Character Interview: Nikodemos of the Sacred Band

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Character Interview Number Three – Nikodemos – Fantasy/Mythic

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Welcome to Nikodemos, of the Sacred Band.

Tell Us About Yourself

Name (s):  I am Stealth called Nikodemos; Niko to my friends.

Age:  How do you mean?  I have spent five years in the City at the Edge of Time, where time doesn’t pass, and lived now and again on Lemuria, where the Band is based, and where mortals do not age.  When I joined Tempus’ Sacred Band with my first partner, I claimed twenty-five years, not quite true, but I’d already been a right-side partner for nine years.  I have served sixteen years with the Stepsons.  So, thirty-seven, perhaps, as mortals count time.

Please tell us a little about yourself.  First I should tell you that I answer your questions only at my commander’s order.  I’m overall second in command and hipparch, or cavalry commander, of the Unified Sacred Band of Stepsons.  I manage our prodromoi, our skirmisher light cavalry, as well as our heavy cavalry.  I am a committed Sacred Bander, right-side partner of our commander, Tempus, called the Riddler, the Black, the Sleepless One, the Obscure, Favorite of the Storm God.  I am also a secular Bandaran adept, initiate of the mystery of Maat.  I’ve claimed Enlil when I have needed a tutelary god.  These days, the goddess Harmony calls me her own.  I’m not a man for words.

Describe your appearance in 10 words or less.  Tall, but shorter than Tempus.  Hazel-eyed.  Dark-haired.  Fit.

Do you have a moral code? If so what is it?  The Sacred Band Ethos guides me.  I am still learning what the Riddler has to teach.  I strive for balance in all things.  Stepsons should want neither too much to live nor too much to die.  To serve with the Band requires unflinching determination; unwavering devotion – to one another, to honor, to creed.  I’m Bandaran at my core: venerating the elder gods, but worshiping only the god within.  The Band says, ‘Life to you, and everlasting glory.’  I don’t ask destiny even that much.  Only to be useful while I live.

Would you kill for those you love?  I have.  I do.  It’s what I am:  a fighter.  I told you:  My mystery is maat, one of seeking balance and equilibrium, truth and justice. On occasion, I become justice incarnate, when justice must be dispensed with a sword.

Would you die for those you love?  I am a Stepson.  So, of course.  If you are really asking about my being immortalized by Harmony, I will tell you only that what is between me and the goddess is ours alone, not yours to know.

What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?  We are all weak, even those of us, like my commander or myself, who’ve been immortalized by some god or goddess or touched by sorcery.  I’m a Bandaran fighter.  I have a calling:  I take my strength, my mystery, my spirit and my skill out into the World and challenge its evil until it wears me down. Then I return home to Bandara or lately to Lemuria, restore my internal equilibrium, and do the same again.

If I must confess a flaw to you – and only the gods know why – it would be that I ask too much, not only from others, but from myself.

Do you have any relationships you prize above others?  Ah, the women.  Everyone asks about how a Sacred Bander can love so many women.  It’s a soul that calls me, not the size of breast or buttocks.  But yes, I love women as well as men and horses, and the sun that’s new every day, and weather on the wind.  Without love, how can a man live fully the life that the gods bequeath?

My relationship with my commander is most important:  love without limits, wisdom beyond price; leadership is what he teaches, and commitment beyond measure.  I know I’m imperfect, still young in his sight, still balancing my rage.  More now than ever, since the goddess Harmony touched me, I need his guidance.

And there’s Harmony herself.  That this goddess favors me, gave me that great horse, is beyond my ken but she’s goddess of the Balance, after all.

Above all else come my brothers of the Sacred Band.

And Randal, although he’s a mage and a shape-shifter, was once a partner to me and still like a brother.  Not every man is alike in mind: our differences define us.

Do you like animals?  I love the Band’s Tros horses, and the horses we bred up in Free Nisibis, and the black horse the goddess gave me.  Love is vulnerability, you must understand:  love comes at the risk of grief.  I’m careful how much vulnerability I court.

Do you have a family?  More than one:  The Unified Sacred Band of Stepsons; Bashir and the freemen of Nisibis; the adepts of Bandara.

Can you remember something from your childhood which influences your behaviour?  Too much suffering, too much death.  Terror in war.  Slavery and sorcery.  And then a left-side leader who loved me and made a man of a foolish boy.

Do you have any phobias?  Witches.  Warlocks.  Arrogance.  Stupidity.  Stupidity kills more than all else.

Please give us an interesting and unusual fact about yourself.  I was courted by the entelechy of dreams who gave me a charmed panoply forged in hell itself.  I was stalked by a witch.  The Greek goddess Harmonia is my current lover.  Pick any one.

Tell Us About your World

Please give us a little information about the world in which you live.  These days I live with the Band.  Lately we’ve been in Thrace.  When we’re not campaigning, we billet in Lemuria.   There the Riddler’s sister rules with unchallengeable power from behind its sheer seaside walls.  From there we fight where the commander and his woman send us, anywhere in space and time – past, future, other realms.

Does your world have religion or other spiritual beliefs?  So many.  What’s between men and gods powers all.  We fight in theomachy, too often:  Tempus is Favorite of the Storm God, so we fight a lot of wars.

Do you travel in the course of your adventures? If so where?  Where?  Sometimes, a world away.  Wherever Cime, the Evening Star of Lemuria, decrees.  To places decoupled from time and space, like Bandara or Meridian or the City, or Thrace.  We’ve been places others only dream of.  We fought in a future so far away that the seas were dead.  We fought in a place so primitive ancient beasts walked the earth.  Sometimes we slip through gates between dimensions…  I’m a simple fighter.  Ask Tempus and Cime these questions, not me.  We go where he leads, we fight where he puts us.

Name and describe a food from your world.  Nisibisi blood wine, made with bullock blood.  Possets of watered wine with cheese and nuts and barley.

Does your world have magic?  If so how is it viewed in your world?  You jest.  We fought a war for more than a decade against sorcery, thought we’d won it, but now fight the mages yet again in other realms.

What form of politics is dominant in your world? (Democracy, Theocracy, Meritocracy, Monarchy, Kakistocracy etc.)  An intellectual said we are timocrats.  What that means, I don’t know.  We fight for honor and our commander, not for place or race or national goals.  Dominant in our world are fools and kings and reavers and their sorcerous allies, who scheme under any name that will give them greater power.  They try to seize control of everything and everyone.

Does your world have different races of people? If so do they get on with one another?Races vie for power.  People hate anyone different, then deem them soulless, then try to wipe them out.  Tempus says that, absent reason, men will fight over eye-color, hue of skin or heavenly affiliation.

Name a couple of myths and legends particular to your culture/people.  We have no myths, except perhaps the one that says no nation can lose if Tempus and the Band fight on its side.  We have truths and realities, sometimes long forgot and often twisted, that fools think are myths, going back to the time of Gilgamesh.

What is the technology level for your world?  Tempus and his sister have the Lemurian windows, to take you anyplace in space and time.  We use repeating crossbows; some forged iron, some poor steel, some bronze, but well forged bronze still bests iron.  We have naphtha and poisons, great ships and more, and cloud-conveyance.  But what difference?  It’s the man, not the weapon, that wins the day.

