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Piers the handyman 2007
JeJune 2009

Every so often readers suggest that I make my column and Survey updates monthly instead of bimonthly. That should mean faster updating and shorter columns, so readers don't have to get so much of a bellyfull digesting them. Okay, I'll try it. Next column and update will be Jewel-lye, and I'll continue monthly if that works out.

I read The Psychology of Creative Writing, edited by Scott Barry Kaufman and James C Kaufman. As a long-time creative writer I have a certain muted interest in the subject. Do these people have me zeroed in, or are they far afield? A little of each, perhaps. There is an enormous amount of information here, and much insight, and I did learn things. But I'm sort of like the quarterback who ignores all the coach's scientific analysis and just plays the hell out of it by ear, and does okay. There's a cruel motto that says that those who can do something, do; those who can't, teach. The full statement goes something like this: those who can write, do; those who can't write edit; those who can't edit review; those who can't review become critics and criticize all the others. It's not necessarily true; though at times it does seem that the misfits pretend that they could write so much better than those writers they review, if only they cared to, though that too is rife with exceptions. Creative writing is a messy universe.

Let me start with some quotes from the book that I think have merit or are interesting: From the Forward, by Robert J Sternberg: "Writing has always been much harder to study and measure than reading, because it does not lend itself to multiple-choice or other objective forms of scoring." "Whereas participants can sit down at pretty much any time and answer reading comprehension questions or solve mathematics problems, they cannot do the same for creative writing: sometimes the ideas just do not come!" "Arguably, with daunting threats to our survival as a species, our time for recognizing the importance of a creative approach to life is running out." Amen.

From Jane Piirto: "The writer may value freedom of expression more than the feelings of others." She says that many creative writers are manic-depressive, including some big names in literature, and many others are simply depressive. Well, I'm not bipolar, but was for decades mildly depressive, so it seems I'm in good company. She quotes John Cheever "The excitement of alcohol and the excitement of fantasy are very similar," and concludes that it is unusual when these are not linked and present in creative writers. That may be so, but I am one of the exceptions. I don't drink and write for the same reason I don't drink and drive: it would be dangerous to my literary or physical welfare. I want my sharpest mind in gear when I write. "The image of the writer as humorist must take into account that many humorists are not known as sweet, nice, easygoing people, but are often rude, crotchety, and acidic." Yes. That is a case I have made, hoping I'm another exception.

I really can't go into similar detail on all the articles; there is not time or space. But this shows how much there is to assimilate in this volume. Many articles are couched in opaque Educationese, something you'd think educators would want to strive to eliminate. A random sample: "Among such theories included the concepts of dysphoric rumination, mood, and locus of control." That theory remains opaque to me. Even ordinary words can be applied with special variants, such as "affect." "Indeed, participants in whom positive affect had been induced tended to generate more unusual responses..." I thought it should be "positive effect," but concluded it was particular usage, throughout the volume. Words don't necessarily mean the same to academics as they do to the man on the street.

Other articles established that writers don't live as long on average as other people, that they suffer more mental illness and are more prone to illness in general, female poets especially. Writing does seem to improve mood, and keeping a regular journal may be therapeutic. Third person viewpoint engenders a more positive feeling in the author than first person. The editor's summation: "Those who benefit most from writing are those who write the most intensely, for the longest amount of time, and over the longest time span." I started taking writing seriously in 1954, so that's 55 years; it has surely done me a lot of good despite the frustrations of dealing with ignorant publishers, critics and fans.

More items: Screenwriters are treated by the studios as the lowest of the low, with ageism perceived to be so extreme that some even fake youth to get work. Minorities are hardly represented. There's a story of a starlet so stupid she seduced the writer instead of the producer. "Artistic production is what economists call a 'winner take all' market. Robustly, throughout all human creative endeavors, there are a very small number of people who do extremely well and a large majority who fail." Oh, yes. As for the teaching of writing, in the 20th century "There was a culture in which abuse (ridicule, shaming, expressions of disgust) was often masked as 'critique' and hierarchical grading (A to F, or any system that assigns success or failure to creative work) was perceived as corrective." Fortunately there was finally a popular rebellion against this nonsense, and teaching of creative writing is improving. The article on Shakespeare credits him with originating a fair number of contemporary phrases, including "what the dickens." I have a problem with that, as Dickens lived about 250 years after Shakespeare. There may be four stages of creative writing: preparation, incubation, illumination, verification. Writers may get into a state of heightened awareness, complete engagement, and concentration. Criticism, too early, can kill off creative thinking. Yes, that's one reason writers hate critics.

From "Writing as a Collaborative Act" by R Keith Sawyer I learn that C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien knew each other, and, essentially, Tolkien converted Lewis to Christianity in 1931. I didn't know that! But here's the one that hit me hardest: that famous story about how Samuel Taylor Coleridge woke from an opium dream and was writing what he discovered, there, "Kubla Khan," when interrupted by a person from Porlock, and thus lost the continuation of his poem: that turns out to be false. Coleridge's early notes of the poem included his early notes of the attendant story, in different versions. This was the poem that brought me to Coleridge, one of my favorite poets. Sigh. So it wasn't crafted in a dream; it still has magic. I will not renounce Coleridge because it turns out that he worked at his trade the same way I do. "Creative writing is hard work; it involves a large amount of conscious editing and analysis, and it takes place over long periods of time with frequent revisions. Stories that make it seem otherwise, like Coleridge's, are almost always false." "...there is never a single big insight; instead there are hundreds and thousands of small mini-insights. The real work starts when many mini-insights are analyzed, reworked, and connected to each other, and as with every other type of creativity, many ideas that sound good at first end up in the trash." This is true in my experience.

Quote from Orson Scott Card: "All but a handful of my stories have come from combining two completely unrelated ideas." I have found similar, though the ideas are not necessarily unrelated. When I tried to merge hard core science fiction with hard core fantasy I came up with Split Infinity and the Adept series and waited for screams of outrage from readers that never came. The frisson from ideas can be like that between man and woman. Ideas, like people, come in all varieties. Perhaps a mark of a good writer is the ability to recognize a good idea when he encounters it, sifting it from the myriad wisps of chaff.

There's a chapter on that dread ailment Writer's Block. "These writing difficulties were of at least 3 months duration, with an average duration in the sample [45 writers] of 23 months." Gracious! I realized early in my career that I could not afford Writer's Block, so I worked out a way to abate it, and have not suffered it since. I would climb the wall if I suffered from it for one hour; months is simply not in my picture. My system is to immediately go into discussion with myself, which I type out the same as fictive text: "My hero has taken his girlfriend in his arms. What happens next? My mind is blank. Does he spit on her? No, I don't think so. There must be something." I keep discussing it until finally, minutes, hours or days later, and maybe thousands of words, I forge the monumentally original continuation: "I love you," he says. If the block is more complicated (she's his best friend's mother?), I may shift projects. When my novel Omnivore slowed, I wrote the whole of Sos the Rope at lightning speed, then returned to Omnivorewhich still moved slowly. But I did get it done in due course. So it wasn't me so much as the material. But I suspect this is not exactly the problem other writers face; they may suffer from a fundamental lack of initiative to write anything. That's more difficult. Writer's Block doesn't stop me; my wife's illness, travel, required reading and such can soak up my working time, and that stops me, but not Block. Writing is to me like breathing; I can stop it only so long before I get uncomfortable. But the insights here are interesting. Blocked writers turn out generally to be desperately unhappy (I'm not), and that seems to cause the block, rather than the other way around. Thus devices of writing don't suffice; they need emotional therapy. "Feelings of hostility, negativism, and resentment, are accompanied by writing-associated behaviors such as breaking, smashing, kicking, and throwing things, and by growing irritable and short-tempered with other people." I think some of those writers must become reviewers or critics; that would explain a lot.

There's more, much more; I am touching only on spot highlights or lowlights that trigger my companion comment. While this book is not easy reading, overall, it has an enormous amount of information and insight on the process and practice of creative writing, and I believe writers and nonwriters, creative or not, can benefit from its discussions. Probably individuals will want to study those chapters relevant to their interests. Is this text definitive? It has references galore. But I suspect that a popularized digest, written in non-academic language, would be more useful for ordinary folk.

