Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Piers Anthony's Garbage Garden

We had a grindalator thing under the sink that chewed up stray kitchen garbage, but it broke, so I started taking the garbage out to compost in our little flower garden square in the back yard. That worked, and also led to spot gardening adventures. Some of those leftovers were alive, and grew: potatoes, tomatoes, squash, avocado. I care for them as well as I can, trying to give them their fair chance to find their destinies, but this is not native soil for most and they don't do all that well. We do get tomatoes on occasion, but freezes take out the avocados before they can get big enough to bear fruit. This year when I was about to cut up a radish for our supper salad I saw that it was sprouting, and I thought if it was that eager to grow I should let it, and I planted it. It put out a fine cluster of leaves. Then something ate them off. We do live in a forest; wild creatures come. But it survived and grew new leaves, and flowered with little white four-petaled flowers. Things like to dig up our freshly-buried garbage, so finally I laid chicken wire on the ground, making it undiggable, and that helped. Sometimes I dose the garbage with hot chile sauce. But mostly I just water it and it's on its own. It doesn't look like much, but it's not for show anyway. I'm a vegetarian because I don't like to hurt animals, but neither do I like to hurt plants unnecessarily.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Piers Anthony on The Army


My family is Quaker, more properly the Religious Society of Friends, one of whose prime tenets is pacifism. So I had a thorough childhood indoctrination in the doctrines of peace. But I was small for my age, being the shortest person in my class in ninth grade, male or female (I later grew most of another foot), and that meant that I made early acquaintance with the bully in the schoolyard. In due course I learned to fight, and that improved my situation. I did not seek fights, but I could take anyone within ten pounds of me and some well beyond that, which actually helped me avoid fights. I remember once when a boy about 40 pounds heavier bragged how he had taken me in a friendly tussle. He had, but for some reason that brag didn't bother me; it sort of made my point for those closer to my own weight. I concluded from personal experience that pacifism ultimately did not work; you do have to stand up for yourself if you want to live in peace. It's a philosophy I carried with me when dealing with publishers. So in the end I did not become a Quaker, and when the time came for me to register for the draft, as was required in those days when you turned 18, I did so. The alternative was prison, and I concluded that the Army would do less damage to my person and my philosophy, not to mention my marriage, than prison would. So while my family was shocked by my decision—I saw the jaw of one acquaintance literally drop—I did serve two years in the US Army and I believe today that I made the correct decision. It is said that there's the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. That is true. I'm sure it's true in the other military services too. I remember in a humorous TV program someone said “The Navy works in mysterious ways its blunders to perform.”
As it turned out, the Army wasn't all bad. I had timed it cleverly between the Korean War and the Vietnam War, so avoided dangerous action. I expected trouble so wasn't surprised when I got it. I studied hard in basic training and finished first in my Survey class, and became a survey and basic math instructor. I got trough meals as a vegetarian by gulping down extra milk and stuffing rolls in my pockets to eat later, because they gave us seven minutes to eat and I'm a slow eater. But something bothered me, and finally I went to the Protestant (my specified religion was No Preference, which they took to mean Protestant) head chaplain with my concern. It was that while I was not a pacifist, neither was I a killer, and if they sent me to the front somewhere, put a rifle in my hands, and told me to kill some enemy soldier who I knew didn't want to be there any more than I did, I would not be able to do it. My tests with a rifle indicated I was close to an expert shot, but only at an inanimate target. It was a moral crisis, since the major purpose of the Army is to fight and kill if necessary, and I was a soldier in that Army. What should I do? He looked at me sadly and said “I'm sorry your patriotism isn't greater than that.” I did not argue the point; it was clear there was no worthwhile help or advice here. I saw that for all his religion the man was morally about knee high. That is part of what I judge religion on, and I remain firmly agnostic.
The Army paid my way at a time when my home area was in a recession and it was hard to get any job, let alone a decent one. I was newly married and wanted to support my wife. Prison surely wouldn't have done that. The Army gave me an allotment for my wife, and when she had a her second miscarriage it covered the medical bills that would have bankrupted us. For a time I was on orders for Ping Pong (properly Table Tennis), representing our battalion. But that too is another story. I also got my American citizenship with Army help; I had been born British, in England. Army life was not great, but it was a life.
Then came the time when I exercised my supposed right to say no. It is said that the Army can't make you do something against the rules, but it can make you wish you had. That is true. They had a campaign to make soldiers sign up for savings bonds, with about five dollars taken from your pay each month (of $168 monthly pay). We were exactly in balance, financially, and couldn't afford it, so I declined. What was the cost of that? They blacklisted me for promotions; I was a PFC at the time, due for promotion, but I left the army a PFC. They summoned all off-post personnel to report for early morning revile, letting them all know it was because of me. They hauled me from the survey class I was teaching and put me to work with a spade leveling the sand of the parking lot. Finally they kicked me out as instructor, though before I had been unable to take leave because they couldn’t spare me, and I was sent to another unit. Was any of this legitimate? Of course not, but this is the way the Army operates.
But when I got out, they paid me for about six weeks of unused leave time, and that helped us survive in civilian life until I could get a job. A clerical error put me in Ready Reserve when I was supposed to be on Standby, and so had they called up troops for the Cuban Missile Crisis I could have been called. Missed a bullet, that time. Overall the Army was a waste of time, but it did pay my way when I most needed it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Piers Anthony on the Future of Xanth

One of my readers, Mark Geatches, suggested that I set up a FAQ section for the convenience of readers, which should also spare me the inconvenience of answering similar questions repeatedly. I pondered, and finally decided to do that here. He suggested some questions, and I'm adding more, and will add others as they come up. But be warned; I seem to be incapable of giving a simple answer to a simple question.

Will there be a new Xanth novel? 

