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Picture of Piers doing archery
AwGhost 2002
Before I get hopelessly lost in my own dialogue, here's an announcement of interest to aspiring writers who want to test their wings without having to face a dread publisher. Victoria Ellis has set up a writing Web site. Visitors are invited to submit chapters in an unfolding story. Each month three of these chapters are posted on the site, and the one with the most votes is chosen as the next installment in the developing project. She hopes that in time the chapters will create a complete novel of publishable quality. The deadline for the next one is August 31. No money is involved; you don't pay or receive anything, though I suppose if you become part of a publishable novel that would change. Check it at www.communalconstruction.com. Not all the sections worked for me, but perhaps they will for you.

I have several forms of exercise, including dumbbells, a rowing machine, recumbent bike, adult trike, and three mornings a week jogging out to fetch in the newspapers, a 1.6 mile round trip. It occurred to me that an adult scooter could be a suitable addition, easier than running, simpler than biking. But not one of those with inch and a half diameter chair-casters for wheels; first pebble I struck would flip me into a ditch. I saw one once with a 26 inch front wheel that looked ideal, but the cost was out of this world; you could buy a used car for less. So that notion languished. Until I saw an ad for a $100 scooter marked on sale at KMart for $40, with 12 inch wheels front and back. So we went to the store and bought the X-Games Scooter, and it looked to be a rugged piece of equipment, with front and rear brakes, dual suspension, and a general attitude of authority. Probably intended for trick riding, so was built to take rough treatment. There was some assembly needed, and that turned out to be the usual hassle. The instructions skipped a lot, and didn't necessarily make sense; had we followed them literally there would have been a front wheel without a brake, and a rear brake without a wheel. Maybe they were written on Mars for use on Venus. After three hours we had to admit defeat: the thing simply would not assemble properly. The wheels are on, but no working brakes, and we see no way to make them work, though we have similar brakes on other equipment. It's like Microsoft instructions: they seem to make sense, but don't work in practice because key elements are missing. Oh, sure, we can take it to the local bike shop, and for three times what we paid for it they can have it working. Why does that bug me? At least now I understand why it was on sale.

As I have mentioned, I normally do over 100 snail mails a month and 400 emails, about 95% to fans, and they tend to blur in memory. On rare occasion one will smash through the barriers of my awareness and really get to me. Here, from recent memory, is one such: a correspondent in Thailand (yes, I have more than one there) conducted a course in motorcycle riding for the folk of his region. It seems that in Thailand there are traffic laws, but they are broadly ignored, so you can encounter just about anything going any which way on their roads. He taught his students right, however, to obey the signals, stay with the flow, honor the courtesies of the road. One pupil was a 27 year old Thai woman standing something under five feet tall with black hair to her waist, a divorcee with two sons. She began as clumsy as any, but worked very hard and became his star pupil, doing everything exactly right. On the day before the final exam she asked for an extra session, just to be sure, so he arranged for a longer trip. She rode ahead and he followed on his cycle, observing. All was well. Then on the return trip a pick-up truck charged out from the cover of trees, ran over the woman, and zoomed away without stopping. My correspondent went to her, finding her alive but badly injured, blood coming when she coughed. He removed her helmet and held her head in his lap, and they talked briefly while an ambulance was summoned. She asked whether she would have passed the course, and he said yes. She asked whether she was dying, and he said he feared she was. She asked him to tell her family what happened, and to tell her sons she loved them, and he agreed to do it. She asked for a kiss on the lips. He kissed her, and she died. He followed through, and the other members of the class wore black arm bands as they graduated. He sent me pictures of her funeral, with an elegant colorful little pavilion being burned. I never knew her, I doubt she ever heard of me, but I am in pain for her. Why do the worthy innocent suffer while the unworthy guilty go free? It's not enough to say it's an imperfect world; that's no excuse. I'm going to put her into Xanth.

Meanwhile I have just about completed the first draft of my third ChroMagic fantasy novel, Key to Destiny. It will be about a quarter million words, like the first two. No, none of them have found a publisher; you think I'm joking when I say that all traditional publishers want from me is Xanth? I'm not. But my prospects may change in the future, and then we'll see. Meanwhile someone raised a question: Isn't the term ChroMagic copyrighted by Microsoft? Oh? Can that be so? I'd hate to have to change my series title. If anyone out there knows the answer--I'm Ogre-stupid about figuring out how to get it from the Internet, of course--let me know.

