It is said the l9th century Light-fingered Larry known as Black Bart was invariably polite but also had an unfortunate habit of leaving silly rhymes for recipients of his unwanted criminal attentions. We'd given thought to composing these newsletters in similar fashion but lack of words to rhyme with Scrivener -- a fright it had given her was the only suggestion the Muse whispered into our ears -- has saved subscribers from such a fate.
Mason Cooley rightly opined reading gives us somewhere to go when we must remain in the place we are. While not in the habit of tying subscribers to chairs, hopefully they will voluntarily decide read on...
I learnt to type on a handsome green Imperial 66 manual typewriter during a two year secretarial course at an Oxfordshire business college. However, it's odds on not everyone skilled in the art practiced touch typing in the same fashion as myself and classmates by a process involving what suggested to me at least the sound of highwaymen in pursuit of a l9th century hearse. For we all tapped along in unison to a crackling record regulating our keystrokes by the measured clip clopping produced by half a coconut shell, interspersed at regular intervals with a sepulchral male voice intoning "Carriage...return!"
And with a collective "ding" of end-of-line bells we returned our carriages.
Except for the time someone had been fiddling with their machine and during one such exercise their platen came off.
Those were the days when exams invariably wanted specs for the two common character sizes, which knowledge now forms part of my vast collection of useless trivia: pica had l0 to a linear inch, while elite featured l2.
I once worked with a machine boasting l5 letters to the inch. It was an American model with a platen twice as long as normal and was used to type extra wide, confidential sales reports featuring sales targets for the month and year and cumulative totals for different areas of the country split in various ways. Alas, I accidentally sent one of these reports to a competitor, who returned it without comment -- but accompanied by a company compliment slip.
Imagine my horror at opening the morning post and finding what I had done! I immediately went to the boss, confessed, and offered to resign, but he decided the best course was to destroy the evidence, that neither of us should say anything, and we should let the sordid matter remain forever shrouded in mystery.
As indeed has happened. Well, until now, that is.
Let others worry about the whereabouts of Macavity or what song the Sirens sang or why bread and butter always falls with the butter side down. Once we got to grips with the mystery of typing *without looking at the keys*, puzzles of more immediate import impinged upon us.
Why were typewriting erasers red-brown discs, given the colour came off on the paper, their gritty texture tore the page, and that annoying circular shape soon wore down into straight edges anyway? What caused those little brushes on pencil-shaped typing erasers to so frequently shed pesky mini bristles into the machine's innards? What possessed us not to copyright our idea of masking erasures by rubbing the area lightly with white chalk? Who started the rumour we'd get the galloping giggles if we breathed too many fumes from the thinner keeping liquid correction bloggo from clotting after the fashion of a half-empty container of Soft Scrub?
Further, how could it be the case that using those chunks of Plasticine-like gubbinge to remove accumulations of ink and tiny shreds of ribbon fibres from key faces invariably deposited more black gunk on our fingers than anywhere else? Would the British Empire totter if, despite constant stern warnings in secretarial school not to do so, we furtively cleaned out blocked o or a or other "closed" letters and numbers with a pin?
Of course, it's true we no longer have an empire....
I was among those who initially found electric typewriters difficult to operate. They tended to run away with me, for the slightest touch of a key left lengthy spoors of aaaaas or mmmmms. They also absorbed the hearty thump integral to my typing style, providing no answering clunk as feedback. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say every manual typer I used for any length of time developed a slight depression on the space bar, not to mention a pitted platen presenting the appearance of having been bombarded with miniature coconuts.
One office mystery however is easily solved. I could always tell if someone else had used my manual typewriter, because its "touch" was different.
It would make a good clue in a mystery novel.
Before the advent of email which, like Ariel, gets there and back in two pulse-beats, it was proverbially said good news would have a problem departing the premises whereas bad tidings easily leapt out to travel thousands of miles. In Necessary Evil we firmly shove the former sort through the portal, and here it is! News, that is, not the door.
We are happy to announce John's most recent adventure, Six For Gold, has been chosen to be a featured book in Liz Clifford's Summer Mystery Reading Challenge. Sixfer will be gleaming in the spotlight on July lst at Liz's website http://www.reviewedbyliz.com We'll be dropping in to visit, so perhaps we'll see you there.
May 22nd marked the first anniversary of The Rap Sheet (http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/) as a blog. As a jamboree to celebrate the event, writers, bloggers, and critics were invited to choose one crime, mystery, or thriller novel they felt, as Jeff Kingston Pierce put it, had been unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years. Mary's contribution was Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers. The entire list of nominations has now been archived on a separate page at http://therapsheet-onebook.blogspot.com/ and makes fascinating reading -- but no virtual fist fights over titles, if you please!
Imagine our delighted surprise when Robin Burcell, author of the upcoming Face of a Killer (2008), drew our attention to a mention of Fourfer on Parade magazine's website.
It's in a list of suggested reading matching travel itineraries with novels, a service the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, has been offering for years. Until we heard from Robin, we had no idea John had graced Parade's website, and are thrilled to say the least.
When I was a kid, back in the days when families went for Sunday drives, we stopped at a roadside museum I’ve never entirely forgotten. What I recall is the meteorite.
Putting my nose practically on the glass front of the case housing that fist-sized, metallic lump, I came as close to outer space and alien worlds as I’ve ever been. It was particularly remarkable since I would never have expected to encounter a real meteorite in, of all places....well...there my memory fails me. But I’m certain it was a place nobody expects a meteorite. I distinctly remember that, even if the place itself eludes me.
I can’t remember what the museum was called either. “Somebody or Other’s Museum” according to the sign on the side of the long, low shed-like building. Or was the sign on the roof?
The name has lurked at the periphery of my recollections for weeks. I'll catch just a glimpse. Wasn’t that a “k”? It was a lengthy name, wasn’t it? Every so often the name flickers right in front of me, like a ghost about to materialize, but it never has, yet.
I brought the subject up at a family gathering. No one else could recall the name of the museum, although my brother did remember the meteorite.
There must be an essay there, if I could place the two-lane macadam road beside which the museum sat amidst trees. Yes. There were trees. Pines, I think. If I could identify the place, I would know how we had got there and what we had seen along the way.
Maybe we stopped for home-made ice cream and root beer at the tiny shop that stood by itself in a dusty space surrounded by flat fields. The ice cream -- heavy, rich and almost unnaturally cold -- tasted similar to what my grandparents made by hand-cranking an old wooden contraption packed with cracked ice and rock salt.
The root beer was like nothing I’d ever tasted. It was almost flat, with a touch of carbonation, more like beer than soda, though I didn’t know it at the time. Strong, but not very sweet, it practically burned the tongue. You could see the gleaming brewing vats through the open doorway behind the counter.
We might very well have stopped there on the way to the meteorite museum, because it lay within the same unknown territory.
Almost certainly we were in the red station wagon. The windows never worked correctly because my dad had once left a newly acquired dog in the car for an hour and the nervous animal had removed every bit of rubber it could find trying to chew its way out.
The station wagon was some car. It had wood panels on the doors. Each time we climbed the precipitous mountain road on the way to one of our favorite parks, my dad would see how far he could go before down shifting, and it was counted a triumph if we made it all the way to the top in second.
The park featured hiking trails with waterfalls, one taller than Niagara but only a few feet across. On a wet, moss covered rock beside a steep path alongside one of the waterfalls, I saw a spotted red newt for one of the few times in my life.
I keep thinking maybe the museum was in the vicinity of this park. Its name began with...an “N”...maybe. I can almost see it.
No. It’s gone. Too bad, I’m sure it would make a good story.
Speaking of museums, E. Thomas Hughes, founder of the Potato Museum in Washington DC, once remarked while the potato has numerous eyes, it does not possess a mouth and thus that was the role he took on their behalf.
Subscribers will doubtless be happy to hear their eyes will shortly get a rest, since we'll remain here just long enough to announce our next Orphan Scrivener will be emailed on l5th August and thus the tumult now dies down as, like Kipling's kings and captains, we depart.
See you two months hence!
Mary R and Eric
who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line at http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/ There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, lists of author freebies and mystery-related newsletters, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver, and our growing page of links -- over 170 so far -- to free etexts of classic and Golden Age mysteries. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to Eric's blog at http://www.journalscape.com/ericmayer/