Janet Morris and Chris Morris interview on the collaborative process in literature

Originally published in Uviart.  Thanks. Uvi Poznansky, for this incisive interview

http://uviart.blogspot.com/p/guest-interview.html

Guest

Interview about Collaboration:
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”
with
Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Authors of
And more books
So said Shakespeare’s Polonius of Hamlet, in Hamlet. So say Janet Morris and Chris Morris, lifetime collaborators in words, music, and strategy. I cornered this elusive pair to ask some hard questions about how they do what they do, and why.
Janet and Chris, writing is known to be a solitary art. How do you two manage to write seamlessly together, so much so that no one can tell which of you wrote what?
Uvi, Apropos of collaboration, Shakespeare’s Touchstone said in As You Like It, “We that are true lovers run into strange capers.” As Chris and I often do.
But first let us give you our view of collaboration as an art form. For centuries, two or more people have been collaborating on written works under one person’s name. History is rife with collaborations, announced and unannounced.
Some examples? Shakespeare had several close collaborators, none so famous in his own right as Christopher Marlowe, who seems to us to have been his closest collaborator, due to similarity in each man’s work and style. We’ve written of these two collaborating in various tales in our Heroes in Hell series. J, the Yahwist, first writer of the Old Testament, also had many collaborators. Even before Biblical times, collaboration was common: the Greek mythic cycles were written not only by Homer, but by many writers; whether these collaborators wrote at the same time, or followed one another, is immaterial: these were true collaborations. As literature became a business, not merely an art form for the collective memory of the human race, the custom and marketing strategy of putting one — almost always male — name on a work became an unwritten convention, pushing anonymous contributors into the background. Yet they often can be found, peeking out from history’s shadows, unsung and influential.
But these questions are about us, collaborating today: while we’re alive, we can answer what questions we choose, rather than leaving posterity to wonder; be as forthcoming as we wish about life and love and art. For us, life and love and art are one. We have always written together, first song melodies and lyrics, later novels — but always with one of us taking the lead, the other in support. In our early days, Janet supported Chris’ music, and Chris supported Janet’s prose. Since we met in 1966, we spent years smoothing the rough edges of our collaborative process, learning to focus on the art in question, not the artist, and thereby improving both. If we write seamlessly, it is because we deliberate about every thought, every phrase, every word, every rhythm, yet strive never to lose the shape of the initial conception. Our prose is rhythmic, our plots inventive, our song lyrics carry messages because we are keenly aware that a person has only so much time in life, and must use that time wisely.  When we begin a new piece of prose or piece of music, we start with a clear idea of what that story or song must say. We vigorously weed out irrelevancies and polish our idea until it is bright, clear, shining in our hearts and in our minds. When writing prose, the mind’s eye is where the visualization first takes place; when we write music, it is the ear which first carries the message to the brain.
All art is communication of ideas. We have co-written op/eds and policy pieces for governments, strategic plans for military, academic, and industrial users, as well as fiction. Writing nonfiction has taught us when and how to be sparing of words. Chris has been the voice of a TV station and products as well as our music. Now we are exploring the close relationships between music and writing fiction by producing audio books. The Sacred Band (audio edition) took a year to complete. Because the story’s characters live deep in our hearts and first drew breath in the 20th century, we took great pains to ensure that the narration remains true to the characters, who have evolved over decades and millions of words. Narration is only one breath away from literary exposition.
For each art form, our process is the same: one of us begins the effort with a title, a musical passage, a topic or an idea, or a clearly-stated purpose. Once the title and the purpose of the piece are agreed, the process of perfecting story and rhythm — yes, even fiction should have its rhythms, its beats — is sometimes begun by one or the other. Often, when a day’s work is completed by one, the other adds a voicing, a suggestion, recognizes a lost facet or missed opportunity, clarifies whatever is unclear; changes are agreed, and at the end of the day, we are sitting together, reading or playing the work aloud and finishing what the morning began. In music or prose, we never continue drafting or recording a long piece of work until we’re both happy with what we’ve done previously. If later in the evolution of the piece an element needs to be included that was omitted or unrecognized in the work as we began it, we go back and make those changes. Some recent examples of this process can be seen in our Heroes in Hell series,
For instance, Chris began Babe in Hell (a story in Rogues in Hell) with the idea of a baby and Solomon reprising the famous Biblical story, albeit in Hell. To Hell Bent in Dreamers in Hell Chris immediately added the quip “And twice on Sadderdays.” Once we’d named the play which is the centerpiece of the story, Janet added the flayed skins of heroes to be used as props. But sometimes, in longer works, we can’t recall who authored what lines. In “Words” in Poets in Hell, working on the first paragraph, Janet asked Chris to supply the crucial word: “Words are the what? of the mind” Janet asked. Chris said “mortar.” So the line now reads “Words are the mortar of the mind.” And so it goes, a natural give and take, sometimes contentious, often strenuous, always fascinating.
Our process is not quick. We’ve taken years to do a book such as I, the Sun; we say The Sacred Band (TSB) took eighteen months, but if one includes the research and discussion time before the first word was written, TSB culminates years of effort to crystallize that story so we could then write it. In this way, we please ourselves, and have pleased many readers and listeners as well.
You who know our body of work are now wondering why one name appears on so many of the books or musical compositions. For now, suffice it to say that publishers think readers want a work crafted by an individual, preferably a male (unless the work is a romance or a book about women in society).
Now that you have told us how you write together, answer this harder question: Why?
Why write together? A collaborator provides perspective, a broader view; a universality that one mind, male or female, often cannot attain. For centuries such collaborations were known only behind the scenes:  the woman or man who was the editor, co-creator of ideas, first reader, was the power behind the throne, unnamed, a secret presence. So how do we decide whose name goes on a work when only one name appears? If one writer drives the work individually, or if a work is best read as the product of male or female, we so credit it. For this reason, we have several times used male pseudonyms when selling a book to a publisher for a particular market.
As you point out, the two of you haven’t always published with joint bylines. How did your first official collaborations come about?
Our first official collaborations in song music and lyrics preceded our collaborations in books and stories by about a decade. Although Janet received some writing credits on The Christopher Morris Band (MCA 1977) record album, and High Couch of Silistra was published under the byline ‘Janet Morris’ in that same year, not until 1984 was the first fantasy fiction story, “What Women Do Best,” published with the byline ‘Chris and Janet Morris’ in Wings of Omen, (Ace, 1984). And that occurred only with editor Bob Asprin grumbling that ‘now everybody’s going to want to do this in Thieves’ World®.’”
If Janet hadn’t been a canonical contributor to the series at that time, we wouldn’t have gotten permission for the dual byline. And sure enough, other spouses and collaborators long relegated to the background began appearing in Thieves’ World volumes and other places.
Subsequently, we signed a multi-book contract with Jim Baen, one of the caveats being dual authorship for some titles, but not all. We delivered those books, including The 40-Minute War, M.E.D.U.S.A, City at the Edge of Time, Tempus Unbound, and Storm Seed with dual authorship and Jim published them that way.
This in turn led to other joint book contracts, including but not limited to Outpassage (1988), Threshold (1990), Trust Territory (1992), The Stalk (1994), as well as several books by single-author male pseudonyms.
Nevertheless, publishers generally still wanted single male names on adventure or nonfiction or ‘serious books’ and female names on romance books, so the market continued to conform to its preference for single-writer bylines.
A book with the name ‘Janet Morris’ was still worth more to a publisher than a book with ‘Janet Morris and Chris Morris’ as listed co-authors. So we created male pseudonyms and these books commanded substantial advances in markets formerly closed to us. In the minds of publishers then, and perhaps readers, a story told by a single male was preferable, but even a tale told by a woman was preferable to a tale told by one woman and one man. We set our sites on this ox, and set off to gore it. And might have succeeded, as male/female co-authorship became more commonplace, but our brainchild “nonlethal weapons” intervened, taking us out of the fiction marketplace for nearly two decades. In that interval, Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, another writer at the literary agency which handles us, wrote War and Anti-war with his wife Heidi Toffler, insisting her name appear this time as co-author. The revolution had begun in earnest among writers with enough clout to enforce their wishes.
Do you believe that putting a man’s name or a woman’s name on a book effects who will read that book?
We experimented, as did other writers and publishers, with putting different names on books. Sometimes Janet wrote with other male or female writers, to see if the ‘Janet Morris’ brand could be transferred as publishers looked for ways to turn writers into franchises, as was done with Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, etc. But when a better writer is paired with a lesser writer, quality may suffer, and even honest writers trying to accommodate one another may lose the consistency of purpose, passion, and voice that a single writer or a self-chosen pair of writers can achieve.
The ‘brand name writer’ bias may then kick in, causing readers to buy only books written by the individuals or pairs of writers they already enjoy, not the franchised producers of subsidiary works or ‘as told to’ books.
As for the ‘gender’ bias in literature, at present this is still a real and strong force. Men looking for adventure fantasy or science fiction or military books are less likely to buy a book written by a woman; women with a strong allegiance to women’s rights and women’s issues are less likely to buy a book by a man or co-written by a man.
So the issue of whether a man’s name or a woman’s name goes on a book may be inextricably linked to subject as well as story, insight, and prose quality.
You’ve both written under single-author pseudonyms, always choosing a single male. Why did you do that? Do you still do it? If, so, why or why not?
We did this to break out of the science fiction/fantasy ghetto, into the mainstream, in days when those genres had a more limited market than today.
Do we still do it? No.
In actuality, our body of work allows us to write what we wish under either or both our names. For instance, we’re writing a novel about Rhesos of Thrace — as is our wont, this book has a Homeric feel, a purport that takes the Iliad for true, but focuses on a single character from that story and his later adventures. This book is a true novel — one part mythical realism, one part dark fantasy, one part heroic fiction in the literary sense, and one part a historical representation of the mythos of that character. We plan a new Sacred Band of Stepsons novel, which requires very specific voices and explores the hero-cult as a fait accompli, a subject fascinating us.
But if we were to undertake a contemporary story dealing with modern politics (sexual, racial, governmental and corporate), we’d consider writing such a book under a new male pseudonym, to allow us complete freedom of what we’d say and how we’d say it, because the truths behind these topics are brutal and unwelcome to those who think revisionist history will solve all the problems inherent in modern society and the human condition. Which condition is, of course, the only fit subject for fiction.
What are the benefits and debits of collaboration so far as process, not marketing, is concerned?
If a pair entering into a collaboration sets ground rules, defines story elements and shares a joint preoccupation with the characters, two hearts, two sets of eyes and two sets of ears impart an enhanced perspective, powering the creation of characters spun from utmost reality, characters perhaps more fully realized than a single mind might contrive to make them. In a pair made up of one male and one female writer, the native intelligence of both sexes is present in great measure, bringing a universal verisimilitude. The process of reaching truth and clarity for characters and story may have uncomfortable moments for one or both writers, but facing those places in the soul where one hesitates to look is the true purpose of fiction — to portray the world through a temperament (or two, or three).
What advice would you give to other collaborators about creating and marketing their joint works?
If two collaborators each have a previous body of work, then once both acknowledge parity, a new book can begin taking shape. If one writer is better known or better at structure or at lyric, then play to those strengths. Do not show this book to third parties, or discuss it with others until both writers are completely certain of every nuance, every line, every twist and turn of plot and psyche.
If two collaborators have no previous experience working with others, they must work harder to put aside their preconceptions and look at story and character honestly: success, not in the short term but for all time, depends upon the quality of every word. Make sure that both collaborators share the same goals. Define the story elements. Invoke the characters and be sure both agree who those characters are and what they represent concerning the story’s driving purpose.
Then begin, starting at the beginning. Create an adventure that two can share, and you will have created an adventure that the world can love.
Only when this first book is finished, no longer a fragile vision, but a full blown juggernaut of risk and beauty, show it to a publisher whose other publications attract you. If you both like what an editor or publisher has previously chosen, they may well decide to choose you.
Book Links:
Author Links:

