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Picture of Piers doing archery

DisMember 1998

One of the most frequent queries I have received for the past five years is where is the next Mode novel? I have explained that the publisher expressed no interest in a continuation of the series, so I have not written DoOon Mode. To recap the details: my literary agent had gotten a really good six figure contract on the second and third Mode novels, twice the advance I had gotten for myself on the first Mode novel, which shows why a writer needs a good agent. This was with the expectation that the series would be a hardcover and paperback bestseller, justifying its price. Then the publisher failed to promote the first novel well - in some cases the salesmen didn't even tell bookstores eagerly awaiting it that it was being published, and then under-printed it, had to rush back twice in the month of publication to print more copies, but had already blown it; it was like running to catch up to a plane which has just taken off. A likely bestseller had been torpedoed by ineptitude. Now you might think that they would learn from that, and print more copies of the second novel. No, that's not the way publishers work; they limit the print order of the sequel to the early sell-through of the prior novel, or to some lesser figure, such as 80%. So once they had blown the first one, they blew the other two; it was locked in, like the Titanic going down. That's the way formula publishing works, and any number of writers are suffering declines of sales as their readers are unable to find their books. So though the advance on the first novel earned out, and I'm still receiving royalties, the other two are way behind, and the publisher has taken a loss. That's why another Mode novel is not wanted.

So what do you do when the readers want a novel but the publisher doesn't? Well, in the interim the Internet has become a viable force in publishing. I have invested significantly in two Internet publishers, Xlibris.com and Pulpless.com, because I am ideologically motivated to find a viable alternative to Parnassus - that is, the established New York publishing complex whose potential arrogance and clumsiness is only hinted by the above example. I have a whole lot more to say on the subject of publishing error and dishonesty in the sequel to my autobiography, How Precious Was That While, which naturally has been unable to find a publisher. So I am trying to promote an alternative, and am putting my money where my mouth is, in this respect. This is actually what is called venture capital, a highly risky form of investment that also promises big rewards. I don't like to gamble; I never buy lottery tickets or similar. Of course the stock market itself is a conservative gamble, and the AwGhost decline gave me a six figure paper loss - which was made up in NoRemember. So it's hard to avoid some kinds of gambling. I'm supporting Internet publishing, and if I don't lose my money, this should open up a great new avenue for all writers, both novices and old pros. Meanwhile, be aware that I have a conflict of interest when discussing online publishing, because I do have money riding on it. That means if you're interested, you should check it out with someone else.

If I can't get a regular publisher for a book, I can now go to an Internet publisher. I did that with my World War Two novel Volk, which is as both Pulpless and Xlibris, and am now doing it with a less controversial novel Realty Check at Pulpless. I had named this one Candle, but Pulpless came up with a much better title and I like it. This is the one about the house whose front door opens on a busy city street, and whose back door opens on an endless archaic forest. From the front, the house is surrounded by city; from the back, entirely surrounded by forest. This is realty that makes you doubt reality. I'd love to live in such a house, but that's hard to manage outside of speculative fiction. So why couldn't I place these novels conventionally? Because Volk shows an aspect of American involvement in the war in a politically incorrect light, and publishers don't want to antagonize those who don't want to believe that this country ever did anything wrong. But Realty Check has no such controversial element; what's the matter there? Well, here is a mock-up of a typical call my literary agent makes: "Hello, Charnel House? I have a new novel by Piers Anthony - no, this one is not in the Xanth series, but it's a good - Hello? Hello?" That's the reality check on my work: publishers want only Xanth from me. It's like pulling teeth to get them even to consider other work. In the past I have been able to get non-Xanth material published, but it's getting harder, and there is no guarantee on anything else. We had to exert formidable strong-arm pressure to get my recent collaborations published, including a direct threat by a lawyer, so these will still be appearing for a while. But not a lot else, unless I find another way.