As a general rule, I don't announce things until they are pretty will confirmed. So I'm not announcing a big Xanth series movie deal, yet. But I can announce that I have been working with Codemasters on an Internet game, Dragon Empires, that will be released later this year. I'm no interactive game expert, so it has been a learning process, but I hope my contributions make it distinct from all the other games I know nothing about. I have liked games of all kinds all my life, but have gotten away from them since achieving a career as a writer, because I need the time for writing. Had I come to be in the computer age I suspect I would have disappeared into such games and never been seen again. As it is, I play a few solitaire type games on the computer and let it go at that.

Which brings me to "Crazy Quilt." I mentioned that it's a card game I liked in youth and wanted on the computer. A reader told me of a shareware site that had it, but when I checked, it wasn't there. That's par for my course. So she checked, and found it gone. So she sent me the copy she had downloaded. It worked, but some cards I played disappeared instead of moving, making it confusing to play. So I tried one of the other games in the package, "Labyrinth," with six decks, and it works flawlessly and I like it. My wife tried the games, and she likes Labyrinth too. So I sent the proprietor $20 for the two copies. You thought shareware is free? Only if you're the type who steals books and thinks the honor system is a license to cheat. I hope none of my readers are like that. And sometimes there are rewards for doing the right thing: I received a very nice letter back from the proprietor, Michael D. Usher, revealing that he's a fan of mine from Florida, though now in England. That's the reverse of my course; I started in England and finished in Florida. He sent a CD disc containing 375 different types of card solitaire games that surely has every game I ever dreamed of playing and many new ones. I'm amidst editing a big novel at the moment, so can't afford to get thoroughly into this yet--I like such games too well--but did try the fanciest, what he calls the Godzilla of games, the six deck "Battle for Atlantis." It's an exercise in imagination: the several patterns of cards represent the opposing fleets of ships, as you try to conquer Atlantis. But for the unimaginative, it reduces to building up in suits from aces through kings in chains six decks long, with a number of options for playing, turning over, moving, parking, and taking chances with the cards that he says is apt to take two hours to complete, with your odds for victory one in two. I, as a first-time duffer, stalled out twice in an hour, but that was enough to satisfy me that it is a very good game. Michael mentioned that he had tracked 100,000 downloads, but only about 40 have paid for them. Now it could be that as many as 9 of 10 found they didn't really care for the games, so wiped the program. Fair enough. But that would leave 10,000 who liked and kept it, and who do play the games, as I did, who should have sent in $10. Fewer than half of one per cent of those users actually did. Thus the fall of the house of Usher, the victim of legal stealing. I repeat: I HOPE NONE OF THOSE RIP-OFF PLAYERS WERE MY READERS. I fulminate against the monopolistic predatory practices of Macrohard Doors, but apparently that's what it takes to actually get paid for your work in a climate of ethical vacuum. You invite in the corporate monsters when you mistreat the decent folk; only the monsters survive. But if you have a second thought, maybe having missed the shareware notice, here is the address: Michael D Usher, 12 Stuart Close, Brandon, Suffolk, IP27 0HB, England.

We got rain. The past two months have both been records for our 14 year residence here on the tree farm. We're glad to have it, though it has all disappeared into the drought-dry ground and Lake Tsoda Popka remains a grassy plain in our vicinity. We need several feet more rain to restore it. But it has been great for vegetation, and the mosquitoes, rendered almost extinct locally by the drought, have resurged. No, they're not huge monsters; they are tiny cute little specks you can hardly tell from floating eye phantoms, but they do suck blood. They make it a trial to go outside. I do have things to do outside. I hate it when I'm aiming an arrow, and as I loose it I hear a hungry bzzz at my ear and I miss the target. So though I don't like to kill things--it's why I'm a vegetarian--I make an exception for bloodsuckers. I have tried spraying the spot where I stand for archery, and that reduces the clouds to the point I can swat the rest. I also tried repellant. Most of them contain DEET, but there's a new one derived I think from eucalyptus that's natural. So, being of a scientific mind, I tried both: DEET on the left side, eucalyptus on the right side. Mosquitoes were thronging me as I brought out the bottles, but mysteriously faded as I applied them. One buzzed my right ear as I took aim with an arrow, but it concluded there was nothing edible there and departed. I was outside doing things for over an hour, getting thoroughly sweaty, and never got bit. So here is my user's report: both types work, provided you cover every exposed surface including socks and T-shirt, which they bite through. So nature freaks like me can now foil bugs without poison or DEET. The storms also brought down more trees across our long drive. One day there were eight sites, each with one or more trees, and I went to work with clippers (because they were swathed in grapevines that anchored them in place), gloves (but I still got stabbed by a thorn), saw, ax, and long crowbar and in due course got them clear. All good exercise. Those tools remind me of a joke: "I see, " said the blind man, and he picked up his hammer and saw. Lots of things remind me of jokes, like the game of bowling: a worker approaches the foreman and says "I'm a little stiff from bowling." "I don't care where you're from. Get to work."

