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

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Janet Morris and Medea: Hell Week

first published on: https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/hell-week-2017-day-6-janet-morrismedea/

Hell Week 2017 – Day 6 – Janet Morris/Medea

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pirates-in-hell_vertical-webbannerWelcome to Day 6 of Hell Week. Today the Infernal Interview Service catches up with series creator Janet Morris, and her character Medea.

 

Character Spotlight

About yourself:

*Who are/were you?   Tell us about your life before you came here, and after.

I am Medea, daughter of the king of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of Helios the sun god, priestess of Hekate, who rules Erebos and judges the damned who come there. More to the point, I am the oldest witch in hell. I met Jason when he came to Colchis to claim his inheritance and swore to claim his throne by bringing home the Golden Fleece. Like a fool, I fell in love with him. I helped him secure the Fleece, pass every test, on the condition that he would marry me should we succeed. Sailing in the Argos with his Argonauts, we did all of those, and more

* Why do YOU think you’re in Hell?

Jason and I killed my brother, who came chasing after us to grab the Fleece once we secured it. Then, later, when he spurned me for a daughter of Creon’s, did I turn upon fickle Jason, and killed both our children. Although I had a right to my revenge, one of those or both brought me to hell.

Who are your friends/allies here?

Friends? If you wish a friend in hell, find a dog who lived on Earth before coming here. Scarce those are, but no scarcer than a friendly soul in hell. Those in hell who’ll help me are the Erinys, the Furies, the Moerae, the Fates; but those exact their own diabolical price. Men here like Jason, once my lover, might ally with me in perdition, but no one has a ‘friend’ in hell, anymore than a lover who will be true to oath or promise. And my once-husband, Jason? He sired a race called Minyans, bedding every Lemnian woman he could find. What more about his morals need you know? Such souls now feel my wrath and will feel it more, forever.

Do you have any enemies here?

My enemies are legion. Among the greatest are Jason and his crew of heroes, every one. Some of those heroes live on in hell, flayed, without a patch of skin anywhere upon them — a due punishment for men who killed so many whilst they lived. Some need more humbling; some have earned an afterlife of pain. And, by Circe’s will and Hekate’s devising, I am one who sees to the torment of the deserving. I have told you I am hell’s oldest witch, and thus damned souls are my natural prey.

Pirates – is that a word you resent?

In my days on the black earth, what you call piracy was an honorable profession, a way to test would-be heroes, and what then was called glory is now called evil-doing. In hell, sinners sin and sin again: their fates abide in their natures: and pirates in hell today can be thieves of music, words, or souls. I serve my purpose, to terrorize and penalize the damned. Thus I please the Lords of Hell and get my revenges. So do I resent the word piracy? By all means, if you mean my ‘piracy’ from ancient times. My deeds that got me here were fated, not my fault.

Hell covers all eras and technologies, there are many hells within Hell. How have you adjusted to this strange world?

I stay much to myself, much in Erebos, where I can drink the Waters of Forgetfulness should I wish a good night’s rest. Because I am hell’s greatest sorceress, I travel whither I choose, chasing enemies, breaking hearts, setting rights to wrongs, and wrongs to right.

How do you define ‘piracy’?

Define it? I lived it when such a quest had meaning. Now mere plagiarists and thieves of arts and letters are called pirates. Here latter-day warriors have weapons that make cowards of them all. To me, betrayal of the heart is the greatest piracy: Jason stole my heart – how long ago? – and I’ve yet to get it back.  So his steps do I shadow, his hopes do I destroy. And all like him, arrogant men who sack and pillage and lay waste here in damnation, are due to feel my wrath before infernity shall end.

Describe your home/environment in Hell.

I have said, I rest in Erebos, where those heroes end who can’t remember their names or fames. From there I range wheresoever my damned quarries roam. Satan sets me tasks in his New Hell, where the New Dead dwell; nor are the Old Dead safe from me. But, alas, not even the greatest witch in hell can rid its fastness of guilty humans. But I say to you that the New Dead, those hedonistic souls who care only for themselves, torment one another more than even I can devise. So I stay among the Old Dead, since sinners there abound, and pick and choose. And why are you here, my dear? Have you not yet felt my fury?

Come on be honest, what do you think of HSM leadership?

Ah, Satan. He is what he is, suited to his modern flock of fearful souls, who all believe they don’t belong in perdition, who groan and moan over the slightest torture. Ha!  Now, Hades: there is a ruler worthy of the name.

What is the WORST thing about being here?

That I still love Jason:  that’s my torment. No matter how I try, I cannot shake his hold on my poor and shrunken heart.

Erra and his Seven – what’s going on there then?

Ah, Erra and the Seven – called the Sibitti. Erra and his personified weapons are doing more to make the underverse hellish than Satan ever did. The plagues in hell are of Erra’s making, and the floods, and there be more to come from the Babylonian Plague God and his minions., before eternity runs out.

What are your best tips for surviving in Hell?

Surviving hell?  All souls in hell are dead, do you not realize that? What survival do you mean? The survival of the soul?  They have that, yet they complain.  Soon enough, methinks, Satan will turn to obliteration: an end to all hell’s over-crowding, and to Satan’s own sentence here. Hell has its gods, to commute a sentence. Irkalla can send a soul straight to what you call heaven, if she will. But seldom does. The damned get here, and then they sin, and sin, and sin: every evil inherent in their persons do they exalt. So few, the tiniest fraction, deserve salvation. And those masses who love evil, and repeat their crimes in hell, are cursed with survival: even if they die, the Undertaker resurrects them, and they return to their vile ways. For those who cannot bear more punishment, hell holds out obliteration: not only not to be, but to never have been at all.  And this, to arrogant humankind, is the most frightful end, yet devoutly to be sought by the worst offenders here.

Before you arrived here did you actually believe in HSM and his fiery domain? Bet that was a shock!

I came not to New Hell, where Abbadon rules, but to Hades’ domain, where I have respect, even in Tartaros. There am I assigned retributions to meet out to the damned. Remember, I am not a damned fool like you. I am the oldest witch in hell. So bow down before me, and I may be easy upon you, sinner.

Eternity – that’s a damned long time. How to you spend the endless years here?

Time here is fluid. A day can be an hour, a century a week — never time enough for anything redeeming to be done, but time enough for every evil to mature, and spread, and multiply.

What do you miss most about your old….life?

Jason, when we were lovers. Jason, even now that he despises me. With love grown cold in his breast, I miss my days among the Argonauts, when heroes were heroes and my powers at their peak. Yes, Jason. I miss him only, and miss him most of all wherever in hell I may roam.

 

Author Spotlight

*Janet Morris (a/k/a Janet E. Morris)

Here is my bio from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_Morris

My first book was published by Bantam in 1977, and I have been writing for a living (fiction or fact), ever since.

* Tell us about your story for this edition.

What inspired you to use the character(s) you’ve chosen?

Hell has so many fascinating characters, as many as human history has produced, that I use both characters who continue through the series, and characters who have only a bit of time upon Hell’s stage. Right now, I am writing Heroes in Hell stories with my husband Chris, and these center primarily on William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and how their compatriots or inheritors in life are faring in hell. We already know what brought Marlowe to hell. He’s there for writing in Faustus the line: “Hell is just a frame of mind.” In Pirates in Hell, we find out why Shakespeare is damned. This round, we had a fortuitous intersection with current reality, where Shakespeare and Marlowe are concerned: in 2016, scholars decided/admitted, using technological capabilities to underpin instinct and study, that Marlowe must be given co-author credit on at least Henry VI, Part 1, 2, and 3. That, plus the fact that Pirates in Hell admits stories swung around all sorts of piracy, allowed us to use the premise that, in hell, where book piracy and plagiarism are rampant, Marlowe and Shakespeare spat about how and why Kit Marlowe’s name has been omitted as co-author of Henry VI for centuries. Since Marlowe still struggles under a curse which allows him to remember lines he and others have written previously but gives him a hellacious case of writer’s block where new work is concerned, the restoration of Marlowe’s name to at least the Henry VI plays was a story-line too enticing to ignore.

How did you become involved with this project?

I created the Heroes in Hell series when I was at Baen Books and had a multi-book contract that had no creative limitations, not even specific titles: this ploy was how Jim Baen lured authors he otherwise could not afford. So I mentioned the Heroes in Hell concept to Jim Baen on the phone and he agreed I could do a “shared universe” series called Heroes in Hell (HIH).  And that I did, creating, producing, commissioning and editing multiple volumes of stories from authors (many of them writers who then were also friends) that include, so far, two Nebula Award finalists and a Hugo Award winner. We did 12 volumes, including both HIH novels and HIH stories, in the 20th century, and resurrected [sic] the concept in the 21st century with volume #13, Lawyers in Hell.  Pirates in Hell is #20.  But, since all Heroes in Hell volume have a targeted subject, and yet each stands alone, you can start anywhere in the HIH series, make your own order, depending upon your interests: you can choose to begin with HIH novels or HIH shorter fiction. The rules in hell are simple: no one rightly sent to hell gets out. For each novel or story, given writers must use several historical characters, or mythic characters, or legendary characters previously approved for their use by me, and follow the long-arc of the series per se, as well as a volume arc Chris and I give them. We then approve their story concepts before they are allowed to write, since the HIH universe (Hell as we describe it) is our property . So with these constraints, the volumes each have a theme and yet they are subject to tie-in thematics from other volumes which we provide to them.

Writing for a shared world requires rules all writers obey. Even without that constraint, writing for a shared world is most challenging, particularly when you haven’t used a character previously. Introducing new characters, writers must answer the following question to my satisfaction and Chris’: “Why is this character in hell?” Often the basic answer is revealed early in the first story using that character, sometimes it is revealed slowly. If you are using characters previously used by others, you must get my permission to use preciously-appearing characters, and write them to be consistent with the way they’ve been written previously. We have voluminous documents to which writers can refer, not only about New Hell, but about many of the dedicated hells such as Tartaros or Arali.  Since it is in human nature that like groups flock together, we have a few dedicated hells, hard to get into or out of, whether or not you are native to that culture. Some of these are Greek or Akkadian or Elizabethan. With the future hells, we allow only agreed-upon technology and future history, since no character can be historical if that character has not yet lived. Some people wheedled the option of writing about fictional characters, but those are rare, and they must be characters from the 19th century or earlier, or characters or persons from recent times who are in the public domain.

Tell us why you chose this story to tell out of so many possible options?

While Chris Morris and I are working with Shakespeare and Marlow, we’ve been focused on their thread, but always include a new or different character as well, such as J the Yahwist or Diomedes from the Iliad or Medea the Colchian witch. Satan is one of our characters, so we always write a first story which doubles as an introduction to the volume, That first story is always the most taxing one, since we need to find a way to set up afresh the constraints, threats, and givens that all writers of that volume will share. It’s great fun, but its job is to serve as an orientation for the volume not, in or of itself, serve as a free-standing story, though sometimes we can make the intro story serve as both.

What are you currently working on?

I am still working on Rhêsos of Thrace, and also, with Chris, doing the updating and revising for the Author’s Cut volumes of my backlist. We’re only now finishing Tempus Unbound, and on deck is City at the Edge of Time, to be followed by Storm Seed; when those three are released, the ‘Farther Realms’ Sacred Band books will all exist in Author’s Cut editions. Besides our own work, we edit and format works by some writers who interest us, including but not limited to Michael A. Armstrong, Andrew P. Weston, Walter Rhein, Thomas Barczak, so publishing per se takes up much of my time. Plus, although we don’t take unsolicited submissions, we are always reading submissions from writers we find compelling.

If you could have a dinner party with any man and woman from anywhere and any when who would invite and what would you eat?

I’d invite Heraclitus of Ephesus, Confucius,  Albert Einstein, Roger Penrose, Homer, Marguerite Yourcenar, and a smattering of my HIH characters:  the Yahwist, Shakespeare and Marlowe. We’d eat roast lamb, which is familiar to all, barley and wild rice, and desert would be a green salad and/or a cheese board. We’d have wines with the meal and after, with chocolates.

Which 10 books would you save to keep you sane after the apocalypse? Oxford Classical Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, The Iliad, the Odyssey, Paradise Lost, Hamlet (or complete Shakespeare), Tamburlaine, Faustus, the I Ching, Spenser’s Fairie Queen.

 

EXCERPT from your story.

Goat-Beard the Pirate, Part 1

or

Bitter Business

 

Janet Morris and Chris Morris

“Now I could drink hot blood and

and do such bitter business as the

day would quake to look upon.”

—William Shakespeare, Hamlet

 

“Piracy in hell is bitter business, when freebooters steal whate’er a soul holds dear.” Grey doublet askew, buff linen shirt open, sans breeches and still bare-arsed but for hose, Kit Marlowe stalked Will Shakespeare across their attic hideaway in the New Globe Theatre. Heels drumming, Kit dogged Will until poet cornered poet at arm’s length. “And bitterest when what’s stolen is words, and the thief’s a lover, a friend — or you, vaunted Bard of Avon.”

“Call’st me thief? O’er the three Henry the Sixth plays?” Shakespeare rose up stiff and livid. “Accept this truth: Once you were dead and your name expunged from those scripts, I ne’er could restore it. When Satan reissued our Henry Six ‘masterworks’ as mine alone, he meant to vex you, Kit. This bone you’d pick with me’s sucked clean of marrow. Pirates run amok throughout perdition. Not only do they ply the floods and stalk the shores, they infest New Hell’s publishing houses. When we both lived, you helped me, yes. But —”

“Helped you?” Kit nearly spat. “But what?”

For a painful eternity, Kit’s question hung in the air between them, an implacable specter, until Shakespeare sought sanctuary in Hamlet’s speech: “‘But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.’” Will hid his bearded mouth behind a fingering hand while his eyes pled mercy.

They seldom fenced with quotes lately, too angry at each other. But now that Will had begun it, Marlowe meant to weaponize the game. For his first beat, he brandished his Elegia 1: “‘Rash boy, who gave thee power to change a line?’ An attribution line at that? In hell I may be, but ’tis insufferable to be plagiarized by you. . . .”

“Kit . . .” Shakespeare’s riposte died upon his lips.

Pulse racing, fury out of control, Marlowe tried to stem his words, but failed: “This bit’s yours, or so you say, but it’s surely apt: ‘For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.’”

“With my own sonnet you dare despise me?”

“Despite is but a taste of what you’ve earned from me,” retorted Marlowe, tongue clumsy, blood rushing in his ears. “Did you not proclaim in Henry the Fourth ‘the fox barks not, when he would steal the lamb’? Take care, brash despoiler who hath ravaged me. Confess and make amends, Willie, or that’s the last quote of ours — or is it yours? or mine? — ’twill issue from my lips till infernity runs out.”

In the garret they’d leased once Satan expelled them from Pandemonium, time held still. Kit’s ears heard nothing but their breathing; no draft blew through their attic to cool their wrath; no sweet peace winged their way.

“Thus dies our game of quotes and more, this day!” Shakespeare’s voice shook; wherever no goat-beard bristled, his rosy cheeks drained white. He stumbled over his own lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “‘O, then, what graces in my love do dwell,/ That he hath turn’d a heaven unto a hell.’”

“Your ‘love’ am I? New words may come hard to me, but mine old I have aplenty. Recalling olden words, here’s more ‘deathless prose’ in which I had a hand but got no credit: ‘Love is familiar. Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but Love.’ Or so we once agreed in Love’s Labours Lost.”

Shakespeare sighed. “Marley, I’ll see Old Nick this very night. Beg him to change those attributions and include you. No sinners read those early plays; instead they ogle the hell-born travesties we stage for Satan. Since your words dried up, your soul’s gone cold. But we’ll fix it. Fix everything.”

A promise impossible to keep in hell, now we’ve provoked the Deceiver’s envy of what we two alone can share.

Marlowe shook his head, raised empty hands and dropped them to his sides. “There’s no fix for human frailty; no cure, unless it be Milton’s ‘obliteration’. And as for piracy, I bore with its bile whilst we lived and taste it still. But run not to the Archfiend’s wily embrace. He’s got no Muse of fire for me nor patience left for you; your glory droopeth, to his baleful eye.”

“Not so. Come with me, Kit, to His Infernal Majesty’s reception. Tonight. We’d best not ignore his invitation. All New Hell’s illiterati and their publishers has he summoned: every paltry poet and pusillanimous pundit in perdition will attend. As your Passionate Shepherd begged, ‘Come with me and be my love,’ and we’ll make every slight that’s wrong come right.”

When Will Shakespeare wheedled, contrite and on his game, Marlowe never could resist him. Yet Will’s affair with Satan too oft abandoned Kit to Jealousy’s embrace.

From their window overlooking the Globe’s stage and its tuppenny seats came a scrabbling of claws, a whoosh of wings, a shower of glass. Like love in hell, no pane in that window ever lasted long, but shattered once puttied into place. Kit spied the vandal, a red-eyed bat hanging upside-down from the window’s empty frame, staring unabashed.

Bats in hell exhaled contagion wherever plagues rode the air.

The hairs on Marlowe’s nape bristled. Heed this omen, Will Shakespeare: Diábolos, Old Scratch, the Prince of Hell, call him what you will, now sends his presumptuous bat, wings wide, for you and me.

Aloud, Kit scoffed. “Be your love, Will? At what cost? Go with you where? On this unclean night? Through twisty byways where purge and pestilence sack the damned?” Alas, Kit knew he’d do what Shakespeare asked, face even obliteration for this wraith, this shadow of the man he’d loved so well. “If you insist, I’ll attend you on this fruitless errand, albeit I’ve no hope for it. Your lusty devil won’t heed my plea, or yours. How many times before has Satan backhanded me for barging along beside you?”

At Kit’s last word, with one flap of wings the bat dropped from the sash and glided into its mother night. Did it hear? Understand? Hell bore few animals as the living knew them: hell-bats to shrive the doomed; hell-goats to feast on garbage; hell-horses whose manes and tails hissed like asps; hell-hounds, sometimes manlike. Save the rare curs or coursers come to seek their masters, hell hosted no loving fauna, no creature company for the dead.

Marlowe buttoned his threadbare shirt, donned his breeches, and paced Will through soggy lanes where few dared walk, where brigands roamed in gangs. Here Satan’s latest purge dissolved unwary souls to salty sand, while other damned, unscathed, scuffed through their glittering remains. If not for the floods that flushed its streets, Marlowe thought, New Hell soon would be but one huge dune.

Past the New Globe they ventured; past the Rose, still dark in fear of plague. Receipts were down at every playhouse, audiences scarce. Nevertheless, when they reached their destination the sidewalk teemed with the sad, the bad, and the mad, a mob desperate to gawk at arriving unworthies and glimpse the infamous.

An imposing structure overshadowed all. The hub of Satan’s New Hell seat, a horseshoe upside down and open at its top, arched toward Paradise and its bloody vault. Red carpet smoldered underfoot, gold festoons lined the forecourt’s fence. Torches blazed along ranks of spearhead finials on wrought-iron pickets, displaying the occasional severed head.

At its grand entrance, fiends of carmine and black formed a sweaty cordon barring groundlings here to gawp, whilst Shakespeare’s name assured entry for him and Kit as if it were a watchword.

A liveried orange demon who reeked of week-old corpses escorted them inside, around, up and down stairs that led in more directions than hounds seeking scent, till they came to a cathedral of a hall.

Once inside, their demon guide bowed low and left them.

Now Marlowe realized where Shakespeare’s fame had brought them. This was a fete for the piratical elite, an A-list affair convoked by Satan’s Masters of the Revels, his seven fallen angels, each banished warrior of heaven more gorgeous than the last. Before them, souls from every epoch mingled, resplendent in outrageous finery. While outside calumny, poverty, deviltry and woe oppressed all hearts behind the spear-topped fence, here chatter flowed, laughter pealed.

And stopped . . .

Into that sudden silence, a second orange demon boomed their names, its tail wagging like a dog’s: “Master Shakespeare and Mister Marlowe.”

Necks craned. Fingers pointed. Misers and monsters, demons and debauchers (hell’s every publisher, privateer, prostitute, pimp and poseur) took their measure.

Marlowe tugged his doublet tight to hide threadbare shirt and cuffs, while leers cast his way said he’d be welcome naked. When he’d been a player, spy, and rakehell, such looks had bought him comfort on many a night. Notwithstanding, at that awkward moment Kit felt supremely underdressed; he should have followed suit when Will buttoned on grass-green shirtsleeves and donned his candy-apple codpiece; or at least worn a leather jerkin over the doublet — but no: rebellious, he hadn’t.

A sigh of whispers grew among this staring clutch of vipers. The crowd parted, and Marlowe happed upon more pressing matters to regret; for toward them strode Satan himself, reigning lord of the latter-day hells, a sinning soul on either arm: one male, one female.

“Will, be you wary . . . keep in mind why we’re here.” Kit tried in vain to wet his lips. When his words had fled him at Satan’s behest, they’d taken all his spittle with them.

“Do you see who that is, the big hairy man in the brown mantle, leaning on his staff?” Shakespeare’s whisper tugged Kit’s ear like a child: “King Solomon, from bible times. Do you recall him from the polo field where he begged my bodkin to slice that infant in half?”

A phantom babe, if ever it lived at all, meant to raise hopes of innocence and dash them, the Trickster’s favorite game.

“Will, remember, we’ve only come to convince Old Nick to redress this piracy; provide compensation, restitution or at least retraction, emendation, some satisfaction. . . .”

Shakespeare heeded not a word, but floated down that final stair and straight to Satan, white-winged and magnificent. Beneath one creamy pennon slid the Bard, as if into his rightful place.

That freed the female from Satan’s hold. Once out from under the devil’s pinion, Kit recognized her: J the Yahwist, she who first gave song and grace to the Old Testament.

J regarded Kit with but the faintest smile, as might a goddess . . .

She’d understudied a role in a play of theirs, come to a dress rehearsal, but they’d never stood this close. She extended a hand to him.

He couldn’t resist. That hand promised lost joys. Forgiveness nestled in her eyes. Exaltation graced her lips. She smelled of sympathy and more: a scent with a darker note, a hint of expiation. . . .

Kit Marlowe took two steps to kiss fingers that scribed the advent of creation. Her touch brought him near to tears. “Yet hell-bound, mighty J? Why do you tarry? Why comest thou here?”

“I am come for a line of mine, pirated by a mortal, a self-styled apostle named John: my line about the Word. Do you know it?”

“Know it? I lived it. Yes, I know it.”

“And do you not hear, with your unerring ear, that it belongs with my Genesis, not with the scribblings of some Johnny-come-lately?”

“I hear.” Many dwelt in hell, but this soul, called simply J, belonged Above. She had come on Mercy’s agency, rumor whispered, to inspire the damned — to give them words, give them hope — and been entrapped by Satan’s wiles. Within her orbit, for an instant sorrow left him. Kit forgot all travail, forgot even delirious Shakespeare, snuggling in the curve of Evil’s wing. . . .

“And why are you here, Christopher Marlowe?”

“I’m here about a play or two I helped write. But standing next to you, my loss sums as naught.”

J’s laughter tinkled like bells. “How could that be, you who wrote ‘Come with me and be my love?’” From her lips, the same line Will had used to jolly Kit into coming here became eerie, beguiling; as was what followed: “I have extra words betimes; words meant for hell’s most needy. Who knows but that I might have some for you? Would you want words about love transforming all, Kit Marlowe? Words to sound a higher octave of being? Would words to transfigure suit you?”

“What? You mean you could . . . ? I’d — That is, you would . . . ?”

Meanwhile, Shakespeare had not forgotten Kit:

Into Marlowe’s colloquy with J intruded the Bard’s voice triumphal: “I did what you wanted, Marley. I have Satan’s promise. And look who I found! You recall King Solomon: Solomon of the Song of Songs, of —”

“Will, not now! J says she . . .” Kit looked from Shakespeare to J, but she had slipped away into the crowd.

Consternation must have remade Kit’s face, because bulky, rough-hewn Solomon shrugged: “The Yahwist seeks her own redress of grievances. And a way out of hell.”

Kit could no more than stare.

“Everyone in hell seeks a way out.” Will sneered. “What makes her special?”

“She does.” The apostate King Solomon struck the floor with his staff for emphasis. “You must understand: J has basked in the paradisal light, walked near to the One — and now, for denying her faith by a slip of the tongue, she is marooned here.” Solomon sighed like a desert wind. “I know — she offered you words, didn’t she? She would. But our host Abaddon will never let her heal a soul like yours, as damned as your friend here describes you. You’ve doubtless heard my proverb, ‘As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend.’ Few in hell have a friend. Do not pursue the Yahwist. Cleave to your friend Shakespeare and seek the truth of ages.”

Solomon’s words fell like rain on Kit’s roof. Marlowe had no answer for the Israelite king’s bombast but to look away, seeking J’s face in the crowd.

Alas, no Yahwist.

Where was she? What was she? A fortuity found and lost in a heartbeat? Salvation? A glimpse of deliverance? A breath of the sublime? Her offer of words — words to heal his mind, his heart, his riven soul — might never come again. Kit’s gut growled, protesting his loss.

[End of Excerpt]

 

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y8WWKMT/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pirates-in-hell-chris-morris/

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroes_in_Hell

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/janet-morris/

https://michaelaventrella.com/2012/05/15/interview-with-hugo-nominated-author-janet-morris/

https://plus.google.com/+JanetMorrisaspis/posts/fKEThwitP61

 

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/JanetEMorris/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Janet-Morris/108035375883983

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=janet%20morris%20and%20chris%20morris

 

Blog/Website

http://www.theperseidpress.com/

https://sacredbander.com/

 

Twitter

https://twitter.com/uvmchristine

https://twitter.com/uvmchristine/media

 

Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y8WWKMT/

https://www.amazon.com/Pirates-Hell-Heroes-Janet-Morris-ebook/

 

https://www.amazon.com/Janet-Morris/e/B001HPJJB8

https://www.amazon.com/Pirates-Hell-Heroes-Janet-Morris/dp/0997758449/

 

Goodreads

https://www.goodreads.com/series/40812-heroes-in-hell

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/121072.Janet_E_Morris

Pirates 166 meg

Black Gate Adventures in Fantasy Literature reviews Dreamers in Hell

See the original Black Gate review by Joe Bonadonna at: https://www.blackgate.com/2013/07/18/giving-the-devil-his-due-a-review-of-dreamers-in-hell/ Giving the Devil His Due: A Review of Dreamers in Hell

Thursday, July 18th, 2013 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Dreamers in Hell-smallDreamers in Hell (Heroes in Hell, Volume 15)
Created by Janet Morris, edited by Janet and Chris Morris, and written “with the diabolical assistance of their damnedest writers.”
Perseid Press (478 pages, June 13, 2013, $23.95 in trade paperback)

It is a place of swords and spears, revolvers and automatic weapons, sorcery and science, catapults and cannon, bows and arrows, computers and demons. It is a place where there is no Hope for the damned, merely the suggestion of it.

Welcome to Hell, where Perdition rules. Whether a soul believes in Hell or not, Hell believes in damnation of the mortal soul. Anyone can end up in Hell, no matter what religion, no matter what faith. You may not believe in Hell, but Hell believes in you.

In Hell, all things are possible. In Hell, many of the damned believe they have been wrongly sent there, while others accept their fate and try to make the best of a bad situation. In Hell’s Mortuary, the Undertaker giveth and taketh away, revives and reassigns the damned — again and again — so they can continue their dance with the Devil. Yes, welcome to Hell — where rogues and heroes and fools quest for a way out, and Satan plots to storm the Gates of Heaven.

Ah, but wait… the powers that be in Heaven have decided that Hell has become too comfortable. Infernity is in trouble. El Diablo is lying down on the job.

Heaven has sent Erra, Babylonian god of plague and mayhem, and his 7 Sibitti (his Auditors, his Enforcers, his personified weapons), to further punish the innocent as well as the guilty, and they do so with great glee. They are Hell’s judge, jury, and executioners. Satan can’t even run Hell the way he wants to run it. Paradise mocks him. Will Erra replace Satan? Make things worse for everyone in all levels and versions of Hell — past, present and future?

Dreamers in Hell is the 14th volume in this best-selling series, which has seen stories nominated and winning Hugo and Nebula awards. It is also the most ambitious book to date in this highly successful and most brilliant shared-universe of all. So let’s get started, shall we?

Heroes in HellChris Morris gets things off to a grand start with Fools in Hell. Satan plans a great festival to celebrate the rebuilding and reopening of the Hellexandrian Library. (Guy Fawkes, in an earlier tale, had destroyed the Library, as well as the Hall of Injustice in his attempt to assassinate Satan.) Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe write a play for Satan, who enlists their aid in yet another of his nefarious schemes. And who knows what wicked games, what sinister machinations lurk in the mind of His Satanic Majesty, aka HSM?

“Leave me in hell then! But leave my hell alone!” Satan screams to “Above,” in Janet Morris’ wonderful Alms for Oblivion. There is too much overcrowding in Hell for Satan’s liking. So he sets into motion plans to prove that Humankind is unworthy of Hell or redemption, and deserves only oblivion. Rid Hell of Humankind, and the Netherworlds won’t be plagued by Erra and his 7 Auditors from Above running amok throughout Satan’s rightful domain.

In Nancy Asire’s clever little The Unholy Hole, Caesar’s magnificent villa is totally destroyed, leaving but a massive hole in the ground upon which it stood. No survivors can be found. Are the dastardly Erra and his 7 Auditors behind this attack? Or is it someone or something else? Napoleon and Wellington are recalled to active duty by El Diablo himself. Attila the Hun and Sulla’s “legions” join them. Countess Marie Walewska, who chose to spend eternity in Hell to be with Napoleon, arms herself and joins in the fun.

Next up is Yelle Hughes’s intriguing Essence Helliance. The King Infernal visits Medea of Colchis, the first wife of Jason of Thessaly, who works in Hell’s Mortuary. Old Scratch needs the essence and souls of the damned who have no chance for redemption. This, he tells her, is for a project he is working on. A headstrong, disrespectful, and somewhat mad woman, Medea is in charge of this “essence and soul distillery.” But is there more to Satan’s power play? Can anyone even guess at what his infernal end game may be? (I’ve been sworn to secrecy.)

Next is Sara M. Harvey’s lovely and sad, Barefoot, On Brimstone. Isadora Duncan awakens from a dream of dance-performance, green grass, and her children — only to find that she is alone, still in Hell, and the infamous scarf that had strangled her is still around her neck. But then she meets Pharzuph and Naamah, a pair of fallen angels. It seems she has been summoned to Sin Francisco, to see Joshua Abraham Norton, who had once declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, and they are to be her escorts. But what she asks of him only one personage can give, and so she must go dance for the Prince of Darkness.

The Gates of HellShakespeare’s Ophelia, delicate and moody little flower that she is, finds herself once again in the hands of the Undertaker, in Shebat Legion’s wicked little vignette, Ophie and the Undertaker.Having twice attempted suicide, poor Ophie refuses to accept her fate in Hell and the fact that there is no escape. No matter how much the Undertaker takes from her, tenacious and stubborn Ophelia always finds herself crawling—or squirming—back to him.

In John Manning’s delicious Just Desserts, Jimmy Hoffa is union president of all Hell’s damned souls. Satan has ordered him to provide labor for the reopening of the Hellexandrian Library. Infamous Nazis Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Mengele, with a few friends, are hired as cooks under the supervision of Jewish gangster, Izzy Bernstein. Meanwhile, Matthew Hopkins thinks he’s found a way for him and fellow witchfinder John Stearne to get out of Hell and escape to Heaven, where they belong. Needless to say, everyone gets what they deserve.

Hell, I Must Be Going, is Michael A. Ventrella’s comedy-skit ode to the Marx Brothers, wherein Rufus T. Firefly and Ciccolini Ravelli, his assistant, are in charge of keeping track of all assignments in Hell. Enter one Margaret Dunwoody, who has come to question who they reallyare and what they are doing. Seems they’ve conned their way into positions where they can search for a missing brother who, for obvious reasons — is not in Hell. Hail, hail, Helldonia, land of the Knave and Unfree.

INFERNAL NOTICE: Weapons are not allowed at the grand reopening of the Hellexandrian Library. In Head Games, Bill Snider’s sly look at psychoanalysis in Hell, Fionn mac Cumhaill, accompanied by his friend Caliban, leaves his sentient spear Areadbhar at the door. Then, during an interview with Sigmund Freud, the spear begins talking to Fionn, though only Fionn can hear it. Old Siggy finds Fionn’s attachment to the spear quite “telling,” and begins to explain how the weapon is an extension of Fionn’s… well, I’m sure you can guess. Throw in the Staff of Merlin, which can talk to the Fionn’s spear, a guest appearance by Merlin himself, and one harridan named Sycorax, who is the mother of Caliban — and hellzapoppin!

Rebels in HellNext up is Tom Barczak’s heroic tragedy, Blood and Ash. Beowulf is still in the process of accepting his death when he encounters Boudica, Queen of the Iceni. Then they meet up with Joan of Arc, who has come to lead them out of Hell. All three are sorely wounded and badly burned, as you might imagine. The trio meets up with former writer turned tinkerer, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who gives Joan a Vorpal Blade that he calls ‘Alice.’ Before they can escape down the rabbit hole, along comes Erra and his 7 Sibitti Auditors. The unexpected happens, a sacrifice is made, and we discover that even in Hell, there is such a thing as Hope.

Hellexandria the Great is next at bat. Sarah Hulcy hits a home run as she tells us of Demetrius, the Chief Librarian, Makalani his assistant, and Caesarion and Brutus, the sons of Julius Caesar. Brutus and Caesarion are drafted as volunteers to act as guides for the guests at the upcoming gala in honor of the reopening of the Hall of Injustice and the Hellexandrian Library. During the boys’ training period, they hear of the destruction of their Dad’s villa by suspects unknown, and everyone is naturally on edge. (Could that all be part of Satan’s grand scheme to storm the gates of Heaven? At this point—anything is possible!) But everyone survives the big party, even though the witchfinders attempt to assassinate His Satanic Majesty.

