This time I have a number of complicated subjects to present my simplistic take on. So, somewhat randomly, I'll start in, mixing the significant with the inconsequential, and see how it goes. Last night my wife had three pictures to send to a friend, so she got online and started the process, and it was molasses in Antarctica, tediously slow. We have a 450 Mhz system with a 56K modem, but it took two and three quarter hours to transmit, and she had to baby-sit the system the whole time. Then, at the end, came a message: it was too large a file so couldn't be sent. She had just wasted all that online time for nothing. Here is my question: why doesn't the program give that warning before such a transmission is made, instead of after? Is this ignorance or malice? Whoever programmed it that way needs to be fired and the company sued for restitution. I picture a chamber in Hell for the proprietors of such programs, where their feet are toasted in a steel kiln for three hours before a devil arrives with a message: WRONG CHAMBER - REPORT TO NEXT CELL FOR COMMENCEMENT OF PUNISHMENT. Which punishment will be similar.
We have the Xanth Family Trees chart on, but it seems that HTML doesn't translate it perfectly, so that some names are misaligned. We're trying to get that fixed. Meanwhile, this time we're putting on the Xanth Timeline, or the History of Xanth. That was started by a serious reader whose pseudonym is E Timber Bram - not a pun as far as I know - and I have continued and updated it since, so that it has become almost 400 lines listing deliveries, significant events, and general information such as the list of temporary kings during the NextWave invasion, and the chain of Ida's Moons as far as is presently known. The Zombie Master found a moon that is off the list; zombies prefer privacy, because living folk can have a peculiar attitude about them. You are not authorized to know future events, so don't look at the last few lines. Those who use Xanth as a game background should find this listing useful. Those who have additions or corrections to recommend should stifle them let me know.
I reported last time on the Internet publishers I'm invested in. I have an update: Xlibris.com has obtained additional funding and is now in the process of expanding its operation and moving to larger facilities in Philadelphia. My wife and I now have the largest block of stock, and I am a member of the board of directors, but both the operation and the direction of the company will be handled by others with similarly significant stakes. Service to those who publish there and those who buy the books should be significantly improved as new employees are trained. I expect the profile of Xlibris to rise, and it may become an entity to be reckoned with in the publishing arena. Meanwhile we had a visit from Neil Schulman, the proprietor of Pulpless.com, and writer Brad Linaweaver, and added to our investment there too. For those who haven't been tracking this matter, I'll clarify that Xlibris is a facility for self publishing physical hardcovers or trade paperbacks for a fee, so that the authors rather than editors choose the books, and quality is likely to be mixed; the point is not great literature, but to enable every writer to present his/her dream so the reading public can judge. Pulpless is a commercial publisher with commercial standards, so there are no fees and only material of a certain level is accepted. It is also experimenting with advertising, hoping to make its books available as free files for downloading. So if you have a book you want to publish, go to Xlibris; if you want to read one free, go to Pulpless. That's an oversimplification, but you can go to their web sites to get the full stories if you are interested.
I have two daughters who average age 30. Penny just moved to Oregon with goats, geese, husband, furniture and whatnot, so our contact is now mostly by phone, snail, or email. Cheryl lived elsewhere for 8 years, but then returned to Citrus County. I think they take turns supervising the old folk: us. Cheryl is the family movie/video freak, so now we are exposed to more of that. We went with her to see Phantom Menace, the Star Wars prequel. Let me tell you about our history in that respect: back in 1977 when our daughters were ages 9 and 7 they wanted to go see a movie, so we made a deal with them: we'd go see their movie if they would also come see a movie we chose, and we'd see who could pick them better. Naturally they agreed, knowing that old folk are incapable of judging movies. Theirs was Disney's cartoon feature The Rescuers, and it was fun. Ours was Star Wars, which I had learned about via the excellent radio program ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Maybe only once in a lifetime do the old folks ever win a contest like that, and that was ours. Of course that was 22 years ago and thereafter we sank hopelessly back into old fogydom, but we do remember that high mark. So how was the current movie? I found it to be two hours of violence in a two and a quarter hour show. It had no sex, nudity, or even romance, and the story line was almost hidden by the effects. But it's my kind of junk. I love space ships, robots, combat with colored light beams, and alien monsters. So I enjoyed it despite the deafening sound and the difficulty tracking who was good and who was bad. But there remain nagging questions: how can a light beam fend off another light beam as if it's a physical sword? Surely the two should pass through each other, so that fencing is impossible. And when an army of robots is powered from an orbiting space station, and each robot head is a seemingly empty tube, why is a robot commander necessary, speaking in a human voice? Surely the orders would come directly from the space station. Why do they have to hold pistols, instead of having their weapons built in? Why do they have to look like metal human beings, instead of deadly fighting machines? There was, however, another type of robot that did it right: it rolled rapidly to the scene as a ball, then unfolded and started blasting away. So I regard much of this show as nonsense. But, accepting it as science fantasy (they should call it sci-fa rather than sci-fi), it's fun. I liked the way the enemy agent was no coward; when two Jedi came after him with their light swords, he used a light staff to fend them both off, killing one before going down himself. The special effects were very good. I look forward to the next, which I think will contain the romantic segment of the larger story.
I finally got on the Internet. I started by going to this HiPiers site and using its links to visit other sites. Next I tried typing web site designations in directly. Finally I tried a search engine. I was surprised by the ease with which all systems worked. It's simple to cruise the Net. The net and sites remind me of a huge bazaar with stalls all along, each with its little display, and some are whole stores with departments and connections to elsewhere. It's fun to window shop, but after a while it palls. I mean, once you have explored a typical spot site, you've seen it all, and it's time to move on to the next. Others are so big you could wander in them forever - but what's the point? But for what it's worth, some impressions: PATH, or the Piers Anthony Thread Homepage, has a lot of stuff, and links to more. I tended to get confused between what was a subsection and what was a link, so wasn't sure whether the Fox Den (with a picture of a fox) or Raven's Xanth Homepage were part of the Xanth Xone or something else. Magician Humfrey's Castle had many links, some of which led nowhere; that, too gets confusing. Mela Merwoman's Homepage had a picture that looked male (I was hoping for bare breasts), and many mundane links. Collaborator Julie Brady's site was full of Friesian horses. Geocities sites were a labyrinth. I'll probably be exploring more, in my dull leisurely fashion. For now I'll say that some of those sites, like the PATH, seem to have much to offer the Xanth fan, though I was too clumsy to find any of the interviews it mentioned. However, I happen to know that there's one coming up, because I answered the questions last week.
Let's tackle a peripheral matter: the Internet is perhaps the world's greatest-ever common forum, where opinions of any kind can be displayed, and I think that's good. I believe in free expression, though I am cautious about the crying "FIRE!" in a crowded theater kind, and about deliberate lying. (But that's not necessarily an easy exception. I read once of a young man who got up before the screen in a movie theater and announced that they were now required to have fire drills, and this was one, so please locate the nearest exits and file out quickly. The audience went along with it, and soon was outside. Well, the man had lied: there was no fire drill. There was a real fire, and he had probably saved lives by getting them out without panic. So was his lie justified?) I'm glad to know that there are many folk on the Internet who like my books, but I believe the complete range of opinion should be covered. So this is to let you know that there are at least a couple of anti-Anthony sites out there, and you should check them too. One is BOOK-A-MINUTE SF/F - THE XANTH SERIES, ultra-condensed by Samuel Stoddard and David J Parker, at http://www.rinkworks.com/bookaminute/b/anthony.xanth.shtml. (Those last five letters confuse me. I can guess what sh-t stands for, but what about ml? Maybe that's the count: one million.) It says the Xanth novels formula is a teenaged main character, gratuitous love interest, a sidekick with a body composed of parts from twenty-nine distinct species, a boring old adult, summarized thus: Teenager Main Character and friends go OUT and have a QUEST. Then they COME BACK. Okay; if I tried, I suspect I could think of some Xanth novels that don't match perfectly, like A Spell for Chameleon, or Night Mare, or Xone of Contention, but overall this is a fair summary. Now how about all the other juvenile genre novels ever written by anyone? They follow a different formula? How about the adult formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl? Should all those novels be similarly ridiculed? What is it that makes only Xanth novels ridiculable?
Let's try another. It is SCOTT'S PAGE OF EVIL, at http://rampages.onramp.net/~scottgl/piers.htm. Apparently Scott just likes to sound off in a way that attracts notoriety. He has on a parallel track provocative comment on religion with which I agree. He calls me the High Lord of Hack Writers, and says that science fiction and fantasy are plagued by eternal sequels and endless mindless series, and that mine are "unmitigated smegma from book one, page one." He says he read my crap when he was a teen, but hasn't read anything of mine in sex years. He says a defining feature of my work is the repetition of the word "demesnes," and that all other words found in my novels adhere to a strict third grade reading level. Hm - I wonder whether he ever looked at my adult novels like Firefly, Tatham Mound, any of the GEODYSSEY series, Volk, the non-novel Letters To Jenny, Tarot, Macroscope, or even the juvenile Balook? If so, he may have a basis for his opinion. I am more than a little tired of ignoramuses who choose to read only my frivolous fantasy, then condemn me for supposedly doing nothing else. That's a critic's formula I have seen many times, and they don't just buzz about Anthony; they seem to resent any success anywhere by anyone--but does this vitriol have any value? I can give the formula for criticizing any trilogy: the first volume is indifferent, the sequel does not achieve that standard of the first, and readers will be sadly disappointed in the third. Who needs to read the books? So visit Scott's site, and judge whether he is a pretender to the throne of Lord High Hack Critic.
There is, however, a difference between the ignoramus and the thoughtful reader. I take the latter more seriously, though sometimes this, too, can be wrongheaded. I received a long email critique of my work in general and Volk in particular from "Michael" at email@example.com. I have his permission to run his email address, with the caution that he does not wish to be deluged with thoughtless reactions, but will welcome considered ones. I understand the sentiment. Michael did not read the novel; he read only the Prolog. He found that so bad that he did not care to continue. Because he is a fan of my work, this bothered him, and so he tried to tell me what is wrong, in the hope that I will heed and improve my writing in future. Now let me say immediately that I have encountered folk who consider any criticism of their work to be a personal attack requiring vengeance, and I resolved long ago not to be one of those. It is not the criticism I object to, but the ignorance or malice so often shown elsewhere, such as with Scott, above. Michael is neither ignorant nor malicious; he's trying to do me a favor. Unfortunately, I find myself unable to appreciate it, and hope this discussion will show why. The essence of Michael's critique is that I have an inability to render actual scenes actual when those scenes emerge from a second-hand source. That is, if I don't invent them, and haven't experienced them myself, but have to derive them from research, I foul up. So I have no problem in straight fantasy, or in autobiography, but do in historical fiction. Since the prolog of Volk, (which I believe you can read by checking Pulpless.com without having to buy the novel) (oops - I checked there, to make sure, and Volk is no longer there, maybe because it is to be reissued in a corrected edition in SapTimber; sorry about that; you'll just have to wait for the free edition) is just such a sequence, it is a perfect example of his case. He feels that I messed it up because I wasn't there in that Spanish Civil War scene and so wasn't able to recreate it effectively.
Okay. Because Michael did not read to the end of the novel, he missed the Author's Note, where I tell the personal basis for the novel. I was there - not in the specific site of the described bombing, but in Spain, though I was then a child of five. My parents were doing relief work there, as described in the novel, and while the fighting of the Spanish Civil War was in progress they left my sister and me in England, for safety. Once the war was done, in 1939, we rejoined our parents, and spent about a year in Spain, and began to learn Spanish. Spain was to be our permanent home, as my parents really liked it there. Then my father was arrested without cause, I believe at the time Adolf Hitler of Germany was visiting, and "disappeared." The government denied it, until he smuggled out a note, and my mother was able to get him released because otherwise some strings could have been pulled to stop some significant foreign aid for the country. Dictatorships don't admit mistakes, so he was required to leave Spain. That is why I came to America, directly, in 1940, and indirectly why I was to become a writer and why I have an abiding hatred of dictatorships. Spain had a key effect on my life and attitude. So I returned to it in the form of this novel. I was indeed there, in body and spirit. I did not have to have bombs falling on my head to be profoundly affected by that war.
