I've been trying to do these columns every two months, but this one is three months after the last. In fact we were unable to get it to the Page when I wrote it, so I edited it almost a month later, making it close to four months this time. Sorry about that. Part of the problem is that I'm not online and have to work indirectly. The moment what I do involves other folk, it gets complicated. Messages that come in to Hi Piers can take months to reach me, too. It makes it more likely that I will eventually got connected myself, so that I can do this directly.
HI PIERS is shutting down. Like a death from slow illness, the process takes time and is painful. When we first set it up, back in 1990, we had hopes that it would succeed, and be a service to readers who had trouble finding some of my books in the stores. But it cost a good deal more than it made, and finally we shut down the physical office and put it on the Internet, and my wife took it over. But she reports that it still isn't working; the costs of doing business, such as licenses and maintaining the ability to process credit cards, are greater than what is earned from selling the books. I also don't like having too much of her time taken; we are now senior citizens and are looking forward to simplifying our lives, and this is a complication. So we're cutting our losses and shutting it down the rest of the way, somewhat the way a dying patient elects to avoid heroic measures and just let nature take its course. This Hi Piers Page will remain, and if I ever go online I'll get directly involved with it. But my books will no longer be sold here. I'm sorry it didn't work out, but we did give it a fair try.
Other aspects of my life are more positive. We don't travel much, for various reasons, but the major one is that we are satisfied at home and don't feel the need to get away from it. But we do plan to make one trip, to make the 1950's college reunion. That's Goddard College, in Plainfield Vermont. It's a small college - there were about 75 students when I attended - so single class reunions might field only five or six people; a decade's reunion may bring ten times as many. Also, it was a community experience; each student knew every person on campus, and friendships were hardly confined to particular classes. So the decade makes sense: everyone who attended from about 1950 to 1960 is invited, the first week in OctOgre. I was asked to write a paragraph encouraging others to attend, so I did, and here it is:
As I mention fairly regularly, I exercise, because writing is a sedentary occupation and I'm no longer young and I want to be reasonably healthy. I practice archery, both right and left handed, with a metal detector to locate the arrows I lose when I miss the target; I work out with hand weights, I have a RowBike which gives me rowing exercise as I ride out on the 1.5 mile circuit to our gate (except that with temperatures in the 90's I have to lay off that: I get too sweaty and have to dump all my clothes in the laundry), and three mornings a week I run out to fetch in our newspapers. Now all this is for my health, not for records, yet when I manage to hit the target with twenty arrows in a row, right and left, I take note, and when I run well I also take note. I ran for a decade, then switched to an exercise cycle, but after wearing out several of those without getting enough exercise, I switched back to running two years ago, this time running just before dawn, before the heat and the biting flies get fierce. I find that I go in cycles, about four months up, four months down. Last fall I had a four month series of 50 circuits under 15:00 minutes, which, after allowing for stops along the way, translates to about an 8 minute mile for 1.6 miles, which is okay for a man in his 60's. That ended and I sagged into runs between 15 and 16 minutes for four months. Then, as the weather got hot, so did I, to my surprise, and I broke my record on three consecutive runs, one of them breaking the 14 minute barrier for the first time. As I write (edit) this, I'm on a streak of 39 under 15 minute runs, and had a sub-streak of 16 under 14:30 runs. In the fall series I never put together a streak of more than two of those. Something is bound to break the streak, but it's fun while it lasts, and it does suggest that my health remains good.
I also have had a good streak writing. I am now working on Key to Havoc, projected as a quarter million word fantasy, first in the ChroMagic series, where magic has color and natural functions are not ignored. I mean, if you want to get along with a magic plant - and some of them you had better get along with - you make it an offering of fresh fertilizer, such as urine. Then it recognizes you as a friend. When someone yells "Piss on it!" he's not swearing; he may be saving your life. Sex is handled openly, as are its dangers. For example, a succubus may take over the body of an attractive woman and come on to an adolescent boy. If she succeeds in seducing him, she will suck out his soul at the moment of climax. The same is true for an incubus with a nubile girl. So children are warned, in the form of educational plays, every detail shown clearly, so that none will be victimized. The Dance of the Succubus is as sexy as anyone will ever see, by definition. Even adult audiences rather enjoy seeing it again, for some reason. Once the maturing youths succeed in resisting the temptation of the demon, they can proceed safely to adult life. The setting is on one highly volcanic planet of a pair of magic and literally colorful worlds closely orbiting each other, making for horrendous tides, and that pair is orbiting a double star, one of which is an erratically flaring black hole. Thus the seasons and weather are something else. So while this novel is conventional in some respects, with magic and adventure and romance, it is unconventional in other respects, so may have a problem with publishers. The heart of it is a mystery: who killed the king, and why? Our "barbarian" hero Havoc wants to know, because now he is king, and the new target of assassination. The answer is not easy to fathom, and will take several novels to comprehend; no simple good guy / bad guy scenarios here. So I'm enjoying writing this, and am moving at a very good clip. Couple more months at this rate, and I'll complete it. Then we'll see whether we can get this serious, innovative fantasy into conventional print. If not, there's always the Internet. I see the Internet as the potential salvation for those who have something to say that Hidebound & Whimsy won't publish. Which is why my serious World War Two novel Volk is there.
Let's talk about the weather. We had three months of record rains, and judged that two more inches would begin to flood our tree farm - when it stopped, and we had three months of drought. Then Florida had hundreds of wildfires. Fortunately for us, Citrus County has not been much affected, and our tree farm is a peninsula in Lake Tsoda Popka, so it would not be easy for a fire to reach us. But much more of this drought would have made us increasingly nervous as the lake receded. In the last three weeks we finally got nine inches of rain, a blessing from heaven. Is the worst over? We are not at all sure. Meanwhile, in the decade we have lived on the tree farm, our temperature hit 98°F once and 99° once. JeJune was the first month of our second decade - and it hit 98° or higher 11 times, four of them 100°, shattering our personal records. The Jewel-lye rains cooled things somewhat, but it has indeed been hot.
We went to see a movie: Godzilla. I mean, this is in my genre. No, it's not the best ever, but it's competent animation, and I was rooting for the monster. All it wanted to do was have a safe nest for its offspring, with some food nearby. Was that too much to ask, without the natives getting all bent out of shape? Meanwhile I'm pleased to see advances in animation, because one year someone in the industry may realize that story has a lot to do with a movie's success, and I have a good many competent fantasy stories in print. Speaking of which: I just sold the next three Xanths to TOR, titled The Dastard, Swell Foop, and Up in a Heaval. That publisher will also reprint three older Xanths: Vale of the Vole, Heaven Cent, and Man From Mundania. And publish the fourth GEODYSSEY novel, Muse of Art. The fifth novel, Climate of Change, is on hold with the first 112,000 words written, because of loss of my market and my researcher.
My father is now 89, and he visited Daughter #1 in Florida in JeJune. We collected Daughter #2 and drove down to see them, and we all went to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Naturally the day was burningly hot, 95°-100°, but we took it easy and got through. The zoo isn't high power entertainment like Busch Gardens or Disney World, but it costs only about a tenth as much and is as educational. There was a plaza with a dozen little fountains for children to run through; they seemed to love it. I was surprised to see that the camels had humps flopped over like empty wineskins, and the rhinoceros was swimming underwater. I thought was what a hippopotamus did. All manner of monkeys, birds, and other creatures, in a jungle-like setting, and the walkways curved around so that the views were good. The souvenir shop had a window under water so that we could see the manatee feeding; they looked like small blimps. I bought a little rubber exotic chameleon to give to Jenny Elf for her 22nd birthday: squeeze it and its tongue unrolls like a party toy. I always give Jenny something quaint and stupid, so she'll think of me.
Before I came to America I lived in Spain for a year, where my parents were doing relief work during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Farah Mendlesohn has now done a thesis on that relief effort, wherein my father is prominently mentioned. Reading that, I learned things I had not been in a position to pick up on as a child of five. You might think that it was just a matter of shipping food in and handing it out to children, but it was more complicated than that. Relief work turns out to be no simple matter; there are social and political currents that carry it this way and that. As I have mentioned elsewhere, my father was arrested and deported in 1940, apparently because the new dictatorship didn't understand why anyone would be giving food to those in need, and thus it was that I wound up in America. But there was good work being done in Spain, for a while, and lives were surely saved.
I subscribe to a number of news, science, and health magazines and newsletters, and they are all good, because I drop the bad ones. One interesting recent item is the discovery that neutrinos have mass. I always thought they did; I mean how can something tangible exist without it? But the key here is that there are so many of them - I understand that several trillion pass through the human body every hour - that even a very small mass means that this may be the answer to the riddle of Dark Matter. Neutrinos certainly answer the description. Thus this may be the realization of the decade. I am also intrigued by the Y2K Bug. That is, the problem many old computers will have when the year 2,000 AD arrives, because they mark years as just 96, 97, 98, and 99, assuming the 19 prefix. So the year 2000 will be assumed to be the year 1900. That seems like a joke, but computers don't laugh. This is likely to destroy the IRS, which will make Americans celebrate, until the government runs out of money and collapses. Then the cheering may become fainter. You would think that, given several years to fix a known problem, they would be able to do something about it. You would think wrong; there will be mischief. The best advice I've seen is not to be in an airplane when that date turns over; the plane may not be able to land safely, with the computers out. Speaking of time: we have a pendulum clock we bought in 1977. It still runs, but the pendulum rotted out. So we fixed it with arrow fletching cement, and now it's working well, and the clock is accurate to within a minute or so a month. It gains at the beginning, when the winding is tight, and loses at the end.