Does your world have any supernatural beings?  Supernatural?  Like the entelechy of dreams who is regent of the seventh sphere?  Or do you mean the gods?  Jihan, the Froth Daughter?  Witches?  Sorcerers.  Some mainlanders say that we Bandarans do the same as sorcerers, just under another name.  Mystical creatures?  Of course.  Naiads.  Erinyes.  We have devils, demons, fiends, snakes that change shape, giant vipers and rocs and eagles.  Don’t you?  We have zombies, vampires, necromants; even a ghost horse, Straton’s mount. And our warrior-mage Randal, one of our bravest fighters, can become a dog or an eagle when he must…

Author notes: Novels(s) in which Nikodemos appears.

Beyond Sanctuary (1985), (2013), Janet Morrishttp://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Sanctuary-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FPDG

Beyond the Veil (1985), (2013), Janet Morris http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Veil-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FIG0

Beyond Wizardwall (1986), (2013) Janet Morrishttp://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Wizardwall-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FH6G

Tempus (1987), (2011) Janet Morris http://www.amazon.com/Tempus-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-Tales-ebook/dp/B00BI175EY
City at the Edge of Time (1988), Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Tempus Unbound (1989), Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Storm Seed (1990), Janet Morris and Chris Morris

The Sacred Band (2010), Janet Morris and Chris Morrishttp://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Band-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B00AMLKJAI

The Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl (2010), Janet Morris and Chris Morris,http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Fighters-Song-Girl-Sacred-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B007VQIJFY/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2

Nikodemos  also appears in Morris & Morris Sacred Band of Stepsons stories set in the Thieves’ World shared universe, including:

“Wizard Weather,” Storm Season, Ace 1982

“High Moon,” Face of Chaos, Ace 1983

“Hell to Pay,” The Dead of Winter, Ace 1985

“Power Play,” copyright (C) Janet Morris, Soul of the City, 1986

“Pillar of Fire,” copyright (C) Janet Morris, Soul of the City, 1986

Author name:Janet Morris

Chris Morris

Website/Blog/Author pages etc.

theperseidpress.com

sacredbander.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_Morris

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Morris_(author)

https://www.facebook.com/PerseidPublishing

https://www.facebook.com/TheSacredBand

https://www.facebook.com/SacredBandBeyondTriolgy

https://www.facebook.com/tempusandniko

https://www.facebook.com/fishfightersonggirl

https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisandChrisMorris

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

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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/

Excerpt from “The Sacred Band”

Excerpt from “The Sacred Band”

Shock Troops of the Gods (from The Sacred Band, copyright [c]  Janet Morris and Chris Morris, Paradise Publishing, 2010; Kerlak Publishing, 2011.)

 

     The war in heaven has reached the streets of Sanctuary:  overhead, the sun shines bright; in the distance, clouds form up to attack the daylight.  Right here, right now, Crit needs to keep control of the Sacred Band and of Walegrin’s city guard, both units frustrated by their elusive quarry and angry at this hellhole town.  Maneuvers, carefully planned, painstakingly apportioned among two forces, must be precisely carried out.  Or this sortie won’t work at all, and their sweep will sweep only discipline away, become a rout.  Theory put into practice – not perfect today.  Not smooth enough by half:  Sanctuary city guard and Sacred Band are out of step, not meshing.  At least not so far.

     Through the twisty byways of Downwind, both contingents thunder.  Walegrin’s city guard leads, bent on showing off their local savvy.  Crit knows that mere familiarity won’t win the day…or would have won it by now, on other days.  Behind Walegrin’s men come the fierce shock troops of the Sacred Band, ranks formed up for war and spoiling for a battle where only much less will do.

     Ladies first, all you city guard….

     Too many weapons gleam under heaven in the bright sunlight.  Too many horses’ hooves clatter on cobblestones.  Too many jeers and taunts and war cries resound.  Too many fighters look to redeem themselves in one another’s flinty eyes.  Too many.

     Strife is justice; justice is strife.  Crit can feel the reins of command slipping through his fingers.  Squadrons riding too fast; talking too loudly; sneering at each other:  rage and rivalry out of hand.  Somehow he needs to hold them to the plan, to their orders.  But he’s one man, in putative charge.

     The Riddler isn’t here today.  Their commander’s got too much brewing, with Niko hurt, and Jihan and Randal hunting Shamshi, and some girl or woman (or something else) in the barracks who comes and goes as it pleases, unmindful of walls or gates or doors or locks….  Too much.

     So no ancient intelligence guides this mission, no wiser eye constrains the troops.

     With the Riddler absent, Critias is in charge – trying his damnedest, but just a Stepson.  Even with Strat steady on his right, they’re jostled, bumped and crowded by city guardsmen who think pairbond is a dirty joke.

     Straton can’t help Crit with Walegrin.  He doesn’t offer.  They have more than enough to do, taking care of their own half-integrated Band, under Crit’s leadership for the first time.  Factions make friction:  different cultures, different customs, and disrespect – a recipe for disaster when cavalry and populace come face to face.

     Disputes, unresolved, are breaking loose.  Crit and Walegrin have two conflicting visions of how a sweep through here should be planned and executed, and what the definition of this mission really is.  Crit wants to find Shamshi; Walegrin wants to clean his stopped-up city drains of all their flotsam and jetsam.

     Chaos is one name for what they field today.  Crit has been in full-fledged assaults with less screaming and shouting and cursing and rousting than in this sweep of Downwind.  All to catch one wizard boy?  To grab the reins of discipline in Sanctuary, where things already are spinning out of control?

     They cordon off the Downwind, ranging it round, all the Sacred Band and city guardsmen.  Two chains of command; two voices guiding them; two sets of loyalties that cannot be combined.  House to house, attic to attic:  systematically and without quarter they search, leaving wreckage in their wake.

     The raid heats up.  Things get rough.  Things get rougher.  Walegrin’s teams are far beyond Crit’s control.  And free to choose their own rules of engagement:  this is their turf and they sortie first, with heavy hands where Critias would have come, hands off, weapons sheathed, with a lighter tread.

     Hooves pound; doors fall down; windows break and culprits quake behind their secret panels, in their hidey-holes and root cellars.  The Sacred Band catches everyone who flees, cleaning up in the city guard’s wake:  Crit’s fighters, too, have their orders:  no one escapes; no one slips away unnoticed.

     Except, it seems, Shamshi, the wizard boy.  Where is he today?  Running for his life, trying to find a place to make a stand?  Crit recalls that Lysis and Arton thought they saw Sham on the beach.  Was it really him, in the dark, in the water off Vashanka’s Rip?  Lysis had told Strat that the youth on the beach had dark hair…he thought.  Same fugitive?  None could say.  Was Shamshi a wraith, a figment – long gone?  And all this an unnecessary show of force?

     Jails fill up and holding pens ring with wails and lamentation.  Caravan Square and Farmer’s Market lie deserted; Shambles Cross takes refugees until it can’t hold one more soul.  Nowhere is Shamshi to be found.

