Interview with Piers Anthony

Q: I understand you’ve had a look at the book reviews at sffworld.com, and that you have some comments?

A: I think that’s a nice service, but I also get the impression that some folk are taking their own pulse. They start in on a series, and after a while become overly familiar with it. Instead of realizing that they are ready for different fare, they think that the series has degenerated. I note this pattern in comments on my series, but also in the comments on series by other writers. The reason I think they are mistaken is that I never get that response from a reader who begins with a later novel in a series, except in one case: he read the Xanth series backwards, and when he reached the first novel, said sorry, it wasn’t up to the standards of the later ones. I think that’s indicative. With Xanth I try to make each novel be intelligible by itself, with familiar elements and also new elements, so that the first time reader is not confused while continuing readers find new horizons. No novel is a clone of any preceding one, though with a background cast of characters and things that has grown to thousands, there are many familiar aspects. I get requests from readers to do more with particular characters, and I try, but it is not easy to oblige every reader.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your current projects?

A: I do one Xanth novel a year, because at the moment that is all that publishers will accept; they don’t want any other type of fiction from me, so Xanth pays my way. But I am working on other projects anyway. Right now I am proofreading my BIO OF A SPACE TYRANT science fiction series for republication at Xlibris, and feel that is some of the best fiction I have done in a career that now spans 115 books. I am also writing a new fantasy series, ChroMagic, whose setting is a planet covered with volcanoes, each of which emits a different color of magic. A person who lives near a Blue Chroma volcano gradually becomes blue, and can do blue magic, while one who lives near a Silver Chroma volcano becomes similarly silver. I am writing the second quarter million word novel, but have not found a publisher for the series, perhaps because this fantasy does not shy away from sex. I’ll give an example: succubi are real, and will try to seduce maturing boys, to suck out their souls along with their semen. So there are traveling educational plays that dramatize this danger, with a naked 13 year old boy and a lovely grown nude woman representing a succubus, doing an extremely sexy dance on stage, which he must resist. This is shown to children, and it really makes the point. But a publisher objected to the aspect of juvenile sex. I feel that the sex is consistent with the culture and the danger. (In fact, I believe that we need better sex education in our own culture, here in America, so that young folk learn about things like venereal disease before they encounter it.) If I can’t sell the series, I’ll publish it myself, in due course. I think it is fair to say that fantasy like this has not before been published, and not just because of the sexual element; I have developed a phenomenal and original world, with a culture and story that is not standard.

Q: The Xanth series is quite different from the Tolkien style of fantasy. How did you originally come up with the idea for this series?

A: When I started writing this, I found that I simply couldn’t take fantasy seriously, so it became humorous, and continued from there. I turned my home state of Florida into the Land of Xanth. I did not know at first that it would be a series; I discovered after the first novel that I had more to say about it, so I did another. And another, and then the readers demanded yet more.

Q: Science fiction and fantasy, is it two sides of the same story, or what do you think?

A: I think these are two aspects of a huge realm of imagination. SF is the literature of the theoretically possible, and F is the literature of the impossible. Much of what is published is actually science fantasy, seeming possible but actually impossible, such as faster than light space travel.

Q: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

A: I thought I might be an artist, but concluded in college that my talent was not sufficient to enable me to be professional, so I pondered, and more or less overnight concluded that I would make words my paints and be a writer. In retrospect, I think that was one of the best decisions of my life.

Q: Do you follow a strict outline when you write, or does the story “flow”?

A: This is in between. I never do a full outline, and if I did, I would not feel bound to it, because the view from inside a scene can be different from the view outside it. But neither do I just start writing and see what happens; I am far more disciplined than that. One reason I don’t suffer Writer’s Block is that I don’t wait on the muse, I summon it at need. Normally I work out a general summary of what I mean to do, then start writing, and the details can be different from my anticipation. So there is considerable flow, but always within channels.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

A: Yes, I have several standard bits. Have a working spouse, because you won’t earn a living from writing–not at first, if ever. My wife worked for years to support us. Keep writing, because not only does practice improve skill, it gives you more chances to score on the market. I did that for eight years before making my first sale. Learn to handle rejections, because that will be an early experience. That doesn’t mean you have to like them, just that you don’t give up a promising career just because an idiot editor who wouldn’t recognize great literature if he saw it, turned you down. He’s the idiot, not you; don’t be governed by him. If every editor turns you down, maybe you should take a second look at your text, however, just in case.

Q: What has the Internet meant for you as an author?

A: This enabled me to get in closer touch with my readers, and to facilitate publication for others. I hear from many readers at Hipiers.com. I maintain an ongoing survey of Internet Publishing and self publishing, so that it is now possible for any writer with a book to get it published at nominal cost or free, and to have it on sale at booksellers like Amazon.com. It is no longer possible for that ignorant editor of the prior question to stifle genius; he can be bypassed. I even invested in a self publishing service, Xlibris at Xlibris.com, that pretty well guarantees this. This is one of the efforts I am proudest of.

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