Which brings me back to DoOon Mode. Now that Internet publishing is becoming viable, I can afford to write that novel. If I can't find a regular publisher, I can put it on the Internet. So, unless I get a sudden urgent commitment for other work, I will now at last write that novel, and when my agent gets the usual reaction to a non-Xanth novel, I'll put it on Xlibris or Pulpless or some other Internet publisher. Let me clarify the difference between those two: Xlibris is a self publishing service which, for a fee of $500 or so depending on the services required, will publish anyone's novel and pay royalties on copies sold. These are primarily printed copies, indistinguishable from the hardcover or trade paperback books that regular publishers produce. So far, royalties on Volk have been a bit over a hundred dollars, not enough to make up the initial cost, but in time it should happen. It's no road to riches, but should things pick up, who knows. At least my novel is in the game. If you are a hopeful writer who has been balked by Parnassus, look up Xlibris.com and see whether it's for you. Do not confuse this with vanity or subsidy publishing, where they may charge you $20,000 for an inadequate job. This is not a rip-off outfit, but a legitimate way to do it yourself. Pulpless does not charge the author, but neither is it looking for unknown writers. It is embarking on a bold project of publishing novels and giving them away free to readers - paid for by advertising, somewhat in the manner of magazines, except the ads will be far more limited. Something like ten pages of ads in a novel. So if you want to read Realty Check, but don't want to pay for it, and don't mind the ads, go for it. If you get it, and think it stinks, it may still be worth what you paid for it, and maybe there'll be an ad for something you want. I don't know which publisher I'll go to with DoOon Mode, but I'm sure that one of them will do, so the novel won't be stifled. So now at last I feel free to write it. I have started organizing its elements, refreshing myself on depressive Colene, honorable Darius, the telepathic horse Seqiro and the others. Barring preemptive commitments elsewhere, such as a publisher offering a barrel of money for a new series, I'll write it in the next three months. If it finds a publisher, you might see it in the year 2000. If it doesn't, it should be on the Internet in 1999. I'll keep you informed via this column.

Meanwhile, if I have any readers in the Washington DC area, I'll be there for a collaborative book signing in Jamboree. I expect to appear with my lovely collaborator Julie Brady at the Border Books and Music Store in Baileys Crossroads, Virginia, the evening of Saturday, Jamboree 9, 1999. It will start at 7 or 7:30 PM and run - I don't know, it may depend on how many readers come. I'd love it if you folk swamp the store. But this is a hardcover book, so it's not cheap. The novel is Dream A Little Dream, a fantasy Julie wrote and I rewrote, about a realm which one or more ordinary folk create from their minds and then occupy. Naturally it turns out to be no simple paradise. If you wonder why I will make such an effort, considering that I don't like to travel and have seldom left the state of Florida - well, I could say that you haven't gotten a look at Julie. The more mundane reason is that I support my novels and collaborators to the degree feasible, and this is something I think needs to be done in this case. I won't be making anything of this at the signing, and you shouldn't either, but privately I'll say that my collaborator is a Ligeia, and if that leaves you confused, fine. Those of you who understand, shut up.

Last time I mentioned how I had not had any recent news of Jenny. Her mother finally called, and I learned that Jenny is, well, much the same, still hoping to go to college. It seems that her friends will come fetch her and take her shopping or to the movies. She loved the autographed copy of Zombie Lover I sent her; remember, that's the novel where Jenny Elf finds her true love and marries. Her mother has been seriously ill, and says she did not check her email for months, and so didn't realize it was out of order. Jenny's situation, and the time required to care for her, have reduced the family income so that life is not easy.

Other notes: Hurricane Mitch, with its 180 mph top winds, scared us, as naturally it was eyeing us, but then it stumbled sideways and landed in central America. It was in a weakened state by then, but the heavy rains loosened soil weakened by deforestation, and mud-slides killed thousands. Had it hit Florida, there would not have been mud-slides, but it would have been plenty bad. We face more of such weather, as global warming continues to disrupt the climate. I get conservative manifestos in the junk mail claiming there ain't no global warming, no ozone hole. Yeah, sure, fellas. I prefer my fantasy in novels. The Y2K threat - Year 2000 computer glitch - continues, however, and that one is real, though probably not as bad as alarmists claim.

Shorter shrift: My computer monitor faded after three years. When it became too fuzzy to read I bought the best replacement: a 19" Sony. It's nice, but I conclude that 17" is plenty big enough for our purposes. Our geothermal air conditioning has proved out; in six months it averaged 20% reduction in our power use, which is good considering that it's only one of three air conditioning units that serve our house. I had spot surgery in NoRemember to remove a suspicious blemish in the middle of my back, right where I can't see it even with a mirror. Four stitches, no discomfort, and it turned out to be benign. Just as well. Someone emailed HiPiers, saying two people had told him I was dead. No, it's not true as far as I know. Maybe they were cri-tics indulging in wish fulfillment. I read from Zombie Lover and autographed copies at the Hudson Library in Florida, and addressed the writing class at Central Florida Community College, as I have off and on for a dozen years. As a general rule, the farther an event is from where I live, the less inclined I am to participate, and I'm not all that eager to attend local ones either. While typing this column, I turned down invitations from Orlando (that's near Disney World) and Texas. Wife, daughter, and I went to see the movie Pleasantville and liked it. The protagonists, brother and sister, get sucked into a 1950's TV series where everything is always great, there are no natural functions, the home team always wins, and folk are in black and white. But our modern kids mess this up by introducing some original thinking, and sex, and characters start turning colored as they catch on, leading to complications. Nice use of color to make a social point.

I went walking through our tree farm - our 97 pound dog Obsidian likes to explore, and we keep her on a leash even in the forest, because otherwise she would enthusiastically chase after rattlesnakes, alligators, and whatnot - so I get some exploring done, and noticed that over the years there has developed what I take to be a long thin sinkhole. Only about three feet deep, a dozen feet across, and about a third of a mile long. Maybe an underground river washed it out. The pine trees there didn't like it; some are tilted, some are fallen, and lines of them are standing dead. Well, maybe we can consider it thinning, nature's way. The trees are planted close together, and in time need to be thinned out so that the remaining ones have room to grow. I hate the notion of killing some trees just because others need to be favored, but that's the nature of the business.

I finished writing The Dastard, the 24th Xanth novel, the end of NoRemember, about a man who travels in time to undo the good fortunes of others: dastardly deeds. The three Princesses, Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm, want to stop him, but they are only four years old. So they arrange to change places with their adult Selves on Planet Ptero - you know, the moon that orbits Princess Ida's head - and they come to tackle the Dastard. Since all three are Sorceresses, and the power of any two squares, and the power of all three together cubes, they should be able to handle it. Then the awful Sea Hag enters the picture, taking over the bodies of pretty young women, and seeks to make a liaison with the Dastard. So it gets complicated and scary, especially when the Hag goes after a Princess. While I was writing it, I gained on the reader suggestions - what I call the pun list - and for one brief shining moment in early NoRemember was all caught up. Wow - I'm not sure that's ever happened before. But more puns are piling in, and the list is growing again. At least there are now none going back before that time. Speaking of reader suggestions: several years back a girl suggested that I check out Egyptian mythology, and sent a summary of some. I liked it, and used the notion in Muse of Art, the 4th GEODYSSEY novel, to be published next year. But I lost track of the one who had suggested it, and can't locate the name for a credit. So if that girl is out there, please write me again, and I'll check my letters file to verify, and add in the credit if there is time.