I read The Great Divorce by C S Lewis, published in 1946. It was recommended to me by my minister correspondent, Gary Scharrer, so I pulled it off my shelf. It was sent to me by a reader named McCloud in 1990, so it was about due for reading. I admired Lewis' science fiction trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, and I read his children's Narnia series to my daughter when she was a child, twice. I enjoyed Shadowlands, the movie about his late-in-life love of an American woman. As the child of an American man and an English woman I can relate. So I am familiar with his SF/fantasy genre material from way back, but not so much his philosophical writing. The Great Divorce is definitely the latter. The protagonist finds himself in a bleak city and in due course realizes he has died and is in an aspect of Hell. Fortunately there's a bus to Heaven, so he catches that. But Heaven is not quite what he expects; it's sort of bleak itself, just a high landscape. The assorted visitors are ghosts who can achieve solidity and salvation in Heaven only by properly understanding and accepting themselves. The main part of it consists of snatches of conversation between various ghosts and the angelic residents of Heaven, who are trying to guide them, one on one. Now this is a nice literary device, as it enables the author to present a number of fouled-up people and discuss ways they might improve themselves, without having to follow them any father than convenient. But as a novel it isn't much. It's a platform for philosophic discussion. It demonstrates via dialog how narrow some people's intellectual outlooks are. It makes the point that the achievement of Heaven is not simply finding a place of perpetual joy, but in learning to be worthy of it. So while it may turn on a minister, it doesn't turn me on. I am too much with the sinful satisfactions of the Hell we call Life.

And I read Jumper Cable, Xanth #33, proofreading the page proofs. I usually get a good notion of my novel this way, because it has been a year or two since I wrote it, and time gives me a bit of perspective. I was concerned after reading my Cluster series after 30 years, wondering whether I still had similar writing ability. Xanth is fantasy humor and parody rather than science fiction, not the same sort of thing. But it was my impression that the writing competence was similar, which is reassuring. It features Jumper Spider, a distant descendant of Jumper in Xanth #3 Castle Roogna, who is busy doing his thing, jumping from weed to weed and biting the heads off bugs, satisfied. Then a Narrative Hook catches his carapace and hauls him into the foreign realm of Xanth Proper, which differs not in locale so much as scale: now he is the size of a pony. He rescues Wenda Woodwife, who is about to be molested by a village lout, and she becomes his closest friend. Wenda is a lush nymph from the front, but hollow from the back; she's actually a shaped shell formed of wood, magically animated. They decide to make common cause, going to see the Good Magician, who can tell Jumper how to return to his realm, and Wenda how to become a real woman with a backside. She knows the route, and he can protect her from louts. Along the way they gather an assortment of other maidens and a harpy, and by the time they reach the Good Magician's castle they are a party of six, all with their special problems. Humfrey gives them an assignment: locate and fix the cable that once connected Xanth to Mundania, something only Jumper can do, with the right help. The Magician temporarily fixes the five maidens' problems; the fixes will become permanent once the cable has been repaired, and will be lost if it is not. And he adds two members to the group: the twin lovely nineteen year old princesses/sorceresses Dawn & Eve, who are on probation for quarreling over the same man. They are naughtily mischievous; when Jumper has to be transformed to manform, naturally he is naked, so Dawn flashes him with her bra and Eve flashes him with her panties, making his body react, to the embarrassment of everyone else. It goes on from there. Why is this mysterious cable so important? Read the novel, in due course.

A reader sent me a link with information about kefir, pronounced keh-fear. This is a cultured milk beverage that originated in the Caucasus Mountains, maybe a thousand years ago. It seems to promote a long healthy life, like up to a hundred years. It is cultured from grains, which are little globs of substance. It has an alcoholic content of about 1% and a slightly yeasty aroma. It seems to be a probiotic—that is, the opposite of antibiotic, promoting the kind of intestinal environment that facilitates digestion. There's a story that the Russian Physicians Society in the early 1900s wanted to get a sample of kefir, because of its health benefits, but the Turks would not release the secret. So they asked the proprietors of a local cheese factory to help, and they sent a beautiful employee named Irina to coax a Caucasian prince. The prince was too canny to give up the secret, but he was smitten with Irina, and kidnapped her and proposed marriage. She refused, and in due course was rescued. Then she sued, but declined gold and jewels for a settlement, insisting on grains of kefir. And so the Russians got it at last. Now it is available for the rest of us; there's an Australian source. A few grains and some milk or other hospitable nutrient will start a culture, which can then be carried forth indefinitely. It's supposed to be easier than culturing yogurt. Okay, this interests me, and not just because of Irina; I doubt she'd date me anyway. Is this a miracle culture that can help me and mine live for a century? I don't really believe it, but my curiosity has been piqued. Has anyone out there had experience with kefir? I'd like to get a user report.

It is the time of the great Digital TV Conversion. We were satisfied with Analog TV, here in the forgotten hinterlands, but the powers that be couldn't just leave it alone. So they foisted Digital TV on us, requiring a Set-Top Box for every TV set and, for us in said hinterlands, the choice between Cable (we're too far from civilization for that), Satellite (too expensive), DSL (not delivered here), or a taller TV Tower. So we went reluctantly for the tower: it cost about $1,200 for an extension lifting the antenna from 40 feet to 50 feet, and we got a new, larger antenna too, the best available. Would it work? It was a close call, but it did work. When there's a storm, the wind blows the antenna around so that it points in the wrong direction, and we have to realign it, but that's a nuisance we can handle. I had hoped that our four local channels would become eight or ten; my wife thought I was overoptimistic. Well, it turned out to be 33 on a good day and the right orientation, and we could rotate to get others if we had to. Stations that were formerly single now have one, two, or four separate channels, and the ones above channel 13 that we never reliably got before now are there. We were told that with digital you either get it perfectly, or not at all. That's not true; here in the margin of the world we do get occasional spotty digital, with little squares missing from the picture and the sound becoming staccato. But usually reception is good. Exploring the new offerings, I discovered channel 62.2, LATN, a Spanish Language broadcast featuring mostly music videos. Why would I want to watch that, since I have forgotten more Spanish than I ever knew? Well, have you seen the girls on those videos? Sexiest creatures this side of Hell. Then there's the interviewer Ana Laura Tanaka. When God was distributing Cute, she must have been first in line. I can't understand a word she says, but who needs meaning? And she's not the only one; they certainly zeroed in on my taste in women. Meanwhile my wife can get a constant-weather station any time. So we are becoming converts. Digital TV does have something to offer. But, all in all, it is not more reliable than analog; it's more finicky.

I have read that America, with 5% of the world's population, has 25% of its prison population. Does this make us safer physically or better people morally? It doesn't seem to. Column by Neal Pierce says "We have placed one in 100 adults 18 and over behind bars, a nationwide prisoner total of 2.3 million. Probation and parole swell the total to 7.2 million Americans under some form of criminal justice system supervision. Why should we be incarcerating more people than do such regimes as China or Russia?" Damn good question. It costs $50 billion a year to state and local governments, and $5 billion to the federal prison system. A number of states spend as much or more on corrections as they do on higher education. Florida had over 100,000 inmates—I correspond with several—at a cost of $20,000 a year each. As if we didn't have better uses for the money. What's the solution? The column suggests that we should focus on effective ways to hold people accountable for breaking rules without jamming them back into what may be a $25,000 a year prison cell. Electronic monitoring, community service, residential programs, other options that are far cheaper and more effective than prison. I have another suggestion: decriminalize marijuana and related drug use. That doesn't mean that society approves of it, just that such victimless "crimes" won't be prosecuted. That single reform might cut the prison population in half and save a huge amount of money. A column by Clarence Page describes the way some private enterprises get cash for jailing children, such as a 15 year old girl who was put away for three months for posting a web site parody of an assistant principal at school. So much for freedom of speech, supposedly in the Constitution. A 14 year old girl made the mistake of slapping a friend back; she got nine months in juvenile jail. It isn't just prisons; I remember when a fan of mine had her children taken away from her because her daughter had brought a copy of Virtual Mode to school to read; it took a legal case and months for her to get them back, and the experience was traumatic for the children. And in those "corrective" agencies there is a horrendous record of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by staff members. When the FBI investigated, two judges were found guilty of sentencing thousands of children to jail, often without lawyers, in a kickback scheme that paid them millions. Welcome to American justice. I suspect we need to get the throw-away-the-key "conservatives" the hell out before we can achieve meaningful reform. Obviously they care about money more than about the children they claim to protect.

