This issue is being hammered out in one of the earliest deep freezes we can recall. Today for the first time this winter we got up to no power. And heavy snow. Not that a fair-sized portion of the country isn't also contending with bone-chilling cold, snow, sleet, and ice. Sir Walter Scott summed up many a weather-weary person's thoughts at this time when he declared this dark month glooms the days, taking away autumn joys.

And speaking of gloomy days, with the arrival of this latest Orphan Scrivener today may well be turning darker for those readers who insist on perusing these words. If so, we suggest they turn the light on and continue!


Today's got off to an exciting start as mentioned above.

Next week we shall have another exciting day: taking the rubbish down to the road for pickup. Luckily it's only one plastic bag full. Two weeks worth.

With the car snowed in at the bottom of the grassy slope we use for a driveway, I'll have to haul the bag down the hill by hand. Hopefully I'll avoid throwing my back out, or breaking a leg by slipping on ice.

The descent reminds me of trash day when I lived in a fifth floor walk-up in a Brooklyn brownstone, only the stairs weren't icy or nearly as steep. And I was younger.

Back then I was going to school, even more impecunious than I am today. Sometimes trash went up the stairs too. Other people's trash, that is. Treasures to me. A lopsided box that became a little bookcase. A chair that stayed upright quite comfortably if you shifted most of your weight to one side.

When I was still younger certain trash days were even more exciting. Sometimes my dad took things to the dump. Oh how I loved visiting the dump.

From the main road a dirt track ran into the woods. Our big red station wagon rattled along the ruts, heading into the wilderness. Then came the smell, a sour, acrid stench. Wisps of smoke rolled across the windshield and we broke though into a clearing which sloped down into a shallow pit that seemed to my seven year old eyes enormous.

Smoke rose up or billowed from craters and hillocks of this desolate landscape. A pile of scorched brick, heaps of torn trash bags spilling their unidentifiable contents, lengths of charred wood jutting up into the eye-watering haze that hung over everything. Here I could see the rusted top of a car half swallowed up in the refuse. There, along the edge of the wasteland sat several doorless refrigerators. An office chair perched incongruously atop a blackened hillock. Above it all, borne up by the heat from flickering fires, drifted flocks of ashes of all shapes and sizes.

It gave me a cold thrill to look upon the ultimate fate of familiar things, the final destination of the old and useless and worn out. Not exactly a vista of the underworld but perhaps a back door to hell where demons had set out their garbage.

While my father dispatched our junk, my gaze wandered to the nearer confusion of rubbish, searching for what secret things strangers had sought to rid themselves of. Look! An alarm clock with a smashed face!

One time, years later, in Brooklyn, I found a severed head propped up by the curb. Not just any severed head either. The head of none other than John the Baptist, served up by Salome. Why anyone would throw away a three-foot tall reproduction of a Gustav Klimt painting I'll never know.

This week's trip with the trash is not likely to result in any such excitement. For me. Maybe for any crows, or stray cats, who find my bag before the waste disposal truck arrives.


December is a busy month for most of us, and the ticker echoes that with a fair amount of news to impart. Read on!


Ring out, glad bells! We returned the corrected ARC to the press a couple of days ago and the beautiful blue cover for Ten For Dying is a real corker! It will start appearing hither and yon soon and it's well worth an advance peak at Eric's blog

And in other news, Tenfer is now available for pre-ordering from Poisoned Pen Press as well as from Amazon and the usual suspects.


British publisher Head of Zeus has just issued Death In Byzantium, a boxed set featuring ebooks of the first four novels about our protagonist John, comprising over a thousand "pages". Talk about a bargain! Point your clicker here:

Head of Zeus is also offering an e-edition of the second short story about John, reworked and twinkled up a bit. The Body In The Mithraeum is currently discounted, so hasten ye to:


And still speaking of collections, our PPP partners in crime, er, stablemates Jane Finnis and Priscilla Royal also have new e-collections from Head of Zeus. Details for Jane's Death In Roman Britain collection can be consulted here
while Priscilla's readers have two boxed Medieval Mystery sets to choose from! Skinny here and here


Over on Joanne Tropello's site Mary set forth some thoughts on the value of websites for authors and others, not least their round-the-clock promotional presence. At this time of financial stringency, a website just cannot be beat, even with a big stick. Here's the blog:


Poe's Deadly Daughters will be running another blog emanating from Casa Maywrite this weekend, December 14th to 15th. This one deals with the religion we invented for Two For Joy, that of the Michaelites whose core belief was a Quadrinity. Or at least we thought we had invented a new system of belief but as it turned out...see


Two For Joy begins with stylites spontaneously combusting -- our characters tend to get put through the mill one way or another -- and Mary's 18th November blog on the Poisoned Pen Press multi-author blog deals with spontaneous combustion with thoughts on Lighting Literary Fires Spontaneously. Point your clicker to

Our co-written December blog, which goes live on the 18th and can be reached via the link at when that day dawns, is entitled The Morning The Coffee Pot Broke and, as readers have no doubt deduced, deals with the awful horror of, well, the coffee pot breaking. Especially on a cold and snowy day, which is where we came in...


