East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Imperfect Interview

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So I was interviewed online, using Facebook, daring the horror of the nested comments and Mr Zuckerberg less than perfect notification system. It was fun, I was dutifully grilled by the attendees, and I hope we will do it again.

And now, for your entertainment, here’s a quick-and-dirty translation of what was asked, and what was answered.

Welcome Davide to the Liberi group and thank you for accepting this strange and bizarre interview. I have no idea where it will take us, but in previous meetings this formula of interviewing the authors (with both my and the readers’ questions) has proved successful, I only warn you that the hour will fly in a flash. So as a first question I would ask you to take stock of your career so far: blogger, translator, author, editor. A very multifaceted career, don’t you think?

Thanks for the invitation and for the hospitality 🙂
And to answer, a very messy “career” (quotation marks).
I should be out there chasing dinosaurs. All the rest are accidents and unforeseen events, and make a virtue of necessity.
I started writing in high school, I sold my first professional work in 1999 (so QUITE after high school), I started a blog in 2007, since 2015 I’ve been paying my bills (barely) by writing.
I started doing translations much earlier, in fact – in 2000, more or less, translating the work of university colleagues who were to publish in international journals.
That too turned into a useful activity for paying the bills when all else is gone.
And editor … not very often, and only in desperate cases.

You are an Italian author published abroad, perhaps better known abroad than in Italy, how do you explain this paradox? Certainly your in-depth knowledge of the English language, developed from many good readings since your youth, has helped you. Would you ever have imagined it?

Well, imagine it … maybe not.
But in the end it was an almost forced choice – if you want to live writing, you have to turn to the largest market possible, and having the good fortune to know English very well, not opening up to the English-speaking market would have been unthinkable.
Over time, the English-speaking market has proved to be the most receptive, so to speak.

You are a highly respected translator from English to Italian and from Italian to English. Is there still room in the international market for local literature? In short, in your experience are there Italian authors esteemed outside the border, in America, Great Britain, Australia, limiting ourselves to the English-speaking market?

There is a lot of curiosity for what we do, and there is an increasing interest in hearing different voices – in terms of culture, origin and geographic area – on the English-speaking market (and also on others, from what they tell me).
The balance game consists in being at the same time Italian but still marketable abroad – much of what is produced and sold very well here with us, has no market abroad.
But yes, there is interest in what we do, and there is room for our authors (hopefully!)

If they opened an Italian publishing house dedicated to the fantastic and adventure and asked you to edit a line, suggesting novels so far unpublished in Italy, what are the names you would propose and what are the most significant novels.

In fact there is a publishing house for which I do exactly this job – Acheron Books – and if I had to recommend something to them at the moment, I think I would recommend Arkady Martine’s “A Memory Called Empire”, and probably “Gideon of the Ninth” by Tamsyn Muir.
But they know the Italian market better than I do, and they probably wouldn’t listen to me 😀

And what about occult investigators? What are your most significant characters and stories about it?

I currently have two series plus one that generally go under the label of “occult investigators” – that is, the kind of story that combines a police investigation with supernatural phenomena.
There is the Contubernium series – stories set in Alexandria in Egypt in the third century AD, about a handful of Roman legionaries who are faced with Egyptian curses and other horrors. The first story of the series was published in Occult Detective Quarterly magazine … now they have a second one under evaluation.
Then there is the Valerie Trelawney series, which has a more “Sherlockian” approach, and stories take place in Europe during the Belle Epoque. The series debuted in an anthology entitled Sherlock Holmes and the Occult Detectives, a collection of stories in which Holmes turns to supernatural colleagues to solve unexplained cases.
And I’m working on a series about a character that is not mine – Mercy Dee, supernatural detective stories set in the 1930s. Mercy Dee is a character created in 1938 and now in the public domain. The first story in the series is expected to come out (fingers crossed) in time for Halloween.

Who are the some popular Italian and foreign science fiction women authors you like?

Authors of SF, first of all C.J. Cherryh, who is and remains my favorite author.
Then certainly Tanith Lee.
Among the contemporaries, Mary Gentle and Liz Williams.
I liked her very much and I miss Kage Baker terribly, who was extraordinary and died too young. And I can say the same for Jo Clayton.
And I’m certainly forgetting about it, so I’ll add them below as they come to mind.

