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Piers and daughter unload boxes July 2014
FeBlueberry 2015

For the Record: I appear in many places on the Internet, but I am personally active in only one: this HiPiers site. I'm on dial-up, and complicated sites are beyond my means or my patience. Could I get broadband and get current? Sure, but I'm too cheap to pay around $150 a month for satellite, when it would mainly take up more of my time. As my readers know, I'm from another century, set in my senescent ways, and many of the things of this newfangled century are foreign to me. I understand my publisher maintains a Facebook site in my name that garners reader comments. Fine. But I never see those comments. So if you have personal business with me, come here. I understand that Wikipedia has information on me that may or may not be correct. Okay. But for accuracy come to HiPiers, as I long ago gave up trying to correct mistakes there, which could be promptly overwritten by restored errors. There are Who's Who type compendiums with similar disregard. Just so you know.

I read The Wolf at the Door, by Ki Russell. This is not your usual fantasy. It is set in a pub where fairy tale characters congregate in a neutral setting. I'd have to review a number of fairy tales that I was familiar with when my daughters were children if I wanted to catch all the references, but did recognize the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk, who is trying to recover the harp that Jack stole. Also Little Red Riding hood who now has a fairly familiar association with the Wolf—they sleep together, though I'm not sure there's sex—and dances at the pub. The story, of a sort, is told in snatches, some of which is blank verse. I am intrigued by a blue rose plant that can be affectionate or deadly, and clearly understands those who interact with it. Definitely not a garden variety plant. Also by an old crone who knows more than she tells, and has powers she mostly conceals. Read this for an experience in outlook, rather than for a coherent story. Adult fantasy, not as a euphemism for sex, but in the necessary maturity of perspective.

I watched Malificent, a Disney variant on Sleeping Beauty, featuring Angelina Jolie. I loved it. The background scenery is often beautiful, and there are original and for me, quite satisfying twists. It starts with prince and fairy girl meeting as children, and slowly falling in love. But later his ambition to become king causes him to betray her, cutting off her wings so as to severely limit her, then marrying elsewhere. The fairy Malificent has a valid complaint, and curses his baby by the other woman. Then gets to know the girl as she grows up, and comes to love her, without being able to abate the curse of perpetual sleep at age 16. What really got me is that when the prince's kiss does not wake the sleeping princess, mournful Malificent kisses her—and then she wakes. The fairy really had a better basis to love her than the prince did. Nicely done.

I watched Live Die Repeat/Edge of Tomorrow. This is a science fiction action thriller that never lets up. Tom Cruise finds himself locked into the front rank of a suicide mission fighting a metallic alien invasion in Europe. He gets killed, and finds himself back at the outset of the mission in a repeating time loop. Over and over, learning things, trying new things each time, because he almost alone remembers, after dying and starting over. Each time he gets a bit closer to the Omega, the source of the enemy power, until at last he destroys it and saves the world. And finds love along the way, in the form of a tough female associate. I enjoyed it throughout. However, I did wonder about the conclusion, where they are starting another time loop—after it has been indicated that he can no longer do time loops. Did someone forget?

I watched Ladies in Lavender, wherein Judi Dench and Maggie Smith play elderly sisters who come across a young man unconscious on the English beach, evidently shipwrecked, circa 1935 I think. He doesn't speak English, but as he recovers he learns some words. Ursula (Dench) becomes increasingly attached to him; in fact it seems she falls in love with him, knowing the utter foolishness of it. He turns out to be Polish, and a fine violin player who is finally spirited away by the sister of a famous violin artist, to play with their orchestra. It is fulfillment for him, but sadness for the sisters, especially Ursula. I feel her heartache.

I watched Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! wherein a teen girl wins a date with a movie star. He's in it for the image, while she's all gosh-wow. But of course he gets interested in her, in significant part because she's genuinely nice and he'd like to be like that. But at the end she decides on the boy next door, as it sort of had to be. It's fun, he's handsome, she's pretty; what else do you need? I watched the deleted scenes, curious, and found they were mostly longer versions of existing scenes. The movie is rated PG but there's hardly anything to object to.

I read Ghosts of Avernus, by John Hamilton, no relation to the dating movie man above that I know of. This is a fantasy adventure wherein Eleazaar, a traveling monk with both fighting and magic abilities, encounters an invasion of monsters from hell. The monsters simply swarm across the land, killing and consuming all living things in their path. Whole towns are wiped out. It is evident that there is a rift somewhere that is letting them through, and Eleazaar, after fighting off his share of monsters, goes in search of that rift so he can close it. There is a good deal of monster fighting, and of questing though old mine tunnels, before he finally catches up with the culprit who opened the rift and takes him on; it's old fashioned action adventure, with some nice description along the way. But it was marred for me by what is termed saidism: the use of other words than “said” in an attempt to avoid repetition. This is a mistake; it is better simply to use “said” and let it fade away, its purpose accomplished. It's just an identifier, after all, not the point of the story. Another thing was the consistent misspelling of “adit,” a mine passage, as “audit,” an inspection of financial accounts. So this was a good story marred by the need for an editor.

