THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # SEVENTY-EIGHT -- 15 DECEMBER 2012

The shortest day looms closer and a couple of weeks after that the dark gate of the year will creak open on the swirling fog of the future. If that mental image makes you think of horror films, you're in the right place since the horror that is Orphan Scrivener has, as you see, just crept out of the darkness and into your email in-box....


ERIC'S BIT or IS THE END NIGH?

I'm sure you've heard the prophecies. Books are doomed. Doomed! The end is near! Polls have shown that twenty percent of Americans never read. Half never read fiction. Young people spend two or three hours a day watching television but only seven minutes reading. And the few who still read are turning to ebooks. All of which has driven publishing companies to the verge of extinction. Things have become so bad big publishers are forming vanity presses to make money off authors rather than readers.

No readers! No publishers! We're doomed! We're all doomed!

Nonsense.

In the first place publishers do not write. No one needs publishers more than the publishers themselves. Yes, the prospect of not being able to profit off readers and writers must be irksome to the big publishing conglomerates but for the vast majority of readers and writers it makes no difference. People somehow managed to write and read for thousands of years before the publishing industry came along.

In past eras, authors, like the literate generally, tended to be well-to-do. They were people whose circumstances allowed them both an education and free time to write, often as a secondary occupation. The great essayist Montaigne was a statesman. Writers not so fortunately situated often depended on patronage. Authors making their living selling works to large numbers of readers is a relatively recent development and even today only a small minority of authors do so. (It's been said that the first American author able to make a living entirely from fiction was Washington Irving.) If the books of every author who makes a living writing were to vanish from bookstores the shelves would not look much less full. Only the bestseller displays at the front would be bare.

Classical writers did not have publishers to monetize their work for them, or even to distribute it. If you wanted to own a book in Greek or Roman times -- which is to say a scroll -- you found a copy to buy or paid a scribe to make a copy for you. And neither the bookseller nor the scribe shared their profits with the author. There weren't any copyright laws.

None of which stopped Virgil, for instance, from writing.

And how big was the contemporary readership for the Aeneid? I have no idea, but I do know that whereas Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has reportedly sold around 44 million copies, the entire population of the Roman Empire during Virgil's time is estimated as 57 million, with no more than 10% even literate, let alone an audience for epic Latin verse.

Writers have never needed vast sales and wealth for inspiration.

It wouldn't surprise me if functional literacy levels fall and fewer and fewer people have the ability or inclination to take the effort to read a work of fiction. But I have no doubt there will always be some people who want to read books. Books are language and language practically defines the human mind. It might well be hard-wired into the brain. It's the way we think. And so long as anyone wants to read people will want to write. Heck, often they're the same people.

Mary and I are fortunate to have two publishers, both matching us up with readers and sending us the occasional check. I don't think publishers are going to vanish any time soon, or that readership for books will totally crater. But if, a hundred years from now, publishers have joined the dinosaurs and readers have become an infinitesimal minority, readers and writers will still manage to find each other as they always have.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

This year was, appropriately, bookended by Nine For The Devil appearing from Poisoned Pen Press in the US and the revised One For Sorrow introducing the Death in Byzantium series from Head of Zeus in the UK. While the presses on two continents thundered we've not been idle either, so there's a fair bit of news this time round. Read on!

DESPERATE MEN REMEMBERED or INFLAMMATORY RAMBLINGS

Former bookseller Lelia Taylor runs Buried Under Books, a book-centric blog focused in the main on guest authors and book reviews for multiple genres. On November 4th, the eve of Britain's Bonfire Night commemorating a failed attempt to blow up parliament along with James I, Mary contributed an anecdote or two of childhood memories of Bonfire Night. Kids continue to celebrate by lighting bonfires and letting off fireworks -- and some think trick-or-treating visitors are a pain! http://www.cncbooks.com/blog/2012/11/04/desperate-men-remembered/

SUSPECTED OF WRITING MYSTERIES or GRILLED LIKE KIPPERS

Bruce K. Hollingdrake created the Bookshop Blog to share his bookselling knowledge with others considering entering the business. The blog is now devoted to a far-ranging variety of matters related to books, and on November 26th host Diane Plumley grilled us like kippers with ten searching questions. Topics ranged from agents to writing the sophomore novel. Fortunately our alibis held up under scrutiny and our replies can be read here http://bookshopblog.com/2012/11/26/john-the-eunuch-and-mary-reed-eric-mayer-10-questions/ Our thanks to Diane for her interest in our writing!

BY GUM, SOMETHING DIFFERENT! or NOTHING BUT THE TOOTH

We recently heard from Lois Hirt, who has been writing a column for the Los Angeles Dental Hygienists' Society's newsletter for 17 years. Lois is interested in anything dental, in or out of a dentist's office, for example an archaeologist using a dental pick in an excavation, or Stephen Cannell's character Mr Molar, or indeed any good lines about teeth in any media. She is the only person writing this type of column and she tells us Nine For The Devil provided six quotes for her December column. While that issue is not yet online her other columns can be read now via the Hygienists In Print link at http;//www.ladhsociety.org Our thanks to Lois for an unusual honour!

A STRANGE SITE or ROMAN AMONG THE RUINS

Jane Finnis, author of the Aurelia Marcella Roman mystery series set in Yorkshire, hosted Mary on her blog on December 1st to mark the launch of the John the Lord Chamberlain series in the UK. Mary talked about walking to school past the remains of a Roman temple in a street of semi-detached houses, and imagined doing the washing up while looking out the kitchen window at such a relic! http://janefinnisblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/presenting-mary-reed/


MARY'S BIT or TINTINNABULATION PROGNOSTICATION

I laughed out loud when I recently read an exchange in Paul McGuire's Threepence To Marble Arch -- the title refers to bus fare -- concerning amateur theatricals. A chap claims he was always cast as the villain, to which a companion replies:

"By gum, Silva, I can just see you in a top hat, foreclosing on mortgages. On Christmas Eve with the snow coming down, and honest Jack's ship last heard of a thousand miles east and north of Hong Kong and never reported since."

Edward guffawed. "The producer knew what he was up to, Silva. I can just see you turning honest old folks out of doors. And where is Nellie ?"

"On these occasions the city has usually swallowed her up. Alone with her baby on the Embankment. Tobacco, Grey?"

My thoughts leapt back to the last time I trod the boards. My role was First Fool in Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor and the Nightingale, and from there in a natural progression, at least natural the way I think, to that peculiarly British Christmas institution, which is to say the--

Look behind you!

Swivel your head around when you read that, did you?

I didn't mean the frightful fiend that trod close behind Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, but rather stage villains who, creeping up behind and about to pounce on their victims, have their evil designs betrayed by a crescendo of shrill screams from children begging the unwary to "Look behind you!"

Yes, December is pantomime time in the old country and once again familiar tales are gracing stages up and down the land.

My favourite panto presents the story of the poor orphan Dick Whittington, who, discouraged and about to leave the capital, hears Bow bells foretelling (I would say foretolling except I have the sense they would chime in merry fashion) he would be mayor of London three times. More precisely, the traditional account has their clamour declaring "Turn again, Whittington, thrice mayor of London". So Dick turns back, remains in London, and in due course his pet cat jumpstarts his owner's fortune with its rat-catching prowess, and Dick does indeed serve three terms as mayor, just as the tintinnabulating bells had prognosticated. Though I sometimes wonder why nobody else heard the same fortune told by their brazen tongues, persistence is certainly a virtue writers should cultivate -- after all, mayor is not that far from Mayer and cats have lived with us for most of our married life.

So somewhere or other in theatre land many old favorites will be presented this very night -- Puss In Boots, Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, Snow White, Mother Goose, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk -- complete with celebrities playing major roles, lavish costumes, dancers, satirical topical songs, jokes (some over the heads of the younger fry or at last we hope so), slapstick, villains that put Sir Jasper to shame, special effects, and the all important audience participation. Not only screamed advice to the hero or heroine to look behind them but also argumentative parrying with one character or another, yelling Oh no it's not! or Oh yes it is! depending on their statements to the audience. This little bit of freedom to contradict adults must be loved by children, since where else can they indulge in it at such a volume and with social approval to boot?

Is there any other entertainment where the principal boy is always played by a comely young woman in tights and short jacket, much given to slapping her thigh to emphasize her dialogue, and the buffoonish principal dame by a man in billowing dresses made up in eye-aching clashing colours, amazing hats, enormous embonpoint, and wildly over-applied makeup?

Had the amateur productions in which Silva performed been pantomimes, by the time of the closing song, honest Jack would have reappeared possessed of a fortune earned in the Orient, saved the widow's house from foreclosure, dealt severely with the rotten old banker, shoveled a path through the snow, decorated the Christmas tree, located and married poor Nellie, adopted her baby, and run successfully for high office.

May all your endeavors in the new year end as happily!


AND FINALLY

After the holiday lights are taken down, the twilight of the year hurries us on towards the midnight ushering in 2013. Once there, we'll be as one with Coleridge (what, him again?) who saw the departing year's train, meaning the skirt and not the sort that runs on rails. Since this is Liberty Hall we shall still go ahead and announce the next station at which Orphan Scrivener will arrive is signposted February 15th, on which date the newsletter following this one will steam into subscribers' in-boxes.

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, the Doom Cat 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/ or visit M. E. Mayer's blog at http://memayer.blogspot.com/


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