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Piers the handyman 2007
Dismember 2008

Last column I described the onset of my Reclast Flu, the side effects to the expensive bone-thickening medication I took. I thought it would be over in a few days. I was wrong. The fever endured 18 days. Toward the end it was minimal, around 99 degrees, and my body felt less worse accordingly. I didn't feel free to resume my exercises until the fever passed. My last exercise run before the flu was just under 17 minutes. The first one after it was 24 minutes for the same route. For Archery I normally loose 12 arrows right handed and 12 left handed. When I resumed I loosed one arrow, each side, and lacked the strength to loose a second. My aim, of course, was awful. But as NoRemember ended, my runs were back under 18 minutes and I was loosing 12 arrows, each side. My aim remained awful. During the fever, food tasted like cardboard; gradually thereafter taste returned. I lost about two pounds, and won't rush to replace it; I am satisfied remaining lean. Apparently all the bone thickening medications can have horrendous side effects. Be warned.

In the throes of that ailment, I discover I missed a few Electronic Publisher Survey update entries for OctOgre. My apology, and I think I have them all current now. I receive quite a bit of feedback on that ongoing effort, much of it positive; writers do seem to be finding markets through it. That makes the considerable time it takes worthwhile.

I suppose it could have been coincidence, but concurrent with my malaise the stock market went crazy, making record daily losses, bouncing back, losing again, and generally showing the the economy was feeling as bad as I was. The macrocosm does at times seem to echo my microcosm. Remember, with magic, all things are possible. But contemporary economics remind me of a story I was told as a child: a man discovered that he could feed his cow a little less each day, and the cow didn't notice. So he tried to see how far he could take it. He had the cow down to almost nothing. But then the cow died, ruining the experiment. Sheer bad luck, the farmer thought. Well, for the past eight years the governing party in America seems to have followed a similar course, raising prices but not wages, cutting back on health entitlements, unemployment insurance, and so on, so that the billionaires could get rapidly richer at the public expense. Then, by sheer bad luck, the economy died. They never saw it coming. I have another analogy: the greedy kids got control of the candy store. They had a ball, eating all the candy without paying for it. Finally the store ran out of candy and the kids were in sad straits. They wanted someone to pay off all the unpaid debts so they could restock the store with more candy and continue eating, but no one was interested. It seemed never to occur to them to act responsibly, with an eye to the future.

Meanwhile I have been active on other fronts. I published a novelette with Cobblestone, their Wicked line, and they seem very active in editing and promotion. As part of that I was asked to contribute a promotional blog entry for them, and did. Readership and responses seem small; there are many blogs there. But for those who don't go near erotic publishers, and who might be interested, here is a reprint of it, self explanatory.

Piers Anthony


I've been around a while. My first story was published in 1963 and my first novel in 1967. The great majority of my experience is with traditional print publication. The newfangled Internet and its myriad magical offspring are a bit beyond my comfort zone. Sometimes I can find a Web site and assimilate its offerings, but sometimes it turns out to be a welter of confusion, demanding things like Flash, which never worked on my systems, or some more esoteric process I can't even remember or pronounce, let alone use. I am after all 74 years old, and my synapses are hardening nicely, thank you. Reports of my demise constantly circulate like eager vultures, so far exaggerated or unfounded, but the birds evidently still hope. Maybe they know something I am in denial about.

How, then, did I ever get intimate with a young and hot outfit like Cobblestone? There's a story there. There's always a story; I have earned my living for two score years writing stories, so naturally that's how I see it. To a hammer, everything else looks like a nail.

Because my reputation is in traditional print, and in my heyday my books really have been read by millions, I get a good deal of fan mail. In fact about one third of my working time the past 30 years has been taken by that correspondence. To me, every reader is a feeling person, and a letter deserves an answer. Yes, not every successful writer answers his fan mail. I suspect the majority do not, though I understand that Romance writers generally do. Good for them. But when I got into the Internet I realized that the potential for reader response was far greater, and the deluge could bury me. For one thing, it seems that half my readers are aspiring authors, and they all want me to tell them exactly how I did it, so they can do it too. But for some reason they are not quite satisfied with my answer that I earned my college BA in Creative Writing in 1956, and submitted stories for eight years until finally I got lucky and sold one. Yes, lucky; a writer may have infinite talent, but luck still will play about a 50% chance in his success. That, and hard work for a decade or so, can do it, though there is no assurance. Talent, persistence, and luck: there's the formula. But my readers seem to lack the patience for that chancy route. As one told me, "You don't understand. I need the money now." No use telling him to write for the sheer satisfaction of the artistry of it, without any assurance of commercial success. Reality was clearly not his strong suit.

