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Piers Anthony, August, 2021

OctOgre 2021


For those who came on my scene later than 1982, I have had a reasonably rough course as a writer. When I demanded that my publisher give me an honest accounting and royalties on my first published novel, Chthon, I never got them; instead I got blacklisted, false stories were spread about me, and a writers organization, I suspect many of whose members were also getting cheated, essentially sided with the publisher. A former officer even wrote me a stiff letter bawling me out for maligning the finest publisher in the world. It seems that writers in those days were not supposed to have the temerity to demand that publishers honor their own contracts; they were supposed to smile and say “May I have another?” But after six years apparently that publisher cheated the wrong person, got sued, and the proprietors had to flee. It was bought out and fresh personnel were installed. The new editor, now in a position to examine the real accounts on his own novel there, and discovering that he had been cheated of more than half his royalties, now understood the case with me, and invited me back. After the worst mental struggle of my career—whether to in effect forgive six years of malignment for standing my ground—I decided to give it a try. That turned out to be also the best decision of my career, because that reformed publisher not only gave me honest accounts, it greatly enhanced my performance in the field. Stories had continued to circulate about me, but my sales skyrocketed. One of the stories was that I was being an ogre at fan conventions—when at that time I had never even been to a convention. That annoyed me, so I made an ogre the protagonist of the next novel I wrote. That was Ogre, Ogre, and it became my first national New York Times bestseller. So I renamed the month it happened to OctOgre, 1982, and no longer objected to being called an ogre. The Oct is to show it's the eighth month of the year, but remember, ogres are justifiably proud of their stupidity, so it may be off by a month or two. Ogres aren't so bad when you get to know them. Now you know.

Enjoy the month and read my current Xanth novel, #45 A Tryst of Fate. I doubt you have seen one quite like this before. The protagonist, Squid, who is actually an alien cuttlefish tourist emulating a human girl so well she now identifies as human, learns that she has been brutally murdered on an alternate future Xanth time-line. With the help of a Demon she goes there, catches the killer, who is a vicious golem, and punishes him by making him become the protagonist, a position he must maintain until she forgives him for killing her. That's one tall order. The rest of the novel is from his perspective, and it involves the secret life of cancer, romance with a woman who gets uglier every time she does her job, a Mundane nuclear crisis, an ancient dinosaur baby, and a BEM (Big-Eyed-Monster) king who likes grabbing attractive human women. By the end, not only is the golem reformed, he meets Squid again and dances with her. Now try to tell me this is a rehash of junk that bored you decades ago. If you can do that, you must be a Critic. They are so sharp they don't even need to read Xanth to know that it is derivative dribble.

A current story I heard about is that there is a Xanth movie and TV series in the works. If there is, I know nothing about it. I think what happened is that in the past there have been plans like this, that then crashed. IMDB, the Internet Movie Data Base, had fabulous reports that if implemented could have put me in Stephen King territory. Would it were so, but alas, there is nothing. So don't believe anything about me or my works that you don't read here, and even then, be cautious. Yes, I am properly jealous of all the big deals that are going to other writers, while none have come my way, yet. When/if they do, I will let you know. Yes, I think that fabulous movies and series could be made from my books, ushering in a New Age of Filmdom, but I am not the one who generates them. I'm only a novelist. I don't know why my works are being avoided. Maybe it is because I am competently represented, and mean to see that the terms are honored, and the movie powers that be don't like that any better than the book publishers of yore did. I think there will eventually be a deal; I just hope it happens in my lifetime so I can enjoy it. I really don't want to follow the course of Philip K Dick, a great and halfway crazy writer, who got really famous only after he died. That's par for the course, but I will be annoyed if that happens to me. Too bad I don't believe in ghosts, or I'd haunt up a storm. Maybe fans who do believe in spooks will do it on my behalf, when.

Meanwhile MaryLee and I have been married a year and five months, and we still feel like newlyweds. We'd like to get out and do things together, such as taking scenic train rides, but the deadly shadow of the Virus stifles that. So necessary things like doctor's appointments and grocery shopping are about the limit. The visiting cows are still with us. I named them Cora and Clarabelle, the one with the horns. They are helping me keep our three quarter mile forest driveway clear of foliage. The summer monsoon season brought about 48 inches of rain to the tree farm, and the surrounding water rose up to about an inch from our driveway, but we haven't flooded apart from temporary puddles. Then it abruptly stopped, the season ending early; but it will take months for the water to recede. And last time I mentioned returning to playing Free Cell, the best of card solitaire games. It diverts me from the stresses of the day and puts me in the mood for writing my novel, or letters, or this column. It also represents a kind of mental exercise, which is good for a person my age. At 87 I am verging on dotage; ask any critic. Most games are fun. But every so often I encounter a tough one, and that can hang me up indefinitely. I just can't let it go un-won. Compulsive? You bet. I am surely on the autism spectrum, and this brings it out. I understand that there is now a movement to classify autism not as a mental aberration, but as a special type of intellect, as some famous folk are on it. Okay, I wouldn't mind joining their fellowship.

Minor incident that happened in this time of column writing: when I returned from my morning exercise walk – I no longer run, as I tended to trip and fall on my face, which spoils my looks, such as they are – and went to weigh myself in the bathroom – yes, I track my weight, keeping on the lean side, for my health – I spied an inch or two thick ball of dust. I nudged it with my foot, and it moved. So I picked it up in a jar and put it into a plate of water beside the sunken garden. Sure enough, under that dust was a cute little green tree frog who must have strayed into the house and gotten dehydrated and shrouded in cobwebs and dust. What an ugly fate! It rested in the water for a while, recovering. Two hours later it was gone, so it must have improved enough to go looking for bugs to eat. I'm glad I was able to save it. I am a vegetarian, bordering on vegan, because I value life in most of its forms, mosquitoes and biting flies excepted. I trust the tree frog will go after them.

I dream, as far as I can tell, continuously when I sleep, but I seldom remember them. This is natural, because as I see it conscious experiences have to be analyzed, classified, cross-referenced, and filed in memory, and much of this is done in dreams. So putting dreams themselves in that hopper is ultimately self defeating; they are not meant to be remembered, as they are part of the memory process. But once in a while one tears loose and becomes memorable in its own right; then it is duly handled and stored for future reference. It's sort of like a doctor getting sick and needing to get hospital care as a patient, which can be an eye-opener when they discover how it feels to get brushed off when you are in pain. That's how reforms occur, and illnesses formerly dismissed as imaginary get taken seriously. I know, having after decades gotten my diagnosis and medication for low thyroid, no longer called fanciful. Our minds are ultimately practical as well as feeling, and that is as it should be, to make us human. In this dream MaryLee and I were traveling, so it must have been post-pandemic. We slept side by side on an airport couch, and woke to find the sun shining. It was time to catch our flight. But I needed to use the toilet, so MaryLee waited while I entered the unisex restroom complex. There were no markings on the doors, just complicated diagrams I couldn't understand, so I guessed at the door and entered. The diagram that then appeared seemed to indicate I was heading for a bathtub, which wasn't where I wanted to pee. Then another person joined me, and it didn't seem to be MaryLee. “Are you someone I know, or a stranger?” I asked her. She indicated the latter. “I am unfamiliar with this complex, and may be going wrong,” I said. Then I woke and found myself beside MaryLee in real life. For some reason she didn't remember the airport sequence. I hope the woman in my dream found what she was looking for, even if it was only a bath to pee in.

