First, a confession. I only titled this blog, “Piers Anthony and me,” because just once, somewhere on the internet, I wanted my name linked to his. It’s a small victory, but we take them where we can find them, yes?
First, just in case you don’t read a lot of fantasy, and so don’t know who Piers Anthony is, he’s one of the living legends of the field. He’s written not just one, but two of the best known fantasy series of all time: the Xanth series, and the Incarnations of Immortality series, both of which I have read, and loved.
I first stumbled across Mr. Anthony’s work back in 1984, in a bookstore in Miles City, Montana. I was poking through the stacks, when this cover caught my eye.
I bought it immediately and read it in about 24 hours. What else was I going to do? I was stuck in Miles City, Montana, which my friends Jim and Joni and I liked to call, “West Dakota,” with all that brings to mind.
On a Pale Horse immediately became one of my ten favorite books of all time, and it has stayed on that list ever since. Over time, as they were released, I bought and read all the other Incarnations of Immortality series. Apart from loving the books, I was struck by Piers’ Author’s Notes. They were so plain spoken, when I got done reading them, he had begun to feel like a friend, not just another faraway author. I will freely admit that my own Author’s Notes, at the back of each of my books, are modeled on his.
Next, I moved on to the Xanth series, which, again, I highly recommend. Light, fun fantasy that is easy to read and that builds an entire universe in your mind.
Fast forward many years. Before I publish my books, I use what are known in the business as “beta readers.” Beta readers read books in their rougher, pre-edited condition, and help writers iron out issues in plotting, characterization, etc. For my new book, one of those beta readers was Terry Vickers.
As he was reading The Redemption of Michael Hollister, he messaged me to ask if I had read Piers Anthony. “Of course,” I said. “He’s one of my favorite authors.”
“I thought so,” Terry said. “I can see his influence on you.”
Well, that puffed my chest right up and made me happy. We talked a bit more, then he said, “You should see if Piers would read it for you.”
Here’s the thing: I never ask other authors to blurb my books. (That’s one of those writer’s verbs: to blurb.) That being said, I would never dream of asking a writer of Piers’ stature to do so. I mean he’s had twenty-one New York Times best sellers. I’m happy when I sell twenty-one books in a day.
So, I demurred.
“You really should,” Terry said. “He’s really good with his fans.”
Until later that night, when I shucked all caution to the wind and sent Piers Anthony a fan letter. I also never write fan letters, but it was probably pretty typical as these things go: I love your work, I appreciate all the reading joy you’ve given me, etc. At the end, I asked a question: Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you could live it all over again, with all your memories intact? I told him I had written a book with that idea, and that if he wanted to read it, I would send it to him.
Then, I turned my computer off and went to bed.
The next morning, I awoke to a reply in my inbox. I was 100% sure it was a brush off from one of his assistants, but when I clicked on it, it read, in part, “That’s a good question you ask, and I am intrigued. If you send your book, I will read and review it in due course.”
Eureka! Oh, my goodness, I had to run and find Dawn immediately and tell her. I’m an even-handed person, but I can tell you, I was excited!
And then scared. I mean, OMG, one of my writing idols was going to read something I wrote. A story I created out of my own little brain. I immediately thought of every thing in The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver that I had wanted to change.
I swallowed hard, and sent it off.
And, of course, me being Shawn, I messed it up. In a novel or screenplay, this scene would be called the long dark night of the soul, or, all is lost.
Y’see, I had originally written Thomas Weaver as a serial, with six shorter episodes. So, what did I send Piers Anthony? Yes, you guessed it – instead of the entire novel, I sent him one small portion – 12,000 words – of the entire novel. That was definitely an all is lost moment. I’d had a big break, and I’d blown it.
I didn’t discover my mistake, by the way, until two weeks after I had sent it on, when Piers sent me a note to that effect.
What could I do? I took my hat in my hand, and sent him another note, explaining my goof up and asking if he might still be possibly interested in reading the whole thing.
Piers Anthony is not only an immensely talented writer, he is a very nice human being. He said he would read the rest.
Today, I heard back from him. And you know what? He liked it. He called it “fascinating,” and “A compelling read.”
I could have cried. Okay, I did cry, but no one was there to witness it, so I don’t know why I’m confessing it now.
Writers lose confidence in themselves all the time. We often call it “Imposter Syndrome.” As in, dangerous self-talk like “Ah, I’m not a real writer. Will anyone care to read another word I ever write?”
Those thoughts may come back some day, but today, I am floating on a cloud of happiness. One of my idols stepped down off a literary Mt. Olympus, and extended a hand to me. It means the world.
This story has two heroes. Terry Vickers, for pushing me to contact Piers, and Piers Anthony for being so kind to someone that he had no need to be kind to.
And of course, coming soon: a brand new cover on The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver that will have a gold star blurb that reads: “Fascinating – this is one compelling story. Piers Anthony.”