Still, I don't enjoy educating aspiring writers about the one-to-one hundred odds against them that traditional print offers. Just getting a piece read by an editor is a long shot. So I looked for a more satisfactory answer. And there was electronic publishing. There the odds against a new writer may be only ten to one—I don't think hard statistics exist—and if he chooses to go to self publishing, the odds are one to one. So I started a list of electronic publishers and related services, so that I would have that satisfactory answer to offer. It also helped that I could do it, making frank comments, without fear of losing my livelihood by getting blacklisted by publishers who don't want ugly truths known. I was blacklisted for six years in the 1980s, essentially for truth telling, and I came out of it with an attitude like that of an abused pit bull dog. The whole of electronic publishing could vanish into a black hole and it really wouldn't affect my livelihood. I list the publishers, and I describe anonymous feedback by writers who do have to fear blacklisting, and I make corrections when it turns out—oh horror!--that a publisher actually has the right of it. Thus the truth emerges, in due course. So yes, my ongoing survey is a source of ugly interactions, but no, it would take a lawsuit to stifle it. No one with any sense would ever get into a court of law against me, because I have the will and the means and a certain saliva-dripping eagerness to take it to them and they know it. I have been there and done that with traditional print outfits, and always won my case. Meanwhile my Survey does help new writers find prospects.

So what has all this to do with Cobblestone and me? Patience, I'm getting there. I published a complaint against Cobblestone, and that got proprietor Sable Grey on my tail. And I backed off, because this was one of those rare occasions when the publisher did have the right of it. The complaint had been about editing, and this publisher has strict but reasonable standards. Since then Sable and I have had an intermittent dialogue, not confined to editing or publishing, and I have to say I rather like her.

So when she mentioned starting up a Wicked new line with material that might push beyond the limits of other publishers, small wheels rotated in my ossifying cranium. My participation in electronic publishing can best be described as dabbling. What is it like to actually be an electronic author? It is information that might help me get my bearings for my comments on these publishers. As it happens, I keep a big file of ideas—I never throw away an idea!--and a week or so before I had summarized an intriguing one I expected never to write, because it was a bit beyond the pale. But maybe for this venue it would do. So I mentioned it to Sable, and it did not freak her out. That was a positive sign. So in three days, writing at white-hot speed, I wrote the approximately 10,000 word "Knave" and submitted it to Cobblestone. The rest is minor history.

I have now been through the Cobblestone editing process. I have dealt with copyeditors for over forty years, and I think I know about as much about the effective use of the English language as any writer does. Whoever said that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds surely had copyeditors in mind. My story went through several copyediting drafts, and a fair number of changes were made. It didn't help that at this time I was suffering from the side effects of the bone-thickening medication Reclast, which put me into a fever for eighteen days and for a time wiped out my physical and mental resources. I am now recovering, though am not yet back to 100%. At one point I simply told ye copyed to do it her way, because I lacked the concentration to do it myself. But I have to say that the revisions did make sense. In what way is this editing inferior to that of traditional print publication? In no way.

I won't say much about the story itself. This is a blog about the background of its genesis, not a description. You can read "Knave" at your leisure, or not, as you choose. It is phrased as a young man's erotic encounters with the four queens represented by a standard deck of cards. The Queen of Clubs governs all golf clubs, everywhere; she does things on the greens with golf balls that few women would do in a darkened bedroom. The Queen of Diamonds works in a vault filled with money, gold, and precious stones, and she has a rounded diamond dildo that—never mind. The Queen of Spades is an expert gardener, and she does things with carrots and turnips that hardly relate to nutrition. But the intriguing one is the Queen of Hearts, who has a very special way of making love that not every man can compass. That's what put this story into the dubious category.

