Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe: Library of Erana interview

Originally posted at https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/zweihander-interview-will-and-kit/

Pirates 166 meg

Character Names: William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe

Relationship: Roommates; Playwrights; Co-authors

World: New Hell

Books:  Rogues in Hell; Dreamers in Hell; Poets in Hell; Doctors in Hell; Pirates in Hell (Heroes in Hell series)

How and where did you meet?

Will Shakespeare: When alive, we met as rival playwrights, Kit holding forth in the ‘Admiral’s Men company’ wheresoever the troupe played, or at the Rose; and I at the Globe, where I owned an interest in the house.

Kit Marlowe: Eyewash, all that. Shakespeare’s a famous liar. We met in the Clink, on Maiden Lane. So what? What intelligence we had of one another came through his works and mine, what plays we wrote and how we acted in ’em. My Tamburlaine the Great, Parts I and II, I performed in my lifetime; the rest were staged posthumously, but for Dido, Queen of Carthage, writ by me and Thomas Nashe, and ‘performed’ by the ‘Children of the Chapel,’ as fair a clutch of boy charmers as ever gamboled on any stage. I met my death not too long after cultivating Will, a matter of my spying here and lying there, most times with Walsingham, whose wife took umbrage, as women do when boys and men make love. Yet those plays set a new standard in quality and introduced blank verse. Mine were not, like Will’s, tripe writ for money-grubbery by the uneducated and for the uneducated. I helped Will write his Henry VI, Parts One, Two and Three and got no credit for it. Still, my own four plays performed on Earth after I arrived in Hell did what art should do: shined lights on evils hidden and calumny of the vilest kind.

Will: Kit, let’s not linger on this question, unfortunate as it may be. We were sometime lovers, sometime haters of one another, but always haters of repression and Elizabethan frippery. If your spying got you killed, Kit, your love of controversy sparked it — yea, incited it.

Kit: Incited? Poor choice of words, methinks. Edward the Second was first performed five weeks after my death; so that play, at least, retained its bite.

 What is it you like most about the other person?

Kit: Like about Will? His soft white skin, his ample buttocks — his mobile mouth, empowered tongue, and nubile breasts.

Will: Kit means he adores my ear for language, my deeply probing artist’s soul, and my knack of staying out of trouble whilst I slip and slide among the rich and reprehensible at Court. Do recall I’m not the one who ended life with a bodkin thrust deep in that eye so like a doe’s.

What is it you hate most about each other?

Will: We said that. But, since you ask for more: his blasphemy and his need to fill his pages with the ‘vile heretical conceits’ that sent him to trial before the Privy Council.

Kit: We told you that, and, like the Privy Council, you’ll acquit me on the grounds that truth itself can’t be denied — for long.

Will: Christopher Marlowe, like your English Agent in the Massacre at Paris, I hate your overweening pride and lurid need to confess your days of secret agency under so thin a guise as that play. What were you thinking, to warn Elizabeth of agitators, a theme far too dangerous to survive? And how many refugees from the low countries died of your ideas planted in their tiny little heads?

Do you think your partnership will last?

Kit: Henry Sixth answers that, for my part. It’s what Shakey would have writ had he an education or a life made dangerous enough to enjoy. And the rest, you see before you: two souls forever doomed to one another’s company in the bowels of perdition, to count eternity’s every day, and nights more deadly still.

Will: Kit’s a good boy, a young fellow led astray by childish derring-do, and with a taste for the hurly-burly that snuffed his life before its time. But now I have infernity to reform him, and Satan provides the irritant around which we’ll secrete a necklace of pearls while we write as we’ve never writ before.

 Describe the other person (max 100 words):

Kit: Will, go ye first, and light our path with your dulcet tones, so like a cello but a string or two short.

Will: Master Marlowe, my thanks for your recital, though it best be delivered later and revisited daily, as the Privy Council sentenced you to come before them every day: every day of the ten you had yet to live . . . Withal, I’ll try to answer the question: this Marlowe creature hungers for adoration and thirsts for justice, both of which were as precious scarce in life as they remain dubious in afterlife. Nevertheless, his talent is wider than the face of Paradise and tempered by a lifetime few would have dared to live — and I love him for his childish heart and indomitable soul.

Kit: My turn, then, to laud the Bard in terms free of spite and full with admiration: such a mind for the human animal has ne’er been seen on the black earth — not before he lived his quick span, or at any time thereafter. Although glorifying humanity may be an empty effort, he’s made them look into themselves, and find there what joy can be had, and give it value.

 Describe how you think the other person sees you

Will: I think not, for safety’s bereftest sake.

Kit: As my better half insinuates, ‘twould take a three-part comedy of errors to do that story justice. So I’ll not begin it, lest it never stop till eternity runs out.

Tell us a little about your adventures.

Will: Then or now? Becoming famous in life holds no candle to sustaining afterlife. We’ve written three plays now for Satan, and suffered the attendant woes of those who know true ignominy. We wrote Hell Bent, and died in it every night. We wrote The Witch and the Tyrant, and fell afoul of its graveyard stench. We wrote another, Pirates in Perdition, and found the very sounding of its name an incantation to summon fiends and demons and all manner of unexculpated souls.

