Interview with Piers Anthony
Interview Highlights: watch out for Piers Anthony's useful method for dealing with writer's block!
Re:Fiction: Thanks for joining us, Piers Anthony! Tell us a little about your earliest days of writing. What age were you? What kind of fiction did you write? How was it received?
Piers Anthony: Actually I was 19, in college, when I realized that what I really wanted was to be a writer. It was like a light turning on, and it has guided me ever since. I started with science fiction, then later spread out into fantasy, historical, martial arts, and erotica. My biggest success has been in Fantasy.
Re:Fiction: When did you realize you’re serious about pursuing a writing career?
Piers Anthony: At the time of that light. But it still took me another eight years to sell my first story, and longer to be able to make a living at it. Later I became a best-seller, but I was completely committed long before that.
Re:Fiction: What was the first piece you ever got published? How hard was it to get your first acceptance?
Piers Anthony: My first published story was “Possible to Rue”, about animals that became extinct or imaginary when looked up in the encyclopedia. The title reflects the volume covering PO to RU. I made a whole twenty dollars from that piece, but it was wonderful to get published.
Re:Fiction: How do you approach a new writing project? What kind of preparations do you make?
Piers Anthony: I have a huge file of ideas I summarize and save. Sometimes I add notes to them, sometimes one grows into a story, a novella, or a novel. Once I decide an idea is ripe for the harvest, I work out the names and descriptions of characters and setting, and start writing the text. I don’t start writing until I know where I am going. An idea can jell for years – or bloom rapidly.
Re:Fiction: What are your writing habits? Do you have daily or weekly goals? Do you have regular hours? A regular workspace?
Piers Anthony: When I am in a writing project, I put all the time into it that I can. But this is limited by other commitments I have, such as shopping, making meals, exercising, and handling the routine chores that life is all about. I do usually get several hours a day to write, and can generally write a story in a few days or a novel in three months. I do have a study with whatever I need handy, such as dictionaries, computer, and filing cabinets.
Re:Fiction: How do you slog through the challenge of writing a full-length novel? What keeps you going? How do you keep the passion alive?
Piers Anthony: Writing a novel feels like running a marathon: I do get tired in the center. That is one reason I now prefer novellas in the 30,000 word range, and now do one 100,000 word Xanth novel a year. But I persevere, figuring out the significant details I never thought of before, and make steady progress. Gradually it clarifies, and I come into distant sight of the end, and the joy of writing returns. The passion is there throughout; it just needs some discipline. I suspect that’s a hidden asset I possess: formidable discipline.
Re:Fiction: Do you ever run into writer’s block? If so, what do you do to overcome it? How well does it work?
Piers Anthony: Early on I encountered Writer’s Block, and realized that I couldn’t afford it. I developed a system of writing that banished it forever. It is what I call my bracket system, because when I wrote my first drafts in pencil and stalled out, I would make comments set off by brackets so that I would know they were not to be included in the novel’s text. [Like this. I was interviewed by another writer and mentioned this, but he wasn’t interested. He suffered from writer’s block. That made me think that he didn’t really want to write, though of course he was in denial about that, as I think most blocked writers are.] In the brackets I would talk to myself asking key questions, suggesting ideas, until finally I would hit on one that worked. Then I would return to write text. Sometimes I would spend days in brackets, writing thousands of words. The point is I kept on writing, either text or notes about why I wasn’t writing text. In the second draft I eliminated the bracket notes. It’s a system I believe will halt block in any writer, in any project – if he/she really does want to get there. When I computerized I put my notes in a parallel file, but the mindset remained. [He has just taken her into his arms, and I can’t think of a continuation. Does he throw her in the lake? I think not. Does he quote Shakespeare to her? No. Maybe this: he proposes marriage to her. Try that.] Does it work? Yes, emphatically. Especially if she says yes.
Re:Fiction: What do you consider as success in a writer’s life? How do you recommend getting there?
Piers Anthony: Success, to me, is writing a piece that satisfies me, and getting it published. Receiving at least one appreciative reader response. Not money; that is only a means to the end of continuing to write. When I became a bestseller it was gratifying, yes, in significant part because it meant I would never have to quit writing. But I would have continued regardless. How does a writer achieve bestsellerdom? By definition only one percent will, so it’s chancy. In fact it’s like winning a big lottery; great if you’re lucky, but don’t count on it. Write to the market and hope for the best.
Re:Fiction: What is the best tip you can give to new and intermediate writers in general?
Piers Anthony: Write for the love of writing. If you want to get monetarily rich, become a corrupt politician. There are plenty of public examples to follow.
Re:Fiction: What is the best tip you can give to new and intermediate writers in your genre?
Piers Anthony: Study your market. You can be a commercial writer, writing what you think will sell. I am. Or you can be a quality writer, exploring marvelous new horizons. I am that too, though chances are you never heard of my serious work. Yes, I can give examples: Xanth is commercial. The Sopaths is the other kind. You will discover a difference.
My mindset is simply that I love to write; I don’t have to force myself to do it. I have to force myself to do the other chores.
My main tip for beginners is just to keep writing and improving until you get there. That’s what I did.
Piers Anthony, thanks so much for sharing your experience and wisdom with us writers!