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Picture of Piers doing archery
OctOgre 2000
HI-

Just about every item in a column gets a reader response of some kind, and some get half a slew. Responses don't necessarily match my expectations. For example, I thought there would be a number of angry reactions to my comments on rape, but there were few, and positive. On the other hand, there was Stephen Donaldson. Let's start with that, with a subtitle. This will be a subtitled ramble.

Resurrecting Donaldson

It started when a reader asked me for a source of information about male rape, and I remembered a published item about Stephen Donaldson that related. A reader kindly put me on to the site, and mentioned that he was dead. Dismayed, I verified this, and gave a full report in the next column. Then came more reader responses, some sorry for the news, others doubting it. But when they checked the site, there it was. But then came reports of subsequent indications that Mr. Donaldson remained with us. The site www.eccker.org/johnf/donaldson.htm said that he appeared for an online chat session in The Palace on September 26, 1997. That would be tricky to do if he had died the year before. But I wasn't certain, because a chat could have been postdated, and there isn't actual physical contact. Then Internet is great for make believe. I have been chided for saying I haven't appeared at a convention since 1994 when fans believe I have been at thus and so convention two years ago. Well, unless someone is impersonating me, that just isn't so; I ought to know. I have also received letters of regret that I died, so I know that sort of information isn't necessarily accurate either. Occasionally a writer will invent a personal history, to maintain his privacy; others simply use a pseudonym, as I do. Periodically rumors circulate that I am female; again not true. So I considered the information on this site carefully, looking for the truth. I noted that the only new book published since 1996 was Reeve the Just and other Tales, in 1999, evidently a collection of stories which probably were written years before; I've done collections too, and they can reach back decades. Several of his early novels were reissued in 1997, as might be done to wrap up a career that had ended. Several titles were listed without publication dates; apparently they had been planned but not written. Where were the new novels? Did Donaldson stop writing? Why? This seemed to indicate that his writing career had been cut off in 1996, perhaps confirming death.

Still the letters came, with other bits of information that became more convincing. Donaldson attended Dragon Con since that "e;death"e;; someone had met him. Other readers said they thought there were two Donaldsons: the rape activist and the fantasy writer. Two! That had not occurred to me. Readers continued to zero in on the matter; where would I be without readers? One asked the proprietor of the rape site whether that Donaldson had written best-selling fantasy. The answer was a curt No. Another checked with his publisher: no, he wasn't dead. Those were persuasive bits of information, and they continued. The two Donaldsons had different dates and places of birth, and went to different universities: Kent and Columbia. They were active in different places. So while I am not 100% sure, the balance of evidence indicates that there were two Donaldsons, and the fantasy writer survives. You can tell them apart by the initial: Stephen R Donaldson is ours. R may be taken mnemonically as standing for wRiter. That minces my conjecture about the reason for the supremely dark theme in his novels, that commences with an ugly rape in Lord Foul's Bane. It also leaves unexplained the sudden cessation of new novels. Why was the distinction between the Donaldsons never clarified? So I am not certain this matter has yet run its full course.

I handle about as much mail, about as responsively, as any writer does, so I have to be efficient if I am to get my books written. I have a conscious policy of mirroring: if a reader approaches me politely, I answer politely; if a reader has a question, I answer it as well as I can; if a reader is hurting, I am sympathetic; and if a reader comes at me ugly, I respond in kind, sometimes using his own devices against him. Some missives are mixed, but generally there is a dominant category. In all cases I try to be brief without sacrificing clarity; I really don't have time for long-winded debates with individual readers. I conclude this discussion of Donaldson with an illustrative email correspondence, used with permission of the correspondent. (Actually this didn't count as any of the 132 letters I did in SapTimber, as my responses were brief penciled notes to HiPiers.) Others may contact him directly if they wish to; that way they won't have to trust HiPiers to forward their messages. The information he provides should be helpful for those who wish to pursue Donaldson further, in this life or the next.

