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Piers the handyman 2007
Feblueberry 2009

Remember last column when I reran a blog and a pep talk in this column? In the pep talk I mentioned the fond fantasy of a cute teen girl knotting the newspaper bags to show she had a secret crush on me? And I built that into a sample story for the struggling Nanowrimo folk? Oh, you skipped that as too dull to bother with? Sigh, why do I bother? Total fiction of course, and I'd never express such illicit daydreams openly. After all, I'm a septuagenarian, way past such foolish fancies. Well, now the same carrier delivers both our newspapers, and they no longer knot the bags, so even the pretense of the fantasy is gone. But one day we got two copies of the CITRUS COUNTRY CHRONICLE and none of the ST. PETE TIMES. So we called in the error, and in due course they brought us a correct replacement copy. I was just doing my hair, about to tie it into my ponytail, which is now over a foot long, when the door knocked. So I let my hair flop awkwardly and went to answer, and it was the paper. Delivered by a slender teen girl.

Xlibris has been sold. I hope the former CEO, John Feldcamp, writes a book about the experience, because it's quite a story. I will proffer only sanitary highlights here. It started in 1997, and my wife and I were I believe the second "angel" investors in the company that year. Angel is the most risky aspect of venture capital investing; you gamble that the new company will succeed and pay back big, but more likely you will lose your money. I'm no financial gambler; I don't even buy lottery tickets. I was raised as a Quaker, and though I did not join, a number of their precepts rubbed off on me, such as an aversion to gambling with money. Yes, there are other gambles, some unavoidable; life itself is a constant gamble. I did it because I wanted every person to be able to get his book published, regardless of the piss-on-you attitude of Parnassus, the big traditional print publishing establishment that doesn't care whether the average aspiring writer lives or dies, except that maybe dead authors are easier to deal with than live ones. Yes, I made my fortune in Parnassus, but that doesn't mean I didn't get plenty of experience under the outhouse hole along the way or that I suffered any sudden revelation how great it was once I got mine. I differ in such respects from some other writers. I didn't get into writing for the money either, despite being a commercial writer; it's that writing is in my secular soul, and the money enables me to continue doing it. I never liked the system, and wanted to reform it. This offered a way.

Well, Feldcamp shopped Xlibris around, getting it started. He showed it to Ingram; they were impressed, but turned him down, then started Lightning Source. He showed it to Barnes & Noble. They decided to buy it. Then, the day of the sale, they changed their mind and canceled; they went and invested in iUniverse instead, drawing on what they had learned from Xlibris. It left Xlibris abruptly without a merger prospect, stranded before the altar, without funds to continue. Maybe they figured to pick up its assets with pennies on the dollar when it crashed. There are indeed sharks in those waters, and they will feed on angels when they can.

Well, that annoyed me. I'm not a good person to annoy, and I have encountered figurative sharks before. Xlibris had inspired two major publishing enterprises, and now was bereft. The upshot was that my wife and I tripled our investment and provided funds to keep the company going. Another significant angel investor joined in, and then the investing arm of Random House bought in, taking 50% of the company but not interfering with its operation. Now I never had much love for the titans of Parnassus, but I have to say that Random was the salvation of Xlibris, treating it generously, enabling it so survive, grow, and ultimately prosper, and I developed a solid respect for Random the investor while Random the publisher consistently turned down my books, even my fantasy, even Xanth. Talk of mixed emotions!

That was hardly the end of the story, and I hope the juicy bits can someday be told. It was one roller-coaster excursion as the boom/bust of the year 2000 and after lifted the company to a lofty height then dashed it down to the verge of bankruptcy. But in the end while other self publishers were tanking, Xlibris found its track and became outstandingly successful, thanks to the inspired guidance of founder Feldcamp and the support of Random. The outfit that bought Authorhouse and iUniverse made an offer for Xlibris. It was too low and we spurned it; we were not in the sorry state the others were. They made another offer, much better. I would rather have kept it independent, as Xlibris was ascending strongly, but the decision was to sell, and that was completed just after the turn of the year. So my wife and I have double our money back and are out of Xlibris. It has been an eleven year odyssey, and has accomplished what I wanted: today anyone can get published for a nominal price, about $500. I put twenty of my own books in, and they are earning out their publication fees. Xlibris, unlike some, pays honest royalties. There are a number of imitators, and many critics, but the way was forged by Xlibris; it changed the publication landscape. I am proud to claim that not only have my novels entertained many readers over the decades, perhaps saving the lives of some; my support for self publishing enables thousands of aspiring authors to get published after all, saving their dreams. I hope the new owners continue the tradition.