Thus my current routine existence. As I typed this, we received a batch of emails printed out from Hi Piers, and as I edit this, more are piling in. I answer letters with Post Orifice addresses, but most of these don't have them. So gives an addendum, and I hope that those who sent in notes will be checking here. But here is the problem: These appear to be the emails of only the past two weeks. There must be more in the pipeline, because it's been several months since I've had a batch. If I answer every one of these notes fully, I will have no time to write my novels. I would become a full time correspondent instead of a novelist. So I won't do that. I'll give a generic answer, and that will have to be sufficient. As it is, this is the sixth consecutive day I have written nothing on my novel; the time has all gone to mail, readers, and this column. Tomorrow, by damn, I'm returning to my paying work. (Now, editing, I can say the back e-mails finally turned up, several hundred of them; we're working through the glut.)
Some want to know whether I'll write the 6th Space Tyrant novel, The Iron Maiden, or the 4th Mode novel, DoOon Mode, or another Adept or Incarnations novel. Probably not. I must write what I have a market for, and that market is defined by the publishers rather than the readers. It's not a system I like, especially when publishers are idiots, but that's the way it is with commercial writing. One person even asks what would it take to get me to write the next Mode novel. Answer: good market for it. Another says my refusal to write the next Mode novel (yet) means he won't read anything else of mine. He says "Apparently I am wrong in assuming that anything but greed and love of money are the driving forces at work in this author's life." Well, apparently I am wrong in assuming that all my readers are intelligent or fair minded. One asks about Spider Legs; that's in print in hardcover and in due course will be in paperback; it will come eventually. One asks what Xanth novel to start with: any of them; they are designed to be individual entities, though may be more satisfying read in order. If a person doesn't like the one he/she tries, he/she probably won't like the others. Several ask about setting up a link to the Hi Piers Page: sure, go ahead. One asks about using information from the Visual Guide to Xanth; sure, just give credit to the source. Same for the one who wants to set up magician Humfrey's Castle: credit the source, so others don't get the idea that it's in the common domain. Someone wants the early printed newsletters put online; I suppose that could be done sometime, but we'd have to gear up to scan them in, and at present don't have a good enough scanner. Similar goes for doing the newsletter columns for the blind: I'm not set up for it. One asks why I have allowed Waterstones and Dillons to stop stocking my books. Allow? I have no control over which idiots lack the sense to stock my books, just as I have none over the idiots who pan them in reviews. You readers just have to let them knew they went wrong. Several mention that the Jenny Elf site is no longer in operation. Since I'm not online, I have no knowledge of that. I still write to Jenny every week, but I get no response. I suspect that after almost a decade of paralysis, she and her family are pretty tired of it all, as anyone would be. Quite a number of readers just say that they love my novels, and not just the Xanths; I really appreciate that. One mentions On a Pale Horse being a comfort to her when her eldest son died. That was part of the purpose of that novel: to try to help those who had to relate to death. One says to let it be known that I am not a girl. Indeed I am not, but sometimes my unfamiliar first name confuses folk. One informs me that the German translations of Xanth are inept, making the material like a Disney cartoon. Ouch! But again, out of my control. Some would like my snail mail address posted here. This would seem to make sense - except that for the past twenty years or so I have refused to let my address be published, and have cut off anyone who did, including WHO'S WHO references, which is why those don't have current information on me. Why? First, because I'm already replete with as much mail as I care for; it takes two days a week to answer it, which blots out my free time. A published address leads not only to too much mail, but to solicitations for free books, for contributions to myriad causes, and to occasional unannounced visits by strangers. Most merely want to take up my time, on the apparent assumption that I have nothing better to do with it, no deadlines, no personal appointments, no novels to write. Some would like to live with me. But it's the others that worry me: those who are not necessarily friends, or who believe that they could be successful writers if only I were out of the way, or that I might marry them if my wife were out of the way. There is just no knowing what a complete stranger may have in mind. So I prefer to filter it, to reduce the volume and to avoid entirely the surprise visits or calls. I do put my address on my correspondence, and I understand that some abuse that by putting it on the Internet. Well, here is the word: if you ever see my address on the Internet, it has been done without my approval, and that person is no friend of mine. Send him a logic bomb. OMNI did it, and when asked to stop, replied arrogantly "Piers Anthony knows where to reach us." Knowing that I'm not on the net and couldn't reach them directly. Fortunately a magic curse took them out of business; certainly they would never have had mine. So how do you reach me? By writing through a publisher, who will eventually forward mail, or by emailing Hi Piers and including your Post Orifice address. Then I will answer you. It can take a while, if mail gets backlogged at Hi Piers, as seems to be the case now, or if I have so many to answer that they must be spaced over several letter days. But I do answer. The thing is, I don't do form letters; each is personal and individual. I do use canned paragraphs for commonly asked questions, but that's about as impersonal as it gets. I admit to being annoyed when someone sends questions I have just answered in this column, though.
