Piers Anthony is the hardest working fantasy author in the world. With over a hundred books and millions of readers, he’s the creator of the Xanth books, Incarnations of Immortality series, and many other series and books. He’s been a New York Times bestselling author twenty times over and lives in the Mundania state of Florida.
Recently, comics writer Jorge Aguirre and comics artist Rafael Rosado sat down with Piers to talk about his writing style, the long-ago deal he made with his wife, and more.
JORGE: You have created so many worlds and so many books that have become series. When creating a new world and a series how much do you have figured out before you start, and how much do you figure out along the way? Did you have the story worked out for Incarnations of Immortality or Xanth when you wrote On a Pale Horse or A Spell for Chameleon?
PIERS ANTHONY: Generally I work out the background, main characters, and rough storyline before I start writing. But I thought the first Xanth novel would be a singleton, so my research was intended for only one novel. That was similar for On a Pale Horse. I did not see the series coming.
JORGE: How much thinking time, outlining, or research time is generally involved before you begin the actual writing of a new series or a new book? Do you let an idea incubate for a long time?
PIERS ANTHONY: It varies. I planned to spend two weeks cleaning up my messy yard, but then used the time to work out A Spell for Chameleon. That yard never did get cleaned up, and I don’t regret it.
JORGE: Making Xanth shaped like Florida is ingenious because it’s something so familiar to us, yet a place that’s so different. And Bink seems like such a regular guy, but we learn he’s not at all average. In your Incarnations series, we’re with characters from Greek myths who are familiar yet very different. Is that how ideas start with you; beginning with something or someone kind of familiar and then taking it waaaay off course to some place new and interesting?
PIERS ANTHONY: The rule of thumb is to put an ordinary person into an extraordinary situation, or to put an extraordinary person into an ordinary situation. Both can work. These two series feature the first option.
JORGE: I first read A Spell for Chameleon when I was in high school. You were the only author I knew back then to use the author note at the end of your books to answer your fans’ mail and talk about writing. You continue that online. Has it always been important to you to maintain a connection with your audience?
PIERS ANTHONY: Your memory betrays you: none of the first six Xanth novels had Author’s Notes. That was a later phenomenon. But yes, it has always been important to me to maintain touch with my readers.
JORGE: I really admire how you don’t romanticize writing; you don’t get writer’s block, you just write. How did you reach that point? Was it the deal you made with your wife when you first began writing—that if you could sell a piece of writing within a year, she’d support you to keep writing? Did that deadline teach you to sit down every day and write?
PIERS ANTHONY: In that first writing year I wrote several stories, then ran out of inspiration. I knew I couldn’t afford that, so I worked out a system to abolish writer’s block, which I have used ever since. But as it happened, I did go back to mundane work after that year, because all I had earned from writing was $160 and it wasn’t enough to support a family.
JORGE: Several of your works have been optioned for films. I’ll apologize in advance, because I’m sure everyone asks you this but—when are we going to get to see a film based on one your works?
PIERS ANTHONY: There are a lot of prospects for movies, and only a few of those can get made. My novels have come close several times, but not quite made the final cut. There’s always hope for the future.
Or a simpler, less accurate answer: movie studios are idiots.
JORGE: You seemed to have embraced digital publishing. What do you think is the future of books made from trees versus digital books? I understand how digital publishing will be a boom for authors to get their work out there, but how will new authors will get themselves discovered by readers?
PIERS ANTHONY: I believe that electronic publishing is the future, and I am embracing it. Now new authors can get published, though maybe only one in a thousand will ever achieve much fame or money from it. At least everyone can now get in the game. That was not the case before.
Jorge Aguirre is a writer and Rafael Rosado is an artist and together they co-created Giants Beware! from First Second Books. Besides graphic novels, Rafael is also an animator and storybook artist based in Columbus, Ohio, and Jorge writes for animated kids shows, and he’s based in New Jersey.