Xanthmaker - Piers Anthony Interview - Jitterbug Fantasia
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Piers Anthony was born in 1934 in Oxford, England. His parents were emotionally distant, but he emotionally bonded with his nanny. Then when Anthony was four years old his parents moved to the United States, suddenly pulling him away from the only adult with whom he felt an emotional bond. Without an emotional anchor, Anthony felt alone and alienated in his adopted country. The gray sameness of his life tore open in 1947, when he first read a copy of Astounding Science Fiction. From that day forward, Anthony has been obsessively interested in reading and writing wonder-stories.

Anthony is grateful for his education, which includes the famous "progressive" school Goddard College in Vermont. From there he married his college sweetheart Carol (called "Cam" for her initials), joined the army, then taught public school. In 1962 his wife took a newspaper job to support the family while Anthony spent one full year pursuing his dream of becoming a fulltime writer (to this day his standard advice to aspiring writers is "have a working spouse"). With the support of his wife, Anthony was able to sell more and more short stories to science fiction magazines, then novels, eventually managing to earn a living solely by writing fiction. Finally in the mid-1970s editor Lester del Rey suggested that Anthony try his hand at writing fantasy, which was selling well at the time. Unable to take Fantasy seriously, Anthony filled the first Xanth book with humor and puns, little knowing that it would become a goldmine. Since then eleven of the thirty+ Xanth books have become best-sellers. Exact figures are difficult to come by, but A Spell for Chameleon has sold well over one million copies, and the sales of the overall series are surely in the tens of millions.

Anthony writes an average of three novels per year, including one new Xanth novel. Unfortunately at the moment publishers only seem interested in his best-selling Xanth books, not the more adult stories Anthony considers his more serious work. Still, it's hard to complain when you've enjoyed nearly thirty years as a best-selling author with a devoted readership counted in the hundreds of thousands, and Anthony continues to approach his career with determination and good humor. Kristen Brennan conducted the following interview with Piers Anthony for Jitterbug Fantasia web magazine in Fall of 2005.


Beginnings :: Astounding Science Fiction


You've written that your first experience with science fiction was finding a copy of the March 1947 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine in your mother's office when you were thirteen years old, in particular the lead story: The Equalizer by Jack Williamson. The experience so gripped you that the magazine quickly became your primary interest. What impact did that magazine have on you?

I think it was Wilson Tucker who said that the golden age of science fiction is 12. That is, whenever you first get into it. I was 13, being a slow starter.

When I first saw the magazine it was just a magazine, nothing special. Then I started reading the story, about a spaceship returning to Earth and getting no responses to its messages, checking the deserted moon station, and going on to Earth, where things had changed almost beyond recognition. I don't think I ever reread the story, and I gave away my magazine collection over 30 years ago, so can't verify details. I think it was the wonder of the old order passing, being replaced by a quietly superior new order, the sort of world I would have loved to join. Pure escapism - and I use that word with nostalgic pride, not derision. What the hell is wrong with escapism, when the world you face is ugly?

Your first published novel was Chthon, written over seven years and first released in 1967. According to the publisher's description, "The author regards this as perhaps the most intricately structured novel the science fantasy genre has seen." Can you talk a bit about what types of layers and ideas you played with in the structure?

Chthon was actually my second novel, but the first one was never published. If you diagrammed its form, it would be in the shape of a doubled hexagon, with all the sections parallel, addressing the past, present, and future. I haven't seen any other novel structured like that. But few readers notice, and since then I have focused more on entertainment than art, and my career has prospered accordingly. The lesson here is that a novel needs to appeal to the readers rather than to the author.

How did you develop the idea to structure Chthon like a doubled hexagon? Were you inspired by reading about other novels built on tightly-controlled geometric structures?

It was rather more prosaic. Chthon fell naturally into three portions: Aton Five's childhood, his time in prison, and his life after escaping prison. I needed to unify it, so I made prison the framework, with flashbacks, and later flashforwards. Then I drew parallels between them. In the end it formed into 39 sections, all tied together by the parallels.

You say working on the tightly-structured Chthon pleased you but not the audience, and since then you've learned to focus more on entertainment than art. Do you consider all the work you spent reaching for art in your early career a mistake, or a useful learning experience? Do you draw from that set of tools to try to smuggle as much "art" as possible into your "entertainment"?

