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Piers the handyman
SapTimber 2010

Well, I turned 76 and the world did not screech to a halt. Longtime fan and collaborator JoAnne Taeusch sent me a card showing male and female bare backsides: Thought you might expect a couple of cracks about your age. I responded that I assumed the female one was hers. Daughter Cheryl sent me a happy birthday text on my cellphone, and I succeeded in answering it, briefly, hunting and pecking on the letters, my first such effort. So already I'm learning things about this century. I'm not sure I'll be fit to handle the next century, however; I'm barely catching up to this one, having originated in the prior one.

Every so often an entry in my ongoing Electronic Publisher & Services Survey gets more complicated than that listing can handle, and I bring it here for deeper discussion. In this case it's the entry on Class Act Books, at www.classactbooks.com/. In July I had a highly negative report on them. Then in August I ran the publisher's refutation, and they seemed to be vindicated. But that triggered more responses from disaffected authors. I try to be fair, but it can be hard to know the exact truth. The publisher impressed me because it named my anonymous reporter, something that an outfit that wrongs many writers can't do. Well, now the gloves are off, and that person, with her permission, is revealed as Rebecca J Vickery. Rebecca is evidently not from Sunnybrook Farm; the publisher was able to name her because she's the one with the balls (so to speak) to speak out. Here is what she says:

There are actually 6 of us who left at various dates for pretty much the same reasons. Poor communications, failure of the publisher to answer questions, hidden fees, and poor royalty statements in spite of our books being ranked highly at distributors, refusal to give any sort of accounting of expenses, and that contract with the word NET sprinkled all over it which gave them the right to deduct their dog food and fingernail polish from the royalties. [Neither] I, nor most of the others, will make that mistake again.

They have ads titled where dreams take shape for the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. We have not attended and don't plan to, interesting as it may be; such excursions are beyond our present convenience. But they run a small picture of one of his sketches, the backside view of a young woman. She has the most phenomenal buttocks I've ever seen. Intrigued I checked my library to see if I have a volume of his art, as I have a small collection of art books. I was a hopeful artist before I was a hopeful writer, and retain a certain interest. I did not have such a volume, but did have his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, which I had bought in 1993 from DOVER. That's one great publisher for books that are of lasting interest but ignored by the obscenely best-seller-hungry traditional press. This is a solid 400 tight pages, illustrated by his line drawings, and it covers his life only through age 37. Still, it's some book, embarrassingly candid, stylistic even though it is a translation. The man was halfway crazy throughout his life, yet with that crucial current of genius that made him famous. He speaks of masturbation, of his intention to kill his common law wife Gala (she asked him to) andwell, let's give some examples. As a child, walking with a smaller boy, he got a notion and abruptly pushed the child off a bridge. The boy survived a 15 foot fall to rocks, badly injured in the head, but no one blamed Dali, who suffered no remorse. Another time three teen girls took him for a walk. When they suggested he run off and play by himself he caught on that something was up, so he went, circled around, and spied on them. They hoisted their skirts, spread their legs, and pissed on the ground, apparently just to see if they could do it. But the resulting mud splashed on their shoes. He was it seems fascinated by girls throughout, especially slender ones; he got lasting crushes on them, but was awkward in his association with them. Maybe that's one root of his cubist eroticism: the intensely sexual nature of some pictures is not apparent to the casual eye, but blatant when you do fathom it. When he encountered Gala, the love of his life, she was married to another man, but the two of them hit it off immediately and she was Dali's from then on. He attributes his sanity, such as it was, to her; she made him whole. There's a famous painting titled Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea, which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (that's its full title), and that's exactly what it is. Up close is Gala's lusciously shapely bare backside facing a melange of colors. At a distance it is clearly the bust of Lincoln. Another painting shows nuns on a stage, but at a distance they form the grim head of a human skull. He says I had to go through cubism in order to get it out of my system once and for all, and during this time perhaps I could at least learn to draw! But this could not appease my avid desire to do everything. I still had to invent and write a great philosophic work, which I had begun a year before, and which was called 'The Tower of Babel.' I had already written five hundred pages of it, and I was still only on the Prologue! Dali knew that other great Spanish artist Picasso and on occasion they compared notes. Picasso had seen my Girl's Back in Barcelona, and praised it. If that's the one that brought me to this book, I agree, though that one is a 1926 painting titled Girl With Curls. But Dali had some fabulous misadventure too. When he slept in a hotel in Paris he woke to discover something fastened to his back, just out of sight. Thinking it was a bedbug he reacted with horror. He couldn't pull it off, so finally he seized a razor blade and hacked it off, getting blood all over himself and the room. It turned out to be a birthmark he had had all along. Another time he was bothered by a piece of mucous on the wall by the toilet he used. Finally he ripped it off with his fingers, but it had hardened, and the sharp point of it wedged under his fingernail and could not be dislodged. He hesitated to seek help, because he would have to say That blackish thing which has pierced the forefinger of my right hand is a piece of snot! It finally turned out to be a flake of dried paint or varnish. Then there was his trip to America. He signed up for passage for him and Gala, but lacked the money to pay for it, so he had to raise the money within three days. ...after three days of furiously jerking fortune's cock it ejaculated in a spasm of gold! After this I felt as if I had made love six times in succession. He was impressed with New York. The poetry of New York is Persian digestion, sneezing golden bronze, organ, suction-grip trumpet for death, gums of thighs of glamor girls with hard cowrie-shell vulvas. A department store asked him to make an exhibit for their front window, and he agreed providing that he have a completely free hand. They agreed. Then he discovered that they had almost completely changed his exhibit without telling him. He demanded that they change it back, or remove his name from it. They declined. Why had they changed it? Because it was too successful, attracting too big a crowd of people. So he went to the bathtub full of water, which was about the only part of the original scene remaining, and overturned it, breaking the plate glass and spilling water all over the store floor and the adjacent street. He got arrested, but there was a considerable groundswell of support for him. Finally an artist had acted to preserve the integrity of his art! But I suspect those same executives went on to become today's publishers, because the attitude is unchanged. In 1939 came the Spanish Civil War, a prelude to World War Two, and it seemed expedient in 1940 to get out of Spain and Europe as the fascists overran Spain, Germany, France, Italy, and more. So he and Gala embarked on what appears to be the same ship my family did, the Excalibur, which also took the Duke of Windsor, the former King of England. It was the last passenger ship out before the war shut nonmilitary travel down. So the Duke came to govern the BahamasI remember seeing his car winched out of the hold in Bermudaand I came to America at the age of six to stay, and Salvidor Dali came and wrote his autobiography. I remain uncertain how much of it is fanciful. I'll conclude with this Dalian image: ...bridge of San Francisco, where I saw in passing the ten thousand most beautiful virgins in America, completely naked, standing in line on each side of me as I passed, like rows of organ pipes of angelic flesh with cowrie-shell sea vulvas. As I said, Dali noticed the essential aspects of women. Cowrie shells? Maybe I just never looked closely enough, or the panties got in the way. There is surely magic there.

I read The Salvation of Tanlegalle by Tim Ahrens. This was sent to me by the publisher, Lucid Style Author Services, www.Creative2aT.com. I wrote the Forward for it. You see, this is a collection of stories phrased as a novel, which can be a challenge when the stories are not related to each other and are of different genres, like science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mainstream. I liken it to life, wherein we all have an assortment of different experiences we must integrate into our mature outlook; we are what we have experienced, pleasant, unpleasant, neutral or seemingly irrelevant. Who among us would banish even the most painful memory, knowing that such banishment would delete it from our character? Very few, I think. The actual stories are interesting and sometimes weird. In The Cave a werewolf rescues a lovely shadow elf from abuse and perhaps death, simply because it seemed the right thing to do. She takes him to her cave, where she says he will be on his way on the morrow. So he settles down to sleep. That's it. Not even a kiss. I wonder whether that's really the case, or whether in the morning she, having ascertained that he's not simply out for sex, will decide on a bit more of a relationship. It does seem warranted. Another story is Choices, where a man and his daughter go to a wood where they meet his wife. Man and wife die together and the girl becomes a super woman. Another is The Ferryman where the soul with this job once fell in love with a lovely girl, but five enemy lords killed her. Now he waits to intercept the last lord, who must at some point cross the River Styx. I wouldn't care to be that lord, who well might prefer Hell to that encounter. There's That's What Sisters Do, wherein a young man is about to kill himself, but his informally adoptive older sister dissuades him. Here's the key: she died over a decade ago, returning to stop him from making a bad mistake, because that's what sisters do. I love that. And my favorite Sassafrass One Seven Four, wherein a space pilot is delivering a female humanoid robot to a client, but the ship is attacked and crashes. She rescues him, but expends so much of her reserve power doing so that she expires as they are falling in love. That's painful. I have written of female humanoid robots, notably in the Adept series and the ChroMagic series, and know they can fall in love and be very good for their partners. Some might say even better than the real thing, as robots don't have moods or times of the month. The day may come when such machines are granted equal status with living folk. So this is an interesting collection/novel, and I recommend it to those who are interested in slightly different things.

