This month's Orphan Scrivener is being composed as snow falls thick and fast and weather forecasters are making noises about yet another nor’easter to follow in a day or two. Thus doubtless a number of subscribers will soon, if they haven't already, sympathise with the lot of the Pilgrim Fathers who, as U. S. Grant observed, came to a country sporting nine months of winter and cold weather the rest of the time.

One of Willa Cather’s characters opines winter hangs on so long in country towns that it becomes sullen, stale, and shabby, whereas on farms the usual workday round progresses beneath the weather, as streams meander along under ice. The equally chilly beginning of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe reveals in Narnia at that time it was always snowing and never Christmas, whereas snow or no our present round of holidays are not too far away now.

Psychologists declare these festive jamborees are often a time of great stress, so in the spirit of the season, we trust you'll forgive us by adding to yours by cybering you this latest newsletter.

On the other hand, at least it's not sullen, stale, or shabby...we hope!


Mark Twain wrote an essay that I haven't been able to locate, except for the fragmentary copy in my memory, in which he fulminated about the state of the world and called a spade a spade and worse -- a rant in today's jargon -- and ended with the explanation to the effect: I can dare to say all these things because I am a dead man.

He was right, of course. Or rather, he wasn't right when he wrote the words, but is, now, so many years after his death.

We tend to take words for granted. We use them constantly. They're common and disposable. They help us remember we need garbage bags and cat treats at the grocery store, yet they also preserve the thoughts of those whose bodies are dust, allow us to see through dead eyes, observe worlds that no longer exist.

It's been said that words have a life of their own, but that isn't true. By themselves they are only ink on paper or stored electrical patterns. They can only live in the minds of an audience. The audience is what matters the most. A writer is almost never present when his or her words are read. Some writers are as dead as Mark Twin, but once the words are out in the world, the audience doesn't need the person who wrote them.

It's the writer who needs the audience.

Last issue I mentioned starting a blog. Why, I'm not sure. Just because...or perhaps as it's the "in" thing, as we used to say. So I blogged a bit and stopped, and then blogged some more, and stopped again. It didn't feel right. Something was missing.

The audience.

Mind you, I'm not talking about an audience that applauds or communicates its existence in any manner. Rather what was missing was my own idea of a potential audience. When Mark Twain wrote that essay, which I hope isn't a figment of my imagination, obviously he couldn't have expected feedback from people who would be alive when he was dead. However, he surely wrote with those readers in mind, and this helped him shape the words.

There are those who purport to write for themselves, but I am not particularly interested in communicating with myself. Manipulating words effectively enough to reach others is the challenge, and it helps to know who these others are.

Some bloggers write about specific subjects and have an implicit audience. Others connect to a number of fellow bloggers, forming their audience that way. Perhaps some writers, blogging without specific readers in mind, feel they are addressing the entire population of the world wide web. To me, it just feels like talking to empty cyberspace.

I prefer to aim my writing toward someone. Mystery readers, for instance.

Many libraries are now online. Occasionally we browse and can see that someone in Texas or Alaska has checked out one of the novels and might be reading it at that moment. When I write, I'm motivated by this audience of people about whom I know nothing -- except that they read mysteries.

I'm fortunate there are people willing to read the books Mary and I write, who make it worthwhile to do something I enjoy doing.

Having said that, I'll bet irascible old Mark Twain would've been one heck of a blogger!


We have a fair bit of news this time around, so here ‘tis!


A month or so back KFAdrift, editor of the InsideAdrift Newsletter, interviewed Eric. The resulting chat -- in which Eric discusses writing interactive fiction computer games (IF) -- can be perused by visiting the InsideAdrift site and checking the archive for the November issue, or by going directly to the pdf file at 1.pdf

Reading the newsletter will also provide pointers toward some good games written by folk who can *really* program! Interactive fiction is generally text only. The reader plays the part of the protagonist and participates by typing in simple commands, so don't worry, there are none of those thumb-wiggling shoot 'em ups.


Speaking of games, as an early surprise Christmas box for subscribers, we've uploaded an unpublished story in the form of an interactive game to our website (URL below). The Thorn can be played online or readers can download a version. Admittedly, it might turn out to be like one of those elaborate toys that look so cool way up on the store shelf, but when you unwrap it on Christmas morning turns out to be just lousy cardboard and the wheels fall off. Which is to say, this is an experiment which may run on some machines and just sit there on others, but the only way to find out is to try it and see.


We were honoured to hear a week or so back that librarian Barbara Fister (author of the mystery novel On Edge) quoted a couple of comments we'd made on the topic of research as part of her lecture on True Lies, Libraries, Research, and the Facts of Fiction. Addressed to the November 2003 retreat for members of the Cooperating Libraries in Consortium, her presentation also included observations on the subject from such luminaries as Loren Estleman and George Pelecanos. Interested parties can peruse the text of her lecture at Our thanks to Barbara for this unexpected reference!


A subscriber in Canada tells us that their local library is featuring Four For A Boy on its Picks of the Year shelf. Needless to say, we're thrilled. The accolade is much appreciated, even though the library's location is as yet unknown.


