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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
AwGhost 2017

Note for whoso might be interested: this month, AwGhost, marks twenty years of newsletters on HiPiers.com, the first one posted AwGhost 1997. Before the web site was the printed edition, which expired Mayhem 1997. Time crunches remorselessly on, as we enter the Internet Age.

Open Road has two promotions this month. Five Portraits will be featured on their weekly newsletter deals for 8/17/2017, downpriced to $2.99 an all US retailers on that day. That's the one that introduces the five remarkable children from Xanth future, who will in due course become regular characters in subsequent novels: here is where you can meet them. Then on 8/24/2017 Five Portraits will be downpriced to $1.99 and featured on Early Bird Books. So if you can't make it one day, be there on the other day.

I read The Necronomnomnomicon by Felix C Galvan. This is the sequel to Cookbook of the Dead, which reviewed here in 2012. Seventeen year old Althea is home from her stint at the wild magic cooking show, thinking maybe to settle back down to ordinary life, but her notoriety from the cooking exploits prevents that. Also, she turns out to have powerful magic, and needs to get special training to learn to control it, lest she hurt or kill someone by accident. Also her little dog, Boy, has powerful magic of his own, and is designated as a guardian. And one of her classmates, Nancy, turns out to be a pixie in disguise. When Nancy reverts to her natural form of a tiny winged woman, her clothing drops off, and when she changes back she has to put her clothing back on before boys see her goodies. Pixies normally go unclothed, but human boys get ideas when they see goodies. One boy does see, thinks Nancy's an illusion, kisses her, and thus becomes her fiance. So Althea's life is complicated by her friends as well as by her own situation. At the end mean spirited elves are planning to invade Earth and reduce the human population to livestock, so they have to organize to fight them off. That will occur in the next volume. It's a pretty wild fantasy, but needs a copy editor for punctuation and format.

I read Names of Power: The Angel, by Travis Galvan, brother of Felix Galvan above. You might take this for a juvenile, as the protagonist Ren is sixteen, with a brother Bo, fourteen, living with their father, perfectly ordinary teens. There's no sex or sexually suggestive material. But it might be stiff going for a juvenile, because they get into serious mischief. It starts when a new neighbor moves in, with a couple of dachshunds, that is, wiener dogs. Few things are as they first seem, and the story quickly escalates into an ugly mystery: something is killing people by breaking their legs and eating their hearts and brains. It turns out to be werewolves, and worse, Bo becomes one. Every full moon he has to go out to feed on folk. Ren—well, she's the angel of the title, but she's not exactly angelic in the innocent sense, and her process of self discovery is difficult and not always pleasant. Before she is done she must become a martial artist and be ready to kill. This is one wild, hard-hitting fantasy with a constant chain of surprises. By the end Ren is ready for future challenges; I suspect other names of power will come on the scene in subsequent volumes.

I watched The Water Diviner. 1915 Turkey, soldiers are charging a fort. Then Australia, where a Joshua is divining for water. He digs a well and strikes water. But his wife is distraught about their three lost sons, last known of in that Turkey battle. She kills herself. So he sets out in 1919 to find them and bring them back to her. He goes to Turkey. His boys all died August 7, 1915. The authorities say that the dead were buried in unmarked pits together with the horses and such, and tell him to go home. But he persists. He finds the place and in his mind hears them groaning as they die. He finds one: shot through the head, executed where he lay, because neither side was taking prisoners. Or were they? One son may have been taken alive. Many Turks are hostile, as he is British, their enemy in the war. But the lady hotel keeper, at first hostile, takes a shine to him and help him. Now the Turks are fighting the Greeks. Their train gets ambushed by Greeks. Joshua helps some escape. He finally finds one son, Arthur, alive. He learns that Arthur shot his brother, a mercy killing, not an execution. Joshua and Arthur escape together, and return to the hotel. Something may develop with the lady. This is a hard hitting historical story, a reminder of how rough and ugly history can be.

