Gold

Everyone has heard of Constantinople at some point in their life, I should think–at least they’ve heard that annoying song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. Some may even know that it fell to the army and navy of the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, ending the Eastern Roman Empire after a thousand years of existence. The Ottomans relocated the capital of their empire there, renaming it as Istanbul. (Christian Europe continued calling it Constantinople for centuries; it’s only over the last hundred years or so that Istanbul has come into more common usage.) But few know much more about the city and the empire it served as capital for over a millenium. Of those, some may know the basics–the Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, recognizing that the enormous Roman Empire had become impossible to rule or enforce law or protect, split the empire into eastern and western halves, and founded a capital for the east on the site of the village of Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 473 when the city fell; yet the eastern empire continued until 1453. Western Europe, always trying to reclaim the heritage of the Roman Empire (and ambitiously planning to rebuild it), always referred to the still existing Roman Empire as “Greek” rather than “Roman,” although the citizens of that great city and the vestiges of its empire continued calling themselves Romans until the Turks finally ended it.

But that thousand year history? It’s not easy to find information or books with much information; even the one history of the Empire I did read–Lost to the West by Lars Brownworth, along with his City of Fortune, a history of the Venetian Empire–glossed over centuries and only hit highlights. I’ve always wanted to write something historical set in the new Rome.

The Eastern Empire out-lasted its western counterpart by nearly a thousand years. Constantinople was one of the greatest Christian cities of all time; there was certainly nothing even remotely close to it in western Europe in terms of population, art, culture, education, and trade. It’s location put it in control of access and egress from the Black Sea; it also controlled the trade routes between Europe and Asia. Its fall in 1453 meant that those trade routes were now controlled by the non-Christian Islamic Ottoman Empire–and as such, other ways to reach the far east became necessary to the western Europeans, hence the Portuguese circumnavigating Africa and the Spanish attempt to sail west to find a route, leading to the “discovery” of the Americas. The fall of Constantinople was an incredibly important and necessary piece of the interlocking puzzle that led to European colonization and the global empires that resulted from it (as well as the oppression and enslavement and genocide of native populations); but Western historians–in particular, those monastic scholars in Catholic orders–have always tried to erase and /or lessen the importance of the eastern Empire and its capital, calling them “Greeks”, renaming the Eastern Roman Empire as the “Byzantine Empire,” etc.–and in no small part, this was also because of the Christian Schism of 1054, in which the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church split in two over questions of dogma. Therefore, it was in the interest of the Western Europeans to underplay the vital importance to European history of the remains of the Roman Empire because western Catholics considered their Orthodox brethren as heretics; their church was the true one, even if it was in the east that the religion originally came from, and it was in the eastern half of the empire the tenets and dogma of the “true” faith were established. The Pope in Rome always tried to assert his own authority over the Patriarch in Constantinople; the Patriarch considered himself to be the head of the faith and the Pope just another bishop. Thus, when Charlemagne conquered most of central Europe, he and the Pope created the Holy Roman Empire (which wasn’t holy, or Roman, or even really an empire in the traditional sense); the Romans in Constantinople were not pleased. (At the time, through some political machinations and drama, a woman was seated on the throne in Constantinople–the Empress Irene, one of the most interesting women in European history; she was also pretty terrible. The Pope decided there could be no such thing as a female Emperor, and so he crowned Charlemagne.)

The Holy Roman Empire also lasted over a thousand years.

Anyway, I’ve always been interested in the eastern Empire, even though it’s largely neglected in European histories. But one event in its history has always been interesting to me in particular –the fall of Constantinople to the Catholic 4th Crusade in 1204, which essentially set the stage for the second fall of the city, to the Ottomans in 1453. I also have an idea for a Colin book–which I’ve had for a very long time–that would have its beginnings in the 1204 sack of Constantinople.