Chris Morris on voice acting, narration, the oral tradition in fiction, and narrating The Sacred Band.

Library of Erana interview:

Audio Book Narrator Interview one – Chris Morris

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As part of the interviews discussing all parts of reading, writing and enjoying great books today something new. Audio books.  Audio books have been around for ages – I have copies on cassette tape (yes remember those?) and one on CD but now most are MP3 and far easier to listen to than having to change the tape every 30 minutes!

As the first of these interviews I am very pleased to welcome Chris Morris, author, musician and audio book narrator.

Welcome to Christopher Crosby Morris

Tell us a bit about yourself: I am all about sound. Most of us can hear farther than we can see and have deep sound vocabularies we seldom consciously bring to bear in appreciating more of all that goes on in our lives. My mission is to wake people to the enhanced quality of life available through fully developed hearing.

How did you become involved with audio book narration and production? We read aloud as part of our writing process, often repeatedly, until our prose is properly voiced. Telling stories, whether in prose or song, is a listening sport. To be able to produce our written works in audio versions completes our audience’s spectrum of storytelling accessibility and for many provides a more profound experience than reading. Plus, I know the sorts of nuance each character brings and can impart something of what they’re like at the nonverbal level.

Tell us about some of the titles you’ve narrated. Do you have a favourite amongst these? At some time or other I’ve read our entire catalogue aloud, rehearsing you might say. My favourite is I, the Sun, which is next up in our production queue.

Do you have a preferred genre?  Do you have a genre you do not produce? Why is this? I prefer heroic fiction. I do not/will not read dystopian material because it stifles growth of character, which is our destiny.

What are you working on at present/just finished? At the moment I’m reading Roy Mauritsen’s Shards of the Glass Slipper: Queen Cinder. I’m narrating it as I read it for the first time, so it had better be heroic or I won’t read the next one.

Tell us about your process for narrating?  I read a chapter at a time on my Kindle Fire HD. I review the day’s material and highlight the names of the speakers to avoid mixing them up on the fly. I record in Adobe Audition and, when I misspeak, pause a moment, press the ‘M’ key to leave a marker, then immediately read the passage again and continue; I find it easier to go back later and edit at the marker points than to stop the bus, excise the offending bit, and then punch in to begin again; it’s about flow and rapport and technical interruptions can quickly degrade one’s performance.

What aspects do you find most enjoyable?  A point comes when I disappear and the story takes over, although I’m emotionally immersive and a section fraught with feeling can throw me off centre enough to leak into the voice and one has to stop and regroup at such a point; I’m steeling myself to deal with some of the death scenes in I, the Sun. So what’s enjoyable is being the voice of moments that transcend considerations of normalcy and possess the scope to portray extraordinary circumstances to the audience.

Do you consider royalty share when looking for books to narrate? If not why is this? Yes.

Do you listen to audio books? I listen to anything narrated by Derek Jacobi or Jeremy Irons; I also admire Alex Hyde-White’s narrations.

With many people owning MP3 players do you think this is the future of storytelling? Yes. But see below..

Why do you think audio books are becoming so popular? Audio storytelling, rather than being something new, is returning to us something very old in our DNA, the wonderment of gathering to hear a voice fill the darkness and elicit our participation in a tale as we imagine what we hear. All the world’s cultures need this very much now. The spoken word is primal in its power to involve us and, properly uttered, humbly magnificent, the grandparent of our better selves.

Can you remember the first audio book you owned? Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) narrating the Adventures of Pinocchio.

If you are an author, do you produce your own audiobooks or do you prefer to look for an independent narrator? Why have you made this choice? Before committing to produce our own audio books we signed up on the ACX site and began sampling the narrator talent there, which is considerable. We engaged Alex Hyde-White and David Kudler, both of whom gave us singular performances of shorter works and were supportive when I mentioned I’d like to give narration a go.

What I bring to narration is musicality. Good singers proceed from a natural speaking voice to the edges of register, tone, and volume their rendition of a piece requires; narration is similar but with the added consideration that one’s ‘piece’ is a lot longer than the average song and that ‘guest voices’ have to be incorporated into the narrator’s own. Listening to others sing my book pushed me right over the cliff.

By the time I finished my first run through of The Sacred Band, I had learned to produce an anchor voice – a centre sound – to carry all the exposition and yet have enough scope to inflect humour or suspense and other tensions when called for. We all have this ability and developing it is my lifelong fascination.

Has ACX/Audible fulfilled your expectations? (such as earnings, ease of use, workload etc.?) So far so good. What I like most about ACX is the amount of homework they’ve done to address the needs of all the parties to a production. Since the audio book form is newly resurgent there isn’t the lore or fading dominance of crumbling “big houses” of audio book publishing – they’ve simply never existed – and ACX has a band of brothers feel to it at the moment that I like. Hope it lasts.

Have you ever had a negative experience producing a book? Not really. You do learn very quickly what your articulation preferences are. Glottal stops are unacceptable. Regional dialectics wear thin rapidly. Vocal caricaturization, if I may coin a term, or cutesy voices drive me straight into the arms of my nearest dog.

Please tell us a silly fact about yourself. I always wanted to be lanky.

Where can we hear your audiobook? You can hear a free sample of my new audiobook, The Sacred Band, written by Janet morris and Chris Morris and narrated by Christopher Crosby Morris, on Audible.com at:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Sacred-Band/dp/B00N1YRVH2/

http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/The-Sacred-Band-Audiobook/B00MU2VCEO/

What will you be narrating next? After I finish Roy Mauritsen’s Shards of the Glass Slipper: Queen Cinder, I am scheduled to narrate I, the Sun by Janet Morris, Outpassage by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, and then Beyond Sanctuary by Janet Morris.

You are also an accomplished author and prose editor. Where can find books you’ve edited, and some of your books and stories? I have many published stories. Some of my most recent short fictions appear in the following anthologies, some of which I edited. [These links are for Amazon Kindle, but most titles are also available in trade paper on Amazon, and in electronic editions on Nook as well as Kindle.)

Lawyers in Hell    http://www.amazon.com/Lawyers-Hell-Heroes-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B0057Q0OIK/

Rogues in Hell    http://www.amazon.com/Rogues-Hell-Heroes-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B008JZCFMO/

Dreamers in Hell    http://www.amazon.com/Dreamers-Hell-Heroes-Nancy-Asire-ebook/dp/B00DEB1IJE/

Poets in Hell   http://www.amazon.com/Poets-Hell-Heroes-Book-17-ebook/dp/B00KWKNTTW/

My novels co-written with Janet Morris are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in Kindle, Nook, and trade paper editions.  They include but are not limited to:

Where can we learn more about you?

My music is very important to me. Because you asked how to learn more about me, I recommend you sample my most recent album, available as MP3 Music and on CD at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Everybody-Knows-Christopher-Morris-Band/dp/B004GNEF3A/

You can hear more of my music on: https://soundcloud.com/christopher-morris

You may read about my history and see my bibliography at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Morris_(author)

http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Morris/e/B008L41JNO/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_2

Social Media links for Chris Morris (Christopher Crosby Morris):

https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisandChrisMorris

https://www.facebook.com/christophercmorrissings

http://www.sacredbander.com

http://www.theperseidpress.com/#

http://www.facebook.com/christopher.c.morris.7?fref=ts

For other interviews with Chris and Janet and their characters please look here:

Sacred Band

http://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/character-interview-number-three-nikodemos-fantasymythic/

http://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/character-interview-tempus-fantasy/

http://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/character-interview-ghost-horse-fantasy/

http://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/author-interview-and-special-guest-janet-morris/

Hell Week

http://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/a-week-in-hell-day-5-marlowe/

http://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/author-interview-and-special-guest-janet-morris/

http://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/a-week-in-hell-day-1-devil/

A taste of Beyond Sanctuary in Mage Blood, now a Kindle Single and Audible.com audiobook.

Tempus – takes the fight to the Wizards…who will survive?

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MAGE BLOOD [Kindle Edition]

Janet Morris

Tempus and his Sacred Band of Stepsons prepare to take the Wizard War to the Mages of Wizardwall in this gripping story set “Beyond Sanctuary.” With Jihan the Froth daughter at his side, Tempus and the core of the Stepsons ride into the embattled town of Tyse, where they find friends and foes among the witches, wizards, and warfighters. From the first full length novel inspired by the Thieves’ World (R) series, “Mage Blood” takes you into unknown realms fraught with unimaginable peril.

Hear the Stepsonsspeak in the Audiobook edition of Mageblood, from the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy.

Hear the Stepsonsspeak in the Audiobook edition of Mageblood, from the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy.

