I have just finished updating the Internet Publishing survey, a grueling but satisfying two day job. I hope that future updates will be easier to accomplish. That survey is ongoing, and will assume the status of a separate section, so as not to get routinely buried with the outdated HiPiers columns. So that 50% of my readership who are hopeful writers may now move across to that; there's some good new information there. The rest of you are stuck here; sorry about that. As usual, there is no particular order here; my thoughts just sort of spew out and splatter on the file. My wife says I should learn to control my loquacity. I say it's her fault: she married a writer.
Last time we flashed a notice of my then-coming interview at Talk City. I have a rule of the ogre thumb: the farther from my control anything gets, the less reliable it is. The TalkCity folk messed up, did not run the material on me, and did not even provide an in-house link to the interview. There was no direct way to get from the TalkCity address to the interview chamber. I got desperate messages from readers trying to get in. Even so, there were 52 names there, and they flashed a warning that the limit was 60. There was supposed to be an established cue for questions, but folk kept breaking in anyway. I found it confusing, but answered as well as I could. One question that stumped me was what was the most unusual fan letter I had received. I have had such a lot of fan response over the years, ranging from useful information to hints of sexual receptivity, that I can't say what was most remarkable. I think it was a successful session, overall, considering. Anyway, I'm sorry that my readers couldn't get in, and I doubt I'll do another such interview soon.
I decided when I was poor that if I ever got rich, I would use my money for good purposes. Unlike some, I did not change my mind when my fortune improved; I have roughly tithed my income over the years in the support of what I deem to be good causes, and once I kick off to the oblivion that awaits an agnostic, much of the rest will go to similar causes. One such cause is the National Writer's Union. Now that dedication has borne some fruit: the NWU has won its lawsuit against the NEW YORK TIMES et al. More correctly, it lost the suit, but that loss has now been overturned on appeal. What this means is that free lance writers do own the electronic rights to their work. If a publisher wants to put it on the Internet, that publisher will have to buy those rights from the writer. This is a banner day for all writers, because electronic rights are looming ever larger, and may indeed be the future of publishing. Parnassus (the big publishing establishment) may see it another way; well, Tough Beans, Parnassus; you should have had the decency to pay your writers for the electronic use you made of their work in the first place.
We live on our tree farm, and it came time to thin the crop, so that the remaining trees will have room to grow. I wish every tree could endure forever, but this is not the commercial way. Harvesting has changed since my day, when we carefully undercut and felled each tree, sawed it into lengths and carried or hauled it out to the truck pickup point. Now it's much more mechanized. They brought in huge equipment, some with tires about as tall as I am. I think they have grappling machines that take hold of a tree and cut its base, then haul it off to a pile pretty much in one step. I was going to watch when they got to the edge nearest the house - but they wrapped up without ever doing that section, so I didn't see it. Maybe the trees there were too small. At any rate, every third row of slash pines has been taken, and our stumpage payments amounted to about $2,000 for the thinning of thirty acres. The final harvest should be considerably more, as the trees will be mature and will go for more sophisticated purposes than pulp. So do I look forward to this slaughter with delight? No; I should be dead before those trees are taken, so I can let them live in peace for the rest of my life. The extra space between the rows should grow up again with underbrush, blueberry bushes, oaks, magnolias, dogwood, cedar and so on as before, making it a suitable habitat for deer, gopher tortoises, rabbits, assorted snakes, armadillos, many birds, and unfortunately pigs. We don't like that latter because they can ruin it for all the rest; our neighbors have permission to hunt pigs alone, nothing else. We run the tree farm as a tree farm because that's what it is, but we also regard it as an informal wildlife sanctuary. Meanwhile I take a walk once a week through it carrying my boar spear, not to hunt pigs, but to make sure they don't hunt me.
