THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # ONE HUNDRED AND SEVEN -- 15 OCTOBER 2017

This issue of Orphan Scrivener is written on a day of dead calm, featuring glowering grey sky against which now advancing fall colour flares. Colder nights this past week have brought out the foliage-painting elves to wield brushes loaded with yellows of various tints in lemon, gold, canary, and even that shade of a person's hair known as flavicomous. Red, scarlet, and ruby will follow if leaves hang on long enough, so while subscribers wait to see the full display they may care to continue reading this latest newsletter....


MARY'S BIT or LIMBURGER OR LAPPI?

It was just a couple of months ago when we stood on the quay waving our hankies and tossing confetti as the good ship Ruined Stone sounded its siren and sailed off to meet its fate.

Once a new book disappears from view over the horizon, we are invariably anxious about its journey -- until we see the first review. However, like the proverbial cheese, once out in the world every book must stand alone. And the first to the cheese board are reviewers. Will they judge our latest literary offering to be akin to lappi or to limburger?

But every time, after that first review appears, whether it's complimentary or critical, we are freed from worry and return to lurching along on our usual erratic course. Others have mentioned this same anxiety until the first review appears. Why it should be so we have no notion, but so it is.

Yet critical reviews are not always necessarily as difficult to cope with as might be thought. They are sometimes useful to the writer if they include a few words dealing with why the reviewer did not care for the work in question. It may sound contradictory at first blush, but those type of comments form a yardstick both for readers who don't share the reviewer's taste in mysteries as well as those who do. The first may well think twice about buying the book in question, not caring for it, and returning it to the seller (is there any other profession where it is possible to sample the goods and then return them for a refund or store credit?) whereas the second will hopefully rely on agreeing with the reviewer's preferences yet again and order it. Sadly, it is been our observation that such constructive criticism, while gold to be mined, tends to be uncommonly found just as in nature.

Perhaps we just don't write the right kind of books?

Of course writers must be able to handle rejection although it may never be an easy task, not least because they will have laboured for months -- or in many cases even longer -- to produce the work under discussion. Going by anecdotal evidence it's usually the memory of a scathing review that lingers much longer than one praising a novel to the skies. Indeed, if any of our subscribers talks to a writer at a conference or book signing, they shouldn't be surprised if they are able to remember and ruefully relate at least one such review.

A well-known anecdote concerning this topic, although concerning a different type of artistic endeavour, involves Morecambe and Wise, who ultimately became what many consider the most popular English comedy double act of any era. Early in their television career they were panned by a writer for The People newspaper in a review defining a TV set as "the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise." Morecambe (the one with the glasses) is said to have carried that review around with him for the rest of his life.

Like everyone else who's put kalamos to parchment, we've had less than stellar reviews on more than one occasion. So long as the content sticks to the writing that's fair enough. But when a review turns into a personal attack it's a different pan of potatoes and demonstrates a clear attempt to accomplish what H. L. Mencken once described as prejudice made plausible.

Let me mention -- no, I insist! -- an instance of which we are personally aware. Several years ago, a reviewer unknown to us spent most of what he or she had written about one of John's adventures to attack another author, who subsequently revealed to us this was not the first time it had happened. Our collective deduction was whoever was responsible obviously had an axe to grind, although what it could be and why we should have the dubious honour of being chosen as its latest handle none of us ever found out.

Still, our favourite critical review was a classic one-liner emailed directly to us. It stated in total "And for what it's worth, you're writing sucks". As an insult it struck me as weak tea given it's one peculiar to this country, so since it does not form part of my cultural background it was nothing about which I could get in a bate, while my worthy co-writer found it comical on the grounds if you are going to insult someone, it's always a good plan to check your spelling first. We can only suppose our correspondent was cheesed off.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

Speaking of reviews, a few more for Ruined Stones appeared during this last month or two.

A mystery with dark and dangerous undercurrents that will keep you turning the pages. A "Must Read" for any serious fan of historical mysteries. Doward Wilson, Kings River Life News

...a sharp picture of working class life and of criminals flourishing amidst a lack of police...One to enjoy without haste. Ward Saylor, Crime Thru Time

[The authors] mention the selection of Newcastle as a conscious choice as a balance to the London-centric tendency for Blitz stories. The cold and fog makes a suitable adjunct to the chill coming off the old ruins to help sustain the atmosphere of a modern ghost story. The lack of heat or other comforts in a poor area of the city and the need to spend nights underground in cold and damp shelters also does much to create an atmosphere. Chris Roberts, Crime Review

The tone and sense of time and place are near perfect. The town suffers from despair and loss, of plodding ahead because the past is ruined...With this so-cool it chills suspense novel, they may have another success on their hands. Blogger Martin Hill Ortiz


ERIC'S BIT or A WALK TO THE GRAVEYARD

At this time of year, when there aren't many nights between now and Halloween, it's natural our thoughts turn more often to graveyards and those at rest there.

Years ago I considered it a treat to walk with my grandmother to the cemetery a block from where our family lived. When you're six, the end of the street is a long way and the cemetery on the far side of a road you aren't allowed cross by yourself seems even further.

The small cemetery might have been another world, enclosed by a painted, wrought iron fence with a gate that creaked as we entered. Inside was quiet. The sounds of passing traffic did not penetrate the shadows under the old, overgrown yew trees. There we heard only bird calls and the buzzing of the honeybees in the luxuriant clover which half concealed flat grave markers. I'd be thrilled and horrified to find I had set my sneaker, unknowingly, on a slab of polished granite.

At the oldest end of the place, lichened stones leaned against the fence and sat in neat piles, inscriptions too eroded to identify. I was awed by their age. What inconceivable vastness of time would it take to wear away the names and memories of the living?

The family plot was at the edge of the newer end in the sunlight, just beyond the yews. In early summer there were sweet, wild strawberries to be found in the grass.

The night after I watched my grandfather's coffin lowered from view I lay in bed and thought about him out there in the dark, in the cold, alone, so close I could have heard him shout for me.

Then it was different when my grandmother and I walked to the cemetery. Then I was old enough to read the dates on the gravestones. I helped my grandmother tend the geraniums by the grave. When she fussed with the flower bed I saw her straightening my grandfather's tie.

A few years later I watched an aunt buried and in twenty years I returned again -- this time not from the end of the street but from another state -- to see my grandmother join them.

I noticed that the cemetery had expanded but the rusting fence hadn't been extended to replace the vanished trees which had edged the yards beyond. There was no longer any demarcation between house and cemetery lawns. The graves simply petered out a few feet from a children's swing set.

There is room in the family plot still. My instructions, though, are firm. I will be cremated and my ashes scattered far away, perhaps over water, some place no one can walk to.


AND FINALLY

We spoke of leaves at the beginning of this issue and now, having reaching its end, the time has come to take our leave from subscribers until the next Orphan Scrivener, which will appear in in-boxes on 15th December.

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, to be found hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the Web at http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/ There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a bibliography, and our growing libraries of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Our joint blog is at http://ericreedmysteries.blogspot.com/ Intrepid subscribers may also wish to know our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales Drop in some time!


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