William Ruddick invited me to write a short something for his Web site. He's trying to get his favorite authors to share their hopes and dreams. It seems like a nice notion. So my brief hope is there, at www.dreamsofchange.net, and there are others. Take a look; it's no joke.

I received an invitation to interview at Slashdot, which I understand is pronounced /. They sent questions and I answered them. They warned me of the Slashdot effect, which could swamp little sites like mine. Well, we got maybe a dozen emails at HiPiers from slashdotters, hardly a blip on our screen; I think they didn't know how busy this site normally is. The interview may still be at slashdot.org. It was a good one, which is to say I got asked some questions other than what's my next Xanth novel all about, and they have a follow-up process with reader reactions to the interview and to other readers' reactions. I checked it a day after the interview was posted, and printed it out. There were some knowledgeable readers, but aspects were annoying. One asked me what problems I had with Linux, and I said that it took me 9 months and a lot of help and expense to make the change, and that the idea that a Linux system isn't supposed to run out of the box is death to popularity. There was no followup on that. I think there should have been outrage and determination to make Linux systems as easy to run as Windows systems. Let's face it, that shouldn't be much of a challenge. One said "Is the whole of his experience with Apple based on his use of the Apple IIe?" Huh? I didn't mention Apple because I wasn't asked, and have never used any Apple computer. Another asked whether, considering that I have things like underage sex in On A Pale Horse and Bio of a Space Tyrant, I am attracted to underage women. I regard that, however politely phrased, as an implication I am a pedophile. First, I asked the questioner to identify the page number of Pale Horse where any such thing exists, as I don't believe it does. Elsewhere in the interview I had a comment about folk who condemn me for things that aren't in my novels. Then I went into an extended discussion of the nature of human sexual interest, which is essentially that if she's 36-24-36 and fair of feature, men are attracted, and so am I, regardless whether she's 15 or 50, and I don't think those extremes make me either a pedophile or a necrophile. Well, I got no page numbers, and was accused of doing a song and dance, avoiding the issue, and of attacking the questioners. That's what annoys me. I get the impression that some folk want to make me out a pedophile and think I'm being evasive when I try to clarify the issue. I find all shapely women appealing, which is hardly the same. It's like asking "Do you still beat your wife?" and demanding a yes/no answer; some purport not to understand why such questions are offensive. But because there were followups on the followups, others did come back at these folk, sometimes with perceptive spot essays. Then one wondered why I wrote DoOon Mode, conjecturing that it was to finance a new computer. Had I been asked, I would have answered there; now I'll do it here: I wrote it because over the past decade it has been my most requested novel, from readers who wanted the series properly wrapped up. Apparently this reader didn't like the idea that I catered to someone else's desire, and trashed the book. So far, this is the only negative response I have had on this novel. (I have remarked elsewhere that 99% of my readers like my books; the other 1% review them.)

And on that novel: Jennifer Young advises me that the reference on page 200 of the paperback edition to a story by Edgar Allan Poe was actually "Rappacini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ouch; I read and liked both authors, and trusted to memory. Memory is a treacherous instrument, rather like dealing with the opposite gender: it can be very accommodating, but don't trust it too far. I suppose I could point out that it was my character Colene who made the mistake, but she got it from me. And yes, Colene is 14, smart, pretty, conflicted, was raped before the series began--and was modeled on several readers who were like her, who told me their stories. Many since have identified with her, and she is one of my favorite characters, but she is Too Young. Make of that what you will.

Speaking of mistakes, a reader notified me of another: I commented last time how much better the video version of the movie The Abyss was than the theater version, only I neglected to give the title. I had the video right there with me as I commented, and thought I had given the title. I hadn't. Sigh. Whatever would I do without readers who are paying more attention than I am?

And back to my books: when they are published, sometimes I do a random sampling, just to make sure they are real. This time I checked page 100 of the paperback editions of DoOon Mode and How Precious Was That While, my sequel autobiography. (Yes, of course I'm saving the really hot stuff for the third volume in that series, when everyone else is dead.) In DoOon that page concerns taking a chain as a way of making an oath. I think it's a nice cultural detail that those hot on the quest for dirt don't notice. In Precious it concerns our move from Oklahoma to Florida, when I got out of the US Army. As it turned out, my writing career was to flower in Florida, and the Army was to become a bad memory. So it was a significant transition. Yes, there are things on the other pages too; this was just a spot check. Meanwhile, when I checked for my spot corrections from the hardcover edition, I discovered that they had fouled one up: on page 411 of the paperback my attempt to correct Berkely/Ace to Berkley/Ace was rendered as Barkeley/Ace. I always suspected that copyeditors were dogs. Woof!