Then there was NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, wherein each November aspiring novelists try to write a 50,000 word novel in that one month, quality no object. The challenge is simply to get it done. I was asked to do one of their pep talks this year, so I did. It is phrased as an orientation lecture by a tough sergeant in a gym, with maybe a bit of a smile for those who get the humor. The NaNo folk may not have been amused; they cut and denatured it somewhat, deleting the saucier humor, so here is the full original text. As the month ends, I am getting half a slew of responses to it; it's nice to know my effort is appreciated, even if incomplete. I had thought the pep talks would be run at the outset; instead they are spaced out, which makes sense, and mine was run the third week. But it means my thrust may be slightly off, considering that the participants would be most of the way through their novels by this time. Still, a number have expressed strong appreciation.

Pep Talk

by Piers Anthony

You're a fool. You know that, don't you? Because only a fool would try a stunt as crazy as this. You want to write a 50,000 word novel in one month?! Do you have sawdust in your skull? When there are so many other more useful things you could be doing, like cleaning up the house and yard, taking a correspondence course in Chinese, or contributing your time and effort to a charitable cause? Whatever is possessing you?

Consider the first card of the Tarot deck, titled The Fool. There's this young man traipsing along with a small dog at his heel, toting a bag of his worldly goods on the end of his wooden staff, carrying a flower in his other hand, gazing raptly at the sky—and about to step off a cliff, because he isn't watching his feet. A fool indeed. Does this feel familiar? It should. You're doing much the same thing. What made you ever think you could bat out a bad book like that, let alone write anything readable?

So are you going to give up this folly and focus on reality before you step off the cliff? No? Are you sure? Even though you know you are about to confirm the suspicion of your dubious relatives, several acquaintances, and fewer friends that you never are going to amount to anything more than a dank hill of beans? That you're too damned oink-headed to rise to the level of the very lowest rung of common sense?

Sigh. You're a lost soul. So there's no help for it but to join the lowly company of the other aspect of The Fool. Because the fact is, that Fool is a Dreamer, and it is Dreamers who ultimately make life worthwhile for the unimaginative rest of us. Sensible folk are animals who make money, feed their faces and reproduce, perpetuating their kind. They even make it part of their religion: be fruitful and multiply. Dreamers consider the wider universe. Dreamers build cathedrals, shape fine sculptures, and yes, generate literature. Dreamers are the artists who provide our rapacious species with some faint evidence of nobility.

So maybe you won't be a successful novelist, or even a good one. At least you are trying. That, would you believe, puts you in a rarefied one percent of our kind. Maybe less than that. You aspire to something better than the normal rat race. You may not accomplish much, but it's the attitude that counts. As with mutations: 99% of them are bad and don't survive, but the 1% that are better are responsible for the evolution of species to a more fit state. Sorry, Creationists; I'm not talking to you; you'd be obliged to write your novel in six days, and rest on the seventh. You know the odds are against you, but who knows? If you don't try, you'll never be sure whether you might, just maybe, possibly, have done it. So you do have to make the effort, or be forever condemned in your own bleary eyes.

Actually, 50,000 words isn't hard. You can write "Damn!" 50,000 times. Oh, you want a readable story! That will be more of a challenge. But you know, it can be done. In my heyday, before my wife's health declined and I took over meals and chores, I routinely wrote 3,000 words a day, taking two days a week off to answer fan mail, and 60,000 words a month was par. Now I try for 1,500 and hope for 2,000. That will do it. If you write that much each day, minimum, and go over some days, you will have your quota in the month. On the 10th of the month of August, 2008, I started writing my Xanth novel Knot Gneiss, about the challenge of a boulder that turns out to be not stone but a huge petrified knot of reverse wood that terrifies anyone who approaches it. Petrified = terrified, get it? And by the 30th I had 35,000 words. That's the same pace. If I can do it in my doddering old age—I'm 74—you can do it in your relative youth. What did I do on the 31st? I spent the morning on mail, and started this stupid Pep Talk in the afternoon, that's what, and completed the first draft at 1500 words on Labor Day morning, working around my exercise routine and an hour grocery shopping in town. One day, part time—the same schedule you will attempt. So it doesn't matter whether you're a coed or an accountant, you can certainly give it a try. Remember, this is only an exercise, a—oh, you in the front row, you have a question? You say you are an coed? Okay, then. And you in the second row behind her. You say you are an accountant? That's fine; I wasn't try to disparage you.

