James Russell Lowell can suggest all he wants that June is the month when, if there are such things, perfect days will arrive because if he was referring to the weather, alas, going by current conditions he was misinformed. More famously so too was Humphrey Bogart's Rick, vis a vis his alleged plan to take the (non existent) waters in Casablanca for the sake of his health. In fact, Rick should have come to the east coast since this past week we've been looking out at rain coming down like stair rods, underlining that while Oscar Hammerstein's chorus in Carousel sang so happily about the month busting out, here June seems set fair to burst out -- with cloud bursts, that is.

Yet few things are cosier than pulling your armchair up to the fire and sitting down with a book and a cup of tea on a rainy night, with the wind howling in the chimney and sleet lashing at the windows. Unfortunately, whether it is raining or not when this flies in from the aether, we can offer only virtual fires and cuppas but, ever obliging, we'll request the chorus to keep their singing down to a dull roar so that you can concentrate on this latest Orphan Scrivener.


As far as mystery novels go, we do appear to be labouring alone (if that is not an oxymoron) in the stony fields of Byzantium. But we shouldn't cavil too loudly, seeing as it's little better vis a vis kinematic treatments of personalities and events in the reign of Justinian and Theodora. Such productions are not as numerous as stones in the aforementioned field and despite some research most of them as yet we know little about -- but we're listing them anyhow, just for the heck of it and in case you happen to have a VCR and a video rental shop nearby.

Not surprisingly, the Italians have produced a fistful of epics honouring the empress -- Theodora, Empress of Byzantine (l909) plus two succinctly titled Teodora (l9l3 and l92l). The French meantime got into the celluloid act in l9l2 with Theodora. If anyone has details about these films, we'd be happy to share them in Orphan Scrivener!

Our literary excavations have, however, unearthed a little information about the l9l9 Italian black and white silent Teodora (its English title is Theodora, The Slave Princess). According to the indispensable Internet Movie Database website, the story details how Theodora's affair with a Greek ends in tears for many, since it results in extensive swordplay in both Rome and Constantinople.

In a more sympathetic portrayal of the empress, the l954 Italian film Teodora, Imperatrice di Bisanzio (also issued as Theodora, Slave Empress and Theodora, Queen of Byzantium) presents Theodora not only as a former lady of the night but also as an ex-slave and consequently a champion of the common people. This seems not unlikely in that even though she was never a slave, Theodora certainly had very humble origins and her charitable works after her rise in society (including founding a nunnery for former prostitutes) are well known. Unfortunately, however, Theodora's attempts to better the lot of working schmoes result in, yes, more riots and swordplay in both cities.

Kampf Um Rome (screened under several aliases including Fight, Battle or Struggle for Rome as well as The Last Roman) is a Romanian-German-Italian l968 production whose original running time was four hours, although apparently it was cut to somewhat less than half that length for general release. This particular production caught our attention immediately because to our delight its plot deals with, among other things, a power struggle between King Theodoric's orphaned daughters. Thus characters include several either featured -- or referred to -- in Threefer, notably (in variant spellings) Mathaswintha, Witichis and Amalaswintha. The latter is played by Honor Blackman, the inimitable Orson Welles portrays Justinian and Sylva Koscina appears as Theodora.

The basic story of Struggle For Rome concerns Cethegus, a Roman noble (Laurence Harvey) who goes to Constantinople to visit Justinian vis a vis military action to be taken against the Goths. Needless to say, this is not the only reason for Cethegus' journey -- his hidden ambition is to seize control of Italy once the two armies have finished fighting each other. But what about Justinian himself comes the cry from the back row. Well, in the flickers he appears to lurk somewhat in Theodora's long shadow. So far the only title we've located specifically mentioning him is a l907 French black and white silent presentation, Torches Humaines. Evidently this is a lurid affair in more ways than one since its English title is Justinian's Human Torches and while this sobriquet could be applied to certain events occurring at the beginning of Twofer, thankfully we remain entirely in the dark about the film's pyrotechnic details.


And speaking of being in the dark, for the first time since we began Orphan Scrivener, the BSP Ticker sits unlit and silent. Alas.


You may have noticed that Three for a Letter was dedicated to Louis H. Silverstein, Chairman of Poisoned Pen Press's Editorial Review Committee, or CERC, as he loved to be known. The first anniversary of his death falls in about three weeks and this seems an appropriate time to share a small anecdote about him.

Louis was Poisoned Pen's first reader of the manuscript of our first published novel, One For Sorrow. Of course, first readers don't have last say but it was Louis who saw enough promise in the book to recommend it to the press, even before our editor Barbara Peters began working with us on it. Writing is a strange profession. It's a solitary activity, aimed towards a distant, perhaps unattainable, audience of readers that can be reached only by finding an individual reader, the guardian of a gate to publication, who will allow you to pass through it.

Over the years my writing path has been barred by gatekeepers too numerous to mention. As all writers, I've received everything from typical "not suitable for us at this time" form letters to lovingly handwritten insults. When I started collecting rejection slips I was writing fiction with an Underwood manual and carbon paper. The idea that my first novel acceptance would arrive electronically via a computer on my desk, as Onefer's did, was like something out of the sf stories on which I cut my writing teeth.

An encouraging letter from a publisher was a thing I had quite literally dreamed about but at times seemed as unlikely as a winning lottery ticket. In fact, the entire convergence of circumstances was extremely unlikely. I believe it was necessary for One for Sorrow to be read by a retired Yale librarian, as Louis was. While others might have found our style archaic or convoluted, Louis delighted in it. And just as importantly we needed someone willing to evaluate the book as a book, not a commodity or a product -- an approach it seems only Poisoned Pen Press and a few other publishers practice today.

Given all the strange circumstances underlying our convergence, it is fair to say that none of the three of us should have been doing what we were doing at the time. Mary and I finished One for Sorrow while we were losing our home and being turned out onto the street. Our manuscript was plucked from oblivion by a man who had battled dreadful health problems that could easily have crushed his enthusiasm and will to go on, yet his joie de vivre and delight in matters literary continued unabated to the end. In short, it was a meeting of three people who would have been expected to have long since given up. And thus it was that Onefer came to be published. Sadly, Louis died prematurely only a few years after retirement. You can read a biographical sketch about him here: 7.html

You may also be interested in an article written by Louis at:

Before Onefer had even been accepted, Louis sent us a very kind and encouraging letter. This kind gesture meant a great deal to us and we wrote him that if we ever again got a house of our own, the first thing we would do would be to frame his letter and hang it on the study wall. Apparently the very notion tickled him no end, as Mary would say. Although we haven't got a house yet that's still our hope and if we should accomplish it, you can bet that Louis' letter will be hung on the wall the first day we set feet over threshold!


Speaking of gates, as this issue goes out we're still standing at the door of summer. As Will Shakespeare perceptively remarked in sonnet mode, the lease of the season is short -- but it's also true that August is generally when the thermometer soars and headlines in the popular UK press have a tendency to announce "It's A Scorcher" once the mercury passes 70 degrees or so. Whatever the weather turns out to be, however, we'll be adding a modicum of excitement to your summer cavalcade on August l5th when the next issue of Orphan Scrivener flies hot off the virtual press and flaps into your email in-box. See you then!

Best wishes
Mary and Eric

whose home page hangs out in the aether at

Therein you'll find the usual suspects, including more personal essays and an interactive game as well as an on-line jigsaw puzzle (at least if you have a java-enabled browser) featuring One For Sorrow's boldly scarlet cover. For those new to the subscription list there's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned!