Last night my fried Hell (yes, they really call him like tat) got royally pissed off at Lavie Tidhar, the multi-award winning author of Central Station and many other great books.
Hell is an excellent writer and an equally excellent editor – indeed, he served as co-editor on a few of my projects. He’s got a fun series of SF novels set in the fictional desert town of Perfection, in a future world in which everything’s slowly unwinding, and humans co-exist with sexy robots and mutant desert foxes. He’s self-publishing his work in Italian.
Hell’s work’s been often compared to Tidhar’s in terms of complexity, irony and energy, and the two authors were born one month apart from each other.
Only, you all know who Lavie Tidhar is, and none of you ever heard about Germano Hell Greco. How come?
This is what we discussed last night, and we came to a simple conclusion – we grew up, Hell and I, in a country in which writing is considered either a hobby for rich people or a dimwit’s pursuit. A country in which publisher will pay you in exposure, in which agents want to get paid in advance to read your manuscript and decide whether they will represent you. Some established authors might put in a good word, you might get an unpaid gig, a short story in the back of a magazine, but you have to pay them a few dinners. Just to be friendly, you know.
Hell is a damn fine writer, but he’s trapped at the bottom of a pit.
In my case, I pay my bills by writing, yes, but it’s because I can write in English, and mail my stories to foreign magazines.
And I thought about my old friend Riccardo Valla, certainly the best translator that ever worked on popular fiction in my country. In 1983, Riccardo Valla encouraged a kid of fifteen who wanted to start reading science fiction and fantasy in English. Everybody else – at home and in school – was telling that kid to get a life, and stop acting like a snob and an anglophile. “Why are Italian books not good enough for you?!”
Riccardo Valla told him to try, and forget about the dictionary. “Keep going – the words you don’t know will become clear through the context. Don’t let fear and the dictionary slow you down.”
Ten years later, that kid decided to try and write in English. And five years after that he sold his first work in the US.
So yes, I was lucky.
Through that simple act of kindness, the late Riccardo Valla, in 1983, gave me a way to make a living in the twenty-first century.
And yet, because I grew up in this country, I am doing now, at 53, what everywhere else people do at 20.
You’ve got to climb out of that pit. I was lucky because someone taught me how to climb – but I still had to crawl up the walls of the pit for ages.
And let’s be clear – I am not complain ing, because it would be useless.
But I am lamenting a mindset, and an environment, that make my job – and Hell’s job – slow, painful and frustrating.
Of course my friend Hell is not angry at Lavie Tidhar, not really.
It’s just that last night what started with a discussion of Tidhar’s By Force Alone (that’s just great and you should read it), was the crack that caused the dam to burst.
Of course we can only play with the cards that have been served us. But what the heck, get to play with a full hand of cards, and be allowed to sit at the gaming table, would be a nice start.