My early career and indeed my whole early life was a preparation for the writing I was to do later. I don't consider any of it a mistake. But to put that in perspective, let me say that I don't consider Xanth the pinnacle of my career. Xanth is what pays my way so I can afford to do serious writing.

Did you catch any flack from feminists for giving the minionettes in Chthon inverted emotional circuits, so the kindest thing you can do to them is treat them with abuse and derision?

I don't think feminists read Chthon. On occasion I would have battles with them in the fanzines (former printed amateur fan magazines). The essence of my response was for them to stop screaming about things like whether a woman should be addressed as Mrs. Miss, or Ms., and start fighting the way a woman was paid two-thirds as much for the same work as a man. They disappeared. I don't regard my fiction as anti-feminist. If a man gets hit, they seem to feel that's fine; if a woman gets hit, they say it's chauvinistic. I treat all my characters like real people. Judging by my mail, I have more (and more appreciative) female readers than male.


Xanth :: Phunny Money


The work for which you're most famous is your successful Xanth series, beginning with A Spell For Chameleon in 1977. One of the most distinctive features of the fantasy world of Xanth is the enormous amount of puns. Were the puns inspired by the nonsense poems of Edward Lear, or the occasional puns in the Oz novels by L. Frank Baum?

No. Xanth became funny because I discovered that I just couldn't take fantasy seriously. Later, with more fantasy experience I learned to take it more seriously, as with the Adept, Incarnations of Immortality, or ChroMagic series.

The hero of the first few Xanth books is a 25-year-old man named Bink, who is immune to magic. How did you come up with the name "Bink" and the idea for his particular ability?

Fantasy heroes tend to have glamorous names, so I parodied that by having as unglamorous a name as possible. He was nothing, and his talent was nothing - until finally revealed as quite powerful. This is the private dream of just about any reader: to have his/her nonentity become great.

You've written that in Xanth you reversed the typical fantasy expectations, that the hero would have an impressive name and abilities. Was there a particular fantasy novel you used as the model for the genre stereotypes you were looking to avoid?

No one novel, but perhaps Tarzan of the Apes, or Conan the Barbarian.

Xanth is surrounded by a mystic barrier which protects it from non-Xanth people. Was this inspired by the Barrier of Invisibility which surrounds Oz?

Not that I'm aware of. But I did read all 14 original OZ novels to my little girl twice, so might have been influenced. In fantasy there needs to be a separation, to explain why similar magic doesn't work in the real world. Most fantasy has it.

What's the name of the barrier which surround Xanth? Is it "Xanth's Mystic Barrier"? Does it render Xanth invisible as such?

Actually it's not a barrier so much as the gulf between worlds, as will be clarified in Xanth #31 Air Apparent. I don't think it has a name.

Xanth is based on Florida; does it occupy the same space? When Bink crosses the barrier into the North, does he cross into Georgia or Alabama? Or some other part of Mundania, perhaps someplace not specific?

Again, Xanth seems to overlay Florida, but it is literally a different world. Mundania seems like our world, but it isn't identical. Xanth also overlays other peninsulas like Korea and Italy, and Waves of Invasion have come from them.

Am I correct in remembering a Hephalumph in Xanth? Were you a big fan of the Winnie-the-Pooh books?

There was one, borrowed from Winnie the Pooh, which series I did enjoy as a child. Then I wondered whether it was proprietary, so did not have further references.

I've heard that you first noticed the word "Xanthe" in a book of baby names, as Xanthe is Greek for "blond" and your daughter Penny is blond - is this true? Is it possible that your association of the word with a parallel fantasy land may have been subconsciously influenced by Jack Williamson's 1934 novella Xandulu? Was Jack Williamson a favorite author of yours?

No, I never heard of that particular novel. But Jack Williamson certainly was a favorite of mine, starting with The Equalizer and And Searching Mind (also published as The Humanoids). My daughter Penny is blonde - I send her dumb blonde jokes, and she sends me dumb blond (note the spelling) jokes, because our hair may be the same color, if we just were to wear it the same length. Hers is a yard long. But I liked the name years before I picked up on its meaning. I believe the relevant connection is Xanadu, as in the poem by Coleridge. That led me to a study of his poetry, and the history of the Mongols, as my novel Steppe shows.

