THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # SIXTY-NINE -- 15 JUNE 2011

William Makepeace Thackeray once opined that we learn useful lessons from calamities. The proof of the pudding being in the eating, we invite subscribers to pick up their spoons and dig into this June edition of Orphan Scrivener.


MARY'S BIT (n)or ANY DROP TO DRINK

During May strong storms passed across the state and as a result for a day or two we acquired two run-off waterfalls in the back garden plus a small pond and longer-lingering miniature marshlands in front of the house.

The lawn was still squelchy when we found ourselves in much the same situation as the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge's poem, that is to say surrounded by water -- in this case soggy ground -- but with not a drop to drink.

Our well had up and died.

We discovered the situation late one evening when the kitchen tap was turned on and produced not so much as a drop, a tittle, or even a suggestion of moisture.

The well driller turned up next morning with expeditious despatch and looked over the interior components of the water system but the culprit turned out to be the well pump. He would have replaced it that day but it would be a two-man job and a smaller rig would be needed, since the usual vehicle needed 30 feet clearance room and the phone lines to the house were below that point.

So we carried on until next morning with bottled water and jugs of same to flush the loo, when the driller and his assistant arrived with a lower slung rig, which only just cleared both the phone lines and Scylla and Charybdis, represented by the narrow space available to pass between a tree on the lawn and the front of the house, where the well is situated.

The question was given the still soggy ground and the weight of the rig could they inch it over to the area of operations without getting bogged down?

With a bit of maneouvering they managed to navigate the heavy vehicle between the twin perils and back up to the well head, which for the benefit of British readers resembles a capped section of narrow drainage pipe several inches tall sticking up from the ground.

The next problem was the tree near the well. It was probably a sapling when the well was drilled but it had obviously grown mightily since then and its branches were positioned to foul the rig's boom, which had to be vertical to pull out the old pump and line. Fortunately, after a bit of back and forth the driller managed to position it to reel out the old line and pump, although ultimately the folded-back-down boom carried away a few souvenir twigs and leaves.

The start of replacement work was delayed however because the rig could not be got back up to the road, having become mired in the, er, mire, but tyre chains dealt with that problem.

Since the entire water line -- which turned out to measure about a hundred and forty feet and was brittle to boot -- and its associated wiring were also to be replaced, parallel lengths of both were unreeled across the lawn, up the slope to the road, past the drill rig parked there, and a little way along the road itself. Once these were ready the installation of line and pump began, using a hand-operated tripod arrangement over the well head.

The new wiring was attached to the control box and then we had the nod to turn on a faucet. A spurt of dirty water and then the flow cleared and we had water on tap once again.

Even better, due to the new installation arrangements, if problems arise and the driller must be called back, it will not be necessary to inch the rig under the lines and between Scylla and Charybdis in order to retrieve the line or pump for examination.

A translation of the coding on the nameplate of the kaput pump established it had been installed a remarkable 34 years ago. Needless to say, if its replacement lasts that long we will be well satisfied.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

A big budget of news this time, so let's get to it...

JOHN'S NEXT OUTING or NINE FOR THE DEVIL

The year is 548 and Empress Theodora is dead, the victim of cancer. Or so everyone in Constantinople believes. Everyone, that is, except Justinian, who orders John to find the murderer or suffer the consequences.

There is no shortage of suspects, including General Artabanes, forced to occupy a house with an unloved wife; Justinian's cousin Germanus, whose career was blocked by the late empress; and Antonina and her husband General Belisarius, both enraged by Theodora's attempt to marry their daughter to her grandson by compelling the young couple to live together. Could the exiled and much hated former tax collector John the Cappadocian have played a role? Might palace physician Gaius have tampered with Theodora's medication? Pope Vigilius, detained in the city due to a religious controversy, is not above suspicion. Even John's friends, the lawyer Anatolius and Felix, captain of the place guards, are acting strangely.

Nine For The Devil will be published by Poisoned Pen Press in March 2012 in hardback, paperback, large print, and ebook editions. More details as they become available!

