story This Orphan Scrivener darkens your email box a day early in case anyone wishes to investigate the mystery conference mentioned in the BSP section below. However, it's no mystery that tomorrow is the last day of the old Roman festival of Vestalia, honouring Vesta, goddess of the hearth. It was on June l5th that her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, cleansed her shrine and threw its dust into the Tiber. Perhaps because of the connection between hearths and baking bread, the day was also a holiday for millers and bakers, who reportedly decorated their millstones (and the animals that worked to turn them) with garlands strung with little loaves and violets.

We rather like the notion, and since this issue is rather long - although it is more letter than news - perhaps it might be a plan to grab a sandwich before settling down to read on. although wearing violets is optional.


I love writing but I don't like trying to sell my writing. Not to to editors and agents when it's a manuscript and not to readers after it's been published. The whole process strikes me as slightly embarrassing. I always feel like I'm being pushy. Besides, I am a retiring sort. When I find myself on display at a table piled with books in the front of a bookstore I feel as lost and panicky as I imagine I would have at a high school dance had I ever dared attend one.

The obvious lesson is that writers are sometimes the kids who spent most of their time in their rooms reading books. Some of us become writers because we are loners. Because we are not salesperson material. And the requirements of today's marketplace, that writers publicize their works, can be onerous, given the kind of people some of us are.

Obvious, except when I was in grade school I wasn't at all shy about trying to make a buck - well, a quarter - off my literary efforts.

My biggest seller, on the playground at recess, was King Cotton. He was a series character, like John the Eunuch. During a fifth grade history lesson my teacher, Mrs. Hughes, had uttered the phrase "Cotton was king in the South" and for many years afterwards all I knew about the American Civil War was that it was something to do with cotton and the North won, because the moment I heard those magic words I was scribbling on my tablet a stick-limbed cotton boll wearing a crown and carrying a sword, naturally.

I used to spend a lot of time in grade school drawing cartoons in my tablet rather than learning long division, which was the sort of thing they taught in grade school back then, rather than trigonometry and calculus, believe it or not. These efforts would be passed around to my friends, to be greeted by muffled snickers or outright guffaws, usually depending on the degree of mayhem the characters were inflicting on each other. When Mrs. Hughes noticed the boisterous reaction to King Cotton and reprimanded us, I knew I had come up with a something of merit. Something that could be sold!

I began turning out King Cotton Comics, penciled on a couple sheets of folded and stapled tablet paper. The stories involved the doughty King and his arch foes, the nefarious six-armed Boll Weevils and the King's evil, bomb slinging brother William who grinned evilly and wore a floppy, evil-looking hat. I was able to draw the simple characters very quickly, and the frequent panels featuring merely a jagged explosion and a big KABOOM went even more quickly.

My friends and I proceeded to sell these masterpieces at recess. I had identified my potential market as those classmates who I figured I could follow about and pester without risking a pummeling. My method was pretty straightforward. "Wanna a comic? Only a dime. C'mon, only a dime. OK five cents. Aw c'mon, only five cents. Eight pages too. I'll even show you the cover before you buy it! C'mon. I'll let go of your swing if you buy one. It's really funny! I'll push your swing if you buy one."

Hard to believe from someone who trembles at the thought of offering a free bookmark at a book signing.

Our methods must have been effective because we were soon moving enough comics to keep us in licorice whips, jawbreakers and Bazooka Joe bubblegum. (Come to think of it, King Cotton was actually better drawn and funnier than Bazooka Joe comics) Success encouraged diversification. Before long Morgan the Talking Dog hit the playground market, followed brilliantly by Elmo the Talking Fish.

Then we came out with a premium line, in glorious Crayola color. Those sold for a quarter. Our final product turned out to be The King Cotton Giant Annual. Drawn on full-sized unfolded paper, it featured a space adventure. Unfortunately the spaceships and spacesuits wore down my scarce silver, gold and copper colored crayons so alarmingly that we decided not to part with the comic but to simply rent it. Which required us to erase the crossword puzzle for each new customer.

Spurred on by visions of pocketfuls of penny candy, several other grade school entrepreneurs rushed to begin their own independent publishing companies. But who would have preferred Colonel Corn over King Cotton? We weren't destined to find out because Mrs. Hughes decided all this rampant free enterprise was not suitable for a playground environment and banned our efforts all the way from the sliding board to the witch's hat. Kind of the Evil Chainstore of her times, was Mrs Hughes.

Since then I have not been so enthusiastic about pushing my writing, but Mary and I make our low-key efforts because the whole point of writing is that someone is going to read it. In a few days I will be at the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference and, to Patti Biringer, who invited me to be on a panel there, honest, I will try not to be shaking like a leaf the whole time! Hmmm, I wonder how many comics I could draw in the three days remaining before the conference?

NOTE: If you want to see what King Cotton looks like check out the King Cotton page. I don't have any of the drawings I did in fifth grade since the whole run sold out. However, I have done my best to recreate him with Windows Paintbox. Personally, I miss those big green pencils which were easier to manipulate than a mouse. Besides which, you can't chew on the end of the mouse until it it turns into a soft, tasty brush.


"Two For Joy" has flapped off to Poisoned Pen Press and will be venturing out into the world in just a few months. Meantime, you may care to point your clicker at: TFJ's cover can be seen in glorious green and gold. Who are the two gents on the cover? All Will Be Revealed in October.

