We understand it is traditional for authors to publish a newsletter to keep anyone who is interested informed about upcoming events, appearances, chats, interviews -- even books. Luckily, both of us have a lot of experience publishing small magazines for friends so we've decided to treat our newsletter rather like a "personalzine," as we used to call them, but with an emphasis on our writing activities. Which is not to say we won't be taking side trips into anything else we might find interesting when we sit down to write each issue.

At the moment we're in the midst of writing the second of our "John the Eunuch" mystery novels, TWO FOR JOY, due out in October from Poisoned Pen Press. Those major publishing houses we approached didn't seem inclined to take a chance on a Byzantine eunuch detective but I'll bet they'd be pleased for any of their authors to have the reviews we've received thus far! So we are dedicating this newsletter to the folks at Poisoned Pen, who rescued John from slush pile Hades.

And now we'll get right down to it.


During the last week of January a nor'easter took a turn inland and we woke to wind-blown snow shrouding the mountains. I calculated I would have time to retrieve the mail from our post office box and return before the storm intensified, as predicted, around midmorning. I was right but just barely. As I drove home, the car began fish-tailing on a long hill and for a few scary minutes I feared the old Chevette was going to spin out into the path of one of the semis creeping downhill in the opposing lane, ending whatever small chance the aging vehicle still had of reaching classic status, not to mention my dreams of finding out the amount of December's 'phone bill.

Fortunately the mail held something more interesting than the 'phone bill, something which made the trek worthwhile - the March issue of ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, containing the third story about our Mongolian Inspector Dorj. "Death on the Trans-Mongolian Railway" is a locked-room mystery set during a wintry train ride, fitting perfectly with the weather that particular day.

A long time ago, I loved to admire my own words on those rare occasions when they made it to publication. Something about the printing process transmutes the base phrases of the typewritten manuscript into gold. But any more, when I see one of our stories in print I avoid rereading it, gripped as I am by an irrational fear that the first sentence will contain a dangling participle, a distinct possibility since I am still not quite clear about what exactly those things are, aside from being the writing equivalent of a large chunk of broccoli stuck between one's front teeth at a social engagement. Even more horrible is the realization that ANY egregious error in the piece is now utterly beyond redemption.

Since EQMM began the practice of illustrating stories, however, I again have something to look forward to on publication, the artist's conception of the character. When our second Dorj story, "The Ladyfish Mystery", came out Mary and I were amazed to find lurking in the background of the illustration none other than Inspector Dorj! Not some badly cast Dorj, you understand (John Wayne as Chinggas Khan?) or even some well-cast Dorj, but Dorj himself, just as we would have described him, had we described him in greater detail.

In Allen Davis' illustration accompanying the latest story Dorj is right up front and just as Dorj-like, leading me to wonder how the artist managed to read our minds from the meager hints given in the text. It's remarkable to see a demonstration of how accurately, apparently, a few words can convey a picture.

Mind you, I am not adamant that readers envision our characters precisely the way I see them. We don't usually give long, detailed physical descriptions. I tend not to assimilate minute details myself, especially regarding fashions about which I don't give that portion of a rat's anatomy that doesn't wear shorts. If anything, too many details can interfere with my preferred vision of the character. While reading Tolkien's wonderful LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, I had to continually force out of my mind the vision of all that silly hair between the Hobbits' toes. What I like are few nudges. John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee is a former linebacker. That's all I really need to know.

It seems I once read that Erle Stanley Gardener never bothered to describe Perry Mason. Of course he didn't have to because everyone knows Perry Mason looks like Raymond Burr. I suppose a picture, especially a moving picture, will usually trump a verbal description. This might be an argument for detailed descriptions. Not that there needs to be any reason for the mind to leap on visual "clues."

I admit to suffering from dust jacket photo of the author as photo of the character syndrome. Right now I'm reading THE CACTUS CLUB KILLINGS and I just can't help it, Joe Portugal looks like author Nathan Walpow and I wish he would puhleeease, not go wandering around his backyard naked, it's kind of embarrassing.

Of course some authors like being their characters. Mickey Spillane appeared in the movies as Mike Hammer and Kinky Freidman is Kinky Freedman. Although in the latter case, can you really believe anyone actually is Kinky Freidman?

Mary and I don't care for having our photos taken, let alone put on dust jackets, but at least we can't be mistaken for John the Eunuch. Well, I hope not. Mary is the wrong sex and I'm not sure John would sport a full beard like me although he grew some facial hair for his first novel.

In the stories written prior to ONE FOR SORROW, we both thought of John as clean-shaven though I can't recall whether we said so or not. However, the sharp-eyed will have noticed that in the Ravenna mosaic that appears on the cover of ONE FOR SORROW, the man pictured standing at the side of Emperor Justinian, exactly where you'd expect the Lord Chamberlain to be, has a small amount of facial hair.

Now you can't very well ignore contemporary evidence of your character's appearance, can you? So we did get a medical opinion on the matter, and it seems that it is indeed possible that a eunuch such as John, who hadn't suffered from that condition until he was a young man, would be capable of growing facial hair. And that is how the eunuch got it.

There is still the question of who might play John in the movies without doing violence to our amended conception of him. Mary's suggested casting Lance Henriksen, formerly of Millennium, even though he's older than John. As for my preference, heck, if the option was enough to let me spend the rest of my life doing nothing but writing fiction, the studio could even consider Don Knotts or Jean-Claude Van Damme. Now there's an idea. Hollywood's next big action hero - a Byzantine eunuch!


"A Lock of Hair for Proserpine", the fifth short story concerning John and appropriately enough a locked room mystery set in a replica of the Alexandria lighthouse, appeared late last year in Maxim Jakubowski's second Ellis Peters Memorial anthology, CHRONICLES OF CRIME. Maxim's collection was published in the UK by Headline but no news yet of an American edition.

Our publisher Poisoned Pen Press ( has announced that the paperback edition of ONE FOR SORROW will appear this October, coinciding with publication of John's next novel length adventure,

TWO FOR JOY. An extract from "Death on the Trans-Mongolian Railway" has just been put up on EQMM's website ( complete with a smaller version of its illustration.

Riddle: What has one keyboard, four hands and thirteen fingers?

Answer: The two of us during our first ever chat at The Mystery Place at Talk City.

We'll be doing another chat with the Mystery Mavens at Oprah's Online Book Cafe on AOL. Our appointment in cyberspace is March 8th. Do drop by if you can. We're a bit more experienced now, but Eric still uses three fingers to type.


Imagine, if you will (shades of Rocky Horror) the Innocent Scrivener sitting in the basement, steaming mug of coffee in hand, mulling over the next bit of golden prose, when...

... without so much as a by-your-leave or a warning creak, the light fixture falls off the ceiling, swinging in a graceful Pit-amd-Pendulum arc bringing it less than a foot away from Innocent Scrivener's arm in a budget recreation of the famous chandelier scene in "Phantom of the Opera". With liberal amounts of coffee distributed around the domestic scenery, of course.

The light fixture in question is trough-shaped and sports two "light sabre" type bulbs. Fortunately neither exploded. But there it was, swinging gently in the draught from Scrivener’s surprised shrieks, as visions of the entire ceiling coming down began to dance through assorted heads. Swift remedial action was needed. So while one party held the thing up at arm's length out of harm's way, another raced off for the stepladder. Soon the rogue light was precariously propped up on a stack of reference books pile precariously on the stop step of the ladder, thus keeping its not inconsiderable weight off its wiring and terminating its graceful meanderings.

Upon closer examination, the reason the light had fallen was discovered. The thick wooden board to which it was attached had been fixed to the ceiling material, not an actual beam. Much sage nodding of heads and agreement that it was amazing that it stayed up there as long as it had. A handy relative spent an hour or two re-installing the light but unfortunately the necessary measuring and drilling and hammering upset the cat, whose conniption at the rapid descent of the light had caused it to take cover under the sideboard. After a noisy few moments, it took itself off upstairs in a huff, arriving at the upper floor just as the dinner guests arrived. With their young and rather excitable Pomeranian. So the cat fled back downstairs and hid somewhere in the false ceiling, to emerge some hours later looking very disgruntled and not a little dusty.

Not surprisingly after all the excitement, dinner was served a little late, but at least it was available to be eaten, since luckily it was not until the following day that the water supply was lost for several hours. But we could see quite well to look for it, as by then the light fixture was firmly back in place with several extra screws attaching it to the beam for additional security. In fact, said its re-installer, it was now so well attached that we could hang an elephant from it without it falling down again.

But please don't send us elephants to test his hypothesis. The shock might be too much for the cat.


As newsletters go, this one hasn't got much beyond the end of the street, which isn’t surprising as we're still in the process of deciding which direction to take when we arrive at the road junction up there. So if you'd like to send a suggestion or two on the sort of topic you’d like to see addressed or perhaps a question about writing or our favourite colours or whatever, please do jot a line and we'll be happy to respond both by email and in the next issue.

Meantime, you might like to glance over our home page, which offers personal essays, links to interesting mystery themed sites, peeks behind the scenes of our fiction and a downloadable interactive game by Eric, among other things. Plus there are links to recent reviews and interviews online, including January Magazine,'s Mystery Guide, Talk City, Charlotte Austin Review, Murder On The Internet Express and Fiat Girl. And who knows what all else may have been popped in there by the time this newsletter darkens your email box? You can find out by pointing your clicker at

We'll be back in your email box around the Ides of every second month. Of course if we're going to be on Oprah or something you'll receive a Special Edition! We're a little late with this first issue since the Ides of February is the 13th. Today is Lupercalia, an old Roman holiday of which the Christian Emperor Justinian would not approve although some of the pagans in our books would probably find it to their liking. Among other things, celebrants smeared with goats' blood raced around the Palantine Hill in Rome. Anyway, we'll see you again around the middle of April, a time traditionally celebrated by financial bloodletting here in the USA.

Best wishes to all

Mary and Eric


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