Today we present Piers Anthony's responses to Slashdot questions about topics ranging from Linux shortcomings to female sexuality. Piers asked us, in a followup email after we received his answers, if we considered them "too feisty." Hah! Is there such a thing as "too feisty" for Slashdot?
1) Publishers and StarOffice?
With larger documents and the importance of formatting in the publication process, have you had difficulty with publishers and document submission? If so, has your establishment (ie previously published work) allowed you to overcome opposition of the "we-don't-support-that" variety? Or did you find that publishers were open to alternate submission formats? Or were they already using other formats (I know some authors have actually typeset their works themselves, using LaTeX, but I assume they are few and far between).
In short, modern print publishing requires a lot of attention to detail and transmission of large documents electronically--how do you make it work with your chosen set of tools, when publishers probably don't expect authors to be using that paritcular set of tools?
This has not been a problem with traditional publishers, because they're still in the dark ages with respect to computers and accept only printed out paper copies. In any event, my version is not the print version; mine is in 12 point Courier--almost universally required--which they then rekey in to their system and render in some other format. In the year 2050 when publishers catch up, then the author's computer formatting may be an issue, though maybe not, as it's so easy simply to change it at either end. On the rare occasions when a publisher does need an electronic version, I translate to the MS Word .doc format.
2) Juvenile vs Adult fiction
I must have read at least 20 of your books between 11 and 17, but over time, they seemed to lose their luster. A lot of people I know had a similar fascination, and a similar segue into other reading. Do you believe that your work in fantasy is targetted at the juvenile market? Is that intentional or accidental? Have you had pressure from publishers over the years to try to be 'more mainstream' or perhaps specifically write to the young adult market?
Your problem is that you grew up and disappeared into an adult; that's a fairly common disaster. Yes, Xanth is targeted at a juvenile market, though listed as adult; that's why you don't see it in lists of what children read. Those folk seem not to know what children and teens actually read, and the kids won't tell them lest their fun books get confiscated and burned. But I have two other remarks on this: first that I write for more than one level, and there is material in Xanth that adults can pick up on if they're alert; second that I do also write adult material, like the Adept, Incarnations, and Mode series. However, all publishers want from me is Xanth, and the more mature material is difficult to place. For example I am now completing the third quarter-million word novel in my thoroughly adult ChroMagic fantasy series, none of which has found a publisher. In due course I may self publish it so readers can see what kind I fantasy I write when I write for myself.
3) Personal Authors Notes - Bare feet don't stink.
In high school I read and re-read three series, Xanth, Apprentice Adept and Incarnations of Immortality. In 1988 my first son was born which drew most of my attentions away from your novels. In 1991 my second son and the real world drew me the rest of the way.
I see that there are now 10 more Xanth novels that I do not have. I guess I have some catching up to do!
Your authors notes were for me almost a series of their own. These, combined with your autobiography, "Bio of an Ogre", made me feel like I knew you. And gave new meaning and insight to most of your novels.
Have you ever thought of collecting them together into a book of their own? Sort of a Piers Anthony self retrospective or 'The Ogre Speaks Through the Ages.'
I have thought of it because readers have suggested it, but this is another I'd have to self publish. Dedicated fans may be interested in the private ramblings of an ornery writer, but barring some accident of fate that makes me famous, like growing a second head, the wider public is not.
4) world building
When starting off creating a new world for your stories, do you concentrate a lot on historical and geographical background, or get right into your main story timelines? basically, what process do you find to be the best when setting the stage for the depth required for epic fantasy?
It varies. Xanth just sort of grew around Florida, and there's very little background research. ChroMagic, in contrast, (see reference above) gets me into head-splitting spot research and thought throughout. That's the one with twin planets orbiting each other, the pair orbiting a conventional star named Vivid and a black hole named Void, so a tough choice is to be caught between Vivid and Void. The stress causes volcanoes to erupt everywhere, each with a different color of magic that makes things monochrome in its vicinity: shades of blue, shades of red, and so on. Yes, there is even one for White magic, otherwise called Science, the kind we know here, but it doesn't work elsewhere on the planet. People live near them and become the same colors, and can do magic of that color, or Chroma zone; travel to another zone and you lose your power of magic, which is tough. A Blue Chroma man is at a great disadvantage in a Red or White Chroma zone. That's just the background; you can see that plenty of thought went into it, and more into the culture and, oh yes, the wild story. So as I said, it varies, and each project is its own greater or lesser challenge.
5) Piers Anthony Fanfiction
From your in-story commentary and author's notes, we have a glimmering of your opinion on people who don't pay for books.
What is your opinion of people who borrow the books you've written from libraries. Also, what is your opinion of fan-authors who write fanstories based on your work?
