An Interview with Piers Anthony
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to another exciting episode of Mendo Talks to Rather Interesting People from Around the Internet! (Why yes, I am going to run this TV announcer bit into the ground, how’d you know?)
You see, as dedicated as I am to finding established internet people with interesting things to say, my contestant pool is mostly limited to whomever I can browbeat into participating. So why not badger someone that the casual, non-internet-using type might have heard of?
That way, the Cynical Cycle of Cross-Promotion (or CCCP) continues unabated: The Agony Booth gets more readers, and I can pretend I’m someone important. With that in mind, I managed to track down…
[cue suitably epic fanfare]
Piers Anthony Dillingham Jacob!
Or, just Piers Anthony for short.
I know, I know, his reputation precedes him, but to be honest, I wasn’t the family Xanth-head (that would be my brother Tony), so his bizarre mix of fantasy, low-brow humor, and light eroticism completely blindsided me when I first read one of his books to prep for this interview.
But for the most part, he’s gotten a bad rap. Sure, his books are pervy to the extreme (not that I’m complaining), but his characters are remarkably easy to spend time with, so if you can keep your sensibilities from being offended too much in the first few chapters of any given Xanth story, it’s worth it in the end.
But hey, don’t let just one massively long series of novels make up your mind about him. Homeboy’s got thirteen of them! Granted, they’re not as long, but they’re just as chockfull of delightful insanity.
So, join us as we discuss, well, Piers Anthony, and other Piers Anthony related topics!
Mendo: According to Wikipedia, you’ve written, or had a hand in writing, upwards of 130 books in your life. Being an author myself, I know that writing is a very slow process, so my first question is, what’s your work schedule like, and do you ever sleep?
In 1966 I retired to full time writing. In 1984 I computerized. This facilitates writing in a way that having a day job does not. My pace has slowed in recent years, as I have taken over some household chores from my wife, but I can still normally get in several hours a day writing. I work steadily, writing 1,000-3,000 words a day, and that adds up.
Mendo: What were you doing before you were a full-time writer, if you don’t mind my asking?
I worked at anything available to pay my way. As a driver for delivering magazines and books. Selling insurance. Two years in the US Army. Three years as a tech writer for an electronics company. State social worker. Teaching high school English. As with having the wrong romantic partner, none of them were right for me.
Mendo: Many contemporary readers have remarked on what seems to be an
“excessive fetishisticness” to your earlier works, particularly the Tarot series. Is there any truth to that, in your opinion, or is it merely a differing view based on a disparity between the era it was written and today?
Fetishisticness—I don’t think I have seen that word before, and I can’t be sure what it means. I try to do the best I can with whatever subject or story is at hand, whatever its nature. I don’t shy away from controversial aspects.
Mendo: You’ve written at least thirteen separate series in your career, but you remain most well known for Xanth and Incarnations of Immortality. (Xanth in particular.) Why do you feel that these two have resonated the most?
I aspired to be the author of serious science fiction. Then, largely by coincidence, I tried fantasy as a time when the fantasy market was about to take off. It seems I have a touch with fantasy, and it was like an escalator that carried me to the heights—I was lucky to find the vein that produced best.
Mendo: Some would say that Xanth’s popularity is based more on the abundance of books in the series (34) more than anything else. I must admit, there is a wide variety of subjects covered in the series, but is there any validity to the idea that it’s probably more famous for how long it is?
Xanth has extended indefinitely because that’s just about all that publishers want from me. Its sales today are only a fraction of what they were in its heyday.
Mendo: Do you ever worry that, because of how long the series is, that the stories will decrease in quality, the way Animorphs had by the time it reached its 54th book?
I do the best I can, whatever the project. My concern is that advancing age could decrease my ability.
Mendo: If publishers were more interested in your other works, would you stop writing Xanth novels?
I would work on both, as I am now.
Mendo: Xanth novels can play pretty fast and loose with storytelling, I’ve noticed. If I may cite Golem in the Gears, which shifts from a comic quest in a traditional setting, to a critique of contemporary society, to a surprisingly sweet love story, to a chase story, to something involving the self-esteem of planets and a game of Lines and Boxes, to say nothing of the bizarre encounters with a sentient computer and other oddities. How exactly do you plot these books out?
Other books I plot more seriously. Xanth just sort of flings out whatever way it decides to go. Sometimes I think of it like fruitcake: you don’t know what you’ll find in any one mouthful, but there is a certain coherence to the whole.
Mendo: Speaking of Golem in the Gears, I happened to stumble across a first edition copy here in Iraq, and what struck me was that part in the back where you chastise those who would steal copies of your books. This has since become a standard practice among musicians and filmmakers, given the rise of internet piracy, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an earlier example. Would you consider yourself a pioneer in the whole “stealing is bad” movement?
No. Stealing and piracy has been with publishing throughout. I am just one more victim in a line that may be centuries long.
Mendo: I just have to ask, what prompted you to title Xanth #15 The Color of Her Panties? I’d ask about that story itself, but it really seems par for the course by now…
Mendo: Can you tell us a little bit about the But What of Earth? scandal? I’m still a little unsure about the details.
The publisher illegally rendered it into a degraded collaboration. I protested, and they fired the editor, shut down the line, apologized, and reverted the rights to me. I republished it with 25,000 words of notes calling out just how atrocious the editing was. That was very satisfying; most authors just have to accept it when a publisher trashes their books.
Mendo: You wrote the official novelization for Total Recall. It strikes me as unusual that an established author would handle something like that, rather than being written by whomever happens to be around, as is usually done. How did you become attached to that project?
I wanted to get experience in novelizing, so agreed to do it. They messed it up anyway. There is surely a chamber in Hell for arrogant ignorant editors.
Mendo: How was your version of Total Recall different from the published version?
One example: in the original movie script, Arnold is working as a rock driller.
During the lunch break a dancing girl appears and a circle of men watch her.
Arnold gets up and walks right into her, and through her. She’s a holo! Lovely scene that they cut from the movie, so I had to cut it for the paperback edition. There were other changes, but that’s the one that bothers me most.
Mendo: Which of your lesser known series would you recommend for fans of your main two?
Mendo: Aside from fantasy, what types of books do you like to read?
Nonfiction and anything that is well done.
It’s largely chance, what hits the top. I had my chance in the 1980s. Others deserve their chances.
Good stuff, good stuff. So, you see, Piers Anthony is a lot like you or me. I think.
I mean, was your first novel nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula Award? Come to think of it, I should have asked him about that. Dammit. Well, nobody’s perfect…
And that’s our show! If you’d like to be one of Mendo’s Rather Interesting People from Around the Internet, feel free to contact me, and then go out and do something… rather interesting!