Here we are darkening your email box again, although this time around the Orphan Scrivener newsletter will perhaps be more letter than news. Never mind, on with the motley and over to


Cor, guv, our spies tell us that representatives of the raven family are appearing a lot on TV these days.

Ravens were all over the place in an X-Files episode at the beginning of the month. Their mysterious presence permitted Agent Mulder to reveal his knowledge of miscellaneous corvine strangenesses, including their place in Celtic mythology but alas, in so doing, he breathed nary a word on their connection with the prognostic rhyme. But the oddities continued even after the episode's closing woo woo theme music had dissipated into the aether, for on the same network a week or so later, several characters in That 70s Show were less than thrilled to discover that they had just eaten a meal of crows. The cook had apparently mistaken the birds for pheasants - an error it's safe to say John's servant Peter would never make.

But since it's commonly said that events travel in threes, we can only hope Fox TV isn't planning a sweeps week programme depicting the inevitable shambles that occurs When Good Ravens Turn Bad.

Speaking of shambles and general strangenesses, this Orphan Scrivener will flap in at the peak of tax return season. As Benjamin Franklin famously remarked, death and taxes alike are inevitable, and from there it's only a short leap to their link, ie wills. As it happens, not long ago I was reading selections from Corpus Juris Civilis, the great codification of Roman law assembled at Justinian's command. Published over the six years ending in 535 (the year in which One For Sorrow is set) Corpus Juris Civilis is generally acknowledged as the foundation of civil law today, a rather startling thought to say the least but doubtless one which Justinian would find pleasing.

In any event, one section of the Corpus lists classes barred from witnessing wills. Those named include minors, slaves, women, the mentally afflicted and those who cannot hear or speak. Yet under contemporary civil law, a will was legally valid if the person making it recited it in front of seven witnesses - an excellent scenario for a murder mystery if ever I saw one.


Lately we've developed a distinct resemblance to kippers, having been grilled more than once since the last Orphan Scrivener. Here are a few URLS at which you may care to point your clickers.

At the beginning of April we did our first interview for a UK website. It's to be found at Bookends.

A few weeks before that, the Sixth Grade Think Quest Team fired up the grill in connection with their Millennium Mystery Madness project .

The Team's website includes a history of the mystery, games and an interesting page describing their anatomy of a mystery. You'll also find several authors' comments and advice on writing mysteries. We were honoured to be included among them. Thanks, Think Quest Gumshoes!

The Mystery Guide's April l0th round table discussion of historical mysteries, moderated by Andi Shechter, was more fun than a trunk full of monkeys. Troy Soos and Miriam Grace Monfredo and we two were guests and there's a transcript.

While you're online, you might also like to cast an eye over Susan McBride's column on "The New Golden Age of Mysteries" at the Charlotte Austin Review for some familiar names.

Mt Arlington, NJ, is the location of the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference which will be held from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm on June l7th at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel. Eric will be chatting on one the panels. Announced attendees include Jonathan Harrington, Irene Marcuse and Keith Snyder. Conference organiser Patti Biringer recently revealed that not only will Parnell Hall be giving a luncheon talk entitled "If He Can Do It, Anybody Can", he's also promised to sing!

In other news, we've almost finished writing Two For Joy. Poisoned Pen Press will publish it in October this year (along with the paperback edition of One For Sorrow). Set in 537, Two For Joy opens with more than one mysterious death. John's investigations are hampered by a pagan philosophy tutor from his youth and a heretical Christian prophet whose ultimatums threaten to topple the empire. Then murder strikes close to home and John has only days to find a solution before he, his friends and the city itself are destroyed. Characters include a runaway wife, servants and soldiers, madams and mendicants, a venomous court page and a wealthy landowner or two--not to mention John's bete noire, Empress Theodora.


Due to technical problems, our March chat with AOL's Mystery Mavens had to be rescheduled to May. We'll jot a note as soon as we have the date, in case you'd like to stop by and assist in burnishing up our kipperdom.


Something that seems to interest people - for we're often asked about it - is how two writers can work together on the same project. Well, when Mary and I write together we start with some characters (say a Greek eunuch and some other secret followers of Mithra who serve the Christian Emperor Justinian) and an idea that strikes us as interesting (what if a traveler from King Arthur's court arrived in Constantinople in search of the Holy Grail?) Then we begin to extrapolate. What should happen first? O.K., so if they see some bull-leapers at the Hippodrome, then what?

But before even approaching the point of coming to blows, we'll have constructed a rough plot outline divided into scenes - no details to speak of, mainly just who does what and when and where. Enough to get started, but not so much as to take the fun out of "discovering" the story as we write it. We might know that John is going to speak to a beggar woman and discover an important clue, but we don't necessarily know exactly what turns their conversation will take. That's the fun of the writing.

So far as individual methods go, Mary thinks and thinks and then whips through a scene before going back to rewrite. I tend to scribble notes and do my rewriting slowly as I go along (which is possible only because of word processors!) At any rate, once we finish the scenes we've chosen to write, we turn them over to our co-writer for "editing", which can be light or heavy.

The further we progress in the outline the more the projected story tends to change. We add, and subtract, scenes and characters, and we might even find out we've initially tabbed the wrong person for the murder!

Our discussions are almost always about ideas, settings, characters, plot twists, clues. Those are what most readers, including myself, read for - not for individual words. I don't much care if a writer hangs an occasional participle so long as I give a hang about the characters. Which is not to say we don't pay any attention to using good grammar and effective words, but that is just the polish. Flaubert was perfectly entitled to his eternal quest for "le mot juste" but if you ask me he's caused aspiring writers a lot of grief!


It's a sad coincidence that April l5th l453 was the day the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople, thus ending the Byzantine Empire - a melancholy thought that also brings this Orphan Scrivener (almost) to its close. The next issue will arrive around the Ides of June, which fall the day before Greeks celebrated the Birthday of the Muses. Musing about jotting us a line? We'll be glad to hear from you!

Otherwise, we'll see you in a couple of months.

Best wishes to all

Mary and Eric

Our home page and includes personal essays, links to interesting mystery- themed sites, peeks behind the scenes of our fiction, a downloadable interactive game written by Eric and the Orphan Scrivener archive.