Mention of glorious, the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference is roaring up on us. While it's but vicious rumour that Eric will demonstrate lion fighting techniques, as noted above he'll be there to leap into the historical research panel arena, along with April Kihlstrom and Roberta Rogow (who'll also be wearing the moderator's hat). Other announced conference attendees are Jonathan Harrington, Irene Marcuse, Keith Snyder and Parnell Hall. Parnell's giving a luncheon talk entitled "If He Can Do It, Anybody Can", and we gather he's also promised to sing! DIMC will be from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm on June l7th at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel, Mt Arlington, New Jersey. It's not too late to get details - jot organiser Patti Biringer a line at or give her a jingle at (973) 627 2786.

And speaking of speaking, another interview will appear, hanging out in the aether like the Northern Lights, on June 23rd. If you're interested, pop over to Cybergrrl and take a peek:

Finally, fellow Geordie Meg Chittenden wrote yesterday to reveal in her inimitable way that Mary's sandwiched between Ian Rankin and Eric in her Rogue's Gallery: Mary was speechless. Thanks, Meg! (Perhaps that thank you could have been better worded...)


A very strange story unfolded in April, narration of which will explain the odd header. A gentleman who read One For Sorrow wrote to Poisoned Pen Press and they forwarded his letter to us so we could pass along its request to be put in touch with one of the people listed on OFS' acknowledgement page. This we did. And thus by an almost unbelievable chain of events, two old friends regained contact after losing touch with each other many years before.

And speaking of chains, several folk have asked us if we've seen Gladiator. Alas, thus far we haven't, but in a woo woo coincidence, its director Ridley Scott hails from South Shields, downstream and on the other side of the river from my native Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Perhaps we were fated to become involved with the empire. South Shields boasts the ruins of a Roman fort (Arbeia) dating from the second century and thus more or less contemporary with the villainous Commodus. Meanwhile, most of the Roman Wall (aka Hadrian's Wall) marking that fateful point beyond which there be savages still stands guard across the moorlands beyond Newcastle. Indeed, there's a small and nicely fenced-off chunk of Wall in a western Newcastle cul-de-sac not far from the grammar school I attended. Our school motto was "Nec sorte, nec fato", which we ink-stained second-formers translated as "By neither chance nor fate". (My thanks to freelance Latinist Sally Winchester, who kindly reconstructed my imperfectly recalled Latin). Newcastle was and is a gritty city, but I'm happy to report that the area where I lived lies on the Roman or "civilized" side of the Wall - but only just

As for the "new castle" itself, compared to the Wall it's almost modern. A wooden edifice built in l080, it carried on an honourable tradition of oppressing the locals, for it was erected by Robert Curthose (son of William the Conqueror) on the site of Pons Aelius, yet another Roman fort. The castle was rebuilt in stone in the late ll00s and its keep still stands. I was struck by its really low lintels (literally, for on one occasion I forgot to bend my head as I passed from one room to another), a vivid reminder of how much shorter the average person was in those days. While it would be nice to think that some of Sir Thomas' descendants laboured upon its construction, somehow it seems more likely that they were up to no good, snaffling building supplies when the overseer wasn't looking, or short-changing the gaffer when he purchased ale for the refreshment of workers.


Just to refresh your memory, the fourth issue of Orphan Scrivener will come a-tapping at your cyber door on August l5th, a most appropriate date given that it's but two days before the festival of Portunalia. Celebrating Portunes, the old Roman god of harbours, gates and doors, it was customary to throw one's keys into a fire during the festival in order to obtain good fortune..While we can't claim that you'll win the lottery by reading the next issue, we can at least promise no burnt fingers will result from doing so. We'll look forward to seeing you then.

Best wishes Mary and Eric


We'd not forgotten the mystery chat list. Here's the info we have:

Women of Mystery Mondays 8 pm PST / l0 EST on AOL General chats and occasional guest authors Moderator: Gubmntgrrl Mystery Mavens Tuesdays 6 PST / 9 EST Or email the Mavens at either or for further instructions. Author chats and weekly book discussions; calendar of events on website.

Talk City Mystery Chats Wednesdays 6 pm PST / 9 EST unless otherwise noted Click on "author chatroom", and you'll go to the EZTalk Launch Page. Type your name in the box in the upper left and click "go chat." Moderated by Stephanie Shea June 2lst Marthe Arends July 5th Sandy Brewer; l2th Dirk Wyle; l9th Meg Chittenden; 26th Denise Swanson's Mystery Section has three chat rooms, to wit

Mystery Buff Book Club First Friday of the month 7 pm PST / l0 EST at_buff.htm July 7th Keith Snyder August 4th Jeffery Deaver

Mysteries Round Table at_rdtable.htm gives details of scheduled discussions, guests, dates and times

Behind the Words Author Chats Mondays 6 pm PST / 9 pm EST at_behindwrds.htm Moderator: Andi Shechter July l0th Jan Burke; 24th Dana Stabenow August l4th S J Rozan; 28th Harlan Coben

SinC Chats Sundays 6 pm PST / 9 pm EST Moderator: Natalie Thomas Guests, game and general discussion. During the final ten minutes authors in the audience can throw BSP into the mix.

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