THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER - ISSUE # THIRTY-FIVE - l5 OCTOBER 2005

The dog days of summer were yelping in overheated packs across an increasingly arid landscape when our previous issue flitted to your cyber doorstep. As this edition goes to press, however, here on the east coast the hitherto pleasant autumn weather has begun (in Charles Dickens' immortal phrase) to go to the demnition bow-wows.

Despite much rain and wind, most of the deciduous foliage is still doggedly hanging on to its twigs. Richard Le Gallienne termed this season the third act in the eternal play, describing fall's reappearance as emblazoned on trees in Chinese yellow. Many find contemplating the slow, stately spread of splashes of autumnal gold and scarlet across a menacing background of sinister, dark pines to be curiously calming. It's a pity the serenity of such subscribers must be disturbed by the arrival of this latest Orphan Scrivener, but such, alas, is how the chips fall.


MARY'S BIT or LEAPS, FOOT, AND LEAVES

That common autumn sight of leaves falling or gusting past the window puts me in mind of my sole public appearance as an interpretive dancer.

It was during the time I attended grammar school, the British equivalent of the American high school, and it all began because dancing lessons were on the curriculum. Unlike the US today, we were not permitted to choose what subjects we would study and so a class always took the same lessons together.

Naturally, all my classmates suffered from the usual teen self-consciousness, but my angst was exacerbated by being the tallest. Since the student body was all female, my height meant when learning various popular dances I always had to lead my partner. This choreographic role reversal ingrained itself to such an extent that in later years any male daring to attempt to hoof through, say, a valeta with me as his partner found himself in an ambulatory wrestling match set to music because each of us automatically tried to steer the other.

If I say so myself, I'm still not too shabby at Stripping the Willow or whooping my way through the Gay Gordons, but I never quite got the hang of the genteel waltz. I finally wrassled it into submission by dancing it as a slower version of the robust polka, a particular favourite because its faster execution masked any multitude of missteps. Overall, however, while John Dryden ventured the opinion that dancing was poetry of the foot, for me it was mostly a case of putting my foot in it -- and I don't mean while doing the hokey cokey.

The lessons I most dreaded were those devoted to the interpretative dance, which I viewed in the same light as algebra and lab science, that is to say as not likely to be needed after I left school. Which shows how much I knew, since algebra has proved useful when dividing pizzas or apple pies into equal portions, and if I am ever called upon to scientifically demonstrate the effects of creating a vacuum give me a miniature petrol tin and a hoover and I could probably oblige. Just remember when the tin collapses in on itself there will be a loud noise.

In my mind's eye I see again the waxed wooden floor and narrow windows of the echoing hall where morning assemblies were held and dance instruction took place. Memory's ear remembers our teacher calling on groups of three or four to traverse the length of this hall in a fashion conveying the death throes of a swan. It's fair to say my effort, valiant attempt though it was, would best be described as depicting a windmill in full sail in the grip of a force ten gale. The high ceilinged space seemed to take much longer to cover than usual, as if its narrow oak planks had turned into a wooden conveyor belt running backward, and the mournful gramophone accompaniment to our expiring avians seemed somehow...mocking.

But worse was in store.

Not long afterwards, the school's annual parents' day began to hove into view, and my class was informed it was to perform as part of the entertainment. To my horror, our contribution to the jamboree would be...an interpretative dance depicting the arrival of autumn and the fate of falling foliage.

While this now conjures up visions of Millais' beautiful if melancholy Autumn Leaves, unlike the somber young ladies in the painting, most of the class was kitted out in above the knee tunics dyed various shades of russet or mahogany. One or two were dressed in yellow or dark red, while four girls in blue represented the fierce autumn winds which would make us leaves flutter down from our twigs and then blow around on the ground. Finally, two girls in ordinary garb were to appear, sweep the leaves into a pile, and mime setting the resulting heap afire, whereupon we'd all be burnt to a crisp.

Ladies and gentlemen, I say let Lord Byron write all he wants about dancing on in unconfin'd joy. He never cavorted barefoot across the gritty asphalt surface of an outdoor tennis court on a cold, windy day or twirled around in skimpy attire under an overcast sky from which fell occasional drops of rain. Or if he did, he never let on.

To make matters worse, our falling-drifting-burning cues were difficult to hear, between heavy passing traffic, noise from the river across the road at the foot of the hill, and the dissipation of notes in the open air, even though the music was played fortissimo on an upright piano parked on the sideline. The instrument loomed large in the assembly hall, but looked small and forlorn outside, as if it needed a pint glass or two making rings on its varnished lid to cheer it up a wee bit.

