Every reader goes through phases. I unknowingly read my first Piers Anthony book sometime in 6th or 7th grade. The book was Race Against Time and I checked it out of the Granada Hills branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Today, the book would probably be considered YA. (It was the mid-1980s when I read it.) In some respects, it is of similar theme to Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint. In any case, I had a lot of fun reading the book, but I paid no attention to who the author was.
I first became conscious of Piers Anthony as a writer sometime in 7th grade. It may have been a friend of mine, Noah Rowles (now president and CEO of iolo technologies), who first introduced me to his books. For five or six years thereafter those books consumed me. I can’t remember if I started with the Xanth books (back in 1984 there were 8; today there are 34 with more on the way) or if I started with the Incarnations of Immortality series. In any event, I remember enjoying those books. I read all 8 of the Xanth books that were available at the time. But I only read one or two more there after. (In 1999, when I was traveling for work quite a bit, I re-read those first 8 or 9 books while I was on airplanes and in hotels.) I read the Incarnations of Immortality series and enjoyed that one even more. The first book in that series, On a Pale Horse has stayed with me to this very day.
It was in those Incarnation books that I first learned what the life of an author was like. Or at least, the life of Piers Anthony. He began writing lengthy author’s notes that followed each of the books. It talked about the writing process, but also about his life as he wrote the books. This fascinated me, and made a big impression on me. The first glimmerings of being a writer were beginning to emerge. He later wrote an autobiography, Bio of an Ogre, which was the first autobiography of a genre writer that I ever read. (The second, ultimately, was Samuel Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water.)
While in high school, I continued reading the Incarnations series, and also started on the Bio of a Space Tyrant series, which he was writing in parallel. In college, I started reading some of the Robot Adept series, as well as a number of standalone novels. The best of the standalone novels, in my opinion, are Chthon and Macroscope (both of which I believe were nominated for Nebula awards).
Also, while in college, I wrote a letter to Piers Anthony. I often spoke of getting fan mail and I figured I should tell him how much I enjoyed his books. I was surprised to find a page-long response to my letter from him. It was because of that letter that I started using my middle name in my byline. Piers Anthony started his letter: “Dear Ms. Rubin (I am assuming you are a woman)…” I wrote back clarifying my gender and a few more letters passed between us. But I was beginning to move beyond these books. It was around this time that I really stated branching out in science fiction, reading Isaac Asimov and Barry Malzberg novels. I couldn’t get enough of either. And the truth is, I never really got back into Piers Anthony’s books. Much later, he came out with an additional volume each in the Incarnations and Bio of a Space Tyrant series, and while I own them, they sit on my shelf, unread.
I recall seeing Piers Anthony’s name of the cover of the July 1993 Science Fiction Age. It was his name there that first attracted me to that wonderful magazine. His story in that issue, “A Picture of Jesus” was a great one.
After I sold my first story (to InterGalactic Medicine Show), I sent Piers Anthony an email telling him about it and of the influence his books had on me; and I received a short, but nice response from him. I’ve tried to do this with other authors (still living) that I have admired and whose writing has influenced me.
As I became a more experienced reader, I grew to be turned off by some of his books, not because of the subject matter, but because I realized they were often written in very close third person–to the point were whole pages would be consumed by the narrators thoughts. They simply bogged down for me. To this day, I enjoy the style Piers Anthony achieved in novels like Macroscope, or the whimsical adventures of the first few Xanth novels. Then too, I was a little turned off by his attitude toward the publishing world at large. He felt he was blacklisted early in his career and has carried that with him ever since. Before I became a Real Writer (i.e. when I first started to submit stories) I took his attitude toward editors: if they bounce something they are idiots and serves them right. But I was new and naive and I learned pretty quickly that it was that attitude that was idiotic and if I ever wanted to improve, I should try to learn as much as I can from editors and rejections.
It has been a long time since I’ve read a Piers Anthony book. But I still read his newsletter and have added his blog to my RSS feed. And by reading his novels and stories, I have learned what I like in a story and what I don’t and that has certainly influenced by own writing.