Hi Piers (or whomever reads this),
I've been a Piers Anthony fan since I read "e;A Spell for Chameleon"e; back in 1980, when I was eight years old. That makes what I'm about to say even more unpleasant to me.
In the latest "e;Hi Piers"e; column on HiPiers.com (AwGhost 2000), there are a number of inconsistent, misleading, or outright incorrect statements about fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson. I'm writing now in the hopes that corrections will promptly be made so that other readers aren't misled and believe things that aren't so. I'm disappointed that Piers didn't do some more research before making blanket statements such as the ones he made, as I truly thought he was a man of more consistency and character than that.
Here's why I'm upset:
"e;... Last column, I mentioned best-selling fantasy novelist Stephen Donaldson's campaign to stop prisoner rapes ... Stop Prisoner Rape is at www.spr.org and is still in operation. Stephen Donaldson was its president from 1988-96, and active on behalf of the cause, as a rape counselor, article writer, spokesman, and legal activist."e;
This is a true statement. However, fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson is NOT the same person as the Stephen Donaldson who was the president of SPR from 1988 to 1996. Thus, Piers' comments about Stephen R.'s possible motives for the violence and unpleasant scenes in his Thomas Covenant books are unfounded and untrue. This is unfair to Mr. Donaldson, particularly in light of the fact that many people take statements found on the Internet to be true regardless of their actual veracity.
More:
"e;Stephen Donaldson was gay. He was born Robert A Martin, Jr., and adopted the name Stephen Donaldson as a pseudonym for his involvement in the gay liberation movement."e;
This is true. Fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson, however, was NOT born Robert A. Martin Jr.; his real name is Stephen Reeder Donaldson and he is the son of James R. Donaldson and Mary Ruth Reeder.
"e;In 1973 he participated in a peaceful Quaker ... protest against the bombing of Cambodia. He was arrested--and over a two day period was gang-raped by prisoners approximately 60 times."e;
Again, this is the wrong Donaldson. Fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson never underwent this horrific experience. See below.
"e;... thereafter he was active in the issue of prisoner rape, until his death in 1996, of complications of AIDS contracted during that gang rape. He was 49."e;
This alone should have been enough to raise eyebrows, as fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson is alive and well. I met him at last year's Dragon*Con and he was hale and hearty. Stephen "e;Donny"e; Donaldson, on the other hand, did in fact die on July 18, 1996. The press release from the ACLU upon his death can be found at http://www.aclu.org/news/n071996c.html .
There are many more inconsistencies that would have come to light and made the obvious mixup even more obvious if Piers (or his researchers) had done a bit more digging. All of this information is readily available; I obtained specifics in less than half an hour of searching this afternoon.
Links are provided at the end of this email).
For example:
Robert A. Martin Jr. was born on July 27th in Norfolk, VA; Stephen R. Donaldson was born on May 13th in Cleveland, OH.
Robert A. Martin Jr. served in the U.S. Navy and was discharged due to "e;homosexual behavior"e;; Stephen R. Donaldson served two years as a conscientious objector doing hospital work in Akron during the Vietnam War and was not (to the best of my knowledge) in the armed forces at all.
Robert A. Martin Jr. earned a B.A. of political science at Columbia University and later studied religion as a graduate student there as well, while Stephen R. Donaldson attended the College of Wooster, OH, and received his M.A. in English from Kent University.
The violent rape which so changed Robert A. Martin Jr.'s life took place in 1973, a time during which Stephen R. Donaldson was working non-stop on the first Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.
And finally:
"e;So he had reason to write about rape and violation, in and out of his fantasy; he knew well whereof he wrote. In fact I think he even tried to understand the position of the rapist, making him the hero in his novels."e;
This is a flat-out untruth. Although Stephen R. Donaldson may have had his own reasons for writing about violence and rape in his Thomas Covenant novels, implying that he was himself a victim of such attacks both slanders him and cheapens the situation of the late Robert A. Martin Jr. who actually was the victim of said attacks.
I'm disappointed in Piers for not finding out more about Stephen R. Donaldson before painting him with such broad strokes, and for not taking the brief time it would have required to do a bit of minor research. Even five minutes' searching would have shown that Piers had the wrong man --and yet he didn't spend those five minutes. Or, if he did, he ignored many obvious inconsistencies.
Here are several Web links with more information. This info is readily available in print but the Web links are easily located and less obscure.
Links to info about Stephen R. Donaldson:
http://www-theory.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/%7Eaaa/SD.html
http://www.dragoncon.org/people/donalds.html
http://members.aol.com/WrldofFant/donald.html
http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/authors/Stephen_Donaldson.htm
Links to info about Robert A. Martin Jr.:
http://www.igc.org/spr/docs/sdinfo.html (with many additional links)
http://www.aclu.org/library/donnyobt.html
http://www.aclu.org/news/n071996c.html

I hope Piers will apologize to Stephen R. Donaldson publicly for his erroneous statements and apologize, as well, to his readers, who have come to know him over the years as a man of ethics and a strong moral code.
Regards,
Phil Carter
disappointed Anthony fan of 20+ years


Thank you for your note. We have printed and forwarded it to Piers Anthony, and he gave us the following answer for you:
I don't like your tone or your assumptions. I took on faith a published statement about the author Donaldson and the prison rape sequence; it never occurred to me that it was false or that there were two Donaldsons. You are about the tenth person to call that to my attention, and I do plan on publishing a correction. If you had taken five minutes to think about it, apart from your self-righteous attitude, you would have realized that there was no malign purpose here - in contrast to your own approach. You did not do what you arrogantly demand of me: consider alternatives.
Seajay,


