THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # EIGHTY-ONE -- 15 JUNE 2013

This newsletter is scribbled to the sound of rain, not dropping as the gentle dew from heaven but rather the merciless full blast sheeting of a frog-strangler. Yes, rain is slashing down like the proverbial stair rods. As for this issue of Orphan Scrivener, subscribers should read on to establish if it's could be considered a wash-out or no...


MARY'S BIT or WITH A HOPPER, A SKIP, AND A JUMP

The trouble with my unfortunate ever wandering and wondering gaze is that some things it lights upon can never be resolved. I am thinking in particular of a Cornish calendar in which one page featured a photo of a sunny beach, but my eye was drawn to a house in the background where an upper window was open and part of a net curtain billowing out. I still wonder now and then who lives there and what they were doing when a photographer wandered by to immortalize their window and ultimately allow someone thousands of miles to ponder nosy questions about a stranger's household.

That imponderable question is by way of introducing works by Edward Hopper, a favourite artist. I have long held four of my particular favourites would make wonderful covers for noir works, based on similar musings suggested by their content.

Consider his Early Sunday Morning (1), depicting a row of red brick shops with flats above. Its long shadows created by a sun not long out of bed suggest not the quiet peace of a day and time when most would still be asleep but more a brooding silence fraught with possibilities. Notice the variety of positions of the blinds in the upper row of windows, indicating some residents are already astir despite the hour. You may say it's workers getting up for the early shift, and yet to my eye there's a sinister aspect to the scene. It's easy to imagine dark plots being hatched behind one or two windows. Well, easy if you view the painting through my eyes.

Skipping now to Drug Store (2), another night scene. Here's Silber's Pharmacy, a chemist's shop set on a corner, its brightly lit window featuring various wares for sale and the traditional pair of large bottles filled with coloured water. There's a glimpse of darkened housing of the same type as Early Sunday Morning and again there's nary a sign of life. At the very least there ought be a stray cat sitting on the chemist's doorstep. But who last entered the upstairs floor via that door with the long panels, half shadowed by light spilling from the chemist's window? I imagine illegal gambling going on upstairs at the very least.

Jumping now to the couple talking on a porch one Summer Evening (3). Perhaps I do them an injustice, but they strike me as being up to no good. It's obviously a hot night -- the girl's clothes -- and very late, for it's pitch black outside their oasis of light and summer evenings stay light a long time. Everyone else in the house is surely asleep. The positions of the figures suggest the man is trying to persuade the woman to do something she is uneasy about, but she's wavering. What could it be? I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, it not just getting up to a bit of mischief but something to be spoken of in whispers.

Perhaps the best known of Hopper's works, Nighthawks (4) speaks of the loneliness of city living. It has a melancholy air and there's little warmth in that small gathering in an all night diner. The clothing has something of the noir style, with suits and fedora hats for the men and the red-headed girl's scarlet blouse or dress. But she does not appear to have a coat and the work has the air of being very early in the morning. Is she talking to the man next to her? If she is, what are they talking about? One might speculate...and again there's the sleeping red brick row on the other side of the street.

Subscribers have doubtless noticed three of my favourites are night scenes. Perhaps that's not surprising because, as Eric can confirm, I am a night owl, the English equivalent of the nighthawk, and would far rather be up all night and sleep a fair bit of the week days, not just Sunday mornings.

(1) http://whitney.org/Collection/EdwardHopper/31426
(2) http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2007/hopper/fullscreens/nighttime/229-002.jpg
(3) http://uploads7.wikipaintings.org/images/edward-hopper/summer-evening.jpg
(4) http://uploads3.wikipaintings.org/images/edward-hopper/nighthawks.jpg


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

The ticker has been assiduously tapping out news with an international flavour this past two months. Read on for the skinny!

TENFER TURNED IN or GOING

We celebrated May Day not by going a-maying but rather by a-mayering. In other words, we turned in the ms for Ten For Dying on May 1st. This tenth entry in the series is slated to sail on the good ship Poisoned Pen Press next April so a few words about it may (that word again) be of interest.

On a hot summer night in 6th century Constantinople at the Church of the Holy Apostles, an Egyptian magician tries to raise Empress Theodora from the dead and demons vanish into the darkness with one of the city's holiest relics, a fragment of the shroud of the Virgin. As if Felix, Captain of the Palace Guard, didn't have enough problems already between his gambling debts, political maneuverings, and an ambitious new mistress, Emperor Justinian orders him to find the missing relic.

But before he can begin investigating the theft, he becomes suspected of murder thanks to an anonymous corpse left at his house.

A former madam turned leader of a religious refuge, a wealthy and famous charioteer, a general's scheming wife, and a superstitious man who wears so many protective charms that he jingles when he walks, all play their parts in misdirection and murder. It seems as if half the city has reason to wish to possess the relic, see Felix dead, or both.

If only Felix's friend John were still in the city and could assist him. Unfortunately, the former Lord Chamberlain is being sent into exile, sailing away the morning after the theft. It isn't easy solving a mystery in Constantinople while aboard a ship on its way to Greece.

Felix is left to fight for survival in a situation where he can't be sure who his enemies are, or even whether they are all human.

ANTIPODEAN AMAZEMENT or HOZ IN OZ

We heard last month from a ex pat friend in Australia, who declared he got the collywobbles when he spotted British publisher Head of Zeus' edition of One For Sorrow in the Swansea, New South Wales, public library. That's about as far off as John has sailed, and we'd like to thank our collywobbled informant and the antipodean library concerned!