Songs constantly run through my cranium, especially the folk songs I grew up on. Readers can find them referenced in a number of my novels. Back in 1953 I practiced my two-finger typing by writing out the words to my eighty five or so favorites from memory, and I still have that record and refer to it every so often. Recently it was Abdullah Bulbul Ameer, whose actually spelling I'm not sure of as I learned it verbally. I thought it had 12 verses, but I remembered only 9, so I looked it up, and sure enough I had forgotten 3. Got them back now. Half a century can be wearing on memory. Bulbul was the leading warrior among the Turks, when Turkey was a major European power; in fact it was the one that finally destroyed the Eastern Roman Empire. He ran afoul of Ivan Petrofsky Skovar, the leading Russian warrior. They had a terrific battle and both died. It's a nice song. Then infidel know you have trod on the toe of Abdullah Bulbul Ameer. Both men were more than ready for a fight. You know how warriors are. It represents a peek into geography and history, which I like, and is a fun song, like The Frozen Logger. Remember, in my day the Internet did not exist, electronic games did not exist, hell, TV did not exist. We found other ways to entertain ourselves, and did not feel deprived.

Personal shit: I needed to produce fecal smears so they could check whether I had the supernatural occult blood. No instructions came with the kit, but I figured out how to do it. Then it turned out I was supposed to exclude radishes, Vitamin C, aspirin and such. I hadn't, and got a false positive reading. I had to it over, properly, and this time was clean. Which reminds me of a remark made by G Legman in his monumental Rationale of the Dirty Joke: it is shit that is clean, and the pure white powders that pollute. Because shit composts and recycles, while those powders are medicines, insecticides, cocaine, female hormone emulators and so on, doing continuous subtle mischief to man and beast. More on that later in this Column.

My dentures have gradually gotten shaped up, and I am using them now, though there are still adjustments to be made. My weight has recovered, with the better chewing, and I eat significantly faster. I learned that the thing about partial dentures is they don't need adhesive; they stay in place on their own.

I played the card game Baker's Dozen in off moments, unwinding, and it strikes me as about the best card game extant, as it's all out there for you to see and you can generally win it if you play well enough. I won over 40 games in succession, then struggled for an hour and ran out of time, losing one. Then I won a string of 100, then struggled for three and a quarter hours but was unable to win. Enough, I decided, and stopped playing it with 148 wins of 150 played. I do have other things to do. At the moment I'm playing the old standby Klondike, which I don't like as well, so it's less addictive.

My wife is a registered Democrat, and she gets solicitations to contribute to the party. I'm a registered independent, and have been throughout my voting career, and am spared much of that. In this pre-electoral season she got calls, too, for surveys and such. We noted the number of one: 555-0000000. It really was. I thought 555 was a prefix used only for fake numbers on TV, and I didn't realize that a string of seven zeros could be a viable number. I do keep learning things.

My mundane life is pretty, well, mundane. I make the meals, wash the dishes, and such, mainly because I can stand on my feet longer than my wife can. Socks exist to fall on the floor, and they do not like to pair off. When I fold shirts, I fold forward, while my wife, resuming the laundry, folds backward. It must be a male-female thing, males tending to be forward, females backward. Lint is fascinating stuff; they could make blankets of it. Outside I tend my plants. Last year we planted variegated jasmines, and they did well. Then a deer ate one off, so I caged it completely in chicken wire, and now it is doing well again. Others spread out like ground cover, but then started disappearing. It seems wild rabbits like them, and one of our gopher tortoises grazes on them and our lawn. So I fenced off a bit more. We like the wildlife, we just don't want to lose our decorative plants.

I am a commercial writer, which means I write the kind of fiction the average reader likes to read. But it can be tricky to please every reader. I continue to hear from those who are annoyed by naughty references to panties. I lost at least one because of Two to the Fifth; Princess Rhythm invokes a spell to age her to 22 before she makes out with her man, but there are those who don't believe in that kind of magic and figure I'm writing child porn. Then there's the gay reader I lost because I wouldn't have a gay protagonist in Xanth. Regular readers of this blog-column may remember how I surveyed readers about this a few years back, and the vote was overwhelmingly against it, not because of prejudice (pleaseI don't have prejudiced readers) but because they felt that light fantasy like Xanth was not the place to explore the issue of homosexuality. So I honor their preference, though in this case it alienated a fan. For the record, again, I believe gays are as God made them and are entitled to their persuasion without being hassled by others. If I put one in Xanth, he or she would be a sympathetic character. But the time for that is not yet.