Thank you in turn for your response, and to Piers for his. As for Piers' "e;if I had taken five minutes to think about it"e; -- I wrestled with this for quite a while before writing, not just five minutes, as Piers has consistently been someone who does his research and doesn't make statements without being fully aware of the facts. I was disappointed, not angry, with him because (as I wrote in the previous note) he has shown himself over the years to be a man of high moral character and ethics. This particular column struck me as a complete departure from his usual approach to life.
As for "e;arrogant demand[s]"e;, I made none. The phrase I used was "e;hope"e;. "e;I HOPE that Piers will apologize ... to Stephen R. Donaldson"e;; "e;in the HOPES that corrections will promptly be made"e;. I never threatened that I would stop buying Anthony novels, claimed that I would bad-mouth Piers unless a retraction was issued, or did anything of the sort. I still don't plan to do anything of the sort. I thought, however, that Piers' readers deserved an explanation for something so out of character from him -- and Mr. Donaldson himself did as well, considering he was the victim of Piers' (however unintended) assumptions.
As for "e;[my] own [malign] approach"e; -- there was no malignance in my letter, only deep sorrow and disappointment in an author I have admired for many years. If Piers chose to interpret that differently, I'm sorry that he did, but I stand by what I wrote.
Lastly, I am glad to see that Piers will be printing a correction in the next newsletter. I have one final comment, and then perhaps Piers will see why I was so upset: how would you feel if you were Stephen R. Donaldson and one of your fellow writers (whom you had always dealt pleasantly with) made a statement like that about you on a public forum?
Regards,
Phil Carter


Thanks for your note. We will print it out and forward it to Piers Anthony. He appreciates hearing from you.
Piers Anthony asked us to add:
I spoke of "e;five minutes"e; because you had done that to me, not crediting the research I did on Stephen Donaldson. Didn't like it, did you?
You may take your missive as not being arrogant, but again, if I had done all of it back to you, I believe you would have seen it differently. You were essentially accusing me of haste, carelessness and even lying. If you care even now to read what I said, you will see that I was not slandering Donaldson, but you were slandering me. You say that's not malign? Do you think an impartial jury would agree?


Hi Seajay,
>Thanks for your note. We will print it out and forward it to Piers Anthony. He appreciates hearing from you.
I'm not exactly convinced of that based on his responses; however, I do appreciate his taking the time to read these missives in any case.
>Piers Anthony asked us to add:
>I spoke of "e;five minutes"e; because you had done that to me, not crediting the research I did on Stephen Donaldson. Didn't like it, did you?
"e;Like it"e;? I didn't care one way or the other about it. The only reason I addressed that at all was to correct Piers' (seemingly) mistaken impression that I had fired off the original email immediately after reading the HiPiers column in question.
>You may take your missive as not being arrogant, but again, if I had done all of it back to you, I believe you would have seen it differently.
On the contrary. This seems to be where we differ on this matter. Were I in Piers' situation, I would have been horrified that I (however inadvertently) labeled a bestselling author and casual acquaintance as a homosexual who sympathized with rapists. I have nothing against homosexuality myself, seeing it as perfectly normal, but the fact is that the general public is, in the vast majority, against it. As a writer and someone in the public eye, you are certainly aware of the public backlash every time you do or say something that offends someone. I'll repeat: if you were in Stephen R. Donaldson's place, how would you feel about this?
For that reason, were I in Piers' situation, I would have promptly put up a correction on the same page in place of the original remarks. A line or two is all it would have taken -- something to the effect of "e;Some of my alert readers have pointed out that Stephen R. Donaldson the fantasy writer is not the same person as the homosexual rights activist Stephen Donaldson who acted as the head of Stop Prisoner Rape. I'm sorry for any confusion this may have caused."e; As for Piers' opinions on why Stephen R. created a violent rapist as his protagonist in the Thomas Covenant Chronicles, those are his opinions, and he's welcome to state them any way he chooses.

I, too, have made mistakes in my life -- but I'm also not afraid to freely admit it when I do make mistakes, and do what I can to make up for the problems I caused when doing so. Whether Piers intended hurt or slander is irrelevant (and, for the record, I do NOT think it was intentional, merely a case of mistaken identity) -- many people will see his statements as being hurtful and slanderous if they have the true facts. Why does he seem so reluctant to admit his mistakes? For that matter, what's the delay in getting the correction up? More people see that column every day and get the wrong impression.
>If you care even now to read what I said, you will see that I was not slandering Donaldson, but you were slandering me. You say that's not malign? Do you think an impartial jury would agree?
Yes, I do. You can check several Internet newsgroups and see that as a direct result of Piers' column, many people are confused about Stephen R. Donaldson's identity and whether he's alive or dead. "e;rec.arts.sf-written"e; and "e;alt.fantasy"e; are two groups, for example; I posted the original missive which I sent Piers to those two groups in an effort to clear up some of the confusion. (His responses to me I have kept personal, of course).
I received seven brief personal replies (via email, not on the newsgroup) after posting that. Six people thanked me for clearing the matter up. Four of them thought I wouldn't hear back from Piers, as his reaction to criticism and/or correction is well known. One thought I was being a bit hard on Piers, but agreed with me that a correction should be made; two expressed no opinion of the letter's tone; and four thought I'd been too forgiving. All seven thought that I had been right to mail Piers and let him know.
I admit that a sample size of seven people is a small one, but when the opinion that I was right to email Piers is a unanimous one, and six of seven don't think I was being malign, it seems to me that they, at least, got my point.
Again, thanks to Piers for taking the time to read these notes. I don't need a response unless he specifically wishes to respond; in my estimation we have wasted enough time arguing over this matter already.