Chris Morris, narrator and co-author of The Sacred Band audiobook, speaks out:

Audio Book Narrator Interview one – Chris Morris

Tags

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http://www.amazon.com/The-Sacred-Band/dp/B00N1YRVH2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409504021&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Sacred+Band+audiobook

http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/The-Sacred-Band-Audiobook/B00MU2VCEO/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srImg?qid=1409504150&sr=1-1

The Sacred Band mythic novel, unabridged by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, narrated by Christopher Crosby Morris

The Sacred Band mythic novel, unabridged by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, narrated by Christopher Crosby Morris

As part of the interviews discussing all parts of reading, writing and enjoying great books today something new. Audio books.  Audio books have been around for ages – I have copies on cassette tape (yes remember those?) and one on CD but now most are MP3 and far easier to listen to than having to change the tape every 30 minutes!

As the first of these interviews I am very pleased to welcome Chris Morris, author, musician and audio book narrator.

Welcome to Christopher Crosby Morris

Tell us a bit about yourself: I am all about sound. Most of us can hear farther than we can see and have deep sound vocabularies we seldom consciously bring to bear in appreciating more of all that goes on in our lives. My mission is to wake people to the enhanced quality of life available through fully developed hearing.

How did you become involved with audio book narration and production? We read aloud as part of our writing process, often repeatedly, until our prose is properly voiced. Telling stories, whether in prose or song, is a listening sport. To be able to produce our written works in audio versions completes our audience’s spectrum of storytelling accessibility and for many provides a more profound experience than reading. Plus, I know the sorts of nuance each character brings and can impart something of what they’re like at the nonverbal level.

Tell us about some of the titles you’ve narrated. Do you have a favourite amongst these? At some time or other I’ve read our entire catalogue aloud, rehearsing you might say. My favourite is I, the Sun, which is next up in our production queue.

Do you have a preferred genre?  Do you have a genre you do not produce? Why is this? I prefer heroic fiction. I do not/will not read dystopian material because it stifles growth of character, which is our destiny.

What are you working on at present/just finished? At the moment I’m reading Roy Mauritsen’s Shards of the Glass Slipper: Queen Cinder. I’m narrating it as I read it for the first time, so it had better be heroic or I won’t read the next one.

Tell us about your process for narrating?  I read a chapter at a time on my Kindle Fire HD. I review the day’s material and highlight the names of the speakers to avoid mixing them up on the fly. I record in Adobe Audition and, when I misspeak, pause a moment, press the ‘M’ key to leave a marker, then immediately read the passage again and continue; I find it easier to go back later and edit at the marker points than to stop the bus, excise the offending bit, and then punch in to begin again; it’s about flow and rapport and technical interruptions can quickly degrade one’s performance.

What aspects do you find most enjoyable?  A point comes when I disappear and the story takes over, although I’m emotionally immersive and a section fraught with feeling can throw me off centre enough to leak into the voice and one has to stop and regroup at such a point; I’m steeling myself to deal with some of the death scenes in I, the Sun. So what’s enjoyable is being the voice of moments that transcend considerations of normalcy and possess the scope to portray extraordinary circumstances to the audience.

Do you consider royalty share when looking for books to narrate? If not why is this? Yes.

Do you listen to audio books? I listen to anything narrated by Derek Jacobi or Jeremy Irons; I also admire Alex Hyde-White’s narrations.

With many people owning MP3 players do you think this is the future of storytelling? Yes. But see below..

Why do you think audio books are becoming so popular? Audio storytelling, rather than being something new, is returning to us something very old in our DNA, the wonderment of gathering to hear a voice fill the darkness and elicit our participation in a tale as we imagine what we hear. All the world’s cultures need this very much now. The spoken word is primal in its power to involve us and, properly uttered, humbly magnificent, the grandparent of our better selves.

Can you remember the first audio book you owned? Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) narrating the Adventures of Pinocchio.

If you are an author, do you produce your own audiobooks or do you prefer to look for an independent narrator? Why have you made this choice? Before committing to produce our own audio books we signed up on the ACX site and began sampling the narrator talent there, which is considerable. We engaged Alex Hyde-White and David Kudler, both of whom gave us singular performances of shorter works and were supportive when I mentioned I’d like to give narration a go.

What I bring to narration is musicality. Good singers proceed from a natural speaking voice to the edges of register, tone, and volume their rendition of a piece requires; narration is similar but with the added consideration that one’s ‘piece’ is a lot longer than the average song and that ‘guest voices’ have to be incorporated into the narrator’s own. Listening to others sing my book pushed me right over the cliff.

By the time I finished my first run through of The Sacred Band, I had learned to produce an anchor voice – a centre sound – to carry all the exposition and yet have enough scope to inflect humour or suspense and other tensions when called for. We all have this ability and developing it is my lifelong fascination.

Has ACX/Audible fulfilled your expectations? (such as earnings, ease of use, workload etc.?) So far so good. What I like most about ACX is the amount of homework they’ve done to address the needs of all the parties to a production. Since the audio book form is newly resurgent there isn’t the lore or fading dominance of crumbling “big houses” of audio book publishing – they’ve simply never existed – and ACX has a band of brothers feel to it at the moment that I like. Hope it lasts.

Have you ever had a negative experience producing a book? Not really. You do learn very quickly what your articulation preferences are. Glottal stops are unacceptable. Regional dialectics wear thin rapidly. Vocal caricaturization, if I may coin a term, or cutesy voices drive me straight into the arms of my nearest dog.

Please tell us a silly fact about yourself. I always wanted to be lanky.

Where can we hear your audiobook? You can hear a free sample of my new audiobook, The Sacred Band, written by Janet morris and Chris Morris and narrated by Christopher Crosby Morris, on Audible.com at: http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/The-Sacred-Band-Audiobook/B00MU2VCEO/

or on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/The-Sacred-Band/dp/B00N1YRVH2/

What will you be narrating next? After I finish Roy Mauritsen’s Shards of the Glass Slipper: Queen Cinder, I am scheduled to narrate I, the Sun by Janet Morris, Outpassage by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, and then Beyond Sanctuary by Janet Morris.

You are also an accomplished author and prose editor. Where can find books you’ve edited, and some of your books and stories? I have many published stories. Some of my most recent short fictions appear in the following anthologies, some of which I edited. [These links are for Amazon Kindle, but most titles are also available in trade paper on Amazon, and in electronic editions on Nook as well as Kindle.)

Lawyers in Hell    http://www.amazon.com/Lawyers-Hell-Heroes-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B0057Q0OIK/

Rogues in Hell    http://www.amazon.com/Rogues-Hell-Heroes-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B008JZCFMO/

Dreamers in Hell    http://www.amazon.com/Dreamers-Hell-Heroes-Nancy-Asire-ebook/dp/B00DEB1IJE/

Poets in Hell   http://www.amazon.com/Poets-Hell-Heroes-Book-17-ebook/dp/B00KWKNTTW/

My novels co-written with Janet Morris are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in Kindle, Nook, and trade paper editions.  They include but are not limited to:

Where can we learn more about you?

My music is very important to me. Because you asked how to learn more about me, I recommend you sample my most recent album, available as MP3 Music and on CD at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Everybody-Knows-Christopher-Morris-Band/dp/B004GNEF3A/

You can hear more of my music on: https://soundcloud.com/christopher-morris

You may read about my history and see my bibliography at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Morris_(author)

http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Morris/e/B008L41JNO/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_2

Social Media links for Chris Morris (Christopher Crosby Morris):

https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisandChrisMorris

https://www.facebook.com/christophercmorrissings

http://www.sacredbander.com

http://www.theperseidpress.com/#

http://www.facebook.com/christopher.c.morris.7?fref=ts

For other interviews with Chris and Janet and their characters please look here:

Sacred Band

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/character-interview-number-three-nikodemos-fantasymythic/

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/character-interview-tempus-fantasy/

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/character-interview-ghost-horse-fantasy/

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/author-interview-and-special-guest-janet-morris/

Hell Week

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/a-week-in-hell-day-5-marlowe/

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/author-interview-and-special-guest-janet-morris/

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/a-week-in-hell-day-1-devil/

Seven Against Hell, the full story…

Black Gate Online Fiction: “Seven Against Hell”

By Janet Morris and Chris Morris


This is a complete work of fiction presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Janet Morris and Chris Morris, and New Epoch Press, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2014 by Janet Morris and Chris Morris.

[Diomedes] fights with fury and fills men’s souls with panic.
I hold him mightiest of all; we did not fear even their great
champion Achilleus, son of an immortal though he be, as we
do this man: his rage exceeds all bounds, and none can vie
with him in prowess.
—   Homer, The Iliad

Poets in Hell-smallI am Diomedes, son of Tydeus.

These poets in hell account me ‘second best’ of the Achaeans, after pouty Achilleus. How is that? I killed more Trojans than he upon Troy’s battlefield, yet never committed hubris. I partnered with Odysseus on the night hunt. My aristeia, my excellence in combat, at Ilion was unsurpassed. I even stole the enemy’s best horses. Although I was the youngest warrior-king among the Argives, I won more than my fair share of glory. Poets through the ages extolled my battle: Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Colophon, Sophocles, Antimachus, Appolodorus, Virgil, Ovid, Pausanias, Dante, Marlowe;  even the loutish William Shakespeare, barely a man himself, praised my valor.

When Shakespeare’s wittol Marlowe recast Ovid’s Elegia, he wrote of me:

Tydides left worst signs of villainy;
He first a goddess struck: another I.
Yet he harmed less; whom I professed to love
I harmed: a foe did Diomede’s anger move.

So why am I in New Hell, you ask, sitting on this rise called the Devil’s Mound, above the infamous Damned Meadow, a sheep field boasting a clamshell stage where perdition’s self-appointed greats come to outshout one another’s verses?

True it is that on the battlefield of Troy in a single day I killed Astynous, Hyperion, Abas, Polyidus, Xanthus, Thoon, and two of Priam’s sons, Echemmon and Chromius. And I wounded Aphrodite, but at Athene’s order. And attacked Apollo. Twice. Thus I became the only man to wound two Olympians on one day in that battle. Notwithstanding, the worst I ever did on my own account was to steal the Trojan Palladium, their statue of Athene, with my bloody hands: yet without that theft, said the oracle, Ilion would never fall. So we took it, Odysseus and I, and this exploit brought Odysseus and myself not to Elysion with her bright blue sky and starry nights, but to Tartaros, to Erebos, thence to stinking New Hell City, here where the worst of the damned prey upon one another.