I read The Mindful Carnivore—a Vegetarian's Hunt for Sustenance, by Tovar Cerulli, that I got via Open Road's Early Bird Books, the early deep discount sale of selected titles. I'm a lifelong vegetarian, so approached this with caution, and was quite impressed. The author started as a regular omnivore, then thought about it and became a vegetarian, then a vegan—no eggs or milk—then later returned to meat eating, and became a deer hunter, killing and butchering his own meat. That's an amazing progression! He is thoughtful throughout, always true to his inner voice. He turned vegetarian for the same reason I did, to avoid hurting animals. But then he realized that just existing hurts animals somewhere along the line, by clearing land to live on, which destroys their habitat, by farming for food, which means poisoning predatory bugs and eliminating garden raiders like rabbits, building houses, which generally means killing trees for their wood, and so on. There is also the larger picture: we have eliminated most of the deer predators, so the deer multiply until they eat up all their food and starve. Hunting becomes the new deer population control, but when there's too much of it, species can be driven to extinction. So if we live, as I suspect is the case with most of us, we are part of the larger food and residence chain, and we have to decide what part to be. If we eat meat, we should be prepared to kill and butcher it ourselves, which is what took him finally back to hunting. I appreciate that; I get along with the local hunters who take out destructive hogs from our property, because they are not meat hypocrites; they do their own killing. I will not go to hunting myself, but this book provides me with a new appreciation of hunting's place in the larger picture. It has been years since I read a book this thoughtful and honest, and I recommend it to anyone who eats.

I read The Client From Hell And Other Publishing Satires, by Richard Curtis, another of the bargain Open Road Early Bird offerings. I know Curtis; he's an innovative literary agent I respect, with an attitude like mine sometimes when dealing with the rigors of Parnassus. I remember once when he referred to an anonymous publisher as Charnel House. A charnel is a repository for dead bodies; there can be an odor. He has done some innovative thinking, such as recommending that a book contract drop the royalty rate from say, 8%, to 4%--but that royalties be paid on the print order at the time of printing. The actual payment to the author would theoretically be about the same, because about half of printed books go unsold and get pulped in the end, and the bookkeeping would be vastly simplified. So why don't publishers eagerly accept this notion, especially since it would save them endless inconvenience and bookkeeping, and greatly improve author relations? Curtis is too polite to say it, but of course I am cut from different and inferior cloth; I will say it. Not every publisher is honest; I have been cheated by three I can think of at the top of my head, and those are only the ones I could prove. There are also various legal devices to defraud the authors, hidden in the fine print; I've been there too. Payment by print order would bypass the labyrinthine accounting process and give the authors their money immediately, instead of their having to wait months or even years for it to dribble in. Oh, sure, there are the advances. Why do agents try for the biggest advances they can get, even though most will never earn out? I can tell you: because that allows the publishers to play their cute games, using slight of hand to keep due information from authors, but it doesn't matter: the author already has his money. So of course publishers do their best to keep the old system and cut the size of advances, much as conservatives cut regulation and taxes: it channels the money where it belongs, into the coffers of the wealthy, and keeps most authors in a state of obliging poverty. An author can get blacklisted for even protesting being cheated; I've been there too, in spades. It was from an article by Curtis that I learned the intricacies of motion picture options, and that understanding is important, because I have had a number. Okay, you can see why I admire Richard Curtis. Back decades ago, when I was changing agents (remember my comment on Kirby McCauley in a prior column) Curtis was interested in representing me; in fact he phoned me. Why didn't I take him? He surely could have done me significant good. Well, it was a difficult decision. I consulted with my foreign agent, and she reported that Curtis' sub-agents were difficult to work with. That's not good. I talked with an editor who also wrote, and he said that Curtis was very good, but every so often would do something slightly shady that made him cautious. That made me cautious. And I talked with a highly prolific author he represented, and she said he tended to talk down to her. And I thought, if he talks down to Andre Norton, how would he talk to me? End of consideration. I continue to admire him from a distance.

