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Piers signing books
JeJune 2007
HI-

It has been more than two years since my last haircut, and my hair is now over a foot long. I wear it in a ponytail, and I am alternating between VO5 and Brylcreem to make it controllable and tangle free. The two seem equivalent, but I think VO5 is more to my taste. I tie it with what my wife calls bobbles, which are like marbles linked by an elastic loop. My old male fingers are too clumsy behind my head to work normal hair ties, but with these I just pass them around the hair and hook one ball over the other to secure it. Then I use double mirrors to check it, making sure it's neat. My daughter says that I should learn to braid it. My hair has a natural curl that is increasingly evident as it lengthens. I started grow it long when my wife became too ill to cut it, but I like it well enough this way so that I expect to keep it long the rest of my life. I never knew what lovely hair I had until I passed 70. I always liked long hair on women, and both my daughters have had yard-long hair. I figure to catch up to them in another four years. Meanwhile if anyone asks me why I wear a ponytail, I have an answer ready: to cover my bald spot. Duh.

I try not to belabor my sad sack archery experience unduly, but when I skip reference I get queries about it. So here's another update: I loose 12 arrows right side and left side, having right and left compound bows, the kind with the little wheels. Those wheels provide a 65% letoff, meaning that instead of 55 or 60 pounds pull (draw weight) I can hold it at about 20 pounds while I aim. But the arrows still are propelled at full power. Ain't technology marvelous! I have no belief in the supernatural, but if there is such a thing as a curse, it is on my left side bow, ensuring that arrows do not go where I want. I got tired of them falling off the newfangled arrow rest, so fixed a prop from the plastic earpiece of a broken pair of sun glasses that holds the arrows in place as I draw. But the arrows still take off high or low, left or right, anywhere but where aimed. It is as if the minimum adjustment moves the arrow four feet, at my 150 foot range, and there is no center. The arrows go where they decide, regardless of my aim. One time in the past two months I had positive scores both right and left side. Maybe the curse was late getting out of bed that day. So why do I continue? Because the point is not accuracy but exercise, and I get that as I draw the bow and move 50 pound targets around, regardless of my aim. It's like self publishing, where the point is not great literature but personal satisfaction. Not that I'm getting much of that. My last session, May 31, I discovered as I loosed the first arrow that I had aimed at the dark square of background foliage to the left of my target array, mistaking it for the dark center target, and scored perfectly on it. Didn't count it as a miss, as the arrow went exactly where aimed, but couldn't count it as a score either. And the arrow was lost. So I got out my metal detector, whose batteries were dead; replaced them and went hunting. And found three buried arrows, not one of the them one I had just loosed. Did I mention the curse? Finally at the end of the session I searched once more, and found it beyond where I had looked; it must have bounced and scooted 150 feet through the forest. My actual score for the session: 4-3 right side, 1-5.5 left side. Par for my course.

Speaking of personal satisfaction: I am 72 and remain sexually active. No, not every day; every week is more like it. But now nature is crimping me where it hurts, so to speak: I am no longer getting full erections. That makes penetration awkward. I remain interested in sex, but can see that soon that will be an exercise in frustration. So I answered an ad in the newspaper by Vitalin: guaranteed to increase potency and stamina, etc. But when I called, I discovered I was in a fast-talking melee of offers, bonus deals, extra features, read from a script. Sometimes the woman lost her place and read the same text over, and over again. This is a supplement you take daily, for about two to three dollars a day. Um, I was thinking in terms of a pill you take an hour before sex, that makes you stiff in that time. This evidently isn't that. So I agreed to try it, but limited it to one month, and I expect to cancel after that. Because I already have a healthy diet, so this is unlikely to make much if any difference. It also smacks too much of snake oil ripoff. But even if it is effective and makes me super potent—two dollars a day? For that price it would have to wash the dishes, brush my teeth, mow the lawn, handle my email, and give me realistic hallucinations of being a horny sultan with the world's finest harem. And I may not get to use it soon, regardless.

Which brings me to my better half. My wife had an angiogram, which is when they run a tube into her heart via the thigh and watch the progress of blips of dye that outline the vessel network. It showed that her system was clear. Just that slowly ballooning aneurysm just where the thoracic artery emerges from the heart. She was scheduled for her operation replacing her aortic aneurysm ( = heart surgery) on May 8. They would cool her down, stop her heart, cut her open, replace the distended major artery of her body with a synthetic version, sew her up, restart her heart, and warm her up. Intensive care for a day, hospital for a week, home recovery for a month. No undue activity (= no sex) in that time. But the day before surgery they called to postpone it a month: she had a urinary infection. Actually she had told them she suspected it, and they had tested her urine and found her clean, but on the just-before-surgery retest reversed that. I think they should have paid better attention the first time, because then they could have given her corrective medication. But you know it's endemic in the medical profession: they don't really listen to the patient. They say they do, but basically they tune the patient out, with results like this. So now she is scheduled for June 5, and she'll be in surgery about the time this column appears. We have had to go the whole nervous preparatory route again, hoping for the best. Yes, the mortality for this type of procedure is only 10-15%, but that means that as many as one in seven patients will die. My mother died from a complication of heart bypass surgery, so I know the risk is real. I will surely have a report next column.