When we mentioned A Second Helping of Murder last time we omitted to note its publisher is Poisoned Pen Press, the very folk who bring you John's adventures. Sorry about that, PPP! However, since we're revisiting the collection, we'll mention one or two other recipes therein while we're at it. For a start, there's a high energy cocktail from Elaine Viets rejoicing in the name of Absolut Bawls, Donna Andrews provides instructions for her grandmother's chocolate cookies, and Taffy Cannon shows how to make Rueben Dip. Meanwhile, Rhys Bowen appears with Madame Yvette's quiche- like leek tart and Mary's fellow Geordie Meg Chittenden reveals the Agony Of The Leaves -- and to put readers out of theirs, it's nothing to do with reading tea leaves!


Eric's spruced up the website, making it a bit simpler and, we hope, more attractive and friendlier to the wide variety of browsers out there. The front page now features the cover of Five For Silver, which will be published at the beginning of March. However, the paperback of Four For a Boy won't be appearing until June, because it will be a mass market paperback from ibooks, a Simon & Schuster imprint!


For a bit of light relief these dark nights, I've been reading some of the pulp fiction available at the Black Mask Online website. Currently I'm cutting a swathe through a tumultuous multitude of Doc Savage short stories. (If this type of work is not of interest, subscribers might like to look around Black Mask's mystery selection at

The Doc Savage fictionettes are classic examples of Good vs Evil adventures, usually with a dash of mystery, unfolding at a fast pace and often taking place in foreign settings. It's true these stories are not always politically correct, but that's hardly surprisingly bearing in mind the era in which they were scrivened. However, as with the Fu Manchu tales (a couple of which are available on the Black Mask site) they're excellent examples of the rattling good yarn wherein our hero leaps from one improbable situation to the next, pausing only to either deploy all manner of amazing inventions to thwart his pursuers or else engage in fisticuffs with assorted villains who are generally of unusual build, character and ambition, the latter inclination often being in the nature of world domination and/or making a fortune by illegal means. Good inevitably triumphs, even if Evil or its minions generally contrive to escape to stir up more trouble in the next entry in the series, which in Doc Savage's case is just as likely to take place under the waters of the Hudson River (hint: small submarines are involved) as in Switzerland or Portugal (reached, of course, by fast transatlantic Clipper).

Occasional references provide modern readers a smile or two. My favourites thus far include a telephone answering machine that records messages on a wire, the luxury flat at a highly prestigious address in central New York costing a whopping ten or twelve thousand dollars a year to rent, Doc's roadster, capable of zooming along at over 70 miles an hour (and furthermore fitted with short wave radio), his two- engined amphibian plane (used in one story to investigate dubious goings-on deep in the Amazon jungle, though he had to stop to refuel on the way), and last but not least large cellophane sacks fitted with elasticated hems serving to keep these bags snug against necks when used as gas masks.

Two observations about this series, if I may. First, it seems Doc's father, for reasons I've still to ascertain, arranged to have the boy raised by scientists from the time he was a baby to the day he left for college. Their aim was to make Doc a physical and mental uber-specimen, not to mention a scientific genius, and in this they certainly succeeded. Yet despite his less than usual upbringing Doc is a fairly normal adult although shy around women, whom apparently he doesn't understand. Readers these days could be forgiven for expecting such a psychologically damaging upbringing to produce a twisted, bitter, and vengeful monster, but in Doc's case the result was a modern day knight in shining armour, or rather a forerunner of the modern bullet-proof vest which he and his cohorts wear during dangerous investigations.

Secondly, and of particular interest to mystery authors, perusal of this fiction has provided an inventive excuse to trot out the next time an editor insists a book must specify details of whatever exotic poison did in Lady Whatsname- Chumleigh in the manor house library or disposed of the moustachio-twirling blackmailer awaiting his pay-off in the porch of the village church. In Birds of Death, the publisher inserted a note -- in mid-narrative, no less -- informing readers that the chemical formulae for gases and other such mixtures mentioned in the text were never precisely specified not so much because they could not be made, but rather on the grounds that such knowledge would be dangerous in criminal hands.

Since, however, readers are assured these concoctions are not impossible to replicate, perhaps such criminal elements as perused these inventive stories were diverted from engaging in plotting or executing wrong-doing for a while by spending days trying to recreate the marvellous mixes manufactured in Doc's personal laboratory.


One of the things Mary notices about this country is that in many places the sound of church bells is sadly lacking. Few UK residents live out of earshot of such tintinnabulation, and so the peals calling the faithful to worship form part of Sunday morning's soundtrack, along with the sizzle of bacon and eggs and the rustling of the pages of the News of the World or the Sunday Times, depending on individual household demographics.

Tolling the passing bell at funerals (mentioned in Dorothy L. Sayers' Nine Tailors) and the clamour of bell ringing practice, which for some reason seems to be held mostly on Thursday nights, are other occasions when the bells are heard bawling brazenly. The happy custom of ringing a peal as a newly wedded couple emerges from the church is so much part of British tradition that its lack during the war years, when church bells would only be rung to mark invasion or victory, must have been particularly missed.

Indeed, the TV transmission of the wedding of Charles and Diana must have brought many a nostalgic lump to British throats when one section of the broadcast closed with a lingering, increasingly long-range, aerial view of the church steeple in the village near the Spencer family estate, the joyous ringing of bells fading way under and into a lush instrumental version of Greensleeves.

There will, however, soon be another event when church bells will be heard across Britain since in about a fortnight peals will be rung to usher in the new year. Will 2004 be a good twelve months for us all? Time will tell. Speaking of criminal elements as we just did, however, one thing we can predict is that the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will arrive in your email in-box on l5 February. So we'll be back then with, as the British say, bells on.

Best wishes for the holiday season,

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 another 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!