Of course it will help if you have something to say, like maybe a halfway decent story. The fact is, good characters and a good situation will help a lot. So even though you may want to get right on into it, don't. Pause to consider characters, setting, story, and rationale. That is, does it really make sense? If you get those right, before you start, your story will practically write itself. I constantly make notes along the way, which don't count as story text, but do point me in the right direction. It's a bit like stopping to put gasoline in the car before you cross the desert: a sensible thing. Another question? Yes, Coed, you can make a teen girl the main character. The rule of thumb is to write what you know, and you surely know about teendom. That goes for you too, Accountant, though I wouldn't recommend filling your manuscript with figures, ha-ha. Not mathematical ones, anyway.

Of course you need ideas. What, you don't have any? You can garner them from anywhere. I noticed that our daily newspaper comes in a plastic bag that is knotted. The knot's too tight to undo without a lot of effort, so I just rip it open to get at the goodies inside. It's a nuisance; I wish they'd leave it loose. But I thought, maybe there's this cute delivery girl who has a crush on me, and she ties a love-knot to let me know. Not that at my age I'd know what to do with a real live girl, but it's still a fun fantasy. Okay, there's an idea. I could use it in my fiction. Maybe even in a Pep Talk. The mundane world has provided me with an opening. It will do the same for you, if you're alert.

No, Coed; you can't write a steamy collaborative romance about an illicit affair with an Accountant. You're underage and he's married. Now do you mind? I'm trying to conduct a Pep Talk here.

Here's a secret: fictive text doesn't necessary flow easily. Most of the time it's more like cutting a highway through a mountain. You just have to keep working with your pick, chipping away at the rock, making slow progress. It may not be pretty at first. Prettiness doesn't come until later, at the polishing stage, which is outside your month. You just have to get it done by brute force if necessary. So maybe your ongoing story isn't very original. That's okay, for this. Just get it done. Originality can be more in the eye of the reader than in any objective assessment.

Will you two stop whispering? I don't care, Accountant, if you think my attitude doesn't compute. Or if Coed thinks I'm a darned spoilsport. I'm trying to encourage half a slew of doubtful aspiring novelists to give it their best shot. Yes, actually, forbidden love is a workable theme. Half of all published novels are in the Romance genre, and they aren't very original; in fact they have set formulas their authors must adhere to. But secret or forbidden love can fit a formula. So you can start anywhere. Even here. What, you want an example? Okay, try this for an outline:

Chapter 1: At first Accountant was annoyed by the knot in the newspaper bag... Chapter 2: He was amazed when he saw her, cute as a button, looking almost too young to drive. Then she caught his eye, and blushed... Chapter 3: Another morning she was in tears, because her car had broken down and she couldn't complete the delivery route. Naturally he had to help... Chapter 4: "Oh, I'm so grateful, Mr. Accountant," she said. "I don't know how I can ever express my appreciation, unless..." She lifted her full blouse off over her head... Chapter 5: He was a huge gruff, florid, ugly stevedore of a man. "Have you been interfering with my sweet innocent daughter?" he demanded...

Not that I'm recommending junk like this; I'm just showing how you can make it from a standing start, even from a foolish daydream when you should have been paying attention to the Pep Talk. You will want to try for a bit more quality, of course, and maybe a spot of realism. Garner an Idea, assemble some Characters, find a suitable place to start, and turn them loose in your imagination. Now go home and start your engines. Some few of your sorry lot may yet become Authors.

Addendum: SPAM circular: Forbidden Love, by Accountant & Coed, roundly condemned by literacy critics, banned in 14 states and three countries, dedicated to Piers Anthony, without whose bad attitude this titillating short novel, written in only one month, would never have come to be.


The Writer's Resource Romance Divas invited me to participate in their October Q&A event, and I did, in my fashion. I typically have trouble with popular sites, and did with this one, with entries that didn't post and "Page Cannot be Displayed" notices. I think the Internet doesn't like me. So I had to contribute by email and have them post it for me. But at least I was there in spirit.

I read books. Here is the letter of comment I made on The Kalinvar Tapes by J D Davis, one that is looking for a traditional print publisher.

This novel is phrased as a discovered manuscript, for verisimilitude relating to its content. It is the story of the discovery of a temporary alien base on the moon in Mare Crisium, first discovered by its heat traces from its nuclear power plant. The novel covers 16 years, 1967-1983 as global politics are navigated and a mission arranged to check the moon site. The indication of an alien visitation is confirmed, and alien records are taken from the deserted base. They are slowly deciphered, but jealous governments, paranoid secrecy, and sheer mischance result in the destruction of many of the tapes, and the deaths of most participants. So in the end, the potentially earth-shaking news of our first alien contact is stifled.