A related item: The Humanist May-June issue has a savage expose of what it can be like at Christian reform schools, told by a former inmate, Michele Tresler-Ulriksen. As a roughly normal rebellious sixteen year old girl she was delivered by her parents into a locked-down, all-girl, unlicensed, unregulated fundamentalist Baptist reform school. She was introduced to a small walk-in style closet they called the Get-Right Room. If a girl swore, rolled her eyes, refused to eat, refused to convert to their version of Christianity, or gave the staff any problems, that's where she went. She witnessed extreme mental, emotional, and verbal abuse. Girls were encouraged to call out others' imperfections in front of staff and students. Underweight girls were force-fed while food was withheld from overweight ones. Vegetarians were forced to eat large quantities of meat. The less intelligent had to sit in the corner and were called stupid. Lesbians were told they were going to burn in hell. The world slut and whoremonger were common. Plus six hours a day of Old Testament indoctrination. They were told repeatedly they were worthless and a disgrace to God and their parents. They were told that all the sin in the world was caused by Eve and that this was the reason girls have menstrual cycles and painful childbirth. That God intended them to bear children, and that should be their sole lot in life. "It was all about submission and subjugation." Science was considered hogwash. Many girls who made it through the ordeal and were released suffered post traumatic stress disorder. Meanwhile parents were carefully deceived, thinking they were delivering their troubled teens to a loving place. I attended a religious school for four years, and while it was nowhere near as bad as this, actually a good school, it left me a lifelong agnostic who has rebuffed subsequent solicitations by the school.

I mentioned a line from the song "Coming through the Rye" last time. "Gin a body meet a body/ Coming thro' the rye,/ Gin a body kiss a body,/ Need a body cry?" Was it a field of rye grass where they met? Or drinking rye whiskey in a tavern? What was the real story here? There were several responses. One described how Jenny dragged her petticoat while coming through the rye. Now why would she do that? Here is the most definitive, a spot entry from the private diary of Ted Walther dated Jan 28, 2007. The song is from a poem by Robert Burns, which seems to suggest that the rye is a meeting place. But Walther's research discovered it's more than that. It seems to be that there is a small river near where the poet lived, the Rye Water. There was no bridge in those days, just a ford. So the girls had to lift their petticoats if they were to cross over without getting their skirts wet. The young men would take advantage if a girl had a load on her head and her petticoats held up in her other hand, and snatch a kiss. My guess is they might also snatch a feel. So when they did that with Jenny, she dropped her petticoat and smacked the young suitor with her fist. Good thing she didn't live in America, where she might get sent to prison for nine months for that. So her petticoats got wet, but her virtue was intact. But she lost a boyfriend. "Ev'ry Lassie has her laddie; Nane, they say, have I. Yet all the lads they smile on me, When coming thro' the rye." Good for Jenny! She must have had nice legs, to attract that attention.

We attended the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, as announced last column, at the behest of Mundania Press, which paid our way. Mundania came into existence when I financed it to put my dirty fantasy novel Pornucopia back into print so my fans wouldn't get ripped off for hundreds of dollars for used copies. Since then this small publisher has expanded hugely, with hundreds of authors and books. Unfortunately Dan Reitz, who runs Mundania, had to cancel his attendance; his wife had a setback in her recovery from surgery and it seemed risky to bring her along or leave her behind. We understand perfectly, as my wife's health has made me quite cautious about external commitments. But Katherine Lively of the erotic imprint Phaze held the fort together with editor Alessia Brio.

We drove to the Wyndham-Orlando Resort, checked in at noon-fifteen and navigated the usual hangups as the personnel didn't have the carefully pre-cleared arrangements clear; their call to Dan or Accounting got it straight. (Mental picture of their dialog: "It's right there on the paper in front of you, idiot!" "Oh, that paper. Okay.") I think it's in the Big Book of hotel rules not to let anyone in without a reservations hassle, no matter how careful the preparations. But they gave us a nice ground-level room next to the convention center so the wheelchair would not have a problem. Our younger daughter Cheryl was also there the first day to help us orient; she got a Press Pass so she could write up a feature for the local newspaper, where she works. About our only complaint was that the room was infested by gnats or fruit flies who liked to buzz persistently in our faces. This is semi-tropical Florida, after all.

My wife elected to stay on her feet the first day, but all the walking and standing wore her out so that thereafter she was satisfied to let me push her in the wheelchair. I mention the rule of thumb again: not everyone in a wheelchair is paralyzed; some can stand and walk, just not for long or far. So the chair greatly extends their range and comfort. The resort complex is not perfectly adapted to handicapped folk; it was a 50-50 chance whether a given sidewalk terminated in a navigable ramp or a brutal curb. So we had either to stay on the road and risk traffic, or have my wife get to her feet while I got the chair over the curb, then resume her seat. Doors were another problem. Usually there was someone around to hold them open, but sometimes it was tricky and awkward. But overall the wheelchair was a great help, especially as we learned the most feasible routes.

Maybe this too needs repeating: why did I bring my wife along, if it is that complicated? Because I love her and need her, and have become fairly dependent on her in the course of nigh 53 years of marriage; she's not just a sex object. I am pretty much of a travel idiot by myself; I get lost and knotted up trying to manage even simple aspects. When she's along I am at ease. There is also the chance that she will enjoy the sights and events too. One day I took her touring the little pathways, fountains, and ponds of the complex, replete with flowers and exotic plants. Eating out together was also nice; the buffet is ideal for vegetarians, and far fancier than the meals I make at home.

My first program was an Author Chat, along with L A Banks, Catherine Asaro, and Carole Nelson Douglas. We had a responsive audience of about 80 people. Catherine mentioned that she was dyslexic; that's one of my buttons, because my elder daughter was diagnosed dyslexic, and her symptoms were similar to mine when I was young, only in my day there was no dyslexia, only stupid students. So I took three years to struggle through first grade. Eventually I got the hang of it, and as I like to put it, it has been some time since anyone other than a critic thought I was stupid. So I have some affinity with Catherine. It seems that a surprising number of writers are dyslexic. Someone asked me about Jenny, my paralyzed correspondent who was struck at age 12 on her way to school by a drunk driver who simply cruised through the stopped traffic and took her out. She was in a coma three months, until they read my letter to her, bringing her out of it. But twenty years later she remains paralyzed, while the drunk driver paid no penalty. What's wrong with this picture? The subject of fan mail came up: how do we handle it? I said my wife prints out email for me, I pencil answers, which she transcribes and sends. That doubles or triples my efficiency so I can keep up, though fan mail and related things like this Web site and my ongoing Survey of Electronic Publishing still take about a third of my working time. This seemed to have some impact on the other panelists: use family members to facilitate the process, instead of being up against the cold equations of either neglecting the fans or having all our time absorbed by them. Writers do need time to write books, after all. So we hit it off okay in that session, I think, trusting that the reports of the others will agree. I have focused on my own participation here, this being my blog; I was actually about one quarter of the whole chat group.

In between events I met and chatted with folk; I seemed to have many fans attending. I trust some did spot me by my advertised traits: a man with a ponytail pushing a woman in a wheelchair. I didn't actually attend events where I wasn't required, not from indifference but because we did retire often to rest in our room, have meals, etc. I stopped by the Phaze table and signed a number of their copies of my books that they were giving out. This was a promotional affair for publishers and authors, after all. They gave out myriads of goodies, ranging from bookmarks to free books; in fact there were whole goody-bags. The first one I got was wrong; they had given me another author's and it had her markings and schedule. So I took it back. "You found it!" they exclaimed, relieved, and gave me mine. One I knickknack especially like is a soft red heart that you squeeze in your hand for exercise; it's supposed to be good for blood pressure, I think. This one has a silhouette of a shapely demoness and says "Love Your Inner Demon" www.jackiekessler.com.

Thursday morning I had a filmed interview with Morgan Doremus. She's the Web Content Producer for Romantic Times Magazine, the sponsor of the convention. It was straightforward: she asked me one question, and I rambled all over the universe, focusing more or less on Xanth. She remarked that she never knew what I would say; I guess I proved it. I just hope they edited it to make me look more coherent than I was. The interviews are scheduled to be posted starting in AwGhost 2009, until Apull 2010; mine should be somewhere in there.

We had lunch with Heather Osborn, the TOR Romance representative, although I don't write Romance for Tor. It's an irony that my big publisher was not the one to bring me to the convention, while the small one did. But it must also be said that I have a financial interest in Mundania and want it to succeed, as well as having my more provocative fantasy there, so I care more about it than for the big outfits. At any rate our dialog with Heather was perfectly compatible.

In the afternoon I made a 15 minute pop-in appearance at the panel on Nitty-Gritty of Selling On The Internet. I wasn't crashing the party; it was arranged as a courtesy to some of my fans there. Moderator Kate Ryan gave me her seat and I fielded questions about my novels Volk, Firefly, and Mer-Cycle, as usual wandering far afield and telling them about the horror novel I never wrote, The Sopaths, (short for Sociopaths), but may some day. One asked me how I felt about second hand book sales. That is treacherous terrain, because the author makes nothing from such sales, and they may cut into paying sales. I said I don't actually need money at this point, but do still need to be read, and wince at the thought of my books being destroyed after reading. I concluded "So I don't really mind. Much." I understand that my brief visit was much appreciated. Good; such appearances are pointless if not appreciated.