     “Somebody’s protecting him,” growls a city guardsman, forcing past Crit and Strat on a wall-eyed red horse, its nose in the air and spattering them with froth.  Ahead, two more guardsmen drag a weeping woman and three screaming brats out of her hovel’s door.  “We’d have him by now, otherwise,” the guardsman tosses back, cantering away.

     “No you wouldn’t, porker.  Not this way,” Strat says in an undertone.  And rolls a smoke amid the turmoil.  There’s nothing to be done about the problem of tactics out of hand:  different command chain; different orders.

     Crit and Strat ride on, and Strat scoffs dourly as they watch Walegrin’s city guard tear another hut apart, shortswords drawn, capturing pigs and dogs and cats and cowards, but no crafty ex-Stepson on the run.

     This next group of four from the city guard is better trained:  they advance upon each house side by side, shields up and nearly touching, clearly knowing urban combat can be most dangerous.  A fence obstructs them; they use their horses to pull it down.  Crossbow bolts from somewhere whisper through the air:  one, two, three, four.  Two men fall.  Five, six.  The same two men die:  one shot through the eye, and dead in an instant; the other, shot through the throat, has little more time to live.

     “Cover,” bawls Strat, calling out a Stepson maneuver code to bring the Band.  And:  “Crit.  Go, go, go:  there!

     Their horses leap forward, toward the buildings where the bolts seemed to come from.  But there are too many obstacles of flesh and blood in their way:  hysterically screeching children; ponderous women; city guard – finally waking up – milling, taking cover.  Two warhorses, riderless, now scream and rear and tear around, biting and kicking at anyone and everyone until two other riders capture them.  Crit and Strat roll off their horses, first running for cover and then on into the street, crossbows ready.  They shoot where they think the bolts came from, then dash for building walls.  A mud-brick corner hides them; flimsy doors push open.  They climb flights and flights of stairs, trying to engage an enemy, a target on a rooftop – and find no one.

     Crit and Strat scuttle back to the dead men and hunker down beside them, looking around:  if a body hasn’t staggered too much in any one direction before falling, you can estimate the source of fire, and return it, based on the angle of the arrow in the corpse and where that arrow might have come from if the corpse were standing.  Take cover again, return fire if you can; if you can’t, give chase; find someone to shoot back at:  do something; counterattack in support of your dead comrades.  But there’s no target, no one who wants to play shoot-me, shoot-you.

     Whoever it was, they’ve gone on their way.  Up on a third- floor landing of the fourth house they search, Strat finds a crossbow, discarded.  They come back down, their skin crawling:  somebody’s awake out here, and picking targets with skill and taste.

     They reclaim their horses about the time Walegrin canters over on a jumpy mount, five men behind him.  The city-guard captain dismounts, takes off his helmet and stands above his two dead fighters – corpses barely bleeding any longer, fallen among fence boards.  Walegrin puts his hands on his hips and turns to Critias and Straton:  “I’m telling my guard to stop, now.  This assault is more than we intended.  Agreed, Critias?”

     Now, you ask me.  Past time, but it’s bad form to quit because you’ve been hit or lost fighters.  It makes the enemy bolder, next time.  He knows just how to stop you.

     Without a helmet, Walegrin’s blond head is a perfect target for someone in these buildings whence the hostile fire might have come.  Crit doesn’t mention it.  He’ll be happy to get out of here before more crossbow quarrels whukka whukka through the air.  Maybe someone will shoot Walegrin and that will wake up the palace.  “Agreed.  We stop.  Got more trouble than we need from this, and less value.”

     Strat adds sourly, “This little cluster won’t win the palace any hearts and minds.  Or find us Shamshi.”

     “Not my problem.  Not my mission,” Walegrin grunts, swinging up on his horse; and rides away, back into the fray, leaving his men to deal with fallen comrades while he makes sure his new orders are understood and followed.

     Crit and Strat form up the Sacred Band, counting heads:  everybody’s here; nobody’s critically wounded.  But nothing will excuse this debacle.  When a situation degenerates to this point, there’s nothing you can say.  Not until the Riddler asks them how they let Shamshi get away, if they don’t find him today.

     By then, they’d better have an answer.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B003FMUU1Y

Interview with Hugo-Nominated Author Janet Morris

Interview with Hugo-Nominated Author Janet Morris by Michael Ventrella from his blog:

 


MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Hugo-nominated author Janet Morris. Janet is probably best known for her Silistra series. She has contributed short fiction to the shared universe fantasy series “Thieves World” and then created, orchestrated, and edited the fantasy series “Heroes in Hell,” writing stories for the series. Most of her fiction work has been in the fantasy and science fiction genres, although she has also written historical and other novels. Her 1983 book I, THE SUN, a detailed biographical novel about the Hittite King Suppiluliuma I, was praised for its historical accuracy.

Janet, let’s start by talking about the Kindle promotion going on right now.

JANET MORRIS: There is an Amazon giveaway (May 15-17) of the author’s cut reissue of BEYOND SANCTUARY as a Kindle book. This is the only time this book will be offered as a free Kindle download.

It the first novel in the “Author’s Cut” group of reissues: each “Author’s Cut” volume is compeltely revised and expanded by the author(s) and contain new material never before available. The other “Author’s Cut” volumes that have been released as ebooks and as trade paperbacks are TEMPUS WITH HIS RIGHT-SIDE COMPANION NIKO (2011) and THE FISH THE FIGHTERS AND THE SONG-GIRL (2012). The next “Author’s Cut” edition will be BEYOND THE VEIL (2013), second of the three “Beyond novels” in the Sacred Band of Stepsons series. We will eventually reissue all the Sacred Band of Stepsons books, and then more of our backlist, in this ‘author’s cut’ program. It’s very satisfying to get all the errors and deficiencies corrected, and have a chance to enhance these perennial sellers.

Most Sacred Band novels will not have giveaways; we chose BEYOND SANCTUARY as a good starting place for those new to the series and, in its enhanced and expanded form, as an attraction for those who loved these books and stories in the 20th century. We are planning to do a few Sacred Band stories as Kindle shorts as time goes by, but nothing specific has been decided.

VENTRELLA: You started your publication history with the Silistra series. How did you make that first sale?

MORRIS: I wrote HIGH COUCH in 1975 and its two follow-ons, THE GOLDEN SWORD and WIND FROM THE ABYSS thereafter for fun: following the story for my husband and our friends. I knew no one in publishing and had no aspirations to break into the business.

One friend said her husband knew an agent and the book (HIGH COUCH) should be published but I would need to provide the manuscript in a clean, double-spaced copy, not single-space with handwritten corrections. I had my dad’s ancient typewriter (non-electric, non-correcting; the “p” key stuck) and was a terrible typist. I found out it would cost $1.00 per page to have the manuscript typed by a professional, which meant a $250.00 investment. So I didn’t do that for over a year; by then my second book was finished. In 1976 my friend sent the typed HIGH COUCH manuscript to an agent, Perry Knowlton, president of Curtis Brown, Ltd.. Perry called me and said I was a natural storyteller and he wanted to represent me and the book, and did I have any other books? I said I did but they weren’t typed up. He said, “Get them typed.”