Last time I mentioned wanting to find a hit counter, so we could track the traffic here. I got a third of a slew of responses for different counters. One reader even enrolled HiPiers in a counting service. We didn't follow up, as we haven't yet made up our minds, so we keep getting reports of zero traffic. But our webmistress told us how to get the stats directly from Mindspring (which incidentally is merging and will lose the name), and from that I have learned that HiPiers receives from 3,000 to 4,000 hits a day. We'll pass along all the hit counter information to our webmistress to see whether any suit our purpose. So if you see one appear at this site, you'll know how it worked out. Thanks to all of you who sent in information. I received an email from PC Beacon Support, saying it had attempted to visit my web site and gather some contact information about my organization. Could this be a search engine? Offhand I should hope that anyone who attempts to visit HiPiers succeeds. Another ad says "YOU NEED SENSOR - never lose your website contacts again!" This bears on something I learned when I looked up the HiPiers stats: I have been told that when you surf the Web, you are invisible. Now I know that's not so; every hit is recorded. Some of the searching I did for the Internet Publishing Survey led me into porno by-paths; I happened to be using my wife's web address, and now she's getting ads for hot sex, penis enlargement, and such. "Are you trying to tell me something?" I asked when she handed me the printout. And perhaps related: reader Connie Hedrick told me of WebFerretPRO, which claims to be the fastest, most powerful search utility for finding web pages, information, email addresses, files, chatter channels and so on, on the Net. Haven't really gotten into search tools yet, but in case someone is interested, the address is www.ferretsoft.com/.
My archery practice is ongoing, as it is one of my regular exercises. Now that I have more supplementary targets to use as baffles, I have moved out to the 150 foot range for the right-handed compound bow, and 75 feet for the left handed composite bow. A clarification for those who have not been following this aspect of my life: a compound bow is basically metal and has pulleys so that when you draw the string, it lets off some of the tension, but when you loose the arrow, it still fires with full force, in this case 60 pounds. It seems like magic to hold it at under 20 pounds pull yet have it fire at 60, but that's the way it works. My bow has a 65% let-off; some bows have 90%. So I can fire more readily at greater range with more power, and that's a pleasure. The composite left hand bow is basically plastic and reverse-curve, meaning that you seem to draw it backwards. It is rated at 30 pounds, but I draw it farther back so probably get up to 40. That may not sound like much, but it's about as hard to fire as the other, because I have to hold it at that 40 pounds while I aim; there is no let-off. I also have to string it each time I use it, in contrast to the compound bow. But I like it about as well, because it broadens my experience, and it's a much simpler instrument. I draw and fire my arrows faster, but less accurately; that's one reason I have a shorter range. I don't like to miss my targets and suffer lost or damaged arrows, plus the aggravation of time lost searching for them. So these days I typically hit my main target with all but one or two of my twelve arrows, and the misses are caught by the baffle targets. My newest set of arrows are carbon; they are different from the metal ones in look and feel, and harder to pull out of the targets, but work about as well. I also have a "Power-Pull" device with strong rubber tubing that pulls like a bow, so that I can exercise my bow-drawing muscles between times; it works well. Plus of course the metal detector for when an arrow is lost. So archery has become a fair hobby, and I like it. I don't associate with other archers; I do it alone, for exercise, and am satisfied. Of course I also run, row, cycle, and work out with dumbbells; I try to maintain my whole body.
I'm getting old. I received a fan letter from a fourteen year old girl saying she had a crush on me; I said that made me feel 50 years younger for a fond moment, before reality set back in. I love being adored from afar by teen girls. I turned 65, and signed up for Medicare and supplemental insurance. Naturally the process had its complications, with many fractional options, but it's good coverage. So I am officially a senior citizen now, of retirement age. But I'll never retire; I love writing too much. My wife and I have been married 43 years and are going for 50; it's actually a better life in many respects than it was when we were in our 20's. Of course we are much closer to the end than most of you in your 20's. That makes for mixed feelings.