So what did we do during this month-long reprieve? Well, it's spring; my wife bought new furniture for the living room, including a hideaway bed couch, so I can stay down with her overnight if that seems best. She's not going to be climbing the stairs to the bedroom right away. We replaced the aging, rattling, leaking clothes washer and dryer after 19 years. We got the air conditioning company to check and fix our malfunctioning heat pump. We saw three movies: #3 for Spiderman, Shrek, and Pirates and with our business of course they all did very well commercially. Remember, two years ago my wife's illness prevented us from seeing new movies, and the movie industry had an extended slump. All these things that we had not expected to be able to handle at this time. Local movie reviewer gave the last a D grade, but of course the public has learned to ignore reviewers. As I see it, it's a collection of individual sequences with hardly more than a theoretical connection, but each enjoyable in itself. The two ships entering the maelstrom while still firing at each other, while Sparrow and tentacle-face spar on the spar is fun if of course improbable. I hope they manage similarly improbable drama when they start making Xanth movies. But one thing perplexes me: at the end, when the British Admiral was set to renege on his word and blow the pirates out of the water, why did he freeze and let the pirates take out his ship instead? That was not in character. What did I miss?

And I moved on my fifth ChroMagic novel, Key to Survival, and had my best month, writing 64,000 words and completing the first draft of this quarter million word piece. This is the final novel of the series, wrapping up assorted threads and providing a mind-blowing (I hope) revelation about the nature of its situation. This is the one in which our heroes from the colored volcano magic planet take on the galaxy-conquering sapient machines culture that for 50,000 years has been obliterating all living things. The destruction is about one third done, and will abolish the remaining two thirds of living galactic species in due course, if not stopped. Of course our heroes have to stop it, but this is no easy thing to accomplish because they are seriously overmatched despite having magic. Not a bad conclusion for a series that started with an ignorant village kid who was forced to become king against his will. I'll be editing the novel in June, before moving on to writing my third book of erotically tinged stories. Because with the folding of Venus Press, I am moving my Relationships volumes to Phaze, the erotic imprint of Mundania Press, in which I have a financial interest. Then it will be time for Xanth #33, Jumper Cable. I like to keep writing.

Meanwhile I read the page proofs for Xanth #31, Air Apparent, and can report that it's a typical Xanth novel replete with reader puns and notions galore and a wild tour of the Worlds of Ida, finally explaining their nature. It is couched as a murder mystery. A lead character, Debra, suffers a curse: any man who hears her name wants to de-bra her. It's awkward for a girl. She has actually been sent to capture the dread Random Factor, who has escaped confinement and is having quite a random time. I'll bet you didn't know he randomized quantum particles, leading to considerable confusion in Mundania. But she falls in love with him. Then it gets complicated. Obviously this is yet another unoriginal ripoff that exists only to give the critics fits. It should appear in hardcover this fall.

I finished reading The Golden Harpy by S C Klaus, published at iUniverse, one I had only started last column. Apart from technical writing problems, which the author is working on, this is a well conceived and hard-hitting novel about the harpies that are not screeching bird-women but a serious species that is being brutally exploited. Their wings make collectors' trophies. Think of the way the ignorant belief that rhino horns are aphrodisiac are threatening extinction of that species, for a parallel. Much of it is distastefully brutal; the author will be modifying that too. So for a story that is not light or whimsical, keep this in mind.

Then I read Muslim Madness and Other Religious Insanities, by Bridgette Power. This is exactly what the title suggests: an informed discussion of the dangerously ludicrous assumptions of a number of religions, starting with Islam. Some of its questions: “If drinking wine is a sin, why does the Qur'an [Koran] mention gardens in heaven with rivers of wine that gives joy to those who drink?” I understand that the prohibition of alcohol is widely violated in Muslim territory, though I don't have a specific source. “After Adam and Eve had children, how did they proceed onto the third generation?” I once asked that of a religious person, inquiring how Cain, banished from association with Adam's family, managed to leave descendants. He said that Cain went to join the Children of Nod. No explanation who those were, but obviously they were compatible enough to generate Cain's children. So Adam & Eve were not the only source of our species. On male circumcision: “If the foreskin is to be removed by most religions due to a possible health hazard, why did God give men the foreskin in the first place?” Why, indeed. Who is man to second guess God? As an uncircumcised male I deplore the widespread use of a religious procedure inflicted on helpless babies in a secular nation, the USA. I believe it is done in a misguided effort to reduce men's pleasure in sex. But recent research indicates that in Africa the likelihood of getting AIDS is cut in half for circumcised men, so there may be something to it. But using condoms would cut it a whole lot more, so why don't religions mandate that, if they are so interested in sexual health? “The fact is that cult leaders use religion to act on their fantasies of domination, selfish needs, and greed. It's all about power, money, sex, sadistic killings, and terrorism.” That statement may seem harsh, but the author documents it in cult after cult. So if you want an uncensored damnation of religion in general and the Muslims in particular, this is the book. I suspect the author's life will be in danger from fanatics who would rather kill than take a reasonable look at their religions. This is self published at Lulu. Perhaps related: an organization named FLAME runs ads presenting Israel's side of Middle East questions, and they generally make sense to me. The one I have before me leads off: “Racism in the Islamic World. How can peace prevail in the Middle East in the face of Islamic bigotry and hate? When will moderate Muslims speak out?” It goes on to discuss how in 2001 the United Nations declared Zionism to be racism. Zionism is the movement to establish a Jewish state, Israel, so the Jews can have a home. That's an odd definition of racism. The ad points out that the UN accused no other nation of racism, only Israel, though it is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse and tolerant countries in the world. But Palestinian children are taught in school that Jews are descended from apes and pigs and that Muslims should kill Jews and rejoice in Allah's victory. Maybe there is a Muslim side of this issue, but from here it doesn't seem like anything worthwhile. We are all descended from apelike ancestors, but pigs?