When you attended Goddard College there was one pretty young female student who wore jeans that were frayed to the point where her panties were visible, which must have been as evident to her as it was to the other students. Did she have a hand in the mild sexuality of the Xanth series, in which pretty girls seem to arrange for the boys to catch a glimpse of their undergarments? (Volume 15 is even titled The Color of Her Panties.) Can you reveal the first name of visible-panty-girl?

I remember her name but she may be a great-grandmother by now, and hardly eager for that kind of notoriety. She was a healthy, shapely, sexy girl; let's leave it at that. I don't think her dishabille affected Xanth; panties didn't really come into it in the first four novels. One image I remember that may have had a effect was a TV review of fashion, and one of the models, as she was departing the stage, flicked her skirt to show a brief flash of panty. I thought that was a nice indication of naughtiness demonstrated in a harmless way. So when I wanted harmless naughtiness in Xanth, panties was it.

Why do you think young people are so drawn to fantasy and wonder-stories like your Xanth series? Do you feel the endless puns in Xanth are merely an extra cosmetic wrinkle, or integral to the appeal of the series? Are puns especially appealing to young people? Do they reflect the way young people see the world, or assist young people to progress from a childish to an adult perspective?

Today there are fantasy novels, movies, and games galore, so young folk are immersed in a culture of fantasy. In an earlier day there was a culture of western stories. So it seems to be the fashion of the day. Originally the puns were decoration, but now I'm receiving fan mail from readers who are pun-fans. They do set Xanth apart from most other fantasy. Some older folk relate to them too. I'm not sure this reflects anything significant. It's just that those who like puns - and many don't - can find them here.

Was the magician Humfrey named after Humphrey Bogart?

No. Originally he was the Magician Hundredspell, and there was Sorceress Illusion, and Magician Transformer. Editor Lester del Rey objected, I think correctly, and so I simplified the names to their closest legitimate appellations: Humfrey, Iris, and Trent.

One reviewer of your Xanth series wrote that the Xanth books describe "The Adult Conspiracy," which is "an attempt by all adults to prevent juveniles from gaining knowledge about words and concepts, especially about sexuality, which are considered inadequate to know for juveniles." Would you agree with that?

More or less. It is also a rather obvious parody of Mundane attitudes. Studies show that young folk who are sensibly educated about sex grow up to have fewer illegitimate babies and venereal diseases than those kept ignorant - so concealing such information is folly. But it seems conservatives believe it.

Did you coin the term "Mundania", or was the term already in circulation among science fiction/fantasy fans to describe the world of non-fans? Are you the first person to use it to describe an imaginary place, that you know of?

Mundania was a standard term for non-SF/Fantasy fans, a dull external place. I merely adapted it. I doubt I was the first to do so.

I first found Xanth when I was 12 years old; I had fallen in love with C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, and was looking for something similar. My school librarian recommended "A Spell for Chameleon," which I enjoyed immensely. Do you find that many of your readers find Xanth via the "gateway" of Narnia or Oz, or that Xanth leads them to other fantasy works, like those of Tolkien?

Your surmise is reasonable, but I have little information to support it. Most of my readers just seem to see a novel on sale, try it - and like it. Many have it urged on them by friends. Some have indeed reported that once Xanth made them realize that reading could be fun, they went on to other writers.

In your May 1997 newsletter, you said, "Reviewers are an ignorant lot, but one made a comment years back that made sense to me, saying that Xanth was like a slightly more mature version of Oz. Yes, I think so. I did not try to copy Oz - I suspect the genesis of Xanth owes more to the Raggedy Ann books, with their gardens of lollipops, or the Narnia novels, with their sapient animals - but I did read all 14 original Oz novels to my daughter Penny twice, when she was that age, along with the Arabian Nights and much else." Can you be more specific about how Xanth may have been influenced by the Raggedy Ann books, Narnia or Arabian Nights?

There are pie trees in Xanth, which are like more mature lollipop gardens. As for Narnia - I never heard of it until a relative recommended it for my children. I had like C. S. Lewis' trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, so I don't think Narnia had much direct influence on Xanth, other than helping establish the fantasy ambiance. The demons of Xanth are essentially Arabian Nights ifrits.


Other Creators :: Lucas, Rowling, Tolkien & Vonnegut


On the radio program Wired for Books you mentioned that you don't regard the Star Wars films as great literature. Why do you think they were so popular, if the stories were mediocre? Was it mostly about the special effects? Is there a particular story of yours which you'd like to get on the big screen?