how about this book? It's a small one, and it's informative and funny, with some key information about the vagaries and follies of publishing, interspersed with doggerel poetry about publishing figures. Why aren't good books published anymore? Because editors no longer work. They spend all their time making deals, attending conventions, photocopying and so on; no time left to advance the cause of literature. Humorous, but there's an uncomfortable amount of truth there too. He lampoons himself along with the industry. His client from hell is fantasy about an interstellar alien client who got so annoyed by publishers' ways of depriving the authors that Earth was slated to end in half an hour. But it appears to be about twenty years out of date. I conjecture that this was published in paper, in 1992, and then recently republished electronically without an update. That detracts from its value today, as the publishing scene has changed monumentally in the interim. How about a sequel, Mr. Curtis, covering upstarts like Amazon and Google? Electronic publishing? Self publishing? Open Road? What a story you could tell, if you still have the nerve.

One of my bargain sets was an eight movie deal for six dollars, Crimes of Passion. Two I had seen before, so didn't watch. I watched The Rich Man's Wife, wherein Halle Berry is framed for the murder of her inattentive husband. It is well enough done, but not my type, as it devolves into mayhem, apart from the pleasure of looking at Halle. Mean man pursuing largely helpless pretty girl. Apart from that, I doubt it makes much sense. Also Consenting Adults, wherein a neighbor proposes wife swapping, but it's a setup to from the protagonist for a grisly murder. Like the other, it soon enough devolves into mayhem. Not my preferred type of passion. And D.O.A., where a professor is poisoned and has only 24 hours to live, but in that time he gets framed for killing his about-to-be ex wife. He finally solves the mystery, but it's a short lived satisfaction since he's about to die. And The Tie That Binds, about the adoption of a six year old girl, but she's the child of criminals who want her back and are completely unscrupulous, ready to kill. The girl has been more or less traumatized, and has good reason to fear. In the end she has to choose, as her blood parents are trying to kill her adoptive parents. An awful climax as good does, barely, win over evil. Then Bad Company, wherein both the people and the companies are bad, with bribery, betrayal, sex, and murder admixed and just about everybody gets killed in the end. I had hoped for more. And Deceived, where Goldie Hawn marries a nice man, then he gets killed in an accident, and things fall apart: he wasn't who he had claimed to be, and now Goldie and their daughter are in peril. Then he turns up again, having faked his death, but that does not make things right. It's a good, scary story.

I am now amidst the writing of Ghost Writer in the Sky, which features a Mundane would-be writer who makes a deal with a Night Colt of the dream realm, and his ideas become stories that selected Xanth folk are obliged to act out, often to their dismay. I mentioned “The Princess and the Pee” before. One of the Xanth characters caught in this naughtiness is Prince Dolin, who wants to come to regular Xanth to stay, but has a problem because he's dead. It gets complicated. I believe there have been only mentions of Dolin, and I lack the time and patience to reread The Dastard and Cube Route to refresh myself on exactly what has been told of him. Here is what I know: he is the son of Prince Dolph and the ancient Princess Taplin, delivered in the Xanth year 1091, in an alternate reality, so he is about 25 or 26, at the time of this novel, the same age as the Princesses Dawn and Eve, and indeed, is their half brother. Princess Taplin dates from the year 216, I believe the daughter of King Merlin and the Sorceress Tapis, she of the magic tapestries. In the Visual Guide to Xanth Tapis looks like Andre Norton, by no coincidence and with Andre's permission, being an older woman of great magic. So Taplin has a noble lineage in more than one sense. She was destined to sleep for a thousand years, needing only a coverlet Tapis was making for her to keep her warm. But Magician Murphy cursed them, and it was the innocent girl Electra who fell into the coffin and took the sleep, instead of the Princess. Awakened after about 850 years—she got time off for good behavior—Electra married Prince Dolph instead of Taplin, who was, if you'll pardon the expression, royally screwed by that curse. But somehow she made it to contemporary Xanth on her own, and married Dolph in an alternate reality, and Prince Dolin was delivered to them. But that powerful curse evidently extended even this far, and Dolin lived only eight years, being killed by the dread Sea Hag at age 8. But for the present novel, Taplin found a way to maybe save her son, bringing his seven year old soul to regular Xanth, now age about 25; if he can marry a local princess without even knowing his history his adult reality will be established here and his untimely death in the alternate reality will be forgiven. Don't tell; no point in spoiling the novel for the readers. Here is what I need to know: is any more known about Princess Taplin? How did she get 850 years into her future? How did the Sea Hag get hold of Prince Dolin? Is any more known about him? His talent is doing the right thing. If readers who know more about the obscurities of Xanth than I do will enlighten me, I'll give them a credit in the Author's Note, if there aren't too many. Make it the first five. Readers have bailed me out before, on occasion. Remember, I'm getting old, 80, and need alert readers to shore up my senescence.