The May/June issue of THE HUMANIST—if my remarks seem generally humanistic, it is because I am a Humanist—there's an article by Fred March, “How to Counter Religion's Toxic Effects.” such effects being past holy wars, inquisitions, persecutions “and all the wretched abuses of superstition and theocracy,” and the current threats to our society by trying to control our “moral” behavior, denying access to contraceptives, outlawing termination of pregnancy, criminalizing sexual acts between consenting adults, banning stem cell research, refusing to let the terminally ill get assistance in dying, preventing the inoculation of girls against cervical cancer, and degrading science education with religious doctrine. Sensible folk accept supernatural things as symbols, not facts. It has bothered me for a long time, as one who has actually tried to read about Jesus in the Bible with understanding, and who knows him as a compassionate live and let live person, how those who claim to believe in him try to put bigotry in his mouth. I would call that taking his name in vain, and I am sure he would be appalled and disgusted. Jesus wanted people to love their enemies, not hate them; how much less should they hate those who merely follow different conventions? And how he would laugh at those who mistranslated his analogy about passing a camel's hair rope through the eye of a needle, without catching on.

I have been using two distributions of Linux: Kubuntu for my novel writing, and Xandros for my correspondence. After several months I think I have a fair notion of their merits. Both have their problems; Kubuntu is missing a whole section and is a partly crippled version, but is working well enough since it does have what I need, mainly Konqueror for file handling and OpenOffice for word processing. I do wonder why the sponsors of distributions don't check them before sending them out, to make sure they are fully functional; this is not a positive indication. Xandros used to randomly trash my files. The current version has not done that, so it seems they fixed that problem. Kubuntu is apt to crash OpenOffice when I use Escape; I made note when it happened, so can say it has happened 12 times so far despite my effort to avoid using Escape. It's an automatic reflex when I want to get out of a wrong menu, but that doesn't mean I want to get out of all of OpenOffice. The whole of Kubunto has shut down three times, when I put in my backup flash drive. It doesn't query, it just crashes. It did it while I was writing this column. Not often, maybe one time in a hundred, but would you drive a car whose brakes failed randomly one time in a hundred? Xandros gets prissy about backing up, requiring me to go into a partition of the flash drive that no other program recognizes. But Kubunto may balk at even reading a drive that Xandros has used, saying ACCESS DENIED. Then I have to use OpenOffice to copy in the file and save it to my hard disk. What the hell business does an open source program have giving me such a message? To protect me from Internet molestation? This system has never been on the Internet, because Kubuntu is unable to do it with a 64 bit computer. Xandros was responsive and was addressing the online problem, but my wife's illness prevented her from following up, and it's beyond my competence. Sometimes Kubuntu tells me this is not fstab and I am not root and can't back up a file, but it does it anyway. I'd like to fstab it in the ass. So I think Xandros is gradually winning back my esteem, but I may try the next upgrades of both before deciding which is to be my permanent mistress. I realize that both have online communities that could address the problems I am having, but since my biggest problem is not being able to go online, this is no help. It reminds me of the marvelous invention of powdered water: put some in a cup, add water, and voila! you have water. Yeah, sure.

When I grocery shop with my wife I see the tabloid magazines near the checkout counter. Fascinating tidbits. Laura kicks out George when she catches him drunk or having an affair with another woman. She may divorce him. She tells his mother to butt out. She even blows up at the Queen of England. This is Laura Bush, the president's wife. Why haven't I seen any such hot news in the regular media? Are they censored, or are the tabloids pure fiction? Yes, I know: both.

We watch the Surviver TV shows, with gradually diminishing interest. In the last series one man won a car and made a deal with another: the car in exchange for an immunity idol if he won it. The man accepted the car, then reneged on the immunity. This is considered playing the game. What do they think this is, writing, where publishers make promises to authors and renege? Politics, where lies are told to put us into disastrous wars? Gamesmanship is one thing, but outright dishonesty is another. I think such actions should be grounds for disqualification. My interest in this series is likely to drop further; it is not supporting my values, or, I think, America's. Maybe the new Pirates show will be better.

Then there was the Virginia Tech massacre. A freak buys guns legally then kills 30 innocent folk. Sensible restrictions on gun sales could have stopped it, though he still could have stolen them. Suppose one other student had had a gun, so as to be able to shoot back? That's tempting, but I suspect that if many folk carried guns we'd see more mayhem as spot annoyances turned deadly. The authorities' real attitude toward guns shows in court rooms, airplanes, and I think Congress and the White house where they are banned from all but specially licensed hands. A book More Guns, Less Crime by John Lott makes the case that “when states passed right-to-carry laws, the rate of multiple-victim public shootings fell by 60 percent,” and crime decreased overall. But when his data were examined in detail, that case was shredded; arming the populace has the opposite effect. Essay by Jonathan Safran Foer is titled “Some People Love Guns. Why Should The Rest Of Us Be Targets?” That may cover it. I may have commented before: I believe the Second Amendment does give citizens the right to have guns—provided they serve in a militia, where some discipline will be enforced. It's the free access to deadly weapons without any controls, discipline, or accounting that is dangerous.