Yes, as long as the market holds out. I have two more novels to go to complete the alphabet in titles (many letters duplicate), and after that we'll see. Xanth is easy, it's fun, and it sells well. Everyone likes it except the critics. So for the next few years, there'll be one new Xanth a year. The one due this year is Well-Tempered Clavicle, about Picka Bone the walking skeleton who discovers he can remove his clavicles (shoulder bones) and play music on his ribs. Princess Dawn hears him play so beautifully that she falls in love with him, but she's not his type, because of all that meat on her nice bones. But a princess is not accustomed to hearing the word No, if she even knows what it means. For 2012 it will be Luck of the Draw, wherein an 80 old Mundane man gets youthened and hauled into Xanth to court the last of the multiple princesses: sixteen year old Princess Harmony. It's not his idea or hers, emphatically; it's a Demon contest. Therein lies a story. Demons really don't take No for an answer.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Piers Anthony on his Erotic Fantasy e-Book, EROMA

 Eroma a composite of EROtic ROMAnce, is phrased as a virtual reality game in which the players' avatars participate. It is a sexual game; not only can avatars have sex, they are required to, to advance their positions. Every point is scored sexually. The players are connected so that when their avatars have sex, the players themselves experience thirty second orgasms, male and female, simultaneously. It is hard-wired, so to speak: when the male penetrates to operative depth, his member flips the buried switch that evokes an immediate climax for both parties. Naturally all male avatars are handsome and all female avatars are beautiful, and they throw themselves into the competition with a will. There are several settings; in each one, half the players are eliminated, until it is down to two, one man and one woman, and then at last a single winner.
We follow one man, Pedro, and one woman, Fotina, as they compete but befriend each other as avatars, and in the course of the game come to love each other. That love becomes personal as they meet outside the game and discover the limitations of sex where mutual orgasms are not programmed and details can be messy. No wonder many players prefer game sex. Then they are the finalists, when only one can win, complicated by their real emotions as contrasted to their game setting roles.
The settings range from a pleasant forested landscape where they must have sex to score points, to a dangerous alien planet where trees feed on players by sexually luring them into traps. In the first setting they must find private places for sex, or it can't happen; but most are already occupied by other couples. So players must be clever not only in their choice of partners, but in their choice of locale. Half are not clever enough. Those eliminated in one round may return in later rounds as obstacles: the surviving players must have sex with them, or avoid sex with them, depending on the situation, but they do not cooperate. It's quite a challenge.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Piers Anthony on Songs


Songs constantly run through my head. Some are popular ones I hear on the radio; many are folk songs I know from way back. Some are just incidental ones from anywhere. Each has its spot emotional history. For example “Cool Water” wherein two men trek through the desert, burning with thirst, dreaming of an oasis with plenty of water. “All day we faced the barren waste without the taste of water—cool, clear, water.” It's a lovely song. My mother wasn't much for the radio, but one day she turned it on, and they played that song. “I just somehow knew they'd play that one,” she said. When I mentioned it to a schoolmate, he said his favorite was the one on the other side of the record (in those days all we had was 78 RPM records that played about three minutes on a side), “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” That one's lovely too, about drifting along with the tumbling weeds, cares fading away. Westerns are not my favorite, but these are wonderful melodic songs. Another is “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” wherein an erring cowboy sees the riders in the sky, their horses' feet flashing fire, and one paused to warn him that if he doesn't change his ways he will wind up riding with them forever. What a message! But there are peripheral; other tunes dominate my skull. More on those another day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Piers Anthony Blogs If Formal Training Helps Writers Get Agents

One of my readers, Mark Geatches, suggested that I set up a FAQ section for the convenience of readers, which should also spare me the inconvenience of answering similar questions repeatedly. I pondered, and finally decided to do that here. He suggested some questions, and I'm adding more, and will add others as they come up. But be warned; I seem to be incapable of giving a simple answer to a simple question.

Does formal training help new writers get agents? This is the question, so I'll address it, but the simple answer is No. I had formal training, in the form of my BA in Creative Writing, but it still took me six years after college to make my first sale. Agent? An informal group of us aspiring writers queried all the agents listed, and not only got nowhere, some didn't bother to answer. Folks, Parnassus—that is, traditional print publishing, is essentially a closed shop and a Catch 22. Many publishers buy only from agents, and most agents won't even consider unpublished authors. The ratio of aspiring writers to available publishing slots is somewhere south of 100 to 1. As one established writer told me, the fat hogs have their snouts in the swill and they aren't about to let the new little piggies in. So forget about agents; if you're new, you can't get a good one, and you sure as hell don't want a bad one.
So how did I make it? I went first for the magazines, where you don't need an agent, and kept sending in stories for eight years, two during college, six thereafter. Finally, by persistence and luck, I made a sale and a whole $20. Thereafter it was easier, as I gradually became known. I made only a pittance; my wife had to work to support us. Then, faintly known at least by magazine editors, I went to novels, and sold my first novel four years after my first story. But there's more competition today, so I think it's harder for a new writer to break in. That's why I say you need luck: to have your manuscript on the right desk at the right time.
Fortunately today there are better options, some of which I have helped promote, such as self publishing and electronic publishing. So you don't need formal training, or an agent; just write your best and try the new markets and hope to get lucky. The question is irrelevant.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Piers Anthony Blogs on Writing Erotica Fantasy, "Eroma"

As I said elsewhere, I like to try different things, whether in life or writing. This is also true within the several genres I have tried over the decades. While my prior efforts have been mostly in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Martial Arts, Historical, or Horror, in recent years I have tried Erotic, notably with the dirty fantasy Pornucopia and its sequel The Magic Fart, and with the Relationships story collections. I regard myself as a natural story writer who got shunted into novels for economic reason, because it was not possible to earn a living from just stories. Two things are changing that: in my dotage I no longer have to make money from stories, and electronic publishing makes it possible for anyone to publish just about anything. So I have enjoyed writing stories again, of whatever type, but mostly erotic because that's where the main market is. Just as the fondest desire of most folk is to love and be loved, a writer's desire is to write and be read. And loved, of course; critics are not welcome.
I have a huge file of story ideas. Whenever I get a notion, which can be anywhere/anywhen, I scribble a note in pencil so I won't lose it, then later type it up as a summary and put it in my Idea File, where it remains until it gets the curtain call and emerges to fulfill its fondest desire, which is to be written. Sometimes I get amendment notions on following days, amplifying or qualifying prior ideas, which become further summaries. A really hot idea can thus finally amass five or six thousand words and has to be written lest it burst out on its own and cut out the middleman, that is the author, me. But not every idea makes a perfect story. Some are fragments, moods, mental pictures, dreams, or have conceptual flaws, interesting but incomplete. Some are retakes of prior notions, as I realize when I see them formulated. I'm not sure how many times I've had this Great Idea for a situation in which beautiful women suddenly are as eager for sex as normal men are. It's a common male fantasy bearing little relation to reality. Chances are that a lovely woman who says she's eager for sex is actually interested in something else, like ironclad commitment; sex is merely a skillfully wielded tool to corral the man. But some of my ideas in the file are good original notions that ought to be used. To me a story idea is like a living thing; it should not be allowed to suffer without recognition in the dark dungeon of anonymity. Every notion, like every person, deserves its chance. What could I do with these desperate children of my imagination who could not quite make it on their own?
Then I got a bright notion about notions: why not try making these failed story ideas into the chapters of a novel? Such as a virtual-reality game framework where the qualities of avatars are defined by sexual interactions. Or a castle invasion where the Amazonian warrior women—no relation to the bookseller/publisher Amazon, at least not that I know of—can be defeated only by sexually penetrating them deep enough to reach the internal trigger for their orgasm? Or the restaurant wherein the food is seemingly urinated, defecated, or vomited out by the servers. Could this possibly work?
So I tried it, and it did. The ideas did not have to be complete stories; they needed only to contribute to the larger whole. Thus a man and a woman meet as players in the erotic romance game, competitive yet necessarily cooperative, their avatars having sex that their real bodies experience. That is, the game setting may be fantasy, but the sex is fundamentally real. They fall in love as avatars, and complete it in their real bodies. I'm not sure this kind of romance has been done this thoroughly before, but I loved doing it in Eroma. The title is made from the concept: EROtic ROMAnce.
Which raises questions. Can game players really be wired to experience triggered orgasms? Women as readily as men? At such time as the technology becomes available, this game should break records for popularity. The assumption is that when women are freed of the physical and emotional risks of sex, as they are in the avatar state, and provided with a way to get the same instant pleasure from it as men do, they will happily compete. For one thing, they are universally desirable in the avatar state, regardless of their state in mundane life. Now they can be freely sexual in the wildest settings, with any number of partners, have it all on public display, and have no guilt, because after all it's only a game. So women can compete sexually on an even basis with the men, have repeated orgasms, try to win the prize, and become anonymously notorious. Maybe even be acclaimed as the most desirable creatures in the world. Pleasure for its own sake, the traditional male fantasy becoming a female fantasy too. Yes, I think women will like this game as well as the men do, perhaps for qualitatively distinct reasons, but just as intensely. The novel may be a mere prelude to a virtual reality not far in our future. What do you think?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Piers Anthony Blogs About Writing Schedules

One of my readers, Mark Geatches, suggested that I set up a FAQ section for the convenience of readers, which should also spare me the inconvenience of answering similar questions repeatedly. I pondered, and finally decided to do that here. He suggested some questions, and I'm adding more, and will add others as they come up. But be warned; I seem to be incapable of giving a simple answer to a simple question.

How do I write? Do I have a schedule, or wait for inspiration? 

I have a rough schedule. I can't work set hours each day because I have other things to do, like making meals, washing dishes, and grocery shopping, my wife's health restricting her, and I have a reasonably rigorous exercise program that also takes time. But I try to be at my desk from 9AM to 1 PM, and from 2:30PM to 5 PM, and from 6 PM to 7:30 PM. That is, about eight hours a day. I seldom get that much, and of course everything else in the world seems to have better things for me to do than write. Hell, this blog is an example; the time spent on it comes directly out of my novel writing time. So does fan mail. So does reading. So does making love to my wife. Life gets constantly in the way. I'm a writaholic; there is writing, and there is everything else. The two sometimes seem to compete with each other, like day and night. So I may average about four hours a day of actual writing, seven days a week. I write efficiently, and I get a lot done. I have mastered the Muse, being able to summon inspiration at need. So I don't wait for inspiration, I make it wait on me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Piers Anthony's Favorite Book

One of my readers, Mark Geatches, suggested that I set up a FAQ section for the convenience of readers, which should also spare me the inconvenience of answering similar questions repeatedly. I pondered, and finally decided to do that here. He suggested some questions, and I'm adding more, and will add others as they come up. But be warned; I seem to be incapable of giving a simple answer to a simple question.

What is my favorite book? 

That is one you probably never heard of, and might not approve of anyway. It is Rationale of the Dirty Joke, by G Legman, a huge compendium of dirty jokes, and a larger sequel No Laughing Matter. Together they come to more than 1,800 pages. The first was published in 1968 by Grove Press; it may not be easy to find today, though I hope electronic publication is catching up with these invaluable tomes. Here is why they are important: the author's thesis is that a person's true nature can be ascertained by analyzing his favorite dirty joke. I believe he is correct. Humor is a highly personal thing; what regales one person may leave another cold. A joke makes a person laugh, and that inevitably ties in with his fundamental beliefs and prejudice. If I encounter a person who laughs hilariously only at jokes that disparage black people or women or gays, I have a clue to the racism or sexism or homophobia he may not care to admit openly. But the book is considerably more exhaustive than that. He summarizes each joke in italics, then has a discussion of its nature and perhaps also its underlying meaning. There are thousands of jokes, and thousands of discussions. I learned things about mankind from this monumental work, and believe anyone would. There are fifteen major categories ranging from Animals to Marriage to Scatology, each with many subsections. Discussions are wide-ranging; I remember how he made the point that when it comes to pollution, it is shit that is clean (because it composts naturally), and the pure white powders that pollute (being unnatural and long lasting, like DDT). 
So okay, what is my own favorite dirty joke, that gives away my hidden nature? Would you believe, I did not find it in this compendium. So I wrote to the author, and he admitted he had not heard that one before. Score one for me. So what is that joke? It relates to the power of the word, because I am a writer and I do believe in the word. Here it is, in severe summary, with one key word expurgated in case anyone maiden aunt is reading this. A trucker came into a roadside cafe, and when waitress inquired what would he have he said “Gimme a cuppa coffee and a fudging donut.” She was upset by the vulgar word, as was the manager, and they had him hauled into court for obscenity. The judge heard their statements, then said to the trucker “What do you have to say for yourself?” The trucker said “Well, your Honer, it was a fudging bad day. The fudging alarm clock got me up too early, then the fudging truck wouldn't start, and when I finally got it rolling, boom! A fudging flat tire. Got that fixed but I was fudging late on my fudging schedule. Then I saw this nice fudging little cafe, so I said what the fudging hell, and I stopped there for breakfast. And this nice fudging waitress comes up and says what'll I fudging have? And I say “Gimme a cuppa coffee and a donut.” At that point the waitress jumped up and cried “That's a fudging lie!” and there was outrage in the audience. Whereupon the judge banged his gavel and said “Quiet! Quiet, or I'll clear the fudging courtroom!” So there you have it: when a word or a lie is repeated often enough, people start to use or believe it. Politicians know that, of course.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Piers Anthony on Gaming

I'm a workaholic, more properly writeaholic, living to write my fiction. But I do take brief breaks along the way. Such as by playing computer cards. The game I'm currently on is FreeCell, which I think is the best of them because it's playable; you can win every time of you do it right, but the doing is not necessarily easy. And that's the point of this blog: I see it as an analogy of life. On my Linux system the game has hints, and undo, and an indication whether the game remains viable. I use them all. When I play a card and the Winnable indication changes to No Longer Winnable or to Lost, I back off and try something else. Without that indication I would lose many games, because sometimes the mistake is not clear. What is obvious is not necessarily right. Sometimes I play a red 3 on the Foundation, which ascends from Ace to King, and that's an obvious move, but it's a loser. It seems I need to save that 3 to play a black 2 on, farther along. Okay, we don't have a Winnable indication in real life, so we can make obvious moves that turn out to be losers. Think how much better it would be if you had such a warning! The light turns red for cross traffic, green for the pedestrians, and you are about to step out and cross the street. But then a rogue car careers through in plain violation of the law and public safety, and takes you out. If you had had warning you would have waited and not done the obvious, and saved your life. This example is taken from the experience of Jenny, my paralyzed correspondent, who was taken out in just such an “accident” by a drunk driver. If she had had a little magic warning, maybe just an app on her watch that would flash red when she was about to go wrong, she would be in full health and motion today, instead of confined in a paralyzed body. Maybe if my daughter Penny had had such a warning she could have overruled her doctor and insisted on getting that patch on her shoulder cut out now, instead of waiting until it metastasized and killed her. If someone were about to put his money down on a house, a magic warning could stop him even if he didn't know that he was about to lose his job in the recession and the First National Scrooge Bank would foreclose. So many ways such a little warning could really help. But this is Mundania, where magic is frowned upon if not actually outlawed, and no such devices are on the market. So I guess the handy warnings and undo features will remain restricted to things like computer card games and we will have to continue to muddle through on our own. It's really too bad. But I do enjoy the games.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Children's Book "Pandora Park" by Piers Anthony

 A traditional print editor approached me about writing a children's fantasy. I said I would consider it. She was about to be away from the office for a couple of weeks, but would contact me again when she returned. Meanwhile, I got to work on the children's novel, which turned out to be this one: a boy with idle time in the mall while his mother shops explores its central park and finds a path leading beyond the statue of Pandora, the girl who let everything out of the box. He follows it and discovers a magic land. Well, now. He chances on a scooter, the kind you push with your foot, that always coasts downhill, regardless of the direction it's going. I have exactly such a scooter, by no coincidence, minus that appealing magic. I use it to scoot out three quarters of a mile to fetch in our morning newspapers. We live on a tree farm and have a long drive through the forest. He finds a girl about his own age, who turns out to be from China; she found a different path into the park. So this is more than just a local phenomenon. It goes on from there. So what of the editor who asked for this? I never heard from her again. Editors can be like ghosts, fading out without notice after causing authors to waste time. Meanwhile, a teacher read the novel to her classes of that age, and they liked it. It was vetted to remove anything an adult might think was unfit for a child to read, such as a boy calling a female unicorn a horny nag. So it's not as spicy as it was, but should still be fun reading. Naturally the child-vetted novel did not find a publisher, while my other recent children's novel, Tortoise Reform, not vetted, did. Is it any wonder writers become cynical? If you remove anything that might annoy somebody somewhere, you can wind up with tasteless mush. But I think any child would enjoy such a park, and maybe in some big mall there's a path, if you can just find it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Children's Book by Legendary Fantasy Author Piers Anthony, Now e-Book Exclusively on

In Albany, New York, Mark hates getting dumped at the mall park while his mom shops. It’s so embarrassing! But Mark quickly changes his mind after he discovers a mysterious path leading to a magical forest. 

