Writing with the Solstice Gods

Janet Morrsi - On WritingWriting with the Solstice Gods
Janet Morris on writing

zur deutschen Übersetzung Every winter solstice, the gods speak their minds.  Sometimes, they send us an idea, a challenge, a task or a test.  If we accept, our world changes forever from that moment onward.

In 1975, we began writing our first novel, High Couch of Silistra, listening to the whispers from within.  We were concerned about the confusion in our society over the roles of women and the roles of nations; like our entire generation, we lived with the constant threat of annihilation in nuclear war, so questions of moral use of power when that power is infinitely destructive troubled us greatly. 


Janet and her horse ChristineWe decided that working through our ideas in a story would be fruitful.  We had studied many disciplines; we were philosophy-minded; we were fascinated by the nature of time and of reality and of man’s apprehension of his place in the universe.

We had never written or tried to publish a novel.  We knew no one in the business, nor any other novelists.  We wrote the first book, and then two more, in single-space on an ancient typewriter.  Or friends read it; one of them said if we’d have it typed professionally, they would send it to a New York agent for us.

The agent liked “High Couch of Silistra.”  We said we had two more in that series and were beginning a third.  The agent sold all three and our writing career was begun.

So we began writing fiction as a way of maturing ideas about humankind in the phenomenal world and beyond, and continued.

Came another solstice, another idea, another task, another test:   with the proceeds from our first sales, we began researching an historical novel of the Hittite Empire at the time of the Amarna pharoahs:  “I, the Sun,” based on an existing fragment from the period called “The Deeds of Suppiluliumas.  The ancient world had always been extremely important to us:  humanity is best understood when seen with a minimum of artifice and obfuscation.  We were closer to the gods and to our fates in the ancient world.  We were reading the pre-Socratics at this time, and the triumph of pure mind that their work represents inspired us:  despite language, superstition, and the most primitive conditions, mind can, and does, penetrate the mysteries of the universe in every age.

Thus we embarked upon the ancient journey and at the same time wrote the Dream Dancer series, about the Kerrion Empire in a future when men live on space habitats and violence by the few must be curbed to assure the survival of the many in fragile environments.

After those were done, we wrote novels, some under pseudonyms, more and more closely tied to the present.  Our exploration of the thesis of space habitats had taught us that violence must be curbed in a technological future.  We were both from families deeply concerned with national and international security issues.  In the 1980s, we approached issues of international defense policy and technology’s impact on the projection of power from a fictional context.

During the 1985 winter solstice, the nonlethality concept was born on our computer, nameless and fragile:  in the future, if we took up the challenge or someone else did, the moral high ground in international security could be reached only nonlethally:  after ten thousand years of the application of lethal force to human affairs, peace had never been achieved.  A new approach was needed.  We began researching how force could be moderated to allow victory while limiting casualties.

We first thought that nonlethality would be simply a nonfiction book.  We had no idea the work would take so long, the resistance to a change in defense policy so entrenched, the fighting over institutionalizing the concept and the development of capabilities so vicious.  Even the genesis of the concept would become a matter of vicious infighting, plagiarism, and worse:  a new industry would be born, and humans fight hard for power.

Not knowing how long or how hard this struggle would be, we attracted adherents and enemies, became research directors at one Washington think tank and adjunct fellows at another, and began the battle in earnest.  The more vicious the fighting, the more determined we became.  We no longer wanted to merely write a book on nonlethal technologies and weapons in the future; we wanted to make the concept a reality and protect it from those who would abuse its power.

Our work in those early days led to many television interviews, and to fewer and fewer papers written for public consumption.  We assisted various Western governments in beginning their nonlethal weapons programs.  Our work was used, attributed and unattributed, by many nations.  Others wrote books on the topic and cited us or our think tanks in footnotes – or simply rewrote our words but kept the concepts.   It was enough.  We became, as the saying goes, footnotes to history.   But nonlethal weapons have saved many lives among combatants and noncombants alike.  Along the way, we led the first technology evaluation team into Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, and continued under the Yeltsin administration to explore Russian capability.  We realized that the US had overestimated the Soviet threat all along.  When we said this to a senior U.S. official of the day, he said, “I know, but we had to.”

Many decisions are made out of expediency, but such is not our nature.  Our decision to return to fiction was a matter of a whisper from the gods of the solstice.  We had learned, in twenty years, many things of which we could not speak in a contemporary context.  As defense policy people and long-term strategic planners, we understand the exigencies of that calling.  But the solstice gods spoke and…

…along came Tempus, once again, who truly had never left us through all our adventures, saying, “Write a new book.  I will help thee.”

We know much more now, of how the world works.  We have been in a rarefied combat at home, and we have been many places abroad, in the world of weaponization and warfare, from the concept and fabrication of techniques, technologies, and tactics, to the wilderness of power and its projection and the articulation thereof as a force on its own.  We know military thought and history (which is the history of us all) as well as philosophy, more intimately.  And we know firsthand how disappointing the unprincipled can be.

Thus it was time for us to return to fiction.  First, with Tempus and his Sacred Band of Stepsons.  With the Band, we can say what we can say no other way, and take the reader places without constraint.  As our philosophical and scientific breadth has expanded, so has our understanding of humanity in its chain of struggles toward a survivable equilibrium.  Heroism fascinates us more now than ever:  so many heroes, unsung, in this modern age of cynicism; so many with something to say who will never be heard in the cacophony of self-promotion that is the 21st century.

Tempus, who has been with us on all of our own adventures, and his resonant twin, Herakleitos of Ephesos, had helped us keep the faith:  unflinching determination, unwavering devotion to what is right.  Through Tempus’s eyes, the ancient world and the modern world become unified, a knowable expanse.

All that said, we wrote The Sacred Band because we were impelled to write it.  It is our best work, of all that we’ve done.  And we will do more:  the ethos of the Band is more important now than ever, as we come into an age where confusion reigns.  Tempus’s stories are always gripping:  the Sacred Band took fourteen months to draft, as the characters would have it.

In the midst of proofing The Sacred Band, and rewriting the companion book, “Tempus,” into a version we call ‘the author’s cut,’ we decided to revive the Heroes in Hell series, with new writers and old:  Hell is another place where the characters whose viewpoints attract us can tell compelling stories.

We never write unless we cannot refrain from writing – unless the stories and the characters demand the sacrifice of our ‘here and now’ to their ‘there and then.’  When we write nonfiction, we use a different part of our brain, the analytical side.  When we write fiction, whole new worlds open up, and the whispers of the solstice gods are loud and clear.

Beginning The Sacred Band, a reality unexplored opened before our inner sight, richer and more complete than could be experienced any other way.  In the end, is that not why we write, and why we read:  to be transported into another place and time, another space and mind, if only for a little while?

We think so.  We write so.  We ask fiction to do for us what it alone can do, at its best:  connect us to the ephemeral and the eternal, and the long chain of those who found that only story can help humanity on its journey from where we began to where we are going.  Only story allows us to share ourselves completely, yet disappear and be absorbed by a tide of truth that comes from the solstice gods and ennobles us.

A long journey brought us back to where we started and where we want to be.  Some things can only be said in fiction.  These are the things we now want to say.

Life to you, and everlasting glory, say our Stepsons to the living.  Joy to you and everlasting glory, they say to the dead.

We wish you the journey of your dreams.  We’ll take you along with us, on our journeys to worlds away, as long as the solstice gods and Tempus whisper in our ears.

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