There are always one or two teachers we recall with particular affection, are there not?

Most of my teachers were women. At grammar school level except for two the staff was largely comprised of elderly spinsters who dressed in cliches -- sensible lace-up shoes, a cameo brooch at the throat, longish skirts, iron disciplinistas. Infringe school rules such as not wearing a hat or beret while abroad in school uniform or running in the hallways and you were instructed to "sign up" on the corridor notice board list. Three signings a term and there was a stern comment from the headmistress on the next report card. I only ever had that dubious honour once, I'm happy to say. And speaking of hats, local urchins took great delight in grabbing ours and running off with them so you had to be ever alert in the street.

But my word, could our teachers teach! It would be unthinkable to them, and indeed us, for someone to leave school functionally illiterate.

I say they could teach, but in my case must exclude certain subjects. Alas, I was the despair of Madam D, our French teacher, for I never could grasp the use of different genders for objects and quickly got lost in the thickets of moi-il-elle. So I left with little grasp of the language, though such few sentences as I could construct were considered pronounced, as were those of my classmates, with a decent approximation of the French accent, given, so we understood, our Tyneside dialect caused us to speak with rolling rs. We'll overlook all our glo'all stops.

At the same school, our music teacher was Mrs J, a motherly woman who played the piano for the interpretive dancing I mentioned in Leaps, Foot and Leaves in the October 2005 issue of Orphan Scrivener Mrs J was very patient but could never get me to grasp how to read music. Give me a couple of seconds to listen to the others singing and I could generally wing it by following the rise and fall of written notes, more or less, whereas my younger sister could read on sight. Said sister inherited my musical gene as well as her own and played in school orchestras, usually first violin. She plays other instruments equally as well, whereas the only one I can play is the kazoo, and that badly.

However, when the Queen Mother visited Tyneside, a number of pupils from each local school were chosen to form a mass choir to serenade her. To my amazement I was one of those recruited from mine. We sang local songs -- Bobby Shaftoe, The Water of Tyne, and Keel Row -- and it must have been a magnificent sound with all those rolling rs.

This particular occasion was the first time I had seen a Royal Personage in person as opposed to cinema newsreels. My main impression was how small and delicate she was -- and how interested in her visit. Especially the sudden rattle of stiff cards when a fellow standing in front of the choir and behind her majesty pulled out his hanky, a signal to those sitting in the balcony to hold up coloured cardboard oblongs to form a representation of the Union Jack. It all sounds very quaint but it was, well, a royal visit and no doubt the mayor, all done up regardless with his chain of office, was relieved it went smoothly.

At this same school we had only one male teacher. Mr R replaced our science teacher when she retired -- one of her parting gifts was a sixth-former's painting of the small Victorian building in which lived the science lab, set well away from the main school -- and we were terrified of him. He was no doubt a very nice man but somewhat gruff in manner to say the least. In that mysterious way schoolchildren have, we learned he had previously been at a boy's school so perhaps that explained it.

I wasn't very good at science either.

Nor did I shine at domestic science.

The nadir of cookery lessons at my next school was a doomed attempt to make brandy snaps. For the benefit of those who have never tried, my advice is don't. It's a tricky business whipping the snaps off the baking tray and winding them round a wooden spoon handle. You have to get it done before the snaps cool and become very brittle. Then follows the piping in of the thickened cream filling. My effort resulted, basically, in a plate of filling with bits of blackened snap floating in it. Everyone in the class laughed.

My favourite teacher, however, was on the staff of a school I attended after we moved. Shrouding his identity with secrecy, for he was nicknamed Bugsy by us heartless teenagers due to the size of his family, he taught English. He used to say that if he marked our work higher than seven out of ten we should go home and lie down. He obviously loved teaching and taught it with imagination. For example, giving out the current choose-one-of-three-topics for essays one week, the third announced was A Week In The Life of Dracula. Evidently he had got wind of the fact three of us had cut art class one afternoon the week before to see the Hammer film starring Christopher Lee. I don't know what marks my co-skippers received but mine were fairly high, though not high enough to go home. Then there was Macbeth. When studying it we read it out in class, taking turns to act as characters. His interpretation of First Witch would have torn up the carpet, had the classroom been fitted with it. Talk about a wonder to behold! Such gusto!

So, since I was no good at music, science, cookery, or languages, I suppose I was fated to eventually write novels. I like to think Bugsy would have approved.


The gate of the new year will open in a couple of weeks, reminding us of the Latin proverb to the effect that a beginning is a writing tablet scraped clean. May our subscribers' tablets be inscribed with nothing but good things in 2014!

And speaking of tablets, subscribers may wish to have headache remedies handy on February 15th when the next issue of Orphan Scrivener scrapes into their in-boxes.

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 There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, our bibliography, 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 or visit our shadow identity M. E. Mayer's blog at And just for the heck of it, we'll also mention our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales. Drop in some time!

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