Readers ask ... ... Janet and Chris Morris

Leser fragen ... Janet und Chris Morris Readers ask ...
... Janet and Chris Morris
(Part 1)

Zur deutschen ÜbersetzungWe already have had an q&a on wednesday with Janet and Chris Morris as well as Tempus Thales. But our readers are curious, too.

We have called our readers, to ask question at the writers and Tempus Thales. This has been very successful. Janet, Chris and Tempus responded. Here is the result ...

Zauberspiegel-readers: How do you think the writing and publishing field has changed in the last twenty years since you've come back to the profession?
Janet Morris: When we left publishing, writing and publishing had become divided, derivative, and far too market-driven to please us.  When we came to publishing initially, there was room for well-written books by aspiring writers who felt free to experiment and were happy with moderate success.  So we began exploring and creating our mythocosm.  But publishing became increasingly formulaic and, aiming at a vast market, lost much of its appeal to someone who wished to write or read for intellectual pleasure.  Market forces such as categorization and potentials for movie and other tie-ins allowed less and less innovation.  Books which did not fit into categories suffered.  A very few books each year got massive amounts of publishers‘ attention, and many good books got none.  Most books became more and more boring and more and more predictable, and in them sex and violence for their own sakes became more exalted.  Vocabulary and experimentation shrank away.  So we got out of publishing at the beginning of the 1990s:  we had more exciting things to do with our time.
Twenty years later, lured back partly by the internal need to write a new novel, and partly by the changes occuring in publishing, we found that electronic publishing and small-press publishing are changing the world of publishing for the better.  This time, we chose to take an unconventional publishing route. to ensure more creative control, and we have not been disappointed:  we were able to write the book we wanted to write, at the length we wanted to write it.  Our covers and cover copy please us.  Physical book production values, from archival paper and sewn bindings, to intelligent copy-editing and proofing, are at a higher standard than was the case in our previous experience with New York publishing.  This pleasant surprise caused us to embark upon more book projects, involving other writers who, like ourselves, had been unhappy with the foci and performance of large publishers in the past.  Will this trend toward a new Wild West of publishing continue, as e-books grow in popularity and the inordinate influence of a small group of people diminishes?  With easy international availability of many books from all ages in our literary history, will people read better books?  And, becoming more literate, write better books?  We hope so.
Chris Morris: In media what was old is new again. All areas of media – music, printpublishing, film, journalism – are adapting to streaming and cloud modes of delivery. Digital lyre-packaged older works, many in the public domain, are able to compete head to head with the latest product in their categories and appear just as new.  Being au courant no longer has the same relevance to marketing as it did before the delivery systems morphed into on-demand services.
We are at the beginning of a renaissance of classicism.  Recognized, time-tested, venerable works, no longer relegated to the dust bin, are re-asserting themselves as the blockbusters of future generations.  Book and film remakes(and originals) of Conan, Sherlock Holmes, Troy, Camelot and Tolkien have the advantage of being familiar and iconic compared to yet another special-effects vehicle that mayor may not contain a shred of compelling storyline or engaging characters.
Likewise, writers with solid reputations, earned over time, whose work has endured the vagaries of a fickle marketplace are now well positioned to rekindle their careers and bring their backlists to prominence among eager readers no longer captive to old-style trendsetting techniques and marketinghype.  Viva.