Apart from that, I have tried to help in other ways, such as by maintaining my ongoing survey of electronic publishers and related services, telling the truth there without fear of blacklisting or lawsuit or alienating friends. Yes, I have been threatened; I tell them politely to attempt a flying fornication at the moon. One thing about truth telling: it is normally (not always) a legal defense against a charge of libel, if a person has the will and the means to fight. I do. I tell writers to try Parnassus, which is where the money and fame are, then small press or electronic publishing; only if they fail there, and still want to see their books published, should they go to self publishing, with limited expectations. I don't even recommend Xlibris, though I stand by it; Amazon's Create Space is cheaper. I loaned money to enable Mundania Press to get started, and it too seems to be prospering. Not that my investments always succeed; I lost 100G on Pulpless.com, whose promise was not matched by performance. I have put my money where my mouth is, but I haven't shut my mouth. I try to advise writers who ask for it, and sometimes that really helps them. I am doing what I can to reform the system, trusting that my efforts are leaving it marginally better than it was. That perhaps ensures my continuing alienation from the establishment. When I die, let that be my epitaph: I told it as it was.

I was asked for a Pep Talk for editing. I wrote it and sent it in, and never received an acknowledgment. So here it is, for those interested:



Piers Anthony

As I see it, there are two main aspects to writing a novel, and a number of sub-aspects. The main ones are Writing it, and Marketing it. I love to write, but hate to market. That's why I use a literary agent. (No, you can't have one; that's a whole 'nother subject.) The cards are stacked against the new writer, so that no matter how great his (that's the generic his, meaning his, hers, and its) novel is, chances are it will never be commercially published. That's just the beginning of why I hate marketing.

But this is not about that. It's about the Editing part of Writing. It seems that many writers hate to edit. I don't understand that. I love to edit my own work. I find it easier to polish an existing manuscript than to create it. But of course I've been at it since 1954 when I realized in college that my dream was to be a writer. I suspect I have learned something about the process in that intervening half century. If you had been at it that long you would find it easier too. The first years are the hardest, and that's where you are now.

So let's see if I can get into your skin. You have bashed out a 50,000 word effort in a month or so, responding to a foolish creative challenge, and now you're stuck with this obscene lump of verbiage that you half wish you could bury six miles deep. But that would mean admitting that you are a failure, that you have no talent, and that your mother in law or other frightful authority figure was right about you all along. That's too much to choke down at the moment. It's not that they're necessarily wrong, but that you'll be darned if you'll give them the satisfaction. So somehow you have to grind this thing into shape so that it doesn't reek too loudly of month-old cabbage. Great literature is too much to expect, but at least let it somehow achieve the illusion of average.

And that is what you hate: trying to turn this sow's ear into a silk purse. You would rather slog through the six inch deep muck in an over-endowed pig pen in your bare feet. How can anyone in his right mind, or any mind at all, actually enjoy this feculent process?

Uh, I suspect you are giving yourself too little credit. What you really have is a diamond in the rough. Have you seen one of those, physically? It looks like a pocked fragment of rock from the bottom of a polluted stream. But when it is faceted and polished, its inherent glory shines forth. Face it: if you can Write it, you can Edit it. You just happen to need a different approach.

There are two types of personality involved in writing. Remember the famous story "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert L Stevenson? Where one was nice and the other nasty, but both used the same body? These two entities exist in you, too. There's the divine Creative Spirit that generates the original text. That's what governed while you were writing. Then there's the mean spirited Critic who gets his jollies from tearing down the work of others. There's hardly any piece of writing he can't disparage in some manner. That's the one you need now. Yes you do; it's time to drink that potion and loose this monster on your text.

The Critic will search out every Sentence that is less that utterly perfect—that is, practically all of them—and hack it into suffering parts. He will pounce on any Word that is not exact by his warped definition. He will screw with your Paragraphs. He will disparage your Theme. He will deride the motives of your Characters. It seems as if nothing will ever completely satisfy him except a pile of literary rubble where your aspiring novel used to be. He comes across as a Destroyer, and he loves his work.

But you are not helpless. You can fight back by making spot changes that nullify his taunts. You can be like Winston Churchill, who, when chided for ending a sentence with a preposition, said "This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put." He sure made a fool of the purists! It's an ongoing battle, but you can chain the Critic, especially if you like a good dirty fight. Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page. Battle him in the trenches, fight him in the high turrets, balk him in the open plain. Let him rage, because the ugly job has to be done, but do not let him win the day.

So he doesn't like this Word: go to the thesaurus if you have to, to find another. It's no shame to use the aids available. Many computer programs have them, and I do find them useful. Also, do use the speller, but don't trust it completely. There's a significant distinction between meet, meat, and mete that the speller won't catch. You have to be in charge; the machine won't do it all.

The Critic doesn't like your sentence? Churchill could have fixed his by phrasing it "I will not put up with this sort of nonsense." So can you. He doesn't like your punctuation? Well, break up those run-on sentences and abolish half those exclamation points!!

Your paragraph is challenged? Well, if it's three pages long, break it into five smaller ones. I see paragraphs as dynamic entities, gathering together particular aspects of your thought; a new slant should have a new paragraph. My original paragraph here began with "But you are not helpless," and finished with "it wasn't worth it." Now it's five smaller paragraphs. See how I did it, when my Critic got cracking. Yes, this pep talk got the same treatment I'm recommending, throughout.

Sure there will be metaphorical bodies strewn in the aisles, but your text will slowly, painfully, improve. And when you have stifled the Critic's last foul blast, you will have a text that will silence your mother in law for a delicious moment. She may be incapable of saying anything good about it, because she is permanently locked in Critic mode, but she won't be able to condemn it either. That will be your subtle victory. You will have made your piece as good as it can be. How can you say it wasn't worth it?

I also get into spot essays in my correspondence. My dialogue with the minister is a chronic source. Here's another sample:

You ask about my sentiment with respect to my income, or that of other successful writers: should it be redistributed to those more in need? I have had a series of lessons in the course of my life that have taught me caution. For example, when I was a child of about 6 the community we were in had a once a week or once a month event called the Frugal Meal. Instead of a full meal, only very simple cheap fare was served, and the money saved was donated to charity. But we children were given an extra glass of milk, instead of the water the others had. I pondered that, and, wanting to participate more properly, said I did not need to have a glass of milk. So they gave it to my sister, who was strictly a me-first person. Thus she had two glasses and I had none. She was quite satisfied with that; it augmented her sense of entitlement. When I digested that childhood experience, as it were, I concluded that generosity without strings attached was apt to be misused.

In the decade of my best-sellerdom, when I earned about ten million dollars (before taxes), I tried in a very general way to tithe it. Thus we have donated about one million dollars to educational institutions, sponsoring scholarships, archaeology, and oral history projects—things that would not otherwise have obtained funds. We invested in Xlibris in order to make it possible for individuals to bypass the cold equations of traditional print publishing, and I think it is fair to say the company would not exist today but for our support. Thousands of writers have seen their books in print because of it.

In short, I regard my larger income—that is, beyond what is needful to sustain our family—as a trust, and we are still trying to use it wisely. Our two daughters will be co-trustees of the foundation set up to distribute it after my wife and I pass on, and there will surely be beneficial uses for it. Our present life I suspect others would consider Spartan; we have no parties, take no world cruises, and do shop for sales. One third of my working time still goes to reader-related correspondence, as it has for decades; my time is part of my donation to the world, as money is not everything.

Whether writers like Rowling have a similar philosophy I can't say. Certainly most politicians don't. Consider McCain with his eight houses. I would have thought he could get by on fewer, and use the money to feed the hungry. But the past eight years on the national scene have been the triumph of greed over decency, in the process ruining the nation. I certainly hope there will be significant reform in the next eight years. I can't say that religions do much better; their money seems to go to building cathedral-like churches rather than for human betterment, though some do do good work.

I trust that addresses your question. I don't feel the need of any religious guidance to do what I believe is right.

I received a request from a twelve year old girl to answer her questions about writing as a profession. Here is my answer; you can fathom the general nature of the questions by the answers.

I will answer your questions, but I doubt you will be completely pleased. Free lance fiction writing, which is what I do, is not like garden-variety professions. There are no assigned working hours, there is no boss, and there is no regular paycheck. A writer is on his own, and that can be daunting.

