THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # FIFTY -- l5 APRIL 2008

Sir William Watson advised April to laugh girlishly and then weep in like fashion. We take it he was referring to the month's changeable weather rather than a particularly emotional lady of his acquaintance but be that as it May, er, may, upon arrival of this latest Orphan Scrivener subscribers might well do one or the other or perhaps both.

Indeed, some would doubtless be just as happy to take the classic song's hint and spend April in Paris lurking under the blooming chestnuts. Others might well echo Browning's wish to be in England now April is here, given in the US it brings not only the deadline for filing tax returns but also another issue of our newsletter.

Still, as Charles Dickens observed in Barnaby Rudge, being gregarious by nature troubles fly in flocks, so if you've taken the trouble to read this far, read on!


ERIC'S BIT or CURSES SPRING ETERNAL

Since I am a baseball fan, and a fan of the Yankees in particular since I was a kid, I couldn't help noticing when the New York Post revealed that the new Yankee Stadium may be cursed. According to the tabloid:

"A devilish Boston fan working on a concrete crew at the $1.3 billion stadium covertly buried a Red Sox T-shirt under what will become the visiting team's locker room to jinx the Yanks...'In August, a Red Sox T-shirt was poured in a slab in the visitor's clubhouse. It's the curse of the Yankees,' one worker said. 'Nobody knows about it. It's in the floors, it's buried.'"

I am not so sure that sports curses actually work but over-zealous fans have been trying them out since Roman times. Back in issue 43 of The Orphan Scrivener ( http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/tos43.htm#curse ) Mary wrote about curse tablets, malevolent requests, usually inscribed on a thin sheet of lead which was rolled up and often buried. Curse tablets were employed against business competitors, rivals in love, and, naturally, chariot teams belonging to the wrong color faction.

A favorite burial place was the race course of the hippodrome. The sort of thing a follower of the Blues might wish upon the Greens' team in sixth century Constantinople, where our Lord Chamberlain John does his detecting, is illustrated by a very small (believe it or not) portion of the inscription from a tablet found in Carthage as translated by John Gager in Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World:

"I invoke you, spirit of one untimely dead, whoever you are, by the mighty names SALBATHBAL AUTHGEROTABAL BASULTHATEO ALEO SAMABETHOR. Bind the horses...Bind their running, their power, their soul, their onrush, their speed. Take away their victory, entangle their feet, hinder them, hobble them, so that tomorrow morning in the hippodrome they are not able to run or walk about, or win, or go out of the starting gates, or advance either on the racecourse or track..."

Usually it is the differences between historical periods that most interest me, but there's no doubt that some things never change, especially basic human emotions like love for one's team and hatred towards its rival. It is hard to think about the Blue and Green factions of the sixth century, without seeing a similarity to today's baseball rivalry between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. It also isn't hard to understand how the Greens and Blues ended up rioting in the streets so often. As bitter as the Yankee/Red Sox rivalry may be, they compete with 28 other teams and play each other only a fraction of the time. What would baseball be like if there were only the Yankees and Red Sox locked in endless head to head combat? We would probably see rioting in the streets too.

Sports stadiums are also much the same, both architecturally and in the impulses behind them. The new Yankee Stadium, replacing the stadium built in the Bronx in 1923, will duplicate the facade of the original, and retains the current field dimensions, even though the rest of the facility will be modern. The new stadium is, of course, supposed to be a source of civic pride as well as a reminder of the Yankees' storied past. So too the hippodrome in Constantinople, modeled on Rome's Circus Maximus, was intended to mark the new capital as a great city in its own right while reminding citizens of the past glory of the Roman Empire.

Modern and ancient stadiums share physical characteristics which go beyond the obligatory seating for spectators. High priced luxury boxes for the well-heeled are nothing new. The hippodrome's kathisma, from which the emperor viewed the races and sometimes faced hostile crowds, was connected directly to the Great Palace and was a sort of mini-palace, boasting special lodges for dignitaries, as well as a dining area, bedchamber, and dressing room.

Along the spina in the center of the hippodrome's racecourse were arrayed a variety of monuments, some of which commemorated the exploits of the famous charioteer Porphyrios. Yankee Stadium features its own Monument Park with monuments and plaques honoring great players including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio. The monuments used to be located in the hinterlands of the former, far flung centerfield, but now sit behind the fences which were moved in, probably to defend against barbarian incursions. Unlike the spina, Monument Park does not feature other delights such as an Egyptian obelisk, brazen eagle, poisoned bull, 60 foot tall Hercules, or a wild boar -- more's the pity, since it would have been thrilling to see Mickey Mantle attempt to run down a ball hit to the Serpent Column.