Zauberspiegel-readers: Who are some of the authors that have influenced you writing style? Also who has influenced you musical style?
Janet Morris: Homer.  Hesiod.  Virgil.  Aristophanes.  Dante.  Marlowe.  Shakespeare.  Spenser.  Pope.  Plutarch.  Dryden.  Milton.  Kafka.  Marguerite Yourcenar.  E.E. Cummings.  Ayn Rand.  Hawthorne.  Steinbeck.  Lattimore.  Walter Farley.  Marguerite Henry.  Browning.  Chaucer.  Burroughs.  C.S. Lewis.  Kipling.  Byron.  Keats.  Shelley.  Poe.  George Orwell.  Henry James.  Wodehouse.  Evelyn Waugh.  Hesse.  And many Ancient Near Eastern texts by named and unnamed writers
In music:  Rogers and Hart.  Leiber and Stoller.  The Meters.  Bach.  John Coltrane.  Mose Allison.  Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly).  Beethoven.  Miles Davis.  Corelli.  Charlie Mingus.  Schubert.  Pachelbel.
Chris Morris: Writers: Isaac Asimov, Janet Morris, Jack London, Arthur C. Clarke, James Joyce, Xenophon, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Homer, Harold Bloom, P.G. Wodehouse, Shakespeare,
Will James, Herman Hesse.
Musicians:  J.S. Bach (!), Lightnin Hopkins, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Jo Stafford, Harry Belafonte, Nat Cole, Bing Crosby, Mozart, Christopher Parkening, Tony Bennett, Reverend Gary Davis, kdlang (!), Leslie Kuipers, Clarence White, Aretha Franklin, Mose Allison, Bill Evans.

Zauberspiegel-readers: How do the two of you collaborate? Is there an even division of work, or do you have a different way of doing it for every book?
Janet Morris: We collaborate completely, once the decision to write this or that project has been made – so completely that the distinction of who did what often disappears.  To my mind, a book or story shouldn’t be written until the piece demands to be written, so since I am the one who types first, I decide when and where a book will start.  I often have a working title, often from the original day or two of text creation; Chris usually changes the title to a more oblique one.
We take the time each piece needs, with many readings of the text and discussion of story and modes of expression, until we are both satisfied that what is on the page is the clearest, most evocative, and best it can be.  I have spent two decades writing non-fiction on same-day deadlines to order, and I don’t like doing fiction that way.  When I write with Chris Morris, it is usually more a process of admitting we’re going to do a new novel or anthology than proposing one.  But once the initial suggestion has been made by me or by Chris, the process becomes a joint endeavour very quickly.  Story line and characters may be suggested by one or the other; story elements are considered and discussed by both of us.  I do the initial typing of the first draft, so we can clearly say I did the typing at the beginning of each book’s rough draft.  And I usually retype the final draft, and type in the changes.  However, down to punctuation decisions, all else is done together.  I usually have two or three hours of solitary work on a writing day, to draft what has been discussed; I may have notes from discussions containing plot and dialogue specifics; then we spend two or three hours working on that draft:  Chris reads aloud and we stop and make corrections on-screen as needed; then we discuss the next work to be done.  I’m not sure if there is an ‘even’ division of work:  we don’t count coup.  How important is the idea of the story, or the character’s motives, or articulation of the plot?  Who does what soon becomes lost.  If one of us had a stronger hand in one story or book, or felt more resonant with that piece, then that piece may carry that person’s name.  Sometimes we are not clear on who dominated a piece, and then we use both names.
Chris Morris: Janet has given a good explanation of our process.  All I would add is that if you everwish to mind-meld with another person you might prepare by co-writing a few novels with that person in such a way that you arrive a common voice.  Good luck.