In the evening we watched the costumed people entering the Faery Ball, the girls replete with cute little wings, then retired.

Friday morning at about 6 AM I donned my running shoes and spent 25 minutes jogging around the complex in the near darkness. No one else was out. Naturally I got lost, but couldn't stay lost because it's not that big. Once I found the outside road I had no further trouble. I also exercised with hand weights, maintaining my routine as well as feasible. Many folk talk about health, but few seem to practice it as I do. Diet and exercise, seriously practiced, really are the keys; most else is dross.

We were in the main convention hall when a woman collared me: "You're supposed to be in an interview now." Oh? I had agreed to one, but the details had never been finalized and I had no idea of time or place. Apparently there was a glitch in informing me. My only communication, dated 4-15-2009, was when the RT Convention publicist Pat Simmons asked whether I was available and when, and I responded "As far as I know, I'm free Friday morning." Thereafter I heard nothing, no confirmation, no indication it was on. So Kathryn Methuen, whose name I had not been given before, of The Hachiko interviewed me. I forget what I said; things begin to blur at conventions.

At 4 PM we went to the Mundania Press Publisher Spotlight. There were only about three other people there, but the dialog was compatible. Then came the RT Book Reviews awards Ceremony, where we chatted with the owner of the magazine who, if I'm not confused, is Kathryn Falk. The host magazine, RT BOOK REVIEWS, does review a lot of science fiction and fantasy. I like the way they organize it, and I will subscribe. Then they started calling out names for their awards. I was the second, for Pioneer of Genre Fiction, I being as far as I know the first to have an original paperback fantasy novel, Ogre, Ogre, make the national bestsellers lists. Thereafter others did, and fantasy is today a far more important genre than it was before then. There was a confusion, and they had me step up before the first scheduled recipient, though she was right there. Confused, I asked "Am I supposed to say something?" Apparently so, so I stepped to the podium, and couldn't see the audience; the lighting made it become a pool of darkness. That was further offputting. I gave a brief credit to the woman who put me on that bestseller list, the late Judy-Lynne del Rey, who was physically a dwarf standing about three and a half feet tall, but a giant in publishing, forever changing the impact of SF/F genre fiction. She was a fun person; my daughters knew and liked her. After her, those who only thought they knew how to do it took over again, and Del Rey faded as an imprint. When I say Judy-Lynne is dead, I mean a whole remarkable publishing attitude is gone. At any rate, they had many other awards; there are more varieties of Romance genre fiction than I can track.

One thing I noticed during the day and the convention was their Mr. Romance contestants: handsome young men, most with long hair, who were models for cover artists. They men carefully escorted each person to the dais for the awards, and circulated generally at other times. The convention was 95% women, and they loved those models. We did not stay for their contest, but one of them was a fan of mine, and we posed together for a picture at his request. Someone else remarked that that was the first time she'd seen one of those hunks as a fan of someone else. Do you suppose if I let my hair loose I could be a cover model? If they wanted septuagenarians? No? Sigh.

Friday evening we took the Mundania/Phaze folk out to dinner. I regretted again that Dan Reitz could not be there. Saturday morning (I think) we chatted with an author who described how she had set back her teenaged son. "Girls suck!" he exclaimed, evidently because of a bad experience. "They do if you're lucky," she responded, flooring him. Moral: don't mouth off in the presence of on Erotic Romance author, even if she is your mother.

Saturday was the big 300 author book signing. They gave me a separate table, which was just as well, because the first hour was solid, the second spotty, but all of the piled copies of Two to the Fifth, A Spell for Chameleon, Key to Havoc, Dragon's Gold, and Pornucopia sold out. I hope the people who bought them are not disappointed. I did warn them about the nature of the last one.

In the afternoon I had a five minute back massage in the lobby. I give my wife massages, but haven't had any myself; I wanted to pick up on technique. The massage itself did not seem special, but the effect lingered. Okay, now I know. In the evening we packed, and the convention was largely over.

Sunday morning we had breakfast, organized, turned in our room keys, and headed for home, a drive of about one and a half hours. We picked up mail and shopped for groceries. Home at last, we were greeted by the smell of hidden dead rat in the garage, a big load of accumulated email and regular mail, and newspapers. Then back to real life, including getting the trees along our long drive trimmed back, threat of a swine flu epidemic (and we have feral pigs on our tree farm), and a dentist visit. O joy.

I read The Sword and the Pen by Elysa Hendricks, who gave me an autographed copy at the RT Convention; she's a fan of mine. This is a fantasy adventure with a nice twist: the leading female character of a fantasy novelist appears in his mundane world. Naturally she doesn't understand it; our modern conveniences seem like powerful magic to her. I don't think her appearance is ever explained, but it's an interesting interaction. After a number of mischances he falls for her, and there's a sex scene of the kind I prefer: not bypassed by an ellipsis. Why can't all fiction be like this? Then in the second part the author finds himself in her world, which he has crafted but really doesn't understand too well. He has marked her for death, to finish the series, but changes his mind, yet finds it hard to change the original story. As a writer myself, I understand; revisions can be complicated, because there are so many internal interactions in a novel. At any rate, I enjoyed the novel; it's certainly not formula. She seems to update her Web site every one or two months with news of her latest. www.elysahendricks.com.

We saw a movie: X Origins Wolverine. From reviews we expected something disjointed and confusing. It was better than that; it followed a single protagonist and was roughly chronological. Those are two devices for clarity that many movie makers seem to have forgotten. There was much violence, but since the point was to show why this man was bitter, it was effective: he had reason. It wasn't a great movie, but it was good enough, and we did enjoy it. There was a complication, however: during the previews the sound ceased. We notified the management, and someone came and turned it back on. But then it quit again, and they couldn't fix it, so the whole theater-ful—all five of us—moved to an adjacent theater and picked it up half an hour later, seeing the previews again, this time with sound. Sound does make a difference.

I read Shannon Maguire: the Crown of Muirnin by Jim Paul. This is the manuscript of an aspiring writer's Fantasy Romance, and it has some problems, but I should think that devotees of the genre should like it. It's the story of an American teen girl who discovers when someone tries to kill her that she is a princess in an alternate fantasy realm. Her parents, the rightful rulers, have already been killed. She has to struggle to stay alive, literally, while learning the mechanisms of government. Naturally there's an evil prince who wants her out of the way so he can take over. The elements are fairly standard, but well enough handled. The author was influenced by some of mine, such as having a telepathic equine (the Mode series), and you know, a girl can hardly have a better friend than a mind-reading unicorn.

I read Spellwright by Blake Charlton, sent to me by TOR for blurbing. This is a different kind of fantasy. The author is dyslexic—there seems to be a lot of that in writers, myself not necessarily excepted—so I'll clarify that it seems to be a difficulty in seeing print exactly as it is, leading to chronic misspelling and confused words. In this case the protagonist, Nicodemus, is in training to be a spellwright, which is a kind of magician—the novel has its own refined terminology—but commands must be correctly spelled or they mess up. The analogy I think of is computer commands: you make one little mistake, and you can trash your file, send your private diary accidentally online, or shut down the system. So you have to do it right; the machine is literal minded and unforgiving. In this novel textual commands become all manner of effects including animate creatures like golems or gargoyles, which can assist you or bite your ass. So it's really important to get it right. The protagonist is severely dyslexic, and can't spell worth a damn. Oh, he tries, but his very presence can cause correctly spelled documents to become typo-ridden. This is magic, remember, familiar as this particular effect may be to mundane writers. So he has a problem. But he perseveres, hoping that somehow someway eventually he'll be able to get it right. There are indications that he could be vitally important if he succeeds. However, this is not an easy story to get into, because it is not familiar magic; this business of written texts being devised within the arms, then flipped out to become animate creatures or curses which, when countered, deconstruct into fragments of text is tricky to follow at first. There are friends and enemies and a host of assorted officials in a complicated societal structure that I found confusing at first. There is only the barest hint of potential romance. But in time the underlying story came into focus, and it's a good one. You need an apt mind (or perhaps a dyslexic one) to properly assimilate this novel, but it is worth it.

The following entry is more than 3,000 words long, about a personal quarrel, so if you are not interested in the subject, skip down a few pages, beyond the unspaced paragraphs, to resume my normal column.