Would you tell me something about Mary Gentle? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it except in your blog (I remind bibliophile enthusiasts that “Strategie Evolutive” is your blog, full of treasures).

Mary Gentle is an extremely original author, who has written a series of perhaps too different and experimental novels – which is why they have had little diffusion at home, even less so hereabouts.
She is an expert in Renaissance military history, so she is always extremely technical in describing characters and settings from that time. Her most popular work in Italy is certainly Ash, who starts as the adventures of a company of Renaissance mercenaries and then detours into science fiction …
And in her classic Rats & Gargoyles she created a universe that works according to the rules of hermetic magic and alchemy rather than those of physics.
It is always a demanding reading, but her work is extraordinary.
Now I understand that she has greatly reduced its production, precisely because of the bad treatment received by publishing also at home. And it is a pity – the latest novel – set in Naples – is from ten years ago.

Her books are fairly easy to find in English, not in Italian.
There is a novel titled 1610 featuring Rocheford, the villain of the Three Musketeers.
And it’s a fantasy.

In your stories there are many references to that slightly vintage imagination that had the Orient as a land of choice. China in the 1920s and 1930s, Japan in the 1940s, adventurers and travelers on board the Air race cars, the Silk Road, with even thick female characters at the center of the stories, strong-willed women, who know their stuff. Is this imaginary still relevant in modern fiction?

I believe there has always been and there will always be a market for good stories, which know how to entertain and – to quote the classics – improve the life of the reader, or help them endure it.
Then I certainly turn to a niche, but this also has its advantages. Abroad, what is called New Pulp – the kind of story you described above – still has a good market. And it is an extremely flexible and adaptable “genre”.

Well, the hour has flown, thank you all, Davide first who responded despite the technical problems (without even making typing errors). My last question is: future plans.

Survive 😀

No, OK.
I have just delivered the first draft of a novel written as a ghost-writer.
In the week (barring accidents) I will deliver the final draft of a historical essay.
I have two contracts for two novelettes from an American publisher, and two articles to deliver to a magazine in Italy.
I have one translation to finish and one (colossal) to begin.
And a third translation to finish for … yesterday.
And I should also be able to put together a new role-playing game in time for September.
… meanwhile, as I said above, I’m preparing a new story of the Corsair and a new story of Buscafusco … and I’m waiting for answers from half a dozen magazines.
In all this, I can only thank my bank, whose payment reminders are an incessant source of inspiration.

Readers’ questions

Annarita Verzola

Good evening to the Administrator and Davide. I have a curiosity: did your professional career started in 1999 immediately lead you to write in English for the foreign market or is it a choice you came up with later and why?

The first thing I sold was a fake scientific article for an American publishing house – a study on the biology of the Shan, one of the races of the Lovecraftian universe.
So I immediately left for abroad.
And essentially I started from there because there was a possibility, I was part of a very active international community of authors, the proposal came, and … why not? Let’s try!

Fabrizio Borgio

Since the bulk of your publications come out on the English-speaking market, you certainly have more meters of comparison between the current state of genre fiction. What are the known differences between the English and the Italian panorama?

Based on my experiences, the international market is much more varied, and therefore very few of the genres/subgenres I specialize in find a space here.
The competition is very strong, but in general the market is much more accessible than ours: it is easier to know when an editor searches for stories, it is easier to send your work and get an answer.
I could add that it is easier to get paid, but then I would sound crude.

Cosimo Mannucci

At this point, I will dive in: since you write in both English and Italian, are there characters or situations you could only write in Italian or English? Does the language in which you write also “impose” choices regarding the plot and / or characters?

In English and Italian I have two different voices, and two different rhythms. I am of the opinion that I am better in English.
And yes, there are characters that I can only write in English – for example the stories of Leo Martin … translated into Italian they sound lame.
The same is also true, I believe, for Buscafusco – there is a Buscafusco novel in Italian, but it is a different character, and the story does not have the rhythm of the short stories in English.

And certainly using English allows me to use a certain slang, a certain construction of the phrases for which certain genres “get better”.

Flavio Troisi

Davide, can you draw a clear dividing line and explain to us what it consists of, between indie writer and amateur writer?