I approve of libraries; they enable folk to read widely who could not otherwise afford to. The fact is, if every library bought a hardcover copy of one of my books, it would be a bestseller. So I feel a library is a legitimate compromise between the author's need to earn his living and the reader's limited ability to buy books. As for fan authors: if they do it just for fun, credit the source, and don't try to sell their books, okay by me, though that notion may turn my agent's hair a shade of gray. It's the pirates who really bother me, stealing whatever I write, including what I self publish, as if trying to guarantee that I will go broke and have to take up sewer cleaning for a living. That's why I support Harlan Ellison's anti-piracy struggle.
6) Women in Xanth books
I've had the chance to enjoy several of your Xanth books over the years. However, I find it disappointing that, like many sci-fi authors, you choose to include lots of "naked women" imagery in your books. This makes your books unappealing to the female side of your audience (including myself), and it makes it hard for me to recommend your books either to younger children or other women who might be interested.
I don't mind sex in books; what I (and a lot of other females) mind is the clear delineation of women as either sexual objects or as somehow "needing" a male to rescue them from various plights. Your earlier books did not have much of this imagery, and indeed the Xanth series seems relatively free of it, but I've noticed that some of your books do draw this conclusion. Unfortunately, the fantasy category seems to have more of this type of book than most other categories.
In a world of fantasy books dominated by male fantasies, what is your suggestion to the relatively few females who do enjoy fantasy and sci-fi books?
As a point of reference, I enjoyed the Phule series by Robert Asprin, as well as The Hitchhiker's Guide and, of course, several of the Xanth books.
Some time we'll have to discuss why the sight of a naked woman as God made her should be considered to harm a child, but that's another issue. I wonder whether the females who enjoy fantasy are all that few; it's been a number of years since I tried counting the ratio of fan letters I received, but when I did it ranged from something like 60-40 to 80-20 in favor of female, and I believe I still get more fe-mail than male-mail. Much of it is for novels like Firefly and the Mode series, which do have juvenile female sex: they say that it's about time that someone addressed this matter honestly in fiction. I suspect I have heard from more teen girl victims than just about any other male writer, and it's not because they think I'm disparaging their concerns. Or are you referring only to Xanth, where Mundane attitudes are rather obviously parodied, such as with the fauns & nymphs, certainly a male fantasy, and the naughty fun about panties. Very few girls object to Xanth either; some even suggest panty puns. You say later Xanths suggest that women are sexual objects who need males to rescue them? Have you read Zombie Lover or Xone of Contention and seen Breanna of the Black Wave's attitude? What about Swell Foop? More bluntly: are you doing an honest critique here, or merely attributing things that really are not in my books? So I guess my suggestion is that you try reading some of the titles I've named here with an open mind; you may find more substance there than you expect, together with a greater appreciation of women as thinking, feeling creatures than you think.
7) Why GNU/Linux?
Why have you decided to use GNU/Linux? On your website you say:
"I want to be all the way independent of Macrohard, so that no more Doors slam on my tender fingers. We'll see; stay tuned for future reports."
Specifically what is it that you, as an author, have found irritating about using Microsoft products in your work?
In a note you also say:
"It remains far behind on personal systems, but at such time as the Linux nerds catch on to the importance of user friendliness, that should change. Before too long I hope to get the ear of some of them, even if they don't necessarily like what I say."
So, what don't you like so far? What do you want us to improve? Are there any author-specific tools that you miss from Microsoft?
This could take a long time, and I'm already taking more time than I like while my novel writing waits. Microsoft aggravates me by the way it so often crashes without saving--I really hate that!--and assumes I am wrong when it fouls up--that illegal operation syndrome--will I be sent to jail?, its refusal to give me ready file-saved status (the very act of checking un-saves the file), its clumsy Revision Mode and Spike processes that seem to assume you want to destroy your original document in order to copy revisions from it, locked-in error messages--it's just a constant process of minor nuisances and some major ones, such as reneging on software updates, that build up to a massive dislike. In reluctant fairness I must say that I haven't updated my word processor since 1995, so some faults may have been fixed by now. A number of the problems I have in Linux I am told have been fixed in more recent software. Since I'm in the process of getting a new Linux system with the bugs removed, I think I need to check it with the hope that my complaints have already been abated. If they haven't, maybe I can return here with an update in two or three months. So very generally, for the moment: I can't print effectively, I can't email effectively, I can't always edit effectively, I can't move my cursor effectively, I can't make or place macros as competent as I want, I can't let my monitor "sleep" between uses, and I have to use twice as many backup disks as before because the files take up twice the space. I'd like specific information on file dates and sizes in the backup challenges; I have to open whole other file-handling windows to get that information now, a hassle. Understand, my hardware can do all of these things, but Linux applications don't. Thus to print out a novel at faster than one and a quarter minutes per page I must shut down Linux and go to Windows on the same system. That drives me crazy. But I have been promised reprieve. There are also some features I have now that I didn't get in Windows, such as an indication whether my files have been saved, different background colors for my files--I like to color code, as I may be using 9 files at a time, shifting back and forth between them--and the ability to do discontinuous selection. I love StarOffice's superior Changes Mode and use it constantly. I'm a serious writer; I use features that non-writers don't. Did anyone notice that the StarOffice site has no category for "Writer"? I had to list my occupation as "retired." So it's like having a wacky girlfriend: there's more to like than dislike despite the aggravation.