Last column I commented on the lack of a Move function in Windows. Paul Barrow sent Hipiers an e-mail advising that in Windows Explorer the right mouse button will do it. I tried it, and it works. It's great. Curious how we had overlooked this, my wife and I checked the huge Windows manuals - and it seems this function is undocumented. That is, not listed. That explains it. It's par for the Microsoft course. Andreas Kupries had remarked on my imagined dialogue with Bill Gates: "What makes you think Windows is user-friendly?" "What makes you think I care?" He had given a web site to check, but Hipiers couldn't find it. So Kupries said oops, he'd had an error in it, and he forwarded a transcript of an interview with Gates. The summary says in essence that Microsoft doesn't care about fixing bugs because there's not much revenue in that. Yes, I guess that does cover it. At the moment Microsoft is about the only game in town, but if another game ever develops, I'll be interested.

A cousin alerted me to another thing: an online auction of a manuscript of my novel Macroscope. Apparently it's one of the copies I made and sent out at my own expense when I multiple-marketed the novel, thus obtaining a better deal than I would otherwise have had. I don't remember the specific instance, though it is surely in my collected papers at a university, but probably a devout fan asked me for a copy, so I gave it to him. Now it's been auctioned off, including associated correspondence and packaging, with a minimum bid of $500. I don't know what it actually sold for. I think I'll just say that the next fan who asks me for some free memento will not get it. You might think that well, this is just a fan; a pro organization would not do this. I'm not sure. A decade or two back I sent the carbon copy of the first Xanth novel, A Spell For Chameleon, a manuscript I suspect has more value than the one for Macroscope, to Clarion West for auctioning to raise money for their school. I don't know how well they did with it: they never thanked me. In fact, they never acknowledged it. I know they received it, because I knew one of the attendees, but that's all. After this experience with professional courtesy I ceased donating to such organizations. If readers wonder why writers become cynical, this is a hint.

Electronics proceeds apace: I recently learned that TOR is licensing two of my novels, Hope of Earth and the collaborative Quest for the Fallen Star (with James Richey and Alan Riggs) to be published by Rocket eBooks. This is a hand-held screen that puts a page of print on to read, and the device can hold about ten novels. It will be interesting to see if there are many such sales. But I suspect it will start rather slowly, because the reader costs about $500, plus the cost for the books to read. If you want to read on the screen, Pulpless.com is cheaper - especially if you take it with ads.

I mentioned that my papers are collected at universities. Most of my early ones are at Syracuse, and my later ones at the University of South Florida. If you correspond with me, and this includes email messages you sent Hipiers, it will eventually wind up at USF. The head of the library until recently was Sam Fustukjian, whom my wife and I came to know and like personally; we once visited at his house. In September - I'm not using the humorous month, because this is serious - he underwent routine laser heart surgery. Something went wrong, and an artery was severed. Evidently the blood supply to the brain was interrupted, and he went into a coma. He remains so at this writing, and I think the outlook is bleak. We never know our future. I recently received a USF library presentation of their special collections, with four pages describing mine in rather laudatory terms, but I take little joy in it, because it reminds me of Sam.

Sometimes I read manuscripts or books for blurbing - that is, for brief favorable comments they can run on the cover to help sell the books. I blurb only if I believe my readers will like the works in question, and while my participation is surely incidental, some of those authors have gone on to considerable success, like David Eddings, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind. But I note increasingly in recent novels, by amateur and pro alike, what is called "saidbookism" or "saidism": the overuse of words other than "said." I know how it happens - the author feels that constant use of "said" shows a lack of imagination, so tries to alleviate it. This is a futile effort. It is better just to use the word; the reader will not notice it, any more than the reader notices the very frequent use of words like "the" and "a." A character who speaks needs to be identified, to avoid confusion; "said" is an identifier and no special attention should be called to it. One would-be writer recently emailed me, asking how he could find more variants for "said." I told him not to bother. Now I'm telling all the other would-be writers who may tune in here: don't bother. Your writing will be the better for it. However, it is easy to fall into this without meaning to. A reader commented on Volk; surprised, I checked, and sure enough, I use a lot of alternatives to "said" there. Too late to take them out, but it's a warning to be on guard. Another problem can be the overuse of exclamation points, and this too has happened to me! Another is the overuse of underlining for emphasis. Don't do it.

