I’m back to work now.

So, in no particular order, here’s what’s occupying the brain of THIS working writer on the first day of December…

1. I’m waiting on the contract from Princeton University Press to be issued, at which point I’ll sign it, return it, and commit myself to delivering the manuscript along with the permissions for all images and quotes by February. (Would be nice for a book on political confessions to come out in the election year, wouldn’t it? When I find out a pub date I’ll let you know.) This means that my assistant Nancy and I are pestering rights departments at a time of year when NOBODY is particularly anxious to provide a quick answer. So far, Nancy is doing wonders at getting folks to call her back. The only completely uncooperative response has been from Jimmy Swaggart’s Family Worship Center, which answered her request for permission to reprint Swaggart’s apology sermon with a flat “No.”

Which I suppose is understandable. However, the sermon was delivered in public and has already been reproduced multiple times, so I don’t actually think they can forbid us to publish a transcript. I was only asking to be polite.

2. After a stupefyingly long time, I have emerged from slogging through the details of the tenth century and am on to chronicling the eleventh. Now I’m getting into some REALLY extraordinary behavior…such as that of the Empress Zoe, who in 1034, at the age of 56, was widowed when her husband, the Byzantine emperor Romanos III, conveniently drowned in his bathtub. Zoe was less than crushed; she had only married him on her father’s orders anyway (her father had forced Romanos to divorce his own wife and marry Zoe instead). On the same day that Romanos III died, Zoe married her lover, the twenty-four-year-old palace chamberlain Michael. He then became Emperor Michael IV.

(Zoe, in a doodle on a Byzantine manuscript)

However, Zoe hadn’t been long married when she developed a crush on another young man, a court official named Constantine Monomachos, twelve years younger than she.

Michael IV was annoyed enough by this to exile Constantine to a distant island.

As Zoe was past producing an heir, Michael IV adopted his nephew (also named Michael, and only five years his junior) as his son and appointed him to be the next Emperor. The nephew-son didn’t have to wait long. Michael IV, although apparently quite good-looking, was also a bit of a weakling; he died at the age of thirty-one from a long-standing illness, after only seven years on the throne. Almost at once, Zoe had the nephew-son arrested, blinded, and castrated. He died, unsurprisingly, and she became senior ruler of the Byzantine Empire.

At this point, Zoe (who was now in her sixties), became reigning empress of Byzantium. At once, she called Constantine (aged 41) back from his exile and married him.

Entertaining, but not very edifying. Happy Advent.

3. And speaking of Advent, I am highly pleased with myself because I remembered to buy Advent candles for the church wreath BEFORE the first Sunday in Advent. So I won’t have to make frantic calls on Sunday morning to find someone with five unused candles in their closet. Getting the Advent candles set up is one of those Lord High Everything Else jobs that the minister’s wife gets to do. This has nothing to do with my writing, except that it’s one of the things that clutters my mind like a mental dust-bunny until I get it done.

4. And speaking of things that have nothing to do with writing, but are occupying the parts of my brain that might be better used, take a look at THIS…

a sixteen-year-old with a BRAND NEW DRIVER’S LICENSE. Possums and cats of southeastern Virginia, beware.

I’ll let you know how the eleventh century is progressing; my ridiculously ambitious plan is to finish up a rough draft of the events in the entire book by Christmas, so that I can go back and start producing some decent prose instead of the excruciatingly boring stuff I’m currently putting on paper.

Showing 12 comments
  • mary kathryn

    I’m a little confused about Zoe’s ages, but otherwise it was a great story. That’s almost spicier than Bill & Hillary! BTW, I rarely remember the candles in time either.

  • Susan

    Mary Kathryn,

    Duh. I fixed the ages in the post above. (I can’t count.) Thanks.

  • Lori

    I’m always amazed and amused by how much events in history aren’t much different than current events. We’re all people, all over the world, and all through history. I guess that’s why I like it so much.

  • e

    Remind me never to drive in Virginia. Ever, ever again.

  • Sylvia

    If you had the time, this would be a great time to read Umberto Eco’s novel Baudolino, which is all about telling (or making) history, and includes a locked-room mystery about a drowning emperor, and lots of detail about elite life in Constantinople at the time it was sacked. If you’ve read Eco you know that he does his research, and this novel is a ton of fun! It might just add to the humorous aspect of the period you are working on (and working up to). So in those free moments . . .

  • Juanita

    LOL on the candles. Guess what I was doing at the church 45 minutes before Sunday School this morning? Yep, getting out the advent wreath (thank goodness it was stored where I thought it was) and the candles. They were slightly used from last year’s Christmas eve service but hopefully no one noticed.

    When can we expect to read all about the 11th C? I’m looking forward to your next volume.

    Juanita, another minister’s wife

  • A Circle of Quiet

    I was ready to comment on your writing and got totally distracted by the driver’s license. Congrats to the new driver. Prayers for all others (-:

    Happy writing,

  • Meredith

    Hey, too bad you’re not masochistic enough to read reams of Byzantine poetry (most of which has yet to be translated into a modern language) because that’s where all the spicy stuff is…! The tenth century is really not *that* boring, seeing as how it is 3/5 of my doctorate, but maybe I’m more easily impressed. 🙂

    Happy First Advent!

  • Susan


    Believe me, the problem is with my prose, not with the tenth century. 🙁


  • Under the Sky

    No, it is not your prose. :+)

    I am in the midst of the 16th century at the moment reading The Six Wives of Henry VIII. What a fascinating train wreck of a life they all had there! I cannot tell you how hard it is for me to put the book down at 1 or 2 in the AM. Bad for the AM that is for sure.

    I hope you are well!
    Ready for the next flight…

  • Sebastian (a lady)

    I can’t wait to read the book. Maybe for Christmas 2008?? I love the middle ages. So like us but so very different. Maybe you’ll get a chance to include Ludwig der Springer (Ludwig the Jumper), my favorite German rule that I’d never heard of before. Not that much history hinged on him, but he was quite the character.

  • James W

    I like The Art of the Public Grovel and I’ve read the book. All of you out there, it is great and the best she has done yet! Eat your heart out. It has to come out BEFORE the election.

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