My wife finally got the Windows 7 system working, and is doing email on it. I believe I have discussed this before, but the doubt evinced in email I receive makes it bear repeating: my wife downloads and prints out emails to me, and I read them and pencil my answers. Remember, I don't have my keyboard on Windows, so avoid it as much as I can. There is a Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator that would probably solve my problem, but when we tried to get it, we learned that it required other programs including one with a four hour download for their .NET Framework v2.0. With our dial-up system and uncertain reception, where things are apt to be interrupted halfway through, and the risk of fouling up our system, as has happened before, that's more of a hassle than we care for. So Microsoft isn't all that interested in my business, and I'm staying clear. So I pencil my answers, and she transcribes them and sends them. I do read and answer my email, as briefly as possible. Should a movie come and increase my traffic tenfold, we might have to change our system, but at present it is as directly personal as feasible.

I read the newspaper comics. Candorville had a fun series wherein their protagonist was on a panel with author Steven King, marvelously caricatured, their man mentioning how the founding fathers valued freedom and liberty and their right to own slaves. Baby Blues mentioned how their little boy peed in the swimming pool. Did anyone notice? When you do it from the diving board, they notice. And Classic Peanuts reran one I remember from 1963, where Lucy is about to knock Charlie Brown's block off. He says that with the world filled with problems, it behooves children to learn to solve their problems peacefully. She clobbers him, saying I had to hit him quick...he was beginning to make sense. And Rose is Rose, one of my favorites, this time with the little boy tossing a coin into the Wishing Well, then rushing to take his bath, not afraid of the Drain Monster today because he wished the monster's GPS would misdirect him. The last picture shows the big green monster stuck in the Wishing Well, trying to figure out where the GPS took him. This reflects a reality of our day: just as the lion goes after the baby wildebeest because it's easier prey, monsters go after children. Adults who are not at similar risk prefer to pretend that there are no monsters, leaving the children to protect themselves. No wonder there are so few adult children. This child found a way.

SCIENCE NEWS had a long article on music, concluding that whatever it is, it's a basic part of being human. I agree; that and the other arts. Man is distinguished from other animals by his art.

E-READS is doing e-book editions of my five novel Cluster series, an early favorite of mine, complete with my added Author's Notes. So if you have missed or lost this series, long out of print in paper, now it's available, along with novels by other genre authors. Http://ereads.com/. PAIZO PUBLISHING is issuing Before They Were Giants: First Works from Science Fiction Greats. My first published story was the fantasy Possible to Rue, included therein. I am curious how other writers first broke into print, and presume other readers are too, so this promises to be an interesting volume. I will probably read and review the book in due course, when I receive a copy. Http://paizo.com/. Or http://www.amazon.com/Before-They-Were-Giants-Science/dp/1601252668/

Periodically we get Privacy Notices, all about how hard the banks, or in this case Pay Pal, try to protect the privacy of their clients. These notices annoy me, because I know they're lying through their teeth. The notorious Patriot Act gives the government the right to snoop on any private information it wants, and the banks and others are not allowed to tell their clients they've been snooped on. So these notices are works of fiction, and I wish they'd stop spreading it.

PARADE had an article on the hidden cause of disease: inflammation. They recommend detoxing it by six steps: Eat small fiber-rich meals, exercise, take Vitamin D, Omega 3, Antioxidants, and try to reduce stress. I do, getting my Omega 3 from flaxseed oil capsules rather than fish oil, being a vegetarian. While my health is hardly perfect, I seem to be relatively fit for my age.

NEW SCIENTIST review mentions that the only cure for persistent hiccups is a rectal massage. I'm gad I don't suffer that malady. Another article covers what I wish I had caught on to before I completed my Geodyssey historical series: it was cooking that enabled mankind to separate from the apes and ultimately conquer the world. The control of fire seems to go back two million years. Assorted articles elsewhere, such as in The DISH, establish that puberty is coming earlier, with some girls doing it at age 7 and some babies growing breasts. Too much estrogen in the food, from those polluting pure white powders. They point out that an 11 year old girl who looks 15 or 16 will have adults and peers interacting with her as if she is that age. Translation: sex. Child porn is rapidly expanding. More than 20 million different IP addresses exist for it. Documented enticement of children more than tripled from 2004 to 2008, and complaints of child prostitution rose tenfold. The average age of a child targeted for prostitution is 12-14 for girls (who may look 16-18), and 11-13 for boys (who I presume look their age). Considering the several trends, it seems likely that those ages will drop in future. I have to wonder: why such sexual attraction to the young? Is this indicative not of the twisted fringe but of normal taste now being more freely expressed? What about when age 11 looks 16 so it doesn't seem like child sex even when the age is known? There may be real mischief in the offing. Possibly related: we watched part of the Miss Universe Pageant, and found it dull. Theoretically this is global, and most folk of the world are shades of brown skin, but the finalists were pretty much white, with cookie-cutter uniforms and figures and features so that I could not really tell them apart. Same routines, same poses; they might as well have been synthetic or robots, stamped out from the same mold. How soon before eleven year old girls look exactly the same as these, complete with cowrie shell vulvas? I hope their minds vary more than their bodies.