I generally ignore TV commercials; they're often dull, repetitive, and pushing products I don't use. But I do notice and watch the good ones. There's one beautiful one of a middle school boy who sees a girl in his class, and likes her, and resolves to dance with her. So he studies dancing, gets his family to help, becoming proficient. Then at the dance he approaches the girls, and the cute ones smile at him, but he bypasses them (their smiles dissipate) and asks the one who never expected it, maybe because she wears glasses. Lovely! It's for Bright House cable TV, and yes, I don't use it. But their commercial leaves a sweet taste in my memory.

A reader with writing aspirations—sometimes it seems that half my readership consists of aspiring writers—says it's a struggle with regard to process and what advice to follow. Daily word count? Write only when you feel like it? Set business hours for writing and stick to them? Write your novel in just one month? Are there guiding principles for anyone? What has worked for me? Well, all of the above, and none of them. I told this aspirant that I have heard that there are three rules for good writing, but unfortunately no one knows what they are. I started writing seriously before I was 20, over 60 years ago, but life interfered for the first few years. When I finally got full time to write, I buzzed though a number of story ideas I had, then seemed to poop out, creatively. They call it Writer's Block, and it's a real phenomenon that wipes out many writers. It took me about a year to develop my writing stamina so that I could write when I chose and never run out of viable ideas. The answer was my anti-block technique, the essence of which is start writing, and when you stall, start writing notes about what's your hangup, talking to yourself, until you figure it out, then resume writing text. I realized that I could not afford block, any more than an actor can afford crippling stage fright. I suffered that too in college drama; it was teaching math and English that got me over it, facing students who had no interest in learning, and thereafter I could address any audience without concern. Then when our first surviving child arrived, she was hyperactive, and my uninterrupted writing time was gone. I had to learn how to write interrupted, picking up my place in mid sentence or mid word. Even so, my writing efficiency was cut in half, and it did not recover fully until she went off to college. So setting a set amount to write each day doesn't necessarily work well in real life; life gets in the way with dragon's teeth. My days are constantly interrupted even now, as I make the meals and go shopping for supplies, answer fan letters, read reader manuscripts, etc., apart from doctor's appointments for my wife and me, as advancing age becomes more insistent. Age is a lady dog. So I still write whenever I have time, usually mid morning and mid afternoon, and I think about it at other times, often coming up with key notions when exercising or in the shower. Hang on to those notions; they're the creative essence. I summarize them in pen or pencil, then type them for my voluminous Ideas file and save them for later use. And yes, I refer to that file often; its like the battery in an electric car. Writing only when you feel like it can be problematical; it's too easy to sink into the Slough of Despond and never really feel like it, and if you force it when you don't feel like it, it's like trying to fashion fine art with a meat grinder. The key here is to be able to feel like it anytime; that's a skill worth learning, however long it takes. Just as the key to creativity is not to wait for it, but to learn to summon it like an obedient winged steed. Business hours? My business hours are when I get time, any time. When I get windfall time, such as a canceled appointment, or getting stuck awake at night, I get extra writing done. Write a novel in one month? It's a novel idea, pun intended, and NANOWRIMO (there's a link in my ongoing survey of electronic publishers and related services) will be happy to accommodate your effort. It's probably worth doing, once, even if all it accomplishes is to satisfy you that you're not cut out to be a writer after all. But if quality is what you seek, or sales to publishers, this is not the best way. Keep a daily word count? Now there's a straight Yes, for me; I keep a daily work record, and a significant part of it is the word count of my fictive text and related notes. For instance, 1-29-15 the count was 100/100 Ghost Writer, which means I wrote 100/ words text in Chapter 7 and /100 words notes figuring out what I was going to write. The count was small because it was essentially on standby as I wrestled with the throes of Survey updating and this HiPiers Column writing at the end of the month. The first day I started writing this novel on the 5th of the month the count was 1100/400 and the second day was 2100/200 as the wheels started turning. It's a nice ox-goad for those who need the encouragement. As you see, just about every day I do some text and some notes; there are always things to figure out, and I do it continuously. Some days it's no text, only thousands of word of notes. Which is why I never suffer Block; I don't quit when the ornery text locks up. Those notes are just as important as the text; they're like the foundation of a building, unseen by the public but essential to the whole. I love to write, and feel incomplete when I'm not writing, including notes. But for you, aspiring writer, I really can't tell you what or how to write; it has to be welling irresistibly out of you, like volcanic magma, with the main problem being shaping it into a coherent narrative before it hardens into permanent rock. Imagination and discipline: both are essential. And I hope this helps.