One reason I wanted to get away from Windows was the way those systems periodically foul up, costing time, text, and frustration, apparently because Microsoft doesn't care to fix the bugs. Well, I've been on Linux for over a year now, and it is more stable and less arrogant, but every so often it does pull a Windows on me. I work in my own "Piers" user section, where I have all the things I need. But defaults are set in the "Root" user, so if I want something to stay put, I have to go there to do it. My files were getting rulers put on them, taking up space, and I got tired of removing them, so went to root and deleted them. That is, they remain in force, just not showing onscreen. When I returned to Piers three of my files had become Read Only, meaning I couldn't change them. That's hell with an ongoing novel text. I wasted two hours trying to find a way to restore them to functionality, but there seemed to be no way. Computers are great at doing things you can't undo; programmers must delight in setting these little traps. So I emailed Griz Inabnit, who is building me my new improved MoNsTeR Linux system, the one I hope will be perfect (like that shapely ageless woman), and asked whether he knew how to get such files restored. He telephoned me and in the course of half an hour of fighting the balky system (computers really really don't like to be corrected) talked me through the repair, and I had my files back. It seemed that when I went to Root, it decided to claim ownership of the files, and wouldn't let any other user touch them. There is reason for this feature; it's to prevent online strangers from messing with your files. But in this case it was preventing me, like an immune system attacking the host. The key was to use a command called "chown"--that is, CHange OWNer--to change ownership from Root back to Piers. Griz promises that this sort of foul-up won't happen in the system he's doing. Anyway, now my files don't show their rulers, by default. If I ever write a book about computers, it will be titled Hardware's from Jupiter, Software's from Saturn.

I look at everything that comes in except spam--yes, even fan mail, you cynics--and that includes junk mail. Endless get-rich schemes, potency pills, health aids. One interested me: Indium, the 49th element, not found in the human system, but pushed as a supplement for vibrant health. How so? Because in theory it activates other trace minerals, leading to diminished need for sleep--an hour less a night--a sense of well-being, increase in energy, strength, endurance, improved short term memory, and other benefits. Okay, I decided to give it a try, shelling out $90 for a three month supply, to my wife's disgust. As mentioned before, I have been on a decades long search for surcease from my chronic mild depression and fatigue; the thyroid pills have helped but haven't done the whole job. Sometimes I grasp at straws, just in case. Could this do it? It's a tiny bottle with an eye dropper; you take a single drop on the tongue each morning, and the benefits are supposed to manifest within days. I have now been taking it seven weeks. So does it work? No. I have noted no effects. Damn.

We saw some movies. My wife and I seldom went to the movies before our movie freak Daughter #2 Cheryl re-entered our lives; now she hauls us out to see the more interesting ones, so we won't disappear entirely into passive senility. Also, we now get the Senior Discount, so we can afford it. We saw The Bourne Identity, which has a personal history: twenty years ago I was looking for something to read that might remind me how to make my fiction exciting. Yes, I know critics say I didn't find it. My wife recommended The Bourne Identity, so I read it. Yes, it was exciting; you could hardly turn a page without another gun tracking the protagonist. Not a lot beside that, but it sure kept the tension up. I have larger concerns in my own fiction than guns, so it's not as exciting. Well, the movie simplified it somewhat, and changed some details, but I think on the whole improved it. It remains an exciting story, which naturally a critic panned as dull, that makes a bit more sense than the novel did. So I can recommend this movie as a worthwhile diversion: a lot of mystery, action, fighting, and a tasteful romance. My kind of junk. We saw Lilo And Stitch, and really liked this animation. Stitch is a little blue monster, literally; he's little, and is programmed to destroy everything he can reach. He escapes to earth, to Hawaii, which was designated as a mosquito sanctuary (I thought that was Florida), and is adopted as a dog by troubled little orphan Lilo. Lilo can be a real handful herself, driving her big sister to distraction. So it's a great combination, replete with some lovely scenes of destruction. I like that way that the big sister is shown as human rather than ideal; she's a bit solid in the thighs and plain of face, and believable. So this too is my kind of junk. And Minority Report, wherein in the near future they can prevent crime by seeing what's about to happen and intercepting it. Lovely notion, and some fabulous chase sequences. One detail I really liked was the little robot spiders, that climbed up people to check their eyes for retinal prints, identifying them. The protagonist had to get his eyeballs replaced to avoid that ID. This is really my kind of junk. So I can recommend them all, when they come out on video, if you missed them in the theater. I saw a reference to another movie I'd like to see, Never Again, about a woman in her fifties who finds new love; it is said to be quite sexy. I wasn't fooling when I said I'm attracted to sexy 50's too. In fact if push came to shove, I'd rather have the older woman, because she's more likely to have an intellect, and to know how to cook, but I don't expect any critic to believe that. But our local newspaper listing doesn't even list it, and I know the local theaters won't run it; it will have to wait for the video. And we saw one more movie:I received a DVD in the mail titled Reflections of Evil with a note saying that it cost $250 per unit, and they hoped I'd enjoy and cherish it for a lifetime of pleasure. But the movie itself turned out to be not my kind of junk. It was about a fat ugly man who kept gobbling junk food and vomiting, whose presence made people quarrel and animals fight. That was it, for an hour and a half. If this was promotional distribution, it did not impress me favorably. If the copy really cost that much, it was wasted on me.

Odd things can happen in research. I had a sequence in my ChroMagic novel requiring imaginative illusion. I am wary of pulling too much from my head, lest I recycle stale ideas--I just had to hit the MUTE button to stifle my critics' loud agreement that this is all I ever did--so I sought a source of external imagination. I dug out my collection of about 20 fantastic art books and spent several days going through them. Fascinating pictures, about half of which seemed to be voluptuous woman in varying states of dishabille, and much else interesting too. I did get some notions, and proceeded with my chapter. But that delving had side effects. I discovered one of the paintings I had commissioned for the Xanth Calendar and paid a thousand dollars for, was published there, credited to some other patron. Okay, so now I know: those fancy credits may be works of fiction too. I also saw the paintings Michael Whelan did for Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, absolutely lovely art. Whelan does his homework, as do I. Foundation has long been a favorite of mine; I read part of The Second Foundation in high school circa 1949 as And Now You Don't, following the first part Now You See it which was published just before I discovered the science fiction magazines. Later I picked up on the earlier volumes. So I decided to reread it, fifty years later, and see how it struck my present far more critical eye. I did--and it didn't stand up. The first novel, Foundation, is really a collection of stories with different characters who trump the opposition with brilliant devices the author doesn't necessarily inform the reader of before the end. It's all dialogue, no physical action, no women, just men talking at each other. Atomic power is still a big deal, and many characters smoke. The center of empire and culture is at the center of the galaxy; this was written before the black hole concept of galactic formation was recognized. The sequel, Foundation and Empire, picks up a little, but is still mostly a collection of talking men. Where there is action, it consists of things like a galactic fleet admiral pulling a blaster on a prisoner to make him stay in line, then getting klonked on the head and the prisoner escapes. As military authenticity this is ludicrous; fleet admirals don't pull blasters, they have layers of lesser officers to do things on command, and prisoners are scrupulously incapacitated. No wonder Asimov generally stayed clear of action; he wasn't very good at it. Only in the third, Second Foundation, do we get a unified novel, and that's really only the last portion. That features Bayta, a woman who foils the nefarious mind-controlling Mule, and her later perky fourteen year old granddaughter Arkady. (So did critics accuse Asimov of being a pedophile? As I recall, his later works, like Heinlein's, suggest fascination with sex; it must be a function of age. As we get older, sex becomes more mental than physical.) Taken as a whole, I found the series readable but not classic; perhaps it improved in later sequels. The art was better than the text.

There was a flap about the Pledge of Allegiance, so naturally I'll put in my three cents. A panel of judges concluded that the words "under God" were in violation of the Constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state. There was instant national outrage. Interesting, considering the judges were correct. Freedom of religion is supposed also to mean freedom from religion, and we shouldn't have to affirm a belief in God to express our loyalty to our country. Is this too much for Americans to understand? In my day those two words weren't there; they were added in 1954. The country had not gone to hell before that. The references to God have not always been on our money, either, and it used to be worth more than it is now: dollar bills were redeemable in gold, and some coins were silver. I used to have a silver quarter that could be used for a dirty joke: turn the flying eagle upside down, cover the head, and the flying wings look like cowboy leggings. Ask a person which way the cowboy is walking. He'll point the direction. "Damn right," you say, uncovering the head, which in this position looks like a penis poking out from the trousers. I lost my quarter decades ago, but in the past month a helpful reader sent me a replacement. Now I can do the joke again.

Advice columnist Ann Landers died at age 83. She had something like 93 million newspaper readers, and a staff to do the chore aspects, but for a time she quit doing new letters and recycled old ones with small changes of detail. Only when a researcher discovered this and blew the whistle did Ann resume actually doing the work she was paid for. It must have been in that period there was a comment that no crossbreeds between animals and humans existed, and I wrote in to inquire how centaurs, mermaids, harpies and the like had come to be. There was no response. Par for the course; I also wrote to Marilyn, supposedly the smartest person in the world, to correct an error she had about the Chinese Wall, and she neither responded nor corrected it.

Ted Williams died. He was one of the towering figures of baseball, the last to have a season average of 400. He retired here in Citrus County, Florida, and died in Inverness. Whereupon his children fought over the body: whether to burn it or freeze it. That is, cremation or cryogenics, where they hope to thaw folk in the future for a better second life. With the world becoming ever more crowded, and resources being depleted, it is not clear why they should want yet more people then.

Something reminded me of part of a Jenny letter I did four years ago. (I still write to her every week.) The "Pickles" comic strip had a fun notion with made up place names that go with state abbreviations, like Shapeless Mass., Goodness ME, Oola LA, Deathly Ill., Hittor Miss., Poison Penn., Grandpa PA, Proan Conn., Coca Colo., Either OR, and Squee Mich. I wondered if more could be done, like maybe Blushing Virgin., Income TX, Telephone CO, Ga GA, Lock& KY, Americ CA, Eightnine Tenn., Gold Ore., Doctor MD, Tellme WY, Alack Alas., Dirty Wash, Full MT, Kickthe Kan., Show ID, Hug& KS. Shovit IN, Ah OH. Feel OK, Gimme MO. (Bear in mind that Jenny was by then an adult, with an earthy sense of humor.)

We have a current phenomenon: hundreds of tiny black frogs are all around the pool and yard. I picked one up and verified that it would fit sidewise on my littlest fingernail. They look like little crickets as they jump about. Haven't seen them in prior years. Well, I wish them well, and hope they eat mosquitoes.

Idiot Dept.: That bad fire in Arizona was set by a tribesman who hoped to make $100 pay for fighting it. Instead the timber it destroyed will cost his tribe $200 million. I suspect he'll be lucky if he doesn't get his ears cut off.

I maintain an informal listing of Internet publishers and writing services, as an ongoing service to my readers. I try to comment accurately and fairly, having had a fair amount of experience with publishing and being immune from blacklisting by those who object, so I can call a spade a spade with impunity. This column and that service seldom overlap, but I thought a recent spot development might be of more general interest, so here is one current entry copied and pasted from there to here: CHICKSPRINGS--www.chicksprings.com. I assumed from the name that this would be a feminist publisher, but it seems to be more general. I am not clear how much is provided free and how much the author pays for; this seems to be a bit of both camps. I found no information for writers. UPDATE: here is the response I received from Mary McKelvey, Publicity person for Chick Springs Publishing, quoted verbatim: "We are not surprised that some old fart like Piers would think that you could get away with calling a modern 'gal' a 'chick.' Evidently Piers has no daughters or is estranged from them or these 'gals' bite their tongue in his presence because of the IRS law which allows he and his wife to give $10,000 to each child each year tax free. Actually, we thought that Piers had crossed over several years ago." So if this is the attitude, accuracy, and grammar you seek for your material, this is the outfit for you. Still no information on terms.

As a general rule I believe that people and cultures should be allowed to do their own things, so long as they aren't hurting others. But I find there are limits to my tolerance. It seems that in a Pakistani village several men grabbed an 11 year old boy, beat and sodomized him, then to prevent him from telling, took him to one of their houses and shut him in a room with the sister of one of them, a woman in her late 20's. Then they accused him of molesting the sister and demanded reparation from the boy's family. There were negotiations, and it was agreed that if the boy's 28 year old sister Bibi apologized for her brother's transgression, it would suffice. But when she came, they decided that apology wasn't enough, and that she should be raped, so that her whole family should be shamed, and four of them raped her. Thus Pakistani village justice. Do I need to elaborate on my objections? The whole matter would not have come to light had not another villager blown the whistle, and the news got out. Then there was general outrage among Pakistanis, and the men were arrested and threatened with death. Another negotiation resulted in sparing their lives if their sisters married men of the victimized family. The designated girls were as young as age 5, and the designated men as old as 80. Maybe I just don't properly understand that culture; my notion of justice in this case relates to prison terms, not marriages. I also think that feminists who scream about whether they should be called chicks or gals should try focusing on real issues like the degraded place of women in such societies. They could consider Thailand, where sexual slavery is almost a way of life, with a special market for children; clients pay extra for the privilege of raping virgins. So what can we do about it in America? There is supposed to be an annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report that grades countries on their efforts to combat such trafficking, and to cut aid to countries that fail. Unfortunately the present American administration seems to be more interested in obscuring such information than in doing anything about it.

