Christopher Moore is the New York Times bestselling author of such comic genius novels as Lamb, Fool, and Sacré Bleu. His newest, a follow-up to fan-favorite Fool, is called The Serpent of Venice (on sale April 22, 2014). This novel is a hilarious and clever mash-up between Shakepeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.
Join Christopher Moore tomorrow on Twitter as he takes over the @harpercollins Twitter handle from 2-4pm ET. Follow @harpercollins, log on at 2pm, and fire off any questions you want to Mr. Moore. There will also be prizes for participants! Without further ado, I leave Christopher Moore himself to explain to you how he comes up with such fabulously outrageous ideas. Enjoy!
My first impression of Venice, upon dropping by the sinking city after a book tour in Germany, was, “Oh my, these people have a serious drainage problem on their hands.” My second thought, upon seeing the raised, iron-hatched, fresh-water well heads and streets so narrow one had to turn sideways to pass, was, “This is the perfect setting for a monster story.” What self-respecting creature of the dark wouldn’t want to stalk the city of Venice? A few years later, when I was searching for an idea for my next novel, it was the second impression that reared its scaly head, so to speak, thus answering that question that every writer must endure, “Where do you get your ideas?” Me? Venice.
Whenever I write a book I try to see what has been done before along the lines of what I want to write. I don’t mind treading familiar ground, but I want to at least do it with an original take. Of horror stories set in Venice, the first that came to mind was Edgar Allan Poe’s, The Cask of Amontillado, in which the unfortunate Fortunato, a dandy dressed as a fool for Carnival, is walled up in the wine cellar by a bitter nobleman, the Montressor. Hmmm, I thought. A fool.
As research for my book Fool, I’d tried to familiarize myself with the entire canon of Shakespeare, and one of the most joyful experiences of doing the research was seeing Othello at the Globe Theater in London, with Eamon Walker and Zoey Tapper as Othello and Desdemona, and Tim McEnnerny as Iago. The performance was an absolute revelation for me. Last-minute reservations meant my seats were high and behind the stage, so I was able to watch the faces of the audience light up when Desdemona entered, and darken when Iago was perpetrating his maniacal plots. Ah, the audience, there’s the rub. And Othello, too, was set in Venice.
So, I had a fool! And a black general who earns his command of the forces of a mighty nation, thus driving much of the gentry into an irrational hatred that bordered on apoplexy at best, and self-destruction at worst. Yes, I was familiar with a similar experience in real life. I could write about that. Plus, I had already ruined Shakespeare for everyone with Fool, so this time would be much easier.
I began to delve into the history of the period. If I was going to send my own fool, Pocket, to Venice, then it would have to be at the end of the 13th Century, in which Fool was set, and in Venice, at the end of the 13th Century, what was happening, was a Republic that had existed for 400 years was turning their government into a hegemony, assuring that only the wealthy and powerful could hold office – a power grab. The watery Venetian state had become a world power by transporting troops and arms to the Holy Land for the Crusades, a state that would reap extraordinary financial gain and further power by starting a war in the Middle East. Now it was getting interesting. How could you perpetrate a war against North Africa, when your General was North African? Agendas would no doubt clash.
So, a fool, a Moor, a crazed nobleman, his rebellious daughter, a brave general . . . and I could certainly conjure a monster amid the intrigue. It was a good start, but once I had my fool, Pocket, on board, and the cast of Othello, I looked to the other Shakespeare play set in Venice – The Merchant of Venice – to add another dimension. Ah, now a merchant, a Jewish moneylender, a Moorish general, and a fool go into a bar – this is the grist for comedy, and comedy is what I do. A sunken city with all that water, a sociopathic Iago babbling about a “green-eyed monster that mocks its own food,” his wife Emilia talking about the “serpent’s revenge.” Oh yes, I had the seeds of a comic tale of dark designs, and by hell and night I would bring my Serpent of Venice to light.
Buy a signed first edition: