East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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The Lord of Joinville

I’m terribly late.
I’m working around the clock to deliver the third chapter of AMARNA in time while keeping all the other pieces in motion.
4d17Dlyl_400x400And as it usually happens, another thing hits me from an unexpected direction: a good open call, with an easy submission window and for a well-respected publisher. There’s not much money in it, but it would look fine in my portfolio.
And it’s a call for stories about crusaders.
It would mean following in the steps of Harold Lamb and Robert E. Howard.
Am I sold?
Of course I’m sold.

So I started doing some preliminary research, and in so doing I stumbled on a book and a character that really really work for me on all levels.
Let me introduce you Jean de Joinville… Continue reading


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Nitpicking in Samarcand

Oriental Stories Magazine Cover 9-Summer 1932 (2)A fan (yes, I have fans!) very kindly sent me a copy of the reprint edition of Oriental Stories, the Summer 1932 issue. I am putting together a collection of these nice reprints from Wildside Press, and the gift was highly appreciated.
The magazine includes, among others, an Otis Adelbert Kline story in his Dragoman series, a weird mystery set in Shanghai, an August Derleth story set in Manchuria, and a “complete novel” called “Pirate Whelp”. It is quite promising.

Now, whenever I get one of these magazines, the first thing I do is go through the whole issue, checking out the illustrations, marveling at the period advertisement…
Geez, really I could get me 12 mystery novels featuring Experience Smith, master detective1, by simply subscribing to Weird Tales for four months? Sounds like a great deal!
… and then I check out the readers mail page – called The Souk.
I sometimes wonder if readers at the time did the same.

And there, in the Summer 32 issue of Oriental Stories, in the Souk page, there is a reply to a mister Francis X. Bell, that wrote to point out that Robert E. Howard blundered badly, in his Lord of Samarcand (published in a previous issue), when he described Timur celebrating his victory with a drink of wine, Timur being a Muslim and the Koran banning the faithful from drinking alcohol.
Which of course is a silly thing and it gets properly dismantled in a very detailed response (by Farnsworth Wright himself?), which is quite a nice read, really.

Of course I thought about recycling this for my worldbuilding course, about how sometimes our deep historical background checks are completely lost to (some of) our readers – and it is at the same time sad and sort-of-reassuring to see that nitpicking readers playing a game of one-upmanship with the author are not something that started with the internet.

Anyway, in case you are interested, you can check out the Howard story, Lord of Samarcand, for free, on the pages of the Gutenberg Project of Australia.
And have a drink of wine with Timur.

  1. I wonder if the character is in the Public Domain, because one feels the need to write a story or five about Experience Smith, master detective… 


22 Books, and then a few other

I just went through a nice piece on the Conde Nast Traveler website, called 22 Ambassadors Recommend the One Book to Read Before Visiting Their Country.
It’s the sort of article that’s been designed specifically to make me weep – foreign countries and excellent literature, and 22 books to read!

Screenshot from 2018-03-23 03-56-16And indeed, thankfully there’s a few titles I know, but still there’s a number of books in there that I have instantly put on my list.
Kurban Said’s Ali and Nino, for instance, a 1937 novel about a cross-cultural love story set in Baku, Azerbaijan, as suggested by Azerbaijani ambassador.
Or Treasures of the Thunder Dragon, a portrait of Buthan written by the queen of that Himalayan country.
And what about the Estonian alternate history of The Man Who Spoke Snakish? Continue reading

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Three skills (and a hobby)

Three things I will never forgive to my old school:
. The fact that they were never able to teach me mathematics properly
. The fact that they not only did not teach me music, but actually scared me away from it for a decade
. The fact that they completely killed my early passion for sketching

This is particularly frustrating because these are communication and self-expression skills (yes, maths too) skills that are also highly marketable.
Later I tried and taught myself what had been left out by inadequate teachers and poor school programs, but self-taught achievements are not the same one could reach had school done its part. Continue reading

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This week I made the students of my worldbuilding course happy because I announced one extra lesson, free.
The need to add a lesson became apparent to me when I realized there is one essential worldbuilding question we had not asked ourselves, and we had not explored – that question being WHY.

Which is of course very philosophical and all that, but more simply, it is

Why do we decide to set our story in a specific world?
Why that world and not another, that time and not another, that city and not another?

And no, “Because” is not a good answer. Continue reading