THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER - ISSUE # THIRTY-NINE - l5 JUNE 2006

Since the l3th century those inclined to do so have now and then burst into song to melodiously announce that summer ys acumen yn. Unfortunately for subscribers, the loudly singing cuckoos mentioned in these lyrics masked the thwunk of the arrival of this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener, and so here we are again, lurking in your in-box.

And speaking of those naughty birds, in Henry IV Shakespeare characterised Richard II as a June cuckoo. This might have been a sly pun on Dicky Bird even though the Bard clarifies the comparison by stating Richard, like the bird of summer, was noticed but not regarded. We can only trust this newsletter won't suffer a similar fate.

M.F.K. Fisher once remarked on the ancient pairings of cheese and wine, moon and June, and aches and aspirin. Given mid-June brings another newsletter from Casa Maywrite, aspirin seems appropriate as its twin companion, although how much cooking sherry is imbibed by subscribers in order to keep up their spirits while perusing Orphan Scrivener is a matter best kept purely between readers and the managers of their local off-licences.

If you've read this far, a little birdy advises you to keep going!


MARY'S BIT or NOT EXACTLY AN OPEN-AND-SHUT CASE

Dr Johnson famously remarked that when two Englishmen meet, the first thing they talk about is the weather.

Is there any other country where a debate would gallop along in the pages of a popular scholarly publication concerning the identity of the person who first popularised the umbrella, that essential part of national dress in general and city gents and civil servants in particular (not to mention Steed of Avengers fame)?

Given the date of this newsletter it's appropriate I picked up the soggy trail in the 8th June l850 issue of Notes & Queries. In polite fisticuffs over the question at hand, Jonas Hanway, who died in the mid l780s, was the favourite, being generally credited with introducing these essential accessories for summer days to London, from which their use spread out into the provinces. His employment of an umbrella might have been connected with a wish to appear neat and unsplashed, for a correspondence signed J. F. cites a work published in l787, stating "a small parapluie" sheltered Hanway's face and wig from rain. A portrait of Hanway with his umbrella published about l753 is also mentioned in the jousting, and there is a charming note from G. C. Renouard of Swanscombe Rectory recallingg a green silk Chinese umbrella his father brought back from Holland between l770 and a decade later.

E. B. Price leaps into the lists to point out an earlier reference, citing Gay's Trivia or Art of Walking the Streets of London (l7l2) which speaks of housewives "underneath th' umbrella's oily shade". E. B. also mentions an umbrella listed as a "utensil" in a l656 work about John Tradescant's collection of rarities and curiosities.

Nor are Scottish bumbershoots overlooked, for contributor R.R. points out one Dr Jamieson introduced Glasgow to umbrellas in l782. It seems the physician's gamp was French and manufactured of strong wax cloth and cane ribs. Being described as "ponderous", I cannot help thinking it would have been an excellent makeshift weapon if Dr Jamieson were ever set upon down a dark Glaswegian alley.

Finally, W. J., writing from Havre, points out the ancients regarded umbrellas as denoting social distinction, citing reports by Pausanias and Hesychius of an Arcadian city where during festivals honouring Bacchus an umbrella shaded the statue of the god as it was carried about in procession.

But whatever the provenance of the humble yet useful umbrella, few would expect to see one figuring in a trial -- yet that's what happened in California in l983.

Unlike the item in question, the case wasn't exactly open-and-shut. The defendant was caught entering a bank with a stick-up note and an umbrella handle draped with a towel, thus giving it the appearance of a weapon. His defence was high wind had broken his umbrella and he intended to join the handle to a handle-less specimen he had at home. This seems reasonable as far as it goes, but what about the stick-up note and towel? Well, the fellow in the dock stated when apprehended he'd just attended a job interview, and while waiting for his appointment had read an article about bank robberies. Being at a loose end, he'd then penned a mock stick-up note. And the towel? He testified he carried it around because he suffered from excess perspiration.

A most ingenious explanation, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, but alas, it did no good. Ultimately an appeals court ruled an umbrella handle disguised in the fashion described was frightening enough to the average person to support the accused's conviction for attempted armed robbery.

In the fictional world, the only story involving an umbrella springing immediately to mind is Ed Hoch's One Bag of Coconuts, published in the November l997 issue of EQMM. If you haven't read it, it's well worth seeking out to enjoy when kept indoors by a rainy day.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

Steve Lewis notes on the front page of his Mystery File website that with Ed Gorman's permission he's taken over Ed's Pro-File interview series. We were honoured to be the first interviewed by Steve for his new venture, and a pot-pourri of our ponderings can be perused at http://www.mysteryfile.com/ProFile/Reed-Mayer.html

The Mystery File site is a wonderful assortment of (among other things) reviews, articles, biblios, news, and essays. Since they are a favourite type of mystery at Casa Maywrite, we particularly enjoyed the checklist of fiction dealing with locked rooms and other impossible crimes. There's a link to it and other themed checklists at http://www.mysteryfile.com/Improbable.html

Our thanks to Steve and the Mystery File!


ERIC'S BIT or PURPLE STAINS, PURPLE PROSE

If not for Robert Rosenwald and Barbara Peters, publisher and editor-in-chief respectively of Poisoned Pen Press, I doubt I would ever have seen my name on the cover of a novel. The more I learn about the publishing industry, the more convinced I am that a Byzantine eunuch is (and forever will be) as welcome at a big New York publishing house as a Nestorian heretic at the Great Church in Constantinople.

I'm grateful to have books in print. The fact that our books are published gives me an excuse to do my bit for them. I enjoy writing. Concocting stories and manipulating words is great fun, but to me the object of the game is to communicate with an audience. Without the audience PPP finds for us, composing books would be a pointless exercise, long since abandoned.