Michael's critique is, I think longer than the Prolog it addresses. He goes through it sentence by sentence, specifically commenting, and then rewrites it to be the way he feels it should have been. He feels I dallied too long in introspection and explanations, so his revision starts with the actual bombing. It is true that much of that Prolog is quiet, as thoughts are explored. It is true that much of this novel is not like my fast-moving fantasy. That is deliberate on my part; this is a historical novel, not an action-adventure piece. I refuse to limit myself to one type of fiction, and indeed, regard myself has having as broad a range as any writer does. So my comment to Michael was that he was blaming an apple for not being an orange. But I also feel that he was not doing the kind of objective comment he thought he was, and had drifted into the trap of the critic's love of his own opinions, without regard to their merit. I shall give a single example of this here; others are welcome to check directly with Michael and request his full critique if they wish. About a thousand words into the prolog I have this sentence: "What was that?" Just three words, as a woman sees an airplane she doesn't recognize. Here is Michael's comment on that sentence: "Again, the naïve very basic tone of this reveals more ludicrous, mawkish signaling. You have caned the thing to death several times over by this stage. As though the sort of reader who the writer is trying to communicate with is some kind of semi-blind imbecile, who can only be distracted by the most obvious of gestures."
Onward. I mentioned the virus "Happy99" last time. Since then I have learned more about it. It seems it's not a virus, it's a worm, and while it puts a seemingly innocuous fireworks show on the screen, it is also infecting your system to send itself out when you communicate with others, and makes a trap door that will allow someone else to access your files without your knowledge. As I told a young woman who was trying to reassure me that Happy99 is harmless, this is like getting the rape-date drug in your free lemonade: you may never know what you really pay.
Daughter #2 Cheryl gave me the DEER AVENGER computer game. This is a parody of the DEER HUNTER game, and it's my type. You are a deer, and you are out to bag hunters. You can use a slingshot, a rifle, or a bazooka, and you can use special calls, such as "Help! I'm naked and I have a pizza!" or, if the hunter stubbornly hides, you can make a deer fart to smoke him out. I love it when the deer shoot back.
I have a T-shirt from the 26 member Internet group, the Xanth Email Listserve. I have not tried to get involved in lists or chat rooms, so don't know what goes on there, but appreciate their interest.
On occasion I look at hopeful-writer material. I try to discourage this, because I seldom have good news, and I don't get my jollies from dashing fond hopes. But sometimes I do. I read the novel by "Margaret," which was tough detective fiction. Now this is out of my genre, so my opinion is not expert, but it seemed to me to be a good story and a publishable novel. So I had her contact my literary agent, and a reader there liked the novel. But my agent is in Los Angeles, and they thought it would be better to get New York representation, so they checked with several New York agents. The first reader of the first one like the novel, but the boss was out of town, and somehow it never proceeded from there. To condense this history, in the course of about eight months Margaret was unable to get representation for her novel. This is part of what I feel is wrong with Parnassus: most publishers won't even read unagented material, and it seems most agents won't consider material by a writer who is not already known. It's a catch-22 situation. This is one reason I support Internet publishing; I believe that the whole system needs to be opened up to give the little piggies a chance instead of letting only the old fat hogs have all the swill. I didn't like the system when I was a little pig, and I still don't like it now that I'm an aging hog. So I introduced her to Internet publishing, and she plans to use it. Meanwhile, in a separate dialogue with an agent (I'm sorry that column never developed, but I do such things only with the consent of the other parties, and perhaps the agent reconsidered) I mentioned Margaret's case as an example of what's wrong, and the agent said that he had never been asked. So I put Margaret in touch, and the agent looked at her novel - and rejected it. I haven't seen his comment; as I said, this is out-of-genre so I can't be sure how good it is, just that it seemed good to me and others who read it. So the case remains persuasive: it can be hard for a newcomer to break into print, or even to find out what's wrong, if anything is wrong. Oh, sure, some do, but it seems to be like lightning striking or winning the lottery: the odds are much against it. My own history, taking eight years of trying to make my first sale, is perhaps an example. For me, much of that was simply getting good enough, but another part was the closed-shop nature of publishing. Coincidentally, while I was writing this column, I received a request from John Tannock that I look at his novel The Divine Suicide. So I went to his publisher's site, which is Awe-Struck E-Books, run by Kathryn D. Struck. No, I'm not making this up; I think this is one clever name and a nice site. It allows potential readers to download significant segments of the books being offered, so as to get a good idea of their nature before purchasing. I downloaded a hundred pages of The Divine Suicide. I won't comment specifically on this title here, except to say that if this is typical of the level published by Awe-Struck, it certainly augments my case about good material failing to find regular publishing. Readers should visit this site; they may find books to their liking. And I suppose I should start checking other Internet publishers, and setting up a list of links to them, so that writers in search of publication will know where to look. I'll try to do something about that next time. The fact that I have invested in two Internet publishers does not mean I wish others any ill; in fact I wish them all well, because there's great need. For now, here are the addresses: http://www.awe-struck.net, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An increasing amount of my mail is now email. Most of it consists of expressions of pleasure about my novels, or spot questions, or request for information, such as what's the complete list of Xanth novels, and HiPiers takes care of that, though I do read all of it. Some warrants my individual comment, and I still do a good many full letters, about a hundred a month. Sometimes I actually say something. So here is the text of a letter I sent to a thoughtful girl; you can judge her points by my topics responding to them. I leave her anonymous to protect her from the kind of attention young women can attract. The letter is set off by asterisks.