Not that I'm against feminism as a whole. Some of my best characters are feminists. Let me focus for a moment on a correspondent: I've known Walidah Imarisha by mail for about 8 years and regard her as a black feminist activist, though she may not see herself that way. I was surprised early on when she made an issue of blackness, because her fan letters had come across as lily white. She asked me why I didn't have black characters in my fiction, and I responded that I did, and named several novels. She checked and agreed. That impressed me, because others have asked the same question and refused to accept my answer, accusing me of racism the same way some accuse me of sexism: more interested in the charge than in the truth. Walidah challenges folk, but she also listens. That marked her in my mind as different, and an entity to be respected. It's the way I try to be myself. I have opinionations busting out all over, but I pay attention to feedback. She sent me a booklet of her poems titled "This Back Called Bridge" subtitled "To find a way, to make a way, to be a way." The first poem is "By-Racial Blues" and it describes her early situation. "How come you sound like a white girl?" with the real question being "How come you're not black enough?" Her mother told her just to answer that she was brown. She remarks here (I'm deleting the poetic form, because I have a lot to jam in here; I hope the author will forgive me): "Yeah, that works...when you're six years old. After that, you better have something better to explain your mutt birth, your bastard existence, your lighter skin, your upturned nose. You can not straddle the color line, yawning like a canyon between your two halves. There is no middle ground in amerikan culture expression: you better choose or we'll do it for you." She envied the "shonuff" black girls who ruled elementary and middle school and regarded her as "the Oreo cookie child," black on the outside, white inside. She concludes: "I guess I will continue to be miscegenated and misunderstood, but I think I'm done with the bi-racial blues." That's just the first poem. You can find her via http://poetryoffthepage.com. She's the bad sista of the Good Sista/Bad Sista duo.

Walidah also sent me a copy of a book she helped edit, Another World is Possible, which relates to the horror of September 11, 2001. I opened it randomly and discovered hard-hitting political social economic commentary; this is not innocuous material. For example I learned that a few years ago they struck oil in the eastern portion of the Caspian Sea, estimated to be half again as big a supply as what's in Saudi Arabia. But how could they get it out? The area has no direct access to the sea and is surrounded by politically awkward territories. The best bet was a pipeline through Afghanistan, so they promoted the Taliban to take over and secure the region, making it safe for the Big Oil business. Then things got out of hand, as we know. So how come I didn't see this in the regular news? You can order it via www.newmouthfromthedirtysouth.com.

Article in the newspaper: two studies show that children who receive gun safety education are just as likely to play with a gun as those who don't get the training. Meanwhile, a reader sent a commentary on the difference between a victim and a combat survivor. Victims are shattered and terrified, while those who survive combat may also be shattered but have a primal awareness that once awakened never really goes back to sleep. It's like having a dragon for a roommate; occasionally it wakes and peers out of their eyes. www.nononsenseselfdefense.com.

One of the good outfits I support is the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics--FSEEE--and their publications can be dismaying in the things they reveal. For example, Bob Libershal, a forest protection officer, lives and works on California's Angeles National Forest. He saw "off-highway vehicle" signs posted on a road he knew was legally closed to off-highway vehicles. So he asked his superiors about the wrong signs, but they couldn't explain why they were there or who posted them. So he took them down. His bosses ordered him to put them back up. He refused, and was suspended. Well, the Whistleblower Protection Act says the government can't discipline an employee for refusing to follow an order that would cause him to break the law, but it seems his bosses haven't got the word. FSEEE is preparing litigation to make them obey the law. I'm on their mailing list and was solicited; this is one of the few solicitations I did contribute to. www.fseee.org.

I have remarked repeatedly on the flood of Nigerian type solicitations I receive, promising easy millions if I cooperate in sneaking money out of that country. We are now deleting those letters as they arrive, like viruses. But it seems one fouled up; along with the solicitation, we got the dope on the program they use to send it out widely. It's called Rolling Launcher and is shareware. It describes itself as "a flexible and powerful direct & proxy e-mail sender for your opt-in mailing lists." Now you know. And about those viruses: We get one to five Klez H viruses a day, all nulled by Norton Antivirus, but each takes a minute to process. This virus is tricky: it puts a fake return address on. Thus some readers think I am sending them viruses. I'm not; it's a frame. So how come legitimate software can be so hard to install, while viruses install themselves?

Sunday supplement PARADE MAGAZINE for July 14, 2002, had an interesting point: there is a difference between "sick" and "evil." Sickness is a condition; evil is a behavior. It's talking about pornography and pedophilia, but I think has more general application. I have felt for some time that letting a criminal off as innocent by reason of insanity is idiotic; he should be found guilty by reason of insanity. If you have no conscience and destroy another person, you may be sick, but you are also a criminal.

Collaborator Alfred Tella (The Willing Spirit) has another fantasy novel coming out, Zuralia Dreaming. I read it and blurbed it last year, as I recall.