Zauberspiegel-readers: In this duo of yours, who is the one with the ideas for writing?  And what do you do to turn the ideas to workable exposés?
Janet Morris: Ideas come from both of us.  Initial character exposition and pacing comes from me:  I don’t write until I see something moving in my mind’s eye – until the characters materialize there and begin to act.  Sometimes the characters have different ideas than we do, about what should happen; then this gets discussed if the story takes an unexpected turn in my drafting.  Sometimes, Chris sees things that should be added to expand the story.  Plot sharpening often comes from Chris.  He will determine elements to include in the story that I might miss.  In some cases, he has the idea of the story first and I try to fit it to my idea of the correct characters and context, since I can’t write the draft until the story takes on its own reality.  Always, the actual typing of the first draft is mine.  So that is our process:  One of us has an idea; we discuss it generally.  We evoke characters.  When the characters are ready to act and the story is generally agreed between Chris and myself, I type.  Then we do the rest together.  I dominate the drafting; he dominates the redrafting and editing.
Chris Morris: Mind is shared; personality is individual. There is only one word for the expression of the mind’s intent in language – voice.  Unlike personality, two people can share a voice.  We have made – and share – a voice.  We have long since ceased to keep track of who says what with it.  If it sounds right, we use it.
As well as writing stories, we write lyrics, poetry, speeches, legislation, and technology and policy analysis when needed.  The common denominator is ‘voice.’  Terms describing the spoken voice – tone, pitch, tenor, utterance, articulation, enunciation, inflection, emphasis – apply equally toliterary and musical voices.  The writer’s voice becomes speech and becomes song. To voice prose, oratory, or song is art, the aesthetic process of transforming vocal sound into meaning. 
Janet and I ideate, compose, and edit, voicing our work every step of the way.  When she drafts her lips shape the words and her fingers move in concert; it’s like listening to wind in dry leaves.  Then we read the draft aloud (I do).  The sound makes any dissonance or rhythmic anomaly immediately – audibly – apparent.
Our voice is well known to both of us; either of us can use it, and do.  Our voice is our common linguistic DNA, all grown up.  The difference between us?  I use it to direct attention; Janet uses it to express the essence of the narrative viewpoint.

Zauberspiegel-readers: If you could recommend one of your background sources for further reading, what would it be?
Janet Morris: One?  This is a difficult question since you did specify a period of time.  One source for the ancient world is The Ancient Near East by Pritchard.  Another equally good source for later ancient thought is Plutarch’s Lives (in English, I prefer the Dryden translation).  It is very difficult to choose one source:  Diodorus Siculus is very helpful; Plato is necessary; Aristotle’s Metaphysics; Herakleitos’ Cosmic Fragments (I like the GS Kirk translation into English).
Chris Morris: Jesus and Yahweh –The Names Divine by Harold Bloom

Zauberspiegel-readers: Tempus seems to be a character plucked from the pages of mythology; can you discuss the sources and inspirations you used in the creation of the character, and perhaps the very first instance you thought of the character?
Janet Morris: Tempus followed Suppiluliumas, Great King of Hatti in my book I, the Sun, which was a rigorously historical biographical novel.  I wrote that book when I was reading a great deal of pre-Socratic thought and thinking a lot about the nature of space and time.  Tempus helped me answer the question of what Herakleitos would have been like if he lived his own advice.  Tempus is in some ways Herakleitan but also similar to Suppiluliumas (also Favorite of the Storm God), who did assume his hereditary kingship.   My process is to read source material.  I had been reading Lattimore’s translation of the Iliad:  even if you read Greek, reading the different translators of a work so great is also helpful:  Chapman and Pope and Lattimore have completely different ways of expressing the Iliad.  I was also reading Hero-Cults and Greek Ideas of Immortality (Farnell) which was important to the way I became interested in and then developed hero-cults and heroic characters.  But I was writing in a mythogenic cosmos all my own, and Tempus stepped up to be the first “realistic” and gritty representative of a hero who had been deified enough to have immortality; who might or might not be a demigod:  I was and am interested in exploring the heroic model in its metaphysical as well as its historical underpinnings so far as the psyche is concerned.  Who were these people, who were later the objects of hero-cults?  I made an assumption that I would make my heroic model as realistic and true to ancient times as possible.  Tempus is already hundreds of years old, if not older in elapsed time, when we meet him:  the god pushes him through dimensions and time for him is different; he will never find his way home.  His relationships with his gods and his own more-than-mortal nature are strained.  He has a perspective that is as dark as Herakleitos and extremely visceral, as well as volatile.  He at times has been the servant of gods who rape and plunder.  He is, in short, an ancient character with ancient sensibilities about pansexuality, war, heroism, philosophy and religion, not white-washed or Christianized for modern readers.
Tempus came to me with that name:  Tempus, the Riddler, the Black, the Obscure, Favorite of the Storm God, the Sleepless One.  I would have chosen a more heroic name.  So he was defined by his epithets from the very beginning:  some are Herakleitan, some not.  Using Tempus, I wanted to get all the Cosmic Fragments into modern print.  Beyond that one desire, to get at least one Herakleitan fragment in every Tempus story (which I thought would be recognized by readers and amuse them), I let Tempus tell his tales as best he could in the world of Sanctuary®.  Sanctuary® and Thieves’ World® were more simplistic and modern at their base than the mythocosm native to Tempus, and so he despised the town and its ersatz nature.  To anchor him, we connected that town to the real world using actual ancient places such as Nisibis and Mygdonia, which we mentioned in the TW stories and used extensively in our Tempus novels, to connect the fantasy-world town with real antiquity.  This polyglot of myths created a world-view for Tempus that helped drive the stories.  And all of this led, eventually, to The Sacred Band, which begins on the historical battlefield of Chareonea, Greece, in 338 BCE and goes then to the Lemuria of Tempus’s knowledge, and from there back to Sanctuary®:  a full circle, proving that Sanctuary® was in Tempus’s mind good for something after all.

