THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER - ISSUE # FORTY - l5 AUGUST 2006

A common difficulty arising from the torrid heat wave much of this country and Europe have experienced in recent weeks is coping with exhaustion brought on by chronic lack of sleep.

One effect of such extreme tiredness was well described by Herman Melville, who characterised insomnia caused by sultry weather as binding and oppressing the brain. Doubtless many subscribers found, as we did, that as the mercury rises their attention span begins to drop and the little grey cells seem to work at a slower pace. Even beyond that, those in difficult situations lose the blessed relief of a temporary escape from the worries of waking life when, as Shakespeare observed, slumber refuses to shut sorrow's eyes or steep us in forgetfulness. Which leads us to wonder if he sometimes got up and scribbled away in the middle of the night because he couldn't sleep.

While at times life can certainly be a waking nightmare, we believe subscribers won't develop a bad case of galloping fantods after reading Orphan Scrivener, so we trust you'll pursue perusing this latest issue.


ERIC'S BIT or THE VASTY DEEPS OF NOTHINGNESS

Around the middle of every alternate month a plaintive cry echoes around the vast corporate offices of John the Eunuch, Ltd.

"What should I write for the newsletter?"

A visitor who had climbed the stairs to the penthouse of the edifice, where the writing of the Byzantine mystery series is carried out in great secrecy, would see that the pitiful sound emanates from a gaunt scrivener with white in his beard, badly in need of a haircut, slumped before a half empty cup of lukewarm coffee and a monitor displaying a blank word processing document.

The cat in the poor fellow's lap looks around, disgusted at being disturbed, leaps down and goes off, tail flicking, claws clickety-clicking across the floorboards.

"Don't think you're going to fill up your whole space with this drivel," Mary advises. "And stop putting words in my mouth. I don't even talk like that. And by the way, shouldn't that just be "said" rather than "advises"?"

I politely ignore what my co-author didn't actually say and push my eyeglasses up so I can see the monitor. One of these days I'll have to try using the bottom part of the bifocals like I'm supposed to, but I've only had the eyeglasses for seven years and today I need to write.

Unfortunately, the empty word processing document, for all its insubstantiality, is every bit as intimidating as the blank sheets of paper that used to glare at me from my typewriter, the main advantage being that I can't suffer a paper cut by yanking the electronic document off the screen.

Of course, I also can't experience the momentary relief I used to get by crumpling the unmarked paper up in a fit of rage and hurling it into the wastebasket. There! Mock me, will you? Hitting the delete key or clicking the word processor closed with the mouse simply doesn't provide the same visceral satisfaction as abusing a physical sheet of paper.

Besides, closing the word processor might reveal one of those Alma-Tadema paintings of Roman baths I use for wallpaper, and that would be distracting. Even if his marble did look more realistic than his women.

I take a sip of coffee. Not only is it not hot, it tastes weak. Maybe that's the problem. Lack of caffeine. I contemplate a pilgrimage into the depths of the building to where we keep the sacred percolator, font of all inspiration.

But no, I need to stick to the task at hand.

My problem is not lack of inspiration exactly. I love to write. I have endless ideas. But I don't like to write about writing. And since The Orphan Scrivener is supposed to be an authors' newsletter, I always feel what I do for it should have some connection to writing, even if the only connection to writing many of my essays end up having is that they're written.

What's there to say about writing when you get down to it? All the chat about techniques reminds me of how runners will go on about running and various training philosophies. However, as one famous runner explained, the way to practice running is to put your left foot in front of your right foot, then repeat. And when you get tired of doing that, do it the opposite way. It's the same with writing. The way to write is to sit down in front of your computer, open up a document, and start tapping at the keyboard.

But that doesn't make for much an article. You can't discuss that, argue over it, blog about it, or teach it. If it weren't for techniques, editors and agents would have to admit that they reject things merely because they don't like them. It sounds so much more professional to mention "wooden characters" even if one person's "cardboard cut-out" is another's "well rounded protagonist."

But we're a loquacious species. We need to find things to blab about. If we have nothing to talk about, that's what we'll talk about. It's not unlike writing.

I'm sure I could write about nothing if I could just get started.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

Just two news items on the ticker this time around, but to make up for it their scope is international!

IN THE HOT SEAT or GRILLING THE AUTHORS

Julia Buckley, http://www.juliabuckley.com, author of The Dark Backward, has been conducting interviews with a number of mystery writers for the past month or so. Ever intrepid, she grilled Eric and myself and the result -- touching upon how we met, interactive fiction, and the unexpected differences between Americans and Britons, among other topics -- can be viewed on her blog at http://juliabuckley.blogspot.com/2006/07/mary-reed-and-eric-mayer-mystery.html Our thanks for the honour, Julia!