I read The Forsaken, Stories of Forgotten Places, edited by Joe McKinney and Mark Onspaugh, because a story of mine is in it. I wrote “The Privy” in 2010 but the volume has only now been published; sometimes these things take time. I like to know the company my stories keep. My story concerns an outdoor privy that still stinks a decade after it stopped ever being used. Think about that a moment. A rich uncle left the property to our protagonist. Was it contempt for him, or something else? The other 21 stories range from horror to humor. In general they are finely detailed; I really got the feel of those abandoned places and yes, their creepiness. They aren't necessarily all the way dead, you see. I'm not a horror fan, but for my taste the stronger stories came later in the volume. This is not to say the others don't have their points, just that it's really not feasible to discuss them all, so I am focusing to the harder hitting ones. Such as “The Pressboard Factory” by Peter N Dudar. Ryan is a girl in a boy's body, bullied by others, finally hiding out at the haunted Pressboard Factory where intruders tend to die. He cuts off his male anatomy; does he become a girl? We can't be sure. “Mother's Nature” by Wally Runnels. This one's a shocker. Rocky goes to check on the woman Moya for a friend, but instead encounters Pomona. He helps her in a night of healing sick animals; she's doing good work. Then she gets interested in him, and her sex appeal manifests and she forcefully seduces him, but during the act starts to bite off his head. She's a kind of praying mantis, and she wants some offspring. “Hollow” by Michael C Lea. Thomas is on a moon mission, and discovers that the moon is shrinking. In fact it is hollow, and inside is sort of like a planetarium that shows a remarkable story of the war waged between God and Satan for the future of the world. Thomas will return to Earth, but which side is he on? This is a philosophic shocker. “Lullaby Land” by the second editor. A plot of land seems haunted, and a boy flees to it. Those pursuing him are intercepted by the Sandman, who is not at all nice. “Ghost Town” by the first editor is a tough minded police story with verisimilitude: that is, believability. The abandoned place is part of the city itself, and cops are plagued with alcoholism and guilt. I get the uneasy feeling that this is the nature of many police departments, hidden from the public, not good or bad, just grim. Overall, this volume is more than just obscure places; there are disturbing concepts and things to think about.

I watched Inside Llewyn Davis. This is a week in the grim life of a struggling young musician, a folk singer, circa 1961. We see and hear him singing, and his friends, and it's very nice music for my taste. “If you miss the train I'm on, you will know that I am gone, you can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.” One of my college roommates later became part of a group that did that song; I loved it, then and now. Two of Llewyn's friends are Jim and Jean, also nice singers. Jean is pregnant, but she's not sure if it's Jim's or Llewyn's, so she has to get rid of it, though she desperately wants Jim's child. She is furious with Llewyn, and her angelic singing contrasts with her gutter language condemnation of him. A friend's cat escapes, and when he catches the cat the door is locked, so he is stuck trying to take care of the cat midst everything else. When he finally manages to return it, it's the wrong cat. Money he is owed is always delayed. His relations with friends go wrong. He gets a lift to Chicago, but the senior passenger is a boor; then the police arrest the driver, no reason, and he's back on his own, hitchhiking. Looking for gigs that don't work out. Then back to New York. Turns out his family threw out his old stuff, including a license he needs to perform. Some mischief he brings on himself with ill tempered outbursts. He gets beat up because of one of those. Overall, this is realistic and bleak; it is evidently as hard to make it singing as it is writing. But when you are in the creative or performing arts, and your dream won't let you go, what can you do? I understand too well.

I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the first sequel to Planet of the Apes. The apes are talking to each other, albeit it mostly in sign language, and even writing messages. The humans destroyed each other, so now the apes govern the world. Or so they thought. It turns out that plague killed many, but not all. A band of humans appears and there is a standoff. The humans are not gone; they thought the apes were gone, and are amazed to see them armed and even talking. Is there to be war between apes and humans? The apes go into an abandoned city, the leaders on horseback—only to be met by the armed humans. The ape leader, Caesar, says they don't want war, but will fight if they have to. The humans are running out of power, and must get the local dam generator working, but it is in ape territory. So the human leader, Malcolm, goes to negotiate. They are hostile, but the ape leader agrees to consider. They compromise, but mutual trust is slight. Humans have to stop aggressive humans, and apes stop apes to make it work. But they have only one day to get the generator going. The lights come on, but rebellious apes shoot Caesar and burn the generator, blaming it on the humans. They raid the armory for guns, and make war on the humans. Mayhem. Renegade Koba takes over the apes, trying to wipe out the humans. Then man fights man and ape fights ape, good vs. evil. They manage to save Caesar, who kills Koba, but the war has started and will not be stopped. There will be more on this tragedy. I had supposed, when the movies came out, that this was junk, and avoided it. I was phenomenally wrong.