As regular visitors to this HiPiers site know, I maintain on ongoing survey of electronic publishers and related services, including self publishing. This is simply a public service from which I obtain no benefit except the satisfaction of helping writers find avenues to decent publication. It takes a good deal of my time. We updated it every two months, about to become monthly, because we're on dialup here in the hinterlands, so online access is slow and ties up our phone. We pay to have the regular updates posted by the webmistress. So I'm not eager to make spot updates between times. I have received many expressions of appreciation from authors who found good publishers or avoided bad ones. I do it in part because I believe it needs to be done, and not many writers have the resources I do to tell the truth. As I put it in the introduction: I do not check with publishers before running positive or negative feedback on them; this survey is of the nature of a review, and anonymity of sources is maintained. If I may summarize the general gist of publisher responses to bad reviews, it is "You're a liar! We'll sue! Tell us who blabbed so we can destroy them. Who the hell are you to make such judgments anyway?!" The anonymity is to ensure that publishers can't retaliate against wronged writers who speak out. I know about retaliation, having been blacklisted for six years, 1969-75, by a traditional print publisher when I objected to being cheated. I am immune to that now, as my livelihood does not depend on electronic publishing, and I have the will and the means to handle any likely legal assault. In sum, I can't be shut up by threats. Do you think I exaggerate about publishers' reactions? That some don't really try to intimidate or silence anyone who spells out their more shady actions? That they don't use abusive language, threats, and sometimes legal action? Then this discussion may be a revelation. Publish America sued Preditors & Editors, a longstanding lister and rater of publishers, and—here is the scary part—won. This seems to confirm what I was told by a lawyer back in 1969, that I could be sued, and lose, for telling the truth. Huh? In America? Here is the key: it takes truth and a good lawyer to prevail. I took that advice to heart, and since then have made sure to have both when I get into it. So anyone who wants to shut me up for telling the truth today will soon discover they have caught a rattlesnake by the tail. My object, if attacked, is not merely to defend my position, but to make the attacker sorry he/she/it ever tackled me. To make an example everyone will appreciate, especially rogue publishers. Without that militant stance, my Survey would suffer inevitable erosion of relevance and eventually become pointless.

But some folk are slow to catch on. This time it's Angela Hoy of Booklocker.com, who followed my gist-of-publisher-response summation as if reading from a script. I have a long entry on this publisher, giving positive and negative reports and detailing Angela's prior effort to silence me and how I stiff-armed her about five years ago (you can read the entry in the Survey), but did correct the record on one charge that seemed to lack substance, that of whether she was promoting her own books at the expense of others. I concluded: So the question is whether this is a good publisher with a few disgruntled authors out of many, or one that sometimes treats writers in an arbitrary or unfair manner. Both may be true; I suspect that is the case. There followed more reports, positive and negative. I believe I have been tough but fair with her as I have with other publishers. Then came my February 2009 update: More negatives. It is said that proprietress Angela Hoy has not been published anywhere but here and that she is not a good writer. That she misuses stock photos for promotion, and that BookLocker's claim to be the cheapest POD house is untrue; Create Space is cheaper, being essentially free. That despite its claims BookLocker really does not discriminate in what it publishes, and that it arranges to plant positive and negative comments on Amazon about particular authors' books. That the publisher threatens critics with lawsuits to shut them up, and trashes their reputations. I don't know how much of this is true, and some would be tricky to prove, but there is a smell, and my prior dealings with BookLocker suggest there is some substance at least to the charge that they threaten critics. Because, of course, Angela had threatened me exactly that way, so I knew that much was true. My whole report was true: I had a statement from what struck me as a credible source, and expressed it carefully, as you can see. I was told these things, but lack direct personal knowledge of aspects of the case, so acknowledge the possibility of error. However, the problem with anonymity is that it can serve as a cover for anyone with a private grudge to make false charges with impunity. Since I may not be in a position to be certain of the truth, as in this case, I compromise by running both the charges and their refutations, in due course, so readers can judge for themselves. I think this is about as fair as I can be, in such a situation. My interest is in the truth, whatever it may be, as nearly as it can be ascertained. Sometimes it is a matter of opinion, such as whether Angela is a good writer. It will not serve the public interest to have all negatives suppressed at the publisher's will. This ongoing Survey is valid only to the extent it covers pros and cons. Otherwise it would be a whitewash. If anonymity of sources is not honored, sources will tend to disappear. Errant publishers will be able to cheat writers with near impunity, knowing individual writers don't have the resources to sue, as was the case with me when I was blacklisted. The Survey would become no more useful in this respect than Angela's own site is. In the larger arena, it is why journalists need a shield law. Sometimes it is the government itself trying to shut them up. In Latin America and Asia some areas are notorious for silencing truth-telling journalists by killing them. There are deadly sharks out there, and truth is their enemy.

Angela did not like this report. She said she does not threaten critics with lawsuits. Well, as I reported before: Angela said "What you are doing is illegal," and said she was turning this matter over to her attorney. That certainly smelled like a legal threat to me, and it irritated me. It is best not to make threats unless you are prepared to make good on them, especially when you are dealing with me. I have been to law more than once, and always won my case, sometimes making the other party pay for my defense, as once when the lawsuit against me was completely spurious. (They were suing my agent's clients without cause, merely to get at our agent, a dirty tactic. I fought back.) I suspect I am about as tough minded in this respect as any person is, as I state openly and often, and as those who have opposed me may verify. However, per my normal course, I said I would post her refutation in my June 2009 update, and I have done so. Most publishers have been satisfied with that. The fact is, most reports I run on publishers, positive and negative, turn out to be accurate, and I correct the ones that are mistaken. Some of the loudest screamers among publishers turn out to be the worst ones, as corroborations come in. Maybe that makes sense. A good publisher doesn't fear the truth.

But not Angela. She responded with a conjecture about who had made the negative reports, (see tell us who blabbed, above) and concluded "Your statement that you won't post an update until next month means the false allegations will continue to harm our business until you post that update. That is not fair and I'd appreciate an immediate update to your website." Well, maybe, but I saw no reason to change my established policy merely because one publisher did not like a report. After all, what I have reported about Booklocker is at least in part true from my own experience, as mentioned above, and for all I know, wholly true. The issue is still being debated. I responded with a summary of my experience with blacklisting, concluding "So I well understand your frustration. However, I am not lying about you or anyone. I am reporting what I am privately told, and running corrections when I get them. I do the same for all publishers; there is no bias against you. If you tried to take legal action I would establish the inherent objectivity of the service I perform, and possibly require you to pay for the legal expense in refuting you..." This was no bluff; my patience with her was eroding, and I have done exactly that elsewhere, as mentioned above. I concluded "You will have to be satisfied with that." In short, no preferential treatment for her just just because she couldn't wait her turn. It had taken her more than three months to notice the update; she couldn't wait three weeks?

Back she came, on the attack, foam fairly dripping from her muzzle. "Are you now, or have you ever been, on the Board of Directors at Xlibris, which competes directly with many of the publishers you've criticized on your website? Is it also true that you removed all negative comments you'd previously posted about AuthorHouse and iUniverse when Author Solutions (owner of AuthorHouse and iUniverse) purchased Xlibris?" Note the parallel phrasing to the notorious McCarthy Era of American history in the 1950s: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a Communist?" Those so challenged tended to get blacklisted out of business, regardless of the truth of the matter, until the US Army, in perhaps its finest legal battle, showed Joe McCarthy up for the crazy fool he was. My patience eroded further, and I showed my irritation. "You're not much for doing your homework, are you? Check my HiPiers column for FeBlueberry 2009, wherein I discuss the whole history of Xlibris and my involvement, when I have been open about it throughout. But, specifically: yes, I was for several years on the Xlibris board of directors, but I posted negative as well as positive comments about it, as I do for all the publishers I list. On occasion I intervened to correct a foulup that the regular process didn't, as I went straight to the top. I am now simplifying my posted histories because new ownership makes them less relevant. My ongoing survey is intended to assist writers in finding potential markets, electronic or self publishing. They may be in competition with each other, but my listing is an inclusive service. What part of this don't you understand?"