This hell of the New Dead is more proliferate than Achaea, vaster than all of Hades’, and full of pitfalls as grave as the love of a faithless woman  —   or any woman, since faithless all will be: my queen Aegialia proved that more than once.

Even a man such as I, who founds ten cities and is worshipped in his day and thereafter, can end in Erebos or Tartaros or worse. Thus here I am, with my fellow Epigoni  —   sons of heroes, accursedly forgetful of our valor: Until we drink the blood of earthly sacrifice we don’t recall our names, despite all that Mnemosyne, the waters of Memory, can do to prompt us.

So here I await a hero’s coming, in New Hell’s foulest park, while flocks of damned souls crowd and churn below me, hoping to find a patch of grass near the clamshell where the poetry contests will be held.

No matter what you’ve heard, it was Homer who in seven thousand lines told my Epigoni’s story, the tale of us seven heroes’ sons avenging our fathers’ deaths upon all of Thebes, commencing: “Now, Muses, let us begin to sing of younger men…”

What modern scribbler could vie with that? What thewless mincer down alleyways in darkest night, what tattooed and pierced and wild-haired oaf of little use could sing a song of heroes, since these but talk and heroes do?

Above my head the vault is ugly today, pulsing like a fish belly when first you gut it, bloody and streaked with veins of purple and scarlet and black. Praise hides her glow. Paradise turns away her face, her fell light taunting those who’ll never bathe in the shining love of gods.

Gods love the loyal, the true, the honest, the brave; not these damned crusts and crumbs of stalest souls, who have deserted honor and lost all. I thought Pallas Athene loved me. Even wounded, an arrow deep in my right shoulder, at the hollow of my corselet, I fought as if she did. I won as if she did.

Where is Odysseus? Late, when battle waits in Tartaros, and so many wrongs to be put right? Or not coming today? But a gray-faced messenger had brought me word: “My master, great-hearted Odysseus, asks your aid to undo a grave injustice. On Devil’s Mound in Decentral Park in New Hell City, on the first day of the poetry festival, please await him.”

So I’d left my six Epigoni, all my shining brothers in arms, to rendezvous with crafty Odysseus here, who shouldn’t wander underworldly realms. And neither should my Epigoni, if courage counts for aught and vengeance is sweet to heaven. We are seven, all told: Aegialeus, son of Adrastus; Alcmaeon and Amphilochus, sons of Amphiaraus; Euryalus, son of Mecisteus; Promachus, son of Parthenopaeus; Sthenelus, son of Capaneus; Thersander, son of Polynices (who by our efforts became king of Thebes); and myself, son of Tydeus and Deipyle.

Comes a climber up the hill, a mystic specter under hell’s rufous vault, wrapped in a linen robe from head to ankle, dark and stiff as if with blood. This swinging stride devours ground; this posture tugs my memory; this creature comes onward like a demon or devil or worse, all black inside that hooded robe.

I sit where I am. Long in the underworlds has taught me to rise only for good reason: in eternity, a man conserves his strength.

The enshrouded thing reaches my hilltop and stands before me, cowled; looks down at me. Its cloak is soaked in black blood, now I am sure: I can smell it.

It calls me by name. I have been speaking English for thousands of years, but that facile tongue deserts me. I respond in Attic to this manlike thing: “What?”

I know it by its very first word, but it speaks on as I rise up and stand, fists balled, uncertain of what to do now:

“‘…to Tydeus’ son Diomedes, Pallas Athene granted strength and daring, that he might be conspicuous among all the Argives and win the glory of valor. She made weariless fire blaze from his head and his shoulders and urged him into the midst of battle, where most were struggling.’”

And these are Homer’s words, from his Iliad, which all we who fought at Troy know by heart; every line of its fifteen thousand, six hundred ninety-three is filled with our blood and death and courage. But this man is not Homer. I know him as I know my own heart, as a wheel horse knows its running mate, as a pack-wolf knows its leader, as a lover the voice of his beloved. Yet peer as I may, inside that hood I see no beard, no weathered skin, no flaring nostrils…

“Odysseus. What happened to you? Why are you drenched in blackest blood, my friend?”

“I am skinned, Tydides, master of the great war cry.” He lets his cloak fall open.

Tydides. So long since any have called me that, save my own Epigoni. I close my eyes against a horror man should never know: a walking hero drenched in pain, without a single bit of skin anywhere on his body that I can see.

His right hand, quivering with rawest flesh, reaches out to me. “Powerful Diomed, help me get my skin back.”

“How? When?” I want to meet his flesh with mine, clasp arms, embrace this man who, I had thought, became a god upon his death. I must do it. I grit my teeth and clasp that meaty forearm which for so long I admired when weathered skin and tawny hair enwrapped it. I can feel the blood pulse, and leach, and drip sticky onto me. I want to pull back but he is Odysseus; I am Diomedes: I cannot be less than he needs. Not now. Not ever. “Help you? Of course I will. Where is your skin? We’ll go together, as in former times, and steal back what was taken, or secure it by force of arms. I’ll bring all my brother Epigoni with me.”

So we stand that way, until Odysseus can answer with his peeled and suppurating lips: I hear the raspy breathing of this tortured soul. And in that sound, finally, I learn what torment can be. In that grip of his, so tight despite his pain, I grasp the horror of an afterlife of penance unending, even for this hero, this giant of a man, whom so many wept to emulate.

At last Odysseus speaks again:

“I cannot go; I am too weak. You must go for me. In the Pandemonium Theatre, my skin and the skins of other heroes hang as costumes for fops to wear. And every time one of them pulls my skin about him, such pain overcomes my body as could make a man pray for madness, or oblivion.”

Too weak? Odysseus? What dreadful anguish, this?

“We Epigoni will steal it back, then. We stole Trojan glory. We stole Aeneas’ horses. We stole the Palladium. We stole Ilion with our wooden horse. We’ll find your hide and take it back, and again you’ll wear it  —   proudly.”

Despite the agony in every iota of him, Odysseus clasps me tight against his chest. I feel him shiver. And I wonder, despite my words, if we can do this thing, under the noses of every devil and demon and lord of hell. And why the gods allow this travesty.


Sappho heard the clanking armor of Greek heroes cutting through the crowd toward her podium long before she saw them: she needed to finish her recitation. She could not yet look up. Much rested on winning this poetry prize, New Hell’s most prestigious.

When nearly done, she dared raise her head. The Epigoni, unmistakable, stood before her: men such as Nature never made in later days, armed and bold, with ready shields  —   and one with a shield licked by fire. That one must be Diomedes, with his father’s plain sword and the shield Athene had given him, which threw flame when he so commanded.

She hoped he liked her recital. She nearly stumbled over her final words, “‘…some say cavalry, some say an army on foot, some say a fleet of ships are the most beautiful sights on this black earth, but I say it is whatever you love best.’” Then she stopped, gaze demurely downcast, and bowed her head…

…while from under her brows she stared at those dauntless half-naked Epigoni; at Diomedes, most beautiful of all, and added, “…unless it be heroes that make a heart race in its breast.” She hadn’t added words to that line for eons.

The crowd roared. Thin-necked and thick-girthed, big-headed, soft and small, these were the poets of all the newer hells, and more: real bards from early days, true singers from the nether hells. This competition would not be won without a fight.

Sappho was not above theatrics: she’d take advantage of these heroes, come from nowhere. She stepped off the dais as the crowd clapped and stamped and cheered, and strode up to Diomedes. On one side of him stood Thersander, by his kingly bearing and gold breastplate; on the other, Sthenelus, Diomedes’ sturdy partner at war before the slanty walls of Troy. To call herself a poet, a soul must know her Homer, and the Theban Cycle, and more.

These warriors ducked their heads to look at her and she felt a girl again, felt what she’d felt for her ferryman again. Sometimes a woman, yes, but sometimes a man is what a woman needs, if that man be as heroic as these.

“Sappho,” she gives her name, suddenly uncertain. “Have the Muses brought you to aid me? Let me walk with you.” Heroes such as these surely were not here for entertainment.

“Diomed,” affirmed the one whose helmet had the longest purple crest, whose breastplate bore a gilded boar, who wore Athene’s shield of blessed fire on his arm. “Come hear our plea, honored poetess. We seek a favor.”

Poetess? A favor? So they knew precisely who she was.

The Epigoni swirled around her like a cloak and off they went, amid the awed mutters and whispers of this posturing crowd of poets. “A favor? Of course,” Sappho breathed, agog at the venture beckoning, more dazzling than any other  —   as were these heroes from Erebos. “What brings you to the lesser hells, heroes?”

“We brought our ancestor Andromeda up from Hades for the day, to enjoy your festival,” said Thersander, gallantly flattering her with a lie: no dark Andromeda walked among them, nor would they have left her behind, among the dross of ages here.

The Epigoni escorted her, Diomedes on her right, Thersander on her left, followed by the other five, spears bristling, close about her: what a finale, fit counterpoint for her presentation at the contest. If she didn’t win the poetry prize, no matter: she’d gained a greater prize here, on her left, on her right, at her back. More beautiful than aught else in the nether realms were these heroic souls. Behind her, a white-winged angel exhorted all participants in the competition, contestants and audience, to climb up on the clamshell stage and “mingle.”

Sappho looked back over her shoulder: some New Dead poet was spilling words that tumbled from his lips in fiery letters. Never mind: Sappho was headed somewhere else, with these seven warriors called the Epigoni. But … caution: she’d not taught school without learning something: “And that’s all you want, Epigoni? To enjoy the festival? Ask a favor? Diomed, is that all you want?” This Diomedes was a hero of lyric proportions, in his body, in the eyes of history, and now in her heart.

“I need a poet to pry loose from two poets something belonging to my friend, much-enduring Odysseus,” Diomedes told her.

“Ah, I see.” But she didn’t. Instead she saw Homer, almost completely blind today, poking his way along the hillside with a stick. “How about two poets?”

“Two?” Diomedes echoed low, in that voice famed for its great war cry.

“Great Homer,” she called, “attend us! And I shall be your guide to an exploit most rare.” Ancient body, bony face: Homer’s cloudy eyes shift and drill to the bedrock of her soul. Then the Ionian bard turned from the clamshell, from the crowd, and picked his palsied way up the rise toward them.

Just in time. For meanwhile, behind Homer, audience and contestants thronged the clamshell stage, until that stage could hold no more souls. Then the clamshell snapped shut around poetical woe, swallowing screams and wails of terror, while the huge bivalve spun and spun, and dug its way into the sheep field’s ground as if bedding itself ever deeper in a sandy seafloor.