I handle my email by printing out incoming notes and letters, penning my answers on the printouts, then in due course transcribing those notes to the electronic form, sending them, and downloading the next incoming batch. Promotional material sometimes claims I receive hundreds of letters a day. Not so, though sometimes it feels like it as ads, bulletins, and phishing notices pile in. It's more like ten actual letters on a typical day. When I go online it takes about a minute to connect. I am a workaholic; I can't stand to twiddle my thumbs waiting that endless minute doing nothing. So since the email computer is in my library, I check my books in that section, and they can be interesting, as I wouldn't have collected them otherwise, for example there's Harold Lloyd's Hollywood Nudes 3-D!, I bought in 2005 for about twelve and a half dollars. 150 pages of guess what, nude starlets in 2D and 3D. I think my favorite is Marilyn Monroe posing near a fountain in 1953, but there are plenty other bare beauties. Sometimes, would you believe, I even overran my minute. The book next to it is PLAYBOY 50 Years the Photographs. There are some nice nudes there too. My favorite may be a full breasted bare manikin with luxurious brown hair. The first thing I notice about a woman is her hair. Why these books are in the technology section I am not clear, but that's the way the Library of Congress classified them, and I used that to organize my library. There are many other interesting books there, but I suspect they are of less interest to casual browsers than nudes are. Like health books, and for those who ignore them, Final Exit, about how to die when you choose, rather than when your money runs out at the hospital. If I learned that I was slated to die in pain or with my mind obliterated, after medical costs impoverished my family, and there was no way to avoid that fate, I would consider such a resource, the medical establishment to the contrary notwithstanding. I believe that every person should have the right to live a decent life, and end it cleanly when that makes sense. Is that really revolutionary? That's why I hesitate to condemn the gun nuts, because a gun guarantees choice in death.

We have now completed the first draft of the serious geothermal novel Deep Well. At just over 40,000 words, it is short, but what counts is its impact on the reader. My agenda, as I have remarked before, is to help persuade the public that geothermal energy is the way to go for abating the disaster of fossil fuels and slowly healing the planet. We can save the world if we act now, but we won't do it unless the public gets behind it and defies the special interests that are more interested in pollutive profits than public welfare. So there is an intense interpersonal story line, and technical material that I hope will be both accurate and understandable by the average reader. We'll see.

The Equedia Letter comes to me unasked, and I treat it with caution, especially since they blew it on the Virus, supposing it was a temporary threat that would fade in a coupla months. That's rightist propaganda, giving away their claim to objectivity. But they do have some interesting thoughts. 9-12-2021 starts “Everything they told you about gold and inflation is wrong.” They remind us how it is said that gold is the perfect hedge against inflation. That an ounce of gold will always buy you a decent suit, and this has been true for thousands of years. But. America used to peg the dollar to gold; you could always exchange your dollars for gold or silver at a fixed rate. But America's gold reserves couldn't keep up, and in 1971 President Nixon cut the tie. That gave inflation free rein. Gold went from $35 per ounce to $70, and then to $650. It peaked at over $2,000. Then crashed. Money is now controlled by the bankers and politicians, and the world is awash in debt. So maybe it makes sense to own some gold or other precious metals; I do. I like platinum; it's a P metal, and I tend to identify with P things, because of my first name, Piers, which means rock. I like to think that my rock is a geode, dull on the outside but with fabulous crystals on the inside. Don't trust gold or metals too far. They don't pay interest, and you can't eat them. Certainly don't rely on the government to look out for your interest, financial or otherwise. Remember, you're not a lord, but a peon. Maybe think of that as a pee-on. Now you know your place. That's not necessarily golden rain sprinkling your head.

