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I read MARAKELLUS MARAKELLUM Rodger's Folly by Sawyer N Winter. This is self published at Xlibris. As readers of this blog-column know, I support self publishing, because it frees authors from the often arbitrary restraints of publishers, some of whom almost seem to turn down good books in favor of bad ones, just because they can. But it does mean that just about anything can now get published, regardless of its literary or commercial merit. So do I approve publication of bad books? Yes, because literary merit is a subjective judgment, and what one editor or one generation deems bad may be rated genius by others. Consider a novel that starts riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. It gets worse. Who would ever publish that? It's about 300,000 words long, and requires a 350 page skeleton key just to try to make sense of it. It is Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, an allegory of the fall and redemption of mankind, and yes it is said to be well worth the two to four years it takes to properly read it. A work of genius. Alas, it is beyond my intellect; in two to four years I could be dead, and I have less lofty interim pursuits in mind, such as writing my own novels. Today I suspect it would have to be self published. I think of mutation, wherein 99% of the changes may be deleterious, even lethal, but the 1% that survive power the forward evolution of all living things. We would not be here today without mutation. Editors reject 99%, but the 1% they accept is not necessarily the best; natural selection operates imperfectly in publishing. So yes, we need self publishing, even if it is 99% bad, for the sake of the 1% that may otherwise be lost. For the sake of the future of literature, which is now largely governed by the Philistines.

All of which is not a direct comment on Marakellus Marakellum, which means Never Forgive, Never forget, and I am not drawing a parallel between it and Finnegans Wake. I am just making a general point in my meandering way. This novel begins with an officer, Rodger, suddenly almost overwhelmed by events such as the appearance of an odd stranger and a kestrel bird in a supposedly secure redoubt. The stranger turns out to be a powerful magician from the past, GolGanth, with his familiar, Beauty. It goes on from there, and I can't say I properly understand it, but it is a wild story of a seemingly endless war in which male and female soldiers are laboratory grown and trained, and ancient largely-invulnerable horsemen appear and wipe out whole planets. It is probably worth an undistracted reading. www.Xlibris.com.

I read White Chin by Marilyn Edwards, illustrated by France Bauduin. France sent it to me; I have corresponded with her more than twenty years; she dates from before my 1987 hard disk crash wiped out my early correspondence list. She's a Canadian now living in England, in contrast to my being an Englishman who became American. This is the story of a cat, White Chin, who is dumped in the forest as a kitten to live or die. A girl, Kirstie, sees it happen and wants to rescue White Chin, but he is understandably distrustful of human-type people and flees her. He survives by hunting birds and mice. In time he is taken in by an adult couple, but his feral ways are a constant trial to them. What's a roll of toilet paper for, if not to spread across the house? Eventually he does connect with Kirstie, and this is happiness for both of them. But this is not a sanitized children's story. White Chin is a real cat, and the details of survival and killing are not expurgated. There are also some less than wholesome illegal trappers whose mischief costs the leg of White Chin's girlfriend Adorabelle. Kirstie, being a child, is inconstant, and sometimes neglects the cat, then spends a summer away from home. White Chin winds up with her grandfather, and the two turn out to be ideal for each other, as the cat likes plenty of attention and the old man has plenty of time for it. Then Grandpa dies. In the end White Chin is back with Kirstie, both now more mature and considerate, and we trust this will continue. It's a nice story, with persuasive details, and the frequent illustrations lend it a special flavor. There are even footprints, human or feline, in lieu of asterisks, signaling whether the next viewpoint is a biped or a quadruped. So though I am not a cat personthat dates from when I saw a cat playing cat and mouse with a crippled birdI did enjoy this. We once did adopt a feral cat, who turned out to be perfectly housebroken, and I really liked heruntil she was killed by an anonymous car, breaking the heart of my then five year old daughter Penny. I thought of that cat more than once as I read about White Chin. So I recommend this novel to cat fanciers and to general readers. This is a cat story largely from the viewpoint of the cat, and aspects are eye-opening. Published by Catnip, www.catnippublishing.co.uk. France Bauduin's own site is www.thecatsofmooncottage.co.uk.

I finished writing Xanth #36 Luck of the Draw, which means I am a third of the way through the second magic trilogy. That is, 9 of its 27 novels. I can't be sure of completing the trilogy of magic trilogies, which would be 81 novels, but I'll do my best. This one features Bryce, an 80 year old Mundane widower who is cleaning out his garage when he discovers a Xanthin box that conjures him to Xanth along with a stray Service Dog, Rachel, who happened to be near him when it happens. He discovers that he has been entered in a Demon contest to find the best suitor for sixteen year old Princess Harmony, who is smart, pretty, and uncommitted. He's not interested in courting a teen girl and she's not interested in any Mundane. But he has been youthened to a physical age of 21 and given a magic talent and spelled into love with her. She will be required to choose from among six suitors, so that she can marry and slowly prepare herself to be King of Xanth a decade or so later. Demons don't pussyfoot when it comes to motivation. So these mutually unwilling participants must play it out, and they reluctantly discover worthwhile qualities in each other. But the story is not nearly ended. Yes, there are puns galore; in fact Bryce finds work helping the folk at Caprice Castle collect puns for storage, so as to reduce the corruption of Xanth. In the future folk will be punished with hard labor: pun duty. It's groaning work, but somebody has to do it, lest the pun infestation digest Xanth into a nauseous bog. This should be published in 2012.

Which reminds me: Xanth #34, Knot Gneiss, was scheduled for OctOgre, but delayed a month when the orders were more than anticipated. You should see it this month. Is this a signal that interest in Xanth is increasing? Possibly. Or it could simply mean somebody glitched a number, slipped a decimal, so the print order was wrong.

I continue to suffer lesser aftershocks as I am reminded of my late daughter Penny. When I rail internally at the unfairness of this innocent person being taken out early, I remember a song about two brothers who went to war, one for the Union, the other for the Confederacy. One was gentle and kind, but he died. A cannon ball don't pay no mind, if you're gentle or you're kind, it don't think of the folk behind, there on a beautiful morning. Cancer is a cannon ball.

No sooner had I completed one project, then others came to the fore. I am working with Evan Filipek to assemble a volume of my favorite stories, the ones that introduced me to the science fiction genre as such. It is titled One and Wonder, and will be a star-studded anthology of stories dating back fifty to sixty years or more, thus largely unknown today, with my commentary on each. Assuming we can get permissions from long dead authors. I am also collaborating with J Rain, who is currently atop the Kindle fantasy bestseller list, on an Arabian Nights fantasy about the later life of Aladdin of the Lamp. Remember, one of my first novels was an Arabian Nights adaptation, Hasan. More anon, when.

I get piles of junk mail, all of which I check before throwing it out; sometimes it's interesting. One was a catalog titled PREVAIL SPORT. It consists almost entirely of men's briefs and thongs, tight on the bottom like women's panties, bulging in the crotch, sometimes with a hand cupping the codpiece. All the men are young, handsome, muscular, bronzed. It must be for gay men. Sorry, I am locked onto women for my romantic or sexual interest. But I note how much like women the poses are, as if what they really desire, could they but recognize it, are girls.

Newspaper article on wealth: how Americans think it is spread, vs. how they think it should be spread. They think the top 20% gets almost 60%, but should get 30%. In fact its worse: the top 20% gets 84% of the money. They think the bottom 20% gets 4% but should get 10%; the bottom 60% actually gets 4%. America favors the rich with a vengeance. It's a plutocracy: government by the wealthy. Both major parties are largely corrupt, but the Democrats at least try to give the common man a break. That is actually good for business, but greed trumps that. Other bad things: America has 4% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners. Those prisoners suffer sexual abuse; in fact more men get raped than women.

Last column I remarked on how money can buy happiness, up to about $75,000. Another article says that there are several contributors to happiness, and that wealth, marriage, health, attractiveness and education account for only 10%. 50% is accounted for by our genes. What about the rest? Mainly, relationships: spending time with people we care about. Spending money or vacations. Being grateful for what we have. But increasing numbers of us have less to be grateful for. A chart of the minimum wage shows that it's not keeping pace with the cost of living, and during Republican administrations like Reagan or Bush it's a flat line: no increases. I note that when I graduated from college it was 75 cents an hour, moving up to a dollar. I had to search hard to find a job that paid $50 a week, for 50 hours a week. When summer ended I was abruptly let go, with no severance pay; it was a summer job that they had represented as permanent. I wound up in the US Army two years. Life in the trenches: I remember. Today the minimum is ten times as much, $7.25 an hour, and I think buys less. Speaking of Republicans, a column I understand is from the National Journal remarks on how conservatives the world over fully accept the widespread scientific conviction that global warming is real and bringing droughts, floods and other mischief. Only in America is an entire political party in denial, apparently wedded to the polluters and energy wasters who are causing this disaster. Which reminds me: I agree with those who say that political advertising should be vetted to ensure that it is true. As it is, as the campaigns conclude, one day before the voting (but we voted early), it seems that there is little or no concern for truth. Hell, it goes all the way up to the Supreme Court: WASHINGTON SPECTATOR says Chief Justice Roberts lied when he said he would honor stare decisis, that is, precedent, in making decisions, then went on to overturn long-established precedent, such as restricting what corporations can contribute to political ads. Shouldn't he be impeached? But it seems that lying doesn't matter, if you're not President Clinton. What a stench.