The Yankee's heroes are each limited to a single monument, unlike Porphyrios who had seven along the spina dedicated to his long career. All that survives of the monuments are two bases, but the epigrams engraved on them are preserved and can be read in The Greek Anthology. There, the statistically inclined sports fan can learn that Porphyrios was the only charioteer to have twice won, in a single day, the diversium, whereby the winning charioteer would exchange teams with the loser of the morning's race and compete a second time in the afternoon, thereby proving his success was solely the result of his own skill.

It is disheartening to consider all the similar accomplishments which must have been lost, or never recorded at all. (And just as well baseball didn't exist since it can produce statistics faster than any human being could chisel). We can only wonder about the career records of charioteers like Julian, Faustinus, and Constantine, although they must have been impressive since all three were depicted, along with Porphyrios, in the kathisma.

Computers are much better than monuments for storing records. Never mind Babe Ruth's 714 home runs (mostly for the Yankees...it was his coming over from the Red Sox that started the whole feud...), now everything is preserved for the ages. Even the lone home run Jack Reed hit in his brief Yankee career, on June 24, 1962, at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, off Phil Regan, a right-handed pitcher, with one out and Roger Maris on base, and the score tied 7-7 in the 22nd inning. I saw it on television, not that I remember the details...except going outside to play when the Tigers were batting because I didn't want to risk seeing them win the game.

In an age of science like ours, where we are capable of such splendid feats as recalling the circumstances of every single time a wooden bat has made contact (or missed) a horsehide ball, I guess we can't take curses seriously any more, whether they are conveyed by inscribed lead tablets (and do you think modern demons can still speak Latin or ancient Greek?) or baseball jerseys.

Still, it was reported:

"The New York Yankees have ended a construction worker's attempt to jinx their new stadium with a buried Boston Red Sox jersey. Team officials watched Sunday as construction workers removed the jersey, with slugger David Ortiz's name on it, from 2 feet of concrete in a service corridor of the stadium that's under construction."

It only took about five hours, with jackhammers. Not that anyone was worried but I guess even in the twenty-first century it is better to be safe than sorry.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

We've often described freelance work as either feast or famine and each newsletter's budget of news is similar. This month it's the former, so without further ado....

WHO WAS THAT GIRL? or SEVENFER'S SECRETS REVEALED

Seven For A Secret officially leaps into the world on April 15th, so its plot secrets will be public knowledge soon. In John's latest adventure, he meets a woman who claims to have been the model for the little girl in the mosaic on his study wall. But then she is found dyed red in a cistern...and John makes it a personal endeavour to find out who she was and why she was killed.

Sevenfer has been fortunate in already receiving a bit of notice, including a starred review from Library Journal and an unusual double review by Bellaonline mystery editor Karm Halladay. These and other reviewers' comments can be perused by clicking appropriate links at http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/sevrev.htm

KINDLING INTEREST or 'EAR 'EAR

On March 5th our publisher Poisoned Pen Press made a selection of their back list available for downloading to Amazon's new Kindle gizmo. Titles include Onefer, Twofor, and Fourfer, the prequel to the series. As if this news was not exciting enough to make our noses bleed, Sevenfer is also out in a Blackstone Audio edition http://www.blackstoneaudio.com/audiobook.cfm?id=4630

CRIMINAL ADVICE or WRITING HISTORICAL MYSTERIES

Kathy Lynn Emerson tells us her April title How To Write Killer Historical Mysteries: The Art & Adventure of Sleuthing Through The Past could not have been written without the generous contributions of over forty historical mystery writers, including a certain pair of scriveners. Kathy's book offers anecdotes, advice, and research suggestions from authors whose fiction features settings and eras spanning the globe across centuries. Our thanks to her for the opportunity to provide a few thoughts for this entertaining and useful guide.

BRAINSTORMING A PROBLEM or HOW DARE YOU CALL ME THAT!

Mary was thrilled to be chosen to provide an essay for the April issue of Gayle Trent's Writing Up A Storm Newsletter. Her topic? Wrassling with the knotty problem of naming characters. Mary provides a few unusual resources for possible nomenclatures, and her contribution can be read at http://gayletrent.com/newsletter.aspx. Gayle's newsletter is intended to educate and entertain writers, while evoking a sense of camaraderie among writers.