MORE INTERNATIONAL NEWS or A MEMO ABOUT MEM

Speaking of Head of Zeus, they publish John's adventures under our shadow identity M. E. Mayer as the Death In Byzantium series. Their literary bailliwick is Britain and the Commonwealth countries (except Canada, which is covered by Poisoned Pen Press), and we'd like to mention for the benefit of subscribers in those countries that HoZ editions up to and including the current entry, Nine For The Devil, are available in various formats. Point your clicker here for more info http://headofzeus.com/our-books?&field_series_name_value=Death%20in%20Byzantium&sort_by=field_number_in_series_value&sort_order=ASC

But wait, there's more! HoZ has also published a Three Great Historical Mysteries collection, wherein One For Sorrow shares covers with fellow Poisoned Pen Press historical mystery authors Bruce McBain (Roman Games) and Priscilla Royal (Wine of Violence). Details at http://headofzeus.com/books/3+Great+Historical+Mysteries?field_book_type_value_1=E-Book&bid=9781781855393

ANOTHER FOREIGN DESPATCH or UNO PER IL DOLORE

Newton Compton http://www.newtoncompton.com issued an Italian edition of One For Sorrow in April, with Two For Joy to follow next February. Siamo estremamente grati! And a tip of the cappello to Newton Comptom for their interest in John and his adventures.

NOMS DE TWITTER or BOTHERING THE GENERAL PUBLIC

Our noms de Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales and so far we've managed not to wreck the joint. Meantime, Mary continues to bother the general public on the 18th of each month over at the multi-author Poisoned Pen Press blog. May's entry was the strange tale of A Lone Daffodil http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/19165/ and in April she challenged readers to sum up Classic novels In Twelve Words http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/classic-novels-in-twelve-words/ The topic of her June post remains shrouded in mystery at this time, being as none has occurred as this newsletter is written, but we'll all find out what it is on the 18th.


ERIC'S BIT or STICK FIGURES TO SCHIELE

One of the great things about the Internet is the amount of artwork on display. I could never afford coffee table books full of reproductions and rarely had the opportunity to visit museums or galleries, but today, thanks to endless web galleries, my computer desktop displays a rotating art show featuring paintings by Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Pierre Bonnard, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, and many more. Yes, I admit that I even have some non-classical works such as Weird Tales covers by Margaret Brundage.

My taste in art, like my taste in literature, is rather conservative -- some might say backward looking. I prefer figurative to abstract. I like impressionism. I enjoy the realistic tour de forces of Alma-Tadema and other Victorians. The work of the Pre-Raphaelites fascinates me. I prefer a picture that tells a story, which is probably why I never aspired to be an artist.

Not that I haven't dabbled in art. I was always well supplied with paper and crayons, not to mention pencils, pens, paints, pastels, and charcoal. As a kid I spent almost as much time drawing as playing in the backyard. Often my friend from next door would come over and instead of re-enacting the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral again we'd sit on my grandparents' porch and draw endless cartoon stories -- featuring plenty of guns and bombs -- on the rolls of adding machine paper my grandfather brought home from work. Those stories would keep getting longer and more exciting and violent until the long strips of uncoiling adventures began to flap in the passing breezes.

I had drawn stories long before I learned the alphabet. When I became proficient at writing I added captions to my drawings or word balloons. Instead of learning the multiplication tables I'd sit in the back of the classroom and draw cartoons for my buddies, including plenty of guns and bombs.

There were periods in my youth when I thought I might be an artist but I was never much good at drawing, nor was I inclined to work at it very hard. I have always liked drawing birds because they don't have those dreadfully complicated hands (now let's see, looking at the hand like that, which side should the thumb be on?) or even mouths to get wrong. For a couple of years I produced stick figure "mini-comics'. (More than twenty-five years ago -- long before XKCD -- amateur comics enthusiasts were employing stick figures, which allowed even those who couldn't draw to make comics.)

I came to realize that I was not interested in visual art for itself but only as a means to say things that were better -- and in my case more easily -- expressed in words. I was better served practicing my writing rather than my drawing.

There is a lot written about the "meaning" of books and paintings and other art forms, as if the works themselves are a sort of complicated shell within which the artist has concealed what he wants to express in such a way that it needs to be winkled out by experts. But if the purpose of a novel or a painting was to say something that could be said in a paragraph then the author would have written that paragraph instead of the novel and the painter would have placed himself in front of a keyboard rather than an easel.

Paintings are in large part about what we see -- form, color, light. Just as music is about sound. Writing about a painting in words gives the impression that the painting is about something that could have been expressed in words, which is misleading. Abstract paintings are purely visual, which is probably why I prefer paintings with some lingering attachment to real objects. In a Hopper I can find a bit of the literal element -- the story -- that attracts me, to go along with the visual. I cannot enjoy a visual experience much when it is entirely unhinged from any literal interpretation.

I have read psychological analyses of Hopper's works, often stressing the sense of loneliness and isolation, and while there is likely some truth to this I suspect Hopper was much more concerned with shapes and light, even in those paintings which feature human figures.

Probably I project more literal meaning onto the works of Hopper and other figurative painters than they intended. That's because I am literal minded. I am story oriented. Had I chosen to pursue art I could only have been an illustrator and the role of the illustrator is diminished in these days of cameras and computers anyway. Deciding to write was a good choice. But I think that my artistic upbringing and inclinations sometimes help me visualize the sixth century world Mary and I write about. Or at least I hope so.


AND FINALLY

We complete this issue to heavy rain from a sullen sky dark enough to need the light on at 2.45 pm. But as Longfellow observed, some days must be dark and dreary, our cue to remind subscribers that the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will darken their inboxes on August 15th.

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit our 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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