We invested in Xlibris, the Internet self-publishing service, two years back, and have added to that since. That's because, having suffered the arrogance and sometimes bad faith of Parnassus, I very much want to promote an alternative. Hardly one writer in a hundred will ever get published conventionally; with the new Internet publishers that ratio can change so that everyone who wants to get into print can do so. So my investment is ideological, but it does make me a venture capitalist, and I am a member of the Board of Directors. They sent me several hundred business cards with my name on; I'm not much of a card person, so sometimes when asked for an autograph I sign a card. Well, there was a board meeting, so I had to travel to Philadelphia to attend. I don't like to travel, because Fate takes a personal interest when I do, and this trip was typical. The week it was scheduled, Hurricane Floyd developed 155 mph winds and headed straight for us. It veered north on the day of the trip, but enough of it intercepted Florida to wipe out flights on the east coast and Orlando. There was a solid traffic jam as evacuating residents headed across the state, and the Tampa International Airport was the only one in the region still open. Naturally it was jammed as those who had been scheduled at the Orlando airport came to Tampa. So Xlibris postponed the meeting a week, but it was too late to divert the hurricane; it move on past its secondary target, which is my paralyzed correspondent Jenny Elf, washing out North Carolina on its way - you did see those pictures of pigs on the barn roof? - and Philadelphia. I hope all the folk living in those flooded regions don't catch on that it all started just to mess up my trip. So what happened next week? The weather, having missed me from the east, took dead aim from the west as Tropical Storm Harvey formed in the Gulf of Mexico. But its eye wasn't very good, so it couldn't see my house well, so oriented directly on Tampa instead, so that the airport would be taken out. But it overcorrected, and hit Florida farther south, dumping ten inches of rain, but leaving the airport just clear, and I was able to make my flight. Well, Fate was not pleased about that; during my three day trip the DOW stock average plunged more than 500 points. But I made it. I met the folk who work at Xlibris, and actually saw the new cover to Mercenary on a computer screen, surely there by no coincidence. Did I mention that I sent the files for all five BIO OF A SPACE TYRANT novels there for republication, with $750 each for the fees? They have various little enlistment bonuses, like doing a third novel free if you pay for two, or doing a cover as part of the package for a limited time. I described the cover notions I had, workable from clip art, and they are working on them. So there should be nice editions soon. There's a certain advantage to participating as a writer as well as an investor; it keeps my finger on the real action.
So what happened at the board meeting? That's essentially private business, pondering strategies, competition, and the next investment round. It takes a lot of early capital to do a fully competent job, and many of the one-person Internet publishers will not be for the ages. But I can say that I met the other two large investors; each of the three of us represent about a third of the money put into Xlibris. They are businessmen, venture capitalists, in it for the money, and there's no shame in that. When some company wants to start up, with the hope of being the next Intel or Microsoft, where does it get the money? From venture capital. This is highly risky investment, so not a game for the timid or those living on their pensions. I think most venture capital investments are lost, but those that win can double, triple, quadruple, or multiply the return enormously. I don't like to gamble, which is why I stress that my investment here is ideological; I'm not in it for the money, but to promote something I believe will benefit all writers and possibly overthrow the Parnassus monopoly. I'd like to help change the face of publishing, and money is merely the instrument. But if it works out, I could see a very healthy return. That's the nature of venture capitalism. So it was interesting talking with the others, knowing that we come from quite different perspectives. For now, our purposes align; we all want Xlibris to succeed. But we are in other respects alien creatures. If this venture pays off, they will be going on to other investments in other ventures, while I will be glad to get out of it with my hide intact. Oh we chatted amiably enough, and had dinner together, but this is not my realm. At the day-long meeting my voice was always for the writer's interest. Should a rich outfit come and want to buy out the company, paying each investor ten times what he put in, and convert Xlibris to a high-tech pig farm, I would oppose it. The others might have to think about it. Should that outfit up its offer to a hundred times the prior investment, we'd have a blowout and I would probably lose, because as venture capitalists go I'm a babe in the woods. But I would be a very rich loser. Why does that remind me of my literary career, where I lost the literary acclaim I first tried for, and had to settle for funny fantasy, vilification, and wealth? Sometimes losing has its points. Especially when critics come across as mean spirited idiots. But why belabor the obvious?
