Today I am delighted to welcome Janet Morris, author of some of the best heroic fantasy and historical fiction around. She is a very busy lady and the Library of Erana is honoured that she has found time to be interviewed.
‘Life to you and everlasting glory.’
Janet’s bio: Janet Morris began writing in 1976 and has since published more than 30 novels, many co-authored with her husband Chris Morris or others. Her debut novel, written as Janet E. Morris, was High Couch of Silistra, the first in a quartet of character-driven novels with a female protagonist. According to original publisher Bantam Books, the Silistra quartet had over four million copies in print when the fourth volume, The Carnelian Throne was published. Charles N. Brown, Locus, is quoted on the Baen Books reissues of the series as saying, “Engrossing characters in a marvelous adventure.”
Morris has contributed short fiction to the shared universe fantasy series Thieves World, in which she created the Sacred Band of Stepsons, a mythical unit of ancient fighters modeled on the Sacred Band of Thebes.
Most of her fiction work has been in the fantasy and science fiction genres, although she has also written historical and other novels. Her 1983 book “I, the Sun”, a detailed biographical novel about the Hittite King Suppiluliuma I was praised for its historical accuracy; O.M. Gurney, Hittite scholar and author of “The Hittites,” commented that “the author is familiar with every aspect of Hittite culture.”
Morris has written, contributed to, or edited several book-length works of non-fiction, as well as papers and articles on non-lethal weapons, developmental military technology and other defense and national security topics.
Here’s an excerpt from Chris’ Wikipeia bio: Chris Morris began writing music in 1966, fiction in 1984, and nonfiction in 1989. Much of his fiction and nonfiction literary work, including all of his book-length science fiction and fantasy, has been written in collaboration with his wife Janet Morris, with whom he has also written two novels under the joint pseudonym of Daniel Stryker and one novel under the pseudonym of Casey Prescott. He has contributed short fiction to the shared universe series Thieves’ World, Heroes in Hell, and Merovingen Nights. He has also co-authored with Janet Morris four titles in The Sacred Band of Stepsons saga.
Chris Morris has also authored song lyrics and melodies. Notably, Chris served as chief songwriter, singer, and leader of the “Christopher Morris Band”, formed in 1976, whose first members were Chris Morris, Janet Morris, Leslie Kuipers and Vince Colaiuta. The first “Christoper Morris Band” album, produced by Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat and Tears fame and featuring the Tower of Power horn section, was titled the Christoper Morris Band (MCA 2282), and released by MCA Records in 1977. The album’s nine songs, all of which are sung by Morris, included eight songs written or co-written by him. TheChristopher Morris Band album was reviewed by Ken Tucker in Rolling Stone Magazine. and in GIG Magazine. The Christopher Morris Band album was also one of Billboard Magazine‘s “Top Album Picks” (7/16/77) and listed by WBCN Boston as among WBCN’s “52 Heaviest Records for 1977.” TheChristopher Morris Band album was also reviewed in Record World, July 23, 1977. The Christopher Morris Band was reviewed after their first major live performance as a headliner in The Boston Globe by Tom Long. Previous to that, Chris Morris was the band leader, and the original Christopher Morris Band was the core back-up band, for Al Kooper’s 1976-1977 “Act Like Nothing’s Wrong” national tour.
In the realm of nonfiction writing, Chris Morris has authored books and articles on military and defense matters in collaboration with Janet Morris and others. Chris Morris served as Research Director and Senior Fellow (1989–1994) at the United States Global Strategy Council, as well as Adjunct Fellow at theCenter for Strategic and International Studies (1993–1995). At USGSC, Morris co-authored the nonlethal weapons concept and the seminal paper,Nonlethality: A Global Strategy, and co-led the USGSC’s Nonlethality Policy Review Group. Events surrounding Morris’s work in the nonlethal weapons area are chronicled in Chapter 15 of War and Anti-War, by Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler, (Little, Brown, 1993). In 1998-1999, Chris Morris was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on Nonlethal Technologies and his views are reflected in the associated report, Nonlethal Technologies: Progress and Prospects, Council on Foreign Relations, 1999. He served in 2003-2004 as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on Nonlethal Weapons, which produced the report Nonlethal Weapons and Capabilities in 2004.
So enough of what wiki has to say, here is the interview 🙂
You have been in the business of writing for many years, where did this desire to write spring from? I have been writing as long as I can remember, juvenile poetry, stories. I edited a school newspaper, for which I wrote a fiction serial, when I was in the sixth grade; I wrote my first book when twenty-five, and that first draft became my first professional sale.