THINKING SMALL or MINIATURISTS AT LARGE, TAKE NOTE

Chris Verstraete's website features reviews and other material but also provides an unusual attraction for those who enjoy making miniatures: scaled down copies of dust jackets offered by authors to print out for your tiny bookshelf. Point your mouse to http://cverstraete.com and once there click on miniatures. Be warned, one of the covers provided belongs to Sevenfer!

FIRST STEPS or WHY YOU ARE READING THIS NEWSLETTER

Heidi Miller's Paths To Publication this month is devoted to Mary's scribble about how it came about John's adventures saw print. Strange to think it was because they did you are now reading this newsletter! Heidi has had quite a few adventures herself, including appearing on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire partnered with SF author Tobias Buckell, and Mary is honoured to have been chosen for this feature, viewable at http://heidirubymiller.blogspot.com/2008/04/paths-to-publication-mary-reed.html

WINGED TERROR or THERE'S GOLD IN THAT THAR WEBSITE

We recently mentioned Mary was donning her Golden Age novel reviewer hat in order to contribute to the Criminal History website. This month she writes about Edgar Wallace's The Angel of Terror. Other reviewers cover Giles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde and The Candlelight Murders and Susanna Gregory's Blood on the Strand, plus there's a competition to win a copy of Scandal Takes A Holiday by Lindsey Davis. View the site at http://www.criminal-history.co.uk/


MARY'S BIT or CAN YOU DIG IT?

Well, yes, you could, but you'd have to wield a large spoon or the small shovel from a fireplace companion set if perchance you wanted to dig in my first garden. An ordinary shovel would be far too big for the task, seeing as my tiny piece of rural estate was contained in an old sink in our back yard in Newcastle.

Creating my bit of England's green and pleasant land meant bringing soil from the triangle of waste ground planted with a trio of hoardings a couple of streets away. After brick fragments, old bed springs, fragments of broken brown ale bottles, and similar urban detritus were removed, three or four trips hauling earth in an old bucket accomplished the task of filling the chipped white sink and it was ready for planting operations. An old fork did sterling duty in lieu of a dibber, and seeds were duly sown and watered.

If this endeavour had been a college class what would this hortus have taught us?

In this particular situation it would be to keep a close eye on marauding cats happy to have a new bit of ground to scratch up and that while throwing a cup of water at them persuaded them to go elsewhere, over-watering is as fatal to plants as allowing a garden to dry out. From these simple lessons Aesop would have drawn two morals: one should keep a sharp lookout in any given situation and also not overdo or conversely neglect tasks at hand.

Despite such incidents, while the resulting floral display of spindly red and white striped petunias would never have won blue ribbons I reckoned it was the bee's knees. It was the only garden in the street, for few green spaces graced our area.

The latter were represented by the cemetery at the top of the street and the occasional bomb site left over from the war, converted by Mother Nature into weedy patches popular with the aforementioned marauding cats, children playing somewhere other than the street, and after nightfall courting couples with no other place to go for privacy. Rosebay willow herb and coltsfoot flourished like the green bay tree, beautifying to urban eyes at least those neglected gaps blasted in the rows of terraced houses years before. Not that we'd ever seen a bay tree, green or otherwise. At least not knowingly, given the limbs of the few soot-blackened trees in the cemetery had been trimmed into sad, twisted travesties of themselves, making their species impossible to name.

Except, that is, for a rugged old horse chestnut, identifiable by its dark brown crops of conkers, much sought after by boys for competitive use and by girls for their beauty though it did not last long.

It's been said that gardens are autobiographies. What, I wonder, would those first gardening efforts have revealed about my early life?

At least one thing is certain: it wasn't a sink of iniquity.


AND FINALLY

Helios, a character introduced in Sevenfer, is a artisan who makes sundials but spends as much time as possible in his underground workshop because he cannot abide sunlight.

Jonathan Swift observed that some men possessed qualities useful to others but not themselves, pointing to the example of a sundial set on a house wall. Such a timepiece informs passersby of the hour but not persons inside the dwelling. Models of tact, we take this cue to remind subscribers that Orphan Scrivener will return to cast a shadow over their inboxes on June 15th.

See you then!

Mary R & 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), a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver, and our growing pages of links to free etexts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to Eric's blog at http://www.journalscape.com/ericmayer/


| Home | Eric's Stuff | Mary's Page | Our Fiction | BSP Page (News) | Links |