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Piers signing books
Apull 2007
HI-

Correction: last time I said that Disney had sold the TV rights to On a Pale Horse to Fox TV. Soon thereafter we learned that was wrong; Disney sold them to Touchstone/ABC. They are filming a pilot program, and if that works out there will be a series. If that should prove successful, who knows; there might yet be a theater movie. But at present nothing is guaranteed on this novel. I presume work continues on the Anime for Split Infinity, and that Warner Pictures remains serious about Xanth.

Minor victory dept.: ever since our sink garbage grinder broke, a decade or so back, I have been burying organic kitchen garbage in our eight foot square Garbage Garden in the back yard. From that seeds may sprout, continuing the circle of life, which pleases me. At present we have a number of flowering squash plants, one potato plant, and one tomato plant. But there's a nocturnal marauder who comes and digs up the freshly buried garbage so that it can't properly compost. I suspect it's a raccoon. After all, those bandits even wear masks. I think it could be the egg shells that attract it. I don't wish raccoons any ill, I just want them to leave my garden alone. What to do? So I bought some hot sauce, and doused the spent egg shells with it, and put them near the top of the burial. Next morning I discovered it had been partly dug up, as if something had abruptly changed its mind. The shells were there, cleaned off. I think it got a good taste of hot sauce and got the hell out of there. Is this a permanent fix? We'll just have to see. Wouldn't it be nice if the technique worked on critics?

We have a local Tampa Bay character, Joe Redner, proprietor of girlie shows like Mons Venus, a perpetual thorn in the prudish authorities' hides. I met him once; he's about 5 years my junior. Well, this time he really put it to them: he ran for the Tampa City Council, and seemed to have a good shot at winning. Wouldn't that put the finger to the conservatives! Alas, it was not to be; he lost to the incumbent. Ah, well, it was a fair try. Maybe next time. Maybe then he'll bring some bare breasted girls along on his campaign appearances and really get some attention.

There are those who think I'm a pedophile, mainly because there are frequent naughty glimpses of girls' panties in Xanth that freak men out. Well, here's a belated confession: I did once have a thing for a twelve year old girl. She was slender, athletic, pretty, and had long brown hair to her waist, and I loved her so much I once walked smack into a lamp post in her vicinity. Her name was Herta. Of course I was only eleven at the time, and my devotion was not returned; she was more interested in boys her own age. Sort of like the comic strip Curtis, forever mooning after an older girl. Well, Herta went her way, and I went mine, but I never forgot that first romantic passion. Now, sixty years later, I heard from her: an email, which I answered enthusiastically. That was all; she didn't write again. Maybe she still prefers men her own age, or maybe single ones. But it's nice to know she still exists, albeit perhaps a few years older than when I knew her. Women aren't completely ageless, alas.

My collaborative fantasy novel with Robert E Margroff, Dragon's Gold, won an EPPIE, tied for best fantasy novel for 2006. The publisher, MUNDANIA, notified me. It was initially published as a mass market paperback in 1987, but this was its first electronic publication. I've always thought that this one would make an ideal movie, because it has huge ferocious dragons with scales of pure gold. A man could make a fortune, if he could only collect some of those scales without getting eaten. Naturally there are a few fools who try. Well, we'll see.

Some time back I reported on another project: a graphic (that is, in comics format—you know, pictures) story titled Revved, about four people who associate with four vehicles that lend them special magical powers. I'm not writing or drawing it, but I am Presenting it, with an Introduction, and will get a cut of the proceeds. In other words, it's a commercial deal. Well, that volume has now been published by Top Cow and Spacedog. The Web site is www.MazdaUSA.com/Revved. My deal with my readers is this: if I hear from a preponderance who don't like it, either in content or in principle, then I won't do it again. I want to guide my readers to things they will like, even if I don't write them myself. This is an experiment, a toe in the graphic waters, and I'll yank it out if it gets burned. Let me know. Coming up soon, published elsewhere, is “Cartaphilus,” a story of the fabled Wandering Jew and modern witches that I wrote for a graphic anthology; they'll publish the graphic version and the written version, along with the other stories in the volume. So little by little I am getting into graphics.