Way back when I used Windows, I filled out a form. Name Piers Anthony. Occupation Writer. Ever since then, that name with a typo has been mailing and phoning me, trying to sign me up for things like special business credit cards: Piers Anthohy Writer. It sure shows how little background research Capital One does. On April 6, with a followup card April 10 from Delores J Killette, Piers Anthohy Writer received a survey questionnaire from the US Post Office who wants to know how he likes it. 33 questions about my impressions of the past 30 days. How does your business buy stamps? Please rate your business's experience with the PO. How do they compare to other delivery companies? They really want to know how this business sees them. Please return completed form to The Gallup Organization in Omaha Nebraska. I was tempted—oh was I tempted!—to send in a savagely sarcastic response, but my wife prevailed on me not to. It would just get me on more idiot solicitation lists. There is not now and never was any such person or business at this address, as even the flimsiest background check should show.

As readers of this column know, I maintain an ongoing survey of electronic publishers and related services. I report feedback from writers who use these outfits, anonymously, because vindictive publishers will do their best to stifle, humiliate, or destroy anyone who embarrasses them by revealing their nefarious dealings. So running a negative report is like stepping on a cat's tail. I do it because I was blacklisted and badmouthed for six years, 1969-75, when I had the temerity to protest being cheated by a traditional publisher. This occurrence left me with the attitude of an abused mongrel, and I am trying to help other whistleblowers avoid sharing that experience. When someone comes at me with a stick, that stick well may wind up in that person's rectum. I have never made any secret of this, and have indeed taken hostile legal action against errant traditional publishers, and always won my case. Electronic publishers are relatively small change, but they are the main hope for many aspiring writers so I hold them to similar standards and don't take much guff from them. They damn well ought to have caught on to that by this time. Yet still they come.

This time the case in point is Mardi Gras Publishing, run by Teresa Jacobs. In my April 2007 update I reported that I had conflicting reports, that there seemed to be a two tier system, that a top editor was fired without warning, and other things that can be read in my long entry in the Survey. I also relayed the report from the publisher that they had terminated their editor in chief and were prepared for vindictive reactions. “Obviously there is a war in progress,” I concluded. Well, I think I understated the case. Following that update I heard violently from both sides. “Poorly run author mill,” a bounced royalty check, favoritism, illicit charges against author payments, and raising fees per title sold from .39 to .59.

Well, the publisher says they did terminate the editor in chief without notice, because of the private information she had access to. As with a company that doesn't want a fired employee to take proprietary information to the competition, knowing there is a serious risk of that if there is opportunity. She is not sure what is meant by Ins and Outs; if an author wants to leave, she gives them a “down by” date and by that date the titles are gone from the site. This is in contrast to certain other publishers that hang on to titles with a death grip, even going so far as to refuse to accept registered letter notices of reversion. A staff member says no one has mentioned inaccurate royalty statements to her, and she has never talked about anyone behind their backs.

I reported that I had not heard from the fired editor, though there could be a pseudonym, so I wouldn't know for sure. That brought a prompt response from an early critic who said she's no pseudonym. She didn't even like the fired editor, and that MGP wasn't just at war, but was committing professional suicide by the way it treated its authors. Another author had a problem with their criteria for doing a POD (that is, printed on paper) edition, having been told they required 500 download sales first. This is a hell of a lot of downloads. I don't think any of my electronically published titles anywhere have had close to that, except maybe Pornucopia, and I'm not a novice writer.

The publisher said that there are many authors and publishers that follow my posts, and she found it hard to figure out how I do complaints without solid proof. Another representative of the publisher put it more harshly: “I am truly disgusted every time I see a comment written by you regarding Mardi Gras Publishing. It seems that you simply choose to post negative responses without researching where your source is coming from...So before you begin any more mudslinging I certainly hope a person with your credibility would know better and do your research before you post.” In subsequent emails she accused me of name calling. When I suggested that she check my case histories of other publishers, she retorted that she saw none other than blatant mudslinging by authors who had been soured by the houses they published with. I guess she missed the entries about Book Locker, Cobblestone, Double Dragon, Extasy, Lionhearted, Lovestruck, New Concepts, Triskelion, Venus—well, you get the picture.

Well, now. This set off a spirited private dialogue. There is more, but let's cut to the chase. I asked her point blank: did MGP charge any fees? She answered directly: it did not. So I went back to those who had reported fees, and they sent me copies of their statements listing fees. There's even a column in the statement with the heading FEES. So I reported that to her, and asked pointedly “Do you care to reconsider?” I never heard from her again. Par for that course.

And here is the crux of a matter that caused, I think, about a dozen authors to leave MGP. My prior entry on it says that they charge no fees. I had taken the publisher's word, and apparently not done my homework. (Somehow I doubt that was the kind of misstatement the publisher meant to challenge. But the beginning of my Survey says “I take publishers' claims on faith until learning otherwise.”) They do charge fees, which have recently been raised from .39 per title per sale for listing at the publisher's site to .59. Their contract does not seem to mention any such fees, and as far as I know other publishers generally do not charge them. I have never seen such charges against my titles at Mundania Press, for example. It wasn't just that; there were charges specifically against Fictionwise sales that could be $15 or as high as $300. What the hell was going on?