  1. The positive aspects of being a writer are independence, creativity, and notoriety. He/she sets his/her own hours and writes what he/she chooses. Success brings fame and money.
  2. The negative aspects are that nothing is guaranteed. You may not write well, and even if you do, you may not be able to sell it or get it published.
  3. No particular education is required. You just have to be able to write well. I have a BA in Creative Writing, but there are other successful writers who did not finish high school. However, a good education is surely helpful. Iff yoo thing this iz a gud sentens yoo ar unlikly two maek it az a writter. I do receive letters from aspiring writers who write like that.
  4. I chose to become an author because creative writing was the only thing I really liked. I was lucky: after 8 years of trying, I made my first story sale.
  5. An author writes stories or novels and tries to get them published.
  6. An author needs facility of expression, and good ideas, and the ability to relate to the interests of the reader. Also good luck.
  7. My primary advice to an aspiring writer is caution: likely heartbreak.
  8. If you become an author, you can expect to make nothing. Only about one percent of aspiring writers ever sell anything they write.
  9. It might take a year to write a novel; maybe forever to get it published.
  10. My inspiration comes from a boundlessly creative mind.

I like to keep writing, being a writaholic. But my wife reminded me that there is a series of science fiction novels that we were unable to scan into electronic format, because they use an assortment of symbols that defeats the scanner. So now at two month intervals I am retyping my Cluster series of five novels, dating from circa 1977, making spot corrections of typos and awkward phrasing as I go. It's an interesting experience. I discover to my surprise that I have forgotten most of their text so completely that it is new to me. So it's like reading a novel someone else has written. That lends me a certain objectivity of judgment. I find that I like the way I wrote thirty years ago; I had a good imagination. I finished Cluster in Dismember and took a couple of weeks to catch up on reading and videos; more on that in a moment. Jamboree 1 I started in on Chaining the Lady. I remembered part of the first third of it; the rest is new canvas. In Marsh I will tackle Kirlian Quest. My dim memory is that the sequels get stronger as they go; we'll see. Already I know that back when Xanth was starting, my science fiction was just as good as my fantasy; it just didn't have the same commercial success. Best-sellerdom, like critical acclaim, owes more to chance than to talent; I know, having plumbed the depths as well as the heights. Am I hinting that those who manage best sellers and those who are literary critics don't know what they are doing? Yes, indeed I am.

Okay, I mentioned videos. I used to buy them from Movies Unlimited, and was satisfied with its prices and service. But it appears to have dropped me from its mailing list. Maybe I wasn't buying enough. Then I got a catalog from Critic's Choice, a parallel service, so ordered there. I remembered seeing a preview for Robocop a couple decades back, wherein a law enforcement machine demonstrated its capacities, then glitched and blasted away at the good guys. Wow! So that trilogy was the first video I watched. Alas, it seems not nearly as good as I had hoped, with way too much violence and not enough originality. Worth watching once, but not again.

We don't have cable or satellite, and broadband is not offered here; we really do live in the backwoods. So there's a lot of TV we miss. Actually we don't pay a lot of attention anyway; my wife normally reads a book while watching TV and I read a science magazine. But sometimes I do get curious about what the in-touch crowd sees. A female fan recommended Desperate Housewives. I had heard of it and assumed it was soap opera. But I like to think that my readers have better taste than the average, so I made a mental note. When Critic's Choice had the whole 23 hour first season on sale for $55 I took the plunge. And you know, I liked it. If it's soap opera, it's high grade. Even the jacket is clever: four lovely ladies—I doubt any other four housewives are as svelte as these—in white dresses, only when you pull out the box, the white is on that, and the translucent jacket shows nothing, literally, where their covered bodies were. It starts with an ordinary housewife who receives a letter, digs out a pistol, and shoots herself. She's dead, and she is the narrator for the series. Now that's what I call an intriguing beginning. Why did she do it? The letter said "I know what you did. It makes me sick. I'm going to tell." So what did she do, whose threat of revelation makes her kill herself? That mystery carries the season. Those housewives really are desperate. One has an ongoing affair with a 17 year old neighbor boy, and a jealous husband; near-escapes are inevitable. One has four rambunctious boys who keep her in a state of chronic, yes, desperation. Once at a memorial service the boys jumped into the decorative pool and refused to come out; she had to jump in after them, fully clothed, while the mourners soberly watched. Another had an argument with her ex, and in her distraction followed him out the door while wrapped in a towel. He slammed the car door and took off. Only the end of the towel was caught in the door, and she was suddenly naked in broad daylight. And her house door had locked behind her. She tried to get in a window, but fell spread-eagled into the bushes. At which point a new neighbor man she was interested in appeared, wondering what the problem was. He kept his eyes studiously averted, but later remarked "Wow!" The more she considered that, the better she liked it. The four women are quite individual in personality, each with her quirks and problems. So yes, I liked this series. But as it went it became farther-fetched, and I may not follow up on the subsequent seasons.

