Note - It is the final issue of the printed newsletter NOT the virtual one.
This is the final column of the final issue of the HI PIERS NEWSLETTER. It is sad to see it end, but that is the way of life and business. I understand that an Internet Page will be set up, and I'll contribute to that, by typing my material and having it transcribed by others who know what they are doing on-line. I repeat, I am not online, have never been, and don't expect to be soon. I have done interviews there, but those have been by phone, with someone transcribing for me. The last was handled by PEOPLE Magazine, and I hope it worked out okay. The questions were the usual; it is evident that many folk online don't even check what information is already available there. Much of it was spent waiting while my words were typed in, so I tried to keep them brief.
Brief updates on my assorted exercises: I moved my compound bow up to 60 pounds draw weight, and had to adjust my sights accordingly, because the arrows were going high. I'm doing spot aiming now, because too many arrows were clustering in the center. I aim the first for the center, the next for twelve o'clock as it were, then 6 o'clock, 9 o'clock, and 3 o'clock. That is, center, up, down, left, right. This morning I missed twice, going too high when I aimed up, and too far right when I aimed right, and injured another arrow. I'll have to watch that. Left handed I had one good day, hitting with 9 of 10 at a hundred feet, but the following time I was back to 50%. So today I moved up to fifty feet, and hit with all arrows, but not at the precise spots on the target I was aiming for. So there is work to be done yet. The RowBike I got I expect to use seldom over the summer, because it makes me too hot, but I have ridden it a cumulative scant twenty miles, and managed to make it up our hill several times. I have also crashed twice; my drive is narrow, and when I veer the wrong way I'm suddenly up against a pine tree. I have the scratches to prove it. I use hand weights for general arm exercise, and they are versatile. I suspect I won't ever need more than the ten pound weights. Ten pounds may not sound like much, but hefting ten pounds in each hand around at arm's reach quickly becomes tiring, and I am building muscle. Similar story on the morning newspaper-fetching jogs: a 1.5 mile round trip as fast as I can make it, which is now just over the eight minute mile rate (about seven miles an hour), is laughable in terms of the Olympics, but a solid workout for me at age 62, and keeps me lean and fit. One morning there was heavy rain, and I had to splash through puddles, soaking my shoes, ruining my time, so I bought a pair of tough weather sandals, but they didn't fit, so I'll stay with the sneakers and try to avoid bad weather.
There are things I haven't mentioned in this column, because I hoped to cover them when they were solidly established. Then they fell through. Sigh. So now is the time, since there will not be a tomorrow as far as this publication is concerned. The most exciting prospect was one the Turner entertainment empire was going to do: a sequel movie to The Wizard of Oz. Reviewers are an ignorant lot, but one made a comment years back that made sense to me, saying that Xanth was like a slightly more mature version of Oz. Yes, I think so. I did not try to copy Oz-I suspect the genesis of Xanth owes more to the Raggedy Ann books, with their gardens of lollipops, or the Narnia novels, with their sapient animals-but I did read all 14 original Oz novels to my daughter Penny twice, when she was that age, along with the Arabian Nights and much else. So I was conversant with Oz. Is it the sort of thing I could write, if I chose to? Yes. So when they wanted a pro writer to write an original Oz novel that would be a sequel not to any of the 14 but to the movie, so that the sequel movie could then be made from that novel, I was the one. I took a month and did a 20,000 words sample and summary presentation, following their description, wherein the Wicked Witch of the West is revived and flies on her broomstick through the rainbow to Kansas to recover the magic slippers from Dorothy. But more time has passed than she realizes, and she finds herself in modern day America. At first she is disgusted by the ignorance, as when she flies over Wichita and realizes that it is misspelled: they misplaced the T of Witch-ia. She doesn't realize that Dorothy is now an old hag, and the one she takes as Dorothy is her great granddaughter of the same name, who has a deadly dull mundane job in New York and lives with her dog Tutu. When a man tries to mug her, the witch is furious, and turns him into a toad. It goes on from there, with analogs of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, and Wizard of Oz, who is young Dorothy's psychiatrist. It was to end in a grand finale in Kansas when Dorothy finally faces down the witch as the magic generates the terrible power of a tornado and blows her house away. I understand they were trying to get Michelle Pfeiffer to play Dorothy and Whoopi Goldberg for the Witch. I think it would have been a great Oz novel and a great movie, and it would have put me right back on the bestseller lists. But something must have fallen through, because it softly and silently faded away, and I was left with an unusable manuscript for which I had never been paid a dime. Next time, I told my agent firmly, they pay up front.
But hope springs eternal. Later, on my own, I worked up a project intended for movie or TV titled Candle, whose essential feature is a house whose front door opens onto a busy Philadelphia street, and whose back door opens onto a 30,000 year old native forest. It is intended to appeal to the dream I suspect most of us have, to reap the benefits of the city with its shopping malls, movies, jobs, and conveniences, while also having immediate access to utter unsoiled wilderness, without the complications of tedious travel. My house in the middle of a tree farm comes as close to this dream as I can, but Candle is moreso. A senior citizen couple rents the house, and discovers that the first month is free, and that the house is stocked with just about anything they want. What is going on here? Much more than meets the eye. So they bring in the grandchildren to explore things thoroughly. The grandkids are characters in their own right: a smart rebellious 15 year old girl and a mouthy 13 year old boy who is nevertheless really hot on electronics. He has a dog, Obsidian, patterned after ours: her philosophy is that there is nothing on earth that can't be improved by the addition of a cold wet nose. But this is all I'll say, because my agent likes the project, and is currently negotiating for a TV adaptation. Maybe this, too, will fade away, but the issue has not yet been decided.
Meanwhile it looks as if GEODYSSEY is dying. I had hoped to finish out my life on this significant series, but it has to sell at a price sufficient to cover my expenses, such as a full time researcher, and there is now no certainty of that. So until I find a publisher for #4 Muse of Art, I'll hold on #5, Climate of Change, and it may never get done, to my deep regret. Meanwhile I'll try a new project, heroic fantasy, the series titled ChroMagic. A thousand years ago a space ship set down a small human colony on a lovely seeming world named Charm, and never returned. Now there is magic in many colors, and a murder mystery, and magical clones, and a barbarian named Havoc who is made king and wants out. No, not funny fiction; this is serious hard-hitting adult fantasy complete with swords and monsters and revelations that will not much resemble what I have done before, or what others have done. I feel I should be able to do heroic fantasy as well as anyone, and I intend to prove it, in my fashion. Barbarians are not necessarily stupid, monsters are not necessarily without justification, and planets are not necessarily passive. Charm is a rather special world that will be remembered, I think.
Recently we heard from the State of California: it wants $34,000 income tax and penalties from me. Huh? I never lived there. Apparently California feels it is entitled to tax any money that originates there, and I did get movie option money a couple of years ago, for Killobyte, though they never made the movie. This strikes me as an unwarranted grab. The money that Hollywood makes is drawn from movie viewers all over the world; do all those other places demand income tax on it, from the Hollywood studios? The wealth doesn't originate in California; the state is more of a channel, and an option is really like an advance against that widely spread income. So I am consulting an accountant, and we'll see.
But my main irritation of the moment is the Audit. This is simplified, as all the details would be tedious and confusing. I have done some business with BAEN BOOKS, a publisher which at first seemed quite promising. But over the years there were little signals of mischief, and then larger ones, and finally a giant one that required me to take firm action. When I agreed to do If I Pay Thee Not In Gold there collaboratively, it was to be the first of a series. But when my collaborator dumped an insultingly sloppy manuscript on me-apparently she was angry at my assumption that I know how to write Piers Anthony style better than she know how to write Piers Anthony style-I cleaned it up as well as I could, a real headache, and told the publisher I would not do another. That marked the turning point in our relations. The publisher paid the collaborator more than $55,000, and paid me $400. And subsequently stopped sending me statements at all. The publisher had originally estimated, and stated so in the contract, that it expected to pay me, as the senior writer, on the order of $100,000. Obviously I would not have made the deal if I had known it would be for peanuts; money aside, the experience was already bad enough. Evidently the books started to be cooked the moment the publisher felt it didn't need me any more. Not to put too fine a point on this, but I don't think the collaborator's contribution was worth well over a hundred times what mine was, and the failure even to send statements was an open breach of contract. I am not a good writer to stiff. When my agent's repeated queries got nowhere, I acted directly, with a high powered New York auditor backed by the same lawyer I had used before to make TOR honor its own deal. Well, it has now been over four months, and the BAEN is still stonewalling the audit. Preliminary figures indicate that I am owed from $20,000 to $55,000, but these have to be confirmed, and the publisher is not providing the necessary accounts. I suspect it will take a court order to blast them out, and another to force payment actually to be made, with the threat of punitive damages. So the issue is not yet settled, but I think enough shows here to be a warning to other writers who may consider doing business with this publisher.
Let's turn to lighter matters. Back when HI PIERS was set up, live folk answered the phones by day, and recordings answered by night. Understand, my connection there is indirect; I don't run that show, but do have to make up the losses that occur. Some joker managed to crack the phone code and substitute a pornographic message, so that those who called thereafter got this sexy female voice promising something like phone sex. I would have thought it hilarious if it had happened to the office of Citizens for Decency, but somehow my sense of humor faded when it happened in my name. Fortunately a loyal reader, actually it was Tommy, mentioned in the Author's note in Chaos Mode because his school had stolen his autographed copy of Heaven Cent and stonewalled the process of justice, heard the message, caught on, and let us know, so that it was cleaned up within hours. We didn't talk about it here because we didn't want more of that to happen. More recently another joker ran up a $67 bill on the HI PIERS account by sending repeated long messages of scratching sounds. What the joker apparently doesn't know is that the numbers of all callers are recorded. That's true of all 800 numbers. There is no anonymity, just a reversal of the charges. We know the name, and when he called to ask for a free sample Newsletter. So AT&T will give HI PIERS a credit, and go after the joker directly. For some reason AT&T doesn't like jokers ripping off its customers. I suspect that some little brat's seat will be warmed when his daddy gets the bill.
Several years ago Norman Spinrad solicited me for a contribution to his special original anthology, Down in Flames. I've known Norm a long time; an editor bought my novel Omnivore unread (and did well with it) on Norman's say-so, and one of my fans later married him, on her way to becoming a published novelist herself. He's a fine writer. A number of authors of successful genre series-I understand Larry Niven was one-were to write stories for this anthology that torpedoed their own series. Intrigued, I wrote "Adult Conspiracy," wherein what goes on inside the stork works is revealed. Definitely unpublishable in any Xanth novel. Esk Ogre and Bria Brassie, not satisfied with just one son, seven year old Brusque Brassie, signaled the stork for identical twins, male and female. What do you mean, how did they do that? He put his hardest part in her softest part. Twice. Oh, that wasn't your question? Yes, of course I realize that the babies' can't be identical if their genders differ, in Mundania. But with magic anything can happen. So the stork obliged with Epoxy Ogre and Benzine Brassie. Sure, the names aren't perfect, but Esk goofed-I think he was using a cleaning compound at the time-and it was too late to take them back. The twins are now seven years old, and doing well, thank you. I forget what their talents are; I think he can stick any two things together, and she can unstick them. So what did happen in the stork works to generate those babies? Promise not to tell, as it would ruin the Xanth mystique: a Mundane girl was tricked, drugged, impregnated, and sent on a long dream of an ocean cruise, until she delivered; then she was awakened and sent home none the wiser, though she did wonder about the stretch marks. Cloning technology adjusted the genders of the babies. Anyway, it was fun, in its dastardly way, but I never got paid for the story and the volume was never published. Too bad. At least my name wasn't used in perpetual advertising, the way REALMS OF FANTASY has been doing ever since bouncing the story I wrote on request for it. That still rankles. I will be less obliging for future magazines or anthologies, for reasons editors may never understand.
HI PIERS sent me some more printouts from the Internet. One was from Bogartt, saying that many people like my singleton novels, and non-Xanth series. Yes, and I enjoy writing them. But some he names, like Steppe, Pretender, and Hasan, took years to get published. Steppe made it into print in England only because my agent required the unwilling publisher to take it if it wanted to have the Cluster series; years later the novel finally got published in America. By that time I had given up on it as a series. Pretender as I remember was actually the third novel I wrote, and my first collaborative novel, back in 1965-66, finally first published in 1979 by the small press BORGO, whose proprietor I had known as a genre fan; the big publishers bounced it. Hasan bounced a dozen times before it sold, thanks to my innovation: I solicited a reviewer who didn't much like my fiction, Richard Delap, to review the kind of novel I could not get into print, instead of blaming me for the kind I could get into print. He accepted the challenge, loved the novel, said so in a fanzine review, and editor Ted White, with whom I had fought in the fanzines, saw the review, solicited the novel and published it in FANTASTIC in 1969. But that ploy won't work again; Ted White is out of editing, and Delap is dead. Throughout my career I have had to scramble like that to get my written-for-love novels published. I am still so struggling; at this writing I have ten books, collaborative and individual, completed but not yet in print, and some won't see print until the next millennium, thanks to publisher stalling. Two are Xanths, so they'll make it on schedule, but the others-I would have to take legal action again to get the publisher to honor its verbal commitment on their scheduling, and that would be extremely chancy. I think publishers get away with reneging more often than not. Writers who try to stand on their rights and enforce contracts can get blacklisted; I have been the route. Publishing is not a nice business. So this is no easy thing. This Internet person also regrets the demise of the Mode series. So do I. In that case my agent got me an extremely nice contract, six figures per novel, and when the publisher bombed out by lack of promotion and distribution it lost a good deal of money, and that ended that. I can't blame the publisher for not wanting to lose more money, just for booting the series so that it did lose money when it didn't have to. Sending letters to the publisher won't accomplish anything; they really don't much care what individual readers think, just for covering up their mistakes. The Space Tyrant series-should events warrant, I could write The Iron Maiden, but that time is not yet. I left that publisher when it torpedoed the major novel of my career, Tatham Mound, after promising significant support, and I am in the process of reverting all of my novels there, including that series.
Continuing story: remember the man in that fanzine FOSFAX who was blasting me? He finally saw Robert Margroff's letter, privately, showing how wrong he was. I wondered how he would react. Now we know: he simply dropped the subject. No apology, no clarification, just sudden silence. Par for that course. It is possible for honest folk to disagree, but my average critic strikes me as other than honest, by my definition. I say yet again: if you can't make your case by sticking to the truth, it isn't much of a case. I could respect a critic who had a real case, but very few do. Richard Delap, for example, was an honest reviewer; I disagreed with his judgments, and on occasion blasted them in print, but I respected him as a person and we corresponded amicably. I am sorry he is dead.
One day as I rode the recumbent bicycle out to close the gate in the evening, I heard an odd sound. I stopped and investigated, and discovered that one of the pannier pockets I use to carry the newspapers had accumulated a collection of leaves and twigs. I started to clear it out, then realized that this was more serious: wrens were building a nest there. So when I parked the bike I covered it with a swatch of plastic filling material, the kind that comes wrapped around delicate shipped items. Next day the wrens were building a nest in a fold of that. They were really determined, but I suspected they would not like to have their nest make a daily trip to the gate. So I moved the bicycle and draped the plastic over a big iron ring intended for storing firewood. That resembles a bicycle wheel, so maybe they would accept it. I refolded the material to make sure the pocket would not give way, fastening it in place with clothespins. I put all the nesting material in the pocket, and hoped for the best. The setup was right in front of our living room window, so we could watch the proceedings when we chose. And it worked; Carroll and Lina Wren accepted the new situation. We make it a point to stay clear of the nest, but in the morning when the sun slants down right we can see inside, and there are six eggs there. How they will ever feed six chicks I don't know, but I wish them the best. Meanwhile we are keeping the bird baths filled, so it's really a pretty good location: sheltered, protected from most predators, with fresh water and bath close by.
Let's finish on some halfway positive notes: I heard humor on the radio that really set me off. It's that the Post Orifice might issue a stamp in honor of the fire ant. When you lick that stamp, it leaves red stinging welts on your tongue. I wonder if the same would happen with a stamp honoring critics?
And as I typed this column, Tiger Woods was breaking records at the Masters Gold Tournament. I have next to no interest in golf, but did watch some of those holes. My wife is the sports nut in our family; I normally read a magazine in front of the TV, glancing up when shapely young women or nice forest scenes appear.
The first of these Newsletters was published in Fall 1990. It's been about six and a half years, and much has changed. I was a best seller back then, and am not now; my career has plummeted. So it has not been a completely happy time for me. But it has been nice making this contact with you loyal readers, and I'm still getting love letters from teen girls, among others. So neither is my life bleak.
PS: HI PIERS tells me that it will be running pictures and news about its various associates, and I need to fall in line. Okay. The world is not ending for me with the demise of HI PIERS; I expect my life and career to continue in their petty paces for some time yet, albeit perhaps with diminished interest. Our home life is actually pretty dull. I'm a writaholic, at the computer every day of the week, either writing a novel or answering fan mail, while my wife handles the household and accounts. Though my earnings are declining sharply along with my commercial career, we invested wisely at the height and are in no danger of poverty. We can't travel at present because our dog Obsidian couldn't handle it, so we expect to remain indefinitely here on the tree farm, with our wild tortoises, wrens, armadillo, deer, and all, watching the trees grow. It's a good enough life.
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