Regards,
Phil Carter

================================================
Phil Carter -- artoo@bellsouth.net
http://personal.atl.bellsouth.net/~artoo
"e;Without music, life is a journey through a desert."e;
-- Pat Conroy

Defenestrating Windows


I have been getting ready to move from Windows and Word to Linux and Word Perfect. I could have ordered a complete Linux system from Tiger.com, but last time we got a system from them, it took us months and money to get it fully operative, because of conflicts between the parts. I didn't want to go through that again, especially with an operating system that was new to me. So I wanted to get a completely functional system locally, with local service. Early this year I asked a local computer store (the one that finally fixed the Tiger system) about it, and the man said to check back with him in six months. So I worked on the 240,000 word first draft of Key to Chroma and queried again in six months--and he said no, they couldn't help me with a Linux system. Sigh; I had anticipated a ready acquisition, and suddenly I was back on square one. So I contacted the local Linux organization: SLUG, for Suncoast Linux User's Group, and asked whether there was a dealer close to me. They checked, and the closest was Tampa, which would cost me much of a day for each trip for purchase or service. I thanked them and said I'd see if I could find something closer. Then I started calling Inverness computer stores. One didn't flinch at the word Linux, so I went there and ordered a system. They said they might have something in a day or so. After a week without word I called: oh yes, they were working on it, any day now. After another week I called again: yes, Real Soon Now. So I went in and put a hundred dollars down on it. Another week, and another. They had everything in but the motherboard; everything in but Linux; everything but Word Perfect. It has been six weeks now and still no system, but I expect it any day. Maybe. Meanwhile I have a novel, Xanth #26 Up in a Heaval, due on a deadline, so I had to start in on it on the old Windows system, with bad grace. It is harder to get away from Windows than I thought. Maybe next column, two months hence, I'll have more of a report.