In Bejing, China, Kelsie finds a similar path, and somehow, she meets Mark in the same magical world!

Now the two friends must work together to unravel the origins of Pandora Park. This wild adventure crosses the globe and is packed with magical powers, dragons, talking unicorns, candy trees, on a roller coaster ride that never stops!

Only $4.99!

Follow this Link to Purchase Your Copy Today

Saturday, May 21, 2011

3 Classic Piers Anthony Titles Now Available as e-Book, "Mute," "Chthon," and "Phthor."

Mute is science fantasy of mutation and psi: special mental powers. The protagonist, Knot, is a double mutant: he has a physical deformity, and the psi power to make others forget him. He’s satisfied with his life--until the lovely Finesse walks into his life to recruit him for a dangerous galactic mission. She is aided by two small animal mutants: a telepathic weasel and a clairvoyant crab. Knot tries to resist, aided by his psi, but the woman’s beauty and the animals’ powers doom him to a phenomenal adventure. The prior edition was cut; this is the complete version.

Chthon was Piers Anthony’s first published novel in 1967, written over the course of seven years. He started it when he was in the US Army, so it has a long prison sequence that is reminiscent of that experience, being dark and grim. It features Aton Five, a space man who commits the crime of falling in love with the dangerous alluring Minionette and is therefore condemned to death in the subterranean prison of Chthon. It uses flashbacks to show how he came to know the Minionette, and flashforwards to show how he dealt with her after his escape from prison. The author regards this as perhaps the most intricately structured novel the science fantasy genre has seen. It was a contender for awards, but not a winner.

Phthor is the sequel to Chthon, less intricately structured and less complicated in plot, but still quite dark and ugly in theme and detail. Rather than flashbacks and flashforwards, it has a Y outline, with the stem the initial story and the ends alternate futures, neither of which is acceptable to Aton’s son Arlo. Arlo has his own encounter with a Minionette, and naturally destruction is upon him and all with whom he associates. Write/editor Charles Platt was so impressed with the chthonic setting that he wrote two additional sequels, Plasm and Soma, which are even darker and grimmer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Piers Anthony on Beauty

There is a blessing I remember from my youth: “May you have the love of a beautiful woman.” I presume that is mainly for men, while women would be blessed with the love of handsome men. I can see the appeal; good looking folk are a universal turn-on. We see them constantly on TV and in the movies, because average viewers pay more attention to attractive people than they do to homely people. Especially men of any age with respect to young women. I'm the same; a pretty and shapely young woman commands my immediate attention. We are hard-wired to notice. But as I go shopping at the grocery store I see real women, and they range from ordinary to gross, mostly because of obesity. As a general rule, the older she is, the heavier she is. Some have to ride around in the powered carts the store provides, being too fat to make the rounds afoot. And I wonder: do none of them have the discipline to restrain their appetite and keep their weight in a healthy range? Very few, it seems. Yes, men fatten too, but not as much, and in any event men generally don't make their marks by their appearance, but by their accomplishments, so it's less important for them.
This plays out in other ways. Yes, it would be nice to have the love of a beautiful woman, and many of my stories involve ordinary men who encounter lovely woman. I write that way because I want to sell copies, and pretty women sell more than homely ones. It's the same phenomenon as the TV ads and programs populated by lovely folk. Sometimes I will have an ordinary woman who encounters a handsome man. Somebody has to be attractive, if a writer wants many readers. Readers may claim that other story values count, and they do, but other things being equal, pretty people count more. There was a nice study done a few years back, wherein it was found that in second marriages, the wealthier the man was, the less his wife weighed. Obviously what counts for the man is her appearance; what counts for the woman is his money. Should you ask a portly elder man and his slender wife about that, I suspect they will angrily deny it, but statistically it is true.
But there's another aspect. Why is it such a blessing to possess a physically beautiful woman? Why not a smart woman, or a rich woman, or a really nice woman? Yes, one woman could be all these things together, and she would be a treasure. But the blessing doesn't specify anything but beauty, and I'm pretty sure it means appearance rather than character. I suppose the equivalent blessing for a woman would be to have the love of a rich man, as seen above. But isn't it a sad commentary on our culture, indeed on our species, that this one quality, out of the myriad qualities women possess, should be the one that defines her worth? I am disgusted, but I still look at beautiful women.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Piers Anthony on Vegetarianism

My childhood was not happy, but it improved during school and more during college. Something happened during high school that had a considerable effect on my later life, and I certainly don't mean learning verbs and nouns or struggling with four years of languages. My closest cousin, Teddy, died, devastating his family. He was fifteen. He had bone cancer, and they think that if they had caught it in time they might have saved him by amputating his leg. But he had a big test to study for, and carried on despite the pain, and by the time they realized it was cancer, it was too late. Almost 60 years later similar happened to my elder daughter, as melanoma took her out. But this is about that first death. The thing is, when I was sixteen and Teddy was fifteen, one grade apart at the same Quaker school, it seemed to be that he had everything to live for, while I had little. He was outgoing and popular, full of fun, a good guy. I was really none of these things. His family was wealthy; mine was poor. He did well in classes; I had trouble just graduating. I am and always was agnostic, having no belief in the supernatural, including God. But it seemed to me that if God existed, and it was written that one of us had to go, I was the expendable one. Instead he took out the one with promise, leaving the misfit in place. Why would God ever mess it up like that?
Well, over the decades I have slowly come to terms with that seeming injustice, and I think actually I did have more potential, which has since been realized in my writing career. I was depressed in part because I was smart enough to see what I lacked. But that is beside the point of this discussion. First came a revulsion to death, because I had seen how unfair it could be. Death has been on my mind more or less constantly, as some of my writings show, such as On a Pale Horse, a novel with Death as the protagonist. In college after the first semester I gradually stopped eating meat, because I knew it required the killing of animals, and I did not want to contribute to that. I believe that was the way I finally came to terms with my cousin's death. This may have been late and slow in coming, but it developed the force of religion. When I fell in love and proposed to my girlfriend, it was qualified. I said approximately “Understanding the constraints that exist, will you marry me?” She said “Yes.” I said “Did you understand the question?” She did. Vegetarianism was the one requirement I made of her, because I knew I could not truly love a person who consumed dead animals. Probably the fact that my father had been vegetarian, and my mother not, and they had a long, slow, difficult estrangement and divorce, influenced me. My parents' problems were considerably more complicated than that, and vegetarianism may have played no significant part in their breakup, but it was in my mind. My wife has been a vegetarian ever since, and we have been married over 54 years, so it seems it did work out. Our daughters also were vegetarians, not because we required it of them—I believe every child should have the right to make fundamental decisions for herself—but I think because no meat was served in our house and they were satisfied to leave it so.
The questions of nutrition and health are relevant. Some supposedly intelligent people claim that vegetarianism is unhealthy. I expect to outlive most of them. But it is true that it is better to watch your diet, regardless whether you eat meat. For example, fish oils are good for Omega 3 fatty acids, assuming the mercury contamination is low. Omega 3 is important in the balance of the system. But you can get it from flaxseed oil, and we do. We are ovo-lacto vegetarians, meaning we do eat eggs and milk. My rationale is that I don't like hurting animals, and maintaining them for their milk and eggs can be healthy for them. But I certainly don't like factory farms, so it's a compromise. Vegans who eschew milk and eggs must work harder to get things like protein. Some vegetarians do eat fish or fowl; fruitarians eat only fruit. So while I am not vegetarian for my health, there may be health benefits. Today there are also a number of imitation meats, made from soy or other products. Some emulate the real things perfectly, others are only approximate. I prefer that they not be perfect imitations, because even the semblance of meat eating sickens me. I'd be happy to have products like polka-dotted Martian hawkfeather grind, not resembling anything on Earth. But obviously those who eat meat purely for the appearance and taste can now do so as vegetarians. It has been said that any environmentalist who is not also a vegetarian is a hypocrite, because of the staggering damage the meat industry does to the world. I don't have that extreme a view myself, but I do believe that universal vegetarianism will come in time, because it takes about twenty times as much land area to feed folk via meat animals as it would to feed people directly. When the food runs out, as it will, this will be the necessary compromise. I also think that soon algae and krill cultivation will produce food emulations of any type, much cheaper and less environmentally damaging than present agriculture. So yes, vegetarianism will conquer the world, in due course, and the animals will no longer be slaughtered for meat. That will be a brave new world indeed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Piers Anthony on Van Gogh

Twenty years ago when my late mother visited us, she brought a poster she had picked up at an exhibit of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch post-impressionist artist 1853-1890. Unsuccessful, he committed suicide. Creative folk can be depressive; I have wondered whether if I could be completely free of my mild depression, but at the expense of my writing urge, would I do it? I suspect I would not. Van Gogh's success began after his death, slowly building, until now he is recognized as one of the formative artists of our world. I can't say I saw much in him myself, but we put up the poster, VAN GOGH IN ARLES, where we had wall space, which was in a downstairs bathroom. I could see it in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. I think I have looked at that picture more than any other in my life, simply because it was there when my eyes had nothing much else to do. And I came to appreciate it, and Van Gogh. I bought a huge book of his paintings, containing everything except the one we have, and read about his obscure life and sad death. Because he messed it up; he shot himself, but didn't kill himself immediately; he took many hours to die, saying even in this he was a failure. Too bad he couldn't have lived longer, to see his phenomenal later success.
Anyway, I stared at that painting, backwards in the mirror, many times a day, for twenty years. At first it seemed to be just a smearing of colors horizontally across the canvas. Then I realized that one band was more like a flowering hedge, and that gave definition to the foreground. Years later I realized that the hedge was more like a planting, dividing two lots, and there was a path through it. I tried to fathom where that path might lead, but couldn't locate it beyond the hedge. More recently I realized that there was another house in the painting. Or there had been, before the artist changed his mind and tried to mask it with a tree. The house is still there, masked, however; the artist in me can see it well enough. Stage by stage I came to understand the painting, perceiving the larger scene.
And that I think is a way of looking at life. We can't see all of it at first, but as time passes we pick up on more of it, until at last we have a pretty fair notion of its magnitude, though perhaps not a very great comprehension of it. We view it backwards through time, and episodes of childhood don't have quite the same meaning they did when we were younger. Who is to say which view is more accurate? All we can do is keep looking and pondering, hoping to get it closer to correct. Hoping that what we are will not entirely fade after we pass on, as Van Gogh did not.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Piers Anthony on Writers Block

