East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Writing across the cultural boundary

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I’ve been interviewed.
I don’t know when or where the interview will be published, but it will be in Italian anyway, and for all I know my bits could be cut in the end.
But, something interesting came up during the interview and I thought I’d expand on the subject a bit here on Karavansara because… well, because as I said the question was interesting, because I think it might be worth expanding upon and yes, I love talking about myself and what I do.
So, like that man said, I suffered for my art, now it’s your turn…

The gist of the question I found so interesting boils down to

You are an Italian but you published with American publishers. How do you reconcile your Italian roots with the requirements of the American market?

Now, I’ve simplified the question – just assume that by “American” the interviewer referred to English-speaking markets in general.

Now, what struck me as interesting is the fact that the question seemed to imply there are barriers exist in genre fiction, that different markets have content-related requirements that force the author to change his writing accordingly.

Now, in my experience, the differences between markets are mostly “technical” – stuff like preferred spelling (UK vs USA), manuscript formatting and contractual matters.
But contents-wise?
Do the stories change in terms of characters, plots, dialogue, world-building, themes. Is there something I could never publish on the English-speaking market but would be all-right in Italy, or the other way around?
I don’t think so.
True, if I set a story in, say, the wilds of Astigianistan, I will have to provide a certain amount of local background for readers that are not familiar with the culture of the local hill tribes – but on the other hand, Italian readers from fifty miles out of this territory might need that same background info too.
On the other hand, when we are dealing with genre, it’s the genre itself that acts as a bridge, because genres have their own rules, their own requirements, their specific set of readers’ expectations.
This is why it is so exciting – I think – to read genre fiction from cultures that are different from our own: because through the familiarity with a genre’s tropes and rules, we can approach in a softer way the cultural differences.


Incidentally, I think this weird idea that we cannot communicate across the language barrier because our approaches to writing, to plot and characters and so on are too different and incompatible, is spreading here where I sit. A general attitude, inherited – I think, but I am biased – by “serious criticism”, tends to label anything popular and entertaining as inferior, and when a certain market offers a huge amount of entertainment, it becomes cool to dismiss anything from that market as inferior. And automatically it becomes easy to point out the differences, and the incompatibilities, between our production and their production.
It’s really different, they would tell you…

… Because we write serious quality literature, not, you know, the sort of swords & blasters drivel the Yanks publish.

This, possibly pronounced with a slightly nasal tone, and a bored attitude.
And if it is true that a lot of drivel is produced everywhere, it is also true that quality fiction is still being written everywhere, and it is accessible across cultural/ethnic boundaries.


So, in the end, how do I manage to reconcile my Italian roots and my dreams of international reach?
Basically I write.
I tend to consider my readers persons, normally persons as cool and smart and sensitive as I am – and as a consequence I assume we’ll get a conversation going anyway. Genre clichés and expectations will act as an interface.

And this is it, I guess.
Now I’ll go and cook dinner.

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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