|Piers Anthony: Outspoken Ogre|
Quiz: What author:
The author of nine series in addition to the much-beloved Xanth, Anthony qualifies as one of the brightest, most enduring stars of science fiction and fantasy. His prolific originality continues to amaze his legions of dedicated fans -- as does his outspokenness on issues close to his heart. Since even mundane reporters know outspokenness and great interviews often travel together, Crescent Blues recently approached the Head Ogre for his views on Xanth, the traditional publishing establishment (a.k.a. Parnassus), electronic publishing and, inevitably, book reviewers.
Crescent Blues: Your latest Xanth novel, Xone of Contention, provides a Xanthian view of the Internet and the Demon X(A/N)th's (a.k.a. Nimby's) exploration of Mundania. You've written in your newsletters to your fans about your trips into the outer world. Were Nimby's travails based on some you've experienced first hand?
Piers Anthony: Are Nimby's Mundane adventures in Xone of Contention based on my own experience? No, merely on my general familiarity with Mundania.
Crescent Blues: What about Pia and Edsel's O-zone experiences?
Crescent Blues: According to your official Web site, HiPiers , the next book in the Xanth series, The Dastard, will be released later this year. Would you mind telling our readers something about it?
Piers Anthony: Here is my canned paragraph on The Dastard: The Dastard is the 24th novel in the Xanth series. The main character does really dastardly deeds, and because he can travel in time, he is very hard to stop. When he encounters someone who is really successful or happy, he goes back in time to eliminate the thing that made that happiness or success possible. For example, when a little Mundane girl finds her way into Xanth and is thrilled, the Dastard goes back and blocks the way, so the girl never finds Xanth. When a man finds his ideal woman, the Dastard goes back and diverts him so he never meets her.
Well, the three little princesses, Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm, catch on, and decide to do something about this. But they're only four years old, so they exchange places with their 21 year old selves on Ida's moon Ptero, and the three big princesses tackle the Dastard. But then the awful Sea Hag escapes the Brain Coral's pool, and comes to join the Dastard, and together they are really tough to beat. Especially when the Sea Hag takes over the body of Princess Melody. Oh, no! This should be published in hardcover around OctOgre 2000. Be there. Melody really needs your help.
Crescent Blues: You just finished your 25th Xanth book, Swell Foop, too. Are you taking your readers towards a specific destination or do you simply write the Xanth adventures as ideas occur to you?
Piers Anthony: Am I taking Xanth in a specific direction? Only very generally. It gradually gets more mature as it goes, addressing more adult concerns and thus aggravating those who believe that there should be no social awareness in fantasy. Thus in Zombie Lover, the matter of racism was broached and continued in Xone, and in the latter also the matter of biased intelligence testing. The hypocrisies of cultural sexual attitudes are always grist for parody via the Adult Conspiracy to Keep Interesting Things from Children.
But Xanth makes fun of anything that offers, as it occurs to me, or as readers suggest it. Apart from that, Xanth does just occur as ideas come to me. That does not mean it is slipshod. I do my best to make an interesting story and to develop meaningful characters throughout.
The Dastard explores the meaning of soulessness, showing both the freedom and futility of it. The soul is equated with conscience, and there are indeed folk in Xanth and Mundania who act as if they lack this essential human quality.
Swell Foop is a grander adventure, exploring the significance of emotions for good or ill, as the major Demons get into this unfamiliar mortal aspect. There has always been more to Xanth than puns. The critics who claim there is nothing there but egregious puns are revealing their own inability to pick up on the more sophisticated levels of humor therein. I think of it as being like a fruitcake, with the puns as nuts. There is more than nuts to fruitcake.
Crescent Blues: Elsewhere you mentioned that you used over a hundred reader notions in Swell Foop. That's a lot of fan interaction. How do you deal with the sheer amount of email you receive every day?
Piers Anthony: My mail has been a problem since Xanth started. Originally I typed answers to every letter, but as the total rose to more than 100 a month it cut seriously into my working time. I tried using a secretary, and that speeded it up, but made it less responsive. When I computerized I gradually worked out a system to facilitate letters, and handled as many as 200 in a month, averaging 150 for several years. Only in the past year have I gotten online and learned to handle email.
