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Piers signing books

Okay, by this time regular readers of this column will know the story of my fling with the sexy maiden publisher Venus: it is listed in my ongoing survey of electronic publishers, I received and ran a negative report, then had to nullify it because it seemed it was from a person with a grudge and did not reflect the real nature of the publisher. There are been several more of those recently, relating to other publishers, causing me to rethink my policy, as noted in the introduction to that survey. Anyway, that interchange wound up with my placing my collection of mainstream stories, Relationships, with Venus, and it was published electronically in January, and in trade paperback February. It's a nice edition, and I enjoyed paging through it, refreshing my memories of the stories. Part of the deal with such publishers is that the author helps in promotion; they don't have the budgets big traditional print publishers do. So while I prefer to range the universe in these columns, and avoid pushing my own books apart from just letting readers know they exist, this time I am obliged to promote. After all, if the book bombs, the fair damsels at Venus will dump me like an infected male skunk, and the sequel volume I am now writing will have to be self published elsewhere. So please, check it out, and buy the electronic or the print edition if you are so moved. Venus is an erotic publisher; I haven't read any of their novels, but chances are they're way sexier than most of these stories are. I believe it was a marginal call for them, as this is a collection of intense relationships, some of which have erotic elements, rather than an erotic book per se. That means that sales won't be as good, and the publisher is taking a risk. They have done a good job, and I'd hate to have them regret it. They even forwarded me a review--I think it's been decades since a publisher did that--by Nickole Yarbrough that touched on every story, rating each favorably or unfavorably. Some stories that were carefully nuanced evidently were too subtle and were rated failures, but in general this was a fair review in that the reviewer seemed to follow the principles described later in this column. I don't ask that a review be favorable--though this one rated the collection a B, which is favorable--but that it be honest, and this one is.

To encourage you, let me comment in more detail than I have before on the one story that is fully erotic. This is a novelette-length effort “Hot Game,” about a lovely female officer in the Army we'll call Nuance who protests sexual harassment, wins her case, but then is quietly banished to Nothing Atoll, a military prison island where nothing ever happens. This is how the military deals with uppity women who don't put out for their superiors. Many others there, including the prisoners, have similar cases. It is a dead-end, physically and career-wise, absolutely boring. Yet there is something about it. For one thing, there are no disciplinary problems, and folk there, both administrative and prisoner, seem contented. The entire post seems to shut down during “Happy Hour” and hardly anyone is around. Where do they go? She sees some prisoners, male and female, out of their cells, sunning themselves on the beach; how can this be? Nuance tries to inquire, but no one will talk. Finally she goes to the stockade and addresses a female prisoner she saw on the beach. “What does it take?” And the woman replies “See Famish.” Famish turns out to be an extremely thin black female prisoner. She agrees to tell Nuance everything, provided she will keep her mouth shut. She agrees--and thus commences a sexual adventure like none other. For it is straight, raw heterosexual sex that powers this post, prisoners and personnel together, male, female, black, white, mixing it up according to definite rules: the Hot Game. Where every contest is sexual and public (for post personnel), the winner being the one who makes the other climax first. And Nuance, as the loveliest woman on the post, is in top demand. Provided she is ready to compete for the points that can be be used to buy almost anything. Such as when a homely black female prisoner buys a 24 hour date with the post commander, including sex and being seen with him throughout. Or when a black male prisoner buys one hour watching the female officers exercise, all naked. He stands there at the edge of the mat with a huge erection. I doubt that even the straight erotic novels have sex quite like this; it's not more evocative, but it is different. Neither do the other stories in the volume, so if all you want is sex, be warned. But if your interest is in well-written, mature, intense relationships of diverse kinds that don't censor out the erotic aspect where it is relevant, this is the volume. I don't just write funny fantasy for children.

Last year February and March were pretty well wiped out for much writing, because of my wife's illness. This year February was as low, but for a different reason: I had agreed to read some novels for blurbing, and suddenly they all jammed in, anywhere up to 300,000 words long. I'm a slow reader, and reading tends to put me to sleep. It's not boredom, just relaxation. So I try to shift off, reading ten pages or so, then doing something else, such as clipping back encroaching foliage along the drive or writing a bit. But then it's hard to get back to the reading. So often I just carry the book and walk around the study, reading. It's a chore. So why do I do it? Because newer writers need the boost of blurbs, and I try to follow the Golden Rule, helping them when I can. For those who don't know, a blurb is a short favorable comment, typically run on the back of the book, so potential readers will see it and say “Piers Anthony likes this book? I'd better buy it immediately!” this making it a bestseller. Don't I wish. One reader bawled me out, thinking the word was an insult to readers. Not so. I try to comment honestly, so not every book gets a blurb, but only the most favorable ones ever see the light of the bookstores. I really don't read for pleasure, but for business, though it helps if the books are enjoyable. And what do you know: they were all worthwhile books, worthy of the time I spent on them.

First there was Starkweather, a special case. It's a graphic novel--that is, done in pictures, like a comic book. But it is not Donald Duck material; it deals with a coven of witches, male and female, who are fighting the Templars, and it relates to the Second Coming of Christ without being a religious treatise. It is full of action and thought, and those female witches are sexy babes. There's one picture of one taking a tumble, her short skirt flying up, and we see her from below. Hoo, it's cold shower time. The Templars are systematically catching the witches and burning them at the stake. That's just the beginning. The protagonist is Starkweather, a short order cook, who has witch powers, but can't properly control them. It is his mission to try to save the woman whose death will end the world as we know it--and she thinks he's the enemy. It's a hard-hitting story. But I didn't read it to review or blurb it. The proprietor asked me to contribute a story to a follow-up volume that will explore the backgrounds of the major characters of the first volume. Since what I know about graphic noveling is within haling distance of zilch, he sent me the book so I could do my homework. I did, and wrote a story about Cartaphilus, the so-called Wandering Jew, that will be adapted to graphic format. Meanwhile, I can recommend Starkweather as an interesting, dramatic, thoughtful story with some very nice pictures. www.arcanastudio.com.

Next was How Noble In Reason, by Alyn Rockwood, published by A K Peters, www.akpeters.com. It is about sentient computers--that is, ones that are conscious. The story itself is fairly standard, with a scientist getting in serious trouble because of trumped-up charges, and finally vindicating himself. But here's the question: is the destruction of a sentient, feeling computer to be considered murder? After reading this novel, I'm inclined to agree that it is.

Then came The Way of the Fog, by A P Fuchs. This is a giant fantasy novel, first of a series, and well worth anyone's time. It takes place in the time after Armageddon, when the showdown between the forces of Good and Evil was mysteriously abated, and mankind left to fend for itself for an indefinite period. What is going on here? I suspect it will take several novels to unravel that. This one concerns a man who tries to help a little girl and her blind grandfather return to her city, where her parents are dying of a mysterious plague. Their long trek of course takes them through assorted challenges and dangers and revelations, plus a shapely warrior woman, according to the fantasy tradition. The question is how well it is done, and this is done very well, with truly significant things promised for the future, such as the battle between celestial forces. I've been around a while; I blurbed David Eddings when he was starting, and Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind, all of whom went on to become major fantasy bestsellers. I say this advisedly: A P Fuchs is equivalent as a fantasy novelist. Unfortunately he has not gotten big traditional print publication for this, so won't make the bestseller lists. That's not unusual; I had to go similarly to small press for my ChroMagic fantasy series. Many worthy writers must labor in the shadows of peripheral publication because of the vagaries of publication; merit is only one factor among several, and not really the major one. If you are a serious fantasy fan, and crave something more significant than, say, punny Xanth, try Fog. www.apfuchs.com. www.coscomentertainment.com.

And Tigra, by R J Leahy. This is science fiction, another good one. Jeena is a space officer shipwrecked on a little-known colony planet who adopts and raises a native tiger-like cub, Tigra, who turns out to be considerably more than an animal. He is smart, and learns to talk, and may have other powers. Other humans are systematically exterminating Tigra's kind, and in due course Jeena comes up against them. This is a rousing adventure with an intriguing mystery: Tigra's kind once built civilized cities, then suddenly devolved into animal level. Why? The answer is intriguing, and maybe valid. It might do the same for the human species. I'd like to discuss it in more detail, but that would ruin much of the mystery. For solid adventure with a conscience, this is a good read. Zumaya Otherworlds, July 2006 www.zumayapublications.com/.

Then in March I read three more. Mrs. Night, by Jon Hargrove, is a vampire detective novel. Neither of those are my genres; I've never had much interest in vampires or detectives. Yet I enjoyed this immensely; it was the most fun novel of this present collection. The protagonist, Samantha Moon, is a female vampire with a husband and children. Those predate her condition; six years ago she was attacked by a vampire and rendered into one. Now she's trying to carry on with family and private eye business, and she's a feisty, skilled person, so is doing mostly okay. It is not a horror story; she buys animal blood to eat and doesn't generally prey on humans. But her husband has an increasing problem with her coldness--not of spirit, but of body. “You sicken me and scare the hell out of me,” he tells her. “And when I touch you it's all I can do to not gag.” She replies “Words every wife wants to hear.” I love this! She really doesn't deserve to be frozen out of her marriage, yet his attitude is understandable. In the course of the novel she solves the mystery she is tackling for a client, and finds a new romantic interest. What makes it special are her character and nature. I sure wouldn't have kicked her out of bed. I recommend it as light reading, odd as that may sound. www.myspace.com/mysterywriterjonhargrove.

Lady Magdelene's, by J Neil Schulman, jneil@jesulu.com, is a screenplay for a movie currently being made. An air marshal spots a likely suspect, arrests him--and gets canned for being wrong. He is banished to an inclement assignment: he has to run a brothel that is in tax default. Lovely ladies galore, of course, who resent his presence and try to seduce him and/or get him in trouble. Then the man he profiled turns up there, having a nefarious plot that surely will be much mischief. He manages to discover and foil the fell ploy and redeem himself. Standard fare, but it will surely be a fun movie to watch. Meanwhile Schulman is embroiled in a fight with the Department of Homeland Security, which forbade him to refer to it in the movie. Nervous about a seeming association with a whorehouse, maybe.

General comment: can't anybody here use “may/might” correctly? Misuse of may seems endemic, even in otherwise good writing. I know the language is in constant flux, but I do wonder.

And one more, not a novel but a biography. The Ghost of Jack Woodford, by Keith Nichols, that I received half a year ago but didn't get around to reading until now. Jack Woodford was the literary pseudonym of Josiah Pitts Woolfolk, a popular novelist of the 1920s and 1930s who then disappeared from the literary scene almost without trace. Most listings of American writers don't mention him. How come? I see two reasons. First, he was a trashy novelist, publishing many adventures and sex novels, writing to the public taste. Some said 140 books in all, but a number can't be documented. (For comparison, I have had 130 published, with 7 in the pipeline, and I'm not yet done. I tried to Google Andre Norton's bibliography, as I understand she wrote about 150 books, but though it said it downloaded it, I am unable to find it on my system. Par for the course. Maybe a reader will tell me how many she wrote. Anyway, Woodford wrote a lot.) Critics prefer to pretend that such writers don't exist. Second, he wrote several books telling the truth about writing and publishing. And there's my own interest. When I was in the US Army, stationed at Ft. Sill Oklahoma, in the late 1950s, I was trying to become a writer. I realized belatedly that I needed to have the incidental things correct, such as format and submission protocol. Editors seem to care more about format than content. But those details seemed to be a big secret. I remember when there was a contest of some kind, and SF writer Joe Green (I knew him, and visited at his house in the 1960s) won it and got an hour of editor Fred Pohl's time. He used it to find out the secret of what editors wanted. Then, using that information, he started selling stories. Good for him, but what about the rest of us who lack that avenue for information? Well, it was Jack Woodford who blabbed, and I found it in books of his in the Post library. I almost sold a story in 1958, but then the magazine folded before it could be published. But you can see I was starting to get the hang of it, thanks to Jack, and several years later I succeeded. Thus Woodford has always had a fond place in my outlook. He did that for many other writers, some of whom you may have heard of, like Robert A Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, who were similarly grateful. So Woodford had about as much impact as any writer has. But of course the establishment is not kind to those who betray its secrets, and did its best to marginalize him out of existence. And largely succeeded. This book was not fun reading. It seems he was personally abrasive, and he hated Jews, and maybe figured publishing was run by Jews. Was he a bigot? I don't know. He suffered a change of editors, and the new editor “privished” his best book. That is, threw it out there without support so that it sank unknown. That is the nature of some new editors, who don't seem to care about quality or even the welfare of their publishers; if a prior editor set it up, it is trashed. I learned that the love of Woodford's life was his daughter, Louella, on whom he doted. No, not incestuously; this was Family. She had potential, selling several novels before she was 20, with aspirations as a Hollywood actress. But then her career and his life were cut off by her insanity. She was in and out of mental hospitals, and he went broke trying to afford treatment for her. He was finally institutionalized himself, and died bankrupt and depressed. So the story of his life is a tragedy, but he was in his ornery fashion a great man. Fortunately there is one outlet for some of his books: Woodford Memorial Editions, PO Box 55085, Seattle WA 98155-0085. Sorry, I didn't find a web site.

So what am I to make of this, discovering that the man to whom I owe so much, and whose ornery dispensation of essential information for writers I try to emulate, system and critics be damned, was a tragic, heartbroken, ultimately crazy figure? Is this likely to be my own fate? I think not, if only because my daughters are not insane, and because it will be harder for critics to marginalize me out of existence. I have supported both electronic and self publishing, that the powers-that-think-they-be can't control; good books by many writers are appearing despite the establishment. But time will tell.

I have in the past 18 months learned a lot about shopping and housekeeping, as my wife's incapacity required me to assume many of the chores she used to do. Still, there are moments. I paged through a DULUTH TRADING COMPANY catalog and spied two items I wanted: a small synthetic fiber blanket and a synthetic fiber wallet. My vegetarianism extends to leather; I don't use it if I can avoid it. My rule of thumb is that if it hurts the animal to take it, I don't want it, and it surely hurts the animal to take away its skin. But leather is available, cheap, workable, and durable, and it's hard to match it artificially. But this wallet said it was five times as durable as leather. So I ordered the two items My Very Own Self. In due course they arrived, and I love them. The wallet holds my essentials and fits nicely in my pocket, and presumably will not wear out before I do. The blanket I use to cover my bare legs on cool exercise mornings. You see, I get hot when running, but then as I sit in T-shirt and trunks and eat breakfast and read the newspaper between the hours of 6 and 8 AM, after which my wife gets up and I go on to shower and dress, well, I cool. The blanket abates that nicely. So this is a small personal success story, unworthy of note except in a dull blog nobody who is anybody reads.

More about Xandros: I told last column how we got it and put it on, but couldn't make it go online. Well finally we got a geek in, Peter Popovich, who spent seven hours struggling with it and finally got it working sort of. He had to replace the modem to do it. We learned that a Windows system may have only a very limited modem, with half the necessary wiring being in the software, and when you try to do something Macrohard doesn't like, such as switching to Linux, it pokes its finger in your eye. Because Linux lacks that software, so can't use the modem. Thus the need to replace the modem. We did it twice, and now it will go online in Linux, and not in Windows. But my wife uses mostly Windows, so that was a problem for her. So finally she bought a whole new system, Windows, and uses that. Which of course is part of the deal: Windows makes you stick to it, or buy a new system, or both. I'm ornery enough to fight it, and my personal computer does not have Windows on it, but it is a struggle. Unfortunately the Xandros system refuses to accept our defaults for email, so that system still isn't properly functional. As I have said before: Linux needs to get its head out of its ass and address the needs of real non-geek people if it ever expects to be popular. We want to use it, but hate the endless hassle and balkiness.

I mentioned Peter Popovich. Maybe you thought I made up that name. No, he's organizing Oasis Con in Orlando, Florida, and I expect to attend it on memorial Day Weekend, and will no doubt have a Con Report next column. I may attend the whole weekend, or only one day. This is because our old dog is ailing, and if she lives until that time, my wife won't leave her for the weekend, and I won't leave my wife for the weekend. In the past on occasion our daughter Cheryl has baby-sat the dog, who is very choosy about the company she keeps; strangers can't do it. But Cheryl will be at the convention too. So if we are limited, we'll be there one day, probably Saturday, and I'll meet folk, sign books, and whatnot. Then I'll go home and may never attend another convention; I don't know. Much depends on my family situation. When I had breakfast with Andre Norton in Nashville in 1987 I told her that I regarded the two of us as being in a contest to see who could attend the fewest conventions, and she smiled. I saved that smile, and still keep the faith.

I mentioned my wife. The expensive IVIg treatment restored her life to her, after she was bound for months to the wheelchair, unable to walk. She had to practice walking again, and it was literally painful, redeveloping muscles that had atrophied. This is not an experience we want to endure again. She requires booster treatments every three months or so, to hold off the ailment. But they are no longer sending that medication to our county. We could pay for it ourselves, if there were any to pay for. So now she is slowly turning the corner back toward the wheelchair as her doctor desperately searches for a way to get her the necessary treatment. I suspect the Bush Administration found one more nifty way to cut the budget, to make more room for more tax cuts for the wealthy, so that this expensive treatment is going. Screw the folk on Medicare. I never did get a flu shot this winter, by similar token: none available. I am not pleased, but I haven't yet found a way around this particular dodge. No, my wife remains mobile; we don't know how long it will take to revert completely without treatment. I fear we will find out.

I had a nightmare that a copyeditor had changed my “vice versa” to “visa versa.” Copyeditors have done stranger things. Horrified, I rushed back to the text--and found no such change. So was it really a dream? It must have been. But I sure don't trust those copyeditors.

One happy note: I finally got my author's copies of Pet Peeve! Only five to six months late. How did it happen? Well, Tor got a new assistant editor, and I griped to her about it, and she immediately put in the order and I had my copies within the week. So at last I was able to send the copy I had promised to Marisol Ramos, who suggested the Goody Goblin/ Gwenny Goblin romance that forms the backbone of the novel. I suspect I'm going to get along with that particular editor.

There's a long-term comic strip called “Blondie,” and it's okay. But you know, I have never in my life had any romantic interest toward any blonde. I married a brown-haired girl. It took me some time to figure out why. People do things for reasons they themselves don't always know. There was a study that showed that in second marriages, the richer the man was, the less the woman weighed. I dare say that each such husband would deny that he married her for her looks, and each such wife would be offended at the implication than she married him for his money, but the statistics do suggest the case. So what is my hidden reason for staying clear of blondes? I like intelligence in a woman, and I know that “dumb blonde” is only a joke; there are smart blondes. So it's not that. I love my blonde daughter, to whom I send dumb blonde jokes, and she sends me dumb blond (that is, male) jokes back. So it's not that I have any anti-blonde agenda. So what is it? Well, it's that my sister is blonde, and our childhood relations were such that it forever turned me off blondes for romance. It's that simple.

Piers Anthony's ponytail
I now wear a ponytail, as discussed in an earlier column. When my wife could no longer cut my hair, I started growing it long, a bit over a year ago. Now my ponytail is six inches long and growing. I used pretty colored hair clips intended for little girls, as they were what I could manage behind my head with one hand holding the hair, the other working the clip. But it was hard to get it perfect first time; a check with two mirrors would show hanks missed, and I'd have to try again. It could take ten minutes do to my hair. I wanted something I could do in one minute, have it hold well all day, and be easy to remove at night. I tried putting the clips on from below, and that helped, but still not perfectly. I tried rubber bands, but the process of tightening them with second and third loops tended to mess up my hair. Remember, I have not spent a lifetime doing my hair; the process is relatively new to me, and I'm a septuagenarian codger. I need it good and simple for clumsy hands. Then my wife had a notion, and found what she calls a bobble tie: a loop of elastic with a marble-sized ball at each end. Pass it around the hank of hair, pull one ball over the other, and presto: perfect ponytail in one minute. Ideal. But though we had two of those bobbles we inherited from our bygone little girls--they both disappeared into adults twenty years ago--they are old, and the elastic may snap soon with renewed use. So we searched for new ones of that style. And finally found them at a Dollar Tree store--everything there cost one dollar--and it had slews of them, in different shapes: balls, cubes, flowers, hearts, different sizes and colors. So we bought three packages, and I should be in business indefinitely. It took me a while to figure out how to use smaller ones, because it is tricky to stretch them around with two hands while holding the hair in place with another hand, but I finally got it. The brand name is Giggles. So if you giggle when you see me, maybe I'll understand. But I still think they ought to have a brand for grown men. Just think, they could have them shaped like motorcycles, gold coins, skull & crossbones, guns, nude starlets--endless possibilities. How about for writers, shaped like books or scrolls? Or critics, shaped like sour pickles. Ah, well.

Public Announcement: we receive emails from readers, and normally answer them. But some servers evidently have it in for correspondence, and seem to delete my responses. Then we get plaintive follow-ups: “I received your email, but it was blank.” Yet there is my full response, right on that same query. It seems it wasn't trashed, just hidden from the recipient. Why a server should want to cruelly tease folk this way I don't know, but it is happening increasingly. The main offenders are Yahoo! and SBC Global. So if you're with Yahoo!, don't blame me; blame your server for refusing to let you see my answer. And ask it why. This is apart from the annoyance of folk who query me about things, then bounce my answers unread because I'm not on their list. If someone tells you that Piers Anthony doesn't answer his email, chances are that's why.

