Yet time flies by even faster than geese and on its wings our newsletter comes a-flapping once again. Still, if nothing else, we scriveners don't make much mess and won't eat crusts put out for deserving sparrows.
Making up stories is something I got hooked on even before I could read -- as soon as I could wield a crayon, in fact -- and there's never been a time in my life when I haven't been in the midst of imagining some tale, often when I probably should've been doing something more sensible. In grade school I progressed from picture books to cartoons and illustrated magazines. Later on my friends and I experimented with Super-8 movies and claymation. It's amazing the effects you can get as plasticene figures gradually melt and mutate under hot floodlights. Even after I'd ostensibly grown-up I just couldn't resist making up stories, from inept science fiction to photocopied mini-comics. And I have to admit even co-authoring novels isn't enough.
Lately, in addition to writing about John the Eunuch, I've dabbled at computer games. Not modern games with beautiful graphics -- I'm not a programmer. My efforts are nothing but text, the sort of thing that was briefly popular in the eighties before home computers developed sufficient memories to handle pictures. Some might recall, for example, Adventure where you explored a cave and battled trolls by typing commands like:
>Attack troll with sword
Today the stories tend to be more sophisticated and aficionados refer to modern text games as Interactive Fiction or IF. The main virtue claimed for IF by its supporters is that the reader/player doesn't just read passively but interacts with the story by deciding where to go, what to look at, what to do and so on. Thinking about this, I realized one thing that makes mysteries so interesting and sets them apart from other literature is the high level of interaction the reader can engage in. All writing is interactive compared to, say movies, in that readers supply their own audio and visuals, choose their own pace, and can take as much or little time as they desire to reflect on what's happening. But mysteries go a step further by including a puzzle to be solved. In this aspect a mystery novel is a game.
In our mystery stories Mary and I have always been careful to include a puzzle. There's certainly nothing wrong with stories where you can't play along with the sleuth but they aren't, strictly speaking, what I would call mysteries. Mary is much better than I am at concocting these puzzles and she's the one who keeps a running list of clues and where they appear and makes sure each is finally explained and accounted for. I'm afraid we're coming to the clue-checking stage now with Three For A Letter and a few days ago I remarked to Mary that her clue list looked about as long as the novel itself! But then games aren't much fun unless they're fair.
If you're like me and enjoy the interactive aspect of mysteries, you might also like Interactive Fiction.About.com mystery guide Cathy Gallagher has a page devoted to mystery IF at http://mysterybooks.about.com/arts/mysterybooks/cs/interacti ve/index_2.htm and you can find out more about IF in general from Stephen Granade's About.com site http://interactfiction.miningco.com/games/interactfiction/ Mark Silcox' IF pages at Suite 101 http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/interactive_fiction or Reviews From Trotting Krips http://members.dencity.com/petro/reviews.html Not to mention at our own site http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/game.htm Once you've learnt your way around, I suggest you try out Irene Callaci's Dangerous Curves, in which you pretend you're a Sam Spade type character tracking down a killer in seedy and corrupt LA, at http://www.wurb.com/if/game/507 or another LA based private eye yarn, Kent Tessman's Guilty Bastard at http://www.generalcoffee.com/
There's more! Poisoned Pen Press also took home Glyph Awards for Best Historical/Biographical work (Ross Macdonald: A Biography by Tom Nolan) and a Best Mystery honorable mention for Nora Kelly's Old Wounds -- not to mention a special award for Rob Rosenwald and Poisoned Pen Press for Publishing Excellence.
Congratulations to the press and our stablemates there-at!
Another form of taxation that fortunately the current government does not seem to have considered yet was collective taxation. Under this system, a set amount was levied upon a community as a whole, its residents deciding who paid what portion of the total sum due. Needless to say, it was not at all popular for a number of reasons and became even more reviled once assessments came to be (as now) widely considered to be excessive.
Augustus eventually replaced this communal tax with a poll tax plus direct taxation based upon individual wealth. This in turn meant censuses were held at more regular intervals -- a practice that continues to this day -- in order to find out who owned what and how many folks there were around to tax. Doubtless this led to much dark muttering around rural dinner tables about jumping out of the cooking pot into the brazier, but it was too late by then. Isn't that always the way?
In Byzantine times, that venomous-tongued gossip Procopius recorded in his Secret History that in addition to huge amounts of public taxes, Justinian also received an immense annual sum known as "sky tax". According to Procopius, the sky tax was so-named not because (as we might suppose) the sky was the limit -- although by all he says, to all intents and purposes it was -- but because the money was said to have come unexpectedly to the emperor by falling from the sky, or in other words was publicly at least described as what we'd call a windfall. Of course, its regular appearance might give most of us pause but then again doubtless the wiser residents of Constantinople soon became adept at expressing convincing surprise that, good heavens, the emperor had been extremely fortunate yet again!
See you in a couple of months!
Mary and Eric
whose home page lurks about at http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/
Therein you'll find the usual suspects plus more personal essays, an interactive game and an on-line jigsaw puzzle (at least for those who have java-enabled browsers) featuring One For Sorrow's striking cover. We've also just added a page listing mystery-related newsletters of various kinds, while for those new to the subscription list there's the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned!