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Picture of Piers doing archery

DisMember 1999

I have just completed the 25th Xanth novel, Swell Foop. It is the story of the abduction of the Demon Earth, who needs to be rescued before his magic power of Gravity fades, making things uncomfortable for the natives of his realm. Only the Swell Foop can save him, and only the Six Rings of Xanth can control the Foop, and only the zombies know where the Rings are. So it quickly gets complicated as six mortal heroes tackle the mission. Over a hundred reader notions are used, and it gets pretty wild before it settles. Assuming all goes well, it should be published late in the year 2001. First you have to get through Xone of Contention and The Dastard. Sorry about that.

I've had a couple of comments about the length of these columns, so I'll try to make this one shorter. But I just seem to be a long-winded kind of writer, so those who don't like that may have to go elsewhere. I seem to have a fair number of readers, though. Last time we set up a hit counter, but I discovered a couple of things. One is that the recorded visits to this site have risen to about 4,000 per day, but the counter gets only a small fraction of those. I think it is that it records only those who pass the home page, not those who go directly to other parts of the site - and though we thought that had been fixed, I found that I could not get to the home page from elsewhere in the site. So anyone who has a section bookmarked, as I do, goes there, and tries to go from there to the home page, couldn't. So the hit counter ran low, making it look as if I was wildly exaggerating the site hits. Where do I get my information? From the official record of hits, which is authoritative. Folk may believe that when they cruise the Internet they are invisible, if they don't signal their presence in some tangible way; indeed I have been told that. It's not true; every one of them is recorded. No, I'm not trying to use that information to snoop on my visitors; for one thing, I doubt I could check on 4,000 a day without blotting out the rest of my life. But I suppose that if one of them sent a bomb threat, I could turn that record over to the authorities. It does make me cautious about where I travel on the Net, however.

So how has my life been, these past two months? Busy as ever; if I am supposed to slow down, as a senior citizen, the world has not yet gotten the message. Each day is its own minor adventure; we never know what's going to fly in from left field. For example, on the first day of deer hunting season Daughter #2 Cheryl phoned: there was a three legged deer in her yard. What to do? Get in touch with the Wildlife Dept. She called them, and a wildlife officer came over and shot the deer with a dart, but it didn't have effect and the deer got away. Had it been captured it would have been taken to a sanctuary and cared for. As it was, we believe the coyotes or feral dogs got it. A few days later a second deer turned up in Cheryl's yard, injured, probably by a hunter. It died, and the neighbors buried it. You might say that none of this concerned me, as it wasn't in my yard, but it did. It bothers me when innocent wild creatures are hurt, just as it bothers me when innocent people are hurt. Meanwhile I continue my archery, shooting only at targets, but the morning sun kept glaring in my eyes so that I couldn't orient well. Finally I got fed up and reversed my archery range, so that the sun would be behind me, and that helped. But that meant setting up a new backing to support my targets, in turn getting me into digging post holes and digging old posts out from under the big mound of dirt the gopher tortoises dumped over them, and re-measuring for 50, 100, and 150 feet, and re-zeroing in my sites on right and left handed bows. Overall, about a week before I was done, but now it is done, and I'm firing at the 150' range right handed and 100' left handed, and usually hitting the main target. I have marked a central section about ten inches in diameter as my bullseye, and give myself one point for each score there, and subtract a point each time I miss the main target. So far my scores for 24 arrow sessions range from 0 to +3. I never claimed to be more than a duffer, you know.

Last column I commented on how well we liked The Thomas Crown Affair remake. So we ordered the video of the original movie and watched that. Alas, it seemed like a poor imitation of the remake, lacking flair. I believe that normally remakes are considered inferior to the originals; I'm not sure whether they really are, or whether the reviewers have a thing against remakes. A reader recommended Lolita; I haven't seen it, though I read the book back when it came out. So I ordered both the early and late versions of that movie, and we'll see. In fact we received a 400 page video catalog from one company, and an 800 page catalog from another, with on offer of 25% off the order, so I ordered a bunch. I plan to spend the month of Dismember 1999 catching up on reading and viewing, as well as attending collaborator Julie Brady's wedding. Then back to work in 2000. I'm a workaholic; the main way I can do such things as reading and viewing is to schedule them. But on occasion I do watch movies in the corner of my monitor screen as I work. One was The Wicker Man, also recommended by a reader. It was billed as an erotic thriller, but it's not. It's the story of a British policeman who comes to an island off Scotland to investigate a report of a girl's disappearance. He is a good Christian, and they are, it turns out, pagans, with a different way of doing things. The innkeeper's lovely daughter does a seductive nude dance, tempting him, but he does not succumb. The villagers try to deny that the missing girl ever existed, but he pursues the matter relentlessly, even digging up a coffin, which does not contain her body. The conclusion is truly horrifying yet logical in its brutal way; this is a shocker. I will remember it. But we also went with our movie-freak daughter to see a current movie; here is my review of that, pasted from a letter to Jenny:

We saw American Beauty. This is reviewed as an "A" movie, one of the best in years. That's a warning signal; if a reviewer likes it that well, there's bound to be a problem. Understand, reviewers aren't universally wrong, because if they were, all you'd need to do would be to reverse their reviews, and have a perfect listing of the best movies in the D and F categories. That would defeat their purpose, which is to steer you toward their movies, not yours. So you have to get around their first level of deviousness. Sometimes they give a good rating to a movie that actually is good, but their reasons will not be yours. Okay, so we watched this one, and it was depressing, but not actually bad. And I saw why the reviewers liked it: it's a compendium of frustration, disillusion, failure, injustice, ugliness, and futility. That really turns on a critic, being a summary of his evident life. So why do I think it's worthwhile? Because it has an interesting story line, and some nice scenes, and offers insights into corrupt American community life. Aspects strike uncomfortably close to home for many of us, I'm sure. It's the story of a scant year in the lives of the three members of a dysfunctional suburban family: Man, Wife, teen Daughter. It is narrated by Man, and opens with him masturbating in the shower, because Wife hasn't touched him in years. He is about to be boosted out of his job by a newly hired and ignorant efficiency expert. Daughter is alienated and hostile. That's the first example of the way it relates to the quiet desperation of ordinary folk. They maintain the semblance of a positive life, because appearance is everything. Lovely music plays while they eat formal dinner together. But it's a facade, a pretense covering the bitter barrenness of their existence. Wife won't touch him because she is absolutely focused on success, and he's obviously a failure. She is a Realtor, and she is determined to sell the house she represents, and when the day ends and she hasn't sold it, she sobs with utter grief. Daughter is an introverted, repressed, rebellious teen, rejecting overtures by both parents. Okay: from this ugly start comes a story that gets neatly uglier as it goes. For appearances they attend Daughters cheerleading performance, and it's a pretty good show. Then Man's attention focuses on one of the other cheerleaders, a pretty girl, and it's as if only he and she exist, and she's opening her bosom to him and red rose petals fly out and suffuse the scene: he's in love. She's Daughter's friend, and comes with her to spend a night, sending him into further raptures of imagination. Daughter notices and is disgusted. Cheerleader notices and is pleased; she likes to have men ogling her, and she thinks Man is cute. A new family moves in next door, with a homophobic father, almost catatonically passive mother, and teen son who deals drugs, and of course Daughter has a relationship with him. She turns out to have considerably more of a figure than was first apparent as she flashes him through the window. Another house is sold by a top male Realtor whom Wife goes gaga over because of his evident success; next thing we know, we see the V of her spread legs on either side of his heartily thrusting body as they get it on. Meanwhile Man starts a program of exercising, so as to make a better impression on Cheerleader, who is more than willing to be impressed; they are slowly coming together through the morass of other complications. But nothing works out smoothly, and the end is violent, with Man, the one person truly finding himself, dying because of a misunderstanding. A nicely crafted irony. The movie gave me a fair amount to ponder, and I rate it about a "B."

And Shane and May Beck sent me some videos, so I watched them, too, as convenient. One was The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, a fabulous tongue-in-cheek adventure reminding me slightly of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in its dated fantasy. The Baron is a tall-tale teller, but his narration is animated fabulously. Another was The Field, and that's a savage story of a struggle to control a British field. It's a quality effort, but I have to say that I don't enjoy this type of thing the way I do the lighter entertainments. I suppose it is that I am mildly depressive, and I prefer not to get into seriously depressive material. This one reminds me of Macbeth in its deadly grinding down to disaster. The message, I think, is that too rigid a devotion to any one thing can be self-defeating. Life is compromise.

Artemiy Artemiev of Russia sent me several of his music CD's. Again, I appreciate their quality while not relating perfectly to their type. While I take pride in having a wide ranging imagination, it seems not to range as far as that of those who send me things.

Tom Lang sent me his discussion of GAGOLT: Gods and Godesses Own Land Trust. His concern is Thermal Pollution, the case being that the activities of mankind in using energy inevitably lead to an increase in the temperature of the globe, and eventually to destruction. He proposes to abate this by establishing a religion, GAGOLT, whose purpose is to secure lands for Nature's own innate use and thus save nature from being taxed, polluted and wasted. This religion recognizes everyone and everything as God or Goddess, and members can worship any way they please so long as the primary focus is the safeguarding of the Natural World. Anyone who would like to have his full discussion of this and other concepts can reach him at G.A.G.O.L.T, c/o Tom Lang, PO Box 723, Wilmington MA 01887-0723.

Here is another discussion adapted from a letter to Jenny. My wife showed me an article in THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY titled "FAME - The Power and Cost of a Fantasy." It is by the daughter of an eminent psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson. She says that she, as the child of a famous man, was very much aware of that invisible mantle; it affected her life, because of the way it affected others who idolized her father, and thus might try to approach her to get closer to him. She couldn't ignore it. She says that at such moments she became little more than a conduit for her father's magic, and that this was one of the many ways in which his fame diminished her and her sense of her own place in the world. Okay, as a father who also became well known, albeit in another circle, I am concerned how that affected my daughters. So I read this article with interest. Mine did indeed have folk trying to get close to them simply because they were close to me; that's one reason they swore their friends to secrecy when they went to college, not because they were ashamed of me, but because they wanted to have a chance to form their own lives. You might think they could simply have ignored me, but they couldn't, because of the attitude of others. They were protected to an extent by the fact that I use a pen name, so their own names were not a giveaway, but that wasn't sufficient. I think they handled it well enough, and no, I don't think that my notoriety is why Penny moved three thousand miles away.

The article goes on to explore why this phenomenon exists, and concludes that people have a need to idolize others, and that the objects of that idolatry have a need to be enhanced. She says that with the advent of her father's fame, he acquired a larger-than-life social aura, and seemed to feel as wise and comfortable with himself as others perceived him to be. That even his most casual remarks were heard as profoundly meaningful, magnified by his aura. She says that once she gave a party for some college friends, and saw their excitement the moment her father walked into the room. She also saw a transformation in him as he became the center of their attention. There seemed to be an electricity in the air. It was a dance between the idealizers and the idealized, and she, the daughter whose party it was, felt deflated.

Perhaps that explains where her article goes, because she proceeds to deflate her father and virtually all famous folk. She remarks how he was an immigrant who felt uncertain about the ways of America (I'm an immigrant too…), but that he was surely an insecure man long before he came to this country, and was terrified of the real emotional interactions within his family. She exposes other insecure celebrities, like David Letterman, Lawrence Olivier, Charlie Chapman, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy who she says was a sickly man throughout his life, heartily ashamed of his illnesses, whose career was orchestrated by his father. Fame, she says, is not a successful defense against feelings of inadequacy; it only appears to be. She comments on the emotional isolation in the childhoods of well known people, and I can't say she is wrong, because I knew that so well myself as to be in serious doubt whether life was worth continuing. Nevertheless, I believe she is mistaken. Because you don't have to be famous to be isolated and insecure. What she is describing is the common human condition. Everyone feels that way at some point. It just shows up more in the famous folk, because of the cynosure. So I, as a successful writer who does not feel a need to denigrate his family, reject the thesis.