Zauberspiegel-readers: What led you to the "Heroes in Hell" concept? Was there any particular inspiration that led to it?
Janet Morris: Heroes in Hell (HIH) was developed when we decided we wanted to do our own shared world, since we had enjoyed several as contributors.  We had a multi-book contract with Baen Books that did not specify book content, just the number of books to be produced.  This freedom allowed us to write the HIH project there; Jim Baen loved the idea of Heroes in Hell.  So we began it effortlessly.  The concept of Hell was one we chose specifically because all the mythologies of humanity could be included, and we could continue to write about not only modern but ancient people – even Akkadians and Sumerians and Hittites, if we chose, in a context that formalized the tensions accidentally created in Thieves World(R):  putting rigorous myth and history cheek-by-jowl with whole-cloth fantasy.  So we set set up some rules for New Hell and allowed room for all the hells of creation.  We called some friends and asked for stories around ten thousand words each, but allowed some writers to write longer.  I wrote a simple fact sheet and set of guidelines; we wrote an intro and two stories – the first and last story for the first volume.  And so Hell began with Heroes in Hell.  The greatest shared universe of all time is hell, after all:  every culture has created one.  Now we have room for all the hells that man has ever devised in our Heroes in Hell series.  And it is by turns humorous, evocative, frightening, and creatively exciting.
Chris Morris: Three things (maybe more) led us to the Heroes in Hell concept. 
One:  Heroism is relevant to any environment, hell not least.  We live in interesting times; why not shine some light into the deepest, darkest hole of all?  Brave Achilles, how goes it?
Two:  Dark Fantasy is a perennial bestseller:  having no idea what follows mortal existence, people are drawn to media for relief and distraction from the stress of pervasiveun certainty.  Some doubt they qualify for admittance to paradise and are drawn to portrayals of torment to indulge their darker speculations.  Others conform to rigid codes of behaviour believing they can pay in advance and be assured of receiving the afterlife’s richest reward.  Both groups become consumers of negative fare, one because they’re expecting to suffer and want company, the other in order to feel superior to the damned. Our hell stories inform them id-ground, dark, but not without hope and opportunity for – dare we say – growth.
Three:  We are writers of heroic fiction in what some have termed the post-heroic era of earth’s history.  We want to provide for those who will need heroes tomorrow.  We are inspired by heroic behavior in any setting; if it’s hell, so be it.  Those not ready to follow Tempus and Niko as they scale the heights of the gods’ domains can enjoy an average day down below, taking in the sights and sounds of the underworlds through the eyes and ears of former mortals of reknown as well entirely new – and old – beings.
And besides, there could be a buck or two in it.

