THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # SEVENTY -- 15 AUGUST 2011

THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # SEVENTY -- 15 AUGUST 2011

How hot has it been at Casa Maywrite since our last newsletter? Believe it or not, during the recent heat wave no coffee has been consumed for stretches up to as much as three days!

Now, however, the long period of energy-sapping temperatures has moderated enough that the coffee pot has just resumed its usual day-long sojourns on the stove and we are once again enjoying our no-milk-no-sugar dark beverage.

It is said coffee tends to make you nervous. Orphan Scrivener may well do the same. To find out, read on....


ERIC'S BIT or THE TALKING FISH AND THE REMARKABLE RUTABAGA

At the start of the month we sent off the corrected galleys of NINE FOR THE DEVIL to Poisoned Pen Press.

We heaved a huge sigh of relief and intoned, in unison, "our work here is done." Well, okay, I admit that my work was done before Mary mercifully proofread the galleys by herself! All the rest -- the formatting, the printing, the distribution -- is up to the press. Thank goodness!

Maybe you've been hearing about authors who swear that self-publishing for Kindle and its electronic kin is the way to go. Thriller writer Barry Eisler turned down a big contract with a major publisher to do it himself. Amanda Hocking is a millionaire. Mystery author Joe Konrath sells billions and billions of ebooks.

But so far as I can see, the evidence that self-publishing is the best route for authors to take is based on isolated success stories. You could make just as good a case that playing the lottery is a reasonable career choice. In fact, I have actually met one big lottery winner and the parent of another, and I can't say that of any self-publishing millionaires.

So we are not eager to self-publish. Partly it is because of the unlikelihood that a do-it-yourself book from little known authors would find an audience. Personally I am also reluctant because I have self-published. And let me tell you, while it wasn't exactly hell it wasn't any picnic either. Maybe a picnic just outside the gates of hell.

For example, Mary and I aren't best selling authors but Poisoned Pen Press has found thousands of reader for us. In grade school my audience was two buddies who sat on either side of me in the back of the room during arithmetic class. And when the teacher spotted us giggling over the cartoons I'd drawn, she'd confiscate my tablet. There went my whole inventory.

We also make more money than I ever made self-publishing comics. Back in those days, a full color "Elmo the Talking Fish" comic went for a dime on the playground. You could buy a whole bag of jaw breakers, licorice whips, and Bazooka bubblegum for a dime. Unfortunately, there's a limit to the money to be made, even at 100% royalties, when your print run is one. I tried renting out my "King Cotton vs. Boll Weevil Giant Annual" but it got tedious having to keep erasing the crossword puzzle answers. Luckily my parents paid for my big box of 128 Crayola colors -- with gold, silver and copper -- or I would have been operating at a loss.

Twenty-five years later I did a bit better selling mini-comics. Uh...yeah...I admit, I was still turning out comics in my thirties. A mini-comic is made by photo-copying the pages you've drawn onto both sides of a sheet or paper, cutting the sheet down the middle, folding the two halves together, and stapling the spine. I did manage to sell maybe 75 copies of titles like "Bad Cat" and "The Remarkable Rutabaga" at a quarter each, which almost defrayed the cost of postage and supplies. And advertising those comics and mailing them was a lot more difficult than approaching a friend on the playground and embarrassing him into handing me a dime for a comic. Can you imagine having to cut and fold and staple and mail every mystery book? No thanks.

And that wasn't the worst of my self-publishing nightmares either. I once printed several issues of a magazine on a pan of gelatin. No, I am not making this up. I used what's called a hectograph because I couldn't afford a mimeograph or a spirit duplicator. My first hectograph was a kit from Sears but it was the last one in stock, I guess, having probably gathered dust in the warehouse since 1939. It was probably the same model used by H.P. Lovecraft. No wonder he saw lurking horrors in corners that did not quite seem to fit into any dimension known to the human mind.

The original kit was dreadful enough to print on but when the hecto gel ran out I had to cook up my own by heating glycerin and plain gelatin over a low flame. Then I poured the viscous concoction into a shallow pan and let it harden. If you take one of the ditto masters that you might recall from your school days and place one face down on the hectograph, the gel absorbs the ink. Press a sheet of paper down on the gel and you get an impression like that produced by a spirit duplicator. And one that doesn't have the terrifying odor of pop quizzes and arithmetic tests.

Hecto refers to the hundred prints you're supposed to be able to get but I was lucky to get fifty. The surface of the gel deteriorates quickly as you pull sheets off. It begins to bubble and tear. Sometimes the whole mass would come slurping out of the pan, clinging to the paper I pulled off, like some boneless alien parasite. Well, I was publishing a science fiction fanzine.

By the way, have you ever tried to get purple hectograph stains off? Every time I recall those faint smudges on my fingers, all these years later, I swear I will never again self-publish.

Well, okay, I guess formatting a book for Kindle won't leave purple stains. And Mary and I are not ruling out self-publishing a book. We have so many utterly non-commercial ideas that some of our work may be destined for self-publishing, provided we ever find time to write them.

However, our first choice is a quality publisher, and that we have in Poisoned Pen Press.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

There's a fair bit of news on the ticker this time around, so let's get right to it....

