THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # SIXTY-THREE -- l5 JUNE 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright reportedly advocated preventing fools possessing dangerous weapons, and suggested starting with typewriters. While we would hardly call our keyboard-produced newsletter dangerous, we are reminded of Philip Massinger's comment that while good tidings progress on crutches, ill news flies on swallows' wings, but since this issue of Orphan Scrivener has flapped into your inbox we leave it up to you to decide if you should read on or fly with horror from the scene of the crime....


MARY'S BIT or QUOTH THE CORVID G'IS A DRINK

Yesterday a large crow spent some time dipping his head down sideways to drink from a puddle on the flat roof just outside our office window. Since the avian drinking bowl was a mere couple of feet (or should I say claws?) away from the glass and he dropped in for refreshment twice, the question of the day was did his two visits count as representing joy or are we lumbered with an emphatic prophecy of one for sorrow, with a double helping of same about to land on our heads?

Doubtless time will tell, but generally speaking there has not been much luck attending single birds in the Reed household. Our childhood pet budgie was just beginning to talk -- he was pretty good at squawking "Pe'er", perfectly reproducing the local dialect's glo''all stops -- and we had great hopes of him eventually learning to say "Reed", but alas! it was not to be. Coming in from school one afternoon, I found him lying on his back with his claws in the air, as dead as Scrooge's business partner Marley, concerning whose deceased state Dickens emphasised there was absolutely no doubt.

Subscribers will doubtless recall the death of canary Pip in Little Women, and like Pip our departed bird had a champion funeral, going to his rest enshrouded in a hanky and coffined in a small box. Peter did not have a moss-covered grave in a ferny surrounding with a chickweed and violet wreath like Pip, however, for we lived in a wilderness of concrete and asphalt. No, Peter was buried in what passed for my garden, which was composed of pink and white striped petunias growing in stony earth hauled with great labour from nearby WW II bomb sites and piled in an old sink in the back yard. It was all very upsetting, the more so when a callous older sibling observed Peter would not remain long interred because all the local cats would come a-calling that very night.

Peter had been a born adventurer and took regular exercise in the form of flights around our kitchen, launching himself from the curtain rail. In fact, so bold was he that he once tried to fly up the chimney but was thwarted in his bid for freedom by the presence of a blazing coal fire. On another occasion he fell into a mixing bowl -- I seem to recall a Christmas pudding was in the process of production at the time.

Later on, after we moved south, another budgie arrived to entertain those in the kitchen with his whistling. But he didn't have enough time to learn to say anything as one day he escaped to the great wilderness of the back garden and was never seen again. I always suspected he fell prey to the owl that lived in the (literally) blasted half-dead oak tree at the bottom of the garden. We often heard the owl calling, and one night our dog -- we had given up on keeping budgies by then -- herded an owl into the kitchen. We herded it out again, and the dog never forgave us.

Not to be outdone, Eric also owned a pet budgie some years ago. Its vocal accomplishments were more advanced than Peter's, for it was able to clearly enunciate "pretty boy". It was, however, a female, proof of its gender being provided by the laying of an egg on two occasions. She too enjoyed flying around the room although she could only manage short flights to, say, the mantelpiece rather than zooming around at ceiling height. Like Peter, she had various avian toys, including a chunky weighted penguin figure of the sort that keep popping back up when knocked down. As Eric has observed, for all he knew it was a thing of horror to the bird, for it never stayed down when pushed over, rising back up as inexorably as Jason or Freddy no matter how many times the budgie assaulted it.

Inevitably one day it was the budgie that lay down, never to rise or fly again.

And speaking of flying, there's the well-known legend that declares if the ravens at the Tower of London flap away, the royal family will fall and with it the country. However, we do not need to fear the possibility given the lifting feathers on the Tower ravens' right wings are trimmed every couple of weeks, which prevents the ravens from flying.

Being intelligent birds, even if they could wing it away they'd probably not wish to leave a home where they are waited on claw and beak by the Raven Master. So Londoners are safe from suddenly seeing one of the Tower's members of the corvid family sidling up to stand outside their window, dribbling water from its wicked beak and casting a darkly prophetic eye on the inhabitants of the house.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

A fair bit of tape has trotted through the ticker since we were last in touch so let's rewind the spool and start it chattering right away.

MYSTERIES OF HISTORY or A NEW GOLDEN AGE?

Lenny Picker, freelance writer, PW reviewer, and columnist for Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, contributed Mysteries of History: Sleuthing Through The Past to the March 3rd issue of Publishers Weekly http://tinyurl.com/2b2wlcw The question posed was will the current time be remembered as the Golden Age of the historical mystery? PPP author Priscilla Royal http://www.priscillaroyal.com was quoted, while mention was also made of a pair of ink-stained wretches known to the authorities as Reed & Mayer.

COVER STORY or SURPRISING THE PUBLIC SAFETY WRITERS ASSOCIATION Mike Orenduff, author of the Pot Thief Who... mystery series http://www.orenduff.org/ and his wife, an art historian with a speciality in iconology, are teaming up to do a presentation on the power of book covers at the Public Safety Writers Association conference to be held June 17-20 in Las Vegas. We hear Eightfer's striking cover will be among those featured, and given the dark background of the book suspect attendees will enjoy the humour of having a book set during the bloody Nika riots as part of their conference.