Perry remained my only agent until his death. By the time I had the other books typed, he had sold HIGH COUCH for five figures to Frederik Pohl and Sydney Weinberg at Bantam and I was able to quit my day job. Then Perry sold THE GOLDEN SWORD and WIND FROM THE ABYSS to them in a package. By then I was writing THE CARNELIAN THRONE. By the time THRONE came out, Bantam had over 4M copies of the first three in print.

They bought THE CARNELIAN THRONE also, and my next series went to auction in two countries simultaneously based on sample chapters: I still don’t like to write outlines.

Silistra got many foreign rights deals, but only the French one is a divergent manuscript: for a sizable additional sum, I provided extra ‘erotic passages.’ ‘Erotic’ in those days was much less explicit than now, but even so, SILISTRA shook a lot of people from complacency: it wasn’t feminist, nor was it conservative; it featured pansexual characters and dealt with philosophical and sociobiological questions about sexuality and abuse of power; the main female character was powerful and had a sword: all these elements were challenging to the fantasy and SF community. And the book didn’t fit a neat category. In what was then a very hidebound and immature market, it blazed tough trails and still today doesn’t fit any simplistic or political model.

VENTRELLA: How has the publishing world changed since then?

MORRIS: E-publishing is a big change. Deconstructionism is rampant: the continual division of the novel into smaller and smaller subsets of its constituent elements (such as mystery, thriller, erotic, adventure, romance, horror, etc.) either mirrors or leads the deconstruction of politics and of society. Writing outside established marketing categories is increasingly difficult; the mid-list book, which was an incubator of talent, is all but gone in print publishing.

As an ox-gorer and a windmill-tilter who writes mythic novels with political subtexts and who never has been easy to categorize, I think e-publishing is a good thing. I no longer have to cut a big idea into three volume-sized chunks: I can write the book at the length it needs; I don’t have to fix or endure additional errors from semi-educated production people; I can control my covers and the book’s sell copy. The downside is there is much more free reading material (some worth the price, some not), and a lower educational level among some groups – but there have always been books and writers for every echelon of society.

VENTRELLA: Do you see a future where self-publishing will be accepted?

MORRIS: Sure, eventually. When we decided to return to fiction (after taking 20 years off to create the nonlethal weapons mandate, the nonlethality concept, and other initiatives in the defense policy and planning realms), we wanted to keep our fiction e-rights and at that time my agent (Perry Knowlton’s son, Tim, at Curtis Brown) said it was impossible to make a deal like that with a major house. So we decided to put together a small publishing house that did e-books and trades and make strategic alliances with other small publishing houses who produced quality hardcovers. We did this because the self-publishing road is still stigmatized, and because the production learning curve is steep. Kerlak did our first two hardcovers and gave me what I wanted: sewn binding, linen boards, generous print size, etc.

The stigmatization of self-publishing is primarily from the big chains, who look down on POD but POD was what attracted me to small publishing: no remaindered books; no books going to dumpsites; no torn-off covers returned and no tax liability for unsold stock. When we do reissues, we do “Author’s Cut” editions in which we can correct and expand and enhance each book that we’re releasing with better covers and production values than the twentieth century originals: an approach possible now but not practical even ten years ago.

Machiavelli commented in THE PRINCE as follows: “There is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more uncertain of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things: for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in those who would profit by the new; this weak support arising partly from the incredulity of mankind who does not truly believe in anything new until they actually experience it.” We found this when initiating the nonlethal weapons programmatics: twenty years later, we are where we should have been in five years in nonlethals, and at absurd cost because nothing is adopted until big things take that viewpoint onboard commercially. Similarly, with publishing, as vested interests deal themselves in and competitive entities are created, things will stabilize – hopefully with new players, but with many of the old entities in new guises.

VENTRELLA: Will the rise of smaller publishing houses and e-books mean that these may someday be better accepted? For instance, will SFWA someday accept more of these publishers? Would that be a good thing?

MORRIS: Eventually the writers organizations must accept reality. E-books and small publishing are part of the new reality. SFWA, like all bureaucracies, protests that it protects its membership while it actually protects primarily itself. When SFWA sees that it must change to survive, it will change. Adaptation is always necessary for survival.

VENTRELLA: Now let’s talk about something more fun: Writing! What led you to write fantasy?

MORRIS: My work doesn’t fit many contemporary definitions of fantasy. I really write mythic novels and stories, sometimes in an SF and sometimes in a fantasy context, but there’s nothing ‘sweet’ or ‘pastel’ about my work: my characters face challenges and so do my readers.

When I write something that publishers call ‘fantasy’ I am writing in what I think is the most important tradition of fiction: starting with Homer and up through Shakespeare and Milton, the most important themes to tackle are those of the mythopoeic domain, tales of the body and mind seen through a temperament and a cosmos divorced from current reality so what is said can be more clear. For me, myth is the ‘common’ language of us all – or has been until these days of stories reduced to their lowest mechanical nature. My stories have a historical cognizance, a literary cognizance, and a philosophical/ scientific cognizance.

Bantam once wanted to separate a book of mine into two books: a short ‘wisdom literature’ book and a longer ‘mainstream’ book. I didn’t do that, but in retrospect it was a well-thought impulse on the publisher’s part.

I’ve also written nonfiction; a rigorous historical about Suppiluliumas, a Hittite king; a pseudonymous ‘novel’; other pseudonymous ‘high-tech thrillers’ (or what you will) with strong technology drivers. I make more money when I write under one male name than when I write under one female name or, as reality dictates, as “Janet Morris and Chris Morris.” But I write the book, each time, that forces me to write it, whether fiction or nonfiction. If the book is fiction, I write only when the story and characters demand that I give up my real life because what they will say is more important.

VENTRELLA: How do you create a realistic, believable fantasy world without just looking like every other realistic, believable fantasy world out there?

MORRIS: We say about THE SACRED BAND, our newest mythic novel, that it is “an adventure like no other.” This book had waited since the late 1970s to be written.

My books are remarkably unlike most of what else is available in contemporary fiction, so making the story or milieu ‘unique’ is not an effort for me. We started ‘The Sacred Band of Stepsons’ series and characters in the ‘shared world’ universe of Thieves’ World®, and so wrote in a milieu populated with other writers: making my work ‘fit’ their construct was a challenge. I have a deep love for the third, second and first millennia BCE, and my ancient characters always are touchstones to historical reality: I don’t “try” to make my fantasy world different from reality: I try to take you into the mythos of humanity. Silistra had a complete language, a glossary, a unique context, a rigorous rationale actually based on sociobiology and genetics, but had sword-wielding women and horses and ancient skirmishers as well as high-tech outsiders trying to understand it. The “Dream Dancer” series, also ‘science-fantasy,’ was set in space habitats primarily. It’s very easy for me to establish a credible world construct and posit behaviors there: I have predicted several major events in the real world over a number of years based on that ability to identify the most likely course of action that a country or individual will take in a given context. Now this skill is beginning to become a field of study called “intuitive decision making” and also “implied learning.” We once called it “speed understanding.” Writers often have this ability, and it allows creators to make their characters and societies credible. The writers who don’t have it can’t make their characters, or worlds, credible enough to please me.