Zauberspiegel-readers: You've made reference to channeling characters, Tempus in particular. But Tempus is fictional, not someone who did at some point live on Earth and may have some kind of a presence remaining somewhere. Can you describe channeling further, especially regarding Tempus?
Janet Morris: When I chose the word channeling, I meant it in the most general sense of connecting to a spirit or intelligence or character, not in the modern use of speaking with the dead.  When Homer said, Come,Muse;sing not to me of things that are, or that shall be, or that were of old; but think of another song, was he speaking to someone who had lived on earth?  No, he was not.  Some translators say, [...]Muse, sing in me [....]  But since you bring it up, and since Tempus has had so many names, who is to say he was not real, and is not real?  Not I.  Characters of this quality do not come often.  When I speak of channeling a character, I speak of a character who appears in your inner sight and/or speaks in your inner ear; who comes full-blown to you and has a specific nature so different from other characters around him that what is said and done by that character could not have been said or done by another.  You can feel it when you connect to a character of great power and individuality, who knows himself and his history and his fate, who is completely formed.  We have been lucky to have a number of such characters, among whom Tempus and some of his allies and enemies are some of the greatest.  Sometimes, needing a character, one creates one whole-cloth:  Gayle is a good example of this sort of character, in the Sacred Band of Stepsons series.  He is a character of my construction who is useful, and well-defined, but he is not self-determining.
Channeling a character, for me, is going into a receptive state and waiting for the character to speak and act.  We say that I make myself disappear and in that vacuum, a character like Tempus will come calling.  Tempus was always a commanding presence, from his first appearance, and controlled his stories.  Sometimes I don’t know if a character is going to be important, such as Niko, who snuck in and became so strong.  Sometimes, as with Cime, Tempus, and Abarsis, the character is complete from the outset.  Sometines you must make a deal with a strong character, to stay in the background or take a small part in some story, in exchange for a larger role later:  in The Sacred Band, Cassander was like this – he has a very minor part in The Sacred Band novel, but I gave him his own story later on, which will be published in a new anthology, The Fish, the Fighters, and the Song-girl.
The Muse speaks, if you like – or if you don’t – through Tempus and these other special characters.  As someone who also writes nonfiction, and has written fiction to deadline when no great character has manifested, the experience of having a connection to big characters is completely different from writing a piece based on my personal goals or desires.
If what you want to know is how one can achieve such a connection with a character, my advice is simple:  be quiet; wait.  Lie down with a pad or sit down at the keyboard.  Cease all other activity but questing for the character...and wait some more.  Surrender even your insistence that the character appear.  When the character arrives, begin your dialogue.  If no character arrives, perhaps you have no story to tell, or perhaps you must force a story out of yourself, which is very different.
Tempus wants to do this thing or that thing, when he comes.  Sometimes I disagree – as in a story I am doing now, where I wanted to keep the Sacred Band longer in Sanctuary, and Chris did too.  Tempus was insistent on leaving, ready to go:  we are going.  Despite my intention,  leaving is Tempus’s intention and real world events proved that he was correct and I was wrong to try to keep the Band in Sanctuary (R) longer:  we are going elsewhere now.  And we did.  As he said we would.  In these circumstances, especially with Tempus, the character rules even my reality and things work as Tempus knows they will.  So what is more real?  Who is more real?  My world, which bends itself to match his purpose, or his, which never bends itself to match mine?
For those who do not write, this may sound strange, or even mad.  For those who venture into such spaces of mind, my words will merely confirm their experience.
Chris Morris: I see you believe in ghosts.  One does not need to have lived to be heard.  Indeed, who can not hear hundreds of other voices? Harold Bloom says Shakespeare invented the human because he was the first to portray characters listening to themselves, heeding their own counsel.  Characterization builds an empathic capability capable of synthesizing interlocutors ad hoc, amalgams of possible acquaintances, summoned to express sentiments not strictly within our own fabricated social identities.  At least I can...

Zauberspiegel-readers: And one for Chris specifically - you appear to do an equal amount of the work, but more of the credit seems to go to Janet. How do you feel about that; has it ever caused you guys to clash?
Chris Morris: When you are as great as I am, modesty is critical to survival of the psyche.

