not unkeepable pledges.

Science News says that about a third of children have pretend-pals. Now that's interesting. I always had a great imagination, but I never had a pretend companion. Think what I was missing! Maybe my fantasy writing career is a vain effort to make up for that.

I have piles of clippings and notes, but my time is curtailed, this column is already a day late, and I must cut it off somewhere. Future columns may be shorter, depending on my situation. Some readers may chafe at my slower, briefer email responses; can't be helped. I simply have only about a quarter the working time I had before. I hope things will stabilize and maybe improve, but that remains to be seen. So, readers and fans, it's not that I love you less, but that I love writing more.

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