If you want to write something completely unique, you will probably fail or at best write something without redeeming value. The mind works in certain patterns: the mind organizes facts in story form; it is your commonality with that body of human thought that makes a good book, not its estrangement from the common values that humans share.

VENTRELLA: As one of the original THIEVES’ WORLD gang, you’ve had a huge influence on modern fantasy fiction. It’s one of the first (or maybe the first?) shared world anthology. (I copied it completely and stole this idea for my TALES OF FORTANNIS series, by the way.) Where did the idea for this originate?

MORRIS: TW had one volume published when I was asked to come aboard: “Thieves’ World,” which had Joe Haldeman and Andy Offutt and Bob Asprin and others. Bob had the original idea for the “worst town in fantasy, the grittiest, meanest, seediest place possible.” He asked me to write for it at a convention and I said, “How serious are you about gritty?” I had written a very short piece about a woman who killed sorcerers for a living, and I proposed to bring those characters into Thieves’ World, plus an immortalized and very unhappy mercenary who regenerated. Bob said okay, I could bring the characters and take them out again afterward.

I started the story “Vashanka’s Minion,” that introduced Tempus (a/k/a the Riddler, Favorite of the Storm God, the Obscure, the Black). He has a metaphysical link to Herakleitos of Ephesus, and lives as a warrior in a Herakleitan/Hittite cosmos that I overlayed on what Bob and Andy already had done. But when Tempus got down to the dock and Askelon of Meridian got off the boat, Tempus said, “You, get out of my story. There’s not room enough here for both of us.” So Askelon didn’t arrive in Thieves’ World until “Wizard Weather,” although Cime, Tempus’ sister-in-arms, did show up. Tempus forms the Sacred Band of Stepsons in Thieves’ World #2, meets the patron shade of the Sacred Band in #3, and puts the Band together.

Then the TW books start to succeed and people get cranky. I called Bob and asked for a letter because I wanted to take my characters out of the shared town and do a group of novels with them, since Bob was complaining my characters were “too big.” So we agreed on that plan. These tensions made the stories more fun: people came and went; I took my characters into my own constructs such as Wizardwall and into the real ancient-world settlements of Nisibis and Mygdonia. Everyone contributed something useful to TW, and its fabric is still very rich.

I got Lynn Abbey’s permission, after Bob died, to bring the Sacred Band back to Sanctuary for a big novel to tie up loose ends that was set ten years after the Stepsons left town in TW #11 and well before Lynn’s own novel, since that milieu wouldn’t work for me. This project became THE SACRED BAND. As agreed with Lynn, THE SACRED BAND was followed by a novella, “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl” (the title story from the second “Sacred Band Tales” anthology), which takes the Stepsons back out of Sanctuary again and sweeps up all my TW stories not previously collected. So now, between “Tempus with his right-side companion Niko” and “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl” all our ten TW Sacred Band stories are assembled in two volumes, along with other Stepsons tales not available elsewhere.

As for fun quotient, I get more joy from the Sacred Band of Stepsons than from any other characters. And the SBS character list is expanding….

VENTRELLA: Another great series you’ve run is the HEROES IN HELL series (which now apparently includes LAWYERS IN HELL, which could be the name of my autobiography). What future themes can we expect to see?

MORRIS: If I’d known you, I’d have invited you to contribute to LAWYERS. In the 21st century Heroes in Hell books, next up is “Rogues,” to be followed by “Dreamers” (or “Visionaries,” I haven’t finalized the title), then “Poets,” then “Pirates” (or “Swashbucklers”). “Doctors” is a distinct possibility. There are many stories left to tell in hell, especially now that we have met hell’s landlords and heaven has sent down auditors to make sure hell is sufficiently hellish.

VENTRELLA: How do you work with the authors to make sure there is consistency in the world setting for these collections?

MORRIS: Each hell book takes a year to write and assemble, and the writers must coordinate more completely than was possible before the internet: we have a “secret” working group on Facebook where the writers interact and arcs and meta-arcs are chosen and polished. They choose characters. Our “Muse of Hell,” Sarah Hulcy, has put up 130 orientation docs, so there’s plenty of available information. When they choose the characters, we check to see if those characters have been used previously, and if the characters are available and meet our criteria, they can “claim” those characters for the time they write for the series. If they leave, they can’t take the characters: characters come back to me and stay in hell to be recycled.

Then they work on a short “two or three sentence” synopsis. I must accept the synopsis and the characters before they start to write. They can use legendary, historical, or mythical characters. They can’t use characters from modern fiction (post 1900) and they can’t use recently dead or living people. Then writers are allowed to post in-progress snippets which the group can read, and comment upon – or not. Chris and I write “guide stories” (two or three), setting up the current long arcs and the general tone of the volume at its beginning and end. Between these “bookends,” the other writers must set their stories.

When the stories are generally selected, I edit for continuity and tone, and Sarah Hulcy follows me with a copy-edit. Chris Morris is the final editorial reader, and with the three of us working on the stories for continuity and cohesion, we get a strong result and a better book than we could have produced before the internet.

VENTRELLA: I assume your anthologies are primarily invitation-only (correct me if I am wrong). How do you deal with stories that don’t meet your standard or are rejected for other reasons?

MORRIS: We are invitation-only. The milieu of our hell belongs to Chris and me. The authors know that from the outset. We usually won’t let them write a story we don’t think will work: by the time we’ve approved characters and synopsis, we know what the story will be and how we’ll use it. If someone simply fails to write a useful story, they probably haven’t met our guidelines. Our hell universe is easily recognizable. Each writer has left a clear trail of participation. If they want to rewrite a story we won’t accept and take out the arguably HIH context and characters, of course they can try.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss your novels. Which is your favorite?

MORRIS: In fantasy: THE SACRED BAND (Janet Morris and Chris Morris; Paradise, 2010; Kerlak, 2011), the mythic novel of the Sacred Band of Stepsons uniting with the Sacred Band of Thebes and returning to Sanctuary. In historical: I, THE SUN (Janet Morris, Dell, 1987).

VENTRELLA: Who is your favorite character?

MORRIS: Tempus and then Niko and the Sacred Band of Stepsons fighters.

VENTRELLA: What would you ask that character if you could meet him or her?

MORRIS: Tempus lives in my skull. I meet him on a regular basis and I’m happy to have a character so available. He’s been there since 1979. I went to the White House and he said, “Kinda small, isn’t it?” I would ask him, in all seriousness, whether he truly believes that “character is destiny,” a line he shares with Herakleitos.

VENTRELLA: And what do you think he or she would answer?

MORRIS: “The sun is new every day.” We call him the Riddler, remember.

VENTRELLA: Do you prefer writing fantasy or science fiction?

MORRIS: Fantasy, because very little in SF can transcend the gimmickry of a technical conceit, yet without that conceit at its heart a book isn’t truly science fiction. Furthermore, so little emerging thought and technology is employed by sf writers today that the genre is lagging far behind reality both in the cosmology area and the technology area: sf is no longer a place to experiment, but is now very derivative.

VENTRELLA: Do you find novels easier to write than short stories?

MORRIS: A novel is a major commitment, and must move smoothly along its trajectory. A “short story,” if it’s more than three thousand words, actually lets you focus more deeply on a circumscribed area or event. I think short stories and novels are different; each form is unique and equally demanding. I prefer novels but short stories are good exercises in discipline.

VENTRELLA: Do you tend to outline heavily or just jump right in? What is your writing style?

MORRIS: I don’t “outline” in the way that you mean. I get characters, and their background; I immerse my intelligence in a milieu that’s fully realized: a place with weather and politics and problems and a special nature. I use square post-it notes to write down certain things that must happen during a sitting: a line of dialogue, a particular event, where I need to be when the section is done; a section or chapter or story title. I know where I want the story or chapter or novel to end; I know where I want to start each section: how I get there is the fun for me.

Often times the question for me is which viewpoint character will have the best take on a particular set of events. When I have (twice) sold a project based on outline, it took all the fun out of it.

VENTRELLA: When creating believable characters, what techniques do you use?

MORRIS: I wait. I lie on the bed or go for a drive with paper in my pocket and wait for the characters to start to interact with me, or to tell their story to me. I need to “see something moving” and other writers who write this way all agree – if there’s something moving in your mind’s eye, there’s a character there.

Abarsis was a good example: I knew I wanted to do “A Man and His God” in which at the end the Slaughter Priest would die in Tempus’ arms. I got a character called Abarsis. I thought he and the Slaughter Priest would be two different people but the character wanted to be “Abarsis, the Slaughter Priest.” This was a very big, very strong character and I argued that if Abarsis was the Slaughter Priest then he would die. He said that was fine. Susan Allison of Ace called me up after she read it and confessed that the story made her cry. And Abarsis came back as patron shade of the Sacred Band: the character knew more than I what to do and how, in order to be memorable. Sometimes with good characters you must let go and let them forge ahead. This requires belief in your Muse.

VENTRELLA: You’ve collaborated with other prominent authors, at least one of whom lives with you, which makes it easier. How have these worked? (For instance, do you share writing equally? Does one author do the basic work and the other expand from that outline?)

MORRIS: With whatever writer, we talk about the story line, points of interest, what needs to be accomplished. If it’s Chris, he may come up with a title or a concept. I usually do draft or if I write with others, I’ll often write first: I like beginnings. With some writers, I send sections and they pick up the action; with others, I’ll do a draft and then they will add to it after I’ve done all I want to do, from beginning to end.

Everyone has a special genius, and working with each person is different. If the other writer starts, that’s a different process for me: I work on the story they’ve sent in Track Changes, do what I want to the entire manuscript. Then they accept or reject or we go back and forth. I worked a number of projects with a writer who was outline-driven and I could never figure out what those notations were supposed to evoke, so I’d call to discuss it. The outline made the other writer feel better. I can do a series of chapter titles and use those as an outline, but beyond that, outlines don’t help me. I often work with other writers who don’t like to outline either, or outline in the most cursory way.

VENTRELLA: Writers who are trying to make a name get hammered with lots of advice: The importance of a strong opening, admonitions about “writing what you know,” warnings to have “tension on every page” – what advice do you think is commonly given that really should be ignored?

MORRIS: All advice should be ignored. Every real writer is different. Every story has a nature, an organic way it wants to unfold. Tell a story that sweeps you up, that you want to hear, that keeps YOU on the edge of your seat. Some stories start best with dialogue, others with narrative: writing is catching the wave of creativity. The wave must be there for you to catch.

Writers learn from reading other writers whom they can admire, and writers whom they detest. Before Silistra, I bought a paperback by a famous writer and when I was done I threw it in the wastebasket, said “I can do better than that,” and did. When I read, I try to read writers who can teach me something, who are better at some things than I am. But print-through is always an issue: often when I am writing fiction I read only nonfiction, and vice versa.

The only person who should ask you to make changes in your book is some editor who has paid a lot of money for it. Even then, changes are risky: the story unfolds on the first pass the way the universe unfolded in the first moments of creation: in the way that it must.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see starting writers make?

MORRIS: Writers who have no characters and force a story bore me. Writers who are good at one thing – such as dialogue – may do that one thing too much: talking heads don’t work except very occasionally, when they can work very well. Knowing when to do something is part of the art of writing. Sometimes I act as an acquisitions editor. If you want to sell to me, you’ll tell me who, where, what, and why, and then finally how – all on the first page, hopefully in the first couple paragraphs: where I am, what it’s like, who cares about what’s happening. I want to fall through the words into a different place. But most of all, you must make me care almost immediately.

VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

MORRIS: Homer, Hesiod, Tiye, Virgil, Marcus Aurelius, Herakleitos, Einstein, DaVinci, Xenophon, Kikkuli, Thales, Plato, Odysseus (assuming he was Homer’s grandfather), Epaminondas, T.E. Lawrence, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Byron, Mary Shelley, Evelyn Waugh, Emil Zola, Dwight Eisenhower, Sun Tzu, Aspasia, Aristotle, Marguerite Yourcenar, Henry James, Suppiluliumas, Anksepaaten, Herodotus, Sappho, Emily Dickinson, Richmond Lattimore, Solomon, the Biblical “J.” And I’d really like to have Roger Penrose as toastmaster, but he’s still alive.

Overview of the Sacred Band of Stepsons series by Janet Morris and Chris Morris

The Sacred Band of Stepsons is a fictional ancient cavalry unit created by Janet Morris and based on the historical Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite strike force of paired lovers and friends that flourished during the fourth century BCE in ancient Greece, where sexuality was a behavior, not an identity. The Sacred Band of Stepsons novels and stories take place in a myth-like milieu that mixes historical places such as Nisibis, Mygdonia and Chaeronea; warriors such as Theagenes (commander of the Theban Sacred Band at Chaeronea); gods such as Enlil, Maat and Harmonia; philosophers such as Heraclitus and Thales; cavalry tactics and customs such as age-weighted homosexuality and bisexuality with those that exist only in fantasy.

The exploits of the Stepsons are chronicled in eleven short stories and eight novels (as of 2010). In a fantasy context, this series explores the difficulties facing war-fighters in personal relationships and the enduring questions surrounding the military’s historical mixing of homosexuals and heterosexuals in combat.

Evolution of the fictional Sacred Band of Stepsons

The Sacred Band of Stepsons first appeared as shock troops in the Thieves’ World(R)  series in 1981 with the story, “A Man and  His God,” a landmark novella introducing Plato’s Sacred Band concept of an elite homosexual war-band (Hieròs Lókhos) to readers at a time when the combination of well-researched ancient history and fantasy was still rare [1] and sexuality as a topic in fantasy [2] was just emerging [3]. “A Man and His God” was subsequently reprinted in four other compilations, including “Thirteen Short Fantasy Novels Novels,” edited by Asimov, Greenberg, Waugh and Charles [4]; “The Mammoth Book of Short Fantasy Novels,” edited by Asimov, Greenberg, Waugh [5]; “Sanctuary,” Robert Asprin, ed. [6]; and “Tempus,” by Janet Morris [7]. This much-anthologized novella and other stories about the Sacred Band of Stepsons stimulated awareness of the historical Sacred Bands, the Sacred Band ethos (philia) and the subsequent inclusion of Sacred Bands, sometimes identified as Stepsons and sometimes as other war-bands, in role-playing games, including World of Warcraft[8], EverQuest II’s Sentinel’s Fate [9] and Warhammer [10] as well as more general cultural discussions of homosexuality and bisexuality in the military and sexual orientation in science-fiction and fantasy.

Because Thieves’ World was a “shared universe” where many writers could use the same characters, others wrote stories featuring the iconic Stepsons and their immortal commander, Tempus. Notable authors in the shared universe of Sanctuary who wrote stories featuring characters from the Sacred Band of Stepsons include Chris Morris, Robert Asprin, Lynn Abbey, Andrew Offutt and C.J. Cherryh.

For nearly a decade, Janet Morris wrote stories and novels, some with Chris Morris, about Tempus and his Sacred Band, taking them beyond the fantasy world of Sanctuary into real ancient, modern or futuristic locales. Morris’s first Sacred Band of Stepsons novel, Beyond Sanctuary, was the first “authorized” Thieves’ World spin-off novel and was published in hardcover by Baen Books and then the Science Fiction Book Club. Beyond Sanctuary was reviewed by Library Journal [11] and by Publishers Weekly [12], attesting to the notability of this first-ever hardcover Stepsons novel and the popularity of Morris’s characters when apart from the Thieves’ World’s mass-market paperback and shared-world milieu. Next came “Beyond the Veil,” also a Baen hardcover and Science Fiction Book Club Selection. Beyond the Veil was reviewed by Kirkus Reviews [13] and by Fantasy Review [14]. The Baen hardcover and Science Fiction Book Club publication of Beyond Wizardwall completed publication of the ground-breaking trilogy that took the mythic Tempus and his Sacred Band of Stepsons out of the shared world of Sanctuary, into historical Nisibis and Mygdonia and farther realms. Three additional Stepsons novels and a short story per year followed until 1990, when the Morrises ceased production until 2010. In the latest Stepsons novel, The Sacred Band (2010), the Stepsons rescue twenty-three couples of the historical Sacred Band of Thebes at the Battle of Chaeronea and bring them, with their Greek Fates and gods, to Sanctuary, providing one answer to the puzzle of what happened to the forty-six skeletons missing from the mass grave of the Sacred Band of Thebes at Chaeronea, where the whole band of three hundred was supposedly buried.

History, myth, and philosophy meet fantasy

The fantasy worlds (whether past, present or future) inhabited by the Sacred Band of Stepsons are always imbued with the historical, the numinous, the mythic and the supernatural. Tales of the Stepsons draw upon the historic Theban Sacred Band and on the myths and realities of Archaic and Classical Greece as well as on earlier Egyptian and Mesopotamian history and legend as far back as the epic of Gilgamesh and the ancient weather-god, Enlil.

Classical correspondences abound, as analyzed in detail by Edgeworth [15]. The Band’s commander, Tempus, rides a Tros horse, akin to the Iliad’s man-devouring white horses from Troy [16]. Tempus’s leopard-skin mantle and boar’s-tooth helmet, his choice of panoply and mount and food and drink, and many other allusions and references hark back to Homer’s Iliad. Edgeworth discusses Tempus’s choices in detail:

He wears a helmet crowned with boar’s teeth (Tempus [1987] 273), as does Pdysseus in Iliad X, and a “leopard-skin mantle…from ancient times” (Tempus 273), as does Paris in Iliad VI. For a beverage he favors a mixture of wine and barley and cheese (“High Moon” 223, in The Face of Chaos [1983; cf. Beyond Wizardwall[1986] 111), which is what Hecamede serves to Nestor and Patroclus in Iliad XI. And he rides on one of the finest horses in the universe, known as a “Tros” horse. In antiquity the finest horses were thought to have been owned by the royal house of Troy, whose eponymous founder was named Tros [17].

The web of connectivity to classical sources in this series is extensive. As Edgeworth explores at length, the authors mix historicity, philosophy and myth. Tempus quotes the philosophers Heraclitus and Thales and some other characters call him ‘Tempus Thales.’ The milieus in which the Stepsons find themselves sometimes resemble but seldom duplicate our own. Paired Sacred Banders such as Critias and Straton have historical counterparts in ancient Greece; the witch who stalks Nikodemos through many novels and stories is called Roxane, who shares that name with the wife of Alexander the Great of Macedon. Many other parallels exist, along with a wealth of detail evoking our classical world. And yet, as Edgeworth points out, knowledge of the ancient world and its history is not necessary to understand the stories, which can be read purely as fantasy.

Composition

The Sacred Band of Stepsons is a multinational force, and eventually includes twenty-three couples from the Sacred Band of Thebes who fought at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE. Like the historic Sacred Band of Thebes (378-338 BCE), the Stepsons serve as an elite strike force. Unlike today’s prevailing vision of the Theban Sacred Band, the Stepsons mix pairs and individual war-fighters in a single unit. Both Sacred Bands adhere to the ancient military model of the Sacred Bands, special units who prize honor above all and die in battle rather than desert their partners, lovers or beloveds.

The ancient viewpoint

The Sacred Band of Stepsons is a fictional Sacred Band whose initial social and military structure is based on the historical Sacred Band of Thebes, a war-band of hand-picked male couples. As the Stepsons grew, they admitted heterosexual pairs, bisexuals, father and son pairs, and single mercenary fighters. Their attitudes toward religion, sack and pillage, women and sexual roles are representative of those held in the ancient world. They are Hellenic and Homeric in nature: gods and preternatural forces are real to them. They are not only heroic in the classical sense, but believe some of their number to be descended from or favorites of the gods themselves. Like Homer’s heroes, some have god-given weapons, assistance, or attributes. They are subject to the whims of jealous deities, to curses, to numinous interventions as well as threats from mortal enemies and conventional militaries.

Constitution of the Stepsons

The Sacred Band of Stepsons was developed by their fictional commander, Tempus, from an original ten pairs of lovers and friends, plus thirty single mercenaries. These original pairs of Stepsons followed the social model of the Sacred Band of Thebes, and so did other pairs recruited subsequently. Edgeworth says of Tempus’s Sacred Band:

He commands a group known as the “Sacred Band,” warriors who pair off for life, obviously inspired by the similar Sacred Band of Thebes {….} Homosexual relations were not unknown in either group (“High Moon” 223, 242). The Band was founded by Abarsis, a priest from the North (“A Man and his God” 571, 589 inShadows of Sanctuary [1981]), whose name differs by only one letter from Abaris, a priest from the North said by Herodotus (Book IV) to have visited Greece [18].