But success does have its aggravations. I receive a constant stream of requests for autographs, pictures, castoffs, appearances, money - sometimes from those who have no evident awareness of me or my business aside from the mythical tag "celebrity." I honor these to my limited ability and convenience, but it's a nuisance. Sometimes I send a picture, only to receive an identical request for a picture from the same person, and sometimes there is a third request, showing that no one is paying attention at the other end. Charity requests bother me because of their underlying assumption that the Squeedunk library, school, sports team, or social group is more deserving of support than the thousands of other libraries etc. in the country, simply because it asks for it. But if every group did the same, only the Post Orifice and shippers would benefit, because every community would be sending all its things to every other community, and no one would be ahead. It's a variant of the pyramid scheme, based on the assumption that there's always another layer of untouched donors out there eager to oblige. There's another example of this fallacy: the argument that a person should join a given church, because it alone can guarantee him salvation in the afterlife. I'm agnostic, and rather doubt that there is any afterlife, but if there is, I would have to join every religion in the world, and worship every god and goddess and land trust, to be sure of finding the right one. All the wrong ones, of course, doom heir believers to eternal damnation. And many are mutually exclusive; you can't be a good Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Mormon, Moslem, Zoroastrian, Confucian, or worshipper of Baal simultaneously. So it's an impossible crap shoot. So is trying to save the world by contributing to every charity that asks for it. It's hard enough merely trying to please every reader, when a novel like Firefly, for example, is seriously praised and as seriously condemned in different quarters.

Another aggravation is bounced responses. HiPiers receives requests for information, and it answers, only to have the message rejected at the other end. Folks, why do you ask, if you refuse to receive the answer? Check your listing, and make sure to allow a response to your missive. Chances are, if you emailed me via HiPiers and did not receive an answer, it's because of that.
JANUARY MAGAZINE says it is doing a survey of people, and asked what are the most memorable books I have read. I pondered, as my opinion on such things changes by the hour, and listed three: Rationale of the Dirty Joke by G. Legman, The Rebellion of Yale Marrat by Robert Rimmer, and Lilith by J. Salamanca. The first is a huge discussion whose thesis is that a person's real character can be signaled by his favorite dirty joke, along the way telling thousands of such jokes and analyzing them, and coming at more truths of baser human nature than I can think of anywhere else. One of the great works of research literature, surely banned in most places. The second is a novel representing a persuasive rationale for bigamy, and one hell of an entertaining story regardless; Rimmer is always an entertaining and thoughtful writer. The third is a beautifully written novel of a man's effort to save a lovely woman from insanity, but instead he is drawn into madness himself. I don't claim that these are necessarily my favorite books, or the best, but all are worthy of serious reading.

Marion Zimmer Bradley died. She was 69, one of the best known female writers of the fantasy genre, author of the Darkover series. I'm not sure I ever read any fiction of hers; I'm a slow reader, with chronically pressed time, and there is too much to keep up with. But I had a limited interaction with her that left me with a positive feeling. To wit: back in the late 1960's when our first surviving daughter was new - we had lost three stillborn in the prior decade, so really valued what we had once we had it - I wrote pieces and letters for fanzines. For newcomers, think of a Web Site done on crudely inked paper, dedicated to science fiction or fantasy, full of personal bits, opinionations and quarrels, and sent out to a mailing list every month or three: that's a fanzine. Yes, a lot like this HiPiers site in content, only BC - Before Computers. Fanzine Fandom was a more limited thing than the Internet. Convention Fandom still survives, though when life-sized virtual reality video conferencing gets established, that too may be swallowed by the age of technology. So anyway, I would comment on the usual things, plus my little girl, on whom I doted. Someone wrote in to lambaste me for doing that, since it wasn't strictly fantasy. Critics abounded in fanzines, as they do on the Net; there's something about the anonymity that brings them out of the woodwork. And Marion Zimmer Bradley defended me, taking off on the critics, saying why shouldn't I talk about my little girl? Such was her reputation and force of expression that this particular criticism ended immediately. Thank you, Marion. There was also an occasion I appreciated that did not involve me directly. The unkind comment was made that writers are whores, selling their wares for money. Someone else said with battered pride that we all are whores, and why not? And Marion Zimmer Bradley said that she had a family to feed, and before she would let her children starve, she'd be a real prostitute, so she wasn't at all ashamed of selling her writing. And I think that not much more was heard thereafter about writing being whoring. Oh, some idiots still blame me for writing for money, but probably they never encountered Marion. So I'm sorry to see her go, and I wish her well in the fantasy hereafter.

