William Blake can declaim all he wants about beholding summer with joy, but given the dreadful heat currently half suffocating the eastern coast, a glance at the humidity hanging in white veils all over our lime-green landscape so strongly suggests the Amazonian rain forest that we almost expect to see a monkey swing by on an orange-flowered cat's claw vine or hear the mournful trumpet of a grazing elephant somewhere in the steamy distance. Of course, since elephants are not generally found in the vicinity of the Amazon, readers should feel free to put that last remark down to literary licence aka the writer's fig leaf.

We're more in agreement with Rossiter Johnson's thoughts as conveyed in Ninety-Nine In The Shade, wherein he longs for a dwelling in a cucumber garden, a couple of icebergs, or even a holiday trip to the north pole. Since the thermometer has yet to reach that high, although doubtless it will, Oscar, it will, we have not taken to lounging about on deck chairs or arranging a fortnight's sojourn in colder climes. Instead, we've been labouring away over our June newsletter -- and so now here it is, hot off the press.


When Eric declared he needed a crowbar we realised that changing a bathroom washer was not going to be an easy task. And it didn't help that we had only two hammers and a pair of semi-stripped screwdrivers to do the job.

Lest readers think that employing a hammer to repair a tap is somewhat excessive, I should reveal that the item in question was, in fact, a washing machine and our problem (apart from the fact it had conked out and could not be repaired) was that it was too wide to get out the bathroom door.

The laundry machine in question was a twenty or so years old Harvest Gold behemoth, and it was obvious that to get it in there the bathroom door and part of the wall had had to be removed. Not being builders, we decided it would be simpler to dismantle the washer in situ and haul it out piece-meal rather than start tearing down walls.

I was reminded of Bernard Cribbins' comical song about Fred and a pair of his friends struggling to move something not actually specified, although it was definitely very large and from its described encrustations has always struck me as likely being of Victorian vintage. Anyhow, they have such a terrible time of it that at one point Charlie, one of Fred's helpers, suggests taking off the thing's handles and candle-holders and then using a couple of ropes to accomplish the job. To no avail.

We thought we'd come up with an inventive solution, even without the cups of tea Fred and company endlessly imbibed while considering their difficulties. However, when we began to dismantle the washer we discovered they sure made them to last in those days. It took an hour with hammers and screwdrivers before we managed to remove the back portion holding the timer and other controls along with the top containing the lid and the front panel. Getting the latter off revealed that the drum was attached to yards of wiring and piping and switches and such, to free it from which took a fair amount of labour.

The drum was by far the washer's heaviest part and therefore caused the most trouble, because being held in place by its own weight and four huge springs that could have launched a 747 did they form a catapulting device, it was a terrible struggle to get the quartet of metal coils sufficiently out of shape to unhook the drum. But with minimal bloodshed we managed to pull it off, turned the washer on its side, and triumphantly rolled the drum out of the bathroom.

This left a somewhat dented metal cube to be extracted from the bathroom. We tried the getting-a-couch-around-a-door-post manouevre, but the frame was just an inch or two too wide no matter how we angled it.

Inspiration struck! If we could somehow make one side narrower we could get the frame out using that particular side as the leading edge. But how to do that, you may well ask. Well, we reasoned, sinnce the bar bracing the side panels runs from corner to corner across the front, if it could be hammered into a v-shape -- the front panel itself having already been removed as mentioned -- this in turn would pull the side panels in towards each other and thus narrow their width just enough to be able to get the wretched thing out through the currently impassable doorway.

So it turned out to be.

It was when we brought the new apartment-sized washer home that we discovered although we had carefully measured the width of the bathroom door we had completely overlooked extra inches added when the washer was packed and boxed. So we could not get it in through the front door. However, since a passing kindly downpour was steadily reducing the cardboard packaging back to its original pulp, we eventually wrassled it inside, soggy but triumphant. The washer cleared the bathroom doorway with an inch to spare -- and it didn't need any encouraging taps with a hammer to help it along either.

Just in case you're wondering, Fred and his colleagues also tried taking the mysterious item's feet and seat off, but that didn't help either. Neither did removing the door, walls *and* ceiling so in the end whatever it was was left on the landing.


Only three items on the ticker this time, but talk about news!


We were honoured indeed to hear in May that this year's Mystery Showcase edition of the American Library Association's Booklist Magazine included John's adventures on its Best Little-Known Series list. Only four series were named, the other three being written by Beth Saulnier (Alex Bernier), Jess Walter (Caroline Mabry) and Ed Gorman (Sam McCain).


We learnt just as we dragged Orphan Scrivener off to press that a revised edition of The Elements of Mystery Fiction: Writing a Modern Whodunit (edited by William G. Tapply) will appear from Kalmbach Publishing in 2004 -- and further that Hallie Ephron's chapter on how writing teams collaborate mentions some of our meanderings on that very topic. And talk about being in good company! Multi-headed authors examined include Ellery Queen, Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. Our thanks to Hallie for including us in such august company.


We are happy to report that Four For a Boy has received *starred* reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. "Written with humor and pathos, this superior historical is sure to please existing fans and send new ones in search of the rest of the series" according to PW, while Booklist's David Pitt says "At some point, every great series needs an "origin story," and this one's a real corker."