8) Incarnations of Immortality
As someone who has named both of his cats, all seven of his computers, and one of his cars after characters from Incarnations of Immortality, I would like to know why you haven't chosen to return to their mythos.
Consider the fact you have done so with many of your other mythos'! (Bio of a space tyrant, Apprentice Adept, etc.)
Further, with Incarnations, there are a world of possibilities left. Chance, hate, love, hope, all the minor incarnations you mentioned in books previously (I would really like to see hope)..
Your writing weaves a world that one can live in, and while Xanth is nice, I deeply prefer a world where death is kind, and evil is human and flawed.
It helped me through the pain of losing my mother to serious illness, and has been my favorite fantasy world since.
I read in one of your author's note that the story of the original characters from IoI was "complete" and that you didnt see a need to continue their stories, and I can agree with that.
That doesn't stop new characters in the same mythos from being created. Whether set before, during or after the events of IoI, there is definitely room to weave plenty of stories.
Any chance of seeing some more of them?
Despite the charges of critics, I don't continue series just for the sake of continuing them. I felt that the Incarnations series was sufficient once God had been addressed. Sure I could do stories about the "minor" Incarnations, or about Nox the Incarnation of Night who knows all secrets and keeps most of them. But I have felt it better to let the series stand as it is. Maybe some day I'll change my mind; one never knows.
I remember in the afterword of one of your books from the early 1980s, you discussed the research you put into choosing your first computer. At the time the choices for consumers were basically Apple II, CP/M, or MS-DOS.
How many generations of computers have you used since then? What system were you using just before you switched [to Linux]? Were you still using CP/M?
This must be Question #8.5; it's unnumbered. To date I have used four operating systems and 8 word processors. That's CP/M, MS DOS, WINDOWS, and LINUX, actually I used two versions of DOS and two of WINDOWS, but let's not quibble. The word processors are Select 86, PTP, Edward, Final Word, Sprint, MS Word, WordPerfect, and StarOffice. I'm headed, I think, for another version of LINUX and OpenOffice. I was using MS Word before switching to LINUX, where I started with WordPerfect, couldn't stand it, and then after a series of video card blackouts--I mean, my system crashed every time I called it up--StarOffice. I had to have considerable help and expense to make the change, and it took 9 months. That's why I don't recommend LINUX for other writers, yet; it can be user-disastrous to set up if you're not a geek. Had I not already made my fortune, and kept my Windows system as a backup, I could have been wiped out. I saw a comment elsewhere by a man who wanted his Linux system to run out of the box; he was answered at length by two others, to the effect he was wrong to want it. Oh, yeah? Attitudes like that are death to popularity.
Hello Mr. Anthony. As a young adult, I devoured nearly all your novels, with my particular favorites including the Adept series, Incarnations, Bio of a *, and the first eight or ten Xanth titles. It's fair to say that a large part of my psyche and probably my vocabulary are attributable to you.
Recently I reprised On a Pale Horse with my girlfriend and I discovered to my discomfort that it dealt very explicitly with underage sex in a way that sexualized young girls in particular. Although the novel retained many charming qualities for me, I began to consider the female underage sexuality in the other books of that series, especially one of the later books (Of Eternity?) in which an underage girl uses a protracted stay in Purgatory in order to be able to have legal sex with a much older priest. Significantly, she is only 18 "by law". Physically and mentally she is 16 when she has sex with the priest. We are supposed to have any moral questions calmed by this.
As I recalled more of your works, I noticed a recurring theme of young girls being exploited in sexual ways. The opening of Bio of a Space Tyrant describes the protagonist's shame and arousal as his young sister is raped. Later in the series, I hazily recall a wealthy character who kept pre-pubescent girls for sex, then released them for service when they matured. The character was depicted in a very sympathetic light - he was just misunderstood.