Well, apparently she didn't understand most of it. "I don't see any disclaimer at the top of your publisher webpage that admits you are or were on the board of directors at Xlibris, which competes directly with companies you openly criticize (and carelessly post lies about) on your website. If you can drive business away from the other publishers to Xlibris, you, of course, can/did profit directly. Not publishing a disclaimer to this effect at the top of your page is dishonest, deceptive, and unethical, to say the least. I did notice your very small statement under the Xlibris listing...but it is 75% down on a very long webpage, where most people won't see it. Many will have already decided not to work with the companies you've posted lies about further up the page, and may never see the statement about your investment in Xlibris. From your note below, I understand that, instead of posting all complaints about Xlibris, which you are/were part owner of, you intervened and helped fix some of the problems. You didn't do this for all the other publishers. So, it's obvious you were giving favorable treatment to Xlibris all along. After AuthorHouse/Author Solutions purchased Xlibris, you promptly removed complaints about AuthorHouse and about iUniverse (also owned by Author Solutions) from your webpage, despite the fact that ownership of those firms didn't change at all. Author Solutions bought Xlibris, not the other way around. Removing complaints about firms associated with Author Solutions, just because they purchased Xlibris, which you are or have been a part-owner of, is biased. You've admitted you post anonymous complaints about companies. Some of those alleged complaints were submitted by people who never did business with the publishers. These could be ex-employees, ex-spouses, or even unethical competitors. You don't check facts, nor even attempt to contact the publisher in question before posting lies about them. You post libelous comments at random, with no regard for the quality or accuracy of the information you are imparting on your readers. You simply do not care. When a publisher does send a rebuttal, you don't immediately remove the lies, which makes you a party to the libel and the resulting damages. You might post a correction later, at a time convenient for you ('next month'), further down on your webpage, but you don't remove the original lie and, by that time, damage has already been done. If you don't like the publisher's response, even if they are correct and justified in their anger about the libel, you might even write an unprofessional response about them on your webpage, instead of apologizing for harming their reputation. From comments I've read from other publishers, it appears there are other victims of your malicious, unprofessional and biased behavior as well. A better response from you would have been, I am very sorry, Ms. Hoy. The lies I posted about you could have easily been proved as such with just a few minutes of research online. I will immediately remove the libelous statements from my website and will issue a public apology for the harm I have caused you.' Instead you refused to immediately remove the lies you posted about me, and basically told me, in a professional way, to screw myself."

Did I mention eroding patience? My involvement with Xlibris dated from 1997, before I started the Survey of electronic publishers, and I think before Booklocker and most of the others came on the scene, and it was for the same reason: to facilitate avenues of publication for aspiring writers who otherwise may have little chance. Typically I tell them to try the big print publishers, or small press, then the electronic publishers, and if they still get nowhere, consider self publishing. I recommended Lulu, which starts free, or Amazon's Create Space, which seems to be the best bargain extant. When queried directly about Xlibris, I said it was honestly run and delivered good service, but that I, with a financial interest in it, might not be the best authority. I did not intervene with other publishers because I was not on their boards of directors and had no leverage. (Duh.) I did not list my involvement with Xlibris at the top of my Survey because that was not where such a statement belonged; I listed it in the entry on Xlibris itself. The same goes for Mundania Press, where I still have a financial involvement, and I did for Pulpless.com, where I lost a bundle. I also mention it when I do business with a publisher, such as the late Venus, or eXcessica, or Cobblestone, identifying it as a conflict of interest. Actually, my email suggests that some people come to the publishers with which I associate because of my presence there, rather than being repelled. So a notice at the top the the list might well betaken as advertising for those publishers. Angela's statement, taken as a whole, is an unjustified attack on my motives and ethics. Apparently to her any criticism of her operation, however valid, is a malicious lie. Is it any wonder I honor anonymity? If she comes at me like this, how do you suppose she comes at critics who lack my resolution and resources? Her tirade is solid evidence that my policy is justified. Interestingly, there are now online ratings of doctors, where the same questions arise, anonymity vs. blacklisting, and some doctors are trying to get them shut down, but the consensus is that they are here to stay. Even Wikipedia sometimes has to shut down its free editing policy, as in the entry on Scientology: the pro- and anti- factions are so constantly engaged in "edit wars," neither side much interested in an objective assessment, that the proprietor has become exasperated and is squelching some offending sites. I don't need that kind of activity in my Survey. So I stopped trying to be halfway polite. "Bluntly: you are implying I am a liar and you are freely attributing false motives to me. You are obliquely threatening me. It is interesting to see the way your mind works. If you continue to annoy me by doing what you falsely accuse me of, I will discuss this matter, quoting you in my column. I prefer not to take legal action to swat a fly, but I don't rule it out. I suggest that you take care what you are soliciting." I think that's a warning it would be difficult to misunderstand. My tolerance for verbal abuse is limited. And yes, overall I was suggesting that she take a flying fornication at the moon, as I typically do in such cases, showing my contempt for her unwarranted barrage.

But Angela rose to the occasion with yet another tirade. She repeated that I published lies about her (see you're a liar! above), that by my refusal to remove them I became a party to them, and hinted that I might be profiting by using such lies to steer people away from other publishers to Xlibris. "You removed complaints about AuthorHouse and iUniverse when the owner of those companies, Author Solutions, purchased Xlibris. This is irrefutable and easily proven using Internet archives (which I have already screen-captured)." And so on, refusing to believe that I was simply giving the new owner a new slate, now that I have no financial involvement in any of it. It is my belief, without proof, that the owner intends to fold the other two publishers into Xlibris, because it has superior organization, personnel and facilities. Thus the proprietor may convert a losing operation into a winning one, guided by Xlibris. When I get reports on how the new conglomerate is doing, I will run them. And she remained mad that I still hadn't apologized to her, as if I were the one at fault. One almost has to admire such gall. She actually believed that such outrageous charges and threats would make an experienced and knowledgeable antagonist back off? She had a lesson coming. I responded: "I did warn you. Now I will discuss this matter in my June 2009 column. You brought it on yourself." And here it is. Will she, like Joe McCarthy, foolishly venture into the legal arena against one who is trying to maintain a public service despite harassment, and has blood on his sword? How strong is her death wish? Stay tuned. You can track her side of it at www.writersweekly.com, under the heading "Piers Anthony's Anonymous Source is a Liar." Hell hath no fury...

In fact I am already receiving feedback from readers of her discussion there, who seem to be as weak on research and accuracy she is. Such as this from one who claimed to have researched me: "But when on top of that, one takes into account your history of economic involvement with Xlibris, one is bound to conclude that you are unethical as well as irresponsible. Furthermore, your bully tactics against a person defamed by you are loathsome..." As if it was a crime to openly invest in Xlibris, and as if Angela is an abused innocent who does not accuse others of being liars when it may be a simple difference of opinion. Take a look at her site and see how often she does that. It reminds me of a long-ago cartoon of a boy explaining the fight: "It all started when he hit me back." I do hit back. But responses don't necessarily support Angela. Here is one: "What's weird is she has set up her site as some 'Better Business Bureau' for books and decides when to meddle in the affairs of others, but she certainly doesn't want to have people meddle in hers." Yes; did I mention glass houses?

In sum: I treated Angela exactly as I treat any electronic publisher in my Survey, requiring her to wait her turn on rebuttal. She threw a tantrum.

Meanwhile came a frustration of another nature. My wife has a bicycle she uses for exercise, riding around the loop in front of our house. That was fine, until it got a flat rear tire. Okay, I took it down, removed the thorn, and fixed it the old fashioned way, with rubber cement and a patch. That held. Months later came another flat, this time the front tire. Another thorn. This time I used the newfangled kind of patch that requires no cement. I had used one on my scooter tire and it held perfectly. But in an hour the tire was flat again. I checked, and I had placed the patch wrong, beside the hole instead of over it. I lacked a way to mark the spot, so that in the process of locating the hole by submerging it in water, drying it, and patching, I had lost my place. This time I measured, and placed the patch that way. It held, and she rode on it. But next morning it was flat again. So I took it down again, discovering that half of the patch had loosened, allowing the leak to resume. I applied a new patch. That held for an hour, a day, and longer. But one week later the tire was flat again. Once more half the patch had worked loose. So I patched the patch. That's not ideal, but I figured it was worth a try. An interesting thing about that front tire is that it is easy to dismount and mount: I can readily do it barehanded. I'm not sure whether that's a new design, or whether the tire is too big for the rim. No, the patched patch held only a few hours. This time we bought an old-fashioned repair kit, the kind with rubber patches and rubber cement, and used one of them for repair #5. That one held.

I read The Father of All Lies by Robert Seger, to be published by Millennial Mind Publishers, www.american-book.com. This is Historical Religious Fiction. It has a nice perspective: the history of the world as seen by Lucifer. Yes, the author has read my own For Love of Evil, featuring Satan as the Incarnation of Evil. Seger's novel is a different story, however. Its theme, in a very general way, is that God is not a nice deity; he expects absolute obedience to his every command, and the slightest deviation is grounds for extermination. Lucifer has more conscience and tries to save people, but again and again he fails. His efforts relate to such historical figures as Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and Columbus. (I didn't find Noah.) At last he concludes that only by seeking knowledge can the world's people begin to achieve independence. God will of course fight it, as he always has (remember the Inquisition?), but perhaps in time it will happen. So this is a challenging book, but not well written enough for me to endorse it completely. Read it for the perspective and ideas.