A reader sent me a season of Man Show, which turned out to be light hearted fun, replete with shapely short-skirted young women bouncing high on a trampoline. Then I watched four episodes of Babylon 5, and found this series interesting science fantasy but not great. I am told that later seasons get better, but I ran out of time (the month ended) before getting farther. I also have the third season of Grey's Anatomy, which I really want to watch, but again, my free time was up, the new year was upon me, and it must wait until I get slack time again late in FeBlueberry after finishing Chaining the Lady. I am a disciplined writer, and when I set up a schedule, I follow it. I tend to resent the last week of odd-numbered months, which I set aside for Survey updating and this HiPiers column, but I do them on schedule too.

So about those books I read, six of them in Dismember when I had slack time, one in Jamboree. The first was Modern Magic by Ann Cordwainer, published by Clotho Press (it's in my Survey). This is a fun story about Liz, a teen girl, the one mundane one in a family of sorcerers. She makes it work despite all the magic around her, some of it hostile. When boyfriends come, she can't be sure they aren't secret sorcerers trying to learn about her family. Sometimes she is taken hostage by an enemy sorcerer. I kept thinking that she would turn out to be a sorceress after all, whose talent was to locate hidden sorcerers, but apparently not. Some of the situations get pretty serious; sorcerers can play for keeps. I enjoyed the novel, and believe the average reader will too.

Then I proofread my own Cluster, which I had just retyped. Yes, I found plenty of typos, and hope I did not miss many. Then Relationships 3, in my erotic story series. Not all are sexy, but most are. I think my favorite there is "Flower Fly," the story about a young man who falls in love with a lesbian ten years his senior, who in turn loves a girl his age whose sexual orientation is undetermined, but she seems to really like him. So it's a triangle. The lesbian, thoroughly versed and skilled in heterosexual expression, truly wants what is best for her beloved, whatever orientation that may be. They have quite a threesome finding out. That Relationships series in fun, and I have many more ideas, but I think I should see how the first three do before writing more.

Then Humanism as the Next Step, which came to me as an introductory package though I have been a card-carrying Humanist for the past decade, and a practicing one all my life. The table of contents is fouled up; they evidently could have used a competent proofreader. But it's a nice summary of the history of Humanism, and its precepts. If you do have values, but don't want them defined by a church, consider Humanism. My attitudes as expressed by this column are humanistic. The Humanists are making much of President Obama's secular upbringing, I think making more of a case than there is, and their publicity campaign urged people to be good for goodness' sake. That is, there is no need to invoke anyone's god if you want to be good. For that they have been accused by conservatives of hate speech and likened to Adolf Hitler, the Nazi. It seems that being moral and upstanding without invoking God is by definition offensive to that type, and they freely indulge in hate speech themselves. An irate letter to the Humanist publication FREE MIND says "You don't have to believe in a GOD. But don't put off your immoral beliefs on other people. Your (sic) the one's that will burn in HELL." Another letter protests that we are a Christian nation, not atheist. Untrue; the USA is a constitutionally secular nation most of whose citizens are Christian. That's a fundamental distinction that it seems many conservatives are too dim to comprehend. Maybe I can simplify it: the majority of our citizens are female, but this is not a female nation. The majority have brown hair, but this is not a brown-haired nation. Gender and hair color are descriptions, not requirements. The same goes for religion.

Then Li'l Abner 1944 by Al Capp. I'm a fan of Li'l Abner, though not of its author. This was sent to me by a fan who thought I might write an introduction for a future annual volume. I demurred, feeling not competent for this. But I read the book. I had read the first volume decades ago, and seen how primitive it was compared to its later heyday, but not found the subsequent ones on sale, so let it be. This one is the heyday. Part of it is Abner's favorite comic strip hero, Fearless Fosdick, a parody of the Dick Tracy comic. But really not much of it; I remember later ones that weren't here, such as Fosdick's epic battle with Anyface. My favorite character, Evil Eye Fleegle, also wasn't here. Fleegle was master of the whammy, an evil stare. As I recall, a quarter whammy would knock out a bird in flight, and a half whammy would melt a charging locomotive. I remember Fleegle practicing, letting loose with half the power of one eye, and next picture was the half-melted locomotive. So this volume was fun, but not as much fun as my memories. Oh, why don't I like Al Capp himself? He was liberal, but as he aged turned conservative, espousing the self-interested nonsense of that persuasion. He also had trouble keeping his hands off young women; there were some ugly incidents. Yes, young women can be attractive, but a man's hands must not just grab them against their will. He didn't know?