Finally, long ago I read a hardback book by you which attributed to you membership in a social organization dedicated to protecting girls against paedophilia.
As a fan and an admirer, but also as someone who is disquieted by the influence you may have had upon my young sexuality, I would like to know candidly whether you are attracted to underage women. Naturally I am in no way implying that you would ever act upon such an urge, but the writing you have given us is very close to an act in itself, considering your very broad and impressionable audience.
On a Pale Horse deals explicitely with underage sex? You'll have to cite pages, as I don't remember this. Firefly has explicit underage sex; could that be the one you mean? That's not in this series. The final volume of the series, And Eternity, does have a troubled 15 year old girl who is not sugar-coated and is salvaged by two well-meaning ghosts; apparently you object to this, though it is realistic; there are girls just like her in the real world, who never find salvation of any kind. The Space Tyrant series is highly sexual, but shows no approval of rape; it originated from the very real plight of Vietnamese and Hatian boat refugees whose horror stories barely made the US press because most of the witnesses were dead--killed by pirates. I thought this matter deserved attention, though masked as fiction so it could make it into print. It was not intended for young readers, and its nature never hidden; if you read it young you were trespassing on adult fiction. Many young readers do, but few blame the authors for their sneak peeks. I note that you express no objection to the savage murders, only to the sexuality. I could formulate a question for you about personal values, or better, for society, but I doubt you'd care to answer. So let me address the specific question you do ask: am I attracted to young women? Yes; I am attracted to the entire female persuasion, and have women of every age in my fiction, and women of every age have sex in my fiction. The fact is, as I explore in my GEODYSSEY series, men are attracted to women, and to the shapely ones more than the others, and to the young ones more than the older ones. I don't mean to children, but to girls after they develop breasts and pubic hair, signals of sexual maturity. This relates to the apparent breedability of women; the strategy of the man is to capture a woman at the beginning of her reproductive life and have as many children by her as possible. So young women tend to be the most appealing; it's pretty much hard-wired in our species, and this is reflected in our society's glorification of youth in TV, movies, magazine, advertising--everywhere, as if it is a crime to ever get old. As a man who recently shared the 46th anniversary with the woman I married when she was 19, I deplore this global cultural attitude, but I understand it. To appreciate young women should not be to disparage older ones. And I do like to look at young women. Yes, my wife understands; once we were watching a video, and I needed to brush my teeth in the bathroom and missed a very nice nude-woman sequence with Bo Derrick, so she told me, wound it back, and played it over. It's like bird watching: one looks and appreciates but does not touch. I suspect that 90% of men who claim to feel otherwise are lying. (I'm allowing for the gay contingent.) This is reflected in my fiction in large part because it sells better than more realistic fiction, and publishers want it. But about membership in an anti-pedophelia organization--I do oppose pedophilia, but don't belong to any such outfit. In fact I correspond with some pedophiles in prison.
10) Goddard College, unorthodox culture and linux
Not many people are aware that you attended Goddard, a very unusual institution of higher learning in Vermont. For those of you who don't know, the college was famous for its radical politics in the 60s, after Piers attended. No tests, no grades, student-designed courses which were called "group studies" and led by "facilitators."
When I attended Goddard in the late 80s it was still a hotbed of radical politics, but also a strong proponent of critical thinking. Not a place where orthodox opinions hold unexamined sway. Although my politics have changed, I attribute my flexibility, independence and career success in part to this college experience.
Do you believe your educational background has played a significant part in your success? If so, how? Would you recommend any changes to traditional educational techniques? Lastly, in line with the interests of the slashdot crowd, you're one of only a few authors to embrace linux as a desktop OS. Would you draw a link between using this "alternative os" and the "alternative" years in college?
I do believe that my education helped my success, because I had a good education, and was able at Goddard to orient on my true desire: to write. I had a long way to go, but it was a necessary stage. But I'm not sure the radicalism of Goddard was responsible; I was always an independent thinker, taking the road less traveled. In fact I was suspended from college because I was one of six students found in the lounge--I was talking with my fiancee--she was only 18 then--after it was supposedly closed. The entire student body rose in protest about the suspensions; the college president threatened to close the college, and the students, being more cautious than he, backed down. Today I seem to be the only one willing to talk about that; the college, perhaps disinclined either to admit it was wrong or to alienate a major monetary contributor, does not. So you'll just have to take my one-sided word that it was wrong, on legal and ethical grounds, and later repented without admitting it. So Goddard became too straight-laced for me. Later they had co-ed dorms with boys and girls rooming together, but not in my day. Still, for all that, Goddard was radical by the standards of the day, and was a great place to be. But I think I owe my eventual success as a writer more to my wife than to the college.