Ends & Odds


I don't read for pleasure any more; that's a consequence of being a workaholic. That doesn't mean that I don't enjoy reading, just that enjoyment is not my motive. But sometimes I do like what I read for business reason. An example is Push Not the River by James Martin, an Xlibris novel, a well written historical romance based on fact. The setting is Poland, 200 years ago, as that country is disappearing, consumed by its aggressive neighbors. The main characters are Anna and her sexy, scheming cousin Zofia, who are attracted to the same man. That may seem routine, but the twists of story and politics are interesting, and the finale is compelling. So I did enjoy the novel, and feel that this is an example of what the conventional publishing system shuts out. There is indeed excellent work out there that gets stifled by the closed-shop tendency of the system, and I hope Xlibris and the online publishers will find more of it. Those who suppose I exaggerate should read this novel and see.
This was predicted to be a pretty severe hurricane season. So much for prediction. For two months there wasn't even a named storm, and there still hasn't been a bad one hitting land. That could change at any time, but meanwhile we seemed to have dodged another seasonal bullet. One storm did come our way: Hurricane Gordon. It barely made hurricane force for a few hours before diminishing, and passed close by us with gusts of no more than 30 mph and about three inches of needed rain.
I wrote Jenny Elf's Sammy Cat into Up in a Heaval, on the suggestion of a reader. Three days later the real Sammy Cat died in Mundania, age 17. Well, Sammy will be well taken care of in Xanth, I assured Jenny. And yes, she still plans to take college courses, when it can be arranged.
Meanwhile I have become a grandfather. Our daughter Penny had something to do with it. The stork brought her a ten and a half pound baby girl named Logan on SapTimber 23, 2000. Princess Ivy in Xanth was modeled after Penny as she grew up; when Ivy married, soon Penny did too, and when Ivy got triplet girls, Penny had to do something. But the stork wasn't able to make it that far into Mundania with three, so settled for one big one. There's a picture in the New Arrivals section.
Something I noted that shows yet again how far out of touch reviewers are. There can be a review on TV that turns interesting as it runs a clip from the movie, so I get curious about that movie; I might even want to see it. But no matter how long the review is, it never gives the title. That is given only at the beginning, before I'm paying attention. Movie ads, in contrast, give the title at the end, so that you know exactly what to look for. They know how to do it. But you'd think that in all the decades movies have existed, the reviewers would have caught on and made their reviews useful--if they wanted to.
I maintain my exercise regimen: jogging, biking, and archery. But the chain on my RowBike broke, and I just know it will be a hassle getting that fixed. I have a "e;Power Pull"e; device consisting of two elastic cords anchored to a handle that emulates drawing a bow; one of those cords snapped, reducing the effect. I have no trouble drawing the 60 pound compound bow, or using the left handed recurved bow I got from Dee-Lightful, so I should be okay. I remain pretty healthy for an old fogy.
Last time I mentioned trying to make belated corrections in Xone of Contention. It turned out that the editor had tried to reach the production department and they hadn't answered him. So I sent in the corrections, and it is yet to be known whether they made it into the book. I repeat, this was really my fault for overlooking corrections when asked for them. It's still a good novel, honest.
The controversial abortion pill RU 486 has at last been approved for American sale. I'm not commenting at the moment on the subject of abortion, which is a serious matter; I'm indulging in a naughty association. I have seen the letters RU before, when I served in the US Army, in the following formula: B 4 I 4 Q RU/18? The interpretation is "e;Before I fork you, are you over eighteen?"e;
I saw news of a study that showed that those who are most seriously religious have less depression than those who are moderately devout. But the dedicated atheists have the least depression. So where does that leave me, an agnostic? Right: depressed. Another study indicates that divorce of the parents has a negative effect on the children on into adulthood. I could have told them that, having been there. You think my ornery attitude came naturally?
We live in the forest, and try not to disturb the forest creatures. Some of them regard our house as their own. I mentioned the wasp nest on the door sill last time; that continues to grow. Our heads pass within inches as we pass through, and the closing of the door jostles the nest. Fortunately the wasps are tolerant. Now a spider has taken to spinning its nocturnal web there too, so at night we have to duck down to waist height to pass.
The Florida Suncoast is a backwoods area when it comes to wild parties, but it is catching up. Now the teen "e;Rave"e; parties are getting into more than ecstasy; the new pills are PMA, short for an unintelligible chemical, and it is killing people. Body temperature can rise to 108°F and death can occur in hours. I hope none of my readers are into that stuff; I hate losing readers.