David L. Burkhead’s The Knife-Edged Bridge is a tale of friendship and loyalty. It stars William Simpson, veteran of Second Manassas, Jim Bridger, scout and trapper, and Perseus, Son of Zeus. In olden times, this bridge was known as the Bridge to Paradise. But now… who knows where it leads? For them, it will hopefully lead out of Hell. But along the way, Bridger is horribly mangled and tortured, and Perseus goes missing. Setting out to rescue his mates, Simpson finds himself in a disturbing level of Hell he’s never seen before, where his friends are being tortured by demons, rather than having been sent back to the Undertaker for reassignment. Simpson rescues his friends, as well as Archimedes, who claims he should be in Hades or Tartaros, but not in Hell. So they all set out to find Erra and his 7 Auditors, hoping to get Archimedes’s punishment amended—and fearing that they might make it worse.

Our next item on the menu is Deborah Koren’s The Wager. It’s an interesting mash-up of the western and boxing genres, with a dash of Damon Runyon thrown in for seasoning. It stars Bat Masterson, the eternal gambler, and Wyatt Earp, who has become the manager of a boxer named Big Ed. Enter one Grayson, an atheist and former writer who refuses to accept that he’s dead and in Hell. Earp bets Masterson that he can’t convince Grayson that he is indeed dead and damned. As for what’s at stake, you’ll just have to read the story and find out for yourselves.

Crusaders in HellBettina S. Meister’s More Light is a very poignant, complex, and introspective yarn. Certain passages read like the inner monologue of poet and sorcerer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who believes he has been wrongly sent to Hell. He suffers the daily humiliation of a poet’s soul. His sufferings of old age are daily presences in his life in Hell. He is tormented by memories of his mother, his wife, and his children. But even in the Realm of the Damned, one can find a friend, and he does — Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem, whose suicidal death Goethe had immortalized in his novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” Arrogantly thinking that he can play with the powers of Hell, Goethe sets out to plead his case in hope of gaining salvation.

In the Shadow of Paradise is Jason Cordova’s excellent, first-person account of Juan Ponce de Leon y Figueroa’s common-sense approach to survival in Hell, set in Lost Angeles. The 7 Sibitti have destroyed Hellywood, and through a landscape of death and devastation, Figueroa travels to find a map showing the way out of Hell, using the waters of the Fountain of Youth underneath the Mortuary. And then he meets Marie Antoinette, who has somehow acquired the map. With her is her attendant, Henrietta, who is in possession of box that contains a Prophecy Head Doll that speaks with the voice of Rasputin. Meanwhile, two Angels from Above discuss whether or not there is such a thing as ultimate salvation, and whether or not even the damned can be redeemed.

Zero Sum Game is Richard Groller’s sci-fi seasoned take on what happens when Nikolai Tesla realizes what has been missing from his theoretical constructs. Tesla is Director of Infernal Research Projects. George Washington Goethals, once Chief Engineer in charge of building the Panama Canal, is Tesla’s assistant and ally. Thomas Edison is the comptroller of the Dept. of Infernal Energy. And Hero of Alexandria is the arbiter of the War of the Currents that is still being waged by Tesla and Edison. Tesla needs funding and is obsessed with besting Edison. Goethals has a penchant for skirting regulations. During the course of Tesla’s experiments, a worker demon is killed, and then a stress wave in the fabric of Space and Time causes one-third of New Hell to disappear. Could Thomas Edison be the saboteur? Tune in and find out!

Kings in Hell“All of Hell is a stage and the damned are merely players in Satan’s endless and infernal game.” So says Jack William Finley in his philosophical And the Truth Shall Set You Free, which stars Constantine the Great, one-time emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Constantine can’t come to terms with the reality of his new existence in Hell, but he has a plan: “In the land of the Prince of Lies he would weave a greater lie than all that came before, a lie that would set them all free.” He assembles the finest minds in Hell, including Kierkegaard, Voltaire, and Schrodinger, to help him concoct this magnificent lie. Satan then orders gangster Frank Nitti to team up with Jack the Ripper, and they are sent to keep an eye on this intellectual rabble. When in Rome, do as the Romans. But when in Hell, do not attempt to emulate the Devil.

The next entry is Michael H. Hanson’s The ITTT (pronounced eye-triple-tea) — The Institute of Terrified and Tortured Technicians. Sergei Korolev, former father of the Soviet Space Program and now, in Hell, President-Elect of The ITTT, is the keynote speaker at an upcoming conference, which revolves around the ongoing feud between Edison and Tesla. Edison is a crafty bureaucrat who lords it over the various infernal-internal technology departs, and steals every idea he can get his hands on. Also in this clever little tale, we see more of the irony and punishments of Hell: genetic engineers are plagued with physical deformities, and chemical engineers are constantly sprayed in their faces by all manner of toxic elements, for example. But what’s really at stake here is Tesla’s new space tunnel, Hell’s own escape hatch.

Petra E. Jorns continues the tragic tale of Siegfried and Kriemhild in her mythic Siegfried’s Blade.Kriemhild awakens in Hell, suffering the pain of loss and guilt. Wandering over a field of bones, she hears a skull speak to her in a familiar voice. “You have murdered us.” It is the voice of Gunther, her brother, who had plotted Siegfried’s death with Hagen. Kriemhild sets out to find Siegfried, only to encounter Brunhild, her enemy, whose own vanity had led to Siegfried’s death, and they accuse and blame each other for that. Further along, Kriemhild meets Hagen, who now carries Balmung, Siegfried’s accursed sword. Hagen: whom she had allowed to murder her brother Gunther, and thus quench her thirst for vengeance. Haunted by memories of Siegfried, confronted by old ghosts and tortured by her own guilt, Kriemhild stumbles on, over the bodies of her brothers and all those she had brought to death thru her vengeance — and ultimately discovers the truth of her personal and private Hell.

Stairway to Heaven is Ed McKeown’s wonderful tale of Emile Du Chatelet — physician, mathematician, and author—who seeks audience with Belial, Crown Prince of Hell. One-third of New Hell City has disappeared, and its citizens have not reappeared at the Undertaker’s for reassignment. According to Emile, Tesla could not control his Dirac Power Source — which is actually the underlying principle that binds the Universe together. She proposes a great mechanism by which they can rip open the dimension of Hell and march out to freedom — perhaps to Heaven itself. Emile, who claims she has done nothing to warrant her place in Hell, wants revolution. She wants to invade Heaven and face God in battle, but she needs Tesla’s help, and he’s still locked inside the Fortress of Despair — J. Edgar Hoover’s prison. Belial agrees to support her, and with the aid of a female demon named Smoke, the cowboy Frank Hopkins, and Achilles piloting a Blackhawk helicopter, they storm the prison in a battle worthy of a James Bond flick. Emile’s speech to the damned is thought-provoking, eloquent, and perfectly logical.  What she asks of Belial, however, is a thing heretofore unknown in Hell.

Explorers in HellKnocking On Heaven’s Gates is Larry Atchley’s excellent and epic novella, starring Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan on Earth. Seems he’s been blown to pieces in the failed attempt to steal from Guy Fawkes the Spear of Longinus, aka the Spear of Destiny—the spear that had pierced Christ’s side. LaVey wakes up in the Mortuary after experiencing a dream of light at the end of the tunnel, a heavenly dream of love and joy. Now he wants to experience those feelings again, if he can. After the Undertaker reconstitutes his body, LaVey sets out to file his report with Satan. Meanwhile, Tesla’s latest invention has backfired and a third of New Hell has gone missing. Hell now really looks like a painting by Bosch or Brueghel. LaVey realizes that Hell is truly going to Hell in a hand basket.

Cut to Guy Fawkes, who was captured and is now in prison, but still in possession of the Spear of Destiny. But the Spear is embedded in his body, a result of an explosion during the failed attempt to take it away from him, and legend has it that whoever has the Spear is invincible and invulnerable. So no one can take it away from him. Enter Emile du Chatelet, who comes to free him and enlist his aid in her plot to storm the Gates of Heaven. Will her plan succeed or is it doomed to failure? And what is Satan’s purpose for secretly supporting but not taking part in the storming of Heaven’s pearly gates?

Meanwhile, Satan wants LaVey to play keyboards and entertain the army of damned souls about to attack Heaven. But LaVey is suffering from Post-Traumatic Death Disorder and does not feel he can perform at his best until he recovers from his emotional trauma and his troubling dream. Just as self-serving in Hell as he was in life, LaVey wonders if he can become a better person, to be loved and to find redemption. After his first session with Williams James, Psychologist, Spiritualist, and Pragmatist, the big day has come for LaVey. He is ordered by demons to play the new and improved Liszt pipe organ while the army of the damned assaults the Gates of Heaven and battles a host of Angels. Ah, but things in Hell are not always what one thinks they might be, and LaVey realizes that everything in Hell has its price — even playing the pipe organ, to which he and a number of other lost souls are physically attached.

Now we come to the final chapter, folks, and a most fitting pay-off it is, too. Janet Morris returns us to Chris Marlowe and Will Shakespeare as they perform, perhaps for all eternity, their play, Hell Bent, which is also the title of this eloquent and theatrical comic-tragedy. The two playwrights play lovers in a hellish parody of their own plays, which they have written to order, per His Satanic Majesty’s Request. Will plays the male lead, Marlowe the female. In every performance, Marlowe must kill Shakespeare — I mean, really kill him. But the Bard does not return to the Undertaker for reassignment, for Satan is there at every performance, there to revive him, once a night and twice on Sadderday. More than a parody, their play is almost a travesty, being made up of scenes and dialogue cannibalized from the plays they wrote in life. Marlowe, in love with Shakespeare, wonders and worries over the Bard’s infatuation with HSM.

“Why should you love him whom the world hates so?” Marlowe’s character asks.

“Because he loves me more than all the world,” Will’s character replies.

As he prepares to plunge the rapier into the heart he loves best, and bring death nightly to the man he treasures most, Marlowe stage-whispers a line from Othello. “Perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee! And when I love thee not, Chaos is come again.”

“Hell is just a frame of mind,” Shakespeare replies through gritted teeth.

That line from Faustus was Marlowe’s downfall — a line that ultimately proved to be false. He had taunted the Devil in life with it, and now he pays in Hell forever.

Over and over again, Marlowe must kill Shakespeare in the final act, only to watch, through jealous eyes and suffering heart, as Satan brings Will back from the dead, showering him with love and favor. However, after long and many arguments, Marlowe convinces Will to trade roles with him, and the Bard in turn convinces Satan to let them do it, because he wishes to learn how it feels to truly kill a man.

Rogues in Hell“Since I cannot prove a lover, I am determined to prove a villain,” Will tells the Devil, quoting a line from his own Richard III.

Will the Prince of Darkness bring Marlowe back to life after Shakespeare kills him in the final act of their play? Ah, there’s the rub.

Not since Adam and Eve has the Devil had such a pair to play, one against the other.

Oh, what fools these mortals be! Are the damned Satan’s tools, his fools, to think they can wring power from infinity, make themselves powerful enough to overcome their fate? Does the assault on the Gates of Heaven succeed? Does Satan bend Hell itself to accommodate his fools for war? Does he transport one-third of New Hell, trashed by power-hungry idiots and their petty hatreds, into some new dimension of space and time just big enough to accommodate their egos and their fiery deaths? Does the Son of the Morning make his point to Erra and his Seven Sibitti, the Almighty’s pitiless enforcers — that Mankind is demented and foul and not worthy of Heaven’s forgiveness, not worthy of redemption? Will Satan gather his legion of Akkadians and Spartans, Nazis, Americans, Chinese — the greatest armies of the damned — and put on his own play for Heaven? (Or a reality show—“His Satanic Majesty Disciplines His Own,” perhaps?)

In Hell, the Devil rules, the Devil is not mocked, and the Devil always gets his due.

Each story in Dreamers in Hell is top notch. Perhaps I should say each chapter, for this is truly a shared-universe that reads like a novel, rather than an anthology. The stories are all very good, many are great, some are superb. This is a true collaboration of diverse hands that has been shaped and molded into a cohesive whole by Janet and Chris Morris.

The beauty of the Heroes in Hell series is that all genres work in Hell, and no genre has been left undone. You’ll find horror and science fiction here, fantasy and historical drama, satire and action/adventure thrillers — even romance. These metaphysical, visionary “mythical epics” are character-driven, thoughtful, intelligent, and insightful. They examine the nature of Man, and the nature of good and evil.

These are fables and morality tales, examinations into what makes Mankind tick, a look into the soul of humanity. Justice rules in Hell, too, you’ll discover. So does irony: all that was fair on Earth has turned foul in Hell. But all’s fair in Hell when it comes to how the damned are treated, of course.  Yet for all its torments and punishment and betrayals and violence, there is friendship and loyalty to be found in Hell, courage and honor, and even love. And above all, Hope persists. For even in Hell, the damned can and do hope for redemption and salvation.

Have some sympathy for the Devil and give Satan his due: check this one out. In fact, I recommend you check out all 14 books in the Heroes in Hell series. Just in case you find yourself in Hell one day, it’s best to be on the good side of the Devil. If he has one, that is.

Interview from the Void: Chris Morris by Donny Swords

It is my honor to introduce Christopher Crosby Morris.  His passion to connect with life, and its people, and to be an honest, true voice that shines out is an extremely valuable blessing.  I have had the opportunity to interview Janet Morris his extraordinarily talented wife already.  I knew Chris’ responses would be very informative.  I had no idea how insightful of an interview I was in for.  I am humbled.  Chris Morris possesses fiber, that something which took years of practice, and years of pushing beyond mastery to possess.  His writing- no matter the medium, whether you prefer audiobooks, music, or written prose challenges and moves the mind into directions not often pursued, but well worth the journey.  I have been listening to Chris narration of the Sacred Band available on audio lately, and as a singer who has studied formerly under one of the greatest voice instructors of all time I have to say that I would not be able to deliver so much substance, such enriching quality in my deliveries, even using my characters. In short, Chris Morris is astounding.  Keep reading to begin finding out why.

Hello, thank you for agreeing to the interview.  Would you tell us a little about yourself?
A must have! Click Here.My pleasure. My consuming passion is voice in all its aspects, but especially as it manifests in storytelling, both in prose and verse, literature and song. Metaphorically voice represents many things, even the sum of a life. Voice is a double-edged sword we learn to wield to our benefit or detriment. Most recently I’ve assumed the task of narrating our prose catalog and am thrilling to offer publicly what has heretofore been a private but seminal feature of our writing process.
 
You write as a team with your wife Janet Morris.  When did you first become drawn to writing, was it before or after you met her?
Before. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed arranging words to varied effect. In my youth I became a marvelous liar, more because of my fascination with discerning and fabricating what people wanted to hear than from mischievous or malicious intent. When Janet and I met our first collaborations were songs, many of which I still perform today — they are that good. She wrote stories from a very early age. A lasting part of our attraction was and is a shared desire to precisely express what life is showing us, and that means capturing those observations in story form. The difference — or complementarity — between us is that she is expansionist in her portrayals and I am reductionist.
 
You are a musician, when did you start playing?  What instruments do you play?
My older sister and brother proved miserable piano students, so our parents decided that Christopher could do without. Unbeknownst to me (and thankfully so), I was spared the disadvantage of entering musical life through the doorway of percussion. I’m a baritone and baritones seldom wow anyone vocally until the instrument develops, usually in one’s mid- to late twenties. Therefore my public school music teacher, Ms. Hutton, smiled commiseratingly and showed me to a seat with alto boys whose glee club lot was to huff and puff in support of the shrill girls reciting rote melodies. I loved it: anonymity and license to experiment with pitches against a preprogrammed backdrop of boys droning away predictably. In short, I sang, and still sing, first and foremost. And I utterly believe that all music in the human bandwidth derives from controlled breathing.
Guitar started for me at age eleven and is my most satisfying lifetime tool-oriented skill path, several times requiring me to experience the miracle of starting over in order to thoroughly master basic aspects. At this point I am pretty deeply into creating digital models of guitars impossible to achieve in strictly analog settings; I use custom built guitars with Graphtech’s Ghost hexaphonic sensors fed to Roland’s VG99 effects unit, then into a Yamaha board (with my vocal mic) and out in stereo to one of two twin Bose tower monitor systems (L1 and/or L1 Compact) so I am always in the same sound field as any listener. This all stems from wanting a bigger – not louder – guitar sound. I “build” a guitar for any song that needs something a little different and now have twenty or thirty pretty amazing guitars dial-able from one setup. Can’t wait for you to come check it out, and we be jammin’ man.
 
To me the guitar is a universe of possibilities, which is the same with writing.  Do you ever feel limited by people’s expectations of you and your crafts?
I could spend an hour on your first statement here, but will answer the question bit first. No, I no longer feel constrained due to others’ irrational calculations of what comprises art. I say ‘no longer’ because every creative must ascend from the pit of self-doubt into the light of self-knowledge and mastery through determined focus and practice. In his autobiography Miles Davis stated the gospel: “The most difficult thing a musician can do is sound like himself.” And, as you said in that first sentence, it’s “…the same with writing.”
 
When I played onstage I got instant feedback as to how I was doing.  I often find it difficult when I release a book and it gets less attention than I’d hoped.  Does your perception of what you feel will or won’t be received well change when you consider your fan base?
Buy Music
No, nor should it for you. This is a variant of the last question, but with a putative contrast between two, on the surface, apparently different art forms. Beneath the surface however they are so closely related as to be nearly identical: they are both listening sports, simultaneously involving the sources and receivers and overlapping the roles of each. Anything you can say of one has an obvious parallel in the other, the biggest difference being in rate of transmission.
One of the glories of human consciousness is that we can hear ourselves hearing ourselves. Shakespeare was the first to portray characters listening to their own inner voice, “the invention of the human” as Harold Bloom calls it. In both music and literature you are your own first audience and, if you like what you hear, by any and all means do not hesitate to proceed for want of external approbation. They are your audience, not your judges. Disregard this truth and that way lies madness.
 
Get your copy here Does a really good review feel as good as a standing ovation at a gig, or are they apples and oranges?
Glad you asked. Distrust both. If you pin your self-esteem to them and their approbation or lack thereof, you are lost. As Heraclitus said, “He who is praised to the skies lives a life of fantasy.”
 
You and your wife Janet are a team, how does that dynamic play out when you are developing a novel?  When it is underway?
Our novels develop from conversations reaching a point where further elucidation will best be accomplished by the exploration of personality(ies) in our case, fictional heroes — living their way through circumstances embodying the challenge under consideration. Our working definition of a hero is one who struggles in service to an ideal; if we run out of ideals we may write a different sort of book, but that protagonist would most likely be struggling to find out what happened to all the missing ideals … hmmm.
When the book is under way it’s buckle up time, the blessed state, because (and this is hard for many of our writer buddies to accept) we honestly don’t know everything that’s going to happen. The way to find out the details is to go where only the characters can take us. By that time we are way onboard and strapped in and boldly going we know not where, but headed for a climax we’ve seen but not yet lived. Fun or what? Is it real? For us and the characters, you bet. Does it have that precious quality of feeling true to life? Yup. That’s the reward of the collaborative arrangement; it imparts a binaural, binocular, bi-conscious view of uncertainty, which we and a host of readers find magnetic.
 
When you edit do you have a process?
When Janet began drafting (typing, mind you) High Couch of Silistra I would read her day’s output (and still do) aloud, because sound is primary to my apprehension, especially if analytics are involved. When I draft we do the same. Although it might seem laborious, this actually saves time and speeds up the rate at which we achieve publishable work. Linguistic anomalies can be heard by the ear and missed by the eye; our editing voice benefits from two sets of each. I’m frequently amazed at how much a slight alteration of pitch or emphasis can inform the net effect of syntax. If we have a passage that wants to be heard a certain way it’s incumbent on us to nail the punctuation so the experienced reader ‘hears’ it.
 
Since you began as a published author, how have things changed?
It might be easier to list what hasn’t changed, but for those tuning in late there’s: lots more slush being published and given away; increased ability of content providers to call the shots at every production level; no more meddling middle-folk; no more security of the reasonable advance for a multi-book deal; lots more transparency; even more slush being published and given away; piracy; more feedback from readers and trolls; general confusion as to what intellectual property is and how to preserve ownership of it; still more slush being published and given away; genre-fication whelping a litter of niche-of-a-niche-of-a-niche popularity contests; ability to purchase emblems of legitimacy bestowed for a price by formerly powerful arbiters of taste such as Kirkus; global reach to millions of readers; yet more slush being published and given away, or did I say that enough?
 
One of your recent projects was narrating the audio book “The Sacred Band”.  Could you tell us what it takes to accomplish such a feat?
Like anything worth doing, it takes tenacity and focus. Because it was a first-time project The Sacred Band audio book involved a learning curve which added time and cost. I’m a team player and narration has a solitary aspect to it; I’m getting accustomed to it, but I was grateful for the technical assistance of a good friend who babysat me as I got this first one recorded over a period of a little more than a year. If I narrated full time it might now take me only eight or nine weeks. I’m working in Adobe Audition and can handle everything up to but not including audio-post mastering chores (adding noise reduction, some compression and normalization processing before converting to Mp3 for submission). I am an ACX.com (Amazon>Audible>ACX) user and have no plans to market outside their considerable infrastructure; I’d recommend them to beginners because they’ve done the homework necessary to service all the stakeholders in a project. ACX is also a good place to listen to samples of what other production teams are doing and obtain a reference point of view as to what constitutes a finished product. ACX costs nothing to join; they’re compensated from what Audible gets from sales of your book.
 
I say feat due to your performance.  You are merged with your and Janet’s characters in that delivery.  This summoning of Tempus or whomever is speaking shows a deep connection to your characters.  Do they make you laugh or cry?
I had already read The Sacred Band aloud two or three times before embarking on the narration. We are meticulous about “voicing” our characters and punctuate and format very carefully to emphasize their characteristic speech patterns while still retaining transparency of style. For our first audio project we decided to hire Alex Hyde-White to learn the ropes and see how an accomplished pro would narrate our material. He did a bang-up job with Wake of the Riddler, a shorter TW piece of Janet’s, and immediately caused me to realize what I could bring to our work because of my greater familiarity. I am gratified that you heard the characters coming through because after experimenting with inventing a distinctive sound for each character I opted instead to read with consistently clear articulation and to respect each character’s mood and message within the limits of my voice rather than risk caricature.
They don’t make me laugh or cry. They make me disappear. I miss that when we’re not together.
 
Your music is intelligent and endearing, quite moving actually, were you going for the same effect on the audio book?
Thank you. Yes, in both cases it turns out to be what I do instinctively. After countless attempts to sound “commercial” musically, I finally took Miles’ advice and dared to embrace what comes out of me ingenuously. Being comfortable in one’s own skin is worth whatever effort is required to make it so. It took me decades to get there (hence my remarks about the acclaim of others) but once arrived, I rejoice to possess sheer bandwidth that accommodates a broad spectrum of emotion without disproportion.
 
What is your take on violence in books?
Gratuitous…or not. If a story is merely a vehicle to roll out a train of atrocities, what’s the point except to titillate adolescent sensibilities? Writers of all sorts leverage threats of violence, many to avoid the laborious task of carefully laying out a sequence of events building to a genuine need for overt confrontation. I write for the more experienced reader, and myself, who want a little more justification, realism, and reason to care what happens than a story where hardware and machinery are indistinguishable. No doubt about it, there’s violence in books.
 