Then I read The Myth of Natural Rights and Other Essays, by L A Rollins, who sent me a copy. He is of my stripe, annoyingly opinionated. It seems that Libertarians espouse a concept of natural rights, with which human beings are endowed by nature. I gather Ayn Rand was an apostle of this creed. Rollings takes it apart; there are no such rights, only what cultures grant. Another essay relates to the Holocaust, wherein six million Jews may have been killed by the Nazis. He is skeptical. He is not doubting that the Nazis murdered Jews, just unsure of the number. The number is surely fuzzy, in part because the Nazis also murdered Gypsies, homosexuals, and Russians. Was that six million the total, or just the Jewish portion, in which case the true numbers are much worse. I have my own concern about wholesale liquidation: the one million disarmed German soldiers that the Allies murdered after Wold War Two. When I was researching for my World War II novel Volk, one reference was Other Losses, by James Bacque, that details this. I gave it to my researcher, Alan Riggs and said in effect "Is this true?" He assimilated it, worked the numbers, and concluded that it was, and that Bacque might even have understated the case. The book received a killer review in the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, saying it was impossible; Eisenhower wouldn't have countenanced it. Then cane the reactions to that review, from some of the few German soldiers who had escaped such death camps, and from guards of those camps, who were appalled by them. That book was a bestseller in Germany. But Americans don't want to believe, even to this day. Possibly the more recent actions of the Bush administration will satisfy some Americans that we, too, can commit atrocities. This is hardly the only one. I am a naturalized citizen; I became American in part because I believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the democratic spirit of this nation. It sickens me when I see others shitting on those values. At any rate, it is obvious that Rollins' book made me think, and it is worth reading by anyone else who likes to think. You don't have to agree; just consider. His site is www.larollins.uuuq.com.

In Jamboree I read Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama. Some of you may have heard of him. The book was sent to me by Laura Kwon. It covers aspects of Barack's early life. Actually he hardly knew his father; his main memory was when the man visited when he was ten. But his mixed parentage—black father from Kenya, Africa, white mother from Kansas—made him aware of different worlds. I know how it is, having come to America from England and Spain, at age six. I always found it easy to relate to aliens, and have often written about then in my science fiction and fantasy. Especially in the Cluster series, which fully describes sapient aliens from intellect to sexuality. Barack learned to relate to different groups, and that surely helped him politically. But in this volume there is no indication that he is headed for the presidency; he is still learning to know himself. He was born in Hawaii, lived in Indonesia, came to America, and visited his family in Kenya, broadening his perspective at every stage. He learned what it was like in the trenches. He learned to relate. But there were limits. In the preface to the reprinted edition he says of 9-11: "My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another's heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction." I got to like his half sister Auma with whom he stayed when he visited Kenya, a smart, feeling woman. Kenya made him think, and it stayed with him. "How far do our obligations reach? How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love? The answers I find in law books don't always satisfy me—for every Brown v. Board of Education I find a score of cases where conscience is sacrificed to expedience or greed." I like Barack too; he comes across as a good man, and a talented writer, something I notice. I am glad he made it to America's highest office; I expect him to do it credit.

My wife gave me a Mio Moov GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) Navigation device for Christmas. It's fascinating, as I get to know it. It marks our location with a little car symbol that moves as we travel, following the roads on its map. Its map is over a decade out of date, so sometimes it thinks we are cruising cross-country, but it never loses its cool. It just urges us to get back on the road. When we needed to reach a new address, it directed us, and when we got near and were looking around, trying to read the house numbers, it said our destination was 350 feet ahead, to the left. It was. We expect to attend a convention in Orlando in April at the behest of Mundania Press, and this should ensure that we get there. Newfangled highway interchanges are so complicated that I need such help.

Entry from my Survey update, self explanatory: Amazon has a feature, Sponsored Links, that is a service to readers, providing links to additional sources or information about the authors. But some authors are upset, because some of those links violate their privacy by providing personal addresses, phone numbers, and such, and Amazon will not remove them when requested by the authors. I checked Piers Anthony, and a Sponsored Link was for Docks and Piers supplies. No joke; you can check it yourself. Just be advised that I endorse no Docks or Piers; buy them at your own risk. That does not violate my privacy, but does show that this is an automated thing, not necessarily relevant. So authors should be warned that more than their books may be for sale here. I certainly don't want my street address or phone number available for any kook who figures to erase me and take my place, figuring that no one will know the difference. My ghost would be really annoyed if no one noticed, though.

