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Why does “prolific” not sound like a compliment?

I’m not sure why, but whenever someone calls me a prolific writer, it makes me cringe. Why is that? It has some sort of negative implication which I can’t quite tease out.

Anyway, I’m not feeling very prolific this week. After family vacation and back-to-back education conferences, my kind husband suggested that I go away for a few days and try to reconnect with the unfinished part of my medieval history manuscript….which is 1) far too much of the TOTAL medieval history manuscript so far, and 2) at the point where I have to concentrate on it and nothing else for a little while so that I can see my way through the details to the story.

So I’m in Manhattan, working at the Columbia library. Which is a phenomenal place to work and (honesty compels me to add) much more useful than my local university library. Need Charles IV’s autobiography because it has the first version of the Good King Wenceslaus legend in it? Got it. Need an English translation of Constantine Porphyrogenitus’s notes on running the Byzantine empire? Got it. Need all forty volumes of al-Tabari’s history of the Islamic empire? Got all forty, plus an index. Need the Chronicle of John of Worcester, just to check exactly what Rollo the Viking was doing in 909? Got it.

I have all the books I need, no domestic duties for a few days, no schedule to keep, and a dozen great restaurants within walking distance. (Think I’ll try this one around 10 PM tonight, when my eyes give out.) And I’m writing…it’s just SLOOOOW. Not prolific. Far from prolific. Four hours or so to dig out details on a particular people group which then ends up with a single sentence in the final version…except that I didn’t know that it would only be a single sentence when I spent the four hours digging out details.

I mentioned this to my editor. “That,” he said, “does not sound like good calculus.” You think?

Anyway. Back to detail digging. Just for your entertainment, here’s some juicy ninth-century royal gossip for you. (At least PG-13–fair warning before you read.)

MICHAEL III, EMPEROR IN CONSTANTINOPLE, 842-867

Michael III’s troubles were almost entirely self-inflicted. Since the age of fifteen, he had been sleeping with the same woman, his favorite mistress Eudokia Ingerina. However, his mother announced that Ingerina was not an acceptable wife, and instead ordered him to marry a woman she had hand-picked for him, Eudokia Dekapolitissa. Michael seems to have had trouble defying his mother; he agreed to marry Dekapolitissa, and then after the wedding ignored her and went right on sleeping with Ingerina.

The patriarch disapproved of this crowded marriage, and to preserve appearances, Michael married his mistress Ingerina off to his best friend, a horse-trainer from Macedonia named Basil. He continued sleeping with her, however, and so that Basil would not be deprived, he brought one of his sisters back out her nunnery and installed her at court as Basil’s mistress.

What with climbing in and out of each others’ beds, Michael III and Basil became closer, and Basil began to get a glimpse of what real power could be like. He began to suggest to Michael III that Michael’s uncle and heir had a little too much influence around the court, and finally convinced Michael to give him permission to murder the unfortunate man. In his uncle’s place, Michael made Basil his co-emperor and heir. In 867, he also legally adopted Basil as his son; he was twenty-seven, Basil was fifty-six.

This weird adoption made a twisted kind of sense. The year before, Ingerina had given birth to a son. Technically, the child was Basil’s. In all likelihood, he was actually Michael’s. So by adopting Basil, Michael became his illegitimate son’s legitimate grandfather, and the little boy, Leo, had a path to legitimately claim the throne.

Unfortunately, the path led through Basil. Now that he was adopted, co-emperor, and heir, Basil had no more use for Michael. After a drunken banquet one night later in 867, Michael III staggered off to bed; Basil’s men murdered the emperor in his sleep, and Basil claimed the crown for himself as Basil I, founder of the new Macedonian Dynasty.