It’s remarkably hard to find much information–granted, it’s not like I’ve tried very hard, but the fact that you have to try hard to find histories and/or books about the Empire and its capital, let alone the 4th Crusade–even histories of the Crusades themselves gloss over the fact that a Crusader army, blessed by the Pope, allowed itself to be diverted by the Venetians to capture and sack two Christians cities (Zara and Constantinople), and established “Latin” (western European) kingdoms and principalities out of the provinces that were once the Eastern Roman Empire. These Catholic kingdoms were so despised by their subjects that they didn’t last long, with another dynasty of the old empire arising to drive them out. The sack of the city and the pillaging and destruction that followed created such a deep hatred for the Catholic Church and the kings that followed the Pope that they preferred the Ottomans to a reconquest by the Catholic nations–which is saying something. Ernie Bradford’s The Great Betrayal: The Great Siege of Constantinople is a very thorough account of the tragedy and how it came to pass; the destruction of the mighty city–along with the destruction of priceless books and documents and art forever lost to us–was on a par with the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria.

The book itself is very interesting; the siege took nearly a year, and it’s actually kind of shocking that the Crusaders succeeded in taking the city, bearing in mind the strong defenses and so forth. A lot of things had to fit into place for it to happen, and they all did. The city came so close to holding them off successfully; it’s almost as though, as they would have said at the time, it was God’s will for it to happen. The city was also filled with all kinds of priceless Christian relics; after all, the religion was founded in the east, and as city after city fell to foreign invaders, a lot of priceless artifacts and holy relics were moved to the capital. (The great horses from the Hippodrome, for example, are proudly on display in the Piazza San Marco in Venice to this day.) A lot of the art was destroyed, jewels picked out of reliquaries, the gold or silver or bronze melted down for coin, and so forth.

As someone who has always loved history, and also has always loved treasure hunts–especially those that are involved with the history and development of Christianity, many years ago (I will freely confess to being inspired by Indiana Jones movies) I thought about writing such a treasure hunt story–where the ‘treasure’ being hunted was some important document or book or relic from the earliest days of Christianity that would revolutionize the faith as well as show how off-course it had gone since the earliest days…and wouldn’t it have made sense that whatever it was could have been kept in Constantinople, deep in the archives of the Orthodox Church? And with western, Catholic Europeans besieging the city, wouldn’t the Patriarch have wanted to keep it out of the hands of the Pope, and smuggled it out of the city to be hidden somewhere else, safe from the prying eyes of Rome?

And of course, when I created Colin–actually, when I brought him back in Jackson Square Jazz–I loved the character so much that I considered spinning him off; what about the jobs he’s on when he’s not in New Orleans? “Oh,” I thought, “my fall of Constantinople story! That could work for Colin!” And it even occurred to me the other day that I could even do them as “case files,” setting them throughout the past, both before and after he met Scotty and woven in between the Scotty stories. (It also occurred to me that I could do Scotty stories to fill in the years between books, if I wanted to…)

And reading this book–which i recommend if you want to know more about “holy wars” and how corrupt and unholy they actually were–made me think about it even more. I do want to include something about the Empress Irene, too.

Something to brainstorm at some point. Like I have the time to squeeze in another book…but it would be fun; although I don’t know how good I would be at writing action/adventure/thrillers.

It would be fun to find out, though.

Starlight

And so now it’s Sunday.

I won’t lie; I’ve lost my sense of time and date and day already this weekend and I’m perfectly fine with it. I hope everyone who has the good fortune to have the weekend off–I know there are many who do not–are in the same state of what day is this that I found myself in most of yesterday and when i woke up this morning–I overslept again, which was amazingly lovely, but i really need to stop indulging myself this way–and am now awake, on my first cup of coffee, and ready to get shit done today. I did get shit done yesterday–I cleaned and organized quite a bit (not enough, it’s never enough) and while I do have some little bit of cleaning and a lot of organizing left to get done, at least I made a start on it yesterday. My desk, for example, this morning is clean and clear; which will make writing later much easier.

I finished Little Fires Everywhere yesterday–I blogged about it already, so I won’t repeat anything other than that it’s a fantastic book I encourage you all to read–and started reading The Coyotes of Carthage, which was originally recommended to me by my friend Laura, who was lucky enough to receive an advance copy. It, too, is fantastic and unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I am really looking forward to getting more into it–I will undoubtedly take a reading break or two at some point today. It seems to be a political thriller about dark money and political consultants in a very rural county in South Carolina, with a Black male protagonist, so I am sure it’s going to be quite interesting to read.