Our local county has a program for the safe disposal of outdated medications, some of which might damage the environment if carelessly dumped: one day a month they can be taken to the sheriff's office. So we tried that. After about two hours we gave up and brought them home again; people were coming with huge bundles, and each individual item, whether of aspirin or company sample, had to be checked, labeled, and signed for. This will surely discourage people from availing themselves of this option; they do have other lives to lead. So the drugs may be dumped into the environment anyway. My wife was so annoyed she wrote a letter to the sheriff, detailing the problem and likely consequence. There was no response.

After AT&T cellular ripped us off three times, having no apparent interest in honoring paid-for service, we tried Tracfone. Their attitude differs substantially, and we are satisfied. With one exception: their online extension option proved to be unworkable; we finally gave up and phoned them directly, and then they got our simple extension logged. I don't know what it is about online business in general; it just seems to be designed for hassle and failure. Why can't they make it simple?

I seldom get a common cold these days, because I use massive doses of Vitamin C to stifle it. Recently I read that Vitamin D may be the reason colds triple in winter: we get less sun, so our skin makes less Vitamin D, and become vulnerable. That could be the case, but I wanted to verify it. Well, our daughter got a cold, and I caught it, and I tried C and D together. Neither helped. Then I ran a fever. Oh—C never abated a fever for me, and maybe D doesn't either. This was a flu-like cold. Maybe next time I'll be able to give D a proper test.

I turned in the third volume of Relationships to Mundania/Phaze, who has now published it. These are generally sexy stories, though the emphasis is on story; it's not barebones erotica. They had a problem with my story "Serial," about a male serial rapist who managed to trap a female serial rapist. The detail was no more lurid than what is typical; it was the idea of involuntary sex that bothered them. They recommended that that story be sent to eXcessica, whose limits are looser. That's in my Survey, but I had had no business there. Thus I came to interact with proprietress Selena Kitt. Chalk up another favorable impression; if she is as helpful to all writers as she was to me, this outfit is highly recommended.

NEW SCIENTIST had an article on menopause: why does it exist, when a woman should be able to bear more offspring if she kept at it all her life? Its no mystery to me: childbirth is a life-threatening event, and the older a woman gets, the more risky it is. At some point the chances of her dying, and thus sacrificing not only her current baby, but the two or three prior dependent children, become greater than the chances of her seeing her prior children through to long-term survival. Grandchildren also survive better if grandmothers are there. Nature has found that point—about ten to twenty years before her likely death—and acted to preserve her life. Thus menopause increases her reproductive success by preserving the most descendants. It typically comes when her daughters start bearing children, freeing her to help them.

Probably not related: I received yet another penis ad, this one for Performance-Fusion Aphrodisiac Chewing Gum. It says it acts in three minutes, and the man can maintain his erection for twelve hours, can have multiple erections, all immensely powerful, and have more abundant ejaculation. The ad is replete with bare buxom young women gazing utterly turned-on at the camera. Costs $55 for 30 gums, less if you buy in quantity. Can all this be true? I doubt it. I suspect it is a variation of the grow-your-penis-three-inches-longer scam. Anyway, my prescription for Viagra is now 100 mg pills, I'm using a razor blade to cut them into sixteenths, and that works. That cuts the effective price down to under a dollar per. I don't need twelve hour long erections, just one timed right for a weekly date. But the ad was fun reading. Oh—I also take L-Arginine, because while at first it didn't seem to help erections, it did seem to speed up my exercise runs, which I take an an indication of health enhancement. But with longer term use, it does after all seem to help erections somewhat, providing a solider base for the Viagra to act on. Maybe that's why I need so little.

I'm on thyroid medication, Synthroid, and that really seems to help. I am no longer depressive or chronically fatigued. But I also take kelp pills, to get extra iodine, because that's the key to a healthy thyroid. Recently I read an article that says iodine is a miracle substance that actually makes people smarter. Almost a third of the world's people don't get enough iodine from food and water; they live in an iodine-poor environment. In extreme cases this leads to goiters that swell their necks, dwarfism, or cretinism. Worse is mental slowness. Iodized salt can fix this; it could add 10 to 15 points to their IQ. It could do more good at a cheaper price than just about anything else. If we just care to do it.

NEW SCIENTIST presents a notion for virtually limitless green energy: Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, OTEC. This uses the difference between the warm sea surface and the cold sea depths. The working fluid is ammonia, which boils at a low temperature. It is vaporized, then condensed by contact with cold deep water, and a turbine produces power. Think of the way a refrigerator or air conditioner works, only instead of using power to cool something, it uses temperature to power something. The cold of the ocean depth is virtually limitless for this purpose. The process works; the key is to build units big enough to power a city or continent. It would not contribute to global warming; if anything, it would cool the sea as energy is extracted.

