East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Strange notions

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I know, I know… I keep writing about how fun it is to do research when I write.
You’ll have to bear with me – I trained as a researcher, after all, and therefore it is only logical that I enjoy that part of the work.


Right now, I’m writing the second (OK, it would be actually the third, but let’s not get into that) Corsair story, and first and foremost it feels like learning a new language.
A lot of the Corsair has to do with ships, after all, and this means getting acquainted with a whole new set of words.
Aft, poop or stern?
Starboard and port, which is which?
Is there really a difference between a gangway and a companionway?
Motorboats, runabouts, launches…

Oxygen toxicity occurs when the lungs take in ...

Oxygen toxicity occurs when the lungs take in a higher than normal O 2 partial pressure, which can occur in deep scuba diving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then I am also taking notes about underwater operations – and I am pestering my friend Lucy, that is a scuba diver and therefore can supply quick-and-dirty information.

And then I’m trying to pay attention to the way Leo Martin, my main character, talks – because he is, or used to be, an artist, and therefore he is supposed to be very precise about colors, shapes, and that sort of things. And English being my second language, I tend to play fast and loose with exotic hues and other artistic technicalities.
But Leo is also well informed about the criminal underworld – and this means reading about crime, and in particular some of my favorite subjects ever: con games, scams, swindles, with a side serving of art crimes and smuggling.

And then there’s all the history and the geography – and with Google Earth one can get pretty close and personal with places one will never visit anyway.

But can’t you just make up the stuff?

… somebody asked me recently.
Yes I could – and indeed I do it, quite often.
billiard ballBut that’s exactly the reason why I need accurate detail – to mask the bits I made up, giving them extra plausibility.
It’s really a con game – or a magic trick, if you prefer.
I’ll distract the reader with a very solid – apparently – billiard ball in my right hand while I “load” two more balls with my left, and nobody will notice. Hopefully.

As a result, I do a lot of reading – and of pestering of knowledgeable friends – and I am acquiring all sorts of notions and information.
And in the end I find myself knowing -at least theoretically – a lot of stuff about a lot of very different subjects.
truly, years spent writing fiction and game scenarios have left me with a huge, messy, old-gran’s-attic-style collection of bits of spurious information. And I’m not the only one.
Which leads to one of those weird things that happen, usually in restaurants or other crowded public places, when I meet with other writers – we start discussing subjects that grant us a lot of strange looks from nearby tables, and by waiters.
Stuff like removing blood stains from jackets, the best way to prepare a bomb with household items, and the always popular “you know you can kill a man with a Biro pen?”

And yes, we actually enjoy the attention enormously.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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