I want to clarify that something doesn't have to be great literature for me to enjoy it. Star Wars is my kind of junk. It is scientifically implausible if not outright nonsense, and it's hardly original to put one man in a robot suit and another in a monkey suit, or to have Boy meet and rescue Princess. But the effects are well done, it's full of action, and it's fun. That's why it's successful, while critically acclaimed films seldom are. What I write is not great literature either, but it is good entertainment. As for what of mine I'd like to see become a movie - anything will do. There are now movie options on three of my series, and I hope they all turn out well.

Which 3 of your series are optioned for films?

The Adept series - with Split Infinity destined for an anime movie. Incarnations of Immortality, with On a Pale Horse optioned by Disney, to be handled by Jamie Foxx. Xanth, optioned by Warner Pictures.

What do you think of the Harry Potter books?

I read the first and found it not great literature but okay. If there's such a thing as a movie being better than the book, this is the case here, as they are great entertainment movies. I hope they do as well on mine.

What are your feelings about Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings? Do you think it deserves to be as popular as it is? What do you like and dislike about it?

Most folk don't realize that Tolkien had a real problem getting Lord of the Rings published, and I believe had to pay a publisher to do it. That publisher did not safeguard the rights, and an American publisher stole it, and only after an outcry was shamed into paying for it. But by that time the series had become popular. Today critics may give many reasons for its success, but that's long after the fact. As for me, I like The Hobbit better. Lord of the Rings was too diffuse for me. But it did help pave the way for the ascent of the Fantasy genre, and I owe it for that.

You've said of author Kurt Vonnegut: "He's always saying 'I'm not a science fiction writer!' He is a science fiction writer. What bothers me is people in the mainstream, who were so ignorant, see it and say 'Oh, I've never seen anything like this before! This is great, this guy's a genius.' And he became famous. Those of us who wrote science fiction and were honest about it did not. And I'm one of thousands who probably hold a similar contempt for that. It's not that he's a bad writer, it's that he cheated to get fame."

Do you still feel that way? Isn't it fair to say that most scifi/fantasy is wish-fulfillment stories for young people, and Vonnegut is going for something more like the novels traditionally found in the mainstream section of bookstores? Is that a fair perspective? Is there a broader vocabulary which would clarify things, like "Young Adult Scifi" vs. "Literature Scifi"?

Yes, much of his writing seems depressive which of course appeals to depressive critics. That doesn't make it better or worse than, say, funny fantasy. I do believe in labeling, so readers can seek and find literary fantasy or junk fantasy, as they prefer.


Publishing :: Electronic Books, Games & Dvorak


In interviews you often despair that publishers these days seem only interested in your best-selling Xanth novels, but not your other vast store of ideas. Don't your Incarnations of Immortality books sell well? What about the recently-published Pornucopia and The Magic Fart, published by the smaller Mundania Press? Are you able to get things like that published, but only through smaller companies who unfortunately lack the resources to reach a wide audience?

The Incarnations novels did sell well. But when I wrote the eighth novel, after surveying my readers about it, Under a Velvet Cloak featuring Nox, the Incarnation of Night, I was unable to find a publisher for it. As for my erotic fiction - Mundania Press came into existence to reprint Pornucopia, and I have a significant financial interest in it. Mundania is now going well beyond my novels and is a respectable small publisher in its own right, but that suggests what it takes to get my non-Xanth novels into print.

Can you talk a little about what your ambitions are for electronic publication? Is this to bring your favorite out-of-print stuff back into print?

I support electronic publishing not primarily for myself, but for all the other aspiring writers who are in danger of being shut out by the system. I maintain an ongoing survey of electronic publishers and related services at my HiPiers.com site, and it takes a fair amount of my working time. I do try to return my out-of-print material to publication as a service to those of my readers who want otherwise unobtainable books, but that's only part of my reason for involvement. I want there to be a viable alternative to the present exclusive system.

Was it a satisfying experience working on the Companions of Xanth videogame with Legends Entertainment in 1993? What was it like playing the game? Do you enjoy videogames in general?

The Xanth game was, in the end, something of a disappointment. They rejected my input, calling me ignorant, and did it their way. Even so it was Legend's most successful game up to that point. They simply had their eye on a more limited market than I did. I wanted them to try to address a global market, rather than just a gaming market. The idea of the game was to make it easy for anyone to play, especially those turned off by complicated computer processes. I don't play video games myself; I'm too busy writing.