Kit: Read our plays writ here, to Abbadon’s order, or don’t. But be warned: you’ll risk your wizened hearts every time you turn our pages and let your eyes rub words too dangerous to speak aloud.

Tell us about your world – and your part of it.

Will: Hell is the Reformation come to grief, with no Third Act to cure it.

Kit: Hell is where the heart is, and seldom beats. But when it does, that heart beats as only love can. We are Satan’s personal poets, and no worse can befall a soul who yet owns an ear for courage or for rhyme.

Where do you see yourselves in five years?

Kit: Right here. Scoffing at evil while we glorify every flaw that makes man human. What else, in hell, is a playwright to do?

Will: Enough, Kit. The last line of this comedy is mine: We’ll be here as long as ghosts roam the world and fools rule it; as long as regrets power penance and singers keen their pain.


You can find Will and Kit in the following:

Janet Morris on Amazon

Perseid Press Website

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

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



Interview about Collaboration:
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”
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 and Janet Morris, “Fantasy’s power couple” top Black Gate’s fiction charts for July, 2014

The Top 20 Black Gate Fiction Posts in July

Monday, August 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Poets in Hell-smallThe most popular piece of fiction on the Black Gate blog last month was “Seven Against Hell” by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, an exclusive sample from their new anthology Poets in Hell.

Don’t step off the podium just yet, Janet and Chris. I’m happy to report that the #2 fiction post in July was also from fantasy’s power couple: an excerpt from heroic fantasy novel The Sacred Band by — who else? — Janet Morris and Chris Morris.

Third was perennial favorite “The Find,” by Mark Rigney, Part II of The Tales of Gemen, which has been near the top of the charts every month since it was first published here nearly three years ago.

Michael Shea’s tale of Lovecraftian horror, “Tsathoggua,” which first appeared here last September, came in fourth.

Next was Aaron Bradford Starr’s epic novella “The Sealord’s Successor,” the third adventure fantasy featuring Gallery Hunters Gloren Avericci and Yr Neh, the most popular adventuring duo we’ve ever published.

Also making the list were exciting stories by Joe Bonadonna, Mike Allen, John C. Hocking, C.S.E. Cooney, Sean McLachlan, Peter Cakebread, Vaughn Heppner, Jason E. Thummel, Harry Connolly, Steven H Silver, E.E. Knight, Judith Berman, Martha Wells, David C. Smith, and Dave Gross.

If you haven’t sampled the free adventure fantasy stories offered through our Black Gate Online Fiction line, you’re missing out. Here are the Top Twenty most-read stories in July.

  1. Seven Against Hell” by Janet Morris and Chris Morris
  2. An excerpt from The Sacred Band by Janet Morris and Chris Morris
  3. The Find,” Part II of The Tales of Gemen, by Mark Rigney
  4. Tsathoggua,” by Michael Shea
  5. The Sealord’s Successor,” by Aaron Bradford Starr
  6. The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum,” by Joe Bonadonna
  7. An excerpt from The Black Fire Concerto, by Mike Allen
  8. Vestments of Pestilence,” by John C. Hocking
  9. Godmother Lizard” by C.S.E. Cooney
  10. The Quintessence of Absence,” by Sean McLachlan
  11. An excerpt from The Alchemists Revenge by Peter Cakebread
  12. The Pit Slave,” by Vaughn Heppner
  13. The Duelist” by Jason E. Thummel
  14. The Whoremaster of Pald,” by Harry Connolly
  15. The Cremator’s Tale” by Steven H Silver
  16. The Terror in the Vale,” by E.E. Knight
  17. Awakening,” by Judith Berman
  18. The Death of the Necromancer, a complete novel by Martha Wells
  19. The Shadow of Dia-Sust” by David C. Smith
  20. An excerpt from Pathfinder Tales: King of Chaos, by Dave Gross

A Day in Hell with William Shakespeare

Poets in Hell KindleWill Shakespeare talks about his affair with Satan, Kit Marlowe and the perils of Hell.

Library of Erana

Hell week was such a lot of fun I decided to linger. Here’s an interview with William Shakespeare, the greatest playwrite of them all.

Welcome to the Hell Interview Channel, brought to you infernally hour after hour.

Name (s): William Shakespeare; Bard of Avon.

Age (before death and after you ended up in HSM’s domain): Born in April, 1564, I died at age 52 on April 23, 1616, at Stratford-upon-Avon, and woke here, where I languish, ‘not of an age,’ as Ben Johnson said of my work, ‘but for all time’.

Please tell us a little about yourself. I’m a poet, a playwright, sometimes an actor, oft a lover; less oft a villain; always a fool for love and a dupe for words.

Who were you in life? I became an actor in 1585, married Anne Hathaway when I was eighteen; two days after I died I was buried in…

View original post 1,497 more words

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


Satan’s interview on Poets in Hell…



Now this is something that doesn’t happen every day… the special guest on my blog is Satan. Yes Lucifer himself. 