I watched Kate & Leopold. He is a 19th century bachelor; she is a 21st century woman. How's that again? It seems there's a time warp. Leo falls through it and winds up in contemporary New York, over a century later, in the apartment of his descendant, Stuart. He meets Kate, Stuart's ex girlfriend. They don't exactly hit it off immediately. Then she gets him to do a commercial for her ad company, and it's great. Then a purse snatcher steals her purse and flees, and Leo catches a horse and rides to catch him. Kate is further impressed. Kate is not very good with men, but Leo is very good with women. They fall in love. But they are of different times and cultures. He must return to his own. He does—and she follows him, having seen her own picture in a historic photo. She joins him just in time. What this means for history we can't say, but she marries him in the past. This is a fun movie.

I watched the Discover video Inventions that Shook the World, 1900s. Could it be possible to transmit a human voice via wireless signals? Converting it to radio waves was a formidable challenge, but they rose to it, using amplitude modulation, or AM radio. They also developed Fingerprinting. Cellophane. Disposable razors. Electric cash register. Flame thrower. Air conditioner. Crayons. Model T Ford. Vacuum cleaner. The Wright Brothers' plane: powering a glider, then working out how to guide it. They made a wind tunnel to test different designs of wings, then made the first airplane. Then the inventions of the 1990s. The first Hubble Telescope pictures were blurry. They had curved the mirror wrong, and apparently never tested it before sending it up. Twenty years and a billion dollars down the drain? They sent up a repair mission to adjust the focus—and now the pictures were sharp and clear! Other inventions: the Internet. Genetic cloning, such as Dolly the Sheep. The wind-up radio—there the problem was finding investors to make it happen. The GPS. The brain computer interface, that enables a totally paralyzed man to communicate. The camera phone. The stem cell. The Mars Pathfinder. How to land it safely? Surround it with air bags. But they all popped. Until they tried multi-layered bags. At last the vehicle was exploring Mars.

I read The Powers That Flee, by Brian Clopper. Every chapter starts with the word “So,” beginning with “So Sucked In.” Sixteen year old Darin isn't much, and his fourteen year old sister is a pain. He's too shy to approach the pretty new girl in class, Rachel, and a bully is constantly out to get him in ever more ingenious and awful ways. Routine, so far. Then things get weird. Details are complicated, but over-simply put, Darin acquires a sort of tattoo that gives him remarkable powers, once he figures out how to invoke them. Such as repelling water so firmly that he actually floats above a pond, or becoming so tough that when the bully sucker punches him, the bully's hand is smashed. Each power lasts about a day, gradually diminishing, as hinted by the title. He reconnects with an old friend, and with Rachel, and soon they are time traveling, among other things, trying to save her father from getting killed. There is a bad guy killing people; they finally get into the bad guy's mind, but instead of tearing it up, they enable him to cure his own cancer, which he duly appreciates. That's not the only unusual turn this novel takes. Read it and be surprised; it's a juvenile with adult aspects.

Star Trek: The Next Generation. Episode #4: “The Last Outpost.” They are in pursuit of a Ferengi ship that stole an artifact. Little is known about this culture, which is about as advanced as our own. Then the alien ship pauses and uses its technology to immobilize the Enterprise in space. The Ferengi are like the old Yankee traders whose motto is “Caveat emptor”--let the buyer beware. Their ship looks like a giant horseshoe crab shell. Then it turns out that the Ferengi ship is also held in stasis by some third power, maybe associated with the local planet. So they make a deal with the Ferengi to cooperate in exploring the planet, as a common enemy. But the Ferengi party ambushes the human party, and accuses the humans of starting it. They are relative midgets with no integrity. Tasha beams down and counters that. An alien representative of a 600,000 year gone culture appears, reads minds, and is satisfied that the humans are worthwhile, and frees their ship.