Oddly enough, years before Robert Rosenwald assisted my writing efforts, his great-grandfather Julius did the same.

It happened in 1978, while I was living in Brooklyn, New York. I was an impoverished law student, a frustrated writer whose goal of having a novel published by the time he was twenty-one (didn't we all have such goals?) hadn't quite worked out. The only writing I was doing was for fanzines and even that frustrated me. I desperately wanted to publish my own fanzine.

The fanzines I'm talking about were, and are, amateur publications, without professional pretense, produced merely for amusement. The sort I wanted to put out were typically filled with short essays and bits of personal trivia. They were distributed by mail for free. Readers, many of whom published their own 'zines, would send letters of comment which would be printed at the end of each issue.

Think "slow paper blogs."

Most fanzines of that era were printed by mimeograph, a device far beyond my limited means -- I drank Fox Head beer because it was 99 cents a six pack.

I spent considerable time riding subways and braving unfamiliar alleyways to search dimly lit second-hand shops for the means to further my writing ambitions. There must have been a functional, affordable, used mimeograph hiding somewhere in the five Boroughs, but I couldn't find it.

The scarcity of mimeos wasn't entirely surprising because that printing technology had already become obsolete. In a world with photocopy machines, who wanted to struggle with wax stencils and tubes of ink...aside from a student who was forever looking under the sofa cushions for a fourth quarter to buy Fox Head, never mind the rolls and rolls of quarters -- riches beyond imagining -- needed at a self-serve copy machine?

Thinking of obsolescence, I had the idea to consult the Sears catalog. Sears, I had been told, kept everything in stock forever. If you had purchased a pot-bellied stove from Sears in 1908, you could still order parts.

Sure enough, the office equipment section of the catalog contained a virtual museum display of printing processes through the ages. I couldn't afford the mimeographs, of course, or even the ditto machines, although I eventually scraped together enough change to buy the hand-cranked gravity-fed spirit duplicator -- the same model Gutenberg used while he was tinkering with his printing press.

What caught my eye was the hectograph kit.

The hectograph process antedates fossilization. A master copy, upon which one has drawn or written in a special ink (specially designed never to come off any flesh it encounters) is pressed onto a gelatin pad -- essentially very hard Jell-O. The ink is absorbed into the pad. When the master is removed and blank sheets are placed on the gelatin, one by one, the pad releases a bit of ink. A hectograph will only make about fifty copies of diminishing quality, not counting the purple stains on one's skin, which show up in the strangest places. Whoever named the hecto (hundred) graph was an optimist. Or maybe the hecto is actually short for "heck" which is short for "Hell, why I am using this damned thing!"

I wasn't concerned about the limited print run. I'd have to stay sober for weeks just to afford any postage at all. And the price of the kit was right. I don't recall exactly, but something under $15. Needless to say, I didn't have time for mail order. I caught the first subway out to a stop that was nothing more than a circle on the city transit map, some place in the wilds of Brooklyn where the nearest Sears was located.

It was only fitting that I should journey to a strange land to obtain such a marvel. When I got the kit back to the apartment I saw it came with a bag of gelatin, a flat tray for the gelatin, hecto pencils, and sheets covered with ink, resembling ditto masters. It wasn't a Golden Fleece, more like a Holy Grail. An instant publishing company!

I'll spare you a history of the purple prose I perpetrated by means of this device. A lot of what I wrote was rather like this essay. I've already wandered a long way from Poisoned Pen Press and the present and you're probably wondering what does this have to do with Julius Rosenwald?

The answer, as I only recently discovered, is that he was the man who turned Sears, Roebuck and Company into a retailing giant. When Julius joined the company in the l890s he began to diversify the product line of what had originally been a watch company and began selling everything a typical Midwestern farm household might need, from barbed wire to hectographs. (Well, I suppose he expanded the products even beyond what a typical household might need...)

If it weren't for Julius Rosenwald's business acumen, I would never have been able to buy the hectograph that enabled me to publish my fanzine, keeping my interest in writing alive, and so there would have been no Byzantine mysteries for Julius' great-grandson to publish. Or else they would have been solely written by Mary.

Julius Rosenwald was also one of the early 20th Century's most notable philanthropists. The Rosenwald Fund, established for the well-being of mankind, contributed to museums, black institutions, Jewish charities, and universities, colleges, and public schools. Its school building program aided in the construction of over 5,000 Rosenwald Schools and teachers' homes in the rural south.

All somewhat more important in the scheme of things than John the Eunuch.

(For more information check out this article at the Sears Archives:

http://www.searsarchives.com/people/juliusrosenwald.htm)


AND FINALLY

A couple of months from now many subscribers will be weathering the hottest part of the summer. It's said as temperatures rise tolerance falls, personal quirks that don't usually bother become extremely tiresome, and tempers fray more easily. It was not for nothing that in Portrait of a Lady T. S. Eliot compared someone talking in an irritating fashion to the insistent noise of an out-of-tune violin played on an August afternoon.

Is there a ghastlier thing to bear than a tuneless, scraping cacophony in the middle of a heatwave? Well, we can think of one -- the next issue of Orphan Scrivener, which will trundle into your email in-box on August 15th. This amount of notice of its arrival, however, gives readers ample time to stock up on ice and aspirin and, to aid the concentration of subscribers with student musician neighbours, ear plugs. We have no doubt those residents of Baker Street living next door to Sherlock Holmes' digs may well have occasionally resorted to the latter, so you'll be in good company.

See you in two months!
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, lists of author freebies and mystery-related newsletters, 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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