You've said that science fiction/fantasy writers simply can't make a living writing short stories; they must write novels. Do you regret that you're not able to write in short form? Do you tend to have ideas for short stories that you need to rework into novels?

Once I mastered the novel form, I felt at home with it. But I do miss the story form. A couple of years ago I finally wrote several mainstream stories for my collection Relationships, which I like very well. Of course it didn't sell, because all publishers want from me is funny fantasy while this is intense personal interactions. So now I am in contract negotiation with Venus Press for electronic publication. At such time as readers can see these stories, I think they'll agree that there's more on my creative mind than fantasy.

You use the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard typing system, rather than the ubiquitous QWERTY. How did you first start using this exotic system? Do you find it easier? How many words-per-minute can you type with Dvorak?

I learned to type two-finger, and said that if they ever got a sensible keyboard, I'd learn touch on it. Then there was a article in the Saturday Review of Literature about the Dvorak layout, and I said "That's it!" But I have to say that my touch typing never got as fast or accurate as my two-finger typing had been. In fact I got carpal tunnel syndrome, which was never a problem two-finger, until discovering the ergonomic "natural" keyboard, which slowly cured it. My typing really is limited by the speed of my thinking, not my fingers, and is about 30 wpm, which isn't fast.

What is your typical day like? How much time do you spend writing? Is it true you prefer writing to nearly any other activity, and find interviews and other promotion a nuisance? Are you friends with many people in your neighborhood?

With my wife's recent illness, I spend less time writing than I used to. Today my typical day includes making most meals, washing dishes, shopping with my wife (for a time I had to do it alone), and keeping doctor appointments for the two of us. I write in the time left over. My daughters are grown and on their own; we see them when we can. We're pretty much isolated, physically; my contact with others is mostly via snail mail and email.


Controversy :: Frank Depictions of Sex & Life


You've said that publishers seem to dislike your non-Xanth material because you do not shy away from body functions, which I take to mean frank discussions of sex and using the toilet. Are those aspects integral to your non-Xanth work? Would it be possible to release the work with the sexual and bodily aspects removed, but keep the original "pure" manuscript intact, to be released later, either electronically to a smaller audience or perhaps decades down the road, to a less puritanical culture?

What I want is to have my novels published the way I write them, and that can be difficult in traditional publishing. Those who read them in search of body functions will be disappointed; there's not that much. Some readers refused to read the Xanth novel The Color of Her Panties because they said there was a bad word in the title. I refuse to cater to the limitations of such folk. My ChroMagic series is an example of my integrated approach. It's not about body functions, but where they are relevant, they are there. It's about as simple as that.

You once wrote to your young fan Jenny that "TPD = SOD," which means "Typical Publisher Behavior is Shitting On Dreams." You expand by saying, "I think it's a shame that something as creative and vital to the nature of the human species as story-telling is largely controlled by the soulless cretins known as publishers." You've often written about the contempt you've observed publishers exhibiting towards authors. Why do you feel this dynamic exists? Is it just as fair to say that publishers are also pursuing dreams, but their dreams are about having nice homes, financial security and notoriety for publishing best-sellers? Is that necessarily a worse or more selfish dream that being an author? Or is it the way they go about pursuing their dreams that you find objectionable? Does publishing attract a low, mercenary sort of person, or does the nature of the business weed out the less rapacious people? Is it possible the world of commerce itself is unfortunately rather brutal by nature, and the publishers just happen to be the point-of-contact between an author and that world, and so appear villainous?

Your question pretty much answers itself. The essence of the problem, as I see it, is that those whose primary interest is in making money hold the whip hand over those with artistic aspirations. I suspect that had today's publishers prevailed in ancient Greece, there would have been no Parthenon. The money would have been spent on wine, women, and song. That is, immediate pleasure rather than Art.

Do you think some or all people who write wonder-stories deserve to make a living doing so? Should a writer's merit be measured by how hard they work, their popularity, or the "quality" of their work (if such a thing can be measured)?

It would be easy to say "Yes," were I not also conscious of those who consider a human hair in a bottle of urine to be Art. Yet who is to say what Art ultimately is? Certainly not the critics. So I can't answer that. The present system is far from perfect, yet it functions, and some worthwhile art does emerge.

