One of the long-standing luminaries of the fantasy genre is Piers Anthony. With forty Xanth novels under his belt, plus several other series, short stories and novellas, collaborations, Anthony has assembled a prolific body of work, and new stuff is coming out as we speak. Even with that much going on, he graciously took the time out to chat with us about the writing life, and what led him to it.
TH: What is The Story of Piers? A quirky epic fantasy? A roller-coaster thriller of creative frenzy?
PA: The Story of Piers is a kind of roller coaster, indeed. Throughout my life I have gotten in trouble for being right and standing my ground. In college I was suspended for a week for protesting the faculty’s arbitrary assumption of power over the girls’ lounge. The entire student body protested, staging a sit-in, but the college president threatened to close the college, and they backed down. In the US Army they punished my battalion because I and one other declined to buy US Savings Bonds. It was supposed to be free choice, but they wanted 100%. I was removed from my Survey teaching position, denied promotion, denied leave, set to pulling weeds and such, and the other guy they busted, that is, demoted. Then in my writing career I demanded a correct accounting from a publisher who was cheating me, and got blacklisted there for 6 years. In each case I was correct, and the other side was unethical or even illegal, but right does not necessarily make right. But I did get some of my own back: after the cheating editors were finally booted, I was invited back, and that same publisher made me a national bestseller. Roller coaster, yes. But I don’t recommend this route for others, because it was luck, not justice that got me through, and usually the wronged writer does not win in the end.
PA: I have been imaginative and creative all my life, but I never thought to be a writer until I had to ponder my college major. Then I pondered a day and a night and the light turned on. It has guided me ever since.
TH: Do you have any writing stuck away somewhere that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skills?
PA: Yes. My first novel, The Unstilled World, simply was not good enough to publish, and would be an embarrassment to me today. But it did serve as my 95,000 word graduating thesis for my BA in Creative Writing.
TH: A Spell for Chameleon was listed among the top 100 Sci-Fi books of all-time list by NPR. Others on that list include Tolkien, Bradbury, and Douglas Adams. Is this something you expected or hoped for in the early days of your career? Has it affected your outlook or day-to-day operations?
PA: I had no such expectations, and it did not affect my outlook. I thought A Spell for Chameleon would be a singleton novel, and indeed, it did not make any initial splash.
TH: Every writer has things they would like to accomplish, e.g. first sale, next sale, first novel sale, first bestseller, etc. but you’ve had a career spanning five decades. What accomplishment are you striving for right now?
PA: Make that five decades since my first sale, and six since my decision to write. I have accomplished what I want to, literarily (now don’t typo that!) so my remaining desire is lower-brow: to get a movie made from one or more of my novels, so I can go out on top. Maybe it will happen.
TH: Which of your novels or stories would you most like to see up on the silver screen? Are there any you feel are particularly well-suited to film adaptation?
PA: I’d like to see any of my novels or stories become a movie. One recent one that especially appeals to me in that respect is Aliena, about a lovely young woman who turns out to have the brain of an alien starfish from a far planet. It’s not horror, it’s amicable first contact. I think it has everything for a great movie, including an intense love story.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
PA: I feel most truly alive when I’m writing. I love living briefly in the realms I create. Fame, money, etc. are fine, but it’s the creation that turns me on. I seldom attend book signings, or fan conventions; they take me away from writing, and I don’t crave what is called “egoboo” – that is, the boosting of ego from being told how great you are. Again, it’s not that it’s not fun, but I’d rather be writing.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as an writer? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
PA: The first milestone was my first sale of a short story. The second was the first sale of a novel. Both were great. The third, maybe, was achievement of best seller status. I believe I was the first to have a fantasy paperback original make the New York Time bestseller list.
TH: Some say that artists have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
PA: Yes, I have to, and I make it a point to read and understand contracts. This is a matter of self-preservation rather than preference. It would be nice if all publishers were honest, ethical, and decent. They aren’t. I can and do take legal action when necessary. But it’s not fun.
TH: What are the most effective ways you have found to promote yourself?
PA: I’m not much at promotions. I let the publishers do it. But I do maintain my www.HiPiers.com site as a way to express my views, inform readers of my works, and help others get published. I have had many appreciations from writers who have gotten published by finding their publishers at my site. I trust that all of this helps promote me, too.
TH: Can you recall a moment when a two or more influences or inspirations came together and smacked you with a cool idea?
PA: It happens all the time, too many cases to list. A recent example: I was reading “Prince Valiant” in the Sunday comics, wherein he was lured by a siren, and I thought, suppose there were a male siren that lured women? That led to my short novel Neris, to be self-published soon. It is “Siren” spelled backwards.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as a writer?
PA: Every moment is memorable in its fashion. One negative one is when I was told by a lawyer that I could get sued and lose for telling the truth about the publisher that cheated me. That was a nasty revelation: that money, not justice, governed the publishing realm. Today publishers know that I now have the will and the means to make my case, so they don’t try to mess with me. But back then I didn’t. Regardless, it stinks. Writing is such an Idealistic pursuit; it’s a shame to have it soiled by corruption.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
PA: Right now I’m writing a collaboration with bestseller J. R. Rain, Jack and the Giants. I will soon write Xanth #40 Isis Orb. I am also writing stories. Today I finished “Descant” for Fantasy Scroll Magazine, a short fantasy with a musical theme. I am constantly writing, so there will always be new pieces until I die, and for a while thereafter.
TH: As you mentioned you are soon to be working on book #40 in the Xanth series. Do you ever see yourself bringing that series to a close? Are the elements going to break their borders and swallow Xanth?
PA: For decades all publishers wanted from me was Xanth, and I might have ended the series had I been able to sell much else. But it was locked in. Now it seems it is most of what my readers want from me. So I guess it will end when I die, if then. I always liked Xanth; I just didn’t want to be limited to it.
TH: You have written many stories and series’ outside of Xanth, your excellent Mode series, for instance. Why do you think Xanth has been your most popular series?
PA: Xanth is pretty much unvarnished entertainment, sort of like dessert. It seems that many readers crave that relaxation. I think also that it has become a familiar land that readers feel comfortable in, so when their lives get stressful, they retreat there.