Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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The Road of Kings: Conan and Italian Opera (probably)

Sometimes good ideas are not.
Foreign-sounding names for characters, for instance.
Apart from the vaguely Welsh/Gaelic/Tolkienoid elves and the alphabet soup of Lovecraftian monsters (of which my favorite, if apocryphal, remains “Shuub-Wankalot”), a name can make or break a character.
A basic trick I was taught long ago when naming secondary characters in my fantasy stories is to select a geographic area that somehow has the same feel of the place from which my character comes, get a map, jot down a few place names, and then tweak them a little, moving vocals around or cutting and pasting names.
Et voilà, instant names for characters.

The method can backfire spectacularly – in the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth we meet Frau Göteborg, as portrayed by gorgeous Arlene Dahl; the scriptwriters thought that, if London and Washington are legit family names for Brits and Yanks, then Swedish ladies could be called Göteborg, the second largest city in Sweden. They were wrong.
Much hilarity ensued when the movie was distributed in Sweden.

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The name is Goteborg, Frau Goteborg.

But there’s an even more spectacular example of “foreign” sounding names backfiring. A case in which a fine, no indeed an excellent writer, played fast and loose with naming conventions, and probably having listened to a few opera records too many, created a surreal experience for some of his readers.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Karl Edward Wagner’s Conan and the Road of Kings. Continue reading


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Better Never Told: day 2

Day two is gone, I did my 4000 words, and I also met a little problem.
Nothing technical, really.

Just like on day one, I started at 6 pm, and in half an hour I hammered out a nice 500-words scene. Then I stopped, I took a walk – I had been working at a translation all day long – and then prepared dinner.
CoverI was back at the keyboard at 7.40, with Imelda May’s latest album, Life, Love, Flesh, Blood, going as background.
And I got a call from a friend. I set up her blog about eight months ago, but sometimes in these months she decided she did not like the way it looked anymore, so she tried to change it herself, and basically made a mess.
As a result, I spent until 9 pm doing virtual help desk duty.
For free.

So, rule for survival: when you are writing a novel in seven days, tell your friends and family what you are doing.
They will not care anyway, of course – after all, you are just sitting there and making stuff up, it’s not like a phone call, a chat session, a quick drive to the 7-11 or practicing the Heimlich maneuver to their pet goat is gonna cause you any distraction or waste any of your time.
No, they won’t care, but if you tell them, at least you won’t blame yourself for not telling then.

Anyway, at 9 pm I cracked up Imelda May and got rolling, doing two sessions with an half an hour break, ending at 11.40 with 4200 words in the bag. This brings the total word count of the first two days at 7450, giving me a bonus of 450 words – about half an hour of leisurely writing.

Tomorrow I must hit 5000, and things will start getting serious.
But the morale is good, the story seems to be going in the right direction, and tomorrow I’ll unplug my phone and my web connection, to be on the safe side.


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Robert M. Pirsing: zen and motorbikes

pic0904-pirsig002About two hours ago I wrote “and now I’ll write a post for tomorrow”.
In those two hours, I received the news of the death of Robert M. Pirsing, the bestselling author of Zen and the art or motorcycle maintenance, originally published in 1974 after 121 publishers had rejected it.

And as I was writing a few lines about him on my Italian blog, I realized that Zen, that I read in the mid-80s when I started taking an interest in zen philosophy, is a book that touched me deeply, certainly one of the ten, or fifteen, or fifty books that are essential in my library, that made me what I am.
And also, it is a book about which I never think, a book I never remember when those lists of essential books get posted online. Probably because it got in deep, when I read it. It struck a deep chord. Continue reading


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Better Never Told: Day One

OK, first day done, and it was quite fine – so far so good.

Kitchen egg timerI did not change my routine today: I was able to go to the post office, do some shopping, cook lunch and then take care of my mail and socials.
I translated 3000 words on a project I’ll have to nail shut in two days, I helped my publisher revising a translation I did for him, and then I wrote a post about writing and prostitution for my Italian blog (don’t ask). I even did my Duolingo exercises (and I am now on 8th level in both Spanish and French – great way to dust off old skills, Duolingo).

I set up a file for Better Never Told on Scrivener, creating eight text documents: one for the front matter, and the other seven one for each day.
I plugged in my earphones in the PC, and I started listening to some music, to avoid external interferences.
Today’s choice: Liege & Lief by the Fairport Convention, and Hourglass by Kate Rusby (so maybe this is the reason why she is mentioned in the story). Continue reading


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Karavansara Free Library: Six books by Emily Hahn

The Internet Archive is a treasure trove of free ebooks somehow related to Karavansara’s themes and topics.

220px-Emily_HahnWe started the Karavansara Free Library with a few titles from Rosita Forbes, and now we follow up with another woman I find absolutely fascinating: Emily Hahn.
Another traveler, journalist and adventuress, American Emily Hahn was the woman that attended posh parties in Shanghai in the ’30s in the company of a diaper-wearing monkey – a fact that I mentioned in my novel The Ministry of Thunder, and I was criticized for writing rubbish. Ah!

Emily Hahn was also an expert on primates, a walking, breathing scandal, an opium addict (for a while), and a damn fine writer.
In her career as a writer she did comedy, politics, history, science and biography, art and travel memoirs.
When she was arrested by the Japanese after the fall of Hong Kong and was asked how could she have given birth to a child out of wedlock, she replied

I am a bad girl.

The Internet Archive has four books from her huge catalog ready for download…

1941 – The Soong Sisters

1946 – Raffles of Singapore, a Biography

1956 – All About Leonardo da Vinci

1959 – The Tiger House Party: The Last Days Of The Maharajas

hahn… and as a little extra, there’s two more volumes in the Gutenberg Project, Emily Hahn’s first two books.

1930 – Seductio ad Absurdum

1931 – Beginners Luck

All in all a fair selection, that shows the style, wit, skill and versatility of Hahn’s writing.

More books by Emily Hahn are currently being reprinted by Open Road Media, and are highly recommended.


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John Collier’s Paintings

OK, so I got a little obsessed with this painting here

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I like it a lot – it’s called A Priestess of Dionysus and was painted by a Pre-Raphaelite painter called John Collier.
Now the fun bit is, John Collier painted a lot of portraits of science guys, including what is probably the most famous portrait of Charles Darwin – because Collier was the son-in-law of Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog”, and so he was sort of into that community. He was actually twice Huxley’s son-in-law, as he married two of Huxley’s daughters. Not at the same time, of course.
I always liked Pre-Raphaelite paintings, but Collier was not on my radar – probably because he was mostly a portrait painter.
So I thought… why not do a gallery of John Collier’s paintings?
Here goes. Click on a thumbnail to see a large version.