You're a brown haired girl! I met one of those once, so I married her, and next month we'll have our 43rd anniversary. Behold the power of brown hair. But I guess you already knew that.
That Littleton Colorado school massacre has many folk thinking. Congress even passed a tougher gun-control law. It didn't want to, but the day of the vote there was another gun incident in Georgia, and that did it. I have some trouble making up my mind about gun control, as I do about other significant issues. I'd rather keep the guns out of the hands of the criminals and crazies, but the Constitution does protect the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. It is also true that if every person were armed, it would be harder for anyone to kill many others, because soon someone would shoot back. But if everyone had a gun, there would be more accidental shootings. So it's hard to know the best course.
I understand your problem with death. The shock of it can be horrendous. A girl your age died of illness, and you surely thought "There but for the grace of God go I." It shook you up. The reason I know is because when I was 16, my closest cousin, who was 15 and attended the same boarding school I did, died of cancer. He was bright, happy, social, in a well-to-do family and had much to live for, while I was a poor and troubled kid with grade problems and no family to speak of - my parents were divorcing. It seemed that if one of us had to go, it should have been me. It took me a long time to work things out in my mind, and I have been concerned with death ever since. On a Pale Horse features Death as the main character. I also became a vegetarian, because I didn't want to support death in any way I could avoid, and that applies to animals too. So my life did change significantly, because of that death. Perhaps yours will too, because it is evident that you, too, think about things a lot, trying to make sense of what may seem senseless, trying to come to terms with a universe that has some real problems and real ugliness along with its grandeurs. I, too, think of myself as a liberal, and I try to be tolerant of the ways and beliefs of others, but there are limits - if only I could be sure exactly where they are. I don't have a problem with those who are gay; they have a right to their own lifestyle, though it isn't mine. But what about those who, in the name of their religion, kill others who don't conform? I was raised as a Quaker, and a major tenet of that faith is pacifism - but what about what's happening in Kosovo? Do we just watch from a distance, being pacifistic, while troops drive people wholesale from their homes, kill the men, rape the women, and maybe enslave the children? How do we stop such savagery - without going to war? This is one reason I elected not to become a Quaker myself, perhaps the lone dissident in my family: I see the limits of pacifism. I don't have a good answer.
Why does the Xanth Adult Conspiracy mirror that of Mundania? Because the one is a direct parody of the other. If it looks foolish in Xanth, surely it is just as foolish in the real world. If a girl takes a walk in the park, and a man grabs her, bashes in her head, and leaves her for dead - that's all right to write about in gruesome detail. But if the same girl goes to the same park for a rendezvous with her boyfriend, and they have consensual sex, that's not all right to write about in any detail. I think that's backwards. I am reminded of the comment made about Puritanism: the nagging suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having a good time. So it's all right to have a bad time, but not a good time? The Adult Conspiracy seems to believe so.