And on to the clippings. A letter in the Tampa Bay Times by Karen Orr says that agriculture may be the main climate changer, especially animal agriculture, the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption, and pollution. It destroys rain forests, drives species to extinction, erodes topsoil, and makes ocean dead zones, as well as contributing to world hunger and health problems because the land could be used far more efficiently to feed people directly. “If we really want to lessen our impact on climate change, the quickest way to do it is to cease the consumption of animals.” Ah, but is vegetarianism healthy? Article in the January 24 issue of NEW SCIENTIST addresses this concern. Meat eating promotes cancer, heart disease, and obesity. But people who eat no meat at all are at higher risk of early death. Huh? Eat meat you lose, don't eat meat you lose? Turns out that a small amount of meat is beneficial; too much or too little makes problems. It does not mention ovo-lacto vegetarians, which is what I am: I eat milk, cheese and eggs, and products containing them. I suspect that this makes me technically a minimalist meat eater, the healthiest category. The thing is, you can get eggs and milk without killing the animals. Not that I approve the ways the big commercial outfits treat those creatures; I'd rather see a return to free-range. But cramming your face with their corpses is wicked.

A NEW SCIENTIST interview with E O Wilson, author of The Meaning of Human Existence, addresses a huge question. What are we, where do we come from, where are we going? He says that tribalism, as we unify in groups, is a natural urge, but it has been hijacked by religion. He's an agnostic scientist, not knowing all the answers. “For the sake of human progress, the best things we could possibly do would be to diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths.” I agree. When I think of the way the Catholic Church and other conservative religions promote the absence of contraception, thus contributing to further destructive overpopulation, and historically refused to accept things like the earth orbiting the sun or evolution, and how Islam seems to foster the slaughter of infidels (that's us), I wonder whether we wouldn't be better off without religion. Just have social groups doing good things, not wasting time worshiping fantasy gods. Letter by Raymond Gibson in US News & World Report, February 28, 2000 (yes it's one of the older clippings I rediscovered) commenting on an article about Hell, remarks that it seems that modern folk don't so much fear separation from God or the fires of Hell, but “They dread ceasing to exist, or the loss of their being themselves.” That's it exactly. Religion proffers the surely false reassurance that death won't be the end after all.

There's a dangerous intestinal infection with wrenching symptoms. Fortunately there's a cheap lo-tech pill to fix it. But folk don't necessarily want to take that pill, so it may be better if they don't know what's in it. So what's in it? Human feces. It represents a more convenient alternative to fecal transplants, which require a thorough colon cleansing and then liquid feces inserted via the rectum. So far the pills are strikingly effective, fixing about 19 of 20 cases. Wouldn't you take that pill if you needed it?

Older clippings: Column by Ted Rall back in April says suicide now kills more people than gun violence, as the rates of suicide have increased by 60% in the past 50 years. Why? The conjecture is that there's a relentless tendency toward monopoly, consolidation of wealth, and rising inequality under capitalism. The awareness of inequality is what kills. If you're poor and you know that everyone else is poor too, you can handle it. But if you know that you're poor because others have played the system to take money that really should have been yours, and you can't do anything about it, that's harder to handle. Being ranked low on the totem hurts. An item from 2000 says that the arguments against gay marriage tend to be couched in religious terms like sinful, profane, God fearing. But they don't clarify how gay marriage harms heterosexual marriage. The gays simply want equal rights in this respect, but conservative religionists oppose that. That does not seem to speak well for religion.

Article in an October 2014 NEW SCIENTIST says to send for the Sunflower. This is a solar energy harvester that turns sunlight into electricity and heat and produces clean drinking water in the process. It needs minimal maintenance. Sigh; they'll never allow it in Florida, the supposed Sunshine State, where the vested interests determinedly stamp out solar power.

Email from Jeffrey Redd informs me of their work concerning alcohol and drug addiction. “If you have a concern about addiction, for yourself or a loved one, check out our page at http://www.signsofaddiction.org/.”

Sigh: it's happened again: I have two thirds of a slew of clippings I'd like to comment on, but am out if time if I want to get this Column done on schedule. Readers continue to vote for long columns, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I—wait, that's the poet Frost. Still, it suggests the situation. As mentioned above, I'm writing a novel, answering correspondence, doing housework, trying to gain on backlogged chores, transcribing notes for a really sexy story, reading good books, watching videos (life is not 100% work, and I do review them here) and so on, and my time is like the national finances: never enough of it. So I hope you can be satisfied with this 5,100 word effort.

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