And the Olympics. It's what's on TV, so I watch it some, but remain turned off by the bad calls. They set a vault horse too low, messing up vaulters; one medal contender was so shaken up she messed up her following event and was out of it. That can't be undone. An error in officiating eliminated a Suncoast medal contender. A doctor gave a girl the wrong medicine, costing her her medal. Isn't there a better way? But there were some highlights. The American men's beach volleyball team was having a tough time, falling behind; they took a time-out, the official said they didn't return to the court fast enough, and gave a point to the other side. That outraged both team and spectators, and thereafter the angry Americans made five fast points and won the match. Would the official have reconsidered his call if he had known that was going to happen? I was rooting for the Lithuanian basketball team; I have liked Lithuania since researching it for Isle of Woman. To have such a tiny nation stand up so well to the American championship team--but their last shot missed. In 10 meter women's platform diving the lightly-regarded American entry was in 8th place, then 5th place, then scored well while the top divers all messed up, and suddenly she had the gold medal. I'm not familiar with Greco-Roman wrestling, which seemed like a belly bumping of behemoths, but it was interesting to see the unheralded American farm boy take the enduring Russian champion. I'm not much of a fan of horse jumping, despite its elegance, but was surprised to see a horse going for a medal balk thrice and wipe out. The rider was not pleased.
I received another ad for DNA PUBLICATIONS. I no longer read genre magazines--my taste runs to serious news and science magazines--but in the interest of the genre, mention it again: they publish ABSOLUTE MAGNITUDE, ABORIGINAL SCIENCE FICTION, WEIRD TALES, FANTASTIC STORIES, and DREAMS OF DECADENCE. I don't know whether these are as good as the magazines I grew up on, like ASTOUNDING SF, GALAXY, SPACE SF, STARTLING STORIES and such, but for the sake of new readers I hope they are. When I happened on the March 1947 issue of ASTOUNDING, most of a year after its publication, and started reading "e;The Equalizer"e; by Jack Williamson, it changed my life, as my career as a genre writer indicates. My dull and twisted life found marvelous new worlds, and that wonder remains with me fifty years later. Some time I'd like to edit an anthology of the great old stories that meant so much to me, that they not be entirely forgotten. But the scutwork of running down copies and rights would be beyond me.
I try to oblige requests for interviews, within reason. I did a small one for Valerie Hardin of THE WRITE CHARM at www.egroups.com/message/thewritecharm/25; readers of this column will already be familiar with its content.
Val Maurer introduced me to stumpwork, something I wasn't familiar with. This does not refer to digging out dead trees; it's a kind of needlework. She has done interpretations of scenes in my books. Look for her pretty designs at http://members.aol.com/maurerhouse/stumpwork.html.
Snail mail has its interest too. I correspond with Clifton Smith, secretary of the ONLOOKERS STAMP CLUB, PO BOX #2500, LINCOLN NEBRASKA 68542-0500. This is a prison group. I believe in rehabilitation, and this is a positive effort. They collect stamps, and don't have much way to get them on their own. I have been sending used stamps from around the world, as I have correspondents in places like Canada, England, Germany, Australia, Singapore and scattered others. Anyone who would like an appreciative response can tear the used stamps off US or foreign letters and send them in. Stamps that seem ordinary to us may actually be rarities because of aspects only the specialists catch.
Some mail is frustrating. I received a nice snail letter from Meghan Denney in Austin Texas with some questions, but I didn't answer because she had omitted her street address, making it undeliverable. I get more of this with email, when my answers bounce because of invalid addresses.
A reader put me onto a site for Dvorak keyboards. I use Dvorak, and this was interesting because it is hardwired at the keyboard, requiring nothing of the computer system. It enables the user to switch readily between Dvorak and QWERTY, and both layouts are marked on the keys. But alas it didn't work out for me, because I use a modified Dvorak layout (actually the original Dvorak; the computer industry changed the punctuation, apparently just because it could), and theirs is limited to the standard computer layout. But other Dvorak users may want to check this out, at www.dvortyboards.com/.
There's a new Xanth role playing game in town. Those interested can check http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/surprisesxanthrpg.
I'm mostly a gun-control nut, but my interest is not so much in guns as in personal safety. I don't like the notion of any freak with a grudge against the world having free access to a weapon he can use to blow away the next innocent person he encounters. In nations with effective gun control there's not a lot of such damage, but in America the statistics are horrendous. But it's not a clear-cut case. For one thing, there are other weapons, and I don't want to get knifed or clubbed either. In a world without weapons, the biggest and strongest man rules; that's hardly ideal. Since America is awash with guns, what is the safest course? To have one or lack one? So far I think the evidence is that a person is safer without one. But I saw a newspaper article about the situation in Britain: not many guns there, but violent offenses are sharply up. Does the absence of guns cause crimes? No, it seems more likely that the problem is the absence of police. Still, the question remains unsettled.