This is known as the bane of writers. You finally have time from your busy schedule, you have your system organized, you have a great story idea, you are ready to write—and you get constipation of the brain. You know the oomph is there, but it just won't come out. The more frustrated you get, the more it blocks up. It's absolutely maddening. I think in terms of analogies, as this intro may suggest, so here's another. In school and college I liked acting. There's something about being on stage and wowing an audience that appeals. But I got stage fright, which threatened to wash out any notion of being an effective actor. It can blank your mind so that you can't remember your lines, which is a real problem when you have to deliver. I realized early on that I could not afford stage fright. But I couldn't simply banish it; it lurked, waiting its chance to do me the most damage. I finally did get over it, and I know how I did, but I can't recommend it as a cure for others.
You see, I was a teacher, first of basic math in the US Army, then of high school English in civilian life. In the end I washed out, not because I didn't know the subject, or that I couldn't get it across effectively, but because I was not a great disciplinarian. Keeping order in an American high school class is like fighting trench warfare; teachers can suffer PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I did have nightmares for years following my retirement from that arena. But here's the thing: years of facing classes entirely depleted my store of stage fright, and I no longer suffered from it. I can address an audience of any size, either reading my material or extemporaneously. So I solved that problem simply by spending a lot of time before audiences of one kind or another. There are strong similarities between stage fright and writer’s block; the latter is really stage fright of the imagination.
Fortunately, I do have a solution for blockage. I did suffer it early in my career, knew I couldn't afford it, and devised a system I believe will work for anyone who really wants to write. Yes I know: telling a blocked writer that he doesn't really want to write is inviting a retaliatory blast of outrage. Nevertheless there are some. It's not a matter of intelligence or talent. I think of Theodore Sturgeon, arguably the finest stylist the science fiction field ever had, with a phenomenal imagination, who really didn't like to write. He had remarkable talent, he had editors eager to buy his material, but he just couldn't sit down and start typing. I have an imaginary dialogue in case some Sturgeon fan who resents my far greater commercial success despite not being in Sturgeon's literary league ever demands, “What does a hack like you have that Sturgeon didn't?” My answer would be, “Discipline, and the fact that I really like to write.” And you do need both.
But sometimes you can get hung up regardless. I did. It can be in the middle of a scene that abruptly refuses to jell. I devised a technique to unclog a scene that I think will work to unclog anything. In fact, I think that if all writers used my system, the only ones who would block up would be those who truly prefer TV, golf, or sex to writing, in contrast to me. Well, that last one can distract me from my text, but I won't be spending all day at it, so will return to writing soon. It is what I call the Bracket system. It started when I was penciling my first drafts, because I was taking care of my hyperactive baby daughter and simply could not stay at a typewriter long enough to accomplish anything. So I used a clipboard with paper and pencil and stayed with her, writing sentences while she played with toys, pulled books off shelves, splashed water around, ate dirt, and did the myriad other things toddlers do. I could literally drop the clipboard to catch her before she fell. So when I was amidst a text and needed to make a separate note, I put it in squared off [brackets] so it would not be confused with my story text. Then in second draft, when I typed and edited my material, transcribing from the pencil, I would eliminate the brackets and their contents, their purpose having been served. Later, when I computerized, and my daughter was in college, so I could stay in place longer, I used a separate notes file for bracket discussion, and that worked just as well. So when I refer to brackets, that doesn't have to be literal, any more.
So let's say you have a sequence that hangs up. Maybe your protagonist, Expressica Lovelorn, has just met the man of her dreams, and she has no idea what to say to him. You, the writer, have no idea either. So you step into brackets and discuss it with yourself. Remember, your alter ego is just as smart as you are, and can have good input. [Come on, now, I don't want her to make a fool of herself. But if she doesn't do something soon, that ideal man is going to move on, never even noticing her, and her chance will be forever lost and she will die a frustrated old maid. Can she say something intelligent? No, she's tongue-tied; that's the problem, dummy. Can she do something? What can she do? Ask him the time? No, that's a stupid, transparent ploy, especially considering she's wearing a lovely wristwatch that sparkles in the sunlight. Suppose she faints? Yeah, sure, that will impress him, as she conks her head on the pavement. He'll wonder whether she's likely to do that when driving or holding a baby. Suppose she stumbles and almost collides with him? But then she'll look clumsy, and that's not the impression she wants to make. Well, then, if she does collide, so he's up against her softness, that might impress him. And he takes her for a floozie. How about asking him directions, like maybe, “Excuse me, but I'm lost.” Yeah, sure, when she's lived here all her life. But he won't know that, and anyway she really is lost, not physically, but emotionally. But you said she just doesn't know how to start a conversation with this guy, and she's running out of time. So how about honesty:”Excuse me, but I can't think of a thing to say to you!” Worse and worse; sounds like a brushoff. Let's break for lunch and ponder this.] So you take a lunch break, and when you return you still haven't thought of anything, and your two characters are hanging there suspended in limbo, not even breathing. You can't let this horror continue. Back to the brackets: [I wish she could just blurt, “I'm Expressica. I think you're the greatest. Will you talk with me?” Of course that's so stupid. But you know, maybe that candor would get through to him, and if it doesn't, what has she lost? So let's try it and see how it works.] So you exit your bracket and try it, and the guy says, “Say, that's what I was about to say to you, Jessica, you lovely creature. I'm Tall Darken Handsome. Let's go somewhere for a bite to eat.” And she says, “Sorry, Thrall, I just ate.” [Wait, wait, you idiot! That's me, the writer, who just ate. Delete that and have her gratefully accept. You've got it, by sheer ignorant mischance, you hack.]