Item on author Jane Austin, renowned for her exquisite precise prose. Now it turns out that she was a sloppy writer who owed her reputation to her superior editor. I find that painful. Does this mean that editors, after all, have their uses?

When I die I want to be cremated; no zombie rotting for my remains. But it may be a wasteful used of energy. Now I learn that there is chemical cremation, a more environmentally beneficial process called alkaline hydrolysis: you get melted into goo and can be washed down the drain or used to fertilize your plants. That may be for me.

We are constantly besieged by solicitations for donations. All the causes are worthy, but if we tried to satisfy them all, we would go broke and they will still be after us for more. So we have become highly selective. Sometimes I eliminate one when it gets too pushy, such as by phoning me for three figure payments. I cut off Habitat for Humanity for that, and American Friends Service Committee, though I once worked for them. What do you know; phone solicitations suddenly ceased from all parties. I figured word would get around. I call it tough love. We give what we give, on our own schedule, and that's it. I may have remarked before that loans tend to become gifts, and gifts tend to become installments. When I came off the bestseller lists and my income dropped, so did our donations, though none of the receiving parties seemed to understand. I remember a friend who tithed to his church. Then he changed jobs and his income dropped. He explained to the pastor why his contribution would be less, and discovered no understanding there; he was required to keep paying at the original rate regardless. I pondered that, and realized that churches seem to be just as money-grubbing as other parties. I do try to tithe not to any church but as a general guide to donations, and I never commit ahead to a particular figure. Anyway, an article in US NEWS & WORLD REPORT titled How to Donate Wisely cautions about solicitations, representing themselves as good causes that do exist, but those causes are not soliciting; it's a scam borrowing their names. Make sure whatever you contribute to is legitimate. The article does not address other problems, such as the way any charity you do give to is immediately on you for more. I gave once to Second Harvest; now I get frequent solicitations for more. In fact I received two on the day I edited this column. As a result I pass up a number of worthy charities simply because I don't want to be constantly pestered for more, and have them mad at me when I finally balk. I wish they would be satisfied with what I do give them.

Remember the Iceman, Otzi? He was discovered when uncovered by a retreating glacier in the Alps and became an instant celebrity; in fact I made him a character in one of my GEODYSSEY historical novels. Now they conclude that he didn't just lie down to rest and froze to death, nor was he brought down where he stood by an arrow. He may have been taken there for ritual burial on the ridge after dying elsewhere. So the mystery of his demise is still unfolding.

NEW SCIENTIST review of a book on creativity (Sudden Genius by Andrew Robinson), concludes that creative people are complex individuals who focus on their work to the exclusion of all else. There is no royal road to creativity. I am inclined to agree. I have been called a genius by devoted fans almost as often as being considered a dunce by critics, but I merely focus on my writing. When I made it as a writer it did indeed take over my life, and I am happy to have it so. I do regard myself as one of the more creative folk extant. Even in a simple thing like a chess puzzle I am apt to come up with a solution that is different from the given one. I saved out the chess puzzle that was published in the newspaper OctOgre 3, 2010, and will describe my alternate (and superior) solution to any who are conversant. Sure, more often I get it wrong, but I remain original.

THE WEEK had an article about the secret to living past 100, and concludes that there is no pattern. Sure, don't smoke or drink, do exercise, eat properly, keep your weight downall this is good advice for average folk, and I follow it. But centenarians freely violate such rules, and outlive the clean livers. Genetics and luck seem to be the keys.

Also in THE WEEK a peek into the bedroom: Americans have undergone a second sexual revolution over the past two decades, embracing a much wider variety of activities. Today it seems that masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, and practices other than heterosexual are common. That confirms the impression I have gotten from erotic literature and movies. The Devil in Miss JonesThe Resurrection has some amazing sex, and is heavy on the anal.

Benoit Mandlebrot died. He was the mathematician who discovered the Mandlebrot set, one of the most phenomenal crossovers between math and art extant, and surely one of the most complicated pictures known. I can get lost in its fascinating recesses. I exchanged letters with him when I was writing Fractal Mode, to be sure I wasn't impinging on his intellectual property. His answer was weary: go ahead, everyone else is doing it. He was a decade older than I.