BUT - as is discussed in The Color of Her Panties, a Xanth novel that some stores don't like to carry because they object to the title in some way they won't quite specify, there are some sound reasons to withhold some information and experience from children until they are old enough to handle it. You comment on this, pointing out how the young don't have the emotional and intellectual capabilities to deal with some serious adult things. I think of a parallel with language: you mention a bad Latin test score. I had trouble with Latin too; it took me three years to pass two years of it, barely. Yet at age 5 I was learning to speak Spanish, when I lived in Spain. Why was a foreign language so hard for me at 15 when it was easy at 5? Because the younger mind, before it gets set, can more readily assimilate a new language. There is an age for language, and its best to learn it then, because it is much harder later on. You will note how those who learn English as adults always have strong accents. Okay: I think that similarly there are things that should not be learned too young, because they can distort the process of growing up. Like too intimate an acquaintance with the reality of death.
Thinkingitis - it lasts a lifetime, as this letter shows. Welcome to the club. It can be a lonely one at times. (Maybe it's the brown hair.)
That was her coinage: thinkingtis. Thinking too much can interfere with normal human relations, since so many people seem to be on dull autopilot. Letters can be a good place for its expression. Let me do another. The background is that in FeBlueberry we ordered our 450MHz computer system, with scanner, modem, and other connections. Everything worked but the scanner. Nothing we did would make the computer recognize it. We sent for new software, and Umax sent it. Finally we paid a consultant to check the system, and he said it was probably a bad card - that is, the electronic printed circuit board that looks like a complicated city block. So we sent the card back to Umax, and it sent a replacement. No luck. So we took it into a repair shop, and after two days they figured it out: a conflict between the modem and the scanner. They replaced the modem card and finally it worked. So why is it you can buy a complete system whose parts choose not to recognize each other? Our experience is hardly unique.
At this point I had an open letter to Sony Electronics, about a rebate offer that had gone four months without fulfillment, so I figured I'd been stiffed and would have to boycott the company hereafter. But there was a day's delay in sending the column to our HTML translator, and in that day the rebate finally came. So I had to delete the letter; I was not stiffed, and Sony will remain the company whose TVs and monitors I prefer. Which leads into another letter, where I am on the other side of it: a reader's email says he will no longer purchase my books, because he read to the end of Virtual Mode and it had no ending. He concludes: "Page 303 of Virtual Mode
imagine you are a reader and ask yourself if you will readily patronize an author who has betrayed you like this. Piers, you suck." Yes, he signs his name, and I understand his concern. The Mode series was conceived as a series from the first, and I thought readers would appreciate having a hint what the following novels would be like. Evidently this reader thought it was a ploy to snag readers who would not otherwise be interested in my works. I am sorry he took it that way, and sorry to lose him as a reader, but he did have the grace to let me know why. I respect that. I believe this is the way to register a protest to what one feels is unconscionable, exactly as I was doing with Sony. If this reader happened to read the Author's Note in that volume he would have seen that I expressed the same sentiment there, both sides.
Two readers provided information on the song I mentioned last time, whose words were "I'm glad I kissed those other lips
" One said the song is "When I was Young." No, it can't be, because that is a 1967 song, and I heard it in 1953. The other gave me a long address to check, more than 100 characters, and I thought I'd better not try to type all that because I'd be sure to make an obscure error and get nowhere, so I looked for his email letter, to copy it from there - and it came in the time the system was in the shop for the scanner repair, and was received on a different system. Sigh. Eventually I'll take courage in hand and try it. Others have recommended other sites for things, and I have tried to look them up, but without much success; maybe I mis-keyed, or maybe they don't actually exist. The Internet is not necessarily kind to duffers. Sigh.