Episode #5: “Where No One Has Gone Before” There is a new variation of starship drive the authorities want to install on the Enterprise. But the word is it does nothing special, and the designer is arrogant, with an alien assistant who seems somehow empty. They try it, after tinkering with details—Dr. Crusher's genius type son Wesley understands it but sees a couple of errors, which the alien assistant acknowledges, recognizing the boy's genius. Suddenly the ship is almost three million light years away, having passed through two galaxies, a trip that would normally take 300 years. Meanwhile Wesley and the alien, known as the traveler, are getting along, but the alien is suffering some malady. He phases in and out while the warp drive is engaged. Wesley wants to help him, but others brush him off. They try to return, and suddenly are a billion light years out. Weird things continue, such as animals appearing and disappearing on the ship, an orchestra, people from the past. Phantoms conjured from folks memories? They catch on that it is the alien who is doing it and question him. He says that Wesley is the reason he travels: to find folk like him, true geniuses of their arts. Then he focuses on the return trip, all personnel ordered to focus on their jobs and on the well being of the alien. It works, getting them home, but the traveler phases completely out. Captain Picard promotes Wesley to Ensign; he is now officially part of the crew, thanks to the traveler's recommendation.

Episode #6: “Lonely Among Us.” They must try to negotiate a deal with two hostile alien species. They encounter an odd energy pattern cloud in space. Then Lieutenant Worf, the Klingon crewman, gets zapped when he touches a screen. Dr. Crusher gets zapped in turn when she touches him. Now she seems not to be herself. Then she zaps the controls, and they malfunction. Something is passing from person to person, changing their minds and actions. Then Assistant Chief Engineer Singh gets zapped similarly and is dead. Captain Picard investigates, and gets zapped himself. Uh-oh. He orders the ship to reverse course, to return to the space cloud. The empath Counselor Troi distrusts this, and so do the other officers. They challenge Picard, and he zaps them all, and beams himself into the cloud. The android Data finally manages to beam him back, recovered. The cloud does not seem to have been dealt with.

Episode #7: “Justice” They discover a nice earth like planet, so check it out for shore leave. Is it too good to be true? The natives are healthy and friendly, and eager to make love. Scantily clad couples are running around everywhere. But in space there is something they can't identify. It sends a globe at them that enters the ship and demands to know its purpose here. Meanwhile, planetside, they learn that the punishment for any infraction is death. Wesley falls into a bed of plants,o damaging some, and so must die. They negotiate, and finally it seems that the godlike orbiting entity sees their point and they are allowed to depart.

While reading The Powers That Flee, reviewed above, I suffered a chain of thought that gave me an idea for my own story relating to a defense against school bullying. That developed into a short novella, Ghost Ensemble, almost 20,000 words, about a girl a bully wants to peek at and feel up, if he stops at that, and she knows that if she tries to report him, she may wind up with the blame. It can be like that in the real world. And the ghost who saves her, being a martial artist. In the end six ghosts pair with six teens to form an ensemble to put on musical plays. The ghosts have professional expertise, and the teens have raw talent, in addition to the advantage of being alive, and it works out remarkably well. But how did the ghosts die, and why are they remaining here? They have their own problems to work out, and the living protagonist has to try to get it fixed lest the next disaster take out the teens too. So this is a ghost story, but not a spook story: these ghosts are people too. I may include this one in my stories series Relationships 7.