Sappho stared past frail Homer, to the source of first cacophony, then complete absence of sound, until the burrowing clamshell with its catch of lyric souls completely disappeared and black ground covered it. She whispered, “Diomed, you and your brother Epigoni may have saved me.”

“As you saved long-remembering Homer?” Diomedes shrugged shoulders that could heft a world. “Happens all the time, Muse,” said the hero of Ilion, with his hand at the small of her back to guide her onward as Homer, squinting hard, joined with the Epigoni and began regaling all in heroic hexameter with his lost lines that sang their glory.

By this, Sappho knew she was stepping into something much, much more than simply another day in perdition. She closed her eyes and thanked her muse for putting her once again in the path of a story worth telling, among souls worth enshrining  —  and, more than all else, promising glories in hell which Sappho never would forget.


Pandemonium’s towering walls, built to discourage scaling, gave me pause and struck Homer fully blind with their majesty. Battlements greater than Ilion’s were these, black as the heart of their lord. In their shadow we planned our strategy as Paradise glowered baleful above, longing to set.

Mighty Thersander drew his bow and shot two grapple-hooked ropes over the spiky ramparts once we’d learned the pattern of the watch patrolling, cocky on their battlements, protecting Satan’s infernal seat. My war-partner Sthenelus and I clambered up those ropes as spiders scale their webs. And there we lurked until a pair of watchmen passed the crenel where we hid.

Lunging from cover, we overcame them in two strides, laid sharp bronze against their quivering throats, promising to free them once they told us the watchword. When we heard it, we broke both their necks where they stood, spilling not a drop of blood, stealing their mantles and helmets and throwing their naked corpses over the wilderness side of the lofty wall.

I’d done as much before, in the darkness, with Odysseus as my partner outside Ilion’s gates, so I found it fitting, even in this hellish place with no sun or moon, just Paradise still shining down.

For Odysseus, we would risk all and do all.

Now disguised as henchmen of the devil, we climbed down our ropes, back to our brother Epigoni, unnoticed in the black wall’s shadows: men guarding such a height hardly ever look straight down, but outward.

With our brother Epigoni and two poets, plus the watchword and our stolen cloaks and helmets, we were ready.

We walked right in, between the gate towers, using Sappho and Homer as our diversion, those two reciting epic verse in a rhythm to fascinate the coldest soul:

Homer sang his Iliad: ‘“O Muse, sing what woe the discontent/ Of Thetis’ son Achilleus brought the Greeks; what souls/ Of heroes down to Erebos it sent…’” And on, pausing only for Sappho to sing in turn.

And Sappho rejoined with her own work:

Then Helen, who outshone
All others in beauty, left a fine husband,
She sailed for Troy
without a thought…
Led astray…

Their singing caught everyone’s attention, and held it as we warriors passed by, unnoticed.

Soon enough we found the Pandemonium Theatre, hulking huge. None had missed the slain watchmen yet; no call to arms ripped the ruddy gloom. But we must hurry: soon enough, someone would.

“Alcmaeon and Amphilochus, guard this theatre entrance,” I told these long-haired brothers, like twins, both blond and brazen. Alcmaeon had led us against Thebes, but led us not today: on this foray, the Epigoni take my orders. “Euryalus, Promachus, circle around back and hold the rear door.” Those two had spitted their share before wide-walled Troy, and fought like bears rampaging. They’d keep clear our escape from this massive Pandemonium Theatre, big as a palace and tall-spired, so broad and lofty it taunts the vault of heaven. “Parthenopaeus, watch over Homer and Sappho with sharp bronze and quail not at any demon or wraith you see: pierce all comers. And look sharp about you for a wagon big enough to carry our poets and what heroes’ skins we find.” A rough-faced berserker he was in life and is in soul, and needs no help from any other. “Homer, Sappho, sing more songs, recite what verse you may, but keep all entranced; distract and delay them; let none get past you through this door.”

Blind Homer blinked at me. “Be certain we will, noble Tydides, daring breaker of horses. I’ll tell of you, your hungry valor, as my mind’s eye first saw it.”

“And I,” said Sappho with that voice like a brook in springtime. “‘Although only breath, words which I command are immortal.’” She’d said that before; I’d heard that before, but it is yet true. No time now, but later, if victory is mine, I’ll let her whisper in my ear. She added: “I’ll sing of you, how Helen chose you not, you so like a god in valor; how she fled her home…”

“Fine. You sing what you wish, Sappho.” I turned back to my own: “Sthenelus, son of Capaneus, you fight by me.” Sthenelus, once my charioteer and loving friend in life, showed his teeth. “Thersander, as we made you king of Thebes once, now you’ll bring your rage and help get back every hero’s hide from this foul barrow. Fight close behind me and Sthenelus, protect our rear, and help carry out the skins when we get them. And you, Aegialeus, mighty son of Adrastus, be as inescapable in our cause as was your father.”

At least no gods would take the field against us, I told myself, although hell has gods: gods of its weeping dead and its sleeping dead and its regretful dead.

“And all of you: we fight for the skin of Odysseus and perhaps the hides of many other heroes. We fight and die if need be, here where death is not the worst tithe we can pay. Hear my strategy: this is our duty, to put an end to the skinning of heroes by those who believe not in honor, or heroes, or anything at all. So when I give my war cry, storm in, all but Parthenopaeus, who’ll bide with Sappho and great Homer.”

“But — ” Sappho objected. “We want to go in with you, see the fighting, to sing a song of glories won — ”

For centuries few have dared interrupt me; I found my grip on my spear too tight. Angry words burst from my heart: “You’ll do as you’re told, poetess. Now, stay.” My rage came hot upon me, pounding in my heart and firing up my brain, making a mist before my eyes as bloody as the vault above. But before I could reach through fury for kinder words, old Homer spoke:

“Sappho of the best-chosen phrases, we are here to use poetics to help save the skin of my grandfather, crafty and unparalleled Odysseus. What we must do, we will do: recite epic verse to ensnare the boldest soul. What we can’t see, we’ll not see: hard for you, easy for me. And these heroes will honor not only my grandfather, but your words and mine. Respect wild-hearted Diomedes, ready for war; recall this man, who fought the immortals and returned home to an unfaithful wife after the fighting and the bitter warfare. And be silent now, knowing you are graced as no other woman, to be here.”

I said nothing more, but my fingers loosened on my spear. Blind, Homer may be, at the whim of gods and devilish demons, but he sees too much.

I leveled my ash spear. At that signal, the Epigoni deployed, stealthy and unerring, until only Sthenelus remained with me.

Using great Homer and the poetess for our diversion: would the gods of hell take umbrage at my plan? And if they did, would they come fight against me? I’d skewered Apollo and Aphrodite and survived. Aye, let them come, angry demons or devil or underworldly gods. If they dare.

Up adamantine stairs we strode. I adjusted my shield of fiery nature that Athene had given me in life; I keep it always with me; I was buried with it. At least none had asked me how we would fight our way out of Pandemonium with our prizes of precious hide: this city, full of warriors, is vast and labyrinthine, Satan’s devilish seat.

Thus far, none opposed us, late in the day with Paradise glaring close above spike-topped crenels. In we go, charging, pushing oak doors apart, shields on our left arms, purple-plumed helmets on our heads.

Quiet it is, inside this dark place, where torches flicker as the doors behind us slowly shut. We pass a choke point, where someone should be to say who can enter, who cannot. Today no one stands there.

Every sound here is far too loud, down a stone-walled corridor that opens onto a stage before rows of empty seats. Our sandals echo; I can hear my own breathing, far too loud. I touch Sthenelus’ arm and take off my helmet; he does the same.

We vault onto the stage, spears ready, and I want to draw my sword, cut empty air to ribbons. We search, poking and prodding curtains with our spears and shields, until we find a way behind them.

Here all is quiet; here there are ropes and rigging and eye-whites disappearing into shadows far above us, where I hear stirrings as if birds are nesting or panthers hiding on cedar rafters; here is the stench of creams and unguents and stale sweaty bodies.

Hotheaded Sthenelus looks up and stabs overhead as high as he can with whetted bronze on ash shaft. Something skitters. Sthenelus looks at me askance.

Angling my shield upward, I slap my spearhead twice against this shield Athene gave me; a gout of flame billows forth, and up, toward whatever might lurk aloft.

Scuttling and scrabbling increase overhead among the rigging, but no hellish creature drops upon us from those high rafters; no Erinys or Ker or winged beast; nothing dares Athene’s flame  —   or nothing cares to try.

Then we find stairs leading downward into narrow corridors: the worst fighting joins always in close quarters, corridor to corridor, room to room.

Sthenelus lifts his hand in caution: he’s heard a sound; I hear it too. We make that way, and are rewarded as we burst in together, shoulder to shoulder, splintering oaken doors off their hinges:

Two men cry out, scramble from their table where they work by torch and candlelight, till they feel walls against their backs. One is braver; this one stands before the other: “Who are you? What do you seek?” His is the face of a child, with but a wisp of beard curling round his womanly mouth; yet he stands before the other man, arms spread  —   and I see a child’s dagger in his hand, glinting in the torchlight from their worktable.

This room has no windows, no other door: these two men in their hose, with their curled hair and goats’ beards and their puffy pants, are trapped.

“We are Epigoni, here for the skin of wise Odysseus, and more. What we want is every hide stored here, of every hero from former times. Or we’ll take your skins instead, without even knowing who you are, or caring.” This is not a worthy battle; these are soft, pale men. The better of the two holds the dagger. I could spit them both in two heartbeats.

I heft my spear.

“Wait,” says the prissy, knock-kneed one in green hose, with his hand upon his protector’s shoulder. “I know you!”

“Wait for what?” Sthenelus says upon a snarl. “You know us? So? All men should know their executioners. You’re in our way. Men who stand between us and what we want soon die  —   even if you’re barely men.” He levels his spear. “Unless, of course, you lead us to those hides of heroes kept here  —   each and every one.”

“Satan is our taskmaster,” says the foremost. “We labor in his cause.”

“So what? My partner Diomedes has wounded gods. What care we for devils?”

The baby-faced man sidles left, his friend keeping pace, but Sthenelus too has him within range: one lunge, one solid thrust, and either of us can pierce both soft bellies offered under flimsy garb: run the first man through and skewer the second with the selfsame spear. These two are more women than men, and quail like it. “You’ll care if Satan shows his face here, spear-chucker,” warns the foremost fop, chin jutting.

