It's March, and there's a nor'easter battering the East Coast -- so I've brought you a story about wandering through deserts.
"Adjuva", originally published in 2016 in the now-defunct Lakeside Circus, has been reprinted by Luna Station Quarterly. You can read it here: http://lunastationquarterly.com/story/adjuva/
This is a story I could not have written without being a Byzantinist -- without being a historian, which is in many ways a thing that talks to the dead.
I wrote a version of it at white-heat in the deep winter of January 2012, in the University of Chicago library. I like writing desert horror in the winter. (I like writing desert horror in general.) "Adjuva" was the second story I wrote after I decided that I was going to be serious about writing, in the sense that I would send my work to magazines. Naturally, having decided to be commercial, I promptly spat out some of the most personal, emotional, high-concept, requires-a-goddamn-Masters-in-Crusade-Studies-to-read stunt-writing fantasy I was capable of producing at the time.
I used to call this thing “Vladimir and Estragon Go On Crusade”, seriously. It is my love-letter to Crusader chansons and the Gesta Francorum and the first trip I ever took to Turkey and all the unhallowed dead. To the complexity and horror of medieval theology, and to the untold stories of Crusading -- the Byzantine stories, the Islamic ones. It is -- years before I studied narratology professionally -- a narratological story, about memory and narrative-construction and the ways in which telling stories bends time until it kinks around a point.
"Adjuva" is also a study in persistence: the first time around I sent it to sixteen magazines before it got picked up. By the time it sold I had rewritten it substantively. Somewhere around magazine #8 I knew it was broken, and even knew why, thanks to an astute editor and a kind personal rejection, but was flat-out unable to fix it -- because the problem was in fact theological. This is a very Catholic story — I’m a very Jewish person, for all that I don’t practice as much as I could — and sometimes I felt like I was wrestling with God, trying to find a way to let Michel have a way out that did not strike me as ethically monstrous. To write an ending where surrender was not only permitted but correct.
But wandering creates the desert. And narrative is a form of wandering, and a desert in its own peculiar way.