I have better things to do than play card games on the computer, so why the $%#@&!! do I do it? To relieve incidental tension, so I can settle down to work. I used to like Scorpion, where in you put the 5 of hearts on the 6 of hearts, and move all the other cards on top of the 5 along too, gradually getting the suits in order until they are complete. There's the easy version, which I prefer because it allows you to strategize, and the hard version, almost unwinnnable because you're totally dependent on the blind fall of the cards. But my Linux system doesn't have that game. Then in FeBlueberry my wife mentioned that the Linux game Grandfather is similar. There's a Windows Grandfather that is an entirely different game, with two decks; that's not it. I checked, and the Linux game is similar, differing in that the four aces are built up in suit; they fly up when exposed, and then the 2s, 3s etc. Chances of winning seem to be about one in three, and sometimes you're left with all the cards lined up from 2 to King but the ace is buried and you can't reach it. Prick tease with a vengeance. Which is part of what makes it a good game. These are unsettled times, for me, with publishers balking at even reporting on my novels or delivering author's copies as mentioned above; the NY agent my Hollywood agent showed my child-vetted children's novel Pandora Park for assistance in marketing--who bounced it and me forthwith; my wife's situation without the medication, and movie prospects looming. There's even interest in India for a TV series based on my collaboration with Al Tella, The Willing Spirit. Both good and bad news can be unsettling. So I play maybe three games in about half an hour, maybe winning one, then get on to work.

I had my two year eye test. My left eye remains 20-20, but my right eye has degenerated to 20-50, with a proper corrective lens able to make that 20-30. So how come it's my left side archery that typically has the problem? I sight left side with my left eye, the good one. Critics could have a field day with that: if I were able to see better, I'd see that I never was any great shakes as a writer and would quit imposing on the reading public.

I make most of our meals these days, and one of the things I make is Cuban-type sandwiches. I had trouble with the cheese turning moldy, and thought I wasn't re-sealing the package properly. But then came an unopened package with the mold showing. Ugh. But at least it exonerated me. Tomatoes, apples, lettuce, bread--anything can it seems rot overnight. There's a smell in the refrigerator in the garage that one day will need investigating, if I can hold my nose long enough.

But life isn't all ugly. Remember the little mulberry tree I transplanted two years ago to save it from getting flattened by trucks? That I noticed because of the lobed leaves, that can look like the clubs of a deck of playing cards? It survives, and this year is putting out so many new branches and leaves it is obviously serious about being a pet tree. I note something interesting, to me at least: the first leaves are round, that is single-lobed, but later ones on the branches start being two lobed, and further out they get up to three and even five lobed. Is it that the outer leaves are lost in the pipeline and have less sap, or that the tree makes them with missing sections so as to let the sunlight through to the interior leaves? If I were as smart as the tree I might be able to figure out the answer. Meanwhile I'm thrilled by its progress. Maybe some day we'll actually have mulberries. I don't know whether I even like mulberries, but I'll surely like these ones.

Several years back daughter sent us what I call a leaf plant. I don't know the proper designation; any leaf of it will regenerate a whole plant. Well, this one did, and soon we were buried in leaf plants, all around the pool, making a jungle, all around our garbage garden square and working on our back yard. It got so we couldn't walk without crushing leaf plants underfoot. So finally I had to clear them out, with regret. I took several days, hauling them up entire and toting them off to a pile in the back yard which became close to head high. It was done, though we'll keep having to root them out as they reappear. And they are growing merrily from the top of that pile.

My printer started smudging the pages, gradually getting worse. Finally I tried unscrewing the cover to see if I could get in there and vacuum out spilled powder. No luck; there was no access to the innermost works. So I screwed it back together--and it no longer worked. It jammed, giving me a mess of a job pulling paper out bit by bit in torn sections. So I took it down again, and put it together again, and it worked partly. It has a duplex feature, so that it prints on both sides of the page. Now I have to turn that off, printing on only one side--and it still smudges. Damn. Since shops don't fix things any more, they just sell you new ones, I may have lost my printer. Anything I want to print out from the Internet jams, because there is no option to turn off the duplex there. Programmers work diffidently to make sure the user is truly fucked.

Things pass through my hollow cranium as I go about my business. One day I remembered a great newspaper headline. Remember in Roman times how Nero fiddled while Rome burned? Maybe 40 years ago Florida had a Governer Burns who traveled a lot, and nothing much got done in his absence. The headline was “The Legislature Fiddles While Burns Roams.”

We watched some of the Winter Olympics. What I don't understand is why an athlete, having labored so hard for the honor of representing his country, should then spend his time partying instead of being ready to compete, so that he washes out. That's like high class universities with the strictest standards for admissions that somehow manage to admit students who spend their time partying instead of studying. I think something is wrong with the admissions procedure. Actually, why do they compete to get top students, who would do well anywhere? The best institutions, as I see it, would take average and poor students and make them great ones.

