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Fantasy flourishes in Florida forests

By HOLLY ATKINS
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 11, 2002


WONDERS OF FLORIDA
Homespun Authors

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photo
Piers Anthony
Don't be surprised if a letter from Piers Anthony arrives dated "AwGhost," "OctOgre," or "FeBlueberry." Anthony calls these his "fantasy months." Fans know that wordplay is part of the fun of a Piers Anthony novel.

The magic of the Internet found Mr. Anthony in his home tucked away in the woods of Citrus County -- or was it the North Village in Xanth? At any rate, meet Piers Anthony, a homespun author with a flair for fantasy.

I guess a good place to start is for you to introduce yourself, and tell a little about your background and personal information. I understand that you're originally from England. What made you decide to come to the United States? Why Florida?

Anthony: I did not decide to come to America; my parents were doing relief work in Spain, when my father was arrested and kicked out of the country. So I arrived here in 1940, age six. I did not like the cold winter of the north, so moved to where it is warm: Florida.

Have you always been a writer? Was writing a part of your life growing up? When did you make the decision to make writing your career? Can you describe for us your daily writing routine? What for you is the hardest/easiest part of writing?

Anthony: I did not know I wanted to be a writer until I needed to decide on my college major. I thought about it overnight and realized that writing was it. From that point my ambition never changed, though for several years I had to take mundane jobs to support my family. Finally my wife went to work, so that I could stay home and write full time; that's when I started selling stories, and later novels. Now I write all the time that is available -- but things like my fan mail take much time. I answer over 100 letters a month, and about 300 e-mails. I'm not sure what the hardest or easiest aspects of writing are; I love every part of the creative, revising and editing process.

Some projects go better than others; I like it when it is moving well.

Obviously there's a strong connection between reading and writing. How have your own reading habits (especially as a child/young adult) influenced your work as a writer? Favorite books? Favorite authors? Many of my students want to know if Tolkien was an inspiration for you.

Anthony: I think a person needs to be a reader to be a writer. My favorite reading was science fiction and fantasy -- and that is mostly what I write, though my private passion is ancient history, and I have written historical fiction. I don't seem to have favorite books or authors any more; I have become an extremely critical reader and read more for business than pleasure. I did like Tolkien's The Hobbit as a child and like the recent Fellowship of the Ring movie.

Wonders of Florida: What's so wonderful about our state?Do you have any words of advice to kids who would like to become authors themselves?

Anthony: My standard advice is to keep reading and writing and revising. Practice helps improvement, and it's a long, slow process.

If I took a survey of my middle school students, I know that their overwhelmingly favorite genre of writing is fantasy. Do you have any explanations for this?

Anthony: In my day fantasy wasn't popular. I think that changed when the movies latched onto it, so that a whole generation of children came to know it. I happened to be one of the writers who rode fantasy up during the 1980s, and it has been popular ever since. Some readers tell me that I am the reason they like fantasy. I love that!

Why did you model Xanth after Florida?

Anthony: I wanted to work with editor Lester del Rey, and he was the fantasy editor, so I wrote a fantasy novel. At that time we were moving to the Florida backwoods -- I like the forest better than the city -- and that colored my fantasy. As the series expanded, it came to take over Florida, making it magic. I didn't know it was going to happen until it happened.

Where did you learn about all of the mythological creatures?

Anthony: As a child I didn't know what fantasy was, but liked it when I saw it. Things like Bulfinch's Mythology and The Arabian Nights. So the creatures of fantasy were with me throughout. Now I have books about them and research in them when I need to.

Why name the character Bink?

Anthony: It seemed that all fantasy heroes had impressive names, but I wanted an ordinary guy, so he had a nothing name. Who could take a man named Bink seriously?

Okay, where on earth did the "wiggles" come from?

Anthony: When I wrote A Spell for Chameleon I discovered it was short. I needed to add something, but I didn't want to change the end. So I pondered and came up with a new, original threat: the wiggles. I don't remember how I thought of them, but they were great for the job.

Do you find it more peaceful and easier to think when surrounded by nature and enveloped in quiet?

Anthony: Yes. Actually I always worked in my study, tuning out the rest of the world, but I much prefer to be in the forest.

Why fantasy?

Harry Potter, The Fellowship of the Ring -- What is so fabulous about fantasy? According to author Cynthia Leitich Smith, the magic is in entering the make-believe world of infinite possibilities.

"One of the most enduring human needs is to imagine, to play, to escape. In youngest children, it is celebrated and catered with toys; otherworldly play sets, and the costuming of special occasions and dress-up. However, as pressures set in to grow up, to seem cool, often kids and teens are socially reinforced for imagining themselves the knight or samurai or princess only if they do so via the pages of a book.

"Fantasies also reinforce the idea of possibilities, so important to youth. In too many ways, reaching toward adulthood often seems a quest to go from infinite destinations to one true path. A fantasy novel, even more than other fiction, reminds young readers that they are the heroes of their own stories. They aspire of not only conquering dragons but befriending them. They become shadow explorers of worlds dangerous but wondrous, preparing them to take such journeys in life. In a world where reality may seem increasingly unstable, they are given a moment to celebrate the beauty of the unicorn's horn, to hear and consider his wisdom."

Surfing for a good read

Looking for a great sci-fi or fantasy novel? Is action-adventure more for you? Cynthia Leitich Smith's Web site is chock full of book lists, author interviews, recent award-winning titles. It'll keep you between the pages of great books for a long, long time. Warning: These books have the potential to take you to far-off lands, away from homework and chores. This writer assumes no responsibility for angry teachers and parents!

Check it out at www.cynthialeitichsmith.com (you can e-mail Mrs. Smith from the site!).

-- St. Petersburg High School student (and Piers Anthony fan) Jamiee Afeld contributed to this interview.

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Wonders of Florida

Introduction and previous chapters


NIE
-- Holly Atkins, a National Board Certified Teacher, is the language arts department head at Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg. Atkins, who has been a resident of St. Pete Beach nearly all her life, has been an instructor at the Poynter Institute's Writers' Camp and is the proud teacher of local and national award-winning student writers.

ABOUT NEWSPAPER IN EDUCATION

The St. Petersburg Times devotes news space to NIE features throughout the year, including this classroom series. The Times' NIE department works with local businesses and individuals to enrich the classroom experience by providing newspapers, supplemental guides and educational services to schools in the Tampa Bay area. To let us know what you think about this series or to find out how you can become involved in NIE, please call (727) 893-8969 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8969.

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