NEWS OF NINEFER or JUSTINIAN PROVIDES COVERAGE

In the last Orphan Scrivener we announced that Nine For The Devil will be published by Poisoned Pen Press in March 2012 in hardback, paperback, large print, and ebook editions, adding we would provide more details as they became available. We are now happy to reveal the cover for Ninefer features the famous Ravenna mosaic of Justinian. Point your clickers here for a preview http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/nine-for-the-devil/

A NEW BLOG or WHAT DID SHE KNOW?

Poisoned Pen Press now hosts a blog for its authors. Mary's regular spot is the l8th of the month and in July she revealed what happens When Umbrellas Attack http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/when-umbrellas-attack/ Her next blog offers thoughts on the trial of Dr Crippen under the title Ethel Le Neve: What Did She Know? Plus subscribers can peruse a number of other blogs by PPP authors by visiting http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/category/blog/

MORE DARK DOINGS or THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF HISTORICAL CRIME FICTION

The Mammoth Book of Historical Crime Fiction, edited by master anthologist Mike Ashley, makes its debut this very month. http://tinyurl.com/453vzb5 Featuring a dozen novellas spanning four thousand years of criminal history, contributors include Peter Tremayne, Charles Todd, Steven Saylor, Anne Perry, and Maan Meyers. The ink-stained wretches at Casa Maywrite also lurk within, with the dark tale of a Byzantine icon painter, suddenly out of work when icons are banned, who becomes embroiled in a case of deception.

THICKENING THE PLOT or A FREE OFFER

Mary contributed a few thoughts to Chris Eboch's Advanced Plotting, now available in print and for Kindle at Amazon http://tinyurl.com/4xfl7dp and as an e-book in various formats at Smashwords. For a limited time Chris is generously offering a free download via Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/75078 Use Coupon Code PS76M. This offer expires at the beginning of September, so subscribers have but a short time to take advantage of it. May we suggest if you do you leave a comment in appropriate venues?

CRAFTY LISTS or ONE AND ONE MAKE CLUE

Anastasia Pollack, craft editor and reluctant sleuth protagonist of Lois Winston's Crafting Mystery series, runs the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog on Lois' behalf. On July 22nd Mary wrote about clues hidden in lists in mystery fiction, with examples from Doyle, Sayers, and Christie. Point your clicker here http://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com/2011/07/book-club-friday-guest-authors-mary.html


MARY'S BIT or A (H)ARROWING CRIME

Visitors to our website will recall our Golden Age Library page, which hosts an ever-expanding list of links to free etexts of tales of detection from the period, often defined as the years between the two world wars although we also include a number of works from earlier eras going as far back as the Victorian.

As I've remarked elsewhere, one of the most noticeable and attractive aspects of these novels is they do not revel in gratuitous gore. Murders are usually off the page or lightly touched upon, the focus being on solving the crime rather than dwelling on its sanguinary details, as indeed is the case with our own series. Yet many of these novels cannot be described as cosies, given the crimes investigated are sometimes shocking even by present day standards -- throwing acid into someone's face or relentless blackmail driving its unfortunate victims to suicide, for example.

Another reason I enjoy these novels is because a number include reproductions of scraps of paper with mysterious messages or codes and, best of all, floor plans of rooms, houses, and other places. Unfortunately for subscribers, contemplating this feature leads me to close with a shorter version of my review of The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow by Anna Katharine Green. The novel was published in 1917 and features a trio of such floor plans.

Set in l9l3, the novel opens with the death of a young girl on an upper floor of a New York museum. She's been killed by an arrow and even stranger, while the museum has arrows aplenty, no bow is anywhere to be seen.

Detective Ebenezer Gryce, now 85, and his assistant Sweetwater arrive to investigate. Was the death an accident or murder? But who would be foolish enough to loose an arrow in a museum? On the other hand, what motive could there be for doing away with a girl barely in her mid teens?

After Gryce arrives everyone in the building is sent to stand in the same spot as they were at the time of the incident. Suddenly an extra man appears. Where has he sprung from?

The plot immediately begins to thicken. How does an English visitor, a stranger to the victim, know her name? Why has the girl's travelling companion hastily left their hotel without leaving a forwarding address? For that matter what was this well-bred young lady doing going about without a chaperone? Where is the bow? How could the arrow have been shot without someone in the open galleries noticing?

Readers will need to refer to the floor plans more than once, because the plot is very dense and the movements of those in the museum at the relevant time are vital in solving the mystery. Time and again the investigation comes to a screeching halt, only to be picked up again after a bit of cogitation and/or legwork by Gryce, Sweetwater, and others. The real problem is linking the various prime movers to each other and particularly finding the motive. Sweetwater's use of carpentry skills aids the investigation in an unexpected way!

Since it's not my intention to torment subscribers by mentioning books that are hard to find, interested parties will find a free etext of this novel on Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17763/17763-h/17763-h.htm and it also appears among twenty of Anna's titles in our Golden Age Library at http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/golden.htm


AND FINALLY

Victorian poet Philip James Bailey lamented that we cannot see beyond the sable shroud of the future. However, in the case of Orphan Scrivener this much at least is already known: the next issue will darken subscribers' in-boxes on October 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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