At present I answer about 100 letters a month, and read 300 emails. HiPiers acknowledges them all with form responses, but I read them all, and often add personal notes, which I write in pencil on the printouts, and HiPiers transcribes those. So it works well enough, though the emails seem to be increasing from 10 a day, and there could be a problem in the future if this continues.
HiPiers averages 4,000 hits a day, so readers could really swamp me if they tried. I appreciate their restraint. The thing is, my attention is personal, even if a form response goes out. I save the suggestions I can use, and there are a hundred or so in each Xanth novel.
It would be easier to write a novel without reader input, but I feel the fiction is richer for it. I don't want ever to be guilty of what my critics claim: doing formula without original elements. My readers ensure originality, in spot elements, and often in significant ones too. So it's like the problem of the opposite gender: you can't live with it or without it, whichever side you're on. I wish my readers took less of my time -- about a third of my working time goes to them -- but I love and need them all.
Crescent Blues: In an off-hand sort of way, Xanth will be coming to television. Your novel, Letters to Jenny, inspired a movie, Princess Rose. Even though you wrote the book that will accompany the movie, how do you feel about Princess Rose being so different from Jenny Elf's original story?
Piers Anthony: Princess Rose should indeed be a TV movie, assuming something doesn't go wrong. I don't know how good a movie it will be, because the way movie folk think is different from the way writers think, and I distrust what isn't done my way. This is what I call a healthy paranoia.
It soon became evident that the movie folk had little or no awareness of the kind of writing I actually do, so I had to try to adapt to the kind of derivative writing they thought I did, and that will seem like perfect vindication to my critics. However, my literary agent wants to save Xanth for some later movie deal, so the fact that this isn't Xanth is good.
As for Jenny Elf, she and her family and my wife are taking it with good humor. The implication is that I go to see the paralyzed girl and fall in love with her mother. It's a good enough story in its own right, and does address the problems of coma and paralysis, as well as personal doubt and redemption. Just don't expect anything close to the real situation.
Crescent Blues: In recent years, epic sword and sorcery dominated the fantasy market. Do you see the popularity of the Harry Potter books as a sign that readers (and viewers) are ripe for a lighter approach?
Piers Anthony: I hope to read a Harry Potter novel soon, to see what it's all about. I admit to being annoyed that many good light fantasy writers have had trouble getting published, in England and elsewhere, when it is obvious the readers were waiting for us all along. But between us and those readers are publishers with tunnel vision. I doubt that this will change soon, so I am working for another option to bypass the whole system via the Internet. More on that anon.
Crescent Blues: Douglas Adams is a notorious punster like yourself. Have you ever read any of his books? Would you like to collaborate with him? If so what do you think the finished product would look like?
Piers Anthony: Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker series also shows the potential of lighter fantastic fiction. I read the first, and listened to a tape of a later one, and it's fun. But I don't read or listen for pleasure. I have too much else to do. As for collaboration -- I have done a lot, 26 books, and found publishers increasingly resistive to them. It's not that the books are bad; editors won't even read them. (I did speak of tunnel vision…) I have had to take legal action just to enforce a deal for collaborations my agent made when the publisher tried to renege. So I'm not looking for more collaborations at present.
Crescent Blues: Nevertheless, over the years you've collaborated with several other writers -- Mercedes Lackey, Roberto Fuentes, Richard Gilliam and now, most recently, Julie Brady with Dream a Little Dream. Next year will also see The Secret of Spring with Jo Anne Tausch and The Gutbucket Quest with Ron Leming. What prompted these collaborations?
Piers Anthony: Each [collaboration] is unique unto itself, but in general it was to enable a decent novel to get into print. Most of my collaborators have been less established than I, and had little chance to get published without my help. You mention Dream a Little Dream: that's an example. But I have also collaborated with those who need no help, such as Philip José Farmer and Mercedes Lackey.
One, with Robert Coulson, was a fake. The publisher told me he was just going to retype the manuscript to include spot corrections, then ran it in degraded form as a full collaboration. So that is not one of the 26. That was what could have been a legal case, had I not been satisfied with an apology, immediate reversion of the rights, firing of the editor, and shutdown of the line of books. (The latter two were happening anyway, but I could have made them happen, had that not been the case.)
Crescent Blues: Would you like to provide our readers with a teaser for Secret of Spring or The Gutbucket Quest?