A couple of weeks ago we heard an unearthly yelping, heralding the passage of a flock of geese hidden in the fog. It was one of those very misty mornings with dew still hanging in beads on the grass and the sun rather lazy about getting to work. We thought at the time that the invisible birds -- those annual harbingers of the arrival of spring -- were passing north on their migration from their winter quarters but given the cold and windy days we've had ever since we now tend to suspect that it's more likely they were the small flock that lives on the river having a little avian April Fool's Day joke at the expense of local residents.

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.


Two For Joy was published less than six months ago and although it's been great reading all the kind notices it's gathered, Mary and I have already turned our attention to telling a rather different sort of story in Three For A Letter.

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
>Take gold

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 mystery guide Cathy Gallagher has a page devoted to mystery IF at ve/index_2.htm and you can find out more about IF in general from Stephen Granade's site Mark Silcox' IF pages at Suite 101 or Reviews From Trotting Krips Not to mention at our own site 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 or another LA based private eye yarn, Kent Tessman's Guilty Bastard at


The BSP Ticker has of late been chattering nigh as much as the proverbial trunk full of monkeys. Here's a quick rundown.


Due to the horrible machinations of Internet gremlins, we could not get through to our Talk City chat in March. Ever optimistic, we'll be arranging another attempt in a month or two but meanwhile extend our apologies for our unavoidable absence.


Speaking of absences, the Arizona Book Publishers Association held its awards dinner the night before the Oscars. We were not in attendance and so it wasn't until early on Oscar Day that we heard we'd been highly honoured ourselves since Two For Joy had run off with the ABPA's Glyph Award for Best Mystery. We are, of course, thrilled to bits -- the more so as Twofer also received an honourable mention in the Best Book overall category.

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!


But on the other hand One For Sorrow has been chosen as May voluntary read for the Crime Thru Time online discussion list. Its membership (made up of both writers and readers) is lively, well-mannered and enjoys talking about history, culture and favourite historical mysteries. For details about the group, point your clicker to their web page at or visit their community page at


Speaking of Onefer, we recently heard that it's part of an exhibit at the library of the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It: Wicked Women Through the Ages or The Bad and the Beautiful features books about such notables as Livia, Cleopatra and Olympias. Theodora is in the category of women to whom history has given a bad -- and not necessarily deserved -- reputation, to which view (alas) our fiction has added, but you must admit that Onefer's bold scarlet cover certainly suits the theme of wicked women through the ages.


April l5th being Pay Your Taxes Day in America (and thus the date on which more bad language is heard throughout the land than any other) strangely leads us to "And All That He Calls Family". It's the sixth John the Eunuch short story with nothing to do with deductions for dependents but rather takes place on an estate where curse tablets are at work and seemingly extremely effective at doing their nasty job. Family will appear in a new Mike Ashley anthology to be issued in late summer. Like its illustrious predecessor, this Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits (Volume Two) will be published by Robinson in the UK and Carroll and Graf in the US. Fans of historical mysteries will be happy to hear that (alphabetically!) Margaret Frazer, Susanna Gregory, Ed Hoch, Michael Kurland, Steven Saylor, Peter Tremayne and Marilyn Todd plus many others have contributed to this collection.


Speaking of today being Pay Your Taxes Day, since misery loves company it occurred to me to take a break from struggling with those byzantine tax forms for a quick glance at Roman arrangements on this method of raising funds. This foray turned up some fascinating trivia -- for example, at the time of Augustus sales tax was l per cent on everything except slaves, whose new owners paid 4 per cent tax on their purchase price.

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!


Speaking of convincing surprises, we've just finishing up the draft of Three For A Letter and as is traditional the last couple of chapters are devoted to neatly tying up all the clues, red herrings and loose ends. While it's true that at the moment the closing few thousand words rather resemble a skein of wool after a catnip-crazed feline has finished fighting with it, by the time the next Orphan Scrivener slinks into your email box on June l5th the manuscript will have been burnished up and trundled off to the excellent hands of Poisoned Pen Press. We'll talk a little more about Threefer in the next Orphan Scrivener, but for now we'll admit that it's very different from Twofer and that a couple of hitherto lesser-seen characters come into the spotlight after John is called upon to solve a murder discovered during a banquet given by Anatolius' elderly and eccentric uncle Zeno -- a banquet at which, unfortunately for Zeno, the guest of honour is Empress Theodora.

See you in a couple of months!

Best wishes
Mary and Eric

whose home page lurks about at

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!

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