Since we last appeared in subscribers' in-boxes, torrential rain and high winds have processed in wet and wild majesty across Maywrite Towers. Today it's our turn in the wind tunnel yet again, but provided the power stays work on this latest newsletter goes on and the fruit of our labour is before you. Take a bite of it by reading on...


Picture this. We invent what we consider a wonderful scene and dive into the writing of it, tapping away like all get out. Then suddenly faces turns pale and keyboard rattling screeches to a halt in the middle of it. The inevitable ghastly questions have materialised and hang unspoken in the air: but how do you know that is even possible -- and not only that, but was it also possible in the sixth century?

So then it's on with the apprentice researcher hats and a dive into the intertubes.

It has been our experience the search for answers will often take us down unusually overgrown by-ways so interesting in themselves it's harder than usual to drag ourselves away from Looking Things Up and make our way back to the main road.

For example, when we set the Bosphorus on fire an article in an 1864 issue of the United States Service Magazine proved extremely helpful in its speculation upon, and conclusions about, materials required to manufacture Greek fire and other inflammables. Information gleaned from it allowed us to accomplish this feat, not to mention a couple of spontaneous combustions, as described in Two For Joy.

The two men who survived hanging in the opening chapter of Eight For Eternity, thereby contributing to the causes of the Nika Riots, were based on an event described in John Malalas' Chronographia.

In finding a source to confirm such unlikely survivals could happen, we discovered a number of such escapes are known to history. Gould and Pyle's Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine mentions several, including what they describe as "...a most curious case, in which cerebral congestion from the asphyxiation of strangling was accidentally relieved by an additional cut across the throat. The patient was a man who was set upon by a band of Thugs in India."

What about the mechanical whale playing an important part in Three For A Letter? We invented it and its workings based on scrutiny of, and extrapolation from, diagrams in Hero of Alexandria's Pneumatics. We also featured a handful of Hero's own automatons now and then onstage in various roles, in this particular novel the country estate of Anatolius' eccentric uncle Zeno.

Hippolytus' Refutation of All Heresies was a particularly fruitful resource when the vexed question of how magick tricks were worked in John's time had to be tackled, for we always explain these details in due course. Such apparent demonstrations of the occult have occurred in more than one of his adventures. Hippolytus revealed the method by which sheep could be made to kill themselves, used for the suicidal sheep affair taking John and his companions to Egypt in Six For Gold, as well as instructions useful in showing how The Gourd -- a man mentioned by Procopius in his Secret History as accused of being a poisoner and magician and one of the main characters in Four For A Boy -- could perform the "do not try this at home" trick of plunging his hand into boiling pitch without injury, not to mention the method by which the diminutive magician Dedi was able to make his talking skull disappear before the very eyes of his audience in Seven For A Secret.

Speaking of which, I shall now do my own disappearing act so readers may continue to the next section...


Only one item on the ticker today but it's an important one. Our website is finally listed on Google and today resides at the foot of the second page of search results:

It took some time to get there but all is well now!


Stop me if you've heard this one. A scientist drummed out of the establishment because of his crackpot theories, his former love interest, a jealous rival scientist, and a power mad government official walk into an apocalypse....

Okay, Mary and I have been watching too many low budget end-of-the-world films. Why I can't say considering how many good books there are to read, how much good music there is to listen to and, for that matter, how many much better movies we could watch. Even staring at the wall would be less irritating and only marginally less interesting. All I can say is that these lame attempts to depict Armageddon on a shoestring exercise a sort of...well...horrible fascination. It's impossible to show something as big as an apocalypse on a tiny budget. When you try the results are disastrous. You need a nuclear holocaust, you get what looks like Missile Command for Atari 2600 circa 1981. Earthquake? Actors scream and lean side to side. Panic in the streets? (Mary's favorite) How about one overturned car and six people running back and forth? More like a picnic in the streets.

Why do the filmmakers bother with their el cheapo disasters? Aside from the fact that people like me will watch them? There are endless small, quiet stories that could be told without special effects. Maybe they would have preferred to do horror films but couldn't afford enough ketchup.

I understand the urge to reach for an artistic vision that's beyond your grasp. In the early sixties my parent saved up Green Stamps to buy a Super-8 movie camera. It didn't take me long to grasp the basics of stop motion animation. And when I say "basics" I mean very basic indeed. Granted, it was rather expensive for a youngster. Colored Plasticine was not cheap. Still it was manageable. No need for big financial backers. Back in those days you could get a nickel refund for empty soda bottles people left lying around.

There was no CGI to worry about. No blue screens. No computer programs. The most difficult technical issue was that the clay figures I was animating quickly melted under the hot floodlight. If I wasn't careful they would appear to deteriorate as they walked around, or hit each other, or fought with swords. So whether I was shooting Zorro or First Man on the Moon the stories all threatened to end up being versions of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Then there was the time I wanted the hero to escape through the burning castle. You can't have an action film where the hero doesn't escape flames. But how the heck do you create flames using stop action? My solution was elegantly simple. Since the castle was drawn on cardboard I set it on fire, shot a frame, blew the fire out, repositioned my Plasticine hero, lit the fire again, shot another frame, and so forth. The effect in the finished film was interesting....

Writers are luckier than filmmakers. Mary and I filled the streets of Constantinople with thousands of rioters for about $1.35, the approximate cost of the pots of coffee we consumed at the keyboard. A writer can do anything he or she can think of. Expense be damned! Set the Bosphorus on fire? As Mary mentioned, been there, done that. Chariot races at the Hippodrome? A few lines of description and the reader will visualize the scene more perfectly than any amount of CGI. Filmmakers depend on computers to create their special effects. Writers work with the human imagination, which is far more powerful than any computer.


By now, even Methuselah would be complaining this issue of Orphan Scrivener has gone on long enough. So we'll close by reminding readers we shall appear in their in-boxes via Internet magick on August 15th. See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, to be found hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the Web at There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a bibliography, and our growing libraries of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. It also hosts the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Meantime, our joint blog, largely devoted to reviews of Golden Age of Mystery fiction, lurks about at Intrepid subscribers may also wish to know our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales. Drop in some time!

v s