I get interesting feedback from readers. I heard from Michael Miller. Here is a slightly-edited-for-brevity version of the account: "The summer before I left for college, my youngest cousin Amy took up an interest in fantasy role-playing games. I told her what I do is read fantasy novels and find a character I like. I bought her a copy of The Hobbit and A Spell For Chameleon. Amy fell in love with Xanth. By the time I came home for Christmas break, she was up to Centaur Aisle. Pretty good for a child that never read. Now Christmas with my family, everybody contributes something. My role is to bake cookies. I take my job very seriously, since I inherited it when my grandmother passed away. That Christmas, my Aunt thought I'd be too busy studying to bake cookies and picked up some store bought cookies. Next Christmas I didn't bake any cookies thinking my Aunt would get store bought ones again. I called home the night before I was leaving and asked my Mom if she needed anything brought home. She said No, just you and your cookies.' AUUGGHHH!!!! Here it is 9:00 at night, all the stores are closed, and I have to make Christmas cookies. I tear through the kitchen, I find half a bag of this, quarter bag of that, nothing to make a full batch of anything. I'm freaking now. I told myself the only thing I could do is mix all those half bags together and hope. I mixed flour, raisins, butterscotch chips, two bags of instant brown sugar spice oatmeal, and handful of Christmas M&Ms, a scoop of peanut butter, anything I could find. By midnight I had 4 dozen of this brown, lumpy, ugly cookie. I was disappointed, tired, and had a three hour drive in the morning. The next day was Christmas eve day. I got up, went to the store and bought some pretty cookies. I placed my ugly cookies in the center of the serving dish, and the pretty cookies around them. I drove home. Christmas was wonderful and everyone had a great time. I notice around 7:00 at night, the pretty cookies were all gone and no one touched the ugly cookies. Until Amy sat down next to me with a pint of milk and ½ dozen of the ugly cookies. She said something like, these are the best cookies ever and if no one's going to eat them can she takes them home. At this point everyone got a little braver and braver, and the next thing I know everyone's eating and praising the ugly cookies. They wanted to know what they were called, so I told them the story. I then asked what should we call these cookies? Amy said, Ogre Cookies." I asked her why and she said they reminded her of Smash Ogre, they look real scary but once you got the courage to try them they are very good and sweet. Nine years later, I still make Ogre Cookies every Christmas." Okay, end of digested quote. I asked for the recipe, in case my readers might like to make Ogre Cookies of their own. I mean, this is Ogre Country. (Those who came in late: I was accused of being on ogre at fan conventions, before I had ever even been to a convention; that shows how early the vilification started. So I wrote Ogre, Ogre, with an ogre as the hero, and it became my first - and evidently the genre's first - original paperback fantasy national bestseller. So I renamed its month of publication OctOgre, and now wear the mantle of Ogre with pride. Ogres are justifiably proud of their stupidity. And I never did treat a convention or a fan unkindly. Publishers and critics are another matter, though.) Here is Michael's recipe, starting with Grandma's Sugar Cookie recipe: 1 cup softened butter/ 1 cup sugar/ 1 large egg/ 2 teaspoons baking powder/ 1 teaspoon vanilla/ 2¾ cups flour. Now add 2 packages of instant brown sugar/spice oatmeal. You can use regular rolled oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add baking powder, oatmeal, and flour one cup at a time. If it's a little dry, add some milk until soft. And back to Michael: "Now to make true Ogre Cookies you can't preplan the next part. Go through your cupboards and add anything you find. Here's a partial list of what I used over the years. Butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, peanut butter, regular and chips, walnuts, coconut, raisins, M&Ms, Reese's Pieces, and various chopped up candy bars. Once I used Mole Bottoms. I don't recommend Sore Gum, it makes the cookies a little chewy and painful to eat. Be creative and have fun. Once you get your mixture prepared, roll the dough into little balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. Put the tray in the oven for 6-8 minutes. When they look like little brown rocks, they are done. Take them out and let cool. The next step is to get a large, I mean large glass of milk and enjoy. These cookies are hard and definitely dunkers. My Uncle also calls them those blankety, blanken tooth-breaking, blanken sinker, paper-weight cookies, as he slips several in his pocket. Sorry, the Adult Conspiracy kicked in again." So now you know, in time for Christmas and Y2K. When the lights go out and civilization ends, at least you will have Ogre Cookies to see you through.
I look at everything that comes in, including junk mail; never can tell what you'll find. Here's a spam that might be of interest, though I have not followed it up. It says "THOUSANDS OF FREE BOOKS TO DOWNLOAD. OUT OF THE THOUSANDS OF FREE BOOKS ON THE WEB THERE IS NOT ONE THAT WILL HOLD YOUR ATTENTION LIKE THIS ONE! THE IMMORTAL by J. J. Dewey." This is represented as an esoteric novel teaching the Twelve Keys of knowledge, beginning with WHO OR WHAT AM I? It says that for this and links to thousands of other free books, go to email@example.com and write BOOKS in the subject area. I am wary of books of revelation, on principle, but this is an interesting way to promote one. Meanwhile I read a book that a reader recommended: The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. This dates from 1927, and it is filled with interesting thoughts, such as "Work is love made visible," and "Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean." Pretty sharp observations.