We saw the newfangled version of Star Trek. I was always a somewhat peripheral fan of the original series, because its hour long programs overlapped the TV news my wife watched, so I saw only the second halves of most of them. I never saw the subsequent series at all, so to me the original cast represents the only authentic Star Trek. Actually, the movies I see are determined by Wife #1 and Daughter #2, so it's just the luck of their choice that I got to see this one. So how does this reworked movie stack up? Actually, not badly, considering. They show the very beginning, as I'm not sure the original did, and the characters demonstrate more human emotion than I remember. Plenty of action and hokey science, including even time travel. I loved the new Uhura, with the long ponytail; if I were in the market for a girlfriend, and appearance was all that counted, she'd be near the head of the list. But I think my favorite character was Spock-the-Elder, played by the original actor; he simply came across with authority. I liked having the two of them, Elder and Younger, together, with the one advising the other.

I always had a good memories for stories, perhaps not surprising considering I'm a writer. It used to be that I could watch the middle of a TV show for 15 seconds, the recount the full story, if it was a rerun, as TV normally is. Sometimes I suspect that if the TV execs could swing it, even their new programs would consist of reruns. But that was then. Today I tend to do two or three things at once, such as reading, eating supper, and watching TV, and usually reading takes most of my attention. So now I can have trouble telling whether a given show is a rerun. But sometimes the TV does grab my attention. A shapely actress can do it, or a rare coherent story. But sometimes something comes out of left field. This happened during a Sarah Connors Terminator episode. I like the lady robot, so tend to watch her, though the rest of it seems to be increasingly far-fetched. In this case, there was a male character I hadn't noticed, and a little girl whose presence I didn't fathom. They sat facing each other across a table, and he was singing something like "Donny, where's your trousers?" After a while she started joining in, and it was just the cutest thing. I have no idea why, or how such a song contributed to the larger story, if it did, but if I catch a rerun on that, I'll pay more attention.

I do odd mental accounts. That is, I add up things that would hardly make sense to any normal person. Remember when I balked at getting a tooth repaired, when I learned it would cost me $4,000 to fix half a tooth? So now I have (another) gap in my mouth. Well, I have said that I could surely find better uses for that amount of money than fixing one tooth. That lingered in my mind, and now I have the half-tooth account: in my mind half that money went to pay for a semester's college education for a female prisoner who is trying to better herself for when she gets out, and half went for home improvements: getting that taller TV tower so we could get Digital TV, and getting the trees around our house and along our long drive trimmed back so that delivery trucks can get in and storms won't bash the branches into the house and knock off more tiles. So, in essence, half public service, half for us. Overall, much better use for that money.

Words interest me. I'm still learning new ones, and new aspects of old ones. For exactly, fait accompli, meaning something already done, sometimes sneakily, in pronounced with an N. Fe-ta-kon-PLE. Accented on the last syllable, and no M there. How did that happen? All my big dictionaries agree, so it must be so. I will try to correct my errant pronunciation.

Interesting news item: there's a question about pesticide contamination in Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The companies swear it's not true, but in India they are spraying these beverages on their crops, and they work. It seems these drinks are cheaper than regular pesticide spray, so it makes economic sense.

J G Ballard died. He was well known in the science fiction genre and highly regarded. Less so by me, because he seemed like a one-string guitar: all his science fiction seemed to consist of destroying the world. The Crystal World had crystals overgrowing it; The Wind from Nowhere had wind doing it; The Drowned World saw it flooded out. Naturally critics loved this destruction, but I craved greater variety and less pessimism. It was only when I saw the movie based on his autobiography, Empire of the Sun, that I came to understand his basis. He lived in China as a child when the Japanese invaded, and he saw his world destroyed. That evidently made a considerable impression on him. However, he was a skilled writer, and I understand his mainstream books, though similarly negative, had more variety. So I acknowledge him as a significant figure in the field, if not to my taste.

Newspaper article by David Brooks comments on a longitudinal study of 268 promising young men entering Harvard College in the late 1930s. They were bright, polished, affluent, well-adjusted, and ambitious. Surely they were destined for success. Uh, no. Some outstanding ones had lives of failure and doom. A third of them had bouts of mental illness. Alcoholism was a "running plague." And the must mundane personalities often produced the most solid success. How could this be? This interests me, because though I never went near Harvard, I was nothing as a child and as a student, pretty much through college, yet had perhaps the most noticeable success in life while the more promising students in my schools seem to have faded out. Is there a formula? I did a paper in high school trying to discover the common factor in the origin of the world's most notorious leaders, and concluded that it was impossible to tell by a person's youth how he would turn out in maturity. For example, Adolf Hitler aspired to be an architect. He didn't make it, but he may have been responsible for killing six million Jews. That sort of thing remains true in this more authoritative study. The study's overseer concludes that relationships are the key to happiness. "Happiness is love. Full Stop," he says. Can it really be that simple? Should I attribute my success to my nigh 53 year long marriage and my close (as writers go) relationship to my readers? I suspect there is something else.

Newspaper item: why don't stars personally answer their fan mail? Because of fears following a rash of stalker incidents, including kidnapping threats and once a suicide outside a star's home. That's the problem: stalkers can be dangerous to themselves or their targets. I think this applies mainly to movie/TV stars, but politicians can also be targeted, and the more successful writers. I do answer my mail personally, penciling answers on printouts, but try to keep my address and phone number off the Internet so that fans can't just drop in on me. Usually they just want to take my time, as if I have nothing better to do with it, such as earning my living, but sometimes they want more. I have had a number of love letters over the years, and a few hate letters; I am cautious about meeting either type of person in person. Should a big Xanth movie finally connect, as it almost did last year, making me ten times as famous, I well might have to stop being personal.

I finally set up a PayPal account so I can buy things on the Internet. I was assured it was easy, but I was sure it wouldn't be. I was born in another century, in another country; things don't work for me the way they do for natives. So I collected all the information I might possibly need, and oriented on the Paypal site. After five attempts, all of which failed—it simply refused to load for me—I took a break. Did I mention how things don't work for me? Later in the day I tried again, and this time got it. But every time I tried to learn something, I had to wait minutes for it to load in the new information, which turned out not to be relevant. Finally I started the signup process, and naturally it asked questions that weren't on my list. Also, the print was so small, even when I expanded to full screen, that I was unable to proofread properly, and had to return twice to redo items. But finally I got through it, and got an email confirmation with more questions. So now I have a PayPal account, and all it took me was an hour and a quarter of frustration. Welcome to the 21st Century!

I received an email with the provocative question "Should collared shirts be compulsory on the golf course?" There followed seven pictures of healthy short-skirted, bare-breasted young women making golf shots. Conclusion: "No, I didn't think so either."

I received letters from Loren Blalock relating to the route the Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto took through America. Tatham Mound, the major novel of my career, relates, as de Soto becomes a character in it. Not everyone realizes that he wasn't so much interested in exploring America as in looking for gold and damn well meant to find it. He had about 600 men in his party, and a number of attack dogs that were used to intimidate the native Americans—the Indians—or kill them when they refused to tell where the gold was hidden. Some dogs were trained to attack the genitals: a rather effective threat. Thus the truth, that there was no gold, cost much pain and many lives. My protagonist, an Indian man, and his young daughter were captured in Florida, and he was made to serve as a guide. If he did not do well, his daughter would be killed. So he did his best, until they were able to escape. Thus this portion of my novel, showing de Soto as he was: a tough, effective, greedy, and unscrupulous leader. We facilitated things by largely financing the excavation and curation (study) of the artifacts of Tatham Mound, which was discovered unmolested in Citrus County, Florida, not far from where we live. The University of Florida handled it, under the direction of Dr. Milanich, and our daughter participated as a volunteer. I believe several doctorates came out of that project, and much was learned about the local Tocobaga tribe, also known as the Safety Harbor culture of the sixteenth century. It was a worthwhile enterprise, and my novel animating a few of the skeletons found therein was only a fraction of it. The Tocobaga suffered a massive die-off at that time, and glass beads brought from Spain by de Soto to trade with the natives were found in the burial mound. From this I concluded that de Soto passed close by, and that the diseases his party brought, like smallpox, wiped out the Indians. In fact the Indian population of North America was thought to be about 40 million, 95% of whom were killed by the white man's plagues. It was one of history's greatest near-genocides, which most Americans prefer to pretend didn't happen. So my novel is a tragedy, as is Native American history. Naturally my readers prefer Xanth.