Well, it's not what it seems. Dialog with Teresa Jacobs finally straightened it out. She was listing the full amount of the sales made by Fictionwise, then deducting the share Fictionwise took, which seems to be about 53%, in the Fees column. So it looked as if a phenomenal ripoff was occurring. Other publishers simply report the share that Fictionwise forwards to them, so there is no apparent fee. Teresa was trying to be completely open and honest, providing all figures, and instead touched off a hornet's nest. I think she will change her mode of reporting to conform with normal practice, and the confusion will end.

So what about those other fees? They are taken before the 60/40 split is made, so the publisher is actually sharing them. It may be that other publishers charge them also, but don't show them. When the author gets 40% of the net, it does mean after all expenses have been covered. I think that such fees should not be charged against the authors, but should be covered by the publisher's 60% overhead. But I don't run this show.

My conclusion is that this is after all a good publisher, despite the hotheadedness of some of its defenders (which perhaps have now been muzzled), and the fees, and that the proprietor is doing an honest job. The charge of non-responsiveness does not seem valid; Teresa was responsive to me and seems to have been to her authors. And I do have a number of reports from satisfied authors. In fact I have a huge pile of comments pro and con, that I hope I don't need to delve into again to refute any more hotheads who assume I don't do my homework.

Last column I commented on an email item savagely condemning actress Jane Fonda, who was reported to have betrayed captive American soldiers in the Vietnam war. I received several feedbacks on that, the essence of which is that it's not true; it's another hoax. Some respondents didn't much like Jane Fonda, but knew she was innocent of this one. I'm sorry I was caught, again, by a false report. The first to correct me on this was DL Tolleson, who forwarded an article by David Emery. Nobody much likes what Jane Fonda did, but she did not pull the slips-of-paper stunt. Nobody spit at her and got brutally beaten. But POWs were beaten for refusing to cooperate or meet with Fonda during her visit.

Last column also I mentioned the fabulous cooling system of the human body: only man and mad dogs can walk in the noonday sun of Africa. Reader Scott Flanders sent me an article that appeared in WIRED by Toad Shachman titled “Be More Than You Can Be.” They are developing a device called the Glove that so efficiently cools the blood that a person worn out by heavy exercise is effectively rejuvenated in five minutes. A vacuum pulls blood to the surface of the skin, where metal cools it, and sends it back into the body. It seems that muscles don't wear out because they use up their stored sugars, but because they get too hot. Sweating is a backup system for the lattices of blood vessels in the hands and feet; this is more direct. Now the military is looking into this, with an eye to developing superhuman soldiers. The Glove can also be used to quickly reheat a human body immersed in frigid water. They are also researching how to enable folk to survive on much reduced air.

I try to answer my mail promptly and responsively where warranted. Routine gosh-wow-I-love-your-novels letters get a polite acknowledgment, not because I don't appreciate them, but because there's really not much to say. There was one I gave a nonroutine answer to. She wanted to be a publisher; what do publishers do? Here is my answer, talking about traditional print publishing:

“The author writes the book. The bookstore sells the book. The publisher connects the two. The publisher hires editors who read manuscripts and choose which ones are good enough to handle—maybe one in a hundred. The editor will then offer the author a deal, such as maybe a $5,000 advance against royalties of 6% of the cover price of the book, and when the author accepts, the editor will send a contract filled with legalistic terms. Then the editor gives the manuscripts to a copyeditor who corrects the misspellings and shapes up the manuscript for printing. Then it is on to the printer for a set number of copies—maybe 50,000 mass market paperbacks. Those copies are sent out to distributors, who take them to bookstores and other outlets to be sold.

“Meanwhile the publisher arranges for publicity. There has to be an appealing cover for the book, a price per copy needs to be decided, and ads for it published so readers will know it exists and want to buy it. The publisher may arrange for the author to do a book signing tour. The right publicity can make a book; the wrong publicity can bury it.

“When the book is on sale, the publisher keeps the accounts. The publisher has to pay for all the editing, printing, distribution, and publicity. Now it adds up the sales and credits 6% to the author, and when the amount equals the advance, starts paying the extra. With luck the book will be a bestseller and make money for everyone. But most books lose money. So publishing is risky. “Your best bet is to work for an existing publisher for a while, learning the ropes. Then you'll know how to do it.

“Electronic publishing is much simpler, but again, it's not something you should get into cold. The author can be ignorant, the reader can be ignorant, but the publisher better know what it's doing or it will soon founder.”

I thought that summary of publishing was worth sharing with general readers. There's a whole lot more it doesn't address, like agenting, the rationale of large advances, tricky contract clauses, and the extreme vagaries of the market, but I think it represents a starter course. Oh, okay, I'll say a bit about one: the reason an agent negotiates as large an advance as he can is not just so he'll get 15% of a bigger pie; it's to protect the author. Because publishing is notorious for devious bookkeeping, that cuts down the author's share. So the agent figures what the publisher is likely to make from the book, and bases the advance on that. Then the publisher can do all its fancy tricks of accounting and they won't make much of a difference; the author already has his fair share. Similar is true for the movies, where shares of the proceeds owing to leading actors somehow never materialize. For my larger deals I cut in a top lawyer whose business is to see that nobody gets away with trick accounting. So maybe I will actually get my share. We'll see. One thing publishers don't like about me is that I am not a total ignoramus about the business side of it. Not since getting cheated and blacklisted for objecting. I learn well from experience, and by this time I have had a fair amount of it. But those who practice trick accounting are no slouches at their trade, and they have fancy lawyers too, so at this point the issue remains in doubt.