I have learned that Jenny, my paralyzed correspondent, has not yet made it to college. She is in the process, going through a study and preparations, as they figure out how to get her there for next spring or summer. It is of course not simply a matter of walking to the nearest community college and signing up for classes.

I used to hear a song on the radio, oh about five decades ago, that seems no longer to exist. Whenever I remark on something like that, readers with good memories or search facilities step in, and sometimes they locate something for me. The refrain of this song is "Hard times in the country, down on Penny's farm." I thought the first part might be the title, or the second part, but apparently not. You see, my daughter Penny now farms in Oregon, and I'd love to get a copy of that song to send her; it was obviously written for her, a couple decades before she came to be. I think she doesn't believe there is such a song.

Stray emails: one saying THIS MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT LETTER YOU RECEIVE THIS YEAR. It's another claim for making money on the pyramid scheme, sending dollars to others on the list, and expecting them to send you $800,000 in three months. Yeah, sure, suckers; apart from being illegal, this sort of thing doesn't work. Similar goes for the claim that Microsoft will send you thousands of dollars for relaying a message. If you believe it, you'll get what you deserve. And here's one of another nature, from Julya in Ukraine: "Hello, Piers Anthony. My name is Julia [yes, the spelling changed]. I am 21 years of age and I am beautiful…I saw some of your photos, and I like you very mach. Don't moke at me." I think she meant "don't mock me," but I'm not sure. Sorry, Julya, I suspect you didn't realize that I am 65 years old and my wife runs my romantic life. I suspect she would Not Approve. Correspondence is about as far as I can go, alas. Another email says, entire: "I must admit that I quite enjoyed your books up to 7th grade, but then I realized what a hack you are. Taking your reader's ideas and churning out weak story after weak story with the same weak plot does not constitute a good book What it DOES constitute, evidently, is money, and that is, after all, what you're all about, isn't it?" He gave his name, but it would not be kind to give it here. I must admit to wondering whether in 7th grade he walked out and saw a burning bush or something, and God spake to him and said "Piers Anthony is a hack who writes for money. No other writers do, so thou shalt read all but Piers." Good reading to you, sir. Another email was an ad for the ultimate hardcore action, the wildest and craziest sex site on the Net. So I checked, and the address was invalid. Now why should such an ad be sent out, if it was not to solicit business? I doubt that I would have been buying anything there, but I am bemused by the false lead. Understand, I don't object to pornography or erotic material; I believe it should be available for those who like it, and I like it. But a fake ad? This is not the first I have encountered. Then there's www.talk.to/plants that an email advised me to check. I did, and found a girl's site, with cute pictures of her, a humorous listing of 50 reasons why others don't like her, etc. Such sites are fun, but I think not really in the ambiance of Internet Publishing, so I mention it here instead. Another email ad claims it can tell you how to meet beautiful women and make dates with them. Okay, and what about ordinary women? Are they beneath notice? Is physical appearance all that matters in a woman? Do they have another site for women to meet rich men and date them? I get a little impatient with the reduction of people to single qualities, such as beauty or wealth, but I suppose that lecture is passé by now. Another email told me of www.four-way.net/rwalter/, which seemed to be mainly a listing of books. Another email recommended a site which in turn warned about spiders: those Internet crawlers that may index your site, or copy things you don't want copied. Probably it is best not to post material on your site that you don't want copied, unless you have a way to prevent copying. Such ways do exist, but I don't know how they work. Another recommended http://junior.apk.net/~jbarta/idiot/html. This has a button to click, only the button moves away from your mouse cursor. Cute! And I tried my own address at Xlibris.com - and it bounced. So I can't reach me there. I shall have to inquire, as I am a board member. And something from the daily newspaper: each day it lists the high and low temperatures around the nation for the prior day, but I'm not sure how reliable this is. On NoRemember 26 the high was 82°F in Mesa, Arizona. But my town of Inverness, Florida had a high of 83°, and others in our area ranged on up to 87°. All listed on that same page. Why does this remind me of football officiating or Olympic judging?

The Dismember Internet Publishing Survey Update is presented separately, elsewhere in HiPiers. That ongoing project is getting too big to manage conveniently, so I'm trying to figure out how to simplify it.

Next time, I should have my report on that wedding, and maybe some comment on some of the books I hope to have read, and movies and videos I hope to have viewed. See you then.

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