To help promote Innsmouth Free Press' new Historical Lovecraft anthology myself and a number of other contributors have volunteered to guest blog on each other's sites. Today I'm hosting Martha Hubbard, and tomorrow she'll publish my essay on her website and LJ. Many thanks to Martha for taking the time to write the following essay, to say nothing of hosting my own scratchings anon!
A semi-illiterate Byzantine bishop takes on the Great Cthulhu.
On 20 April, Innsmouth Free Press, an Indie Publisher based in Canada, released an anthology ‘Historical Lovecraft’ that includes my story, ‘The Good Bishop Pays the Price’.
For several years I have been writing and posting stories about Bishop Aaron Probus of Celestia and his companion, slave and scribe, Timos. Friends in my writing group had been very supportive of the Good Bishop’s adventures, but magazine editors and competition judges had been more lukewarm. One even accused me of making up silly names. I hadn’t; Marcus Aurelius Probus had been a Roman general elevated to emperor in the field by his troops. He ruled from 276 to 282. See!!! I do my homework. However, Innsmouth believed in me and my Bishop and you can meet him in our anthology.
In common with a number of my writing colleagues I believe that if you are going to write historical fiction – even fantasy historical fiction – the details should be correct. In this case it wasn’t at all hard to do. My passion for history, in particular the early Byzantine period and the ructions surrounding the establishment of Christianity has been a powerful motor for my actions over the last 30 years. In 1982 I left New York City for the island of Crete, intending to study archaeology – Byzantine archaeology. That a detour into the restaurant business took the place of formal studies, did not prevent me from passing countless hours in the Athens American Archaeology Society Library, attending seminars and symposia in Athens and London and spending an awesome part of my disposable income on relevant books.
In AD 330 the Emperor Constantine after legitimizing Christianity as official religion of the Roman Empire had founded his city spanning the strategic gateway to the Pontus Euxinus. One hundred years later, attacked by Goths and governed by inept and incompetent emperors, ancient Rome was a shambles, both physically and politically. New Rome, the city of Constantine, in contrast, strode over the known world like a modern colossus. And Christianity from its beginnings as a religion practiced mainly by women and slaves had risen to become a major political player – the source of its power, the hearts and minds of its believers and the armies of the Emperor who was seen as the Embodiment of God on Earth.
The middle period of the fifth century AD was a major watershed in the rise of Christian power throughout the Western world. Christianity had triumphed over the dark forces. Of this there could be no doubt. But which Christianity? So much had been written, disputed, discussed, ignored and practiced that in AD 429 the Emperor Theodosius II ordered the compilation of a Codex to define the rules and practices for Christians. This is where our story begins, for as the Good Bishop says, ‘When you make rules, somebody has to enforce them’.
Ordered by the Emperor’s sister Pulcheria to collect and destroy all pagan writings, Timos is given the unwelcome task of carrying out this edict. In the course of supervising what is effect a book-burning, Timos comes in contact with a copy of the Necronomicon with terrifying consequences. What price would you pay to save the life of your best friend?
How do I work? As may be obvious, I’m a teacher and a bit of a pedant. Once I decided to write a Lovecraftian story, I began by studying the man himself. As well as the wonderful stories, I encountered an essay in which Lovecraft discuses his way of working. He recommends writing out a timeline for the story, regardless of the order in which you plan to present your events. This works for me. When I was a kid my grandfather taught me to read road maps and I have loved them ever since. The twists and turns, byways and side roads are what make a journey interesting but I want to know where’ll be when the darkness starts to close around me.
What next? I will be at EUROCON in Stockholm 16 – 19 June where I get to participate in a panel discussion which includes guest of honour, Elizabeth Bear. If any of you are there, come and see me. I will have Future Lovecraft bookmarks to give out.
I’m delighted to report that Innsmouth has now bought another story of mine, ‘I Tarocchi dei d’Este’ for its Gothic anthology, Candle in the Attic Window. Loosely based on the true story of Parisina Malatesta who lost her head for falling love with her husband’s bastard and heir, the progenitor of evil here is a beautiful but dangerous deck of Tarot cards.
I enjoyed the experience of writing Gothic fiction so much I have begun preparing an outline for a novella inspired by a ruined manor house near my home on the island of Saaremaa. This will feature a cyclopean cave entrance, a beautiful young ward and a wicked uncle.
Another project, set in the future, features twin librarians with extraordinary powers who challenge the dark forces to save their precious books from an attack of ‘nekrobees’.
Finally, why do I write such dark fiction? As H. P. Lovecraft himself would tell you, ‘Evil exists’.
Martha Hubbard left New York City in the early 80s and spent nearly twenty years roaming around Europe. In 1997, she washed up on an island off the north coast of Estonia, where she has been teaching English to Culinary and Service students ever since. She has written a first novel, which was rubbish. The Good Bishop stories will be the second novel.