In Tempus’s Band, heterosexual Stepsons and Sacred Band pairs fight side by side. There is no requirement to be part of a couple to serve among the Stepsons, and single mercenaries initially outnumbered the Sacred Band pairs.

The Stepsons are principally a cavalry (hippeis) squadron, not heavy infantry (hoplites) as the Theban Sacred Banders primarily were. While the three-hundred-strong Theban Sacred Band [19] was constituted by Theban law-givers and maintained by the Theban state (according to Plutarch’s “Life” of Pelopidas), the Sacred Band of Stepsons is loyal only to its members and its commander, Tempus. Among the Stepsons, fathers and sons and Platonic couples, as well as single male and female fighters, can serve. In this mixed company, couples and individual cavalry and infantry fighters are recruited as circumstances required. To this end, the Stepsons rescued twenty-three pairs from the doomed Theban Sacred Band at the Battle of Chaeronea and integrated the survivors into their force. At full strength, the Stepsons number as many as three hundred and sixty fighters and have fought in three major campaigns.

Lovers and brothers and friends: pair-bonded characters driving the fiction

Library Journal’s Jackie Cassanda said in her 1985 review of Beyond Sanctuary:

The first novel to emerge from the Thieves’ World stories features one of the notorious city of Sanctuary’s most complex and problematical residents: Tempus, a warrior who cannot die and cannot enjoy his immortality. Sworn to defend the Rankan Empire from its northern enemies, Tempus leads a band of mercenaries, wizards, and an extraordinary woman against the mages of Wizardwall. While showing a fine flair for the sword-and-sorcery genre, Morris succeeds as well in making her more-than-human characters more than entertaining [20].

Throughout the subsequent series, pair-bond and commitment drive the plots. Paired fighters of both sexes, trainees and veterans, horses and riders, mortals and immortals, wizards and witches, deal with the stresses and strains of their various attachments. Bound by the Band’s rigid code of honor and its demands for unflinching determination and unswerving devotion, Stepsons face war, death and treachery while struggling to tread safely among higher powers. Tempus himself finds refuge from his god and his curse in the philosophical perspective of his alter-ego, Heraclitus of Ephesus, incarnating the Heraclitan maxim “Strife is justice.” His off-again-on-again pair-bond with Nikodemos informs much of the action. Nikodemos strives to maintain a mystic balance which attracts meddling gods and goddesses, witches and a demiurge intent on securing his allegiance. Critias and Straton, paired senior officers from the cadre, struggle against Straton’s compulsive infatuation with a necromant. Loyalties are often strained to the breaking point as the Band evolves and their commander challenges the gods themselves.

Novels

  • Beyond Sanctuary, (1985)
  • Beyond the Veil, (1985)
  • Beyond Wizardwall, (1986)
  • Tempus, (1987)
  • City at the Edge of Time, (1988) (with Chris Morris)
  • Tempus Unbound (1989), (with Chris Morris)
  • Storm Seed (1990), (with Chris Morris)
  • The Sacred Band (2012), (with Chris Morris)
  • the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl (with Chris Morris)
Short Stories
  • “Vashanka’s Minion,” Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn (1980), Asprin, ed.
  • “A Man and His God,” Shadows of Sanctuary (1981), Asprin, ed.
  • “Wizard Weather,” Storm Season (1982), Asprin, ed.
  • “An End to Dreaming,” Whispers #5 (1982), Schiff, ed.
  • “High Moon,” Face of Chaos, (1983), Asprin and Abbey, ed.
  • “What Women Do Best,” Wings of Omen (1984) (with Chris Morris), Asprin and Abbey, ed.
  • “Hell to Pay,” The Dead of Winter (1985) Asprin and Abbey, ed.
  • “Power Play,” Soul of the City (1986) (with Lynn Abbey and C.J. Cherryh)
  • “Pillar of Fire,” Soul of the City (1986) (with Lynn Abbey and C.J. Cherryh)
  • “Sanctuary is for Lovers,” Blood Ties (1986) (with Chris Morris), Asprin and Abbey, ed.
  • “Wake of the Riddler,” Aftermath (1987), Asprin and Abbey, ed.
  • “Red Light, Love Light,” Uneasy Alliances, (1988) by Chris Morris, Asprin and Abbey, ed.
  • “The Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl,” (2010) by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, Morris and Morris, eds.
  • “Speaketh Like Men,” (2010) by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, Morris and Morris, eds.

References

  1. Edgeworth, Robert J. “Poverty of Invention: or, Mining the Classics with Janet Morris and Harry Turtledove,” Extrapolation 31(1):15-23 (Kent State University Press). Spring 1990
  2. Heldreth, Lillian M. “Speculations on Heterosexual Equality: Morris, McCaffrey, Le Guin” in: Palumbo, Donald, ed.Erotic Universe. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986; pp.209-220
  3. Tilendi, Robert M. “Emergence: A Personal History of Gay and Lesbian Characters in Fantasy and SF,” Wilde Oats, Spring, 2010.
  4. Asimov, Isaac; Greenberg, Martin H.; Waugh, Charles G. (eds.) Thirteen Short Fantasy Novels (1984), Greenwich House
  5. Asimov, Greenberg, Waugh (eds.), “The Mammoth Book of Short Fantasy Novels” (1986), Robinson Publishing
  6. Asprin, ed., “Sanctuary” (1992) Science Fiction Book Club
  7. Morris, Janet, “Tempus,” (1987) Baen
  8. World of Warcraft Sacred Bands
  9. EverQuest II’s Sentinel’s Fate
  10.  http//:www:gamerdna.com/groups/profile/Sacred-Band
  11. Cassada, Jackie. “Beyond Sanctuary (Book).” Library Journal 110.11 (1985): 75.
  12. “Beyond sanctuary.” Publishers Weekly 227 (1985): 69
  13. Beyond the Veil (Book), Kirkus Reviews, Copyright VNU Business Media, Inc.
  14. Beyond The Veil (1986), reviewed by W.D. Stevens in Fantasy Review, March 1986, Volume 9, No.3, whole #89 (Florida Atlantic University)
  15. Edgeworth, Robert J. “Poverty of Invention: or, Mining the Classics with Janet Morris and Harry Turtledove” Extrapolation 31(1):15-23 (Kent State University Press)
  16. Farnell, Lewis Richard, Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality, Oxford at the Clarendon Press (1921), pp.289-293
  17. Edgeworth, Robert J. “Poverty of Invention: or, Mining the Classics with Janet Morris and Harry Turtledove”  31(1):15-23 Extrapolation (Kent State University Press)
  18. Edgeworth, Robert J. “Poverty of Invention: or, Mining the Classics with Janet Morris and Harry Turtledove” Extrapolation 31(1):15-23 (Kent State University Press)
  19. DeVoto, James G. “The Theban Sacred Band” The Ancient World XXIII.2, (1992), pp. 3-19
  20. Cassada, Jackie. “Beyond Sanctuary (Book).” Library Journal 110.11 (1985): 75

Portions of the material above appears in significantly altered form in Wikipedia.

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