SCIENCE NEWS has an item suggesting that it wasn't marginalization by modern man that wiped out Neandertal man, but volcanoes. 40,000 years ago; some huge ones occurred in his territory, not ours. We were mostly back in Africa after the Toba blast had wiped out our Asiatic colonies, and that may have saved us. I am relieved to learn that.

They continue to learn more about Vitamin D, which isn't really a vitamin but a hormone precursor. It is one of the vital nutrients. Now that we tend to stay out of the sunlight, we are suffering ailments it can help prevent, ranging from cancer to the flu and the common cold. It does seem to be a miracle vitamin, like Vitamin C. so will there be a campaign against it by the special interests?

Mundania is about to publish Relationships 4, another collection of mostly erotic stories. I am pleased with it. The first story, Phone Sex, relates to what I first thought was a really unlikely situation, which made it a challenge: a rich handsome successful young man having an affair with a poor dowdy 50 year old housewife. How come? Well, they discover they share a phone phobia: the inability to make a call out. Yes, such a phobia exists; I had it at one point. That connection turns them on to each other as they work together to overcome it. Then there's Off the Record, a prison story wherein guards and prisoners can communicate off the record without getting in trouble. A male guard handcuffs a dangerous female prisoner and escorts her to her daily exercise session, cameras tracking them, and when they are briefly alone between cells he murmurs Off the record. Curious, she says Okay. I want to get into your pants. Now she's big and tough and ugly; no man ever desired her. Joke? No. Why? Because I'm big. No regular woman can handle me. Maybe you could. Then the lock opens and she moves on. On the return trip she says Off the record, and he agrees. Lemme feel your dong. So he stands close behind her, where the camera can't see, opens his fly, and puts his member into her cuffed hands. Very soon she is satisfied that he meant what he said. It goes on from there. The other stories are similarly erotic, as in Roles wherein a foursome of 40ish women vacationers in a van pick up a young male hitchhiker and give him the education of his life. Or Day in the Barrel, where a man visits what seems to be the perfect sex camp, with beautiful women eagerly giving him all the sex he wants, but then discovers the other side of it, a shocker. I think it's a great collection for those who like erotic fiction. The difference, as I see it, between my erotica and others I have read is that theirs seems to be mostly setting up for long conventional sex scenes, whereas mine are more imaginative stories laced with sometimes imaginative sex. I write the kind of story I would like to read, whatever its genre.

Ralph Vicinanza died. He was a leading genre agent, and widely praised. One author said that he never once heard anyone say a negative word about Ralph. Well, I as generally outcast from the genre insiders, will give another example why they don't like me, and say the negative word. I was a client of Kirby McCauley, who once represented Stephen King and became the most powerful genre agent extant. But he had a serious problem that caused me to leave him, with regret, as I believe was also the case with King. Then suddenly all his other clients decamped together, going to his foreign rights agent, Vicinanza. I didn't like the way that happened, so though Vicinanza figured I'd come to him too, I did not. There were other factors, but you'd have to understand the intricacies of agent/client/publisher relations to properly appreciate them. The essence was that I felt Vicinanza had screwed McCauley and that poisoned him for me. One of the things publishers and some other writers don't understand about me is that I take ethics seriously, and I try to avoid dealing with those whose honesty is more of a word than a practice. That attitude shows strongly in my ongoing Survey of Electronic Publishing. Vicinanza was surely an excellent agent, where lying becomes an art, but he did not meet my standard.

Column by Clarence Page discusses stuttering. It seems he was a stutterer, and was recently honored by the American Institute for Stuttering. I learn that there may be three million stutterers in this country, and that some have been notable. Vice President Joe Biden, pop music star Carly Simon, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Jimmy Stewart, James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader), Charles Darwin, Lewis Carroll, and many more. They worked to overcome it, and it seems succeeded. I understand that it doesn't happen when singing, and maybe not when chanting or declaiming. I never had a problem stuttering, but I sympathize; there but for the grace of God go I. I presume a stutterer could be a good writer, as the thoughts and words are there, just not the mechanism for smooth speaking. It's a physical problem, rather than an emotional one.

Readers often ask me whether I'll be attending any conventions or book signings. I'm not shy and I have no trouble meeting people or addressing audiences; stage fright, like writer's block, was something I had early and worked to eliminate. Mostly I stay home, because of my wife's limited health; I want neither to travel without her nor to leave her home alone. But one event is occurring close enough: the Inverness (Fla.) Festival of Books, at the Citrus County Courthouse, January 28-29 2011, for Citrus County authors, of which there are a number. There will be several seminars on writing and marketing. I'll be their featured author and will be there, circulating and signing and meeting anyone who wants to meet me. It costs $20 per ticket Friday evening, and $25 Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM.

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