East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

In the Shadow of the Rat God


One thing that usually makes me laugh – or depresses me, depending on my mood – is when one of my esteemed Italian colleagues points out that I am too classy and complicated, in my stories, too off-putting and not ready enough to go down to the level of my readers. In a market that’s requiring increasingly simplistic and adolescent stories, being told by a colleague (or a publisher!) “you’re too classy” is the kiss of death, the professional equivalent of a 2-star review on Amazon.
Game over, man. Game. Over.

Right now I am writing a new Aculeo & Amunet story, and I have been looking for a title. To start on the right foot, I ran through the previous stories of the series…

  • Bride of the Swamp God
  • Lair of the White Ape
  • Altar of the Toad
  • The Hand of Isfet
  • Cyclops Island
  • Severed-heads Valley

I like the old, pulp-style titles – are they too refined and strange, liable to scare away the less-sophisticated readers that seem to be the target of some of my colleagues?
Interesting question…

And now, Severed-heads Valley was interesting, because the Italian version was deemed too rough and simplistic by the only reviewer, who took exception at Aculeo using the expression “to cuckold” – not high enough, unfit for a fantasy story. He probably wished Aculeo had used the Elven word for “cuckold” (and I searched it, really, but Google drew a blank).

So what?
Are the Roman soldier and the Aegyptian sorceress too high-brow or too low-brow?
The jury is still out debating the answer, but one thing is obvious: no matter how, in the eyes of the cognoscenti what I write is wrong. The only consolation is, people still seems to read my stories with pleasure.

As for the next story, it will be elegantly titled Shadow of the Rat God.
Because class is not water.

It starts more or less like this…

A single man sat slumped by the side of the city gates, his face shadowed by an old, dented helm. His arms were crossed over his chest, and his legs were wrapped in a ragged skirt of leather. He was completely oblivious to the two travellers, a man and a woman, that stood on the pavement in front of him.
They exchanged a glance, and then the man looked through the open gates, at the main street. He scratched his chin, and slapped his hand on his chest, raising clouds of dust.
A dust-devil whirled between the houses, the only sign of life. The sun was going down, and the wind was blowing cold.
“Wonderful,” the woman said. Her voice was low, and cold. She wrapped her arms around her body, and tried to rub some heat in her limbs. “Another flea-pit.”
The man looked at her, and shook his head. Then, moving aside the bag he was carrying slung over one shoulder, he stepped closer to the guard.
“Hey,” he said. “What’s the name of this place?”
The slouching soldier did not move.
The man looked back at his companion, and took another step closer, his hand on the hilt of his short sword.
“Hey, mate—” he said.
He kicked gently the guard’s foot. The soldier’s body collapsed on itself, blowing a cloud of dust. His head rolled on the floor, the helm sounding like a broken bell, and finally sat on the stones of the street floor, empty eye sockets staring at the two travellers.
“Well,” the man said. “For sure we won’t have any trouble finding a lodging for the night."
The woman looked at him, arching a fine eyebrow. Her face was dirty and sun-burned, but her expression was distant and aloof. Her belly gurgled, and she widened her eyes.
“Yeah,” the man said, “food, too. Let's go.”
They went through the gates. One of the great doors was resting against the wall, stripped of the metal that had reinforced it. There was a faint smell of smoke in the air, and a blind was slamming rhythmically.
“Which way?” she asked.
The man shrugged. She snorted, and took the lead.

My Patrons will get their copy soon.

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 “In the Shadow of the Rat God

  1. I like pulp-style titles, too. Good excerpt.

    In my opinion, as a novice writer mind you, I think you’d be disappointed in your writing if you wrote anything other than “too classy” stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that when we write we should always try and have a certain standard. We should not sell ourselves short. Try to do a little better than the minimum common denominator. Raise a little the stakes.
      Readers, I believe, appreciate when we ask them to put in a little work to get as much as they can from the story.

      Liked by 1 person

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