Welcome (I think) to the Hell Interview Channel, brought to you infernally hour after hour.

Name (s) Satan, the Deceiver, Son of the Morning, Old Scratch, Old Nick, Shaitan, Prince of Lies, Lucifer (not to be mistaken for Lucifer the Lesser).

Age (before death and after you ended up in HSM’s domain). I was the second most powerful in Heaven; I don’t age.

Please tell us a little about yourself. I bet God that I could prove to him that mankind was flawed, an unworthy impulse, and lost. I vied with the Almighty for control of the great Above, and lost again, was cast down along with my faithful, a third of the angels then in among the heavenly host.

Who were you in life? I never sunk so low as to live a life.

How do you think you ended up in Hell?I was bested by the Almighty in a war that tore the firmament apart.  He cast me and mine down, and down, into the Deep, where for an eternity we flew with no place to alight.

Describe your appearance in 10 words or less. As I like it:  white, beauteous or black, awful.

Where do you live in Hell? Tell us about your residence and area. New Hell is my domain, all the hells that came after the invention of Christianity are mine to hold and rule, including all the underworlds of infernity.

Do you have a moral code? If so what is it? Is your moral code the same as it was in life? Not having had a life, I have only a code by which we judge those who once lived. The 613 Commandments were not suggestions; any who broke any one or more of them — and ignorance is no excuse, nor is agnosticism, nor atheism — are mine to teach what torment truly means.

Before I was cast down, I enjoyed the company of the Highest, bathed in glorious light. Mankind is the reason for the war in heaven, and unto them we render just punishment, for they brought us here, all the fallen angels who followed me.  And here we stay, by deific decree, making our little patch of all the hells most hellish.

Would you kill for those you love? After all sending someone to the Undertaker is not very nice! I love the Almighty. I sentence souls to their just deserts; we kill them regularly, and resurrect them, and kill them more. But they never learn.  Some day, He will see that we were right, that humanity is fatally flawed with hubris and despite.  Until then, dying only improves them a little bit:  it makes them wary.

Would you die for those you love? Die, being a relative term….Death is denied all of us. We have lost our heavenly lives, because of humanity, and banishment is our lot. No angel wants death, nor oblivion. Being denied the face of God is punishment enough. These questions seemed designed for damned souls, not their overlords.

Do you have any phobias? Are you plagued by anything particular in Hell? I am plagued by the stupidity of mankind, the unwillingness of humanity to accept its flawed nature; its inability to admit defeat.  So we must torture them more and more:  from Above, seven personified weapons and one god of plague and mayhem were sent here to make sure we torture damned souls hard enough, and well enough, and long enough.  And so we will.  We’ll go not back unto the Deep:  too cold down there, with no place to land, flying in darkness forever…

What do you think Satan’s most creative punishment is here? Cleverest?  Most just, you mean:  rebirth – the damned can find no way out of here but oblivion, and that is unavailable to most.  They die and die and die again, and so few ever can repent.  Only a handful of souls have ever held their anger long enough and well enough to deserve manumission:  it’s the nature of the arrogant thieves in hell to change everything but themselves.

Who are your friends here? My fallen angels, the top twelve of those.  Samalel, Angel of Death, is closest to me of the fallen host.  Michael, my familiar, is my only ‘friend’ in the way you mean, and he is not human, and never was.

Who are your enemies? All the teeming damned, begging and crying and whining and scheming and lying and dying again and again for crimes they continually repeat.

If I recall relationships are… difficult, is this the side of humanity you miss the most? Sex, you mean? I can have sex with any soul, with the most famed temptresses, with president and kings. I can make any of the damned love me…  well, nearly any. I am embarked upon a fling with William Shakespeare at the moment, and sex is the most minute part of the love I crave from any soul who takes my fancy….

Please give us an interesting and unusual fact about yourself. Marilyn Monroe was my private secretary for many years.


Book(s) in which this character appears plus links

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/

Author name Janet Morris

Website/Blog/Author pages etc. 





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.


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







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









Heaven and Hell Collide …oh Baby!

IMAGE MARCH 28, 2014Heaven and Hell Collide …oh Baby!Rogues in Hell (Heroes in Hell) [Kindle Edition]Janet Morris leads her writers back to Hell.Hot on the heels of Lawyers in Hell, the New Hell Sinday Times bestseller, comes ROGUES IN HELL…The war heats up, Satan antes up, and rogues go adventuring as Hell’s landlord faces off with Heaven’s auditors.Veteran Hellions sin again and new writers fall from grace:Shirley Meier, Bradley H. Sinor, Michael Z. Williamson, Deborah Koren, Julie Cochrane, Bruce Durham, Janet Morris, Chris Morris, Richard Groller, H. David Blalock, Nancy Asire, Michael H. Hanson, Sarah Hulcy, Michael A. Armstrong, Larry Atchley, Jr., Bill Snider, Edward McKeown, John Manning, Jack William Finley, David L. Burkhead and Allan Gilbreath

via Heaven and Hell Collide …oh Baby!.