I wanted to talk to you about your story; “he has raised me from the pit and set me high.” This is a reimagining of Season 1 and the hunt for the Chesapeake Ripper story arc. What sparked the idea of setting it in an alternate universe where Will Graham had left the police force and joined the ministry?
It’s in maybe the second episode where Hannibal starts talking about church collapses and how he thinks they’re hilarious, and how he thinks that God enjoys killing people. So, I’m a person of faith, and I found that statement absolutely hilarious. I think I actually laughed out loud and said something like, “Are you kidding me? That’s your theology? That is the worst theology I’ve ever heard!”
Okay, so it’s not terrible theology: at least it’s consistent. But most people don’t really respond to the question of theodicy–which is, why do bad things happen? Why do bad things happen to good people? –most people don’t respond to the question of theodicy that way. People often respond by becoming atheists. People say, “If God is so good, why is there cancer,” and then they go, “you know what, I can’t believe in a God that allows cancer to kill babies,” and so they become atheists. That’s a way people resolve that question. I’ve never seen an actual person resolve the question of theodicy by deciding that God is evil. I mean Hannibal is clearly crazy and really it’s just justification for his own evil. He’s like, “since God is evil and kills people and if I kill people and I’m evil, then clearly I am God.” Like, okay, sure, that logic makes a lot of sense.
So that just kind of sat there and fermented in my head for a while and then at some point…oh, I remember what happened now! At one point I was complaining on Tumblr about the lack of AUs which again, twenty minutes ago I just said that I don’t really like writing AUs, and now here I am writing all the AUs and complaining that there’s not enough of them. So I’m a hypocrite. Now you know that about me.
So I was complaining about the lack of AUs in Hannibal fandom, and I was like, “Where’s the Regency AU? Where’s the AU where Hannibal moves into the large country house down the road from wherever, and throws lavish balls where all the food is people?” With riding breeches and horse drawn carriages, all the trappings of Regency, a Jane Austen kind of universe. And someone on Tumblr took the idea and ran with it, and was like, “Yes! And Will Graham is the local vicar.”
Then with just the idea of Will Graham in a collar, I was like, “Oh my!” I thought, if I write this, I wouldn’t write the Regency version because that would involve too much research and would take too long. I would write the modern day AU in which Will Graham is a priest. I felt bad about it actually, because I’m a person of faith, so I was like, “Is this sacrilegious, am I going to be blasphemous?” Not that I really believe in blasphemy, it’s not really part of my theology, but I felt really strange about it. I have a lot of friends and colleagues who are in the ministry, so for a while I couldn’t look them in the eye.
But once the idea was lodged, it wouldn’t go away. I started seeing things that would happen, like there’d be bad cannibal jokes about the Eucharist and there could be a reenactment of a first century love feast, and all these ideas kept pouring in.
And they couldn’t be ignored and so finally I said, “Okay I think I’m going to have to write this.” But I wasn’t going to write it right away, I had other things that I wanted to write. But when the Hannibal Spring Fling came around I got paired up with Pangaea Starseed, I was like, “Damn, I can’t believe I get to work with such an amazing artist.” As I looked through their art I thought the thing they’d most like to draw was the priest AU, so I told them, I have this idea, and I gave a brief summary of how I thought it would go, and they said, “That sounds amazing, I would totally draw for that.” and I was like, “Yes!”
And I swear when I started I was like this is going to be a 10,000 word fic, no problem. It’s true! I could not believe it when 40,000 words later, I was like “Finally! I get to write the scene I always wanted to write!”
So sometimes I get kind of insecure, I remember at one point I was going through AO3, looking at Hannibal fanfiction, and I saw that someone else had written a priest AU and I was like “No!! I have to throw myself out the window!” It was like showing up at a party in the same dress. It can’t be done! My friend had to talk me down from that ledge. She told me the other story was completely different. It was much more about the priest kink side of things, something about rosary anal beads, which was the opposite of what I was interested in. I really wanted deep theological discussions; I really wanted Will to challenge Hannibal’s terrible terrible theology.
Which means, by the way, that I’m always a little worried when people rec the fic on the basis of “priest kink.” I don’t think of it as a priest kink story and I purposely didn’t tag it priest kink because, well, the fact that Will is a priest is central to the story but not…a kink…? Unless just having sex with a priest is a kink, in which case, well, I can’t argue with that. But I’ve been a little afraid that some people are staying away from the story because they think it’s all confessional sex and dirty sacraments, and I’m like, no, wait, come back! You…you might like this!
That’s one of the things I loved about your story, the constant back and forth between Will and Hannibal about their beliefs.
Well that was the entire point of writing the story, for me, was that I wanted Will and Hannibal talking about theology, and it actually turned out better and richer and more complicated than I thought it would. I’m quite pleased with that.
Writing most of that was pretty natural and easy for me, but there were parts where I really needed some help, and so I owe a lot to tiltedsyllogism for that actually, because my theology is very different from Will’s theology. I don’t have quite as concrete externalized concept of God as he does. So originally I had written him with something much closer to my personal theology, and then tiltedsyllogism was like “So if you write it this way, it kind of sounds like Will doesn’t believe in God.” and I was like “No, I think he just doesn’t believe in this big beard in the sky kind of God.” And she was like, “So I think you’re going to have to approach this differently.” And I was like, “I actually…don’t understand…”
And she kind of walked me through it; she really wrote that conversation about Feuerbach all on her own. I mean, I’ve read Feuerbach, but I took away something kind of different, I guess.
You mention in the story notes that she helped you with that conversation. How did you coordinate that collaboration?
So, the thing is that I don’t really work with betas; I think through most of Sherlock, maybe through all of Sherlock, I didn’t have a regular beta at all. I’m kind of really protective of my fiction and I’m kind of hard to work with. To me the thing that’s really important for a beta is that they have to share your vision, they have to get the point of what your story is about. So if they don’t get the vision, the comments aren’t necessarily useful. So with Sherlock I felt like I didn’t really need a beta. I knew my vision, I knew how to get there, so I would just write it.
Whereas with this story I really needed her as a theology coach, because she has quite an extensive theological background, much more in depth than mine. So I knew at the very beginning that I was going to need her help. I broached that to her early on, because I mean, she doesn’t even go here! She doesn’t watch Hannibal, or want to watch Hannibal. But I was like, “I really need you to help me with this fic because I don’t know what I’m talking about.” So she read it and gave me a lot of really good pointers, especially on Will’s theology because it’s very different from mine.
She basically wrote that entire conversation about Feuerbach, just wrote it in the comments. She was like, “I think Will should say this, and then Hannibal could say this, and then Will could say this,” and I basically just copy-pasted it from the comments into the fic and rearranged the words to sound more like the characters because she doesn’t know what their voices sound like.
If she proposed anything that was out of character, since she doesn’t know them, I would be like, “No they wouldn’t say that.” There were sometimes moments like that where she would be reading and she would be like, “So this? This doesn’t sound like natural dialogue.” I’d look and be like, “That’s from the show. That’s a direct quote from the show, they just talk like that,” and she would be like, “Okay…?”
Or something kind of strange would happen, Will would have this hallucination and she’d be like, “What is this?” I’d be like, “That happened on the show, just ignore it. Worry about the theology.” Hannibal is a strange and difficult show to explain to other people.
So for the chapter titles you used chapter and verse. Did you start with the chapter and verse or did you scour the Bible to try to match them to the theme afterwards?
I came up with them afterwards. I would finish a chapter and then afterward I’d read over the chapter and pick out the theme. For instance in the first chapter (Genesis 2:18), it’s all about Will and Hannibal meeting and starting to date. For that one I knew right away I wanted to use the line from Genesis how God made for Adam a helpmate because it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone.
(Spoilers, select to view)For the second murder tableau, the John the Baptist one when Will goes and finds John the Baptist in the park, I felt the theme that came out of that one was, manipulation and people doing stupid things for love. I remember that one being difficult. I had a different quote at first, having to do with David and Bathsheba, but then I thought there’s got to be something in Proverbs about doing stupid things for love. So I read through Proverbs until I found the one I ended up using, which isn’t about doing stupid things for love, it’s about not listening to people’s malicious lies, which I still felt was thematically appropriate. Will, don’t listen to Hannibal’s malicious lies!
That was basically my process, I would finish the chapter and then I would go back and pick out the big theme. Will has started hallucinating a lot in this chapter, so let’s see if I can find anything in the Bible about visions. So I’d Google “Bible quotes about visions.” And it would throw up a lot of quotes about visions and I’d be like, “Oh! This one, this one’s perfect.”
The one that I’m most proud of is [chapter eight] 1 Corinthians 13:12, that’s the chapter when (Spoilers, select to view)Will finds out. So I wanted to use the “sees through a glass dimly” quote, which I think even comes up in the show at some point. So I went and looked it up and discovered that it was part of a much larger passage about love. I was like, “Oh my God, I had no idea this was part of a larger passage!” I know, I’m a person of faith who barely knows the Bible, I’m the worst!
It’s part of this larger passage that often gets read at weddings, and I was like, “This is great!” I spent 15 minutes laughing at my own joke. And tiltedsyllogism, when I told her about it, also thought it was very funny and also got the humor in it. She actually wanted me to put in the notes all the verses, write them out for people. But I thought people should work for it a little bit. It’s not hard to Google, you literally just paste in the chapter and verse.
And she was like, “Yeah, but people aren’t gonna do that,” and I was like, “Well it’s their loss.
If they don’t Google it, then they don’t get that extra layer of joke.”
I enjoyed it because I did look them all up, but then after awhile I wasn’t sure if I should look them up before I read the chapter or after so as not to spoil the theme.
I didn’t even consider that would be a question people would ask themselves!
Yeah, I think it’s probably just me.
It’s true, I can see that. I never considered that. But Syl was like you should put a note that people should at least look up the Corinthians one, because I think that’s a really good joke that people should know about. So I did put a note at the end of that chapter, telling people if they hadn’t looked up the ones before they should at least look up this one, because I thought it was funny.