HiPiers picked up another spot award: the Wizard Sites award for July 1999. The address is www.sfcrowsnest.com/. Its only regret is that we don't have more links. Well, HiPiers does not think of itself as a surfing step, but as a repository of information of interest to my readers.
I quoted a few lines of a poem I couldn't locate, last time. Two readers sent it to me: Jeffrey Caldwell and Paul D. Beasi. It is "In a Wood," by Thomas Hardy, from "The Woodlanders" circa 1887-1896. Thanks, fellows; that satisfies a long-time frustration of memory. Okay, maybe it's worth trying for another. When I was in the US Army, 1957-59, and taking the course in artillery survey that I would later teach, one of the savvy survey instructors read us a poem about the four letter word. Its essence was that you could convey just about any thought to a woman if you phrased it circuitously, but that the girl did not live who would respond positively to a more direct statement like "Let's F - k." It was very clever and very true, and I have kept it in mind in my own writing; I very seldom use the so-called four letter words, but generally do manage to convey the four-letter thoughts, as annoyed or outraged conservative readers sometimes let me know before they stop reading me forever. I'd love to locate that poem. Do any of my savvy readers know of it?
Speaking of women: I believe it was the excellent radio program MORNING EDITION that had an interview with the proprietor of THE FARMER'S ALMANAC, and one of the things in it was the secret of what women seek in men: #1 A sense of humor. #2 A positive attitude. You mean that all of us men for millennia have missed out on that? I think even I might develop a sense of humor if I tried hard enough. I wonder whether women are similarly obtuse about what men seek in women? Nah; the sales of breast implants and support hose proves they know.
A reader, James, spotted an omission in the Xanth Characters database: The Demon Litho, mentioned as the creator of the wiggles in Vale of the Vole. We had certainly lost that one! Now I'm trying to figure out just who Litho is; maybe an aspect of Demon Earth. Another reader, Aileen, advised me that the link for the nerdity test has changed. Now it is www.armory.com/tests/nerd500.html. Veronica emailed me about a URL you can use to send free food to starving people, costing you nothing. This is www.thehungersite.com.
The Mars Climate Orbiter mission arrived at Mars - and crashed. My wife said they had probably confused metric measurements with the inefficient English kind, and I agreed. Sure enough, that's what had happened. So over a hundred million dollars is thrown away because nobody thought to check the figures. That reminds me of when they sent up the Hubble telescope with a part put in upside down. Nobody proofreads, apparently.
I ordered some videos, that I play on a two inch screen in the corner of my working screen. Family videos my wife and I watch together downstairs; male-taste ones I watch myself. One of the latter is Totally Nude Aerobics. That's fun; it's several shapely young women exercising without their clothes while the camera slowly glides around to see things from different angles. No men, no sex, no provocative poses, no moans or other fakery, just steady calisthenics. What surprised me was the artistry of it: there is music, and their motions are to a beat, and in symmetric patterns, while their loose hair swings around. So I like it in more than one way.
Our swimming pool has long since gone to nature. Frogs moved in, and there are tadpoles. But with some recent heavier rains - we have been in a drought, but those hurricanes and tropical storms have helped - the level rose, and I set a siphon hose to drain it down again. Then to my horror I discovered five dead tadpoles. They must have swum through the hose and stranded on the ground. One I spied alive; I got it in a cup and returned it to the pool. I wish I had anticipated the problem in time to save the others.
Magnolia trees grow wild in our forest. Our drive curves around a lot, because we didn't want any of them dozed out. Some don't flower, some flower occasionally, but one always flowers, starting first and ending last. Magnolia flowers are huge, eight or nine inches across. Now the fruits are scattered on the ground, looking like soft grenades. My wife picked one up from the drive - we don't like to run them over - and brought it inside. As it slowly dries out, the bright red seeds squeeze out, looking like M&Ms. Not all at once; a few appear one day, and a few more another. There must be a hundred of them all told. So we put the works back outside, so that the seeds will have their chance to sprout into trees. Nature has so many little ways, if one but takes a moment to look.
We have a windup radio: no battery, you wind it about 60 turns and it plays for a generous 45 minutes. I use it daily and like it very well; if we ever have a prolonged power blackout, this will serve well. Now the same company has come out with a windup light, so we got that. Same mechanism, except that a single winding lasts for only three minutes. But if you had a sudden power blackout and needed to find your way to the closet for lamps and things, this would be ideal. It does have a rechargeable battery backup, though, which can be charged either by house current or by winding it and setting it on charge instead of light. So you aren't limited to three minutes at a time. We haven't had an emergency yet, but that light is there for when the time comes. It could have come with Hurricane Floyd, but for the fickle finger of fate.
Every year or so I have to look up two words again, because their meanings fudge in my memory. They are metonymy and synecdoche. They are figures of speech, like simile and metaphor, but more complicated. Only a writer or an English teacher cares about them; since I have been both, I do care. So here is a very brief summary for those who lack the wit to skip this paragraph: SIMILE - an explicit comparison: "She is like a rose." METAPHOR - an implied comparison: "She is a rose." SYNECDOCHE - a substitution of the part for the whole, the special for the general, or vice versa: "wheels" for "car," "creature" for "woman." METONYMY - naming a thing by one of its attributes, or exchanging names of related things: "the crown" for "king," or "the White House" for "presidency." See - you use these figures of speech all the time; you just never realized that they had technical terms, did you, genius? Actually that's ordinarily irony, but for the purpose of this discussion I'm assuming that anyone who actually reads and understands this paragraph is extremely smart, making it metonymy.
Now at last it can be told: Letters To Jenny has inspired a movie. I understand it will be shown on CBS TV some time in the future; my guess is next spring. It is Princess Rose, about a little girl who is in a car accident and badly injured, winding up in a coma. The only thing she responds to at all is a story her mother reads her, so the mother writes to the author of the book. He comes to see the girl, and it goes on from there, fantasy intermixed with reality. You can see the connection to my relationship with Jenny, but it's really a different story. They sent me a summary, I wrote it up in novel form, they are revising it, and eventually it should be the movie and a book. The rights are divided: Jenny's family gets the money for use of the "Life Story," and I get a similar amount for the literary participation. Much remains to be worked out, but we have signed contracts, so this should come to pass in due course. Jenny Elf fans should keep alert for Princess Rose.
We went to the movies. Here are two paragraphs from my letters to Jenny that pretty well cover the situation:
We saw the movie The Thomas Crown Affair. You know how the critics give top ratings to dull movies, and so-so ratings to the good ones, so as to try to turn the public off? They rated this one "C" so you know it must be good. And it is; in fact it's the best one I've seen this year. Thomas Crown is a wealthy art lover who steals a hundred million dollar painting from the museum. So they fetch a sharp female investigator to recover it. She looks a bit like Jackie Kennedy in her prime - it's a generational thing, you had to have been there in the 1960's when she was the prettiest First Lady ever - and has a steel trap mind. She figures Crown did it, and sets out to steal the painting back. She dates him, and swipes his keys, has them copied, then makes a night raid, locates the painting, takes it back to the museum - and it turns out to be a fake left to fool her. Then she's really mad, so she dates Crown again - he's a handsome man in his 40's - and they have a torrid affair. I like one scene where he is lying naked on a couch, and then the camera pans up and there she is, lying naked on his back. I mean, they really do like each other, apart from the battle of wits, which they also enjoy. Finally he says he will return the painting tomorrow afternoon, and she can either let it happen, or have the police there waiting for him. She, thinking he's two-timing her with a lush young thing, has the police there, with video cameras and all. Then comes the darndest sequence I've seen in a long time, with Crown there in bowler hat and painting-sized valise, evidently containing the painting. But then there's a second man with the same equipment, and a third, fourth, and so on until there are about fifty of them and the police are totally flummoxed. The painting reappears, and Crown departs after some very nice maneuvers. It faked me out, and I love it. Meanwhile the woman has fallen in love with him, and goes to join him.
Thus my life, as I lurch into Senior citizenship. Without readers, I'd be nothing at all.
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