We watch some of the current TV offerings in the evening, with incomplete attention. Deal or No Deal is interesting if hardly intelligent, and those living dolls are fun for the whole fifteen seconds they show them walking onto the stage. I'm glad the new House has finally started. We watched most of the Heroes episodes with frustration; they get wilder and wilder with little coherency, as though they don't have a writer who knows about plot. Too bad the best one of a prior season, Surface, ended. Maybe TV execs are turned off by anything that is intelligible and compelling, so they carry grimly on with the losers. What do they think TV is, the Iraqi war?

Incidental notes: I note ads for bras, 40% off. Yes, I can see that; the top 40% is missing and those full-breasted models look great. I'd like to see one that's 80% off. Our local supermarket came out with a multiple vitamin pill for seniors, and sure enough, the pills are gray-haired. And I have worked out the rules for grocery shopping. If all you want is one item, and there is only one other person in the supermarket, that person will be blocking your access to that item and taking forever to move on. If there's a special sale on an item you really want, that item will be sold out before you get there. Whatever checkout line you select will have someone just ahead of you with a complicated payment system that holds up the line five minutes. But surely this is old news to experienced shoppers. I'm still learning the rules, now that I'm participating. At least I catch passing glimpses of the women shoppers: the younger and shapelier they are, the tighter their blouses and jeans. Not that I'm objecting. I also note ponytails, especially the rare male ones, now that I have my own.

I try to read at least one book a month, though I'd rather be writing. This time I read The Empire, which is the first volume of Sexual Universe by Michael Stone. To buy it I had to learn how to order a book online, and it wasn't easy. It is published by Lulu, and they don't list it or the author; even their Search facility denies that either exists. It seems that Lulu doesn't admit to publishing erotic material. Then I tried to order the trilogy together, but it would allow me to order one volume, and when I tired to get back to add the others I got lost in a welter of irrelevant screens leading nowhere. Then they tried to charge me an extra $20 for postage, and kept reverting to that when I tried to correct it. Finally, by sheer ornery persistence, I outlasted it and got the order made. So I got just the one book, and let the author know, suspecting that he would be pissed to know he had lost two sales. He is seeing about making it possible to order more than one book at a time. Then I read it. Sigh. This is fan fiction level, with things like the distinction between “its” and “it's” evidently unknown. Here is a public service announcement for aspiring writers: “its” is the possessive of “it,” parallel to “his” and “hers,” no apostrophe. “It's” is the contraction of “it is,” the apostrophe signaling the missing space and letter. If you are in doubt, try substituting “it is” for the word; if the meaning doesn't change, then “it's” is correct. If it does change, then go with “its.” “Everything in its own place” doesn't work if it becomes “everything in it is own place.” But “It's sad to see writing ignorance” does work as “It is sad to see writing ignorance.” I don't know why this is so difficult, but I made it through college before getting it straight myself. Anyway, back to the novel: it's erotic all right. It has characters like Orgasma, who causes everyone in range to have disabling orgasms when she does. Rubberdick, whose elastic prehensile penis can stretch for hundreds of feet; he can have sex with a woman standing twenty feet away. The Titillator, whose nipples when twisted send pain to the nipples to everyone else in the area. Captain Testosterone. And the perpetual virgin Cherry, who can make men do her bidding. So if you like strange sex, this novel has it, along with a story of galactic scheming and sex crimes. www.SexualUniverse.net.

The author sent me an autographed copy of his nonfiction book, Whispers from the Stone Age, by David M. Gardner. MOUNTAIN PEAK PUBLISHING LLC, or www.whispersfromthestoneage.com. The thesis is that we evolved in the stone age, over a hundred thousand years ago, and really haven't changed much since. I agree completely. Oh, details have shifted, but not the essence. “Don't be fooled, though, the 'tool' of money is modern, a recent gift handed down to you, but your physical brain is not.” “Because we are social animals, we care a great deal about what other people think; we value this for a reason. We needed it, at one time, for our very survival.” Along the way he has some very interesting bits, such as that 74,000 years ago Mount Toba in Indonesia had the largest eruption of the past two million years, that wiped out 99% of the human species, reducing a population of around 100,000 to around 1,000. That gave our kind a new start, and we are what we are today because of it. I wish he had dwelt more on that aspect; I have done considerable research in the evolution and history of our species, per my GEODYSSEY series, but don't see the logic here. How was mankind different after that winnowing than before it? “There is no law forbidding the cruelty of bullies, and people with power tend to use it, not deny it. Do the easy thing. Single out those different individuals and make sure they know that they are inferior.” “Language is a way to record information. The person may die, but the words, the information, lives on. This sounds an awful lot like DNA, doesn't it?” (His italics.) He says the secret of the zebra's black and white stripes is not for hiding amidst the grasses, but that the prey will blur together when they run as one, confusing the predators. When does the geek get the girl, instead of the male model? When the geek makes $155,000 more per year. That's the stone age values still in play; that man goes for the most obviously breedable woman, the woman goes for the best male provider. Why do women talk more than men? Because they didn't have to hunt animals that would be spooked by voices. And he verifies a statistic I mention every so often: that more men get raped than women. Welcome to the reality of prison life. “Over a distance of one mile no animal is faster than the horse.” Can that be true? What about the greyhound? A statistic he doesn't give is that over the course of maybe 50 miles, there's hardly an animal that can outrace a human being in good condition. “The atom is really all energy that masquerades as solid mater. Nothing is real the way we think it is.” “The stone age is not about forgiveness, it's about power.” And so on; this book is filled with interesting insights about the human condition and the nature of reality. I recommend it for stretching your mind.

And one I haven't finished yet, a third amateur production, with the usual typos and problems, but worthwhile. This is The Golden Harpy, by S. C. Klaus, published by iUniverse. I traded the author a copy of my Relationships collection for it. Here the harpies are not “fowl-mouthed” females but beautiful males. This badly needs a treatment by a competent copy-editor. My main problems with it are incorrect paragraphing—a sense of paragraphing can make a real difference in intelligibility—and “saidism,” which is the use of many different words for “said” in a laudable but wrongheaded attempt to break up monotony. Folk, just use “he said,” “she said,” and similar; these are mere identifiers that should not call attention to themselves, and the reader tends not even to notice them. But apart from such flaws, there is a real story here, with nice detail, characterization, and story development. The male harpies are reviled by the humans of this planet, and on the verge of extinction from hunting, because their wings are valuable. It is feared that they steal human women. The heroine gets interested in a harpy, and this leads to real trouble. Her own father is determined to kill the harpy before it corrupts her, and won't heed her objections. So though I'm only about a third through it, I recommend it, and feel that with that copy editor treatment it would be a worthy traditional press offering.

We saw the movie Bridge to Terabithia. It was okay, the story of a grade school boy, maybe 7th grade, who meets a special girl. First she beats him in a footrace, then she joins him in generating a realm of imagination where magic and monsters exist. Most of the fantasy is in the previews, but it's a nice view of life in the country. Then the girl is killed in an accident, ruining everything. It's not a romance, just a friendship, though had she lived it might have progressed to love. I remember the impact the death of a teen can have; when my closest cousin died of bone cancer at age 15 it devastated his family, and sent me on a slow emotional tour that caused me to become a vegetarian: my protest against unnecessary death. I am agnostic, but this has the force of religion for me. I remain uncomfortably aware of death, and my novel On a Pale Horse is part of that.

Our drive is three quarters of a mile long, through the forest, and the vegetation is eager to fill it in. It bothers me to cut branches, bushes, and saplings out; they're just trying to make their way, meaning no harm to anyone. But we need to keep our drive open, so I do it, feeling guilty for inflicting death to plants. Yet some have grown up larger, beyond what hand clippers can expediently handle, so we went shopping for a more powerful tool. This turned out to be the Black & Decker Fire Storm electric hand clipper, a portable mini saw much smaller and safer than a chain saw. I have used chain saws in the past; they are handy but dangerous, and as I get older I am more cautious. This seemed ideal. But it is sold only by Lowe's, and the local Lowe's doesn't carry it and it seems won't order it. I am not clear why a company should make a good product, then refuse to sell it where it is needed. So finally our daughter rescued us by buying it in another county. I hope that doesn't get us in trouble locally. It does work, and now I am clearing out the larger brush, still regretting the slaughter of innocent small trees.

My wife prefers to remain in the background, which is why I don't mention her here often. But now she faces surgery on her aortic aneurysm. This is really heart surgery, as it is the major artery exiting the heart; they will stop her heart to replace it and perhaps the valve leading into it. They won't know how much is required until they get in there. Her chances of survival are 85%. If she doesn't have the surgery, her chances over the next year or two are only 50%. Assuming all goes well, it will still be a considerable disruption of our dull mundane existence. I will have to return to doing 100% of the running of the household for a time, and handle all the email myself. At present she receives it, prints it out, I pencil answers, and she types them in and sends it, saving me much hassle. So if responses get slow or minimal, that's why. We'll return to a normal routine in due course. There are some preliminary tests to do, like an angiogram, so we don't have a schedule, but I figure the next two months should see it through. I am not comfortable with them.

Last time I asked whether there was a good Australian source for my books. Readers quickly informed me: one source is Minotaur Books on Elizabeth Street in Melbourne, a specialist in science fiction and fantasy that will do mail order. Another is Galaxy, at www.galaxybooks.com.au; they have a good supply and deliver quickly.

I received a spam email from Irena in Kazan, Russia, age 29, who paid 250 roubles (about $10) to an agency to provide suitable prospects for her. She enclosed two pictures: she's a pretty, shapely girl. “I would like to know you want to get acquainted with me whether or not? ... I search the man for love and more even for a marriage.” It is signed “Your new girlfriend from Kazan Irina!!!!” Well, sometimes I can't resist a bit of mischief, so I responded: “Sorry, I am 72, long married, and not into blondes. That agency has no business listing me as a prospect.” We sent it to the address it came from, and it bounced. Okay, she did give a personal address, so we sent it again, to that one. And it bounced again. Which leaves me wondering: why go to the trouble of sending out such a solicitation, if you block any answers? Sure, I know the pictures are of a paid model and there is no real Irina, but how can even a honey pot for collecting the addresses of prospective marks succeed that way?

The one health newsletter I stayed with, after trying a number, is ALTERNATIVES by Dr. David Williams. He has really sensible advice. In the March 2007 issue he discusses the new form of shoe called Crocs that seem really sensible, so we are pondering them. I wonder if there's a Florida version called Gators? And he discusses Postpartum Depression, PPD. It has been a mystery why some women suffer from it at the very time they should be happy to have a new baby. My theory was that they lose vital nutrients that take time to be replaced. But Dr. Williams says that women may have weak adrenal glands at the start of the pregnancy, and are subjected to stress during it. Then in the second trimester the baby's adrenals develop along with the thyroid, pituitary, and other glands. Since mother and child share a circulatory system, she benefits from the baby's hormones. She may feel great, on a chronic high. Then the baby is born, and mom is suddenly cut off. PPD. But it can be helped nutritionally. Cut out the sugar, add minerals, B vitamins, and essential fatty acids. So maybe I was right after all.

Last column I mentioned my regret at destroying the letters of words I type incorrectly; it seems unkind to innocent letters. Jason Hansen gave me an answer. He thinks of each computer key as having a basket of letters below it. When you type it pulls up a letter and puts it on the screen. When you delete a letter, it gets returned to the basket. Next call for that letter, it's at the top and it gets used. That makes me feel better.

Here's a horror I received as forwarded email about celebrity Jane Fonda. I remember the way she toured as a peace activist during the Vietnam war. What turned me off was the way she posed sitting in an enemy big gun and smiling for the camera. Peace? This smelled more like treason. But I never made a study of the matter, and it is possible there were aspects I didn't understand at the time. I believe I saw a subsequent interview wherein she said she had great remorse for that action. Well, this email fills in some of that. At one point some American prisoners were hauled out, cleaned up, fed and clothed, to be presented as humanely treated people, though that was hardly the case. Each wrote his social security number on a piece of paper, and when Jane Fonda shook their hands, they palmed the papers to her. This was the proof to those back home that they still lived. Then at the end of the line she handed the enemy officer in charge all the little pieces of paper. Three men died from the subsequent beatings they received for this attempt to get the word out. If this report is true, my original impression was correct: treason.

There was a survey of older women: what don't they like about older men? They're lazy, ill tempered, and want sex rather than romance. But now they're surveying older men about older women. That should be interesting. Meanwhile, I, as an old man, protest that I'm not lazy.

In an ASK MARILYN column there's a suggestion that makes sense to me: let sons carry their father's surname, and daughters carry their mother's maiden name. That seems fair, and it might even stop female infanticide, since being female would no longer be a dead end, namewise.

Excerpt from a column by Peter Phillips: “To allow this administration to ride out the next two years without impeachment is to sanction a lying treasonous presidency and set precedence for future presidents to ignore Congress and the will of the people. A democracy cannot tolerate an imperial power centered in the White House.” Amen. I think of the way Rome changed from a republic to an empire as the executive branch ignored the senate and got away with it. Caligula, anyone?

Article in LIFE (which I understand is folding—again) with pictures of signs outside assorted churches. LOOKING FOR A LIFEGUARD? OURS WALKS ON WATER. KEEP USING MY NAME IN VAIN—I'LL MAKE RUSH HOUR LONGER -GOD. HEAVEN IS A COOL PLACE.

Newspaper item on the new online conservative encyclopedia Conservapedia. It's like Wikipedia, only with the conservative and religious mantra. For example on evolution: “The current scientific community consensus is no guarantee of truth.” And on the Scopes trial: “Thanks to Bryan's victory in the Scopes trial, Tennessee voters have been educated without oppressive evolution theory for 75 years.” On global warming it says it is not universally accepted. On the Democratic party: “Many Americans are also wary of the Democratic support for the homosexual agenda.” And on the Gospels: “The greatest writing in the history of the world is the Gospel of John, the Apostle whom Jesus loved the most.” You can see the essentially simplistic rationale, fighting a rear guard action against common sense. It has been asked why conservatives fight so hard against obvious truth, like evolution. It is because if they yield at all on this point, it throws the biblical denial into doubt, and that could bring the entire fallacious edifice crashing down like the walls of Jericho. So they cling desperately to their denial; they can't afford to let even a little bit of reality intrude, like a deadly virus. Actually when it comes to global warming, that must be different, because the Bible doesn't address it. Why deny it, then? Because there is money to be made from polluting air, earth, and sea, and they want the wealth. Even though Jesus decried the passion for material things, and the Old Testament urges mankind to take proper care of the natural world. They skip over those aspects of the Bible despite claiming to take it all literally. They pick and choose what parts of the Holy Book they'll support. As one who respects what Jesus said, I am appalled by this hypocrisy. So in the end, as I see it, it's not even religion, but an ugly perversion posing as conservatism and faith. It's greed.

Another newspaper article is about bigotry. It seems that actor Mel Gibson was stopped for drunken driving and exploded into an anti-semitic rant. Bet he was only one of a number of celebrities to spout bigotry, then regret it and get help. Given that bigotry as a bad thing, what is the cause? What about racism? Is it inherent? And you know, it may be. Man is a social animal, and to be social you have to be a member of a group. That means the “we and they” syndrome. You can see how readily it occurs in the TV Survivor series. Random people may be randomly assigned to two tribes, and thereafter they support their own tribes against the others, though they know the others are not inferior or undeserving or evil spirited. Supporting your own kind was a survival mechanism that evidently served our species well in the stone age, per Whispers reviewed above. But in this modern crowded hydrogenated world how do you know which is your group? Skin color is a very easy marker. So is language. So is sexual orientation. If you are not very smart, or if you don't know much, or you don't care to make an effort to ascertain reality, such markers substitute for understanding. It's no accident that stupidity, ignorance, and bigotry are fellow travelers.

From the AARP BULLETIN: among households with members 65 and older, the average credit card debt is $4,907. There's a documentary and book Maxed Out that sheds light on our out-of-control spending. Some of those who try to control the cost of dying by prepaying for funeral and burial services are getting screwed by the death industry, which can demand a $4,000 surcharge and charge for crypts and headstones the clients never receive. There's a class action suit.