And so it goes. Sometimes I use up pages in bracket notes, but they always get me there eventually. The point is, brackets keep you writing, keep up the momentum, and when you figure it out you can adapt from them for your sequence. See how it works for you. I've been using it for forty years and have no trouble with Block.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Piers Anthony on Publishing

I'm a writer. I live to write fiction, mostly stories and novels, and I feel most truly alive when I'm in a scene I am crafting. There are ways in which my fictive worlds are more real to me than the real world. But a significant aspect of writing is being read. Just as the ultimate desire of the average person is to love and be loved, the desire of a writer is to write and be read. I love writing, whatever the piece. The problem is getting that piece published so that others can read it. 
When I am asked what I don't like about my trade, my answer is “dealing with publishers.” Their choices can seem arbitrary, they may demand pointless or crippling revisions, and they can take months, sometimes years to make up their dull minds. They may make deals, called contracts, which they then may renege on, and if a writer protests, he gets blacklisted. I have been the route. As I like to put it, the average traditional publisher doesn't give half a used fart for the welfare of the average writer. It's the arrogance of power. Publishers, as a general rule, regardless what they say, want only one thing: money, and they have myriad ways of cheating to get it at the author's expense. Publishers are like elephants, writers like mice, and the careless or self-willed writer risks getting stepped on. Elephants, despite folklore, are not afraid of mice; if they notice them at all, they treat them with contempt.
So what's a writer to do? Most just live with it, accepting their assigned role as serfs to the feudal lords. Some loyal serfs can do well, as they get choice assignments. Others try to stand up for themselves. If they don't seen learn better, they get fewer opportunities to be published and may finally fade out. Those who survive can be not better but bitter. I am a bitter survivor, as comments like this one demonstrate. Most of those who blacklisted me are long since out of business, and I suspect some do regret taking me on, but the system remains intact. You have heard of Pyrrhic victories? Pyrrhus was a Greek king who defeated the advancing Romans, but it was so costly that he said ruefully that another such victory would ruin him. Indeed, the Romans eventually overran Greece. Come to think of it, Piers could almost be a contraction of Pyrrhus. I could have been more successful than I have been, had I been a lick-spittle. I have done it my way, and paid the price.
But now there is a new dawn coming after over a century of darkness. Today there are alternatives to traditional print publishing. One of them I helped come into being by investing in Xlibris the self publisher 13 years ago, and seeing it through to becoming an established option; for a fee of about $500 any author can get his book in print. I am no longer associated with Xlibris, and it is not the only reputable self publisher. Another is electronic publishing, which I have tracked for over a decade via my ongoing survey at New electronic publishers are appearing all the time, often started by frustrated writers who were balked by traditional print publishers. They are far more open to new writers, and generally more personal and responsive.
What's the downside? Money. While a mass market traditional print author may expect to sell tens of thousands of copies of each title, an electronically published author may sell tens of copies. So this is best done for love rather than for money. Also, as e-publishers become more successful, they also tend to become more arrogant, until like the revolutionary pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm they become almost indistinguishable from the old order. That's why I run anonymous writer feedback on these publishers. Any writer who speaks out openly is subject to retaliation that can end his career, so anonymity is essential. Yes, some publishers then come after me, trying to silence these reports. Some threaten legal action. But having been the full route, I am now an ornery cuss, and have the will and the means to take it to them, and they know it. None has sued yet. But I do try to be fair, and sometimes the publisher has the right of it, and I have to back off because it is the truth I am after, so writers can know the good as well as the bad. I believe an informed writer is more likely to succeed.

In the last couple of years a phenomenal new option has come into being: self publishing via Amazon's Kindle, with a global exposure. Any writer can post his/her book there and receive 70% of the money from sales. Most don't see a lot, but a few have caught on and become millionaires. My view of Amazon is mixed, but I applaud Kindle, and am now posting my own books there. It really is a different game. So if you are a frustrated writer, check this out. It just might be your ticket to success.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Piers Anthony's 'Realty Check' Now Available on Kindle, Nook & iBooks

 I have always liked the city and the country, having spent time as a child in both. I always wished they could be combined, with all the stores, movies, cars, and activities of the city merging with the perfect wonder of the deep forest. Wouldn't it be nice to have a house whose front door opened on the city, and whose back door opened on a forest primeval! So I made such a house in this novel. From the front it is surrounded by the city; from the back it is surrounded by untouched forest. Magic? No, merely science: the house has portals that open onto other parts of the world, or even other planets. What a challenge it would be to discover the secrets of such a house. So I have a family, retirees who soon realize the house is beyond their capacity to handle and call in expert assistance, their grandchildren, Lloyd and Llynn. The kids' parents are happy to have them off their hands for a summer; L and L can be wild. But they quickly fall in line when they realize the grandparents will send them home if they don't behave. Meanwhile, nobody tells anybody outside what they are exploring; it's a secret they keep lest there be unwelcome attention. So what does explain the mystery of this remarkable piece of realty? Ah, read the novel and find out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Kind of Welcome

As many of my readers know, I'm 76 years old and getting older all the time. I was born in another century, and am a bit slow to catch up on new things like television, computers, the Internet, and blogging. My website is considered dowdy; I get constant offers to bring it up to snuff, but in my dotage I remain satisfied with its worn-shoe comfort. When you get to be my age you'll understand.
Now we have this new blogsite which, as I vaguely understand it will be a more personal exchange with my readers. Because I am on dial-up, and going online ties up my phone, I stay offline as much as possible. That means that we generally print out incoming email, I pencil answers, and my wife transcribes those answers and goes briefly online to send them out. This blogging may be similar; you should not expect responses in minutes or hours; days is more like it. Why don't we have broadband? Because the local phone service does not offer it here; we are in the physical and electronic backwoods, and too cheap to pay horrendously for it via satellite. We don't get satellite TV either, for the same reason. If this backwardness bothers you, maybe you should be-friend or be-fan a more contemporary writer. Frankly, I'd rather be writing my current novel instead of socializing. I will not be accepting puns or story ideas for Xanth here; you have to go to for that. But general discussion topics, opinionations, odd thoughts, yes.
As it is, I'm busy enough, as I make the meals, wash dishes, make beds, and accompany my wife on shopping, grocery, and doctor trips; our health as septuagenarians is not what it was in our youth, and she can't stay too long on her feet. Sometimes we use the wheelchair; as I put it, I love to push my wife around. Time is increasingly precious as we approach the end of our careers.
But for what it's worth, for those of you who favor even this grudging contact, welcome to my blogspot.