Probably the strongest criticism of your work on the Internet has been for the 10-page sequence in Firefly (1990) in which a five-year-old girl named Nymph, who has been sexually mistreated by her father and brother, seduces an adult man named Mad. In the Author's Note you explain that, "The games five year old Nymph played with Mad where a joy to her at the time, but it was nevertheless abuse by our society's definition (not necessarily that of other societies) ..." Critics say that even when a child is the "instigator," child-adult sex is abusive molestation. You've bridled at charges that you advocate anything resembling abuse, though you've revealed that you're curious about the subject enough to correspond with a few men who are in prison on charges of pedophilia. You've responded to critics by pointing out that exploration of a topic does not translate into advocating it, and no one objects to your writing about savage murders, or massive intergalactic genocides, or accuses you of therefore being a pro-genocidal murderer. To support your point, you cite the voluminous fan mail you've received from women, saying the issue of child/adult sexual encounters is common, and it's about time someone addressed it in fiction.

A friend who recommended Firefly to me wrote, "Piers Anthony constructed this story deliberately to point out some of the logical and moral problems with the strict age-based legal definition of 'molestation.' I will note that none of the critics I've seen in [a particular newsgroup] thread have responded to his logic, instead calling him 'weird' and 'creepy.' These are ad hominem attacks, not counterarguments. It's 'pedophilia' as defined by society. But it's quite possible that to the two people in the relationship, it's simply 'love.'" Would you agree with him?

Yes. What I consider sexual abuse are things like rape and subjugation. A fully voluntary and informed sexual relationship is something else. So I'd condemn a man raping a 40 year old woman, more than I would a man having consensual sex with a 15 year old girl. The problem is that young children don't know enough to make informed consent. So the age of consent laws help protect them. One thing children crave is love. Some adults teach them that love is identical to sex. Thus children can become willing, even eager sexual partners. This is nevertheless abuse.


Psychology :: A Peek Inside


In the first volume of your autobiography, Bio of an Ogre, you write how you began to wet the bed again at age six or seven, after having gone several years without doing so. You speculate that your body may have been attempting to return to its former child-like state, during which you felt better cared for and happier. Can you expand on this idea of the body regressing when a child's life grows unpleasant? Do you see any connection between this event and the popularity of your books particularly with young people? Did experiences like this give you a child-like (but not childish) way of looking at the world most grown-ups shed, allowing you to communicate with young people in their own language?

I once read a comment in a book of children's stories (I think) that the most effective authors of children's books started their lives as happy, then suffered serious years-long disruptions. I am actually a writer of adult novels, but that describes me perfectly, so it may apply to more than children's book authors. Yes, I wet the bed for years, but the cause may have been less direct. There is evidence that I was a very sound sleeper, once I got to sleep, and may simply have lost consciousness to the point of losing bladder control. Probably a specialist could confirm that such a syndrome exists. Sleep was my escape from a life I deemed not worth living. So what explains my rapport with young readers? Two things, I think. One is that when I was young I made an oath to myself never to forget what it was like, the way I saw adults had forgotten, and I kept that oath. That's why you don't see me rhapsodizing about the dear lost joys of childhood; I remember how it really was, and I'm sure many children appreciate that. Second is the empathy I have for all living creatures, not just children. It extends to all ages and all species. I am a vegetarian because I don't like hurting animals, for example.

In your second autobiography, How Precious Was That While, you describe yourself as "depressive." Do you think your success as a writer has helped alleviate depression, aggravated it (because writing is done alone, and solitude often contributes to depression), or had no effect? Is there necessarily a connection between depression and creativity? Do you find that many authors of wonder-stories tend to be depressive?

A book could be written on this subject, and I suspect that more than one has been. I have pondered it often. I conclude that depression is independent of creativity or writing ability, but that a talented creative writer is more likely to appear among depressives because this is his/her way of both expressing the pain and rising out of it. My writing has surely helped lift my spirits, because I love being expressive, and because it has paid well enough to abolish concerns about how to survive economically. A related question I have pondered is whether, were I given a pill to abolish my depression that would also abolish my creativity - would I take it? I suspect I wouldn't. As it happens, I now do take a pill - Synthroid for low thyroid function - that has significantly alleviated my depression. I no longer ponder each morning whether life is worth living, and am no longer obsessed with death. But my creativity continues unabated - I think. So I believe the two are coincidental factors, rather than causatively linked.