I loveNew York


The details of my travel were as usual for me: at each intersection where I had to make a connection, there was no connection, but after three to fifteen minutes the connections were found and I got there and back. I got up at 2 AM Tuesday morning, SapTimber 5, exercised, had breakfast, and headed out to the Tampa Airport, Newark, and New York. I had my Impact Kerambit--the self-defense plastic "e;L"e; discussed in a prior column--in my pocket and had no trouble. Never had to use it, but I felt safer with it along, somewhat like a seat belt: I don't want trouble, but if it comes I don't want to be helpless. E-tickets make me nervous; it feels like traveling naked, but they were there for me. The weather was good and the flights each way were on time. Last time in the Newark airport I had been unable to find a phone that would let a traveler use it; this time phones were all over. But it's a good thing I didn't have to call, because it turned out that I had the wrong number for my party, and his cell phone battery had not been recharged, so I would not have reached him that way. Close call! I was met in Newark by the man I called Angel in a prior trip report: an angel investor, scouting out companies before the venture capitalists do, and either losing all the money put in, or getting it back many times over. In this instance I'm an angel investor too, and it is like riding a roller coaster across heaven and hell without knowing where it will stop. We were going for an Xlibris board meeting, both of us being directors. I won't be going into any detail on that aspect, except to say that it now looks as if Xlibris will land in heaven: that is, as a successful company, perhaps the leader in its field, worldwide. What I know about running such a company is nil, but fortunately all I need to do is watch the competent chief executive officer handle it, approving his decisions. I have come to appreciate how important it is to have the right person for that job, and we do. Xlibris looks like a tiger, and the competition looks increasingly like something else. There are still articles in newspapers and magazines about self publishing that don't mention Xlibris, or that pretend it is merely a minor aspect of print-on-demand, but they are not presenting reality. I believe I am in a position to know.
New York, I discovered, is a fabulous place. Angel drove us to the ferry, and we rode across atop the boat, seeing the city skyline including the Empire State Building. To me those buildings looked like closely-packed dominoes that might start falling if a good Florida hurricane ever blew at them. There was a bus connecting to the ferry station that took us to the vicinity of Hotel Sofitel where we were staying. I had never heard of it, but of course I have never heard of most of what's out beyond my tree farm. Sofitel's rooms feature bottles of Evian natural spring water: "e;Like Sofitel, an outstanding import from France."e; My room was nice, with a fake red rose (actually I prefer fakes, because they don't castrate pretty plants), photos of old New York, modern art, and an intriguing sketch of a nude woman on the bathroom wall. There were glass goblets rather than cups, and the shower was walled in by transparent glass. This strikes me as a good site for a honeymoon couple. The restaurant had French entrées, fortunately with English subtitles. I never cared much about France, but I liked this hotel.
Angel showed me New York. We took the subway south to the World Financial Center, and stopped for lunch somewhere in there--vegetarian entries were limited, but I had asparagus and goat cheese, and it was good. Then we walked the shore line, from which we could see the Statue of Liberty. The day was beautiful. There were fiberglass model cows, about four feet high, each painted differently, with plaques for the sponsors. They were bright and pretty and ubiquitous. One had a picture of the face of a lovely woman on its side; others had all manner of other decorations. One stood on hind feet to see out over the sea, and another I saw later in Grand Central Station lay on a couch. More fun. Puts me in mind of the poem about the purple cow: "e;I never saw a purple cow, I never hope to see one, but I can tell you anyhow, I'd rather see than be one."e; Well, now I have seen one. Which in turn reminds me of a parody: "e;I never saw a vitamin, I never hope to see one, but I can tell you anyhow, I'd rather C than B1."e; The shoreline was park-like, and indeed eventually expanded into a park where there was a demonstration going on: many people in yellow shirts. We went to inquire what it was all about, and learned it was the Falun Gong, which has been in the news because its leaders have been imprisoned and even tortured and killed in China. The participants were friendly and gave us literature. It is also called Falun Dafa, and has exercises and teachings to improve the inner self. I think of yoga. Why the Chinese authorities object to it isn't obvious; perhaps they are intolerant of any halfway organized movement, seeing in it potential competition. I think of the Romans and early Christianity. China is officially atheist, and this may smack too much of religion. It seems to have started in 1992 and now has millions of practitioners around the world. Certainly the Chinese crackdown seems unwarranted, but it would not be safe to protest it there. So we see the protest in New York. Maybe publicity like this will encourage the Chinese government to reconsider the persecution.
There were people all over New York. I mean throngs out on the streets and walks, walking; whole families were jogging. Children were riding scooters and bicycles. Sometimes it seemed as if every third woman was wearing a snug black sweater that bounced strategically as she moved; if there are any ugly women in the city, they weren't out that day. Every fourth man was talking on a cell phone, and teens had headsets. The detective movie image of the big cities would have it that criminals rule the streets, but I saw none of that; folk of every age and gender were out there, and all seemed friendly. Business suits mixed with informal dress, male and female. There were little booths on the sidewalks cooking and dispensing food, the odors of it spreading out like tentacles to draw people in. I understand that these mini-restaurants are strictly licensed. We took a taxi to China Town, where suddenly just about every person on the street was Chinese, the language was Chinese, the advertising signs were in Chinese symbols, and the stores had Chinese art and food. It certainly seemed like China. I wondered whether there could be an America Town in China, where everything is suddenly American. We eventually walked out of it, perhaps into Little Italy, then took the subway north to Central Park. This was yet another world of New York, with nice trees and shrubs, curving walks, and playgrounds. My prior image of Central Park derived from the news stories of crime after dark, "e;wilding,"e; women getting gang raped and beaten almost to death, drug sales and such. Again, I saw none of that; this was about as nice a place as a person would care to be. Maybe it changes at night, or maybe the news media aren't much interested in reality. We went on to visit a huge toy store, where Angel showed me one of the products of the toy company he has invested in: "e;Phlat Ball"e; a ball made of plastic that can be squeezed flat, and after a moment suddenly goes round again, doubtless thrilling children in the process. We visited a food store in Greenwich Village that had all manner of cheeses and unusual foods. It offered free samples of a kind of health drink titled Fresh Samantha, named after the juiced vegetables a family made for their child Samantha in 1992; now it's a business. The proprietress tells a cute story: she asked for a juicer instead of china as a wedding gift, but soon lost the juicer to the business. "e;Now I have no china and no juicer."e; I liked the sample, so bought a pint bottle of the variety titled "e;Desperately Seeking C,"e; loaded with vitamins and antioxidants: my kind of drink. I also bought a 2/3 pound wedge of Jarlsberg cheese.