A NEW MYSTERY COLLECTION or MANY FACETS, MANY FACES

Earlier this month Jean Henry Mead's Mysterious Writers: The Many Facets of Mystery Writing appeared as a Kindle edition http://tinyurl.com/24h5udt with B&N Reader and Sony ebooks to follow. Aimed at aspiring mystery/crime writers, it's a collection of interviews with such luminaries as Carolyn Hart, Elmore Leonard, Louise Penny, Jeffrey Deaver, Nancy Pickard, John Gilstrap, Jeff Marks, and about 70 others, including PPP authors Beverle Graves Myers, Ann Parker, Betty Webb, Tim Maleeny, Charlotte Hinger, Vicki Delany, and Larry Karp -- and the residents of Casa Maywrite to boot. We are certainly keeping stellar company!

WHAT WE DID NOT KNOW or DESERT ISLAND NECESSARIES

Chris Redding changed the locks on her blog but we managed to climb in the kitchen window, so our interview ran on 28th April. Subscribers wishing to know such matters as the three things we picked to have with us on a desert island, what we know now we'd like to have known before we were published, and how we began writing historical mysteries in the first place should point their clickers to http://tinyurl.com/2dau544 where All Will Be Revealed -- or a fair bit of it at least.

NO MAYPOLE DANCING FOR US or GORE BLIMEY

On May 1st we forewent dancing round the maypole to pay a visit to Poe's Deadly Daughters, where we addressed a widespread conundrum: go for explicit violence in our work or offer subtle vignettes to hint at horrors? Subscribers will probably guess our stance on that vexed question, but if not, it's revealed about half way down this page http://tinyurl.com/255p4ha

THE WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION or ESCHER'S LADDER

On May 3rd we contributed a few thoughts to Jenny Milchman's Made It Moment series, talking about our somewhat winding road to publication. In doing so, we mentioned a ladder made by Escher and readers can find out more by popping over to Jenny's blog, Suspense Your Disbelief http://jennymilchman.com/blog/?p=688

THOUGHTS ON PLOTS or NOT MUCH MAGIC, BUT PLENTY OF MAYHEM

Pamela James interviewed us for the May 11th entry on her Mayhem and Magic blog http://tinyurl.com/35kk8ln Among our revelations: the process of inventing a plot, a favourite meal, and hopefully helpful observations for new authors on coping with the ins and outs of publishing as it stands today.


ERIC'S BIT or NAIL THAT TUNE

"I'm just a kid again, doing what I did again, singing a song,
When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along"

I didn't long to be a kid again when I listened to that song over and over on my grandparents' hand-cranked Victrola. I was a kid. Who didn't care much about lyrics, I guess. I suppose I liked the tune, or maybe the old fashioned crooning, warbling vocal style amused me. Was the singer Al Jolson? He did record the song but I can't picture the label on the heavy shellac '78 anymore.

My own past has served me well as a source for writing material, partly because my memory is so blurry. I am rather in the position of James Thurber in his essay The Admiral At the Wheel, in which the myopic writer sees all sorts of wonders and strange goings-on after he breaks his eye glasses. No doubt the most interesting events in my life have taken place mostly in my imagination.

Unfortunately, as you get older, it becomes harder to write about childhood without sounding like a sentimental old coot wallowing in nostalgia. At least to my ears.

Still, it is interesting to look back and try to piece things together, to try to fathom what exactly I could have been thinking while listening to another favorite '78, Listen to the Mockingbird. The mockingbird, you might recall, was singing o'er Sweet Hally's grave. There's a cheery thing to picture when you're still in grade school.

A lot of the appeal of those tunes was the antique Victrola I played them on. It was from another age, like something out of the Flintstones. Using the crank you could speed the records up until the singers sounded like the Chipmunks (or even more like the Chipmunks than they already did with their, to me, unnaturally high pitched voices) or slow the sound down to an unintelligible rumble.

The phonograph "needles" were little more than sharp steel nails. I swear that if you scraped along a groove with a nail it made a thin, ghostly noise that was not quite music but something more than the squeak of metal against shellac. Or maybe that is only in my imagination.

One thing I know for sure is that my favorite record was a lugubrious ditty about Floyd Collins. A legendary spelunker -- discoverer of Crystal Cave -- he was trapped underground while exploring. The doomed rescue effort lasted 18 days and captured the country's interest thanks to radio, which was a fairly new medium back in 1925.

Subsequent songs about the event turned out to be early radio hits, so it wasn't surprising to find an old disk which had survived, except I'd never thought of my grandparents as the sort of people who rushed out to buy the latest chart topper.

What appealed to me about the song? Was it because the faint hiss and crackle the needle scraped out of the depleted grooves sounded like an ancient radio transmission? I could have been listening to an audio time machine. I wasn't much bothered by Floyd's demise. The passing years had transmuted his tragedy into history.

Then again, let's be honest, a song about a man who died horribly in a dark, freezing cave, was more interesting than the sappy Ray Conniff love stuff my parents listened to.

Strange to think that when I listened to that recording the accident lay less than forty years in the past. Now it's been more than fifty years since I cranked that old Victrola. My childhood is buried as deep as poor Floyd.

And here I am still writing about it. At least I'm not trying to sing about it.


AND FINALLY

This has been a longer newsletter than usual, so inspired by a couple of lines from the Swan of Avon's play about Pericles let us bow to our audience and declare "New joy wait on you! Here our issue has ending".

But subscribers should not get too joyful, being as the next Orphan Scrivener will loiter into your inbox on August 15th.

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 web at http://home.earthlink.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 our growing pages of links to free e-texts 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/


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