In How Precious Was That While, you wrote "My mother was appalled when I once remarked that my parents were folk I knew and liked, but did not love; she did not understand why that had to be." Did you feel that way throughout your childhood? To what do you attribute your emotional separation from your family? Did you become closer with time?

It was evident from the start that my parents had better things to do than cater to their children. My closest relationship with an adult was with my nanny in England - whom I never saw again when I left at age 4. I suspect it was from her I learned empathy, a quality my parents largely lacked. That never really changed.

In your August 2005 newsletter, you wrote, "The Mormons started as a borrowing from a pirated fantasy/historical novel but in time became a legitimate religion that prefers to hide its origins..."; what novel are you referring to? Is it View of the Hebrews: or the Tribes of Israel in America (1825) , by Ethan Smith, or the Lost Manuscript of Solomon Spaulding (written 1812)?

It is Spaulding's novel of ancient America. Handwriting analysis established that pages of that manuscript are in the original Mormon literature, as their founder was illiterate. But this is a very sensitive matter for the Mormons. However, other religions have similarly clouded origins, from Christianity to the Scientologists. What counts, to my mind, is the values and practice they have today, and the Mormons do better than the so-called born-again-Christians now fouling up our American government.

Science fiction author Philip K. Dick once wrote, "The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words."

You've often written that you found life very difficult and unpleasant for many years during middle-childhood. "Reality, of course, has always been my problem."

Is Bink's ability to be immune to magic related to your ability to emotionally disconnect from unpleasant "realities" via wonder stories? And just as Bink's ability eventually wins him success, acceptance and a bride, did your equivalent ability - to detach from mundane reality and let your imagination roam - win you a place in the real world?

Another example is Jack Vance The Languages of Pao, wherein language defines the nature of its culture. Warriors speak a warlike language, for example. I'm a student of language in my fashion, and such things interest me. But I have to say I think it's largely bullshit. People are as they are, and will find the words to express themselves; the words do not change their natures. Neither does changing perception of reality change reality itself. The present American government seems to indulge in magical thinking; deficits don't matter, global warming does not exist, clear-cutting is good for the environment. But reality will make itself felt in due course. Magic is illusion, in our world, and I have no belief in it. Bink is really my take on Everyman, a figure the average reader can identify with. But for all that, yes, I disliked the mundane world, and did in time succeed in improving my situation via my formerly hidden talent for writing. So there is a parallel, but it's less personal and more general than your question implies. Do I identify with Bink? Sure. I also identify with every other character in every piece of fiction I've written, male and female.

You've said, "Xanth is what pays my way so I can afford to do serious writing." Which of your books do you consider your most serious writing, and why? How would you most like to be remembered?

Tarot. The GEODYSSEY series. Tatham Mound. Firefly. Volk. My biography of my father Alfred (unpublished). My mainstream story collection Relationships, forthcoming from Venus Press. Macroscope. Omnivore. Steppe. And for serious, in contrast to funny, fantasy: The ChroMagic series. The Incarnations of Immortality series. It is not that I think there is anything wrong with funny fantasy; I just don't want to be limited to it. I'd like to be remembered as a competent, versatile writer, not a one-string guitar.

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were thirteen years old, what would it be?

Stay the course; this rough path does have a worthwhile destination.

[ end ]



Links :: Where To Learn More


  • Hi Piers is the official homepage of Piers Anthony and Xanth. Features an ongoing newsletter, bibliography, reviews, links to related sites and helpful survey on where to get published electronically.

  • The Compleat Piers Anthony by Daniel J. Reitz, Sr. is probably the most comprehensive online Piers Anthony resource. It features a biography, bibliography, FAQ, photos, articles, reviews and links.

  • Anthony granted a 47-minute interview to the radio program Wired for Books, hosted by Don Swaim (Realaudio).

  • Entries on Xanth and Piers Anthony from Wikipedia.

  • The definitive reference book on Xanth is Piers Anthony's Visual Guide to Xanth (1989), by Piers Anthony and Jody Lynn Nye.

  • Bio of an Ogre (1988) is the autobiography of Piers Anthony to age 50.

  • Piers Anthony's How Precious Was That While (2001) briefly recaps his previous autobiography, then details the next ten years or so.

  • Salon.com ran the story I Was a Captive of Xanth in December 2000.

  • Mundania Press publishes several of Anthony's newer works, reprints of his most famous books and lots of original novels by other authors.


This page launched November 12, 2005.


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