Who are your favorite musicians?  Authors?

Ray, Mose, kd, Chet, Tony, Sly, Diana Krall, Tommy Emmanuel, Bill Evans, JS Bach, CPE Bach, Mozart, Davey Spillane, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Nat, Haydn, Corelli, Leadbelly (see video), Lightnin’, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Dinah Washington, Aretha but she ticks me off, Eddy Arnold, Mitchell Parish (wrote the lyrics to Stardust), Carmichael (wrote the melody to Stardust), Michel Legrand.
Janet Morris, Arthur Clarke, Hermann Hesse, John Milton, Will Shakespeare, Jack London, Will James, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Heraclitus of Ephesus, P. G. Wodehouse, Harold Bloom, Homer, Deborah Koren, Mika Waltari, Sam Harris, Roger Penrose.
 
How long did it take to compose the backing track on the Outpassage trailer?
Read Outpassage It took about two days, back in late ’78, culminating in that recording. It’s a song called No Man’s Land, a bedroom demo recorded on a TEAC 10 inch four track reel to reel with Janet on bass, Leslie Kuipers on guitar, Nathan Seely on drums, Ted Lo on ARP string synthesizer, and me on guitar and vocal. It smoked sufficiently that we began playing the Boston fusion clubs around Berklee and generally had a very good time. We were regrouping after moving back from LA in the wake of the MCA album’s short but glorious run, and I still had three quarters of my band to work with and Ted and Nathan eager to jump in. We were listening toMahavishnu and Return to Forever and I was wondering why nobody ever sang over that kind of stuff, plus it was in my “sky high” period when I’d figured out how to build section momentum with circular patterns. The song has some cool cousins I’ll put up pretty soon. What I’m digging now is that shelf life is pretty much irrelevant these days and No Man’s Land has a rabid following on a site called NumberOneMusic.com ; entry level listeners take in Hendrix and Gaga and Norah and Eminem and me all at once and could care less when a piece of music was made or even whether the artists are still alive.
 
Tell us about your publishing house.
Perseid is damning the torpedoes and putting out stuff that is representative of what we grew up wanting to read; we say books for experienced readers, or books worth reading.
 
What inspires you?
My favorite of your questions.
Growth. A starry sky. Acceptance of the greater without diminution or forfeit of personality. Personal truths: the value of distinguishing between what one is told and what one learns from experience. The love of a dog. The suppositions of consciousness turned upon itself. In music the ability to reharmonize melody, steal time (rubato) and imply realms beyond physical scope. Kindness. Exploring Heraclitus’ thesis that all things are reflected in all things. The hunger for truth, beauty and goodness. Sister Wendy.
We live in cataclysmic times, for all I know analogous to all preceding ages. What is unknown to me so overwhelmingly eclipses what is known that my fate is to be inured to the idea that uncertainty is somehow requisite to continuity. I accept. I am human for a blink, a moment in an infinite progression. My moment too is subsumed in eternity and, being part, reflects its whole — harbors the DNA of the eternal — from micro to meta. So, even as a relatively infinitesimal particle I may intake my portion of the entire mystery of mysteries. If I am a moment, so am I eternal. Beyond cool.
And partnership…to host an intellectual life is a high privilege, to share such a life closely, transcendent, to make art of such sharing, nonpareil.
 
For readers new to your novels, which three would you recommend?
 
The Sacred Band (book, e-book, audio book) Click Here.
 Outpassage (book, e-book) Read Outpassage
The Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl (book, e-book). Buy
 
How important are reviews to you?  For marketing?  For sales?
 
Reviews are Rorschachs of their writers, offering subjective accounts of questionable exposure to some work or other. The substance of reviews is of most interest to other reviewers. Although taken for marketing currency, reviews are seldom value added. Creators inevitably fail to accurately calculate the effect of reviews on sales because the study of the relationship is an inexact science at best, at worst an obsession stymieing their creative efforts for lack of prudent allocation of attention.
 
Now advertising is a little different….
I would like to thank Chris Morris for this famously insightful and encouraging interview.  It is good to know the human condition is not wasted on him- but rather seen as an opportunity to grow.  Bravo- Chris!  See everyone next time.  🙂Thanks for reading.Donny  
Chris’ Links: http://www.amazon.com/The-Sacred-Band/dp/B00N1YRVH2/http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/The-Sacred-Band-Audiobook/B00MU2VCEO/http://www.amazon.com/Outpassage-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B00IDC1E84/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Fighters-Song-Girl-Sacred-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B007VQIJFY/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1410294833&sr=1-1&keywords=the+fish+the+fighters+and+the+song-girlhttp://numberonemusic.com/christophercrosbymorris/https://www.reverbnation.com/christophercrosbymorris?profile_view_source=profile_boxhttp://www.amazon.com/Everybody-Knows-Christopher-Morris-Band/dp/B004GNEF3A/https://soundcloud.com/christopher-morris http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Morris/e/B008L41JNO/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_2https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisandChrisMorrishttps://www.facebook.com/christophercmorrissings http://www.sacredbander.comhttp://www.theperseidpress.com/# http://www.facebook.com/christopher.c.morris.7?fref=ts http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Morris_(author)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLqxH_Tx5VA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g79LZAgk8w https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EylzKQa4yghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCv4GA5W5eA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICAPn0E7NC0 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SQFmxwfT7ghttp://www.amazon.com/Outpassage-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B00IDC1E84/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=    Where to find Donny Swords stuff:   Donny Swords author ( Facebook )  (Blog) Primal Publications (Facebook )  (Blog) The Indie Collaboration ( web )   Novels & Links

Perseid Press interview in Digital Pulp

see the original article at:  http://www.virtualpulp.net/2016/05/17/a-new-publisher-in-town/

 

A NEW PUBLISHER IN TOWN

I met author Jim Morris a few years ago, and we’ve been in sporadic contact ever since. It’s just come to my attention that some of his books are being picked up by a new publisher.

I contacted Chris and Janet Morris (no relation to Jim) of  Perseid Press, and they agreed to answer a few of my questions.

VP: What is your story–how did you become authors?

PP: We met when we were 19, actually through the music business.  Each of us had written songs, lyrics and music, independently. Both had begun playing instruments at an early age. Janet had created a school newspaper in the sixth grade and won prizes for poetry even earlier; Chris had worked in bookstores, and started playing guitar when he was 12.  Both families were highly literate, so music and musicals, as well as fiction and nonfiction, were always part of our lives.
Janet could read and write and tell time before entering the first grade; Chris’ influences took a more political path, since his father was a famous photojournalist, and picture editor for the Washington Post and the New York Times. We met in New York City’s Greenwich Village, where we first lived together; and those were heady, sometimes dangerous, times for all involved with the arts and politics.

We began writing songs together, joining bands, and put several bands together, two of which had production interest.  Janet started her first novel at 25, High Couch of Silistra, about the same time Chris started The Christopher Morris Band, and both projects got different agents the same week, and signed unrelated book publishing and record deals the same month.  Chris’ album on MCA and Janet’s firstSilistra book, published by Bantam, were each released in 1977.  This led to a redistribution of effort:  Janet wrote three more novels in the Silistra series, later to be called the Silistra Quartet; Chris focused on his band and song writing.  We wrote together, edited and assisted one another.  And still do. In the late 1980s, we each became research directors for a Washington think tank, where we were the architects of the US Joint Nonlethal Weapons program,  and assisted select western nations in starting their own programs; we also led the first defense technical evaluation team to the then-Soviet Union to assess Russian military technology, and supported the US Army and the USMC in various areas, including what was at the time called the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad (or MERS).  For a score of years we raised and showed American Morgan Horses, the remnants of the U.S. Government’s only horse-breeding program, and had several World Champions.

VP: Both of you’ve been writing SF/F for a while, now. What would you say makes your “brand” unique?

PP: Our books are not for the faint of heart, or the politically correct, nor are they dumbed down. They are challenging and meant to be so. We explore the human condition, and what relationship and responsibility an individual has to self, society, and planet.  Just as our deep experience with horses informs our books about ancient cavalry fighters, so do our futuristic books have a basis in technology areas that will shape our future. But most of all, the books we write are the books we want to read.  By pleasing ourselves and writing honestly, we bring a directness to the topic areas we explore, whether those are nuclear war, time travel, genetics and behavior, or questions about government itself, good and bad.  And we hope always to meet our own standard.

VP: Are there recurring themes you deal with in all or most of your books?

PP: We examine the heroic model, the importance of individual struggle in service to an ideal. In Greek mythology, philosophy and ancient history, we find lessons that can help people today, whether those lessons are presented allegorically or directly. We are particularly interested right now in hero-cults and how humans deal with crises, as well as considerations of metaphysics, mortality and morality.

VP: What motivated you to become a publisher?

PP: We stopped writing fiction when we began writing in the national and international security area.  This meant walking away from burgeoning careers as novelists, but we thought it important to serve as we did.  When, in 2009, we felt the need to write a new novel, which became The Sacred Band, we talked to our agent about sending it to the usual suspects, but we wanted to keep our e-publishing rights.  Under those conditions, a 21st century publishing deal of substance would be difficult, and this was the final deciding factor:  Rather than give up our e-publishing rights, we started Perseid Press, where we can control the covers, print size, book length, and production values as we had never been able to do when published by New York behemoths.

VP: Was it difficult establishing a publishing house; or with your contacts/network, was it just a matter of making a few calls?


PP: Anything worth doing is difficult. Perseid Press evolved, rather than being established.  We provided some backlist titles, our agent facilitated some e-publishing for us under Perseid’s name to begin with.  We revived our Heroes in Hell series so that we could help showcase emerging talents.  We conceived our “Authors’ Cut” editions so that we could go back and revise and expand books we felt deserve digital immortality. Writers came to us, people we knew and people we didn’t know.  So we have become a very small press, publishing what we like from writers who “write dangerously,” which is, in a nutshell, what we ourselves do.  Often the books we buy and write don’t fall into existing marketing categories.  And that doesn’t scare us.

VP: (Just a personal note, here: As a young GI (“cherry” in the unit-specific dialect) I quickly learned an axiom popular at my first duty-station–that there were probably 80 males for every female for a 50-mile radius around Fort Bragg, NC. It might have been an exaggeration, but it was true enough for practical purposes. Whenever time off was granted (but not enough to drive beyond that 50-mile radius), I got away from the barracks as fast as possible, even if I didn’t have a plan for what to do. Two of my favorite haunts were Ed McKay’s Used Books off Yadkin Road, or the news stand/bookstore in the Cross Creek Mall. At the latter, I remember seeing a few of your Heroes in Hell books. I almost bought one a couple times, but reading about anyone in Hell wasn’t quite the escape I was looking for. I was worried I might be on the road there, myself.)

What are your ambitions for Perseid Press?

PP: Our main goal for Perseid is that we not lose quality as we grow.  Perseid wants to be bigger than we had intended, and we are keeping a very tight rein on it, but new opportunities are hard to resist.  We have a website that functions as a bookstore of sorts, and a network of people who believe in what we’re trying to do.  In one sense we are a couple of fingers in the leaky dike holding back the flood of illiteracy; in another sense, we are curators selecting books we think should survive. In yet one more sense Perseid is a literary triage effort, for a society which has lost its cultural compass and lies close to intellectual death. This is an uphill battle, perhaps, but as Tempus said in The Sacred Band:  “We make the world better one battle at a time.”

VP: I hear you on the illiteracy deal. It’s been the bane of my existence for a few years. Do you plan to remain focused on SF/F?