Clippings: newspaper article by Mac Stipanovich says that the Delta virus variant is derailing Florida Governor DeSantis' agenda. He has been trying to be a Trump clone, hoping to run for president in due course, pretending the Virus is a bogus threat. He even forbade the schools to require masks. It is almost as if he wants to kill as many children as possible. Fortunately some school districts are defying him. A trial judge ruled that the governor exceeded his authority in this respect. So Florida may survive despite the governor, though in significantly worse state than would have been the case had common sense ruled throughout. New Scientist clipping I discovered when cleaning up dates back to May 2003, about sink holes. We do have them in Florida, including here on our tree farm. Most are slow, as ours are, but some are fast, swallowing cars, houses, or people. It is thought that sinkholes were the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. More recently the magazine reviews a film, Breaking Boundaries:The science of our planet, by John Clay. This explores the degradation of our world. We humans need to change our course now, before we make our home base unlivable. Denying that there is a problem won't cut it any more. In the 19 June New Scientist, Giles Yeo addresses the trouble with calories. It has been thought that a calorie is a calorie regardless where it comes from, the amount of energy it takes to raise 1 liter of water by 1°C. Now we know that it is not as simple as that. It takes work to digest that calorie, and much of its energy is converted into heat. Proteins are less efficient in this sense than fats, so you'll get fat slower on proteins. The same issue says the rival theory to Dark Matter, which is Modified Newtonian Dynamics, or MOND, is failing a key test. Now I'm a fan of that other theory; I don't believe that Dark Matter exists, and that's why they are having so much trouble finding it. But this says that galactic evolution matches Dark Matter, not MOND. Sigh; I'd hate to see it lose out. But if they actually find a particle of Dark Matter, I will reluctantly acknowledge it. Item in THE WEEK for August 27 says they have discovered a 105 million year old fossil of a new species of pterosaur – you know, the flying reptile – in Queensland Australia. 23 foot wingspan, 40 razor teeth, a spear-like mouth, a virtual dragon. In the same issue, they may have discovered a stellar system with five planets only 35 light years from us. That's practically next door, galactically. One of those worlds might be habitable, and have life. When we discover warp speed travel, maybe we should go take a look, and colonize it if it's unoccupied. And a third item, saying that climate change has led to almost complete loss of stability in crucial Atlantic ocean currents that could ironically bring an ice age to Europe. They need the Gulf Stream, and that may falter. The Ask Marilyn column for 9-12-2021 mentions how to solve a traditional park sized maze: adhere to either the right or left wall, going where it takes you, and eventually you'll reach the exit. Of course in fantasy that will take you by the Minotaur in the center, who will happily gore you to death, so be careful. Sunday newspaper item remarks that governments around the world are giving more aid funding fossil fuel projects than to programs to cut the air pollution they cause. This is of course folly. But governments tend to answer more to special interests than to the global welfare. That must change.

Clippings continued: local newspaper column by Amy Douglas of the Citrus County Sheriff's Office says to beware of smishing. That is a vicious method scam artists use to gain access to your money. For example, a text message claiming that your debit card has been compromised or suspended. You must provide your card information in order for the card to be reactivated. Don't do it. If you are concerned, call the card issuer, using the number on the back of the card, not the one provided by the fake notice. They'll know how to handle it. Sunday supplement on tree houses, 9-12-2021, with a picture of the most elaborate one imaginable, a virtual three story castle in fairyland. Others have double beds, air conditioning, and a full kitchen, using several trees. Oh to be a child again! Newspaper article 9-15 in the Citrus Chronicle titled “How to spot signs of cyberbullying.” I essentially don't go online except for email and haven't encountered this personally, but I feel for the victims. I was small as a child; in fact when I graduated from ninth grade I was the shortest person in my class, male or female, so I got to know bullies from the underside. Actually it wasn't so bad once I learned how to fight; I figured I could take any kid within ten pounds over my weight, and others soon enough verified this. But there were bigger boys than that. At any rate, today I don't take much guff from bullies, as some publishers have discovered. But I still feel for the victims. It seems that today internet bullies send intimidating and/or threatening messages to victims, some of whom commit suicide as a result. Research has shown that a quick and consistent response to bullying is effective. Parents need to watch out for signs of depression or odd behavior in their children, and take what action they can. In my story “Picture” in Relationships 8, a mother enlists the help of a savvy neighbor boy to alleviate bullying on the school bus. He puts a pain hold on the bully while speaking gently to him, and that bully soon knows that he'd better get the message. The story is a shocker, but not for that reason. Read it and see. Newspaper cartoon 9-19-2021 shows two people gazing at a gravestone. “He died doing what he loved... not getting vaccinated.” Hey, it turns out that cows are as good at potty training as children. No, that doesn't mean we mean to make Cora and Clarabelle house pets. Now Republican controlled states are curtailing local health powers, passing laws against mandating vaccination or masking. Are they absolutely crazy? Covid-19 deaths in America have now passed the total for the prior pandemic, the 1918-19 Spanish Flu. Is Thanatos, that is, Death, a Republican? A malicious TikTok fad has hit schools, encouraging kids to commit vandalism, mostly in restrooms, for bragging rights. Newspaper article 9-22-2021 describes how the hack of the favorite internet company of the right, Epik, which provides domain services for outfits like QAnon, Proud Boys, and other instigators of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, enabling them to broadcast hateful messages behind a veil of anonymity, are supported. I suspect this expose will be huge.