I had my other eyeball done, the cataract removed. Again I had to abstain from eating or drinking anything six hours before surgery. This is problematical because when I exercise in the morning I sweat, and I need to drink water to prevent dehydration, but these labs don't understand about that. In addition, it's wrong: science now knows that hunger makes recovery more difficult, while proper eating and drinking shorten;s hospital stays. Similar is true for blood tests: eating normally makes no difference. Try to tell that to the blood lab! They are locked in the 19th century. I remember how as a child I was forbidden to swim within an hour of eating anything: now it is known that this, too, is nonsense. Anyway, the surgery this time was a completely different experience. The doctor put in eye drops that burned like fire, and kept on burning twenty minutes; all I could do was suffer through until suddenly the doctor said it was done. I was aware of none of it, other than the burn. But in the followup visit, the doctor said the procedure was exactly the same as the first one, and that all patients reported strikingly different experiences. Oh? That's weird. Now I am amidst the eye drop regimen, having navigated the week of nightly eye patches. Is my vision better? Well, I no longer need glasses to read the computer screen, or to read regular print in bright light, but for mediocre light I use a pair of dime store type magnifying glasses my wife had, that magnify two and a half times. So I think I'm not actually seeing better, overall, yet, but now I'm doing it mostly without glasses. At intermediate range, such as fifteen feet, I do see better, however. I was horrified to discover from the Medicare statements that it costs almost seven thousand dollars per eye. But that's America. In Europe, where they have competition, there are medical procedures of many types costing a tenth as much. This is a weakness of free enterprise: the special interests have control, and their interest is not in our health so much as in their profit. Which may be the real reason Republicans so loathe Obamacare: it tries to reduce those costs. Where is the profit in that?

Incidental incident: my wife was driving on a routine grocery shopping trip, I in the passenger seat. She stopped at the line, then pulled slowly forward, looking for a parking space near the store, as she can't walk far. Whereupon an older woman with an unleashed toddler, maybe a grandchild, stepped out in front of us and yelled “You're supposed to stop!” as the toddler almost ran into our car. As if we were the careless ones putting the child's life at risk. Saints preserve us from the self righteous who blame others for their own errors. Saints preserve that child.

Which puts me in mind of a current outrage, neatly summed up by a letter in the Tampa Bay Times for 7-30-2017. Five Florida teenagers saw a man drowning. Not only did they not try to help him in any way, they taunted him as he expired. It seems there's no law that says they did anything wrong. The letter, by Steve Ericson, draws a parallel to our president and senate who are doing everything they can to keep twenty million Americans from receiving needed medical help, as they try to destroy Obamacare and give the money to the richest one percent. If they get their way, it won't be one person who dies, but hundreds of thousands. It seems there's no law requiring compassion for the many. Is there a significant difference between those teens and those politicians? Are they actually proud of themselves? Is this really the contemporary way of America, the land I so hopefully adopted as an immigrant almost 60 years ago? Saints preserve us, again.

I have been devoting my Chore Hours, which replaces my former archery practice, to necessary chores that I wouldn't get to otherwise, and the house and drive are profiting thereby. This past month I was sorting though buried piles of papers, trying to file them properly or throw them out if they are no longer relevant to my life or career, and I encountered an email from Mark Geatches in 2010. He suggested that I add a Frequently Asked Questions section to this website, so I wouldn't have to keep answering the same questions from readers. I agreed it was a good idea: I could make boilerplate answers and make things easier on all of us. Then I guess I lost the letter and didn't do it. It still strikes me as a good idea. Maybe this time I'll start such a section, amending it as more questions come in. Meanwhile my apology to Mark Geatches for my neglect.