Possibly related: item in THE WEEK about guys who cheat on their famous wives. It seems that the larger the income differential in the woman's favor, the more likely the man is to cheat. They figure it's the man's insecurity, making him want to prove he's manly. I wonder. What about Tiger Woods? He's hardly low income, yet he cheated freely. What about the sultans with harems? I suspect that the limiting factor is not so much economics but opportunity. A stay-at-home husband sees more of the neighbor's wives and daughters, some of whom may be bored and looking for excitement. Another item: there is now a 500 Euro note that has become the underworld's currency of choice. They keep printing up more, serving this market, though the indications are that regular folk have little use for this denomination. So as with cheating men, banks cater to criminal money, given opportunity.

We read of the brutality of man toward man around the world. Here's one I noticed: Uighurs in China are being oppressed, their language exterminated, books on their history and culture banned or burned. Why do I notice? Because the protagonist in my novel Steppe is Uighur, and I learned about them from him. They were one of the central Asian peoples, like the Huns and the Mongols, who later settled and became civilized, in fact literate. They should be encouraged, not suppressed. But dictatorships know that literate folk are harder to fool or oppress than ignorant ones.

I received a mail-order catalog, SORMANI CALENDARS. We already have plenty, thanks, but it's interesting. They have calendars for the Alps, Switzerland, Germany, England, Scotland, Old English Pubs, Ireland, Egypt, Africa, France, China, Mexicojust about any country. Also Tractors, Barns, Gold, Fishing, Native Americans, Nuns Having Fun, Marilyn Monroe, Mark Twain, John Wayne, Trolleys (in Xanth the trolls run these), Volkswagen Bus, Jet Planes, Trains, all the States, Mars, Moonscapes, Galaxies, Sea Shells (including cowries?), Waterfalls, Baseball, Ballooning, Golf Courses, Soccer, Sailing Ships, Yoga, Trout, Skiing, Dogsone for every breedCats, Horses, Humming Birds, Chimpanzees, Ladybugs, Turtles, Cougars (feline), Giraffes, Jackasses, Rats, Goats, Cows, Pigswell, there's a fair variety.

And excerpts from my monthly Family letter to relatives, of possible interest to readers:

Cheryl showed us a fun book, CAKE WRECKS When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong, by Jen Yates. Mostly when the cake makers misconstrue the instructions. Such as Best Wishes Suzanne Under Neat that We will miss you. It was supposed to be underneath that, not a middle line. One family ordered two cakes; one said Congrat and the other ulations, with the name similarly divided. Another said I want sprinkles, instead of having the sprinkles. Some are divorce cakes, with messages like Go Die in a car fire, or Ben Went Poopoo. There's a photograph of the wedding couple cutting the cake, with a nude male statue behind so it looks as if he is urinating on it. One heart-shaped one says HUGE ME. Another Best Wishes Melissa, The Bribe To Be. A cake for a seminar on sexual harassment has a picture of a man hitting a woman, the whole crossed out in highway warning sign style. Only the actual picture looks as if he has his hand up her posterior, and she is lifted a foot off the floor. That would certainly be harassment, with the accent on the ass. One was intended to be in the shape of a gavel, saying 2009 Moot Court, but it looks like a penis and testicles. And one saying We doubted you, with a carat and the word Never inserted after the first word, correcting the omission. And one saying Heppy Bertty CAROLINE 7. Another says I am Pregnanet. I wonder whether we should mail this book around to interested Family members? It really has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Cheryl also forwarded excerpts from a book titled Disorder in the American Courts, containing things actually said in court. Such as What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning? He said 'Where am I, Cathy?' And why did that upset you? My name is Susan! ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active? WITNESS: No, I just lie there. ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the 20 year old, how old is he? WITNESS: He's 20, much like your IQ. ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people? WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight. ATTORNEY: So, then is it possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy? WITNESS: No. ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor? WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar. ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless? WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

We expect finally to listen to the recording of the Memorial Service for our late daughter Penelope Jacob, on the anniversary of her death, September 3. I will surely have something to say about this next month.

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