The man behind that one said, “Diomedes, don’t you remember me?” as if crestfallen. “From the Hellfire Club? From the polo match? Do you not know how I wrote about you, having Aeneas say, ‘We know each other well,’ and you reply, ‘We do, and long to know each other worse.’”

I scoffed. “I knew Aeneas only well enough to steal his best horses, but if you’ve his skin here too, I’ll take it with me: even Aeneas, counselor of Trojans, is a real hero  —   not like you two.”

My words made Sthenelus bark: “We don’t care who you are or what you wrote, you womany thing. Will you give up Odysseus’ skin and the other hides of heroes that you have, every one? Or not? If I learn you’ve ever donned that skin of Odysseus, or any of our fellows flayed by evil, I’ll skin you both here and now and find a dog and bitch to wear the both of you.”

One of them let gas, or worse: a stench wafted through the room.

So I said to the wide-hipped one, “Give me my friend’s skin, then, and the skins of all of his fellow heroes. You’re Shakespeare, are you? What of it? One more dead poet who dreamed of being me.”

“We cannot give up those costumes, Will,” said the other man, the fitter of the two, screwing up his baby face and whispering softly to his friend: “They’re Satan’s props. Or can we?”

“We must, Kit,” hissed Shakespeare, hiding behind his friend. “Sheathe your blade, Kit Marlowe. A visit to the Undertaker, run clean through, is not on my agenda for today. Or yours, if I can forfend it. I will bear responsibility, explain to His Infernal Majesty.”

And so I gave my war cry for gathering, and all my Epigoni came to help carry away the skins of heroes that these girly-men had in their closets, Homer panting but keeping pace, as by touch and Sappho’s descriptions he identified each hero’s skin.

When out of their closet these prissy boys pulled skin after skin, my heart beat faster. We would need to range far and wide in hell, to give this score of skins back to those who’d grown them.

The sight of so many heroic hides on hooks was so awful that Thersander retched, spitting bile into his blond beard. But we managed.

And all the while they brought us skins, those two fops gibbered to each other about who we all were: about Sappho and Homer and the seven Epigoni.

“You Epigoni and you poets,” said the one called Marlowe, “be assured that Satan will come after these skins, and all of you for damnable theft.”

“Homer and Sappho had no part in this,” I lied. “We abducted them, to make sure we knew whose skins we took. And as for your devil and his minions, bring them on. We are only seven, but we are the Epigoni, and if that makes seven against hell, think what the plague god Erra and his Seven, the Sibitti, have done to bring infernity to its knees. What we can do, let Satan come and see.”

Soon we left, stealing a wagon from behind the stage and sneaking out the back door of Satan’s Pandemonium Theatre with the blind bard and the poetess perched atop twenty skins of heroes known from former times, and Thersander retching, and Sappho singing, and Homer crowing our glory, and Sthenelus steady by my side.

I kept my fire-spitting shield by the wagon with its gory cargo the whole time, but Sthenelus and I still wore our stolen mantles, thus we strode right out the gate.

An arduous task ahead, to deliver all these skins safely to their owners throughout the netherworlds. First we’d give Odysseus his hide back, then seek the others. Already I was planning our next move.

In hell, where forever weighs upon the heart, few deeds are fit for honorable souls, but returning a hero his skin is worth doing, no matter the cost.

I can hardly wait to see Odysseus’ face…

…and when I do, I see a strong man weep. Even in hell, this is a sight more awful to behold than most souls can bear.

He touches his skin, puts his hands on that boneless countenance, then on the flesh of his raw and bloody face. He shakes out his body’s skin as he stands there, and if I could I would help him.

But this mastermind Odysseus, this great-hearted sacker of cities, is brought low. With a stifled sob he puts one foot down one leg of that hide, then the other.

Next he lets his cowled robe fall away, and I see yellow and white and purpled bone and meat and recall Thersander, retching.

There is nothing to say, nothing I can do but watch as mighty Odysseus with trembling limbs pulls his skin up, and up, and wriggles his hips, and smooths the eyeless hide over his face and head.

Comes a puff of wind, a blink of lightning…

…and here stands Odysseus, man of pain, great glory of the Achaeans, as he always was and should be, his gory linen shed and lying black with crusted blood around his feet.

He rubs his face, puts trembling fingers to his mouth, and says to me haltingly through lips once again his own, “Diomed … are there more of us, enduring this?”

“More,” I tell him. “I have a cartful of hides that quiver and stink, bereft of bone and meat and man.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” Odysseus looks at me from bloodshot eyes, picks up his stiff and blood-soaked cloak and wraps himself, then gives a cry to curdle all the blood in hell.

That cry resounds, carried on an ungodly wind far and wide. It reverberates inside my soul and wends away.

Now once more all the Epigoni will gather, and every skinned hero in hell will know we’re coming.

I can taste the blood of war upon the air.


“Seven Against Hell” is just one story from

Poets in Hell, edited by Janet Morris and Chris Morris

Read the original story in Poets in Hell or on Black Gate, as well as commentary by:Joe BonadonnaImage

 

Get Poets in Hell from Amazon in the Perseid Press trade edition and for Kindle:  http://www.amazon.com/Poets-Hell-Heroes-Book-17-ebook/dp/B00KWKNTTW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1404249412&sr=1-1&keywords=poets+in+hell

Or at Barnes & Noble in trade and for Nook:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/poets-in-hell-janet-morris/1119740472?ean=9780991465439

 

New Sacred Band Tales: The Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl on Black Gate

From Black Gate. To read on Black Gate:  http://www.blackgate.com/2014/05/25/love-in-war-and-realms-beyond-imagining-a-review-of-the-fish-the-fighters-and-the-song-girl-by-janet-morris-and-chris-morris/

 

Love in War and Realms Beyond Imagining: A Review of The Fish, the Fighters and the Song Girl by Janet Morris and Chris Morris

Sunday, May 25th, 2014 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

The Fish, the Fighters and the Song Girl-small

“Your commander reaches for yonder stars and gods do eye him. And there are more Fates in the wide worlds of men than those whom he has aided.” – from The Fish, the Fighters and the Song Girl.

The Fish, the Fighters and the Song Girl
Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Revised Author’s Cut, published by Perseid Press (386 pages, May 24, 2012, $24.95)
Cover art: Peter Paul Rubens, “The Consequences of War” (detail), 1637-1638

The team of Janet Morris and Chris Morris once again grace us with another excellent collection of Homeric Heroic Fantasy, featuring Tempus, Niko and their Sacred Band of Stepsons. This compilation is comprised of both new stories and earlier tales, herein revised from the original Thieves’ World® series, stories such as “What Women Do Best,” “Power Play,” and “Sanctuary is for Lovers.” Brand-new tales, written especially for this book, include “Shelter from the Storm,” “Lemnian Deed,” “Ravener, Where Art Thou?” and the title story.

All the magic, action, adventure, humor and human drama I’ve come to expect from Janet and Chris Morris are here in spades, and there are enough revelations and plot twists along the way to keep you on your toes.

This collection takes place after the Morris’ masterpiece, The Sacred Band, and gives us more of the history of the Sacred Band as Tempus takes his Stepsons and Thebans north, a world away, into unexplored regions and a mythic country. Though they are courageous, these fighters, they are no strangers to fear. Though they are warriors, hard and tough, they are not immune to love and compassion, to decency and common humanity.

And though the gods at times play their part, there is never a chance that Deus ex machina will overwhelm these wonderful characters and seize control of the stories. In fact, at times it seems that the gods are really no match for the human and mortal characters. As in Greek mythology, which is the heart and soul of all the tales of the Sacred Band, the gods are as weak, as fallible, as jealous, and as imperfect as mortals – and sometimes even more so.

The Sacred Band-smallThe Fish, the Fighters and the Song Girl is a highly intelligent and extremely complex collection of tales that reads very much like a novel, and is built on a large and strong cast of characters who live and breathe, sweat and bleed. We meet new characters and revisit old, familiar ones.

And while we travel through unknown territory with Tempus, Niko and the Sacred Band, most of these stories are centered in good old Sanctuary®, where war is brewing between the empire of Ranke and the Beysibs of Harka Bey over control of that infamous town of rogues and thieves, whores and priests, mages and mercenaries.

Tempus and the Stepsons, the 3rd Commandos under Sync, and the Rankan Empire all want to rid Sanctuary of the Beysibs, install an interim ruler, and make Sanctuary an independent state. So that’s the background on what’s going on and the hub around which these stories revolve. Now, let me tell you a little about the players involved.

Once again we encounter Molin Torchholder, Vashanka the Storm God’s priest; he’s always trying to curb the actions of the Sacred Band, and this time out strikes a bargain with Tempus for his own secret agenda.

We learn more about the Stepson Straton and his love affair with Ischade the necromant; they set out to rescue Strat’s partner Sync, who’s been totally enthralled and held captive by Roxane, the Nisibisi witch who played such a large role in The Sacred Band and the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy; her demon-familiar, Snapper Jo, now tends bar at the Vulgar Unicorn® and dreams of being human.

Herein we get tangled up with Zip, the Death Squad guerilla leader who introduced Sync to Roxane; he also gets romantically involved with Kama, daughter of Tempus, and becomes a player in the war for Sanctuary’s independence. Randal, the shape-shifting, jug-eared mage is here, too, and he’s still allergic to animal forms, especially when he changes into one.

Microsoft Word - 09 12 24 Sacred Band Cover white horse white foWe also meet Cassander the Healer, a gifted horse doctor who buys a live fish, a kite-ray that he needs to heal a young girl named Seriti. (Interesting thing about this fish: it’s used to create a sort of “organic battery,” which is then used for healing and purposes of interrogation. Cassander is like a heroic fantasy version of television’s MacGyver.)

Niko, right-side companion to Tempus, has been immortalized and is now the avatar of Harmonia, the Theban goddess of Balance and Justice. He has his hands full taking care of two children: Arton, who at times can see the future, and Gyskouras (Kouras), who is the god Vashanka’s son, through Tempus who actually fathered him. Jihan, Froth Daughter of the god Stormbringer, shows her maternal side when she and Niko defend the boys against deadly snakes sent by the witch Roxane to slay the lads.