A NEW WEBSITE or THE LONG ARM OF PPP

British subscribers will (we insist!) be interested to learn Poisoned Pen Press now has a UK arm, which has just opened a website at http://www.poisonedpenpressuk.com Being brand new, at present it hosts only basic information on how to contact the press for catalogues or with other queries, but it will eventually deal with British editions of PPP's back list as well as its new US publications.

MARY'S BIT or THE WILD SIDE OF LIFE

In childhood, the little wild life I saw, being raised in an industrial, decaying metropolis, consisted mostly of noisy squads of grimy-chested pigeons and swaggering, squawking seagulls, the horse pulling the rag and bone man's cart, half-starved feral cats and dogs, and crowds of quarrelsome patrons lurching out of corner pubs at chucking-out time.

At various urban addresses we were also blessed with house mice (one evening a mouselette fell down the attic chimney), a colony of red ants which nothing could eradicate, black beetles inhabiting the washing copper in our scullery, and the rat once spotted lurking in our back yard. Thankfully, however, a huge fungus growing out of the pipe in one outside loo remained stationary, despite childish nightmares in which the disgusting thing became mobile and came hopping upstairs looking for us kids.

The Swan of Avon pointed out we sometimes see clouds of various shapes, vapours perchance suggesting a citadel, a lion, or a bear. Some might have had a fit of the vapours if they'd looked out their window and seen an enormous black bear ambling past a couple of feet away, as I did on one memorable occasion -- yet my immediate reaction was one of awe at the beauty and power of the wild creature.

At the other end of the scale, we've been visited by more than one deer mouse, good-looking chaps with neat white pinafores, huge, shining eyes, and smooth grey backs, altogether a Disneyian delight in appearance. But the teeth under those pert whiskers! Long, sharp needles weren't in it!

A passing glimpse of a bobcat provided brief excitement before it disappeared. Unfortunately, the same must be said of the chipmunk seen frolicking on our scrubby patch of lawn one afternoon. Glancing out half an hour after spotting him, I had the misfortune of seeing him going head first down the maw of the cat next door. At least he was definitely dead before he got on the menu for a feline feast.

A year or so ago a family of groundhogs -- the mother and five or six spring-heeled youngsters -- browsed the salad bar that is our back garden, and a month back one of this year's litter took up residence there. I understand these portly creatures are nicknamed whistling pigs, but so far we haven't heard him perform so cannot say whether he uses a penny whistle or sticks his paw in his mouth and blows around it to produce the piercing sound humans use to call taxis or express loud appreciation for a passing pretty female.

Fortunately the murderous moggy hasn't caught any of the occasional cottontail rabbits hopping past, reminding me that while I stated we saw little wildlife in the city, I'd forgotten that rabbits sometimes appeared on our dinner plates, albeit in anonymous, gravy-covered disguise. They don't taste like chicken.

Another recent sighting was a red squirrel, the first I've observed although Eric recalls spotting one or two years ago. He reminds me that in his youth the Mayer household sometimes dined on squirrel. I understand it doesn't taste much like chicken either.

We've also had brief glimpses of garter snakes, beautifully marked, olive-green, sinuous layers-down of s-shaped-tracks; one currently lives under a large rock a yard or so from our front door. A fellow I know dined on snake in Ethiopia. It apparently did taste somewhat like chicken.

The herpetological lurker at our threshold brings to mind Anthony Trollope's opinion that the test of the art of a fiction writer lay in concealing a snake-in-the-grass, although he asserted readers could be certain there would always be one.

Ever contrary, however, in writing In Six For Gold we openly introduced a large shrine honouring Mehen, the Egyptian snake god. Not to mention characters playing a game shaped in his image, perhaps the ancestor of the snakes and ladders we played in our youth -- or at least when we weren't chasing mice around the kitchen or barring the door of our attic bedroom against the ambulatory fungus.


AND FINALLY

Speaking of fungus, we don't have mushroom left in this issue of Orphan Scrivener so we'll close by recalling James Thurber described the past as an armchair up in the attic, the present as an ominous ticking -- and the future as anyone's guess. Based upon our past newsletter schedule we can confidently aver that in eight weeks we'll again take up the pixel kalamos, so the next Orphan Scrivener should pop up in your email in-boxes on l5th October. Reading it in an attic armchair is not required of subscribers, and as for that regular ticking noise...take a look at Doom Cat on our website!

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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