PP: We love sf in the true sense:  speculative fiction with a moral component, but not a moralizing component.  We will always look at well-thought sf, if the adventurous literary quality is there.  We already have published a rigorous historical by Janet, I, the Sun, about the greatest king of the Hittite empire, and that character has much to say that applies to life today. We are publishing a magical realism/literary book called Truck Stop Earth by award-winning author and journalist Michael A. Armstrong, whose novel Bridge Over Hell we have already published; we have published a memoir about an ex-patriot in Peru, Reckless Traveler, by Walter Rhein. We are publishing Andrew P. Weston, the author of The IX, Exordium of Tears, and Hell Bound, in both fantasy and science fiction; Andy is a former Royal Marine and is still active in the security area.  A new addition to our roster is Jim (James Franklin) Morris, author of the bestselling War Story; we are honored and excited to be publishing Jim’s alternate history/magical realism novels, beginning withTahlequah, and republishing at least three of his nonfiction books, including War Story.  And we’re readying our first entry in the paranormal-suspense area, Schade, by  J.P. Wilder, also a special forces graduate.  And of course, we continue the Heroes in Hell series, and have begun a new shared concept series with Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters, to be followed by…  you guessed it…  Heroika 2: Shieldless.

The Perseid Press website is:http://www.theperseidpress.com/

VP: Somewhat involved in the book biz myself, I’m impressed with what an increasingly tough racket it is. The pool of potential readers seems to be shrinking all the time, while the number of published authors grows rapidly. POD publishing and ebooks have revolutionized the industry, which is a double-edged sword: It’s easy to break into the business now, but it’s harder than ever for readers to find an author’s books (at least when that author is an indie, and doesn’t have some sort of platform to exploit). Frankly, so much of the indie fiction out there is poorly written, that the stigma indie authors are saddled with is understandable. Yet the Big  Five are in such trouble financially these days, there is speculation that indies and micropublishers will be the only game in town one day. As professionals in the industry, I’d love to hear any insights or opinions you have on the state of things, the future of publishing, etc.

PP: As far as insights into publishing as it changes: along with the rest of humanity, we are trying to deal with the information overload of the internet, which in its turn is reducing literacy and attention span. We see audio books as a possible mitigating factor, but no such factor will make up for the simple lack of education that is so pervasive, coupled with the pernicious assurance that the uninformed opinion is as important as the informed opinion.  We go forward based on our own goals, prejudices, and perspectives, hoping to attract a growing readership of like mind.  When we edited books or anthologies for the big NY publishers, we learned that you, as an editor, are looking as hard for a writer to excite you as that writer is looking for a simpatico editor.  When the two meet, sometimes magic happens, but not often enough.  We’re concerned by the “dumb like me” attitude we see growing, by poor-quality books proliferating — but then one remembers Henry James, who coined the term “trash triumphant” to describe publishing at the end of the 19th century. Literature survived those days; it will survive these days. There always will be bad writing, self-indulgent readers, and those who only want to hear ideas with which they already concur, literature that ratifies their pre-existing tastes.  We simply have more people today.  The ones who choose video games rather than books are not our readership.  We’re not serving the reader with a five-hundred word vocabulary, but we have no quarrel with those publishers or authors who are doing so, now that the slush piles of former days are all available free of charge.

VP: Please explain the “dumb like me” expression–I haven’t heard it before.

PP: “Dumb like me” is a phrase describing the attitude of those who consider reasoning a chore, a stressful exercise threatening to revisit dearly held notions of reality, worse, to overturn them with a priori observation, undermining ‘blissful’ ignorance. We won’t use it again in any way implying that we harbor such a view.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” -Isaac Asimov

VP: Sounds a lot like what I routinely encountered in school, and on Facebook.

As I’ve found out first hand since throwing my hat into publishing, there are hundreds of reasons an author might fail to gather a following, and many of them seem to be completely random wrong time/wrong place kind of reasons. I have my own short list of authors to whom I am grateful because of the books they’ve written; but for whatever reasons they have not enjoyed the success I believe their writing deserves. Two such authors from the tradpub era are Len Levinson and Jim Morris.

Jim Morris has been slept-on for long enough. Now his latest book,Talequah/Battle of Sorcerors and some of his classic non-fiction (including The Devil’s Secret Name) have found a home where they’ll be getting new covers and some adept marketing. Virtual Pulp wishes him phenomenal sales, and thanks Perseid Press for taking the time to respond.

I can’t say exactly when, but we’ll be reviewing some Perseid Press books here in the future.

Janet & Chris Morris’ Library of Congress presentation June 25,2014: copyright (C) 2014 Janet Morris and Chris Morris: Social Reconstruction through Heroic Fiction: The Role of Literature in Envisioning our Future

Social Reconstruction through Heroic Fiction:

The Role of Literature in Envisioning our Future

Janet Morris and Chris Morris

presented June 25, 2014 at Library of Congress

LCPA What If… Science Fiction and Fantasy Forum

Social reconstruction is a philosophy focused on achieving social change. Heroic fiction has always addressed issues of personal responsibility and freedom through social change; heroic fantasy and science fiction are the literary inheritors of heroic fiction because the worlds and world views created examine self and the individual’s place in society in a way much freer than can any other form of literature today. The human mind organizes the world and its detail in story form; fantasy and science fiction help us pierce the veil of complexity and examine the underlying questions facing society today and tomorrow, using story as our vehicle.

Why do heroic fiction and fantasy matter in a context of social change? Because people do what they are trained to do. If you are exposed to dystopian values, the ascendancy of the antihero, the dispiriting tales so easy to tell, you see only darkness around you. If, on the other hand, dystopian chaos is challenged by a hero who can make a difference, one who labors in service to an ideal, who risks and inspires others, then such a person inspires others to excel. One single myth, above all, pervades human history. Called by Joseph Campbell the ‘monomyth,’ this world view is the bedrock of all cultures: in the monomyth all humans share, a simple person hears a call to duty, answers, reaches deep within the self for strength hitherto unknown, and changes the world for the better.

Myth has always been used to teach common values, shared truths, since earliest times. From the story of Gilgamesh and the Flood, humans have used mythic models to send shared values forward, find the courage to bring order out of chaos, memorialize our struggles, create role models, and thereby shape our future. Homer’s epic Iliad inspired Alexander of Macedon; Alexander carried The Iliad with him as he changed the world. From the ancient mythic writers through Shakespeare and even today, the common values of myth continue to inspire us, to make us more moral, more honest, more brave and more enduring. We need and want heroes; they make us stronger; they show us courage, sacrifice, the importance of the individual to society.

Heroic tales are about the few who meet a challenge and, in surmounting it, make everyone’s life better.

As Heraclitus of Ephesus said, “Character is destiny.”

We write heroic fiction and fantasy to bring these myths to life. In I, the Sun, we found an historical hero who had left behind a partial record of his deeds, which begins “I, the Sun, Great King, King of Hatti, Favorite of the Storm God, the Hero.” This Hittite hero of the 14th millennium BCE so inspired us that, once we had researched him and learned his story, all the great myths and legends and fantasies we’d read came alive for us anew.

We begin our story when this conqueror and dynast was fourteen years of age:

I, the Sun by Janet Morris, biographical novel of Suppiluliumas of Hatti

I, the Sun by Janet Morris, biographical novel of Suppiluliumas of Hatti

There is a man who stands always on my horizon: large, cloaked and formidable. I have seen only his back. Over the years, that back has preceded me, on occasion dropping clues for me to read when I come to where he has passed. I have never been able to catch him, though I am coming closer. He has been in my dreams before every moment of crisis, for every tumble onto truth that has ever befallen me, striding away, his shoulders like a second horizon. I know that when I overtake him, I will have what it is that has eluded me over the years. Then, I will learn a thing. Then, I may truly say that I have done it. Now, I am still following. Last night I was able to see that he wore sandals, and their soles were worn. But he is getting dark.

When I first saw him, he was bright and shining. The Great King Arnuwandas, my father, had just died. I sat atop the rock sanctuary while the moon rose, looking down on the mausoleum stone-house, its grounds alight with mourners’ torches, as they had been for thirteen days. I moved only to hunt or elude the Meshedi – the Great King’s bodytroops – whom my mother periodically sent to search for me. Otherwise, I sat below the black eagle’s nest, and we watched the ashes of Arnuwandas receive the adulation he had never been accorded in life. They loved him for dying. Their relief was a palpable thing, and that grieved them, so their grief was real enough.

The black eagle screeched and flapped as I snuck, hunched up, to my hideaway. I was due for my manhood ceremony this year and, at fourteen, was barely able to fit into the crevice I had found five years past.

*

What Suppiluliumas’ life story did for us is what we try to do for readers of our fiction: bring the heroic spirit to life; write tales of those who achieve greatness, whether or not history ever records their names. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Malvolio says, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em. Thy Fates open their hands. Let thy blood and spirit embrace them.”

And so, taking that advice to heart, we are not afraid. And neither are you, or you wouldn’t be here today.

To embrace greatness is to change the world. Your world can be changed only by one hero at a time — by you. Whether your heroism is demonstrated on the playground or the battlefield, the boardroom or the bedroom, is not important. The determination to create a better society, rather than abet a worsening one, is critical to us as a free people and as an evolving species.

We write about war, freedom, love, loyalty, passion and determination, conscience, because human life is defined by these qualities. We always write about men and women who reach beyond themselves, who find the strength to accomplish what others dare not try, because these are the deeds that change societies for the better.

Beyond Wizardwall, third novel in Janet Morris' 'Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy' and part of the Sacred Band of Stepsons series.

Beyond Wizardwall, third novel in Janet Morris’ ‘Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy’ and part of the Sacred Band of Stepsons series.

In Beyond Wizardwall, one of our Sacred Band of Stepsons novels, our immortal hero Tempus ruminates:

“Woe betide the soul who loves too much, wants too much, dares too much. Soon now comes the hour of doom for some, victory for others: if I didn’t recall that once I’d cared so much, I wouldn’t care at all. What matter who triumphs on any day or who tumbles from grace? Life always ends in death, and struggle spends itself against tomorrow. This empire is dissolving; and not a festival nor a change of emperor nor a hundred oxen sacrificed on every hill will forfend the coming hecatombs of war and bloodbath. So why bother with this deadly sally in the face of obliteration? Assassinate one sovereign, usher in another: no difference. This empire’s storm god is gone, and with him a people’s future. One look around confirms it: All that remains is to save myself and my Stepsons, to fight on other days.”

The Sacred Band, by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, heroic fantasy novel, 8th book the Sacred Band of Stepsons series.

The Sacred Band, by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, heroic fantasy novel, 8th book the Sacred Band of Stepsons series.

And fight our heroes will, for freedom of the human spirit, for “a chance at life, and to fight on other days — the battle of your choice, of the body, the heart, or the soul,” as Tempus remarks later in our epic novel, The Sacred Band.

Also in The Sacred Band, an ensemble cast of humans and demigods and goddesses and witches and sorcerers, young and old, mortal and immortal (including a ghost horse), face trials of heroic proportions. Some meet those challenges, some fall by the wayside. Part historical fantasy, part Homeric epic, the men and woman, boys and girls of the Sacred Band of Stepsons bring us into their world and share their love, their courage, their doubts and fears with us.

Here is Randal, the Sacred Band’s warrior-mage, on a mission to test the staunchest soul:

*

No one had asked the Riddler or Niko if Randal should do what he does tonight. He knows Strat and Critias well enough to be sure of that: these two labor to protect their commander and Nikodemos, both wounded by ineluctable forces no simple fighter understands. But Randal has a glimmer. And what he sees, he fears: the dream lord.

