East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The guy you love to hate


Parabellum Serenade is at the halfway point, and there is a believable prototype of a cover, and the plot is thickening. What I like about this story – maybe I already mentioned this – is the way in which all the pieces are falling together in the right place without me having to do any major effort. I only have to type the story as it unfolds.

My modus operandi is as follows: I devote half an hour before falling asleep and about another half an hour after I wake up to stay under the covers and run through my head the scenes of the novel, like they were a movie. Usually the post-wake up session orders and cleans up, and adds detail to the pre-snooze ideas. Then I only have to sit down and write down the scenes I saw. Revising what I wrote yesterday, I do a first clean-up and some minor adjustments.
And the story grows.

Now, as my friend Alex told me when I sketched the premise for Parabellum Serenade to him, he’d read my story straight away, but I have to guarantee “competitive bad guys”. And his observation was clear in my mind as I added a subplot during my pre-snooze simulation: a whole new extra challenge, and a pair of neat twists, and a new bad guy. And not just any bad guy, but

  • a sympathetic bad guy, the sort of guy that kills you with a smile but really regrets it because he thinks you’re pretty cool yourself
  • a historical character, opportunely twisted considering the novel is an alternate history

Which brings us to Italo Balbo.

Born in Ferrara, Italy, in 1896, Italo Balbo was a fascist – as in, a founding member of the Fascist Party – and a killer – he was responsible for the death of a priest who opposed the regime, but escaped prosecution because his party took power in Italy. So, he was a very unsavory character: one of the four lieutenants of Mussolini, and for a time his heir apparent. One of the bad guys.

But he also cultivated the image of a sort of romantic, dashing swashbuckler, a war hero and a pioneer of aviation – he was the commander of the hydroplane group that did a fly around the world in 1933. He was more cultured than the average fascist (not a hard task, admittedly). Also in 1933 he was appointed governor of Lybia and de-facto exiled. He was considered an individualist that put himself before the party, his fellow fascists resented his popularity, and an increasingly paranoid Mussolini was scared that Balbo could try and eliminate and replace him.
The fact that Italo Balbo also strongly opposed the alliance with Germany made his position even more critical. He planned to invade Egypt from Lybia, but his plans were revealed to the British by the Regime itself.

Italo Balbo died in June 1940, when his plane was shot by friendly fire over Tobruk. His plane had apparently been mistaken for a British Blenheim bomber.

So, an execrable individual, but also the kind of rakish adventurer and an intelligent adversary, one that makes for a great bad guy. Of course, in the alternate timeline of Parabellum Serenade the fascist Regime never rose to power, and Italo Balbo is the leader of a well-trained and well-equipped mercenary group, a ruthless and flamboyant sword for hire whose appearance on the scene will complicate the things for my heroes. A lot. His presence makes the plot run smoother, and provides opportunities for a few nice action set pieces AND for some nice bit of dialog.

And probably someone will go on and say I am a fascist. Because presenting Balbo as a character without making him a repulsive monster, but rather a little bit more complicated sort of character, is the kind of choice that leads one to be labeled as a sympathizer or an apologist. That I am not – my family spent the years of the Regime on the service end of the nightstick.

But let them talk – I have now a nice selection of bad guys, a tight plot, a handful of good protagonists and the story is about to shift into top gear and turn to full action. It will be great.

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.

4 thoughts on “The guy you love to hate

  1. I personally like the sound of your bad guy. Fiction often softens the (real life) bad guy. I can’t count the amount of Lucifers I’ve seen or read who make him affable, charming and rakish.


    • Yes, it’s a general tendency – there’s a lot of good devils out there.
      I don’t want to make my bad guy any better than he was in real life – if possible, the cheerful attitude should work to amplify the horror (and provide a reminder for those that remember their history classes).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Now, that’s an ace in your sleeve. Well done.


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