Forrest J Ackerman died. He was just about the biggest early science fiction fan. He started the term "Sci-Fi" in 1954. I am one of those who dislike the term. Once my daughter encountered a man who used it, and she informed him that it wasn't appreciated among real fans of the genre. That was Ackerman. When he learned whose daughter she was, he wrote "Sci-Fi shall not die!" on his business card, and she delivered it to me. I hate to say it, but he seems to have been right; now more people seem to use the vulgar term than those who don't. Regardless, he was a dedicated fan, a legend in science fiction circles. For a time he was a literary agent, and he represented writers like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. He founded the magazine FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and had a huge collection of genre movies. He was 92.

Bettie Page died. She was perhaps the most famous pinup model of the mid twentieth century. I somehow had never heard of her until one of my fans sent me a Bettie Page doll. She was an extremely shapely woman, and it's one shapely doll. I suspect that her endowment was natural, in contrast to the surgically enhanced creatures of today. A newspaper article contrasts her to anorexic model Twiggy. I generally prefer slender to overstuffed, but I'll take Bettie. She was 85.

Newspaper article by a college woman who is satisfied to be the mistress of an older man. Its a business relationship: he maintains her in elegant style, she provides him with esthetic company and sex. Each party gets his/her desire, and it's highly compatible. What's the difference between a mistress and a whore? I would counter with the question what does it matter? Both deliver paid service, just as do butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. If you don't need or want that service, don't buy it.

My daughter found an article on the changing value of the dollar. What would a thousand dollars in 1906 be worth in 2007? Different authorities have different answers. The Federal Reserve says a 1900 dollar would be worth $20 today. Another says that a thousand dollars worth of 1900 gold would be worth $36,500 today; that's a 36-fold gain. A thousand dollars worth of labor in 1900 would be worth $20,000 today. Real estate you could buy for one year's wages in 1900 would cost more than fifty years' labor today. It concludes that the consumer price index does not tell the whole story. It sure doesn't! The government wants to pretend it keeps inflation down, so it jimmies the figures.

Article by columnist David Brooks on greatness: a lot is owed to social circumstance. You can't be whatever you want to be; the world decides that. But some do try harder. Most successful people have a phenomenal ability to focus their attention. This leads to creativity. "The less successful are not less worthy, they're just less lucky." Actually I see it as a combination: you do need talent to be a good writer, for example. But there are many with the talent, and few who make it big: that's where the luck comes in.

Circulating email: story of a man who liked to hang out pantyhose for Christmas, instead of a sock, hoping Santa would oblige. So a family member, maybe a sister, bought an inflatable Love Doll and stuffed its legs into the pantyhose for Christmas. Granny saw it and was Not Amused, but Grandpa flirted with the Doll; they realized that his vision or something was fading. Then, during dinner, a spark flew, and the Doll made a sound like a whoopee cushion, sailed up, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap. "The cat screamed. I passed cranberry sauce through my nose, and Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. My brother fell back over his chair and wet his pants." Granny walked out. They were able to repair the Doll. "I can't wait until next Christmas."

Newspaper article by Charlotte Sutton on why we need literary critics: "A newspaper film critic should encourage critical thinking, introduce new developments, consider the local scene, look beyond the weekend fanboy specials, be a weatherman on social trends, bring in a larger context, teach, inform, amuse, inspire, be heartened, be outraged."

Last column I mentioned that Warner Pictures passed on the Xanth movie. Since then I have learned more of the context: the national financial crunch that hit the banks and the car companies also hit the publishing and movie industries. Studios are laying off hundreds, and projects are being canceled. They had spent over a million dollars on the Xanth script. I'm hoping that when the economy turns around, maybe by the end of 2009, interest in the Xanth movie will revive.

Ebooks are taking hold. Amazon's Kindle is one, but others are in progress. They will become thinner and lighter, and some may even be flexible. Prices will come down. We'll see. My wife reads a lot, and sticks to physical print books because she finds reading on the screen uncomfortable. If they get a reader that is as small and light as a paperback book and features print that is kind to her eyes, at a halfway reasonable price, she may convert. I suspect there are millions more like her.

I was asked permission to quote an essay on the different types of editor that exist. It's a good enough essay, but I have one problem: I did not author it. It seems my name is attached, but it's not mine. I suppose these mistakes happen.

Naturally I'm stifling further clippings and thoughts; once again I'm running overlength. I will blog again Apull 1th .

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