The only way to face a problem is straight on, so the Stepsons had taught him. Tempus lived that maxim. Niko followed in his commander’s footsteps. And Randal, too, must always find the strength that courage needs. Crit had asked him, never looking Randal in the face, to do this for Nikodemos: get two keys out of the Mageguild that three boys have lost here. Simple. Go in and get the keys. And live to bring them out again.

There are too many heroes in the Sacred Band these days, all trying to save one another… after whatever happened on the Chaeronean battleplain.

Randal didn’t argue that keys were meaningless to Aškelon, regent of the seventh sphere, who could twist eternity to his will and make reality itself a different shape. Or to angry Fates, if any such roamed here.

But Critias asked, and Randal must rise to the occasion – to the challenge.  He belonged to Tempus’ Sacred Band, body and soul. His oath to his former left-side leader, Nikodemos; to Tempus; to the Stepsons, was on the line.

So down he swept, decided, a great black eagle of a man, wings fighting air. Updraft rushing by his keen eagle’s ears. Wings slowing his descent. Making order out of chaos as the wind skirled, he dropped like a stone from heaven.

Crit had sent a contingent here and they’d broken out some windows with their crossbows, got in the gate but couldn’t breach the mansion’s wards.

Randal will – or die trying.

To the death, with honor.  For his one-time partner, Nikodemos, who wouldn’t even speak with him, or meet with him. Because the Stepsons asked it. Because the Sacred Band was the best that a man could do.  Try your damnedest in the face of everything. Never falter in your loyalty or betray your oath.  Live and die, shoulder to shoulder, back to back. For the honor of serving by your partner’s side.  For the glory of dying by your partner’s side. Honor and glory meant everything to these men. And whatever else Randal might be, he was a man. And one of them. And bound to them, howsoever long his life should last.

And proud to be so.

Heroism as its own reward is at the center of the Heroes in Hell series and its newest volume, Poets in Hell. Poets from humanity’s history vie with each other to win Hell’s greatest poetry prize, where no trick is too dastardly for the damnedest poets of all time.

Poets in Hell, edited by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, #17 in the Heroes in Hell series.

Poets in Hell, edited by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, #17 in the Heroes in Hell series.

Here’s an excerpt from Words, by Chris Morris, the first story in Poets in Hell:

In the beginning was the Logos, the Word. In the beginning come always the words. Words are the mortar of the mind.

“Look, you!” J the Yahwist, first author of the Old Testament, exhorted empty air, waving her hands about her on a blasted heath encircled by dark and cold.

As in ancient times, this command brings light out of darkness, souls out of nowhere. All the heath fills with them, the detritus of the damned, singing and keening and rhyming aloud at the top of their lungs, each trying to outshout the other: the prolix, the wordy damned of perdition. Here are the teeming illiterati, the poor poets of pride and ignorance, angry and bleating like sheep at the altar, romancers of death, hoping for slaughter, dreaming of surcease.

J would give them peace if she could, but she couldn’t: peace was oblivion, oblivion was escape, and escape was unattainable in hell. Death could be had, and cheap, but never lasted long: no sinning soul could win its way to heaven’s grace.

“Look, you,” J called a second time aloud, and a thousand heads turned her way; a thousand mouths clamped shut as she began to tell her tale to their minds’ eyes.

Invariably, these words are her signal to infernity that she is ready to begin. Inevitably, those words summon not only story, but the Deceiver, a lord of hell himself.

Sensing joy, incensed by pleasure, now comes Satan, white-winged and glorious, amid his host of fallen angels, circling to land, streaming intolerance and wrath on all the fools below, who howl the more.

Down swept Satan and his five stalwarts, surrounding J in a buffet of wings, smelling like salvation. Bodies for gasping on hot nights under starshine; ruination in infernity was their allure: not boys or girls, but more than either. Encounters with great Satan’s cohort had brought not only Eve, but J, to heel before. She tried to close her nostrils to their perfume, avert her eyes from their magnificence. Each of the six carried a sack.

In those sacks might be the prizes most desired by the thousands gathered here. But as J watched with covetous eyes, all six sacks disappeared. Her heart sank.

She had to know:

“Infernal Majesty,” spake J, “have you heard my plea and brought them? All these faithless self-aggrandizers seek only what I hope you have in your sacks, and more beggars await behind them. They will pay any price, commit any sin, no matter how foul, to get what they came for.”

“Get salvation?” scoffed Samael, the angel of death, most beautiful and deadly of Satan’s warriors cast down by an angry god. “Not for them. Not ever. Torture, yes, as suits their passions. Punishment, always, befitting their crimes. But you know that, J, yet you ask this favor for such rabble? You seek to aid these pustules of soul, these walking pots of stupidity mixed with arrogance, these insatiable nobodies who lust for fame? What do they want, all these self-anointed bards who seek to win our poetical contests? Don’t they know the winners already are decided?”

“What do they want?” J repeated, aghast that Samael did not know. “Not their soul’s salvation, mighty Samael; neither forgiveness nor manumission. Words. Words immortal. Words of joy, words of grief, words of power, words of penance, words of passion. Words beyond their ken. Words to fill their mouths. Words to disguise. Words to make an idiot sound wise. Words they don’t already know. Words they’ll never understand. And a pronunciation guide, so none will hear how ignorant they are when they speak the words of others.”

“I’ll give them words of death,” offered Samael. “Words of pestilence to rival Erra, plague god of Babylon. Words to rot them in their boots. Words of contrit–  ”

Silence, Samael.” His Infernal Majesty, the greatest fallen angel, raised a hand which Leonardo would have envied.

*

Despite Satan’s clever plan, and all the gods of hell, humanity’s love for one another and hopes of escape or forgiveness make our heroes strive ever onward, as heroes do. Here is the beginning of Seven Against Hell, by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, from Poets in Hell:

*

I 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 extol 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?

*

In our Heroes in Hell series, up to twenty writers per volume, some new, some well established, give you their vision of hell and by so doing, their vision of the human soul.

Heroes of tomorrow are as important as heroes of our mythology or our past. In Outpassage, Sergeant Det Cox and his

Outpassage, the Author's Cut by Janet Morris and Chris Morris (Perseid Press, 2014)

Outpassage, the Author’s Cut by Janet Morris and Chris Morris (Perseid Press, 2014)

troop of Army Rangers, and Paige Barnett, a woman from one of earth’s most powerful corporations, face an unexpected choice when on an alien planet they encounter a cult that promises eternal life. Heroes must always make conscious choices, between good and evil, among fates better or worse, and take a stand. Or not.

Heroism will be just as important to our future as it’s been to our past, and is today. In Outpassage, Det Cox faces difficult choices from the very beginning:

*

The sky was thin and the color of dirty motor oil, except where it exploded above their heads.  Concussion was delayed in the thin air but the smell of roasting rangers got to you right away, even through your air filters. The terraformers hadn’t done much of a job on this classified ball of rock before the corporation workforce moved in, the shit hit the fan, and a request for military assistance followed.

The request wasn’t denied, exactly, but it was rerouted to InterSpace Tasking Corporation’s security division, who sent out a deniable reconnaissance team –– thirteen US Rangers sheep-dipped for hazardous duty under the command of Colonel “Mad Jack” Reynolds.

It was Reynolds whose charred flesh was sending up the stink that made Cox gag as he dove for cover.  Long recon meant long odds, long distances, and long hitches, but nobody ever wanted to think it meant dying a long way from home.

Overhead, even through his flash-and-blast suppressing helmet, Cox could see the enemy coming in for another strafing run. Nobody ever thought the enemy was going to come at you with airpower, either, because there wasn’t supposed to be any hostile force out here that had airpower.

In Cox’s ear, Locke was screaming over the comm set: “…suggest you form up for extraction, sir, at the beacon.”

Cox huddled under an overhang of silicate, his rifle cradled against his chest and his knees pulled up, shifted enough to turn his head. “Reynolds?” he said into his comm-mic, just to be sure.

But there was no way the barbecued officer lying beside him, charred limbs askew, was going to answer. The airpower came over and Cox covered his head:  his helmet’s recon pack had sent plenty of pictures already; he didn’t need to risk his life for one more shot of somebody shooting at him.

He needed to risk his life to get to the extraction point, and that was about all he could handle. “Hey Locke,” he yelled into his mic because the airpower was strafing what was left of Reynolds:  “Reynolds is past it.  I’m here by my lonesome.” Rock exploded near him. Reflexively, he ducked his head in the shelter of his arms, eyes closed, and said as clearly and calmly as he could, “But I’m real ready for an order to get the fuck out of here.”

“Then give it,” came Locke’s voice, laconic over the static and hard to hear because the sniper aircraft was coming back for another pass. “You’re the only friendly voice I’m hearing.”

“Falling back,” Cox heard his own voice say, and his body followed suit. He knew he was calling the roll as he got to his knees, then his feet, crouched under the overhang, listening hard for even a groan or a grunt in response.

But nobody came back to him over his comm-link.  Thirteen guys, and of the twelve on his comm-link, Cox couldn’t raise a single one but Locke.  He was poised, his thighs cramping, as he waited for what felt like the right moment to sprint across the scree, a mapping display already enabled on his faceplate that gave routing overlays to his target –– the extraction site.

But through the electronics, he could see Reynolds.  Behind the colored grid with its pulsing points and alphanumeric displays, Reynolds seemed to be moving.

Sliding along the ground, almost.  Cox didn’t want to leave anybody behind that had a breath of life….

He scuttled toward Reynolds, his pack scraping the ceiling of the overhang –– scrambled close enough to see that not only Reynolds’ left arm and leg, but the left side of his skull, was burned away.

“Shit.” The shock of it propelled the ranger out from cover, along the suggested track on his visor-display, as fast as he’d ever moved in his life.

But in the confines of his helmet, he knew what he’d seen: something moving; Reynolds moving. And he knew he was running from that vision as much as from anything else here.

Because there wasn’t anything else here. There wasn’t anything but some deep-space double-cross having to do with mining rights and racial hatreds spread across the stars.

It was the gang bosses against the cheap labor, was what it was. There wasn’t any alien life here, despite the security classification level of the planet designated X-31A, due to artifactual evidence. There wasn’t any alien life anywhere, not above the vegetable level –– a century in space had proved that beyond a reasonable doubt.

Everything that seemed artifactual had, eventually, turned out to be natural, not intelligence-made. There wasn’t any reason for these IST honchos to be afraid of the boondocks on X-31A but the way they treated the contract laborers they’d trucked in here.

If Cox said different, he’d be in psych evaluation for the rest of his life –– if he got off this shitball to have one.

It hadn’t been anything, not anything, that he’d seen out of the corner of his eye. It sure as hell hadn’t been a white, human-looking, delicate hand pulling Reynolds toward a wall of solid rock –– coming out of a wall of solid rock.

It hadn’t. His lungs were burning despite the augmented oxygen-rich mix his recon pack was feeding him as he sprinted; he was sweating like a pig –– sweating worse than his cooling system could handle. And, overhead, he heard a subtle change in volume that wouldn’t be subtle for long: the pursuit aircraft, laying down rivers of flame as it did a one-eighty, had sighted him. It was coming back.

With the bogey on his tail and nobody to answer to, Cox hit his jet-assist. It was a one-time-only, emergency move, but there was no way he could outrun that aircraft, not on foot.

*

The characters in these novels, whether you agree with them and think them heroes, and disagree so that you think them villainous, believe passionately that change can bring a better life. They fight one another, they struggle for primacy, they join together against common threats. They live. They die. But it is the way they live that makes them special. They each labor in service to an ideal, trying to make a better world; to save one another, when they can – as Tempus says, to live to fight on other days.

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
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