* In your historical mystery series with Eric Mayer, beginning with the
novel ONE FOR SORROW and now up to SEVEN FOR A SECRET, John,
lord chamberlain to the emperor Justinian, finds himself investigating a
series of murders. What was it about 6th century Constantinople that
fascinated you enough to make it the setting of a suspense series?
Constantinople during the reign of Emperor Justinian I occupied an uneasy
position between the classical and medieval worlds. The classical world
was, in fact, dying or perhaps metamorphizing into the medieval world,
although the people who lived in the Eastern Roman Empire probably
wouldn't have realized that. They still thought of themselves as, and
referred to themselves as, Romans. Yet this Rome, while retaining the
name and much of the architecture -- the public forums, the baths, the
Hippodrome -- and laws, traditions, and literature of classical Rome, was
fundamentally different in that it was officially Christian rather than
pagan. Nevertheless, the eastern empire preserved much of what we
associate with the early Roman empire for 1,000 years. It seemed a
complex and fascinating setting, one which hasn't been used when
we began writing John's adventures, and one that people generally haven't
heard much about, even though there is a wealth of scholarly material
* Your latest novel SEVEN FOR A SECRET continues to follow John, the
lord chamberlain, as he attempts to solve crimes whilst staying out of
the way of the fearful Empress Theodora. How much is of Theodora's
character is based on fact and how much is fiction?
That probably depends on whether one considers Procopius' Secret History
to be fact or fiction. A great deal of what is known abut Theodora,
particularly with regard to her personality, comes from this notorious
account by her contemporary. Procopius had written the well-regarded
factual A History of the Wars covering the period, and also The
Buildings, a panegyric to Justinian's architectural accomplishments but
his scurrilous Secret History was, not suprisingly, never made public
during his lifetime. It is essentially an extended rant against the
emperor and empress which, among other things, depicts Justinian as a
demon and Theodora as quite thrilled at the prospect of marrying the
King of the Demons.
There remains a lot of debate about how much of the Secret History is
rooted in reality and how much sprang full blown out of Procopius'
apparent hatred of the imperial couple. For dramatic effect, we tend to
adopt Procopius' views.
There is no doubt, however, based on the indisputable historic record,
that Theodora took an unusually large role in governing and so we are
probably safe in depicting her as strong-willed and determined to have
her own way.
* Tell us something surprising about women in 6th century
A law against what we now call stalking appears in Justinian's laws,
one of which deals with infliction of injuries and states generally
speaking this means "anything which is done without any right".
Among examples listed are "constantly following a matron,
or a young boy or girl below the age of puberty..." (1913 translation by
J. B. Moyle at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext04/ijust10.txt )
* In which ways did Empress Theodora defy the conventions of her time?
For one thing former actresses were not supposed to be married to
emperors. In fact, there was a law against such marriages which Emperor
Justin changed, shortly before his death, to allow his nephew and
designated heir Justinian to marry Theodora.
The term actress in those days was more or less synonymous with
prostitute, so Theodora confounded all conventions by rising far above
her proper station. She was the daughter of a bear trainer and mistress
to a wealthy aristocrat before she arrived on Justinian's doorstep.
As if that all wasn't bad enough, she was to all practical purposes
Justinian'sco-ruler. There is some evidence that she involved herself in
machinations behind her husband's back, some even contrary to his
policies, although the pair might have contrived for her to seem to do
this for political reasons. And this in an era when the term power
couple hadn't been invented! Which is not to say it wasn't a love match
as well. Theodora died twenty years before Justinian and he never remarried.
Thank you Mary and Eric! And feel free to visit Mary Reed and Eric
*What are you working on next, and will the ever-resourceful John
continue to be your protagonist?
John will continue to be our protagonist, but in the next book he will
not be Lord Chamberlain since it is a prequel, taking place before he
rose to that position. The story is set during the Nika riots of 532
when angry mobs almost forced Justinian from the throne. It has been
recorded that Theodora convinced him not to flee, thus assuring that all
of Justinian's accomplishments would come to pass, from rebuilding the
Hagia Sophia, completing codification of the laws, and reconquering
Africa and Italy. But, of course, in order for that to happen there is
also the little matter of a murder John has to solve. Procopius somehow
neglected to mention that. Perhaps he had a gripe against John as well.
So we're going to tell that missing part of the story.
Mayer online for more information about their seventh novel Seven for a Secret!