Another thing I did in those Chore Hours was catch up on back magazines I had been meaning to read. Such as FREE INQUIRY, the secular humanist magazine. I am a humanist. Maybe a reminder here is in order of what humanism is, taken from another magazine, THE HUMANIST: “Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.” I have been searching for decades to find something, anything, that I disagree with in humanism, and haven't yet succeeded. It simply makes utter sense to me. There are religious humanists who believe in an afterlife: I don't, but I allow them their freedom of belief as they allow me my freedom of unbelief. I also allow the rest of the world its freedom of belief. Remember, I am agnostic, rather than atheist, though I am nervously close to atheism. So I am a secular humanist, and these magazines are very much on my wavelength. But if there's one thing that bores me, it's reading things I already agree with. Where's the challenge in that? So I get behind, and thereby risk missing salient thoughts. Such as Tom Flynn's editorial in the June / July issue, which starts “Is it too soon for an editorial that steps back from the perpetual train wreck of Donald J. Trump's presidency to focus on one of humanism's more, well, perennial discontents?” He is referring to a noted historian's phenomenal ignorance about humanism. Unfortunately ignorance does not stop someone from publicizing his views. Also in the issue is an article arguing how the Big Bang enabled Evolution. True, of course; we are all made of star stuff. And one on overpopulation, by Karen Shragg, pointing out that the world is a closed system: we can't simply keep adding more people indefinitely. We have to reduce human numbers. Amen. So what can we do about it? “We must be vigilant and not let anyone, from reporters to clergy, from conservationists to politicians, get away with lying to us.” One answer is birth control. I have felt for some time that the Catholic Church's stance here is bordering on criminal: their policy will destroy the world, not save it. The author points out that societies that have taken measures to control their populations have improved their lots thereby. And an article by Mark Cagnetta arguing that Jesus is a myth. I have wavered back and forth on this, and this article nudges me back into unbelief about Jesus. There were a number of cults with their private myths, and what we know of Jesus aptly fits such a cult, now called Christianity. “The Jesus of the Bible,” he concludes, “In a world explained by physics, chemistry, and biology, can only be described as a myth.” He makes a persuasive case. Then the July/August 2017 THE HUMANIST features a series of articles on the nature and future of sex. That should jump their circulation! So is sex here to stay? Yes, probably.

Another buried magazine is the Summer 2017 issue of the AUTHORS GUILD BULLETIN. I have been a member for decades, and they have always had excellent advice for authors, but in my limited experience they been elitist and have tended to have better things to do than help a writer get accurate statements from a publisher. Remember, I was blacklisted for six years because I demanded a correct accounting, so it's a sensitive matter for me. I survived because not every publisher honored the blacklist. In this present instance I made my case, and a Guild official asked me to show him my evidence, clearly supposing I did not know what I was talking about. Hardly anyone gets away with that with me; I keep records and try to be accurate throughout. I sent my evidence, which was rock solid, and he admitted to being set back: the statements were a work of fiction. But, he said, the Guild did not audit the sales of paperback books, only hardcovers. So much for that: I was a paperback writer, largely unable to get published hardcover. One of the peons. Eventually I got a correct statement in another case via my own effort, which was as I recall for about $97,000. That one was not cheating but simply getting behind by the publisher, but it shows that I'm not exactly a peon financially. The Guild seemed to be more interested in promoting special forums and dinners that only the top percentage of real writers could ever afford to attend; I could afford to, but I was a working writer, too busy writing to spare the time. But the guild does do good work, and I support it, even if it isn't perfect. The article that caught my attention this time was “Why is it so Goddamned Hard to Make a Living as a Writer Today?” by Douglas Preston. He says that the average income of a full time author decreased from $25,000 a year in 2009 to $17,500 in 2015. Actually it never was easy to make a living writing: my first year brought me $160; my wife was earning our living. When readers ask me how to make a living writing, I say have a working spouse. They want to know how I made it to the top with six and seven figure annual incomes in my heyday, so they can do likewise, but it's like winning a lottery: few succeed, and it's pretty much pure luck for those who do. I had some breaks that I doubt will ever be repeated by anyone; luck is huge in writing. Preston says that when a writer can't make a living writing, he has to go elsewhere, and his groundbreaking books are lost because they are never written. Yes. One cause of diminished earnings, he says, is the attitude that information wants to be free. Get this: folk think plumbers should be paid for their work, and doctors, and shoemakers, and dime store clerks, but not writers, so it's fine to steal their work on the Internet. This is done not just by two bit pirates, but by giant outfits like Google and Facebook. Authors Guild sued Google for taking books without paying for them--and lost. Par for the course; justice is not always served in the courts. Publishers are suffering, so what are they doing? Taking it out of the authors' hides by cutting advances, dropping midlist authors, rejecting books they once would have published, spending less on promotion, focusing on bestselling authors and celebrities, taking three quarters of electronic royalties, and so on. The average writer gets screwed, and woe betide the one who objects. Actually the traditional publishers never did give authors much of a beak, as I learned the hard way. Wanting a fair accounting made me a pariah? You can see why I support self publishing. It remains a rough course, though. Regardless, I'm glad to see the Guild now getting into the trenches, instead of standing idle while the National Writer's Union sued to get authors paid for internet publication of their articles, and Harlan Ellison sued to stop the big outfits from selling pirated pieces. I supported both those efforts, with money, but did wonder where the Guild was then.