Back to more notes: someone gives an example of a repeated talent in Xanth. It turns out that talents can after all repeat. But even if they didn't, a similar talent could be accomplished by different kinds of magic. Such as flying without wings: one might do it by invisible jet propulsion, another by becoming very light, another by summoning a strong updraft. So maybe talents really don't repeat, even when they seem to. Someone asks about the Space Tyrant books: they are out of print and the rights have reverted to me. At some point I want to gear up to scan them onto disk and see about Internet republication. Eventually I'd like to have all my titles available that way. It's a future dream. When I get the equipment and the time. Oh, sure, I know that at that point all the readers who have been looking for copies will abruptly lose interest, but still I think it's worth doing. One person thanks me for using his idea; I use many reader ideas, and try to give credit for them in the Author's notes. Some are pretty good ideas. One says Magician Humfrey should smile more often, and that his stool must have a grouch cushion on it. That must be it. One says what about the effect on forests that go to make the paper for my novels? Well, I do live on my tree farm, which is growing wood for future paper, so I suspect I am at least holding even there. One would like information on the Game in the Adept series. Unfortunately, the day I perfected the game grid I lost it via a computer error, before it was backed up. It was like the death of a pet; sick at heart, I've never tried to reconstruct it. One asks when Zombie Lover is coming out: in OctOgre, in hardcover, and in paper a year after. One tells me that all my Xanth women are such sickeningly innocent obliging things; well wait till you meet Breanna of the Black Wave in that novel, and some of the other females.
And some specific letters: Tandy Lauralin Dolin would like to know how the name Tandy came to be in Xanth. When I needed a female name I asked one of my daughters, and she said "Tandy." So that was it. The Tandy computer was then big, so that may have been why. Tandy Lauralin also provides an idea for more in the Incarnations series, picking up where the present series leaves off. But I feel that series is best left where it is. Amy J Stringe inquires about the name Mortis, who is the Death Horse, as it's her nickname. It's from the word for death: mort. A mortal is one who will die. We are all, alas, mortal. Joe Erwin tells how he was hit by a drunk driver and confined to a wheelchair, so he relates to Jenny Elf. The drunk who hit him is, of course, a repeat offender, still out and about. Yes; our society needs to get serious about drunk drivers instead of letting them out with wrist slaps so they can do it again. As it is, a bottle and a car become a license to maim or kill with virtual impunity. Brian Nichols is writing a book with a Xanth setting. Just as long as you know that such a book can never be published; Xanth is proprietary. But as for how to give it a Xanthian twist: what I recommend to readers is that they change their own states to magic lands the way I did when I turned Florida into Xanth. A map of any state will offer opportunities for parody and humor, and you don't need anyone's permission to do that. Bobette Bryan writes historical romance and fantasy short stories. She says her word processor changed her "elvens" to "elevens." Yes, I've encountered that. She wonders why my publishers want to restrict me to Xanth, but she answers it herself: that's where the money is. I think it's a shame that commercial outfits are taking over the arts, for all that I have made my money by catering to that. I do what I have to, to make my living, but I don't like the system. And she wonders how to get a dyslexic to read. I'm not sure; it took me three years and five schools to make it through first grade, and I still read slowly. But in my day there were no dyslexics, only stupid students, so I was stupid. I interceded to make sure the school system didn't do to my daughter what it had done to me, and she learned to read and did very well. I think the best thing is an understanding teacher, a supportive parent, and patience. It's as if the wires in the head are misconnected, and have to be tediously reprogrammed one by one. This takes time. When a dyslexic finally figures out ways to get around the disability, he can gain ground. I did; it has been some time since anyone other than a book reviewer or critic thought I was stupid.
So this column is good and late, but with luck the next one will be back on schedule. Do keep reading.
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