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
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.