Thus that particular year the appearance of autumn was heralded by chords and glissandos. Scads of pinch-faced leaves fluttered here and drifted there on callous winds sweeping in from all directions while puffing mightily and scooping air in grand, sweeping gestures. Brown Leaf Reed, that rebellious scrap of vegetation, gamely leapt and clockworked up and down the court's base line to her own beat, all flailing arms and goospimples, until finally captured by the breezy quartet and swept to the heap of her classmates. There she subtly conveyed her opinion about the entire proceedings by being among the last leaves to perish in the ensuing symbolic conflagration, and even went so far as to leap up for one last flare as soon as the sweepers turned their backs on the supposed pile of ashes.

Saturday night dances apart, this public performance as a disgruntled leaf was my terpsichorean swan song until my co-scribbler and I danced the Time Warp at our nuptials.

Fortunately nobody set fire to us.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

It's been a quiet couple of months, but we do have one or two items running through the ticker, so let's have at 'em.

SERIES-OUS COMMENTARY or NOT TO BE HIST-MYST

Eric's penned a short article about writing historical mysteries. Want to know why the fiction writer's burden of proof is the opposite to the historian's? For his low down, hie thee over to myshelf.com, where it can be viewed at http://www.myshelf.com/haveyouheard/05/writingthehistoricalmystery_article.htm

NEWS OF REVIEWS or TO THE HILLS! TO THE HILLS!

Those who boast they can always find the legal loopholes sometimes describe this dubious talent as the ability to drive a coach and six through even an Act of Parliament. They might be better served harnessing the horses to flee to the hills upon now reading, as do our subscribers, that Six For Gold will be trundling out into the world next month. Reviews thus far have been glittering, and extracts to hand -- as well as Sixfer's official blurb -- are on the opening page of our website at http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/


ERIC'S BIT or WHEN I HAD A PURPLE HEAD

In a couple weeks it will be Halloween.

Every year when the leaves start of fall I recall, as a kid, donning a costume to go trick or treating. In my part of the country the Puritans apparently got hold of the pagan ritual and all of us aliens, ghouls, princesses, and cartoon characters had to perform for our candy corn, apples, and liquorice whips. Some sang, or told a joke. I recited the poem Black and Gold, which is all about yellow candlelight and moon and black cats and inky shadows -- pretty much like sixth century Constantinople.

Those chilly Halloween evenings account for most of my public performances. That's unfortunate because these days authors need to be entertainers. It isn't enough for their books to entertain. No, the authors themselves must be witty or moving or inspirational, or sing or dance or pull rabbits out of hats, or so the "reasoning" seems to go according to many. Luckily not Poisoned Pen Press, since this newsletter is about as close as Mary and I care to come to public events.

What does an author's thespian abilities or personal appearance have to do with what's in his or her book? Why would a reader choose a book based on the writer's acting ability? You don't see a photo of the screenwriter on posters for a movie. It's the actors who count. The characters authors create are their actors. When you read a book it's the characters you see on screen, not the writer --- and a good thing too.

I have trod the boards, and it wasn't a pretty sight. As a grade-schooler I had not yet become self-conscious and was thrilled when my friends and I were given the chance to stage plays for the monthly assembly. Adding to the thrill was the gym where the assemblies were held boasted an honest to goodness stage, complete with heavy curtains, spotlights, and even some sheet metal backstage for sound effects.

Our most memorable production was The Mad Bomber. As head writer, I, naturally, portrayed the mad bomber. Who else could I have trusted to bring out the subtle nuances of the character? Even for me it was difficult. Try rolling your eyes, wringing your hands, and laughing diabolically for ten minutes straight. The plot was just an excuse to get to the part where the bomb went off so the stagehands could flash the lights and shake the sheet metal.

I'd guess today you won't see many grade school productions about mad bombers, but it was a hit. Kids will always roll on the floor at the sight of other kids acting like idiots.

Another production featured an alien -- me in my Halloween costume. The plot consisted of earthlings meeting the alien and fleeing in fear, somewhat like the few book signings we've done except at bookstores I wasn't wearing a big, purple papier-mâché head. I only felt as if I was.

You can see why I don't do appearances. Imagine me at Bouchercon. What could I do? Roll my eyes, wring my hands, laugh diabolically, and recite Black and Gold?

Then again, maybe it would sell books.


AND FINALLY

When Mary read Eric's contribution to this performing arts issue of the newsletter she immediately challenged him to recite Black and Gold. She hereby certifies that he did just that and with minimal hesitation, so if any subscribers should meet him, ask away...

Jane Austen thought pens other than hers should dwell on misery and guilt. As a public service, the well-mannered Orphan Scrivener always tries to avoid such topics and will continue to strive to do so on l5th December, when the next issue will arrive at your in-box. See you then!

Best wishes
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line at http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/ There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a list of author freebies, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), and a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to visit Eric's blog at http://www.journalscape.com/ericmayer/


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