The novel starts slowly, with immense detail, and builds to excitement and romance before concluding obscurely. One get the impression that if aliens did visit our moon, this is the way it would play out. This is an intriguing, provocative story. I am left with one mystery never quite clarified: what did kill Nicholai Kalinvar? He was checking an alien grave on the moon; a puff of vapor came out, and he was half paralyzed thereafter and finally died. Did the alien vapor penetrate his space suit? Paranoid bureaucracy prevented any clear answer. I am left frustrated—exactly as the author intended.

I read Ogre's Passing by Paul Melniczek, published by DOUBLE DRAGON www.double-dragon-ebooks.com. I like ogres, ever since my novel Ogre, Ogre became my first national bestseller. This is a fantasy adventure, first of a series, and a good one. Sarion is a highly skilled warrior who retired several years ago to farming. He is satisfied, as the horrors he saw in the western wilderness wiped out all the members of his party except him. But a party from the king arrives, recruiting him to return to that dread lowlands region, because he is the most knowledgeable person concerning its mysteries. So they go—and the horrors waste little time picking the men off. There's a marauding ogre they want to track down and destroy, a fearsome foe, but that's really only the beginning. There's the dread killworm they thought was long extinct; unfortunately it's not. There is evidence of ancient giants. There are intelligent alien species who don't much like human beings. There are giant ancient ruins. It's really just a travel and dread encounter story, but a gripping one, with the question of what the king's party is really looking for. Evidently a larger story will unfold in the succeeding volumes. It should be a dramatic one. There is the hint of future romance. I recommend this for fantasy readers.

We saw a movie, Quantum of Solace, the current James Bond adventure, on Thanksgiving Day. It had so much violence, and cut so abruptly to new sequences, that I had difficulty following it. So the spot sequences were interesting, but the larger story was obscure. I suspect that movie makers have forgotten how to actually tell a coherent story. They think that violence substitutes for narrative clarity. I hope that some day one of them remembers the audience, and acts accordingly. It's no wonder so many movies bomb.

I completed Xanth #34 Knot Gneiss, and believe it matches the Xanthly norm, which may not be saying much. That's the one wherein Wenda Woodwife, who speaks in the forest dialect saying things like "I wood knot dew that to yew," must transport a 150 pound malign knot of petrified reverse wood to the Good Magician's castle. Naturally it terrifies anyone who approaches it, except Wenda herself, who isn't petrified because she's a former wood spirit. It's a frightening challenge. Wenda is introduced in #33 Jumper Cable, not yet published, a close friend of Jumper Spider, and I liked her so well that she became the main character for the following novel. This about a woodwife: from the front she is a full-fleshed nymph, but from behind she is hollow. She's actually carved from wood, and magically animated. That's not my invention; it's authentic mythology. Wenda becomes physically and emotionally whole when she finds love in the first novel, but gets reverted in the second, only reversed: her front side is hollow. That's awkward, especially with her amorous husband.

My current project is typing my science fiction novel Cluster into the computer, to make it available electronically. The process is interesting, because it was published in 1977, and in 30 years I have forgotten whole chapters, and am reading them as new fiction. I am eliminating typos, extra dashes and exclamation points, adding spot clarifications, and finding alternates for symbols that no longer exist. Overall, I find it an excellent novel; I did know how to write in those days, before getting corrupted by fantasy.

Daughter #2 Cheryl believes in getting things done. For years we have had a problem with slowly developing sink holes in our three quarter mile long drive. You may think that all sink holes open up suddenly to swallow cars or houses, but in this area we have the dull gradual small kind that take years to develop, and we accommodate as necessary. So she had half a truckload of heavy gravel delivered, and I hauled my little wagon and spade out and started filling holes. I judge that one wagonful is about 300 pounds, and two or three fill the typical hole. Now the drive is drivable again. It's an ongoing process, but we'll keep the drive in shape.

In 1977 we bought a pendulum clock. We had seen a nice hexagonal one in the Wards catalog, and got it, but it wouldn't run. So we returned it for another, and that didn't run either. Turned out a truckload of the clocks had been dropped. So we gave up on that and went to a regular clock store and bought a less interesting and more expensive one. We were supposed to bring it back to the store after a month for checking or fine tuning, but in that month we moved to Citrus County and couldn't manage it. Now it is 31 year later and the clock is still running, though I had to do some work re-gluing the pendulum, and aspects of its mechanism are showing signs of aging. For example, at 6 o'clock it bongs 8 times. At 7 it bongs 7 or 9. Recently I counted, and thought it bonged 10, but when I checked specifically it was still 7 or 9. Then 10 again. Was it teasing me? So I had my wife listen with me one time, and we verified it at 10. It really had added a bong. Sometimes.

I saw a news feature on TV, and at one point they showed girls jumping with delight. And I thought, that must be an evolutionary thing. Girls who jump make their breasts bounce, attracting attention to them, and men notice and are turned on, and more such girls thus reproduce than the non-jumping kind. Natural selection.

I like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It's stirring, and there can even be words to it, as with a union song: "None shall push aside another, None shall let another fall; Walk beside me, O my brother, All for one and one for all." But there's one peculiarity. There's a natural pause after "...another fall" but they never play it that way; instead the next line almost overrides it, stepping on its heels. "None shall let another fallWalk beside me..." Am I the only one aware of the natural cadence? Did some scribe miscopy the original notes and omit the pause, and no one noticed? I may never know. I remember a joke about the composer: Beethoven had done four symphonies but was stumped for a theme for the next. As he racked his mind, the cleaning woman came by, doing his office. She paused and said "If you don't my mind asking, sir. Where do you get your ideas for all those wonderful symphonies you write?" He did not let on about his present composer's block, which was driving him crazy, and tried to give her a positive answer. He said "Why I get ideas from anywhere. Even from you, my dear." "Me? Me!" she exclaimed incredulously. "Ha ha ha haa!" And the Ha's were the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

From my reading: there are huge world issues the American press pretty much ignores. 30,000 people a day die of malnutrition, curable diseases, and starvation. Farmers around the world grow more than enough to feed everyone, but commodity speculators and huge grain traders control prices and distribution. Starvation is profitable; an outfit called Cargill announced profits up 86 percent. Global hunger and massive wealth inequality are based on political policies that can be changed, and need to be, if there is ever to be national security, here or anywhere. Then there is sex trafficking, with teen girls sold into slavery, imprisoned in brothels until they die of AIDS. One of them, Somaly Mam, escaped in time and now runs an organization that extricates girls from forced prostitution. Her published memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, offers lessons for tackling the problem. Gangsters who run the brothels tried to intimidate her, holding a gun to her head; when they failed, they kidnapped and brutalized her 14-year-old daughter. A raid in Cambodia rescued more than 200 girls, but next day gangsters raided the shelter and took them back to the brothel. But her efforts are helping; it is no longer so easy to buy a 12-year-old girl for sex, and virgins are expensive. So how did Somaly herself escape? Once when she ran away from the brothel, police gang-raped her. Then her owner tied her down naked and poured live maggots over her skin and in her mouth. Another time she was tortured with electric shocks. She preferred foreign clients, because at least they didn't beat her. Eventually a French aid worker married her, thus freeing her. The worst is in Asia, but similar occurs in America. More needs to be done.

Related: article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND titled "Why Do Men Buy Sex?" Because of course if men didn't buy it, the pimps and brothels would have no business. Yes, men like sex, but that can't be the whole story, because married men patronize prostitutes too. Why pay for it when you can get it free, presumably with a clean, attractive woman you love? The answer seems to be that real relationships with women can be risky and complicated, as million dollar divorce settlements hint, and men may not want to handle them. Prostitutes, in contrast, don't have headaches or times of the month or inhibitions about certain body parts; they accept their customers unconditionally. It is intimacy on demand without backtalk or demands, any way, any time. It doesn't have to be emotion-free, either; men tend to return to the same prostitute, liking her. A prostitute simulates the kind of women a man would like to marry, if she would only stay that way, perpetually pretty and obliging and undemanding. And, as the paragraph above indicates, if a man likes them young, like age twelve, the brothel may be the only place he can get it. It is evident that many men do. The child will oblige him as well as she is able, because she doesn't want to be tortured. So it's a relationship of mutual convenience, in the ugly real world. I doubt there is any easy solution.

I received a Welcome to Humanism package. I'm not sure why, as I have been a card-carrying Humanist for the past decade or so, and a lifelong one in practice. But it is nice material. Many famous folk have been Humanists, including Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Gene Roddenberry and the environmentalist Lester R Brown. "The AHA [American Humanist Association] provides a Humanist perspective in strong support of separation of religion from government, preservation and restoration of the environment, protection of civil rights and liberties, and promotion of personal choice regarding introduction of new life, family structure, and death with dignity." In short, personal liberty, ethics, nature, and common sense. Their bimonthly magazine THE HUMANIST has interesting articles, such as in November/December 2008, "In Pursuit of the 'God Particle.'" You know, the Higgs Boson, one of my hobbies. www.americanhumanist.org.

The WatchTower folk called on us, as they do every six months or so. I generally repeat that I'm not a prospect for conversion, but talk with them long enough so that they realize that I am not ignorant of their history and principles; my rejection is a politely informed decision. They insist on leaving their literature, and I do look at it. I look at everything, being as open minded as feasible. This time their pamphlet poses several Questions about God and the Bible, with answers. Here is a sample: What Happens to Us When We Die? The Bible teaches that at death, humans cease to exist, and are conscious of nothing at all. Ecclesiastes 9:5. So there are no ghosts. So is there any hope for the dead? Yes. They will in due course be resurrected and have the opportunity to live on a paradise earth, with perfect health and everlasting life for obedient humans. Okay, so it's like cryogenics, freezing folk in the hope of eventual revivification. What bothers me, apart from the fantasy that there will ever be a revival, is the qualifier "obedient." A servant or slave is obedient. Obedient to what? That is undefined. This purported Heaven could in fact be Hell. My belief is that death is the end of personal awareness, and there will be no subsequent restoration. I had better be right. But if the Jehovah's Witnesses missed your block and you want to get in touch, try www.watchtower.org.

The weekly NEW SCIENTIST is my favorite magazine, the one I read for pleasure as well as information, and I refer to it often in these columns. This time I was brought up short by a fact that is obvious in retrospect. The articles "What politicians dare not say" (they don't capitalize the latter words in titles) in the 18 October 2008 issue answers in this manner: "This is the logic of free-market capitalism: the economy must grow continuously or face an unpalatable collapse. With the environmental situation reaching crisis point, however, it is time to step pretending that mindlessly chasing economic growth is compatible with sustainability. We need something more robust than a comfort blanket to protect us from the damage we are wreaking on the planet. Figuring out an alternative to this doomed model is now a priority before a global recession, an unstable climate, or a combination of the two forces itself upon us." Or, to put it my way: we are careering toward a wall, and we'd better turn aside before we smash. A faulty economic model is only part of the problem.

Also from NEW SCIENTIST, for 8 November 2008, "Private life of the brain." It seems that the brain is never really at rest. When you are active and focusing, of course your brain is humming. But when you relax, it is humming just about as fast. Even in sleep. What is it doing? This is something I figured out decades ago, and it's good to see science finally catching up. I spent about three years as a file clerk, and you know, filing is not necessarily a simple task. You have to figure out what type of papers you have, and key them in appropriately, and cross reference them, and file them in proper order. So that when there is a need for one particular paper among thousands, you can locate it immediately. A business that does not properly file will soon come to grief. So a significant part of the overhead of any business is filing. Well, your brain is constantly taking in new information, only it is a magnitude more complicated than papers. So what is it doing at rest? It is sorting and preserving memories. "The default network is involved, selectively storing and updating memories based on their importance from a personal perspective—whether they're good, threatening, emotionally painful, and so on. To prevent a backlog of unstored memories building up, the network returns to its duties whenever it can." Because of course feeling is what animates us, so we have to categorize and file feelings attached to memories. That's a complex task. My thesis, covered in my 1994 historical novel Shame of Man, is that our nocturnal dreams represent the processing of the most challenging memories, the ones that must be considered consciously, because of their complexity and intense emotions. You can't just toss those bombs into the hopper and hope they integrate properly.

I received yet another erection ad. This is a simple little strip you put on your tongue, and in five minutes you have an erection that lasts for 24 hours. It works just as well on women. Oh? I'm not sure I want to see a woman with an erection. 42 STIFF strips for about $50, including postage. I'm curious whether they actually work, but not curious enough to send for them. As it is, I cut Viagra tablets into eighths, and those fragments work well enough.