As for Tempus the Sleepless One… as always, he has a full plate. When the two gods – Father Enlil (Lord Storm) and Vashanka the Pillager – vie for space and attention inside the head of an exhausted Tempus, Abarsis the Slaughter Priest, founder and now patron shade of the Sacred Band, comes to his aid and grants him one full night of rest. And Tempus will need that rest, for even more trials and tribulations await him.

Kama, his daughter, is on a covert mission and becomes apprenticed to Hakiem the storyteller, who claims to be neutral in this war, but seems to have all the right connections. New to the Stepsons is Gayle, a foul-mouthed mercenary who can build a string of profanity around a single word; he’s been assigned to protect Kama, even from those who are trying to help her. But then Kama is framed – implicated in, and about to be indicted for, sedition and attempted murder.

Meanwhile, Molin Torchholder wants to save and marry her, and Jihan claims to be in love with young Randal, the Hazard Class and shape-shifting mage. So Tempus decides it’s best to stop the marriage between Randal and Jihan; with Randal’s permission he then sets out to woo Jihan away from the young mage for many reasons of his own, not to mention for the sake of romance. But first Tempus must send out teams of Stepsons to find the traitor who framed Kama for murder and sedition.

There is so much more to this anthology and to these stories, so many levels and layers, and the fun is in the reading and discovering how all the many threads tie together to create a tapestry of great storytelling. As in all Janet and Chris Morris’s stories of Tempus and his Sacred Band, their writing is crisp and spot on. Their use of present-tense to grab the reader with a sense of immediacy and urgency is always well-played and never jarring. There is a balance and simplicity, a beauty and poignancy in their prose that is not overdone, not overplayed; they write with a deep insight into the human soul, with compassion and humanity. Here’s a favorite passage of mine that takes place when the ghost of Abarsis the Slaughter Priest appears to take Niko’s former partner to heaven:

She knew ghosts when she saw them; this one was a spirit of supernal power, a fabled strength, a glossy being of such beauty that tears came to Ischade’s eyes when it sat down beside Niko, ruffling his hair with a fawn-colored hand.

 

“I am Abarsis,” it smiled in introduction, and she saw the wizard blood there, ancient lineage, and love so strong it made her head hurt; she’d given up such options as this ghost thrived on, long ago.

“We need Janni’s soul in heaven; it’s earned its peace…”

Beyond the Veil Janet Morris-smallI like that passage a lot. For me it’s writing that aims for the heart, as well as the brain. The philosophy, the credo of the Sacred Band will make you pause to think, but the way the characters are written, whether heroic, villainous or something in between, will make you feel.

One thing I’d like to mention is the women characters. In a review of one of the Sacred Band books, the reviewer brought up the point that the female characters are either witches or goddesses. Now, part of that statement rings true to history, true to a time when women controlled most religions, when women ruled as queens. But women play much more diverse roles in the Sacred Band mythos than witches, goddesses, priestesses, and even whores.First, there is Kama, a Sacred Band warrior as deadly, as proficient in the art of killing as any man. There are the two Lemnians, Breisis and Ditki, who once fought against the Band but have now joined with them.

And then there’s Madame Bomba, a shrewd businesswoman who has her hands in everything, her eyes on everything, and her heart in the right place. These women are all empowered – they are forces to be reckoned with, such as: a witch that even the gods fear; a necromant who feels love and compassion; a goddess who wants to be human; veteran warriors who have not sacrificed femininity and gentility, tenderness and caring.

To talk more in depth about the plots of each story would be to give too much away. I think, I hopethat what I have given you here is tease enough and has piqued your interest enough to have you seek out this volume and lose yourself in the wondrously magical and yet all too gritty and real world of the Sacred Band. And for those of you who haven’t read my Black Gate and Amazon reviews of The Sacred BandBeyond SanctuaryBeyond the Veil, and Beyond Wizardwall, please check them out. I think you’ll like the realms of wonder created by Janet and Chris Morris.

http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Fighters-Song-Girl-Sacred-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B007VQIJFY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403489117&sr=1-1&keywords=the+fish+the+fighters+and+the+song+girl

http://www.amazon.com/Tempus-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-Tales-ebook/dp/B00BI175EY/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403489152&sr=1-2&keywords=Tempus+by+Janet+Morris

http://www.amazon.com/The-Sacred-Band-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B00AMLKJAI/ref=pd_sim_b_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=1G3G9V5GG6XR7RCPPG50

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Sanctuary-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FPDG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1403489228&sr=1-1&keywords=beyond+sanctuary+by+janet+morris

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Veil-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FIG0/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=1MHWYTAZ81A5WRHZSY7K

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Wizardwall-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FH6G/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1KR03JS0W4QV928YG748

All Sacred Band of Stepsons series books available at Amazon in trade and Kindle from Perseid Press. theperseidpress.com

Books shown above also available at Barnes & Noble in trade and Nook editions, and better bookstores everywhere.

Look at Amazon’s Sacred Band books catalog and find additional Sacred Band of Stepsons short fiction available only for Kindle and companion audiobooks from Audible.com. Look for our Author’s Cut editions of the Beyond Trilogy: Beyond Sanctuary, Beyond the Veil, Beyond Wizardwall, expanded by nearly fifty thousand words.

Life to you, and everlasting glory…

 

Poets in Hell on Black Gate: The Good, the Damned, and the Ugly truth about Poets in Hell…

How I Lost My Soul and Learned to Love Hell

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Poets in Hell-smallAs many readers of Black Gate no doubt know by now, I have previously reviewed the shared-universe anthologies Lawyers in HellRogues in Hell and Dreamers in Hell, all edited by Janet Morris and Chris Morris.

Well, this time out, with Janet’s help, I am going to do something a little different for Poets in Hell, the 17th volume in the highly-acclaimed, award-winning, and very successful Heroes in Hell (HIH)series, what I like to call The Eternal Infernal Saga. Let me first give you a little back story, a little history as to how I, unplanned and undreamed, found myself wandering through the circles and levels of Hell.

A couple years ago I was asked by my friend and fellow author, Bruce Durham, if I would write a review for the then-newest volume in the Heroes in Hell series, Rogues in Hell. I said sure, I’d be happy to, even though I was in the middle of writing my second novel.

I remembered the original Baen Books Heroes and Hell series, having enjoyed a number of those, and I was familiar with Janet Morris from her work in Thieves World™ and many of her own novels. But it had been years since I read those; and I’d been so long away from the fantasy genre that I had no idea that Heroes in Hell had continued on past the 4 or 5 volumes I had read in the 1980s and early 90s.

So I read Rogues in Hell, loved every word of it, wrote my review, and then bought the previous and first volume in the new, 21st century series now published by Perseid Press, Lawyers in Hell. Now, while lost somewhere deep in the nether regions, I get contacted one fine day by none other than Janet Morris herself, who read my review, was very pleased with it, and liked the way I wrote it.

Mad Shadows The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser-smallShe then read my story of Dorgo the Dowser, “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” that I had posted on Black Gate, liked it, read more of the Dowser’s stories in my Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, and invited me to write a story for the then-forthcomingDreamers in Hell.

To say that I was excited, flattered and a little intimidated would be understating it all. I was totallyoverwhelmed! Naturally, I said I would love to give it a try. But I waited. I bided my time. What I wanted to do first was read and write a review of Dreamers in Hell, and then go back to re-read the first few Baen Books editions and read some of the stories in the other volumes, the ones I had not read.

Another year goes by and I still haven’t written a word. But I was in constant touch with Janet and her Hellions, as her band of Hell writers call themselves, and thoughts and ideas began to flow.

First, writing for Heroes in Hell is hard work: one needs to do a lot of research, because most of the characters in this Miltonian shared-universe are historical figures, figures of myth and legend, Biblical figures, and even some famous fictional characters – provided some link to an actual person can be found, such as the Dracula and Vlad Tepes connection.

So I hunkered down and did my homework, reading some history and biographies, researching things like demons, devils, angels, fallen angels, and the Hells of different cultures and religions. Not only was I developing a story, I was getting a wonderful education.

Now, the second thing about writing for Hell is that it made me “up my game.” The series is not only character-driven, it is allegorical, dramatic, poignant, high comedy and grim tragedy; it runs the gamut of genres and emotions. I was playing in the same park with some damned fine writers of imaginative literature, and something in the infernal nature of Hell demands and commands a writer to do the best he can, to go above and beyond what he/she has done before.

Rogues in HellHell is addictive. It’s an obsession. Hell has its rules, but what the rules do is force you to be more creative, to think outside the box: the rules are not restrictive, they are liberating. Once you pick your characters and start your research, you find things, you learn things you can use to make those characters live and breathe and jump off the page. Yeah, writing for Hell is hard work, but it’s also one helluva good time. I love every moment I spend in Hell – and I spend a lot of time there.

So what Janet and I thought we’d do this time out is give you an overview of Poets in Hell, a synopsis of each story, in the words of the authors themselves. Enjoy!

Author and jazz musician Chris Morris gets the ball rolling with his story, Words, in which “the first Bible writer drafts a deal with the Devil that saves some skins from deeper damnation.” Next, Janet and Chris team up for Seven Against Hell, wherein “Odysseus calls on Diomedes and friends to save his skin as Sappho and Homer sing their glory. Meanwhile, Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe find out that the play isn’t always the thing, proving for all eternity that Hell is more than just a frame of mind. The Blind Bard and the Bard of Avon discover that heroism is more than skin deep.”

In Reunion, by Nancy Asire, “Attila the Hun faces a thousand cuts of sibling rivalry at its most hellish.” Then Bruce Durham gives us Hell-hounds, wherein “Marconi, Bell and Antonio Meucci become prey to a pack of four legged, deadly denizens of hell as they run cable TV to the Pandemonium Theatre. Will they survive? And could the arrival of Snorri Sturluson and one yarn-spinning, sword-swinging Robert E. Howard turn the tide?”

Along comes Jack William Finley with The Kid with No Name, who “learns that fame can be hard to come by in perdition and Dorothy Parker is reminded that pride is still a sin, even in Hell.” All Hell to Pay is Deborah Koren’s story where “Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp get their unjust deserts.”