Zauberspiegel-readers: Chris, you're a serious writer and a serious musician - how do they relate? Do you ever find the different forms interfering with each other mentally? How exactly do they complement each other, if they do?
Chris Morris: For me, music and writing are both functions of Voice.  The difference is that music can be comprised of more than one voice, melodic and lyrical.  Putting words to music is like imparting personality to a sonic wind.  Voicing prose transports the speaker and the reader to participation in wonders beyond the five senses. 
Finding – and training – the voice is the most overlooked but necessary accomplishment for the writer and the musician and by this I mean uniting one’s inner to one’s outer voice.  Conception is not utterance; without both in proper relationship there is no magic.

Zauberspiegel-readers: How does Tempus plan to deal with his/Vashanka's newest offspring/avatar Kouras when he (inevitably) gets too big for his britches, especially since Tempus doesn't really want to be reminded of the part he played in Kouras' creation?
And what does Tempus think on this topic?

Janet Morris: Kouras is a rising star in his own mind.  Kouras will be a problem for himself, for Tempus, and for the people around him:  a young demigod with powers he cannot control, and a rapacious god in his head:  the berserker god, the local god of rape.  Does Kouras remind Tempus of Tempus as a youth?  Hardly.
Kouras has a part in the story “The Fish, the Fighters and the Song-girl,” and Tempus and Niko only appear a few times in that Sacred Band tale:  they guide Kouras’s fate from afar.  You must read the next stories to find out what happens.
Chris Morris: You’ll find out in The Sacred Band.
Tempus Thales: I do not acknowledge that having my body used by the god in a ritual mating means that I myself am the boy’s father.  And the god who sired him seems to feel the same.  I am giving Kouras some latitude.  Kouras may choose to stay behind when the Band leaves.  Or not.  One way or another, he must come to terms with who and what he is in his own way and his own time – whether he is a Stepson, or not.  He does not yet have a war name.  The Theban Charon may instruct him.  Or not.  Kouras’s fate is in his own hands, but he is of the Pillager’s loins, not mine – Kouras’s sire is a god of rape and pillage who uses his avatars carelessly.  Whether Kouras can withstand those tumultuous forces linked to him, time will tell.

Zauberspiegel-readers: How does it feel to have your original music being used in a video format that wasn't around when you wrote/recorded some of your songs?
Chris Morris: I see images, places, or situations in my mind’s eye when I compose, perform, or listen to music. I usually feel music videos limit the listeners’ reaction to a piece but I still would like to see the sorts of scenarios that occurred to me and in some cases were influential in the creative stage of making that song. I enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to get my songs heard but would prefer to make music specifically tailored to the projects they accompany.

Zauberspiegel-readers: Can you go into detail about the confusing relationship between Tempus and Enlil?
Janet Morris: The relationship between Tempus and Enlil is complex, but I don’t think it is confusing.  Tempus has been many storm gods‘ avatar.  Enlil is an ancient and powerful force, and Tempus grows more so every year.  The merging of the two personalities and powers – Tempus and Enlil – troubles Tempus, as he grows into his own nature.  Tempus says that Enlil is in him, hardly separate from him.  Enlil seldom speaks to him as a disparate consciousness.  Tempus, so it’s said, is the result of a mating such as the one that produced Kouras.  If you believe that, Tempus is an unadmitted demigod himself.  The merging of the characteristics of Enlil, the ancient Storm God, and Tempus, the ancient warrior-philospher, is one of the most interesting things evolving in the Sacred Band of Stepsons tales:  Tempus is furiously determined to keep his individuality and the god’s separate, yet at times they are not discrete at all.  At other times, Tempus is the avatar of the storm god on the earth, as he has always been.  This role, he despises, but cannot avoid.  So this relationship between man and god is complex.  As Niko remarked, What is between a man and his god is theirs alone to say.  But we will see and chronicle what happens, as Tempus grows into his own fate.

  • Part 2 will appear next sunay, July 10th, when the readers ask Tempus Thales and Nicodemus besides the Morrises.


#1 Tempus Thales 2011-07-03 21:15

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