I tackled chores. One of them was checking in books for my library. Long ago I got tired of spending half an hour looking for a book I knew I had, and not finding it. So I organized my library along the lines of the Library of Congress, by subject and author, and now put labels on new books and file them where they belong, with a master Catalog file. That used to be the Cat Dog--that is, Cat.doc. Now I'm on Linux, it's a less evocative Cat.sxw, unless you remember that SXW = Sexy Wench. But it's a chore to check them in, and it tends to get behind. So I had a couple years of books to enter. I'm trying to stifle my purchases of books, and have succeeded to an extent, but there were still about 75 to enter. Many of those are books I was sent for blurbing. In the process I discovered a number of interesting ones, such as 50 years of PLAYBOY, the Castles of Estonia that Lauri Roogna sent me--she's related to Martin Roogna, after whom Xanth's Castle Roogna was named--a book on Zombies my daughter gave me, and one on the unfolding of language that truly opened my eyes. Its thesis is that language is constantly changing, so there never was an ideal time, as common errors become established as proper, and new errors are introduced. Fascinating.

I finally have my new front tooth, an implant, after about 15 months with a fake tooth. Remember, I got the implant put in, supposedly a two week process, but it fell out, and they had to do a bone graft, let it set 6 months, then the new implant, and finally set the crown on it. Works fine. But there was one annoying complication: they took an X-ray of it, and the sharp edges on the X-ray card were painful, tearing up my gums. My gums inflamed, and they thought I wasn't taking care of my mouth. Oh? It was the natural response to the injury done them that brought the inflammation. So the victim got blamed. After decades of this sort of thing, I'm going to start getting firm about it: no more X-rays unless they can get frames with soft edges. I wish the makers of these things were required to use them, tearing up their mouths; then maybe there would be some reform. Obviously they don't much care, and won't, until someone makes a stand. However, there was one benefit: they gave me a dental floss holder that greatly facilitates its use. It's a little plastic U on a stick, with the floss stretched across the open part of the U. When the bit of floss wears out, you replace it. I have found a couple of brands; both work, but one better than the other. So now flossing is less of a hassle.

A pet peeve of any writer is reviewing: books that never get reviewed, or get reviews that hardly relate to the real nature of the book. I remember when my story “In the Barn,” intended to be a shocker, with big-breasted women who were milked like cows, with a subtext of if it is unkind for women, how is it for the cows, was reviewed as vegetarian science fiction. Obviously that reviewer had not read that story. It has been apparent to me for decades that I read a book more carefully for blurbing than many reviewers do for reviewing, and they get paid for it. And of course too many have agendas, being out to praise a friend or torpedo an unfriend, regardless of the merit of the piece. But not all reviewers are corrupt. Here is a digest of a piece forwarded to me by Veldane Darkhosis from the Writer's Block of Dreams, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/The_Writers_Block_Of_Dreams: “How to write a decent Book Review” by GraceAnn Andreassi DeCandido, “Ladyhawk” ladyhawk@well.com: Read the whole book. Review the book in front of you, not the one you wish had been written. Don't review in genres with which you are uncomfortable. If possible, compare it to others in the same genre. Criticize clearly and specifically but gently. Know the guidelines of your reviewing medium. Be precise. Don't be cowed by a famous name. Don't review books by people you know, or love, or hate.

Report in THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR: “By most conventional measures, especially job growth, the Bush years have been the worst of any president in the last fifty years.” From the HIGHTOWER LOWDOWN: “Pentagon report reveals that up to 80% of the marines killed in Iraq from upper body wounds would not have died if they had the proper body armor.” And 90% of the units ordered have not yet been delivered. From a column by Gene Lyons: Col. Larry Wilkerson gave a speech at the New American Foundation in Washington blaming a secretive “cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld,” for seizing power from an ignorant, intellectually lazy president. They were aided by “an extremely weak national security adviser” (Condoleezza Rice), who told Bush whatever he wanted to hear to build “her intimacy with the president” and bolster her career. Congressman John Conyers is organizing a campaign to impeach President Bush for deception, manipulation, torture, retribution and cover-ups. www.afterdowningstreet.org/. And from WASHINGTON SPECTATOR again: “Loyalty to the nation now demands an exposure of the disloyalty of the governing party. Its preparedness to lie and invent facts in order to procure a war that it has yet to explain adequately; it's willingness to compromise national security to protect its lies; its confusion of loyalty to the Bush family and to its cronies with loyalty to the country, all capped with a willingness to retaliate at once against any liberals who speak out.” From a letter in the newspaper, by Richard Feigel: “As a Christian, I am concerned that today 'moral values' are defined as part of a political agenda, rather than based on the teachings of Jesus.”

Remember when I relayed the story of the discovery of the “Taps” melody? That turns out to be false, another urban legend. It seems to have been adapted from an older piece known as “Tattoo.”