Another from NEW SCIENTIST, 15 November 2008: Warfare turns out to be as old as humanity itself. Why do we continue fighting, when obviously it is pointlessly destructive? Men have evolved a tendency toward aggression outside the group, but cooperation within it. I see that; consider competitive team sports, which are sublimated warfare. Thus the cooperative aspects that contribute so much to our society may derive from war. Women are much less so. So it may be that prayers fer world peace are futile; our species is not made that way, and civilization might dissolve if we no longer made war. I find that uncomfortable, but it may be true.

Other diverse items: Ad for a book, The Third Basic Instinct, by Alex S Key. The thesis is that there are three basic instincts: Survival, Reproduction, and the force for scientific discovery. It is subtitled "How Religion Doesn't Get You." I am not sure this computes, but my curiosity is not sufficient to make me buy the book. NEW SCIENTIST, yet again: "Is science fiction dying?" replete with pictures of junky old-time magazine covers and references to "sci-fi." Brief discussions by William Gibson, Ursula Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Nick Sagan, Stephen Baxter, and Margaret Atwood. They don't think the genre is done for. Neither do I. Not that anyone asked me. Book review of Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. The thesis is that great performance is not necessarily the result of natural talent but of deliberate practice. In my view it requires both: natural potential melded with dedication. I regard myself as apt with words and concepts, and readers may judge my ability by reading this blog-type column or my published fiction, but I was no genius in school, not even in English. I got there by decades of effort to improve. Another newspaper article: psychologists say a few simple techniques can end racism in a few hours. How? Put two strangers together in four hour sessions, answering lists of questions, then competing against other teams. Then they talk about a variety of things. Finally they take turns wearing a blindfold while the partner gives instructions for navigating a maze. This develops relationships. Okay. I've seen them do that on TV, in Survivor. Google settled a controversial copyright case by agreeing to pay tens of millions of dollars in licensing fees to authors and publishers. Good enough.

I answer fan mail responsively. That is, a simple form thank-you to simple expressions of appreciation for my books, brief explanations as warranted, and full letters as required. Chris Boylan discussed the illegal immigrant problem and asked for my opinion. This evoked a spot lecture as follows:

Yes. As a legal immigrant and naturalized US citizen, I do have an interest. Vastly simplified, there are cold equations. Let's say that Country A controls its population and protects its environment, so it's a nice place to be. Country B does neither, so that it teems with hungry people who can't survive at home. So they pour into Country A. That means that the irresponsible ruin it for the responsible. If it isn't stopped, both countries will be wiped out.

But this is not the real story. The bosses, that is, the employers, politicians, financiers and such of Country A keep wages so low that Country A workers can't afford to buy Country A goods. So the bosses import workers from Country B, who are so desperate they will take those jobs, just to survive. This is illegal, which means those workers really have no rights and dare not complain, even when there is substantial abuse that Country A workers would not tolerate. The bosses find this more profitable than paying a living wage to Country A workers—and Country B workers get the blame. It's a neat system, for the bosses.

Why not pay a living wage? Because then prices would rise, stirring unrest in Country A that could have ugly repercussions for the bosses. Why not fence the illegal immigrants out? Because then the bosses would have to pay a living wage to Country A workers. Why isn't the issue addressed openly? Because there are no convenient, cheap solutions. Trying seriously to fix it would probably lead to the reformists getting booted from office.

Need I comment politically? I have been liberal all my life, and the past eight years have been appalling as the lunatic right fringe got power and brought the country to the verge of ruin. I backed Barack Obama—somehow it always seemed to me there should be more to his name, like AloBama—and was glad to see him win. I'm sorry the Democrats didn't quite achieve a filibuster-proof Senate. There's a hell of a lot of damage to try to undo, and that same rightist fringe will fight nail and tooth to prevent meaningful reform, ironically in the name of morality. I consider it shit morality. Obama seems to be organizing well, however. It hope it works out.

As I have mentioned from time to time in this column, there has been motion picture interest in my fantasy series. Two of three options were exercised and things are in progress: Anime for Split Infinity, and a potential TV series for On A Pale Horse. Then Warner Pictures had a two year option on A Spell for Chameleon, which they extended for two more years. Yes, they paid handsomely for each year, so it seems to me they were serious. It got extended without pay for another hundred days because of the writer's strike. I held this column open two extra days to get the result. Finally, December 3, 2008, the decision: and Warner didn't show. After all that, it seems they let it expire by default. I suspect the recent financial crash made it impossible for them to raise the necessary money, because they surely wanted to make the movie. Sigh; I wanted them to make it too.

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