Speaking of which: Authors Guild has a warning about Simon & Schuster changing its standard contract language to retain exclusive control of books even after they have gone out of print. “Simon & Schuster is apparently seeking nothing less than an exclusive grant of rights in perpetuity. Effectively, the publisher would co-own your copyright.” Yes, it's like signing a contract with the devil. Read your contract, and object before, not after, you sign. It's a matter I mentioned to my agent before this notice came out. But since my contracts are on license, I retain ultimate control regardless. I believe I mentioned something about not being an ignoramus, above.

I received a pained email on May 4 from Lisa Nicole: her best friend's sister in law has gone missing in Syria. She asked me to run the link to her brother's journal, in case someone could help. This column really is not for this type of thing; for one thing it comes out only every second month. In that area of the world I fear the worst after even hours, let alone weeks. But here's the link, just in case. http://vintagevocalslabel.com/Nicole%20Vienneau%20-%20Missing%20Poster%20-%20English.pdf

Health note via email: to stop coughing in a child or adult, put Vicks Vaporub generously on the bottom of the feet at bedtime, then cover with socks. It is supposed to work in five minutes and last many hours, 100% of the time. I find this hard to believe, but I would try it, just in case. I remember when I had whooping cough as a child; sure could have used it then.

Another: a cure for cavities in teeth. It seems that dental cavities are primarily the result of a communicable disease spread through the transmission of bacteria. Fluoride theoretically helps, but may also weaken bones, lower IQ, cause cancer, thyroid dysfunction, anemia, liver disease, Down's syndrome and others. “Documents obtained by researchers seem to support the claim that it was sold to the public as beneficial to teeth with bogus studies...” Also, the toothbrush grows bacteria and conveys them to your mouth; it needs to be sterilized. Boil it in salt water every few days. Mouthwash? The problem is that the bacteria are inside teeth, under the surface, not reachable. But it recommends flossing. Why, if it can't reach the bacteria? They are working on a vaccine to prevent tooth decay. What about professional dental cleaning? This damages the root surfaces, ultimately weakening the teeth, perhaps being counterproductive. It's a long article; the essence, I think, is that you have to devote a significant portion of your life to eradicating your tooth decay in many venues, but that it can be done. I'm not sure I'm up to it, as I have a living to earn.

THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR for May 1, 2007 had an article on abuse in the US Army. Didn't that bring back memories! I served in the Army from March 1957 to March 1959, a two year conscription. I won't say my time was entirely wasted; it did pay my way when civilian employment prospects were low, did cover the medical expenses of my wife's difficult second pregnancy, though in the end she lost the baby, and did facilitate my American naturalization. That was when 49 Army wives and I were naturalized together. So my life as an American citizen began in the Army. But I had the same kind of trouble in the Army as I did at college and with publishers, for the same reason: I did what I felt (and still feel today) was right, and stood my ground. But this paragraph is not about that. It's about this article, that mentions abusive Army practices at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. That was where I was stationed. It says the Army has officially eliminated some of its most abusive practices, along with its theory of “breaking them down to build them up.” I remember. My introduction to the military, at Ft. Dix New Jersey before I was shipped to Ft. Sill, was a sergeant sticking his head in the bus that brought the recruits and yelling “Send your heart home; you ass belongs to me!” There followed our descent into Hell. The article says “At the military's upper levels, abuse is widely believed to be not only desirable but absolutely necessary to have a disciplined, effective military and keep everyone in line.” Yes. But I will say that mostly the abuse was more apparent than real. You were required to do pushups until you were prostrate, then condemned for being a weakling, but nobody actually touched you. Once I was confused and turned my head the wrong way during a drill and the sergeant whammed me on the chest with his helmet liner with a sound that I think made the whole formation jump. But a helmet liner is a light thing, probably incapable of hurting a person, and I was wearing heavy winter padding; I wasn't hurt at all, as the sergeant surely knew. He was making a demonstration, not being abusive. But the article clarifies that there were real abuses elsewhere. I'm sure there were.

I mentioned my wife's second miscarriage. In May the Dear Abby column discussed miscarriages. This subject is of course of interest to me. We lost three children stillborn in the first decade of our marriage, in 1957, 1958, and 1962. Each was traumatic and I could go on at length about the special associated ironies, but let's try to mention them only briefly. The first one precipitated me into the US Army, because it meant I was no longer a prospective father and thus was eligible for the draft. During the second my wife was in the hospital, but I had guard duty and was able to go visit her only after I got off. As a result I arrived just as visiting hours ended, and they would not let me see her, even for one minute. She heard me talking in the hallway, so knew I had tried. One writer described nurses as sadists; I would not go that far, but hospitals as institutions can be sadistic. The third one occurred the day I lost my good civilian job. I had a doctor appointment to try to discover why I suffered chronic fatigue; he made me wait alone half an hour partly clothed, then suddenly appeared in some kind of outfit that looked like a space suit. I think he had concluded that I was imagining my ailment and wanted to make me jump, as if that would prove it. I just looked at him. Then he told me that my fatigue would pass when my wife carried her baby successfully so I knew there had been no real problem. I said sourly “She's in the hospital having the miscarriage now.” Which was true. The baby lived for one hour, but her lungs were packed and she died. He still concluded that my fatigue was all in my head, making me a mental case, and my insurance tried no rider me for all mental diseases. Only decades later was the true cause identified, thyroid insufficiency, and treated. Do you wonder why I am cynical about doctors? So all the things this Dear Abby column said about what not to say to a woman who has suffered a miscarriage are true. Like “You'll get pregnant again.” Actually she did, once the medical problem, a septum in the uterus, was fixed, and we had two daughters who have since disappeared into adults. “You can always adopt.” We couldn't; we knew they wouldn't give a baby to a foreign-born vegetarian science fiction writer. “It was for the best.” The hell it was. And I still feel queasy when I think that had any of the first three survived, I would not have been able to be a writer; I would have had to stay fully employed in Mundania to support them. Instead the miscarriage freed my wife to work so that I could stay home and try to be a writer. So there are issues yet. Fate can work in mysterious ways. Don't tell me that God did it so that I could achieve my dream; God should not be in the business of killing babies, and I wouldn't have accepted my dream that way, had I had a choice.