From NEW SCIENTIST: Keep stress at bay by having sex beforehand. But it has to be penetrative sex; other forms don't do it. The effect lasts for a week or so. I wonder how they found out? Did they do a double-blind study of copulating and noncopulating couples? “You penetrated her what with your what?!” From the Sunday supplement PARADE: “All pedophiles--even the ones who describe their predatory conduct as 'love'--lack empathy. The pain of others is immaterial to the pursuit of their own pleasures.” I don't know whether that is true, but I think it also describes the present political administration, whose pursuit of ever more money for its supporters takes little or no note of the pain of those impoverished by its actions. Empathy is vital to the human condition, but before we crack down on those who lack it, we had better be aware who they are and how they may retaliate.

A reader forwarded a collection of doctor stories. Here is an example: the doctor told the wife that her husband had died of a massive myocardial infarct. Then he heard her report to the rest of the family that he had died of a massive internal fart. A young doctor was whistling to cover his embarrassment while performing a pelvic exam on a middle aged woman when she burst out laughing. He had inadvertently whistled “I wish I was an Oscar Meyer Weiner.”

Sarah Sine forwards many items. One tells how to tell whether a mirror (such as in a bathroom) is real, or one-way. Touch it with a fingernail. If there is a gap between the nail and the image, it's a regular mirror. But if there is no gap, it's see-through from the other side. That little test could save you some embarrassment.

Live & learn dept.: You know that realistic doll Barbie? She has had more of a celebrity history than I knew. She married her boyfriend-doll Ken, and they had a child Kelly. Then they divorced and she became a single mom. Then she dated Blaine, who was a surfer, while Ken dated Barbie's best friend Nadine, a party girl. Then Ken went to the Middle East and became a Buddhist. Now Ken and Barbie are getting back together. Poor little Kelly, now age four, doesn't understand why guys come and go. I suspect there is trouble in the future in the valley of the dolls.

A reader finished On a Pale Horse. Then his hand wrote of its own accord in a notebook. Herewith:

Though the Gates of Hell may bar my way,
Though Satan may ride his steed,
Demons at bay, my mind will say,
Courage is all I need.

Brimstone and Fire, the Devil's desire,
May speed to slay my soul,
Immortal dire, a crowning pyre,
Lights the way to my goal.

My heart's true quest, my honor's at test,
How could I possibly fail?
My scythe so sharp, my cloak so dark,
Riding a horse so pale.

Kristina O'Donnelly, the other Inverness Florida writer, forwarded news of a Spanish class. Her teacher explained that Spanish, unlike English, has noun genders. House is feminine, pencil is masculine, and so on. Then a student asked what gender is “computer”? Hm. So the teacher divided the class into men and women to reason it out and decide. The men concluded it is feminine, because no one understands their internal logic, they communicate with each other in a language incomprehensible to others, the smallest mistakes are remembered forever, and when you commit to one you have to spend half your paycheck for accessories. But the women concluded that it must be masculine, because in order to do anything with them you have to turn them on, they have a lot of data but can't think for themselves, they are supposed to solve your problems but half the time they ARE the problem, and as soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer you could have gotten a better model. It is said that the women won. Oh? Must have been a female teacher.

A study of the effect of third-party prayer on heart surgery patients shows that they do not benefit by it. I'm hardly surprised. I see two reasons: first, that God doesn't exist, so the prayers have no one listening. Second, that God does exist, and hears, but is fed up with people beseeching Him to make exceptions to the laws of the universe He established. And to reduce it to a statistical test to verify whether He will respond--deserves no response.

Columnist Molly Ivins remarks on the decline of newspaper circulation, so the papers are cutting costs by cutting the number of reporters, the space devoted to the news, and the money spent to gather the news. “For some reason, they assume people will want to buy more newspapers if they have less news in them and are less useful to people. What cutting costs does, of course, is increase the profits, thus making Wall Street happy. It also kills newspapers.” I agree; it is bean-counter logic, and it applies also to book publishers who respond to the general decline in sales by cutting back on the variety of books. Fortunately there is self publishing and electronic publishing, that will likely inherit the readership traditional publishers are alienating. In a vaguely related manner, the local legal action regarding Debra Lafave has ended. She's blonde bombshell teacher who seduced a teen boy and got in trouble when his mother found out. Next time, you bet, he'll know to keep his mouth shut. Now she wants to become a journalist. Well, more power to her; if I see a column under her byline I'll read it; she surely has a fresh perspective. It might help if they ran her picture, nude.

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