I don’t know if it is possible to draw a clear line.
In general, it should be said that if a large part of your income comes from writing, then you are more or less a professional. If you are a professional and you are not tied to a publishing house, then you are independent – even if today indie is mainly used for self-produced writers.
If instead you keep doing another job and you can afford to give away your stories written in your free time, you are a hobbyist – nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice if the two levels, professional and amateur, were kept separate.
Here they are not.
But the demarcation is not so clear-cut, precise and defined.
Basically, if you pay your bills by writing you are not an amateur, this is perhaps the simplest and most brutal definition.
Then obviously professionalism involves a whole range of skills, etc.
But paying the bills is the first step.

Alexandra Fischer

Davide, do you also like Bulgakov?

The little I read, I like – The Master and Margarita, Heart of a Dog.
I haven’t read anything else.
But yes, I like him.
I would never be able to write like him, but after all I’m not Russian 🙂

Do you also like Mc Carthy?

Cormac McCarthy?
No, the little I read didn’t impress me at all. Maybe it was the wrong time, maybe I’m not sensitive or sophisticated enough. I recognize the technique, he is very good, but he is not an author who does it for me, at least now.
Then who knows, maybe in five or ten years I will change my mind – it would not be the first time.

Fabrizio Borgio

How has it changed, if your sentiment towards writing changed, when it became a full-time job?

Hard question.
I still enjoy writing, and it continues to be (also) one of my two favorite pastimes (the other is reading).
I still manage to use writing to distract myself – I leave what I’m writing to pay the bills, and write something that is mine alone (which I then maybe inflict on my supporters on Patreon).
Perhaps what has changed is the need to make an effort not to make it an obligation. I still have to keep having fun writing, or it’s the end – in this case, REALLY the end … no new stories, no dinner.

Laura Pugiotto

Good evening everyone! Davide, could you tell us about your experience with role-playing games and how it influenced your writing (if it influenced it)?

Annarita Verzola

I also have the same curiosity, also I would like to know if the passion for role-playing games or writing was born first.

First writing, definitely.
The games taught me to think of stories in a more “technical” way, breaking them down into scenes and sequence of scenes.
And they also taught me, at the game table, to improvise.
This is VERY useful because it can happen that the characters in a story go off on a tangent and do something unexpected.
Writing games also taught me to do research economically, and to better structure my ideas.

Paolo S. Cavazza

Good evening everyone. Hi Davide, I’m Paolo. I wanted to ask you: do you foresee developments for the Corsair cycle? And will Buscafusco return in Italian or only in English? In fact, I also prefer it in English: it’s more exotic.

I’m working on a new Corsair story right now – I’d like it to come out in August with a new volume, which will include two short stories, one set in Venice, and one on the African coast.
And there is a new Buscafusco in the works, hopefully it will come out later this month.
As I said elsewhere in this chat (note: I hate nested Facebook comments, because you get lost), both the Corsair and Buscafusco are better in English. Translating them is a tough job – much more demanding than translating a stranger’s work. And with the same work and effort, at this point I prefer to write a new story in English.

Fabrizio Borgio

Speaking of female writers (and here I thank you publicly for letting me discover Lucia Berlin), your comment on the Italian scenario seems interesting and dutiful, from what you have seen …

I know the Italian panorama very little.
I know there are many very good writers.
I know there are still publishers who select authors based on Facebook followers.
This is not a good mix.

Annarita Verzola

About Buscafusco, could you tell us how his stories are born?

I usually say that the Buscafusco stories write themselves: just read the newspaper.
For example … there is a gang of scammers who are selling USB sticks here in the province, selling them as a system capable of neutralizing the harmful effects of 5G.
Three hundred euros for a USB stick.
How could I ever come up with such an idea?
Buscafusco is really easy to write because of this – being an investigator who does not deal with murders and “big” crimes, I can use all the small and petty meanness that characterize life in the province.
People who set fire to cat shelters out of sheer malice, people who try to cheat on slot machines to pay their home loans …
Stories write themselves.

Fabrizio Borgio

In this regard, I am curious to know, currently, what your reference models are in terms of both themes and style

Setting the pulp job is indispensable in a market that pays six cents a word – if you want to pay the bills you have to write a LOT.
So yes, I have tried to learn as much as possible from the old pulp writers.
What then, Chandler and Hammett were pulp authors – there were.

And this is it.
Long, isnt it?
But hopefully entertaining.
Thanks to Giulietta Iannone of Liberidiscrivere for setting this up, and to all participants for their questions.

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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