Lawyers in Hell-smallLarry Atchley Jr’s Poetic Injustice has “Samuel Taylor Coleridge searching for the missing lines to his poem, Kubla Khan, and performing at a poetry slam with William Blake and Ragnar Loddbrok, where they must answer for their sins. Meanwhile, Guy Fawkes looks for answers about who was really behind the failed assault on heaven and if there can be salvation for any of the damned in hell.” Next up is When You Gaze into an Abyss, Matthew Kirshenblatt’s tale of “Lilith, the first wife of Adam, who pines to escape the confines of Hell while Friedrich Nietzsche stares into the abyss… and decides that he has had enough.”

In Tom Barczak’s Pride and Penance, “The Jabberwocky gets a taste for hell’s damnedest architects.” The author who calls himself pdmac hits a Grand Slam when “Anne Sexton and Li Po, China’s greatest poet, share judging duties with Camus and Sartre and learn the true meaning of a poetry slam.”

Then here comes Yelle Hughes’ Red Tail’s Corner, wherein “Dionysus, the god of wine and madness, along with the riddle-loving Sphinx of Greece, finds out that Satan loves poetry, but Erra and the Seven Sibitti do not.” Richard Groller follows through with Faust III, in which “Johann Wolfgang von Goethe completes his poetic Magnum Opus in Hell, with the opening day of the play drawing the attention and ire of His Satanic Majesty himself.”

And then Bill Snider records the fun with his Tapestry of Sorrows and Sighs: “Caliban joins the poetry show, and Sycorax has to know, where did her baby go? All the while Fionn and Merlin play their games in the shadows.”

My collaboration with Shebat Legion, Undertaker’s Holiday, reveals that “Even Hell’s Undertaker needs a holiday from the Mortuary, as David Koresh, Reverend Jim Jones, Ovid, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the ‘Fellowship of the Thing’ soon find out.”

Next, Beth W. Patterson presents Haiku d’Etat: “Stuck with one another for eternity, Robert Burns and Stephen Foster cultivate their prickly friendship in the treacherous Bayou d’Enfer until a hellicane demolishes their home. The eye of the storm transports the duo to a different dimension: the Shinto underworld of Yomi. There they meet the acid-tongued Matsuo Basho, whose speech may yield clues for an escape.”

Dreamers in Hell-smallBill Barnhill follows with A Mother’s Heart, telling us how “Plato and Lilith try to save Hell’s Atlantis from a second dunking with the help of a giant squirrel.” In my solo effort, We the Furious, “His Satanic Majesty sends Mary Shelley and Mob hitman Johnny Fortune to unionize the Uncubi, who are the unpublished poets and authors in Hell. But first they must save Galatea, Victor Frankenstein, and his infamous Monster from a vampire-like Lemuel Gulliver, who is using the Uncubi to help him overthrow Satan.”

Damned Poets Society is Michael H. Hanson’s offering: “Baudelaire, Poe, Frost, and other dead masters of verse join together for Hell’s greatest public recitation. The poets slam the afterlife but are slammed in return by the greatest poetry critic of them all, Satan himself.”

Now we’re near the finish line with Michael A. Armstrong’s All We Need of Hell: “Together again after the Bridge mission, Hart Crane, Emily Dickinson, and Ezra Pound go into the deepest, darkest, coldest manifestation of hell, the Inuit underworld. Guided by Atanazauq, a powerful shaman, they test the power of poetry against the ancient gods.”

And finally, Janet Morris closes this edition with Dress Rehearsal, wherein “Helen of Troy gets Marlowe and Shakespeare in hot water for taking poetic license.”

And there you have it, Poets in Hell. A little something for everyone: heroic fantasy and sword & sorcery, thrillers, horror, romance, touches of science fiction and steampunk – they’re all here.

So come visit us in Hell and enjoy the company.

BYO pitchfork.


Afterword by Janet Morris:

Poete maxime infernalis: ‘Poets most hellish’

thieves_world2Putting together volumes for the Heroes in Hell (HIH) shared-universe series is always hellish: writers fall ill, die, come into the series or leave it; new writers bring chaos among their bags of tricks, reinterpret every rule, demand exceptions to guidelines, and generally run amok. My co-editor Chris Morris and I like that: running roughshod over complacency keeps Hell popping.

We ourselves became seduced into reopening the series by a writer no longer among us, who suggested that if we did a secret page on FaceBook, the creation process would be easier to manage. Easier? Not at all. More intimate, for certain.

In the 20th century, I (Janet) and my co-editor Chris, became part of the first sword & sorcery shared universe, Thieves’ World: its mission was to make sword & sorcery and fantasy darker in a place Bob Asprin, series creator, called “the armpit of fantasy.” Little did any of us know that the TW series would make fantasy history – and help turn the genre very much darker.

Taking Bob at his word, a great time was had by all in TW. Or at least by me and Chris. The stories of Tempus and his Sacred Band grew into the Sacred Band of Stepsons series, and gave me three Science Fiction Book Club selections (Beyond SanctuaryBeyond the Veil, and Beyond Wizardwall, all previously reviewed here on Black Gate in their Perseid Author’s Cut editions). So Chris and I decided to do our own shared universe: since art imitates life, we thought we’d write it in Hell.

Remember those murky days of the late 20th century: no internet; no fax machines; no competing phone companies; computers that used floppy disks; author royalties of 10%?

Communications were expensive and slow. Nevertheless, we created the Heroes in Hell shared universe under a multi-volume contract with Jim Baen, and raise hell we did, in twelve volumes for Baen Books.

Doing HIH collaborations in real time would be much better, right? Lead to tighter plots, more alliances within the writing team and more friendly competition, resulting in better cohesion and at last in better stories? Of course it would.

So we agreed, and this idea of intimate expansion of our franchise due to interaction evolved into the Heroes in Hell Working Group, where writers ask questions, provide answers, share data, request characters and submit synopses, get permission to write those synopses into stories, post snippets of stories and rough drafts and— here it comes; wait for it — make deals with one another to share characters and hand off plot points.

Chris and I would give them long, medium, and short series- and volume- oriented story arcs, and off we would go. No sweat. No harm. And I could limit the fouls.

Heroes in Hell-smallAnd it worked out that way, and continues to do so, except when Satan takes a hand, or any of the other gods and judges in Hell decide to meddle.

The most-snake bit volume in 21st century HIH has been Poets in Hell (PIH). Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? It wasn’t. It isn’t. HIH as a matter of pride tries to introduce new writers, mix experienced professionals with emerging talents and first-time authors. The writers, as we discussed future volume titles in the working group, wanted desperately to do Poets in Hell.

I knew it was coming. I had already posited in Lawyers in Hell that the powers Above were sending auditors to the underworlds because Hell wasn’t sufficiently hellish. Enter Erra the Babylonian plague god and his Sibitti, personified weapons and cruel enforcers of Heaven’s will: this multi-volume arc remains in play to this day.

I had time to introduce Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe and Lord Byron in Rogues in Hell. I expanded their roles in Dreamers in Hell, writing from Satan’s perspective to make sure His Infernal Majesty (HIM) seeded the story arcs and foreshadowed the tensions needed for Poets.

Then in Poets in Hell we turn them loose; Byron even brings his faithful dog, Boatswain. For my part, I recruited new writers, to keep things fresh.

Then, of course, all hell breaks loose. Some new writers decide to team up with more seasoned writers and with other newbies, but are inexperienced at fictional hand-offs, requiring Chris and me to take a hand and give crash courses. Writers submit stories with quotations and paraphrases, without annotating which are which. Every line of poetry must be checked and double checked, to make sure they’re attributed in situ if need be.

The copy-edit alone was worthy of a dissertation. My experienced Hellions, who asked for this volume, reached for the skies in their story purports and executions. The new writers performed Herculean feats to stay in the game. This would be the best volume from HIH ever, I thought, if Chris and I could get it under control.

Every so often life hands you a snake-bit project, but PIH was plagued with gremlins worse than snake-bite, unless the snake was from the World Tree. My editorial assistant broke her wrist, had a near-fatal heart attack, was comatose, and then out of commission for weeks; one of my long-time writers was diagnosed as terminal and began chemotherapy; another had an impromptu pacemaker installed after an emergency helicopter ride. Several experienced Hellions couldn’t submit within the time frame. I drafted Joe Bonadonna to help me with the copy-edits once we finally received all the stories.

The Gates of Hell-smallSo, we’re tracking, headed toward our deadline.

But someone sends in a final draft with a virus, and when we combine the stories all the final drafts become infected. Never mind. We’ll have each story resubmitted. We’ll find a new formatter, a new copy-editor, a new up-loader…. We’ll get our intrepid assistant a new computer. Multiple struggles with the snake-bit (intransigent) epub and mobi manuscripts reveal hidden codes that must be sleuthed out and eradicated. The cover designer goes incommunicado between her rough draft and final revisions, leaving me with a cover half-finished. We don’t get a final cover until the day the Kindle is scheduled to be uploaded.

Nevertheless, there’s good news: although the works are extremely sophisticated, the volume reads like a mix of sword and sorcery and darkest fantasy; we were able to employ cover art I’d wanted to use since the first volume; one of writers wrote the scene on the cover into his story.

For the first time, Chris and I wait until nearly deadline, when all other stories are submitted, before we write ours. Usually we give the writers “frame” stories: the first and last stories in the book. Quite reasonably, given the nature of poets, we didn’t do that this time: We’d make them perform without a net because we wanted a wilder result.

We got it.

That’s the story of the creation of PIH, and we’re sticking to it. The volume begins with a gift from Satan to all the poets in hell. You’d think by now they’d know better. And from there on, our poete maxime infernalis have free rein. At the end, by the skin of their teeth, our heroes…

Well, I’d better not tell you that. I’ll just say that Satan had his way with all of us, this time around. Next time, we’re doing Doctors in Hell. That surely will be easier.

Right?

Buy Poets in Hell, published by Perseid Presss, in trade paper, Kindle, or Nook formats:

http://www.amazon.com/Poets-Hell-Heroes-Book-17-ebook/dp/B00KWKNTTW/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1403482498

http://www.amazon.com/Poets-Hell-Heroes-Volume-17/dp/0991465431/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1403482498&sr=1-1

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/poets-in-hell-janet-morris/1119740472?ean=9780991465439

 

 

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In the 21st century, the new Heroes in Hell volumes preceding Poets are:  Lawyers in Hell, Rogues in Hell, Dreamers in Hell.  Get them all in trade, or for Nook or Kindle.

 

Read this article on Black Gate:  http://www.blackgate.com/2014/06/22/how-i-lost-my-soul-and-learned-to-love-hell/#more-78057

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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