I like my special bicycles, and use them daily. My wife is less athletic; I'd like to have her with me on some of these excursions, but we are ill matched in this respect. However, we recently started considering adult tricycles, whose advantage is that they are unlikely to fall over, and even a quadricycle, really a four wheel bike. It can be provided with a canopy, so it looks like an emaciated car, or a surrey with a fringe on the top. It comes in one seat, two seat, or four seat variants, and we are tempted by the two seater. We could ride and pedal side by side, and the gearing allows each to pedal in his/her own gear. So we are pondering, and may get it, though it's not cheap; what we want, with options, would be about $2,000. I'll report here further, in due course, if we do it.

More email from Hipiers: Rithea Hong reports that someone has bought up the domain "www.piersanthony.com" and redirected it to some cheesy celebrity poll thing. All I can say is that this sort of thing is legal, but it's not me. I don't do celebrity polls, and have never been online. That may change in future, as I approach the twentieth century just in time for the 21st century, but at such time as I do go online, I'll probably do it anonymously. So if you see my name anywhere else but here at Hipiers, assume it's not me. Similarly, if you see me at a convention unannounced, it may be an impostor. I had a report from someone who thought she had encountered me years ago and found me shallow and rude. I was never at the convention identified. Of course I was blamed for being an ogre at conventions well before I ever attended any conventions; my critics have no shame. That's how my ogre identity started. One email had advice on my archery exercise: I can get good exercise from a regular bow, because I have to hold the string longer to aim. Yes, I do.

Some emails are mysterious. One said "The unthinkable finally happened, THEY turned off my pager, so I'm letting you know to call me at work" and gives a number. I don't know this person, and didn't call. Another says I can obtain massive amounts of information on building home made weapons or making dollar bills that can be used continuously in coke machines; just send money for the HUGE FORBIDDEN INFORMATION LIBRARY. I did not, and not just because I'm wary of weapons and don't drink cola. Then there are the bean-balls. Last time I quoted one accusing me of having all sexy bimbos in my fiction, and I said that I doubted this person had read my fiction. I received a note of support from a woman, and this from a man: "Oh come on Piers, she's probably referring to your Xanth novels. Admittedly I haven't read any of your crap in years, but I remember A Spell for Chameleon. Chameleon symbolized just about everything you've ever said about women…they are either beautiful and dumb, or ugly and smart…Look hack boy, you can publish your adolescent novels if you want to, but don't get defensive when someone points out one of your many faults." In kindness I'm not giving this person's name; I think he shows pretty well the nature of some of my critics. One reader blasted me for my attitude toward publishers, misquoting what I said, and when I blasted him back, he asked whether I blasted everyone who criticized me. No, I'm like a mirror, responding kindly to kind letters and negatively to negative ones. But here's one from Rebekah Branch: "How do you stand all of the ignoramuses that insist you are a 'sexist pig'? obviously these people aren't interested in what it is that you have to say. As a young woman I find that you have incredible insight into the female mind." Let's finish with one from Maria Velasques, who likes my books, but was offended by Breanna of the Black Wave in Zombie Lover. Not the way her blackness was portrayed, but the way she changed her mind. She was patronizing the zombies the same way whites patronize other minorities. "If I were a zombie, I'd tell her off." Now this is a serious, thoughtful criticism, and I take it seriously; I have quoted only part of it. Maria is close in age to Breanna, and perhaps in experience. Next year I will write Xanth #25, Swell Foop, and I plan to have Breanna return in at least part of it, as she and Justin Tree take over Castle Zombie and start running zombie affairs. There are obvious parallels to Mundane racism, and I don't want to misplay them. So if my characterization of Breanna bothers others similarly, I hope you will let me know. Meanwhile, I can say there's a huge difference between the "hack boy" critic above and Maria here; she shows that she reads what I write and understands what I'm trying to do, and tells me how she disagrees. This is what I would call a good critic; that's not necessarily an oxymoron.

More of the same next time; meanwhile I hope most of you have harpy holidays.

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