I was going crazy, waiting for the scanner to get functional, so finally I wrote two chapters of Xanth #25, Swell Foop, though I won't get serious on that until fall. At about that time I also received the galleys for #23, Xone of Contention, so got refreshed on that. Now a Xanth novel is a Xanth novel, and they have similar elements by no coincidence, and it's hard to choose between them, but this one struck me as one of the stronger ones, perhaps stronger than Zombie Lover, which I also feel is a good one. I get my best judgment on a novel when it has lain fallow a while, and then I read it with a fresher mind. I'm tempted to recommend Xone to Scott Evil as an example demonstrating that even a current Xanth novel does not match his accusations, but of course he's not reading anything of mine; he's secure in his set opinion, in the manner of any zealot. But the rest of you can look forward to it, and see whether you concur. Ignore the blurb material on the cover; it describes the novel I perhaps should have written, but didn't. Coincidentally, I also read Volk, for the corrected Pulpless edition, and that is certainly one of my more significant novels. And now that the scanner is (finally!) working, I'm proofreading the first Space Tyrant novel, Refugee, and that's a downbeat powerhouse, one of my best. I wrote it the same time as On a Pale Horse, and they were published in the same month in 1983, and I regard the two as equivalent for all that they are quite different types. How could I write two novels together? That was when my study was in the horse pasture, and though Florida is paradise for those who don't like cold weather, it does manage to get down to freezing on occasion in winter. My study had no electricity and no heating, and my hands got cold and stiff on the manual typewriter. So I sat next to our wood stove in the house and wrote the first draft of Refugee in pencil in two months. But half the winter remained, so then I wrote the first draft of On a Pale Horse in pencil in the next two months. Then it was spring, and I went to the study to type the second and third drafts of each novel. One odd thing: when I finished the draft of Refugee and went on to Pale Horse, the first novel disappeared from my awareness. Then when I returned to it two months later I was amazed by its power: how could I have lost it so completely? But of course Pale Horse has its own power. This review started me thinking: what are my favorite novels of my own? So I made up a list, subject to chronic change as I ponder and reponder: 1 Tatham Mound 2 Tarot 3 Macroscope 4 Hope of Earth 5 Volk 6 Refugee 7 On a Pale Horse 8 Split Infinity 9 Virtual Mode 10 Key to Havoc 11 Chthon 12 Cluster 13 Killobyte 14 Balook 15 Xone of Contention, and Firefly fits in there somewhere too. #10 is as yet unsold and unpublished, but will be published on the Internet in due course if regular publishers can't handle fantasy this hard-hitting. I suspect few readers will agree with this listing, and that's their privilege. I do the best I can on every piece I write, and even the least of my novels has aspects that move me. So what is the least novel? But What of Earth?, and no, I don't consider it a poor novel, just one that because of the publisher's constraints of time and wordage I was unable to make better. Then the publisher revised it into a truly mediocre thing, and I republished it restored, with my voluminous commentary on the editing it had received. I loved doing that! Those who wonder why writers object to heavy editing have but to look at that example. Anyway, the scene that moved me therein was when our hero, twice dumped by women he thought to marry, was coming to terms with one who believed she was unworthy to love him, but really wanted to. He wanted to be sure, so as not to get hurt a third time. Between his wariness and her guilt, it was a difficult dialogue, but they did come to terms and it was the right match-up. Critics trashed that scene, of course, which suggests that they, too, were moved by it, and couldn't admit it. I believe I have said before that I regard many critics as a different and inferior breed, and I have indeed studied them. Trying to fathom a critic is a bit like dipping out a septic tank from below, but it's best to do it when necessary.
So what else is new? I don't pay a lot of attention to television, being always distracted by reading or writing - this is the nature of a writaholic - but do notice some things in passing. For example in that series THE PRETENDER, which I notice because I have a novel of the same title, where the lead opposition lady appears: I love to see her walking in her pouty little skirt. Which in return reminds me that I'll be making a trip this Dismember to attend collaborator Julie Brady's wedding ceremony. Remember, she's the one with the Dream, but her mortal body could fit that skirt. Oh, yes, you may be sure I will make a full report, in due course. About the wedding, not the skirt. And I bought a boar spear. No, I'm not a hunter; it's that feral pigs have overrun Florida, and they can be mean customers, as well as tearing up the landscape and ruining it for natural wildlife. We regard our tree farm as a wildlife sanctuary, and we have deer, rabbits, gopher tortoises galore, armadillos, piliated woodpeckers, indigo snakes, sand hill cranes and many other ordinary or rare creatures here. We want all those other creatures to feel welcome, and so we need to be rid of the pigs. Our neighbors on either side are pig hunters, and they are thinning the herd, but I still see the tracks on the pig paths, so know they aren't yet gone. So when I go out alone I take the spear, and don't have to worry about what I might encounter. It's like my attitude toward critics: I'd rather not run afoul of one of those noxious beasts, but if I do, I am prepared to defend my territory.
My literary agent says a publisher is interested in DoOon Mode and is considering whether to make an offer. Stay tuned for further news, when.
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