TALKING TO MANIC READERS or THE CHALLENGES OF TIMES AND TOGETHERNESS

The mission of the Manic Readers website is to provide readers with a wide variety of information on the industry’s books, authors, and publishers. Ivy Truitt, bookseller, reviewer, and manager of the Manic Readers guest author blog, put on her interviewer's hat on 4th May to chat with us. About other matters we talked about whether as married co-authors we found so much togetherness difficult, the challenges of writing fiction set during the 6th century, and how it was John came to be born. Point your clickers here for the skinny: http://manicreaders.com/blog/index.php/2011/05/mary-reed-eric-mayer-and-john-the-eunuch-lord-chamberlain/#respond

TOEING AND HEELING or UNDERHANDED MACHINATIONS

Amy Corwin is a charter member of the Romance Writers of America and has written not only Regency romantic mysteries but also cosy and historical tales of detection. She admits most of her books have included a bit of murder and mayhem since she discovered killing off at least one character is a highly effective way to make the remaining ones toe the plot line. On 6th May Mary contributed to Amy's blog by toeing and heeling round the topic of misleading readers by utilising their expectations of a particular type of character. Talk about underhanded authorial machinations! All is revealed here http://amycorwin.blogspot.com/2011/05/guest-writer-mary-reed-on-misleading.html

SPONTANEOUS PUBLICITY -- AN UNLIKELY TALE

Jeff Marks, biographer of mystery writer Craig Rice and author of works including Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s/1950s and Criminal Appetites (an anthology of cooking related mysteries) also wears the moderator hat for Murder Must Advertise, an e-list devoted to book marketing and public relations. On 23rd May Mary contributed a post to the recently launched MMA blog, her topic being spontaneous publicity or promotion occurring in a completely unexpected fashion without any effort by the writer. Fellow authors Larry Karp and Robin Burcell provide examples and Mary reveals the unlikely tale of how One For Sorrow's dedication brought about the reunion of old friends who had lost touch. Here's the post: http://murdermustadvertise.blogspot.com/2011/05/spontaneous-publicity-by-mary-reed.html


ERIC'S BIT or THE BUSTED KNUCKLEBONES

Sixth century Constantinople is a great setting for mystery novels.

It's the largest city of its era, the center of government, populated by people from all over the world, some climbing towards wealth and power, others simply trying to survive. The rich and poor find themselves in dangerous proximity. The city presents endless opportunities and motivations for crime.

Unfortunately, unlike New York or Los Angeles, sixth century Constantinople is not well-served by detectives. John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, is an historically plausible sleuth, but the city would be a good fit for a lot more detectives.

Mike Hammer would feel right at home in Constantinople's dark and twisting alleys. The tunic he'd have to wear might make him smile. But not a nice smile.

There were plenty of taverns for Maigret to sit in, having melancholy ruminations, and plenty in that day and age to be melancholy about.

Philip Marlowe might enjoy visiting palaces instead of mansions. The rich and powerful were just as corrupt and secretive as they are today.

Constantinople is surrounded by water on three sides, just like Florida. Travis McGee could moor The Busted Knucklebones, named after a popular game in those pre-playing card days, on the Golden Horn or the Sea of Marmara and sail to wherever his salvage operations took him. His sidekick Meyer might need to be left out. I don't think they had economists in those days. Just tax collectors.

Travis might be asked by a bishop to retrieve a saint's mummified nose, because the bishop didn't dare let it be known that the relic had been lost in the first place. Although I don't know what Travis' customary half of what he retrieves would be. What was the going rate on saint's noses?

The Hippodrome race track was right next to the Great Palace and when it came to winning, members of the racing factions were not averse to skullduggery and partisan violence. Imagine charioteer Sid Halley investigating a curse tablet found buried under the far turn of the track. I'm sure Dick Francis would have been certain to have Sid hauled off to Justinian's dungeons at some point to be roughed up. A desperate gallop through the crowded, colonnaded streets of the city would have made a fitting climax. How about a short cut through the Baths of Zeuxippos?

Not all detectives get out and about. Nero Wolfe, who solved crimes from his armchair, makes me think of the pillar saints -- stylites -- who lived on top of columns for years, never coming down. An acolyte could easily fill Archie's role and do the legwork. But I'm not sure Nero would be cut out for an ascetic life on top of a column, unprotected in blazing sun and freezing rain. Plus it would need to be a particularly wide column with a reinforced railing.

Miss Marple would be even less at home. Justinian's court was filled with gossip, with everyone knowing something about everyone else, but Constantinople was not by any means a small, English village. And as for Poirot...well, Belgium hadn't even been invented.


AND FINALLY

Summer continues to fly by although not quite in the sense of Ralph Waldo Emerson's comment that no matter what we do, summer will have flies. A reminder to subscribers while on this vexed topic that the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will fly 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, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), and our growing libraries of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also the 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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