I have mentioned before how the companies in which we have a few shares send out ballots where you are expected to approve their handpicked slates of officers and disapprove any shareholder reform initiatives such as limiting executive pay and establishing greater accountability. The big pigs have their snouts in the trough and will not stop voluntarily. Article by Rachel Beck tells of reform in North Dakota, that I think is best described as a shareholder rights initiative. The hope is that this will spread, leading to reform in Delaware, where it counts. I'm for that.

Editorial in FREE INQUIRY magazine April/May 2007 issue makes a case for Veganism. A Vegan is a vegetarian who uses no animal products like milk or eggs. Around ten billion animals are raised and killed for food every year, and it is unnecessary, as many studies show that it is possible to live as healthfully as a vegan as otherwise. It is not just the killing fields that are bad; it's the prolonged suffering of the animals. It's the extremely wasteful use of a resource. For example, beef cattle in feedlots use 13 pounds of grain for every pound of meat they produce. Switching from a regular car to a hybrid helps reduce contribution to global warming, but switching to a vegan diet would reduce it more. No, I'm not vegan, just vegetarian, but this is making me think.

Assorted minor items: Article in the newspaper on Helvetica turning 50. That's one of the world's most popular typefaces. I used to use it, but Kubuntu doesn't have it. So now I use Nimbus Roman No9 L, which despite the clumsy designation is a very nice font. Picture in the newspaper of wash basins at at public toilet in Chongqing, China that are shaped like the hind ends of women in bikinis, bending over. Startling but fun; almost makes one wonder what else a man might be doing with those presented posteriors while he's washing his hands. Are they anatomically correct? We picked up literature on filling our Prius tires with nitrogen instead of regular air. It's supposed to improve handling, retain pressure better, and enable higher fuel economy. We'll see. Article in NEW SCIENTIST on duck sex: the males of some duck species have phalluses big enough to rape females, and they do. But the females fight back by having vaginal features to thwart rape, such as by twisting clockwise while the male's phallus twists counter clockwise. Those species where the males don't rape have simple avenues. I wonder whether that would work in humans? If she had a corkscrew channel his straight phallus couldn't navigate? Who knows, maybe it existed in the past, but that line died out for some reason. Last time I mentioned Crocs shoes, made from molded resin. My wife found them on sale locally for $30 so bought me a pair. They are marvelously light, with a strap that can be put forward like a decoration or back to contain the heel, and are comfortable except for what feels like a corrugated surface for the sole of the foot. Not as comfortable as Birkenstocks, but in wet weather I'd certainly use them.

The National Writer's Union seems to have dropped me. No renewal notice, no nothing, as far as I can tell; their publications just stopped arriving. Maybe something got lost in the mail. They did have an issue about whether they had my address correct, though it hasn't changed in 20 years. I lost track of how much money I put into them over $50,000 supporting their initiatives such as the lawsuit they won to protect electronic rights for authors, and I don't regret that support at all. Obviously they don't much value my continued support. But I remain on the mailing list of the UAW—that's the United Auto Workers, the union of which NWU is a subsidiary—and their May-June issue of SOLIDARITY has an interesting incidental item. Tom Hendrix built a monument to a Native American ancestor named Te-lah-nay who walked the Trail of Tears from Alabama, didn't like Oklahoma, and walked back home. She was known as The Woman in the River, who sang beautiful songs and protected the tribes living there. Tom built the monument as a wall in the form of a river, one stone at a time. Now he has laid more than six million pounds of stones, and this is thought to be the largest unmortared rock wall in the united states. More can be learned at www.ifthelegendsfade.com.

CENSORSHIP NEWS always has items that make me wince, as the forces of darkness constantly try to subvert a free America. But I have a different take on one item in their Spring 2007 issue. They have youth activists responding to challenging questions, such as should a school principal have the right to “prior review” a student newspaper? The student says that this would compromise the student's free speech rights, and render the newspaper into nothing more than propaganda. This is where I had an argument with my daughter when she was a teen, I think satisfying her that I was a hopeless conservative old fogy. I said that the school administration does need that control, because otherwise some students will think it would be a great joke to write FUCK YOU on every page and send it out to the alumni mailing list. You think they wouldn't? You think the wealthy school-financing alumni would be amused? I say if the school is financing that newspaper, it had better have ultimate control, which should not be inappropriately exercised. With luck, by the time those students graduate they'll have a notion what civilized standards are, and the likely consequences of intemperate actions. Thats the point of education, apart from the 3Rs, isn't it?

My contacts with other genre writers have diminished in recent decades, because I don't attend many conventions or similar functions. But I am on the Kevin J Anderson Fan Club mailing list, and page through issues of AnderZone with interest. Our contact started a few years back when he wrote a laudatory introduction for a special edition of my novel Macroscope, and the publisher stiffed him on payment. The same publisher had stiffed me on a copy of that edition. He suggested that I write to them; maybe they would belatedly honor their agreement. I replied that in my experience errant publishers reacted better to stick than to carrot, and at such time as they wanted something else from me I'd bring it up. A few weeks later, what do you know, that publisher wanted to do a special edition of the first Xanth novel, a Spell for Chameleon. So I wrote an open letter to the proprietary publisher of that novel, part of the huge Random House complex, who would have to approve such licensing, mentioning what had happened to Kevin Anderson and concluding that I would not care to do business with such an outfit, and doubted that they would either. Phrasing counts; what could they do but agree? Sometimes finesse saves the price of a lawyer; I had arranged a let's-you-and-him-fight scenario with a giant. More fun. Surprise: suddenly Kevin got paid by the errant publisher, and I got my copy of my book. So I reluctantly went along with part of the deal. Kevin and I have been on amicable terms since. In this issue I noticed the paperback edition one of his serious collaborations, Ill Wind, wherein a big oil spill prompts a company to try an untested virus to break up the spill. They shouldn't have. I like ecological themes, and will probably look for that novel in due course. You should too.

They are planning to build the town of the future in Panhandle Florida, called Sky. 600 homes will be heated or cooled geothermally, using the underground temperature. Appliances will run from solar powered batteries. Each house will have its own garden, and there will be community orchards. Residents will walk rather than drive around it. This interests me. But critics say they shouldn't build the town in what is now a pristine natural habitat. Um, yes. Maybe they can move it a bit.

The Hightower LOWDOWN, a reliable critic of the current administration, remarks that the army needs more troops and is having trouble getting them. “Not even those young Republicans who say they so enthusiastically support the war are willing to bet their lives on it.” There you have it: this war was largely made by chicken hawks who avoided military service themselves, or did not complete it, and now are hell-bent on sending others into the maw. Why not establish a draft for those who support the war? If suddenly they no longer support it, then end it.

Evidence continues to accumulate that homosexuality is governed by factors that precede birth. Here's an intriguing discovery: the more intolerant the society, the more likely it is to maintain gay genes. This is because in tolerant societies, gay men and women are allowed to associate with each other, not hiding their orientation. So they don't reproduce. Intolerant societies require them to hide, so more of them marry members of the opposite gender and procreate, spreading the gene. There is also the younger brother effect: apparently each time a woman bears and births a boy, it changes the environment in the womb and she is more likely to birth a gay boy. Maybe nature does have population control in mind.

Another fascinating (to me) tidbit in the newspaper: the ancient bones they named Lucy, perhaps a distant ancestor of us all, were so named because at the time they were playing the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” That title derived in turn from John Lenin's son who brought a picture home from school, telling his father it was “Lucy—in the sky with diamonds.” Why Lucy? She was a classmate, Lucy O'Donnell. Thus this going-on four year old girl bequeathed her name to the going-on four million year old bones. She must be feeling old by now. I'm not sure I have ever heard the song; I'll have to do so some time.

And one that touched me: the daily comic strip “For Better or Worse” can touch life at times with uncanny precision. In the one for May 19 the old lady is gazing at the old man who had a stroke that left him with, among other things, aphasia, the inability to speak or understand your own language. That's a signal horror for me; I live by communication. She is wondering whether he can speak normally in his dreams, whether he remembers and understands. It's so sad. “Jim,” she says in his ear. “I hope you know that I love you.” And in his dream he is dancing with her, saying “And lady—I am crazy about you!” Oh, that is painful joy. Maybe that hits me harder now that I face the possible loss of my wife. We're pushing 51 years of marriage, and I want to make it 60.

Article in PARADE, May 20: what about this business of free money from gambling enterprises? They do pay money to a community. But critics say the costs they bring are triple that. Increased crime, suicides, people ruining their lives by compulsive gambling. So it's no bargain, overall.

Item in the newspaper, May 25: about half of us eventually move into a nursing home, usually around age 80. Unfortunately many face chronic boredom, loneliness, and lack of meaning. “Results not fundamentally different from prisoners, actually.” Ouch. But now they are building the first Green Houses, for no more than 10 residents each, kitchen, living room, personal furnishings, private bedrooms. Residents help with cooking and other work as they are able. If I'm alone at 80, I will consider that carefully.

And newspaper, May 29: the older men's response to the prior complaints about them by older women. What is wrong with sex? Why can't it be part of a larger relationship? One man points out how psychologist Albert Ellis described how the American woman seems to be driving the male off the deep end with her dependency syndrome and constant whining. Then they complain that they can't find male companionship. No wonder. “It seems like our only function is to be walking bank accounts and emotional crutches. Gee, the very idea that men might desire sex is way off base....” One points out a study that says that 60% of women would rather have a brownie than have sex. “Why, then, do women spend hours with hairdos, makeup, and shopping to look attractive and often sexy, only to say no!” I can answer that: they want to use sex appeal to get whatever they want from men, without giving anything back. Another says that many older women ignore that they are still women, “the most delightful creatures God or Darwin ever produced.” Amen.

PIERS
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