Where do you find your inspiration? Inspiration is everywhere, from life itself, and in why people and nature behave as they do. Human life, animal life, behavior and the human condition fascinate me. I especially like myth and fantasy because they allow me more freedom to say what I want without concern to transient political correctness.
Research is an important part of world-building, not to mention essential in historical fiction. Do you enjoy this aspect of creating a novel? Are there any sources you favour? I love doing historical research and technical research for my books. I have always been one to delve deeply into what interests me. Research takes me much deeper into most subjects than my reader wants or needs to go, but makes my characters authoritative. One should write what one knows about: in fantasy or science fiction, and even myth or historical writing, incontrovertible knowledge can only be taken so far. Since I write nonfiction as well, I know the difference. For mythic and historical writing, I like the ancient sources. I find the earliest sources I can find, and when the inevitable contradictions arise among previous works, I always choose the most ancient source: the ancients weren’t trying to confuse us: what they said was told-for-true. Even with science, there is no static truth: once there were nine planets in our solar system; everyone knew that; now there are eight. Facts change. As one of my characters said, “What’s true today may not be true tomorrow.” For later reference materials, I think my two favorite source books for the ancient world are still Pritchard’s The Ancient Near East and the Cambridge Ancient History, followed closely by the Oxford Classical Dictionary. As for science and technology, I’m still involved with s&t issues, so I keep current but for fiction, the speed of change in technology is not helpful or useful. Good fantasy or good science fiction need to extrapolate from whatever base contains the subject of the story.
Of all your characters do you have a favourite? My favorite characters are, for heroic fiction, Tempus and Niko, one of his Sacred Band. For science fiction, Det Cox from Outpassage, which we are just now republishing in an Author’ Cut edition, and for historical, Suppiluliumas of Hatti, whose annals I used in creating the biographical novel, I, the Sun. I usually love or hate a character if I want to write that character’s story. I’m working on Rhesos of Thrace, whose story will take me places I have long wanted to go: into the depths of the Iliad, and farther realms; like my other choices, he has unique sensibilities.
What ground-breaking events have happened in your books? In our various books, we have written what Kaler in The Picara calls the first true prostitute in sf/fantasy, Estri. In the Sacred Band of Stepsons we introduced the Sacred Band concept of male/male lovers, including a kiss between Tempus and a priest which may well have been the first erotic male/male kiss in fantasy. In the 40-Minute War, written in the 1980s, we postulated an attack on the US capitol by Islamic extremists using a commercial jetliner, predicting 9/11 but with worse repercussions; we predicted the unification of Germany in MEDUSA. In the Kerion Consortium/Dream Dancer books we envisioned “spongespace” and now discussions of “spacetime foam” suggest that a similar structure exists at the micro level. I think probably the Sacred Band of Stepsons, begun in Thieves’ World, and the Silistra series, were the most controversial, because of their sexual stances and views of male and female roles, incest, pansexuality, violence and passion in general.
Do you self-edit? Do you believe a book suffers without being professionally edited? My first book was bought as a first draft with a request by Fred Pohl for only one addition, and that book’s New York Times review praised everything but the addition I made at Fred’s request. My second book had a UK and US editor, both of which wanted one change, which resulted in a prologue. Beyond that, my editorial support throughout my career has been primarily copy-editing. I have helped other writers with their editing, I enjoy editing. I was offered my own imprint by a major NY publisher and didn’t take it. As an acquisitions editor I have produced volumes that several yielded award nominees and an award winner. When my own books are in process, or in my co-writes, Chris Morris is my live-in editor: he reads every line aloud and we argue about changes as we go along, so that by the time the book is finished, all necessary editing has been done except continuity checks and copy-editing.
Would you like to say a little about the striking cover art on your books? I hated my science fantasy and science fiction covers, and even my historical and thriller covers. My favorite cover was on a pseudonymous “novel” – a novel, in those days, was a book which transcended genre. So, having had much art history in college, when we got cover control for the Perseid books, we chose to use classical art and ancient art. We match the cover art we choose from the entire catalogue of human art now available as public domain, and use a book designer. For the first time, for Outpassage, we commissioned new art, from Vincent DiFate, classic artist of so much great science fiction and movie art: this book needed a classic sf cover, being a hard-rocking sf novel in the grand tradition, and Vincent gave us a cover we adore: perfect for the story, which is part military sf, part visionary and metaphysical sf, but first and foremost a surprising and rollicking sf adventure.
Who are your influences? My influences are still what I first encountered in childhood, what my mother read to me because my parents had classical educations and didn’t believe in children’s books per se: Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe, Bullfinch, Milton, Byron, Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, Dante. Later I devoured all myth books in the libraries of three nearby towns; read C.S. Lewis. Mary Renault and Burroughs and Asimov and Verne. My father took me to my first science fiction society meeting when I was thirteen. I was and am a voracious reader.
What experiences can a book provide that a movie or video game cannot? We hope we bring total immersion: that you touch, hear, taste, smell our stories; that you encounter the innermost thoughts of those different from yourself, and learn why they feel the way they do. We try to materialize the world we want to visit, write a door and walk through it, and bring you with us, into an adventure and exploration that no movie or video game can provide, where you experience life through other temperaments.
What is your opinion on authors commenting on reviews? Often I’d like to comment on today’s reviews, and sometimes I am certain others should, but since my initial experience with reviewers was with paid reviewers for major newspapers and periodicals, I make it a practice not to comment. If they say something good, then great. If they say something bad, that’s their opinion. If they say something stupid, or review the same book two different ways for two different outlets (yes, it happens), then people will see that for themselves. Like any other writer, I’m thrilled with a good review, hurt by less. For many years, I refused to look at reviews at all, no matter how good, and told my publishers not to send them to me. Now the world has changed, and reviews have a different importance.
Do you plan your stories or are you more of a ‘pantser’? I never start to write unless I’m already enthralled by character, story, idea and point to be made. I spend lots of time getting ready, reading related nonfiction, staring at the ceiling. I don’t outline, beyond perhaps chapter titles, if that. I know exactly where the story will end, but I allow it to get there as it chooses, if that is possible. In some mythic or legendary or historical fiction, events serve as guidespots, and there I must write to whatever eclipse or famine or war came when.
Do you have any advice to share with new writers? I tell new writers to write with passion, with clarity, with brevity, with immediacy. Find a character and listen to that character; find a voice and let the voice take you onward. There are only a few plots: it is how you tell your story that makes it great. I ask writers to give me a synopsis of their story, and to refrain from writing until the story MUST get out. I tell writers to take chances, not be derivative if they can help it; read in their topic area until they feel in control of all their data, then put 10% of that data in the story: what you need to know, as writer, is far more than what the reader needs to know. But you DO need to know it. All writers should strive for greatness, from their very first line. Better to grasp for brilliance and fail, then to waste time writing less than your transcendent best.
Do you have any marketing tips you would like to share? I was very lucky with High Couch of Silistra, and marketing was thrust upon me, not something I did, but something that happened to me at a publisher’s behest. Now, with Perseid Press, a publisher producing “books for experienced readers,” we continue our tradition of reaching high, taking chances, hoping for brilliance, not only from our own work, but from the work of others we publish. So I’m not the one to ask how to break into a genre beyond suggesting that a great book will find its way, and live longer in the end than trash purposely written to be trash and chase a trashy market. Write your best, put it out there, let people know it’s there, and keep writing more.
Most authors like to read, what books do you enjoy? I love ancient history, third to first millennium bce; ancient near east is my favorite. I love books about the nature of the cosmos, nonfiction books; I love philosophical problems of space and time. I love archaeology. I love the heroic model, and pre-Socratic philosophy most of all. SO mostly I read source materials, nonfiction, though I am still reading certain authors of fiction and plays, whose work is central to the Western Canon.
During your life what has been your favourite and your least favourite job and why? I think my least favorite job was mailing posters for a comic book company. My favorite job was research director and senior fellow of the U.S. Global Strategy Council in Washington.
Do you think either of these gave you inspiration to write, or served you well in this profession? Sending out super-hero posters may have taught us something, but nowhere near what we learned in a long-term strategic planning think tank, which led Chris and me to international travel and exposure to governments and technology and minds at the highest levels humanity could then produce. USGSC led to us write Nonlethality: A Global Strategy; to becoming the architects of several nonlethal weapons programs and serving on the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on Nonlethal Weapons, and becoming subject matter experts on foreign technologies. Although I still believe that our fiction is the most important work we do, there are people alive today who wouldn’t have survived if nonlethal weapons weren’t developed and disseminated, and for our part in that, we’re grateful.
Can you give us a silly fact about yourself? I weigh less than my dog.
Any author profiles, websites etc. you want to add….
Our website is still in process. We have several open FaceBook pages, most for different books, one for Janet Morris and Chris Morris. We have a blog called sacredbander.com which we sometimes use.
Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Janet-Morris/e/B001HPJJB8
- Beyond Series Relaunch! Heroic fantasy at its best. (libraryoferana.wordpress.com)
- Book Review – Rogues in Hell Janet Morris et al (libraryoferana.wordpress.com)
- Book Review ~ When Kings were Gods that Bled (libraryoferana.wordpress.com)