A reader chided me for introducing a gay character in Xanth, then burying him in the background. I responded that it was not so; in the two Xanth novels written but not yet published, #42 Fire Sail and #43 Jest Right, the gay boy Santo, who was suggested by a reader, introduced in Five Portraits, is slowly coming to the fore, though still a child. He is coming to grips with his orientation, not wanting to make a bad scene. He is quite smart, with a Magician caliber talent, but not looking for trouble. He is surrounded by three sisters and an adoptive mother, all female, and values and loves them all. He even gets a girlfriend who knows his nature and helps him cover when among bigoted strangers. He likes her very well: it's just not actually romantic, but a relationship of convenience. When he is adult he will find a man. Whereupon my correspondent said that giving him a girlfriend was the most offensive thing I could ever have written for a gay character, and he is ditching my books. Well, I hope that is not the way most gay readers feel. Between those straights who have dumped me because I have a gay character, and gays who dump me because he is tolerant about women, I am losing readers. So be it. Xanth #44 Skeleton Key will have a transsexual character, also a child, a girl in a boy's body, not played for laughs or relegated to the background. At one point they will pass through the portal that changes the physical gender, which really complicates things. Will I have any readers left?

I learned that emojis are not emoticons. The first are images, actual little pictures: the second are formed from typographical marks. I suspect the rest of the world knew this a decade ago; I can be a bit slow off the mark. Another new word is “quinceanera” which I gather is a sort of coming of age rite in some religions. My dictionaries don't have it: like me, they come from another century.

Shorter takes on this & that: article in NEW SCIENTIST suggests that maybe the Higgs boson that gives mass to everything else also caused the Big Bang that started the universe. I will be interested to learn more of that, as they discover it. Here in local Florida is Caliente, which as I recall from my childhood year in Spain means “hot,” a nudist resort in Land O'Lakes. The bare human body is perceived as sexual only because it is hidden by clothing, they say. I suspect they are correct: clothing is sexier than bareness, especially for older folk. No, they don't allow gawkers: single men who visit must be accompanied by a woman. If I were single and looking for a companion, I suspect a visit there might help, not because of sexuality but because women there would likely be less burdened by the hangups of traditional society, which are hardly limited to clothing. A study links football to degenerative brain disease, showing that 99% of donated football player brains had it. That's an astonishing and awful statistic. So will we cease these body-banging sports? Don't hold your breath. Political cartoon shows adding Trump to Mt Rushmore, where the faces of presidents are hugely carved: his portrait is the hind end of a horse. And a newspaper article by the supermodel Paulina Porizkova says “America made me a feminist.” She makes a lot of sense; America does have peculiar attitudes about women and sexuality. “It turned out that most of America didn't think of sex as a healthy habit or a bargaining tool. Instead it was something secret. If I mentioned masturbation, ears went red. Orgasms? Men made smutty remarks, while women went silent.” Attitudes in Sweden, as she describes it, are far superior to those in America. As a writer who tries to incorporate some realistic sex in his fiction, not porn, and gets blow-back for it, I resonate. And more on consciousness: it may be a tool for rapid, effective learning, an obvious survival advantage. Selective attention, awareness of self, emotions—as with three dimensional vision, we get enormous coincidental benefits. And someone's suggested addition to the Second Amendment: “...when serving in the militia.” That might eliminate most of the irresponsible nuts who just want to shoot 'em up, heedless of the carnage.

I could ramble on longer, but I have books to read, stories to write, and videos to watch.

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