But I really also need to write today; I’ve not looked at the manuscript since last weekend, and this “only writing on the weekends for one day” simply cannot continue to stand, really. I have too much to write, and I need to stop giving into the laziness or the tiredness or self-destructive patterns or whatever the hell it is that keeps me from finishing this damned book. Heavy sigh. I also have any number of short stories I need to wade through to pick out some to work on for submission calls.

Again, I think there’s something to that I am so overwhelmed believing I’ll never get everything done so why bother doing any of it thing.

Repeat after me: SELF-DEFEATING.

While I waited for Paul to finish working on a grant last night I watched, or rather, rewatched (although I didn’t really remember watching it before, and I figured, meh, if I’ve already seen it I can do stuff on my iPad while it’s on in the background) a documentary called Master of Dark Shadows, about Dan Curtis and how the show came about, and its legacy (I’m sure most people don’t remember Curtis also produced and directed the mini-series based on Herman Wouk’s novels The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). I was one of those kids who watched Dark Shadows only in the summertime, because my elementary school didn’t get out until 3:15; even though we lived only a block away from the school I couldn’t ever get home fast enough to watch even the end. I did love Dark Shadows–our sitter/caregiver, Mrs. Harris, also watched One Life to Live and General Hospital, which were my first exposures to soaps–and it always stuck in my mind; I always give it credit for my interest in horror and the supernatural. I enjoyed watching the documentary (and for the record, I loved the NBC reboot of the series in prime time in the early 1990’s, and was crushed when it was canceled; I rewatched it with Paul and he too was disappointed it ended on its cliff-hanger) and then we started watching a documentary about a double murder in India called Behind Closed Doors, in which the investigation was so incredibly fucked up–I mean, if the primary take-away from all the other true crime documentaries we’ve been watching has been man is our system seriously fucked up, the takeaway from this one is yeah, but ours is clearly better than others.

Which is kind of scary, really.

While I was also bored yesterday waiting for Paul–and only really sort of watching Master of Dark Shadows–I was right, I’d seen it before–I started looking things up on-line; which was an absolutely lovely example of how one can fall into a wormhole on the Internet. As you know, I’ve been having this Cynical 70’s Film Festival, and thinking about the rise, and proliferation of, conspiracy theories in that suspicious, paranoid decade, and one that I hadn’t remembered until yesterday sprang up into my min, completely unbidden, while I was reading about the Bermuda Triangle: Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken. Does anyone else remember von Daniken and his theories, which were based in nothing scientific or archaeological? Von Daniken believed that ancient texts–the Bible, the Code of Hammurabi, etc.–all contained evidence that in Ancient Times the Earth was visited by space aliens–Alien Astronauts, as he called them–who brought knowledge and information with them to the primitive creatures of our planet at the time, and also assisted them in the massive building projects that modern man cannot conceive of them building back then–the pyramids, for one thing, and the lines on the plains of Nazca (which I first read about in the Nancy Drew volume The Clue in the Crossword Cipher)–and those aliens with their vastly superior technology, were seen as gods by the primitives and those visits have come down to us in the form of mythology. It’s an interesting idea for sure–but it was all conjecture, with no proof. I read all of von Daniken’s books back in the day; others included The Gold of the Gods, and were simply further conjectures, but he developed quite a following, and set the stage for what is called the pseudo-science of Graham Hancock, his modern day successor. (I’ve also read some of Hancock’s work; his theory that the Sphinx is far older than we suspect based on water wear on its base is interesting, as is his other theory that the Ark of the Covenant’s final resting place is in Ethiopia; before reading that book I had no idea that Christianity was so firmly entrenched there) So, I spent some time looking up von Daniken’s theories yesterday, as well as some other conspiracy theories of the time–I also did a deep dive into the entire Holy Grail Holy Blood thing which provided the basis for The Da Vinci Code and Dan Brown’s entire career; and of course we certainly cannot forget the apocryphal writings of Hal Lindsay and The Late Great Planet Earth–which, really, is where The Omen came from; we forget how “end times” theory truly began flourishing in the 1970’s.

I’ve always been interested in stories about lost books of the Bible, or lost Biblical theory, along with the end-times prophecies Lindsay wrote about; Irving Wallace’s The Word, which was built around the rediscovery of a lost testament of Jesus which would revolutionize and make-over the Christian theology was one of the first novels of this type I read; it was also made into a mini-series, which made me aware of it in the first place (Irving Wallace isn’t really remembered much today, but he was a huge bestseller back in the day, and he wrote incredibly thick novels, mostly about international conspiracies or legal issues–The Seven Minutes, for example, was about censorship and “blue laws”; The Second Lady was about a Soviet conspiracy to replace the First Lady with a lookalike imposter who was a Soviet spy; The Prize was about the machinations around how the Nobel Prize was given out; etc etc etc). The Da Vinci Code fits clearly into this category, as does The Gemini Contenders by Robert Ludlum and The Fourth Secret by Steve Berry (which is about the fourth secret Our Lady of Lourdes–or was it Fatima?–revealed to either Bernadette or the peasant children; Irving Wallace also covered this in The Miracle); Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade also kind of fit here, as both films are about the search for Biblical relics. I’ve always, always, wanted to write one of these. Years ago I had the idea for one, in which there was a secret document or testament hidden in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople for years, and that part of the reason the 4th Crusade sacked the city was the Pope’s desire to get his hands on those documents, which were thus smuggled out of the city by the Patriarch and lost forever…this is the idea I always come around to for a Colin stand-alone (I also realize I could do Colin stand-alones set at various times throughout the last twenty years or so of Scotty books, as he is gone a lot of the time on missions), and the working title for it always is Star of Irene, because the Byzantine Empress Irene–contemporary of Charlemagne–has always fascinated me.

But I will never write a Colin stand-alone, or series, unless I get this fucking book finished, so I suppose it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Your Funny Uncle

And just like that, it is Monday again; another week, the first full week of August, the month during which I will actually turn fifty-nine (although I always add a year to my age on New Year’s Day; so on 1/1/21 I will start copping to being sixty). It’s sometimes hard to believe I’ve made it this far–when I was younger I always assumed I’d never make it to forty, then fifty, and look: here I am slipping inexorably downhill to sixty.

Surprise!

As Paul says, “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.”

I managed to get through Chapter Ten of Bury Me in Shadows as planned yesterday–so much bad writing to fix–and now I intend to spend this week repairing the first ten chapters, and really building the character of Jake Chapman now that I know who he is, where he came from, and what he wants, and how he is going to react to everything going on at his grandmother’s house in the deep woods. I have the potential love interest all set up nicely–he needs a little more fleshing out–and of course, eye candy straight boy, who needs more edges. It never ceases to amaze me how much filler goes into an early draft of mine, and sometimes working by the chapter rather than by the page count results in repetition and contradiction.

Heavy sigh.

I slept really well last night–I have been for the last week or so–and this morning I didn’t really want to get out of bed, either. I’ve also been having really strange and vivid dreams lately; I usually don’t dream, or don’t remember them once I awake. The ones I’ve been having these last few days don’t completely fade on awakening, but generally by the time I finish my morning coffee they are gone like a will o’ the wisp. They aren’t nightmares, I can remember that much, but they are just very strange; me being a very different strangely altered world than the one in which we already live, which is kind of bad enough as it is.

We watched The Old Guard on Netflix last night, which was entertaining and also had my mind wandering about the Colin novel I’ve always wanted to write. I always thought it would be fun to give Colin his own series, almost completely independent of the Scotty series, but always held back–mainly because it was kind of fun having Colin be a man of mystery; a series of his own would kind of take that away, and it would have to be more of an action/adventure type thriller series, set in exotic locales I have never been to–and I’ve always kind of been hesitant to try writing about places I’ve never been, or to make it all up and hope that none of the readers had ever been there. I’ve been toying with an idea for an action/adventure type thriller for decades, interweaving the fall of Constantinople in 1204 to the Fourth Crusade; some ancient Biblical secret held by the Patriarch of Constantinople in hiding for centuries; the Old Man of the Mountain and his assassins; and a fabulous jewel known as the Star of Irene (a former Empress of the eastern Roman Empire). I’ve had this idea since the 1990’s–and no doubt it was slightly influenced/inspired by the Indiana Jones movies–and it was, oh, about 2004 I thought about turning the idea into a stand-alone Colin adventure. I just am shit at choreographing fights and action sequences, frankly; and that would kind of be important to such a story.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Happy Monday, Constant Reader.