There has been some question concerning the route actually taken by de Soto's party. I am no expert here, my participation being largely financial and fictional, but I can say that there have been some fierce debates about exactly where de Soto landed—Tampa Bay or farther south—and exactly where he traveled through Florida and on into the mainland proper. Actual physical evidence is scant, and narratives of the time differ. So any actual artifacts found along that route would be supremely important. Loren Blaylock, if I understand his position adequately, found an artifact with de Soto's name on it—the only such ever found—near St. Augustine, on the other side of the state. But the authorities won't look at it because, Blaylock suspects, it would place de Soto's actual trail elsewhere from what they have decided. It certainly would!

Okay. My interest is in the truth, whatever it may be. So I contacted Dr. Milanich to inquire. He responded that he was familiar with Blaylock's artifact, and had looked at it personally, and concluded that it was not authentic. Dr. Milanich, in contrast to me, is in a position to have an informed opinion, and I'm not about to challenge it. There are sophisticated mechanisms for analyzing and dating artifacts, and if they put the authenticity in question, I accept that. But I do know how resistive scientists are to anything that challenges their preset notions. Consider the impact of plate tectonics on the "known" fact that the continents were always where they are now. The resistance to the theory of evolution that continues to this day. Examples abound. So if de Soto landed across the state from where present texts say, there would be similar resistance. I'm with the established order on this one, and not just because I patterned my novel on it, but am cautious. There may be surprises yet.

I mentioned in passing my interest in obtaining a bibliography of Andre Norton, last column. Several readers sent me links. Now I know that she published around 155-180 books, the number nebulous because of problems how to count them. Does an anthology she provided an introduction to count? What about omnibus volumes containing three of her novels already listed? What about retitled and republished novels? What about novelettes published as individual books? So it's spongy. But I do appreciate the information from readers.

I answer each letter as I deem appropriate. Each one is from a person, regardless of age, gender, or station. Here is my answer to Kristen Champion, self explanatory:

You wrote a remarkably literate letter for a middle school student, with some thoughtful questions. I wall answer them as well as I am able.

Originally I typed two-finger on the QWERTY keyboard layout. Then I changed to the more efficient Dvorak layout, and learned touch. A decade later, when they stopped making good manual typewriters, I computerized. That was in 1984. But I have to say I have never matched my speed and accuracy of two-finger. That was about 30 words a minute. However, it is much easier to make corrections on the computer, and I don't have to retype pages, so overall it is faster.

I think I sleep about 7 hours a night. It's hard to judge, because I'm a morning person and my wife is a night person, and since her illness a few years ago I make most meals and stay up until she retires. So I get up around 5:15 AM and turn in around 12:45 AM at night. But I fall asleep in my easy chair in the evening, and get in a couple hours from about 10:30-12:30. That adds up to about 6.5 hours. And yes, you need more sleep—and not in class.

I think my talent is creative writing.

What would Xanth's mascot be? I never thought about that before. A mascot is any person, animal, or thing that is supposed to bring good luck. Dragons abound in Xanth, but they abound everywhere in fantasy, so are not original enough for my taste. The name Xanth means yellow, so maybe something yellow. Xanth also has naughty humor, unlike most other fantasy. I've got it: yellow panties, to freak out any man, boy, or mother of teens. They empower any girl who flashes them, in and out of Xanth. Don't they?

I already know what the next three Xanths are about, following #32 Two to the Fifth, which is now in hardcover. #33 is Jumper Cable, about a descendant of Jumper Spider who must repair a special cable with the help of 7 maidens. #34 is Knot Gneiss, about Jumper's friend Wenda Woodwife, who has a nymphly front but no back, being hollow from behind, who speaks with the forest dialect: "I wood knot dew that to yew." She has to transport a boulder made of petrified reverse wood that naturally terrifies (petrifies) everyone else. #35 will be Well-Tempered Clavicle, a pun on the musical piece Well-Tempered Clavier. A clavier is an ancient sort of piano. This one's about a walking skeleton, the son of Marrow Bones, who discovers he can remove his clavicle (shoulder bone) and use it to tap beautiful music on his ribs. The music is so lovely that Princess Dawn falls in love with him. Unfortunately her nice bones are covered with shapely flesh, so she's not his type.

I like words, unsurprisingly. New Scientist had one, Agnotology, the study of deliberately created ignorance, such as the falsehoods about evolution that are spread by creationists. Okay, so I looked it up in my dictionaries. Not there. I did find Agnoiology, the study of ignorance. Did New Scientist typo it, or invent a variant?

Article by Bob Herbert described the military's great shame: how it handles rape. A female army officer was attacked in her bed by a superior officer intent on raping her. She fought him off, then tried to prefer charges. When she persisted, they threatened to prefer changes against her for assault of the man she resisted. It is estimated that up to 80% of military rapes go unreported, and those that are reported generally bring wrist-slap punishment. It's a situation that could be ameliorated if the military wanted to. There's the rub. "Real change, drastic change, will have to be imposed from outside the military. It will not come from within." I served two years in the army, 1957-59, and while I saw no rapes, I saw plenty else, and have to agree; it's a locked-in culture.

We saw the movie Night at the Museum, the sequel, celebrating Wife & Daughter's birthdays. It was wild and fun, though I'm not sure better than the original, because it had so much going on at once, and not much of a story line. Essentially, they were closing down the old familiar exhibits, which was like killing them. Naturally something had to be done. Meanwhile Pharaoh, sounding much like the proprietor of the TV series So You Think You Can Dance, criticizing the performance of everyone else, wanted to conquer the world, and there were battles throughout. And the famed female aviator Amelia Earhart got a thing for the night watchman protagonist, and she was a pretty girl with a tight bottom and a feisty attitude. So we enjoyed it, but I don't regard it as one for the ages.

I am making notes for Xanth #35, Well-Tempered Clavicle, summarized above. The protagonist is Picka Bones, traveling with his sister Joy'nt. I have encountered a stupid obstacle: I have forgotten how walking skeletons reproduce. Princess Dawn needs to know, just in case she can get Picka's attention. Sure she knows anything about anything alive, but Picka is not exactly alive. So I go to the source of all information, my readers, who often know more about Xanth than I do. I'll give a small credit in the novel to the first few who tell me how skeletons make children, and where it is told in what Xanth novel. That way I can spare my aging brain some strain.

I have a story, "Knave," in Cobblestone's Wicked line. It has sold about 20 copies so far, strictly small peanuts. But I enjoyed writing it, and have other ideas that might be similarly published. So I realized it was time to do some homework. That's why I set up my PayPal account. I went to Cobblestone and bought 6 other stories in the same line mine is. I could name them, but prefer just to say that they enabled me to zero in on their standard sexual vocabulary—Cock seems to be the operative term for penis, sometimes Dick, and Pussy or Cunt for vagina, sometimes Hole, and Ass for the male or female region. Clit. Tit. Fuck for the activity, along with assorted alternates. Cum for ejaculate. Each story is well written, with few typos, and represents a single man/woman sex sequence in a particular setting, graphically described, told from the female viewpoint. (Mine is male viewpoint.) The settings can be interesting, involving time travel, shape changing, satanic but virile men, fantasy bondage, and so on. The women typically have an eagerness for sex rivaling that of the men, which is part of the nature of erotic fantasy. You seldom find that in real life. Their desire is stimulated by how the men look, rather than their character. That, too, is hardly the way real women are. Daring? Pushing the edge? Not by my definition. It's just male fantasy sex. They remind me of the erotic videos I have gotten, where they have different settings containing 10-15 minute in/out sex scenes that could have occurred anywhere. No stories to speak of, just women moaning in delight from the mere penetration of a penis. Again, not realistic. I like sex, but I also like stories, and ideally the realistic merger of the two, but some of my notions might freak out the clientèle for what I see here. So at this juncture I'm not sure I'll write more for this market, worthy as it may be for those of more limited imagination. But we'll see; there are other publishers to sample.

I continue with my exercises. My runs are abysmally slow compared to last year; I'm not sure why, but suspect the wet weather. My archery—well, the last session prior to editing this column, counting scores to the center of the target as +1 and misses of the whole target as -1, was 3-7 right side, and 1-11 left side, and one arrow was lost. Again. Why do I bother? Because the point is the exercise, not the time or score, and the exercise keeps me reasonably fit, considering my age. Similarly I exercise my mind, doing newspaper puzzles and things like this column, avidly reading science magazines, as well as writing stories and novels.

So I'll see you again on one month, I trust at considerably briefer length than this 15,600 word effort.

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