Clippings continued: Newspaper article by Jennifer Rubin titled “How Trump mobilized women – including me” says she had always voted Republican for president, but crossed party lines to vote for Hillary Clinton. Then watched in horror as the Republicans embraced a racist bully bent on undermining our democracy and promoting white Christians' quest for political dominance. She saw conservative intellectuals wind up lauding a detestable figure who repudiated principles and positions that once animated them. She saw conservatives who demonized Bill Clinton swoon at the feet of a serial liar, adulterer, and racist whose cruelty became a central feature of his presidency. She says that at least Biden does not use the White House to enrich himself or punish enemies. Her top priorities remain the preservation of our democracy and reaffirmation of objective reality. What an indictment! Then “The Ugly Truth” by Richard T Hughs remarks on the less than glorious side of American history. As a teacher of honor students he thought that some of them would have heard of how after Pearl Harbor the federal government rounded up 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two thirds of them American citizens, and incarcerated them in relocation camps ringed with barbed wire and guarded by federal troops. Understand, these folk had committed no crime, other than of having Japanese ancestry. It has been called America's darkest hour. It isn't; even this teacher seems not to know of how close to a million disarmed German solders were systematically starved to death in internment camps after the war, as I show in the factual background for my novel Volk, which for some reason no publisher wanted. He asks “The question that begs for an answer is, why? Why such ferocious resistance to the truth?” He points out that we tell ourselves that the United States is nature's nation, wholly innocent, tuning out things like the brutality of American slavery and the near extermination of the native people who lived here long before the Europeans arrived. He says that all Americans should tell the truth about race, our history, and ourselves. Amen! As a naturalized citizen I'd like to see America become as great as it thinks it is.

Clippings, continued. Couple political ones, newspaper 9-29,2021. One says the GOP must help on the debt debacle it helped create. Yes it should, but that would require some financial responsibility, and those words seem to be foreign to that party today. Another article says that Biden, our oldest president, may be considered interim, but he is in effect swinging for home runs in multiple areas, like giving nuclear powered submarine technology to Australia as a check on China's growing navel power, helping Americans buy electric cars and build charging stations as a way of fighting climate change, going for high speed trains on heavily traveled routes, and trying to expand Medicare benefits and reduce prescription drug costs. More power to him! Also 9-29-2021 “Anatomy of an attack” exploring the devious ways a far-right militia group planned the violence of January 6; it seems it wasn't mere happenstance. And back to New Scientist for 7-24-2021, article by Sapphire Lally titled “Where does gold come from?” No, not from Ft. Knox; where does it originate? Many elements are made in stars, but now it seems that it may date from the fiery demise of the universe's first stars. But that doesn't account for all of it. Hmm—could it predate the Big Bang? That would be weird. New Scientist for 6-26-2021, Ian Taylor says that magnetic fields dating back to that time would transform cosmology, and now astronomers think they are on the brink of such a discovery. I will be interested to see what develops there. There's such a huge amount we don't yet know about the universe. Even up close there are mysteries, such as red regions on planet Pluto they can't explain. I hope I live to see the answers.

Until next time, those of you who remain awake. I am 40 magazines behind, and need to take few days between novels to catch up on them. There just might be something interesting there, no?


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