I view with a dismay shared by many the outrageous dealings of prominent corporations, where the chief executive officers walk away with millions of dollars--sometimes hundreds of millions--while the companies founder and impoverish their employees and investors. I should think those responsible should be required to give back the money, which I regard as stolen, and to be put on trial for fraud. But somehow our government seems more interested in suppressing criticism of itself, warning that people should watch what they say and do. Little people are getting imprisoned without charges and denied access to their lawyers, indefinitely. This is plainly unconstitutional, and the trend is frightening. How come the real criminals, those who mercilessly steal the livelihoods of others while enriching themselves phenomenally, are not arrested and prosecuted? Congress and the administration are now belatedly acting, but I'll believe it when I see some of those outlaw CEOs sent to prison.

Last time I asked religious conservatives rhetorically "Do you believe that the human body as God made it is obscene? That the consensual act of regenerating our kind is a sin?" Well, I heard from one, Kelly Davis, with a good answer. He says that no truly full gospel Christian--that is, one who believes that the Bible is the true word of God--would believe that the human body is obscene. After all, it was crafted in God's image. But when sin entered the world--something to do with an apple--things were quickly complicated, and folk realized they were naked. Sex between a married man and woman for procreation is all right, but sex outside of marriage is fornication and is wrong. Davis also quoted my remark "It is as if the human species has been crafted for some residence other than Heaven." This is an example of that original sin in operation. We have the freedom to choose between good and evil, and thus to choose our eventual destinations: Heaven or Hell. I had asked why people thought that sitting on a cloud playing music for eternity would be any joy, and he replied that God is the true source of all joy; one close to God would require nothing else. The absence of God is the opposite.

I receive many questions from readers, mostly about my work or how to become writers, and I answer as well and personally as I can, given the constraints of time and intellect. Sometimes I say something I think would have some meaning for others. One asked me how to get along when it seemed that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't please her parents. She was told she was lucky to have such parents, but asked me: "If I'm so lucky, why do I cry so often?" Oh, my; what could I say? I have two daughters, and they are not necessarily always pleased with me. Perspectives differ. But I made the attempt, and here is what I said:

"I checked our correspondence, and realized that it has been a while since I first heard from you as a ten year old in 1995. Now you are seventeen, but I still tend to think of you as ten, because of that mental snapshot that forever classified you. But your prom picture doesn't look ten, so I suppose the time really has passed.

"All of which does have a bit of relevance to your current letter. Parents tend to think of their children as always being children, even though they have grown into young adults or full adults. They can be overprotective and also over-demanding, and unfortunately contemptuous. They forget that they themselves were ever children or teens, and have little respect for the teen situation. When I was young I swore to myself to remember what it was like, and I do remember, but when I mentioned that to my mother in law she thought I was being immature. Certainly my own parents did not understand, and my sister and I both bear the scars of it.

"So how did I get through? I pondered, and realized that many of my problems were really not my own. They were coming from my family, like polluted water flowing down to me. I resolved to forge my emotional independence from my family, to protect myself from that mischief. I date my slow emergence from a really messed up childhood to a really successful adulthood from that decision. I treated my parents politely, but once I set up my own family I did not take any guff from them; if one of them accused me of something that was not true, I refuted it, citing published references if I needed to. The point was not the particular issue, but the larger one behind it: I was my own person, not their person. No, they didn't like that, and I think never understood why I did it. But I still think it was a necessary course.

"So how does this apply to you? I think you will have to do the same. You can't be physically or financially independent, at least not at this time, but you may be able to be emotionally independent. Some might call it a wall, and psychiatrists hate walls and want to break them down, but they can serve a purpose. Robert Frost's poetic statement that good fences make good neighbors can be true emotionally as well as physically. You need to care less personally about what your folks think, so that you get hurt less. That doesn't mean to treat them with contempt or indifference, just to be more objective about their input. Sometimes a parent is wrong, but sometimes a parent is right, and you need to be able to judge between them without getting thrown. Parents, right or wrong, generally do mean well, and that should be appreciated. I'm a parent (and grandparent), and sometimes I wish I could influence my children more, because I have experience and perspective they lack, but they're independent now and I respect that. You can't be perfect, but you can be good enough. Just make sure you're not less than you yourself are satisfied with. Set a decent standard, and don't let others get to you because it is not their standard. It is after all your life, not theirs.

"As you get older, it will surely get easier. If you go to college, that's a great place to find yourself. If you get a job, you'll be on the way to achieving economic independence. But what counts most is your emotional independence. It's not easy to achieve; it took me years. But it can solve your problem. I'm sorry I can't give you an instant fix, but there really isn't one.

"Regardless, I wish you well."

And I wish all my readers and correspondents well too.

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