Another tidbit about evolution: even lice get in on the act. It seems there are head lice and pubic lice, that diverged from each other when the human body reduced its hair, separating them, 3.3 million years ago. That suggests when we lost our body hair, needing bare skin for efficient sweating. I'm not sure it is properly appreciated that when it comes to dealing with heat, man has the most efficient cooling system extant in the animal kingdom. He can walk in a noonday sun that will drive a dog mad. He needs that cooling for his oversized brain, a real incubus. So then when did he start wearing clothes? My study indicates that this was concurrent, because even in hot latitudes it can on occasion get cool at night. So he put on animal skin cloaks to shield his naked body. But he would have cast those aside when the heat of day came, and any lice thereon would have been in trouble. Only when man developed tailored close-fitting permanent clothing did the body louse colonize it, about 107,000 years ago. So we know ourselves better via our lice. By no coincidence, I think, mankind thereafter expanded from Africa into the rest of the world, volcanoes permitting.

Newspaper Sunday supplement: a woman has written a book titled I'd Cather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido. She's just not much into sex, and suggests that this is the natural state of the gender. The steamily sexual women populating men's magazines and erotic videos are putting on an act, catering to the men. Men, given their choice, will have harems of teen honeys; women will eat chocolate. Sex in marriage is mainly the women being generous to the men, holding the relationship together, making their sacrifice for the sake of economic security. To which I say: Duh!

Article in PARADE on cyberbullying. It says that 90% of middle school students have had their feelings hurt online, and only 15% of parents even know what cyberbullying is. “The Internet is like a bathroom wall. Secrets and privacy don't exist online.” Targeted children can be swamped by abusive emails, instant messages, photos, videos, and stuff on social networking sites. A girl can use her cell phone camera to take a picture of a classmate changing clothes, then put it on the Internet along with cruel commentary. One 13 year old girl committed suicide because of such mischief. What can be done about it? Schools are trying for new regulations. But there's a free speech aspect. As one who uses this space to opinionate freely, in ways that are bound to hurt some feelings (conservatives beware), I am interested in a guideline. Anyway, possibly related is an anonymous published letter from a group of teachers at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, Florida. They report that things are out of control and the administration does nothing. Students are defecating on the floors and in the sinks in the bathrooms. Students having terrible fights. Students setting aerosol cans on fire as they shoot spray out of the can. Awful graffiti with every other word shit, fuck, bitch, and such. Girls wearing skirts so short that everything shows, breasts hanging out; boys with falling-off pants holding their privates. It's a daily battle just to teach the classes, and the teachers are not allowed to give F's. Sigh; it reminds me of my own days as a high school teacher, and why I soon quit and retired to writing novels. But it's much worse now; I never saw shit in a sink.

Another newspaper article, this time on love: what is it? It says we exhibit three stages of love: Lust, or erotic passion; Attraction, or romantic passion; Attachment, or commitment. There are chemicals in the body involved in all of these. Lust evolved for sexual mating, while romantic love evolved for infant/child bonding. When all three combine in a single relationship, great; we've got a solid bond. But studies show that passionate love fades quickly and is nearly gone after two or three years. Then reality sets in. Ultimately, then, it seems that commitment is what makes a lasting marriage. Another article, dubiously related, is on Polyamory. That's group marriage, with several men and several women in it together. Such relationships can get complicated.

I received a forwarded set of pictures of Amazing Trees growing in California. They have divided trunks that split into two, four, or woven stems that then rejoin to become normal trees. One has four giant roots that merge above the ground to make the main trunk. These really are fantasy trees, in real life.

Today, April 1, I received a PDF copy of a volume I contributed to, The Complete Guide to Writing SF, edited by Dave A. Law and Darin Park, www.dragonmoonpress.com. I haven't read it yet, obviously, but this is to let you know that it is due for publication in August 2007 and surely has much of value to aspiring writers. Oh, my entry? That's Chapter 20, “The Writing Life,” wherein I try to write candidly about problems of writing that aren't commonly addressed in books on writing. Such as the practical impossibility of real writers, the ones with families, pets, bills, neighbors, and endless rejections, keeping a writing schedule. Everything gets in the way.

A reader, Drake, thought to Google me along with some of the big boys to see how I compared in hits. It turns out to be 471,000 for Piers Anthony, 723,000 for Robert Heinlein, 1,380,000 for Carl Sagan, and 1,580,000 for Isaac Asimov. Ah, but suppose Warner Pictures makes a blockbuster Xanth movie? Stay tuned. At least I'm still alive, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.

PIERS
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