There was one episode that stands out in my memory. We were on the subway, but needed to make another subway connection, so followed a passage there. At one point there was a steep flight of stairs to another level. There was a woman just ahead of us with a little girl and a baby in a carriage. She looked at the stairs, then heaved up the carriage, baby and all, and plunged upward. I was surprised, but actually, what other way is there to get everything past such a barrier? I think she was lucky she didn't throw out her back; it was obviously a struggle for her. She continued on ahead of us. Then she came to a similar stairway down, and I heard her exclaim with dismay. Going down with a load is harder than going up. At that point I stepped in, offering to help. I gave her my bag with the cheese and Fresh Samantha, then leaned down to put my arms carefully around the carriage. I picked it up slowly, so as not to alarm the baby, and moved cautiously down, step by step, making sure not to trip. I reached the bottom and set the carriage down gently. Then I took back my bag. The woman said "e;Strong man!"e; I hadn't thought of it as any feat of strength; the whole thing must have weighed under fifty pounds. But actually I am in good physical condition for a retirement age man. I just didn't want to let her struggle to get the works down those stairs, when I could so readily solve that problem. She called up the stairs "e;Sorry about that!"e; and then another man came lumbering down with another carriage. I think there must have been a dialogue, with the man's wife telling him that if I made it safely down, his turn was next, so then he was stuck for it, and it was evidently more of a challenge for him than it had been for me. That was all there was to that, but two days later as I entered the Newark Airport there was another young woman, with a bag about as heavy as she was; she was struggling to heave it forward about three feet at a time. I offered to help, but she declined. I can appreciate why young women don't want to accept favors from strange old men. But it made me wonder why one woman accepted and another declined. Was it that New York women are more sociable than Newark women, or was it that the first was black and the second white, or simply that the first had no real alternative?
Wednesday morning the phone rang once at 4, stopping my sleep. So I watched TV news, and a cartoon about an egg-less mother hen who adopted a turtle egg instead, and the problems the baby turtle had being snubbed by the chicks, until they fell in a pond and were drowning, and he rescued them. Then he had an honored position as a lifeguard. At 9 I went out to explore, verifying the location of the Bertelsmann Building so that I would be able to find my way there later, then walked north, looking for Grand Central Station. I couldn't find it, though I did spy a huge interesting building that blocked off a street. The following day Angel clarified that that building was it, and showed me. Sure enough, inside was the huge terminal, and there were escalators leading to the lower levels where there were real live trains. I remember Grand Central Station from the 1940's, a fabulous place. But alas, I had no train to take. Maybe some day they'll have a board meeting on a train, and I'll be able to board it there. Meanwhile, Wednesday, I pondered breakfast, and decided to stay home, as it were; I ate Granola bars I had brought, and some of the cheese, and the Fresh Samantha drink. And I finished writing the short story I had started while waiting in the Tampa Airport: "e;Commitment,"e; about an odd meeting of a teen punk and an 80 year old woman. Teresa Carrion of ELECTRIC BOOKWORM PUBLISHING had asked me for a story, and I had told her I had a notion, and might write it during the interstices of my upcoming business trip. So I did. I wrote novels in pencil for 17 years, then changed abruptly to computer 16 years ago, so the pencil languished; it was good to do it again. I completed the story, then typed and revised it when I returned, and it should appear in due course at the site of the publisher. I seldom write stories these days, because the story market is so erratic, but I like this one. Check for it at www.electric-bookworm.bigstep.com/. It's the first short story I have written in years--I have had more novels published than stories--and the first to be done for an online publisher. Maybe it's because my sister is named Teresa, like that of the proprietor, though her last name is not Carrion. Which reminds me of a joke another reader, Anna Bryant, sent: Two buzzards are boarding a flight, each with two dead raccoons. The flight attendant stops them and says "e;I'm sorry. Only one carrion per passenger."e;
I also had a book along to read: Catastrophe by David Keys, whose thesis is that in the year 535 AD a massive volcanic eruption so affected the global climate that it changed history all over the world and perhaps ushered in the roots of modern times. Fascinating! I love history, and the title of my unfinished fifth GEODYSSEY novel is Climate of Change; you can bet this relates. That series is now on hold--loss of market--but I'll continue to research as convenient, awaiting the time when readers get more interested in historical fiction than in fantasy, or when some fluke makes me famous enough to sell substance again instead of fluff. Critics who condemn me for the latter have no idea of the nature of the commercial market. If eventually I get tired of waiting I'll finish it and self publish it at Xlibris.
I walked to the Bertelsmann Building for my 3PM appointment with the president of BALLANTINE BOOKS. I have had mixed relations with that publisher over the years. BALLANTINE published my first novel, Chthon, then cheated me and blacklisted me when I objected. Six years later Judy-Lynn del Rey was there, as part of new and honest management under RANDOM HOUSE, and lifted the blacklist, and I returned with the Xanth series, which made me a best-seller. But I left again a decade later when editor Lester del Rey started chopping out whole chapters or Author's Notes. More recently the publisher became part of the Bertelsmann conglomerate, and that conglomerate supported Xlibris, helping make it viable. I really appreciate that support, because Xlibris is not so much a financial investment for me, as a way to make it possible for every writer to get published. So now I am considering whether it is time to try that part of the conglomerate again. We'll see. It's not as simple as just deciding to do it; in effect I have been married and divorced twice there, and I don't like divorces.
Then at 6PM I met with Angel and the chief executive officer of Xlibris for dinner. We informally discussed the present and future of the company, which has grown astonishingly. Next morning we all went to the board of directors meeting, where things got more formal and detailed. Maybe there are directors and executives who sleep on the job; this certainly isn't the case here. There's a feeling of surfing on this huge killer wave, and it would not be expedient to get off it even if we wanted to. So far we seem to be okay. Thereafter Angel showed me Grand Central Station. Then I headed for Florida and home, getting there just before 8PM Thursday. I still hate to travel, but must admit that New York City has its appeals, and not just decorative cows.
PIERS
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