John's elderly servant Peter will now circulate among you offering cups of raw Egyptian wine. 8-}


Poisoned Pen Press provides a map of Constantinople at the front of each of our books. It's a nice touch. There's a print-out of such a map sitting on my desk and already I've marked in red pen the places John is visiting as we write the fifth novel, trying to envision what route he might take, how long a walk it would be, what he'd pass along the way, and whether he could see the Marmara or the Golden Horn.

Maps have always fascinated me. By itself a map is a scale model of the world. A series of maps can tell a visual story. When I was a kid I loved to draw successive maps of imaginary worlds. Countries would appear, grow, wither away. Empires would rise, wash across bizarrely shaped continents and then recede. Maybe I was inspired by maps of the ancient world and especially of Rome, born a speck of a city state, growing to encompass the Mediterranean, before gradually dying, shrinking away once again into the single besieged city of Constantinople.

My friends and I enacted history by playing board games. RISK allowed us to spread armies of markers across a map of the world, taking over one country after another, nicely mimicking the manner in which a proper empire, like Rome, should grow. We much preferred, however, the long forgotten SUMMIT. This was also played out on a map, but the goal was to exert combinations of economic influence, military power and popular support in as many countries as possible. Colorful plastic tokens created a nice graphical representation of one's attempts at world domination. I can't recall exactly, but I think if you triggered a nuclear war, you lost.

Although maps of the ancient world are fascinating they are also misleading. Drawn the same way as modern maps with the same precise boundaries, they give the impression of being documentary, yet they are really, like movies of the week, oversimplified, more cartographic fiction than reality. In the ancient world borders were not as clear cut as they are today and notions of political control were not the same. To envision Rome as a nation state would be as anachronistic as imagining Justinian composing new laws on a laptop.

The parts of a map colored as The Eastern Roman Empire differed considerably more than, say, California and Maine. In the capital itself, being part of the Empire meant regulations even down to making certain new construction didn't obstruct someone's view of the sea, while in Africa Roman control tended not to extend outside the cities and Egypt was pretty much allowed to retain its heretical religious views.

It strikes me the lines on the maps didn't mean as much to the people living in those times. Long before Rome "fell" in 476, Italy was in the hands of German military commanders, who were content to allow Romans to run the civil administration. Our maps today show a huge change when the pretense of Roman control was dispensed with -- Italy suddenly thrust outside the sturdy border of the Empire, its land turned the color of barbarism. Yet the lives of most in Italy didn't alter. More were probably affected by the bloody wars over the "boundaries" than the actual change.

Relations between the East and West continued. Borders weren't closed, walls didn't go up. An official like Cassiodorus could spend the first part of his career advising Theodoric, the Gothic king of Italy -- who paid lip service to affiliation with the Eastern Empire -- and the latter part in Constantinople. Although Gaul was by now far removed from the map of Rome, Theodoric had extended his influence there in the early 500's and an official from his court, where Roman style administration was still maintained, sent to administer a part of Gaul would probably not have noticed what is now such a prominent cartographic difference.

The actual boundaries of Constantinople are, on the other hand, quite clear. The massive, outer land walls erected by Theodosius, with its towers and moat, still exists. Unfortunately, little else does. A typical map of the ancient capital shows the forked Mese -- the Main Street of the Eastern Roman Empire -- dotted by a few forums, the Great Church, the Hippodrome, and the general location of the Great Palace. Of the streets John walked, let alone all the twisty, dark alleys he and his friends still insist on frequenting even though they really should know better, there remains hardly a trace. Aside from the Mese there survives no fragment of a street longer than 100 meters. Scholars are attempting to recreate a street grid by reference to remaining monuments and ruins. The actual location of well known buildings is sometimes conjectural and even the size of famous public spaces like the Augustaion -- of which nothing survives -- is a matter of dispute.

Still, I love looking at maps, no matter that ancient ones might purport to show more than is actually known. The De Imperatoribus Romanis website at has a wonderful series of maps of the Roman Empire at 100 year intervals from 01 to 1453 AD. If, on the other hand, you want to play with maps, try out this "ancient" (1986) freeware computer game, The Annals of Rome, at Thanks to the lack of computer graphics at the time it is little more than a map on which you can, one hopes, manage to expand your territory just as the emperors did, by appointing the right commanders and allocating armies and resources wisely. Unfortunately, in the game as in actual history, the Germans and Persians keep coming. Alas, like the emperors, I fought history and history won.


Romans celebrated the festival of Cardea at the beginning of June, honouring her as goddess of thresholds, hinges, locks and doors as well as one who possessed the power to close or open that which was open or shut. So it's only fitting we close this June newsletter by noting that having reached our twenty-first edition, Orphan Scrivener has now formally come of age. In the UK in former times it would therefore have been presented with an oversized cardboard silver key such as British 2l year olds received on the day -- and also perhaps even tossed up and down the appropriate number of times in a blanket.

However, in most US states the age of majority is now l8 and so instead of a quick chorus of 2l Today (the traditional serenade declaring the birthday honoree had now officially received the key to the door, never having been 2l before) we'll have to content ourselves with closing this landmark issue by locking it down for transmission with a closing reminder that the next Orphan Scrivener will flap through your email door on l5th August. See you then!

Best wishes
Mary and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line that is 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!