Some have derived the name of the month from the Latin aperire (to open), April being when leaves start unfurling in the green mist that spreads over hill and vale and heralds spring. Appropriately, then, April is now when -- having fought our way through the foggy wasteland that is the Form l040 instruction booklet -- we open our cheque books and send slips of paper representing green-backs off to the Department of the Treasury.
Those living in the l800s considered April to be ruled by diamonds, which in the Language of Jewels denoted innocence. It therefore seems a pity US tax returns are not due in March, for according to this charming Victorian belief, that month is ruled by bloodstones, representing courage. We therefore salute those subscribers with the courage to wrassle tax returns into submission *and* read this newsletter on the same day. Read on, ye innocents!
Now please bear with me. On the one hand I naturally take some pride in our books, but on the other I'm uncomfortable saying much about it, though I'm told I ought to do so for publicity purposes. Admittedly one could hardly say "Please read my book, it isn't very good", but I have been subjected to all too many strutting and crowing authors to want to appear as such myself. See the poet Crinagoras in Five For Silver, for example. What's more, to attempt to discuss a negative aspect of a book's success is to veer perilously close to what I might term "Ruth territory".
"Ruth" was a perfect girl in my grade school classes, who was not named Ruth (I'm protecting the innocent and all that...) Of course, she had endless reasons to brag, but being perfect, she couldn't. Instead there would be exchanges such as:
Ruth: "So what'd you get on your report card?"
Eric: Mostly 'A's. "Except a 'B' in Arithmetic."
Ruth: "A 'B'? You got a 'B'? Really? Oh let me see! Oh gee...you're lucky...I wish I could get a 'B'. Its sooooo boring getting nothing but silly old 'A's every time."
Having said that, I hope this is taken as the observation it's meant as rather than a disguised brag. The starred review, while most exhilarating did not strike me as an entirely positive thing. Because...now what? Either we get another (been there, done that) or we don't (abject failure, having had a star.) The strategy we've taken thus far is to try to make sure that successive books are different from each other in significant ways. We vary the tone, the mix of characters, the type of plot, thus avoiding the feeling that we have to continually top ourselves, by doing the same thing all over again...but better.
Thus there will be more sunlight in Book Six.
An even worse problem -- oh, yes, there's always worse -- is that I just can't put myself in a state of mind where I feel I'm writing anything worthy of a starred review anywhere. Generally I feel as if I'm writing something that would be sneered at by the editor of my college literary magazine, and I've been out of college 30 years. I've been writing stories of some sort with no success for decades, and the writing process, while I'm engaged in it, feels no different to me now than it did when nobody would give the results the time of day. The idea that what I'm laboring on will be criticized by a professional reviewer from Publisher's Weekly is just plain terrifying.
Then too, one shouldn't be contemplating reviews while writing. It is generally true, in any endeavor, that it can be disastrous to be worrying about the result when you should be concentrating on the process. I have enough problems figuring out which end of the sentence to place a word in, let alone wondering about anyone's reaction to the finished 75,000 word narrative.
So the way I see, good reviews are the first step on the slippery slope to writer's block.
However, having said that, I have to admit, when I saw that starred review, I not only felt misgivings, I also couldn't help thinking "Please, please...let Ruth read Publishers Weekly."
Discovering the meaning of obelist is a good example of when reading mysteries are educational, as I've also recently found to be the case when perusing several old mystery novels and random gothic tales. In doing so, my vocabulary has been enlarged by several unusual words, the meanings of which were established only after consultation with Messrs Webster, Funk & Wagnall, Wordsmiths to the Trade.
Even after their sterling lexicographical assistance, I remain unenlightened as to the meanings of one or two so far untraceable words. For example, beaupots, spotted in the description of a manor house garden. If it is not a typo for beauty spots, my guess is they might be large, decorative containers in which flowers and greenery such as geraniums or ivy are planted. And equally puzzling, what should the reader make of a reference to a Bolo form of government? From the context it appears nothing to do with either a machete or a string tie with a fancy clasp, but could well refer to Bolshevik rule.
I will admit to some surprise when a character "elaborated a cigarette". At first blush it seems, as the old catch-phrase declares, a good trick if you can do it. However, further investigation established that to accomplish this apparently remarkable feat all the smoker had to do was make an elaborate show of painstakingly lighting his gasper. Then again, a slim character's physique, described as an appanage of birth, gives a hint of its meaning, being something belonging to someone by right or custom. An example given was of land settled by a prince on his younger sons, and the author's word choice is particularly apt given that these days for many in the public eye their physical appearances are their fortune.
Then again, I took to rhodomontade (variant of rodomontade), meaning vain, empty boasting or ranting. Indeed, it strikes me as a good name for a provocative or controversial publication, although its euphonious nature might lead unsuspecting readers to expect a quite different type of content.
My impression is the authors of many of these older works assumed readers would be familiar with words in less common usage nowadays, just as Victorian writers in particular seem to take it for granted their mythological, literary, and poetic references (as well as occasional Latin or Greek phrases) would be immediately understood by their reading public.
There again, such readers occasionally needed a fair grasp of esoteric phraseology, although it's always fun to take a stab at guessing meanings before looking them up. However, had I perused William Harrison Ainsworth's Auriol or The Elixir of Life while this bubbling potboiler of a gothic novel was first serialised in the l840s instead of only a month or so ago, I'd doubtless have immediately known that menstruum is a solvent rather than an archaic musical instrument, a burette isn't a hair ornament but a glass tube. and athanor signifies an alchemical furnace instead of one of J. R. R. Tolkien's minor characters, if indeed any of Professor Tolkien's creations can be termed thus. Auriol also mentioned gourd-shaped cucurbites which, as it transpired, are not malformed vegetables, but rather rounded vessels forming part of a distilling apparatus. Further, I discovered from this same novel that a fauteuil is an armchair, and as for estrade (a dais or platform) how many homes these days can boast one, with or without a fauteuil, cucurbite, or athanor?
Ainsworth's novel certainly rattles along at a frantic pace as scenes jump all over, and at times under, the landscape. Its plot is so byzantine that the closer I reached its denouement, the more I doubted the author could tie up all the loose ends dangling hither, thither, and yon. As it transpired I was not far wrong, for I eventually discovered this narrative confusion was largely due to the order of the chapters having been mixed up in the e-text I was reading.
Far worse, however, was that the closing page or so were such let-downs they must surely have been enough to provoke readers of even the mildest disposition to become atrabilious to the extent of provoking rhodomontadic outbursts of a ranting nature. -
At this point subscribers may suddenly recall Ralph Waldo Emerson's observation that no matter what we do, summer unfortunately brings flies. In keeping with this, the next Orphan Scrivener will buzz irritatingly out to you on l5th June, the month represented by agate, signifying long life and good health. So if even the thought of the next newsletter's impending arrival gives you a headache, break out the aspirin well in advance and meantime take comfort from contemplating there's a reasonable possibility of being able to escape into enubilous meteorological conditions when our June 2004 issue casts its dark cloud over your email in-box.
See you then!
Mary R 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 (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!