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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/ 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!