East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Blair Reynolds has left the building

I never met Blair Reynolds, and I believe we never exchanged more than a few words on a mailing list that’s long been lost in the dark alleys of the web, far from the glitter and bustle of social media.
And yet, I owe Blair Reynolds much of what I am today.
Let me tell you.

It was more or less twenty-five years ago that I was browsing the stacks of my friendly local game shop (that was not that local, nor that friendly) when I spotted a magazine with a sepia cardboard cover, and on that cover there was an image.
This image, on this magazine.

That cover had been drawn by Blair Reynolds, that was not just an excellent artist, but also a superb writer, as I discovered digging into the magazine.

I bought that magazine, and then tried to track down every other issue.
And because we had this hot new thing called the internet in those days, I looked around, and I found a community of people that shared my interests in roleplaying games, Lovecraftian fiction and other assorted weirdness.
We started chatting.

Four or five years later, because I had bought that mag and started that conversation, I made my first professional sale – and my stuff was published in a book that featured a bunch of Nazis and a swastika on the cover.
I got a lot of strange looks because of that.
That cover had been painted by Blair Reynolds.

Flash forward twenty years, and I still get the weird looks, and I make my living writing in English.
And it all goes back to that weird, disturbing cover on the 6th issue of The Unspeakable Oath.
Because of it I met people that shared my interests.
Because of it I found the courage to start writing in English.
Because of it I made my first professional sale as a writer.
Because of it, in the long run, I am earning my keep.

We never met, and we barely ever spoke to each other, but Blair Reynolds is one of the handful of people I can truly say made me what I am.

Blair Reynolds died a few hours ago, and I will never meet him, and I will never speak with him.
But I owe him a fair share of my life.
He will be missed.

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A quote for today

I’ve just read an interview with a popular writer in the self-help field. Her books sell like in cartloads, and she claims her success is due to the fact that the Universe sends her messages through car number plates.
Like, she’s walking down the street and sees a certain combination of letters and numbers on a car’s license plate, and its meaning flashes in her mind, and she knows she has to do something – or not to do something.

And, really, anything that floats your boat is fine.

I do not believe the Universe sends us anything – but I believe that sometimes we read or see or hear something that clicks with where our thoughts are going, with the place we are in in that moment, and it feels right.
And maybe it won’t save your life or make your business a success, but it might save you one hour, and that’s enough.
In the end, a license plate, the side of a pack of cornflakes or a holy book, as long as it works is fine with me.

Case in point, I just stumbled on a quote that saved me one skipped lunch and one whole afternoon of useless anger and frustration – that’s a big thing, given my current state of affairs.
The quote is as follows

“The passion for revenge should never blind you to the pragmatics of the situation. There are some people who are so blighted by their past, so warped by experience and the pull of that silken cord, that they never free themselves of the shadows that live in the time machine…
And if there is a kind thought due them, it may be found contained in the words of the late Gerald Kersh, who wrote:”… there are men whom one hates until a certain moment when one sees, through a chink in their armour, the writhing of something nailed down and in torment.”

― Harlan Ellison, The Essential Ellison: A 50 Year Retrospective

Harlan Ellison said it, and it’s enough for me.
Now, lunch.

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Rod Serling, and stories

One of the authors I always look up to in order to improve my craft is Rod Serling, of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery fame. Apart from the awesome quality of scripts, it’s in his views on imaginative fiction and society that I usually find powerful, intelligent ideas. If you are not familiar with them, check out Youtube – a search for Serling’s name will bring up interviews and actual masterclasses he recorded, and are worth every minute spent listening to them, taking notes.

And today a friend posted this image on their Facebook profile, and it was another eye-opening moment.

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Rowena Morrill (1944-2021)

I keep posting bad news, probably because as I grow old, the heroes of my youth grow older, and pass away. Such is the case of Rowena Morrill, the brilliant artist whose wonderful art do often graced the covers of the paperbacks on which I learned to love fantasy and science fiction.

I believe the best way to remember an artist is by admiring her art, so here’s a small gallery of some of my favorite Rowena art. Click to enlarge.


Barbara Shelley (1932-2021) & Tanya Roberts (1955-2021)

The new year has decided to go off with a bang, and it took away two beloved actresses in a matter of a few hours.

British actress Barbara Shelley was probably the classiest of the Hammer ladies – she appeared in Dracula, Prince of Darkness, in The Gorgon, and in Rasputin the Mad Monk. Her presence was so iconic, that many believe to this day that one of her earlier films, Blood of the Vampire, was a Hammer, while it wasn’t.

She was also a star in The Village of the Damned and in the classic Quatermass and the Pit. She also did an awful lot of television, including shows like The Avengers.

Tanya Roberts was an American actress very popular with my age group in the 80s, when she was in Charlie’s Angels before becoming a Bond Girl in A View to a Kill, and a Playmate; she later starred as the Queen of the Jungle herself in Sheena. She also appeared in the fantasy B-movie classic Beastmaster.

Roberts was only 65 at the time of her passing.


Are you dead?

Yesterday was a long day – I had to go into town to see the people that do my taxes, and as I was at it, I dropped by the local bookstore, where my friend Roberto had my copy of Fritz Leiber’s massive collection Sword & Sorcery waiting for me. Then I did some shopping (it being market day and all that), and then had lunch with my friends, enjoying the company.

When I got home, I found a request for an urgent article from a magazine I work with – I am taking a break from writing it as I am writing this – and then I got a weird personal message through Facebook, from a dear friend that lives in the middle of the Atlantic (on an island, of course – I have no contacts in Atlantis).
The message was more or less..

My mother saw you died, it’s in the newspapers, and she called me… Are you fine?

“Davide Mana” is not a common name, but is not as unique as I’d love to think – there was another Davide Mana, living here in Piedmont, a man of forty-six, a professional man very active in his community. He died early this week, and the local news covered the fact.
And a few people saw the name, and the area, and got worried.
My friend’s MP was the first of a series.
But no, it’s OK – I’m a little tired and a bit worn around the edges, but I’m fine.

But my thoughts go to the family of that man I never met, but shared a name with. A father of four, much loved in his community, and from what I could read in the news, a good man. And I’m very sad.