East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Leave a comment

Princesses in Pulp is out!

ProSe Press’ latest anthology is out, and it can be acquired in both paperback and ebook via Amazon.
It is called Princesses in Pulp, it features a killer cover by Antonino Lo Iacono, and it includes a story of mine, called Away with the Fairies.

The idea was to take a classic fairy tale and turn it into a pulp story – so I selected an old Italian folk tale from Giambattista Basile’s classic collection known as the Pentamerone, a nice Cinderella variation called The Three Fairies, and I redid it as a Black Mask-style noir crime story.
It was fun to write it – I hope it will be fun to read it too!

It is also the raciest story I ever published in my name.

If you feel like taking a look at Princesses in Pulp, right now the ebook is 99 cents.
But I’ll shell out a little more for the paperback, just for that cover…
I’ve placed links to Amazon above – I’m not getting any commission for this.

Leave a comment

The return of Valerie Trelawney

I created Valerie Trelawney in 1985, give or take a few months, typing two of her stories on my mother’s old Olivetti Lettera. They were not particularly good stories – derived in the worst possible way from Arthur Conan Doyle (with a nod at The Jewel of Seven Stars), from H.P. Lovecraft, and from an unresolved (ad still very much alive) fascination for Charles Dana Gibson’s illustrations.
My Edwardian medium/detective went nowhere back in the ’80s, but in much more recent years Valerie was resurrected to support none else but Sherlock Holmes in two stories, published in the anthologies of the series Sherlock Holmes and the Occult Detectives.

Now, Valerie Trelawney comes back for a third adventure, this time going solo and gracing the pages of issue #9 of Occult Detective Magazine, that is currently available through Amazon.
The new story is called The case of the ink-maker’s daughter.

I like writing about Valerie, and we go back a long time – she is in fact my oldest character. Right now I am working on two more stories featuring her occult adventures.
How, where and when these will be published – if at all – remains to be seen.
I will let you know as soon as I know myself.

Leave a comment


Do you get emails from Amazon?
I do.
About once a week, I find in m y mailbox a mail that says, more or less…

Greetings, Consumer!
based on your previous purchases, we think you might also like…

And what follows is a list of books I have already purchased from Amazon, plus maybe one or two of my own books. On special days, the algorithm also throws in an esoteric kitchen tool and maybe some instant noodles.

But the latest “you might also like” mail was special, because the Amazon algorithm decided I might be interested in this…

Yes, it’s a book of mine (available in Italian only, sorry rest of the world!)
You know, ancient Rome, Aegyptian curses, conspiracies, legionaries… the usual.

And yes, it’s out today.

And no, I did not know anything about it.

I was not informed the book had been published – and indeed already sold during the Lucca Comics & Games fair this past Halloween.
I did not see the galleys.
I did not get a complimentary copy.
Or an ebook.

Google reveals that the book was also presented during a live streaming panel, in November – but I was not informed, or invited to participate, and when the panel was announced on Facebook nobody tagged me, and therefore another algorithm decided not to show me any notification.
And no, there was nothing in my spam folder, either.

And yes, the cover is great, and carries my name and the IP house name, so that it looks like I wrote this with someone else.

And finally yes, this is deeply humiliating, because the book I spent the whole summer of 2022 writing has been out there three months now, and I only learned about it because the Amazon suggestions algorithm sucks.

I will not put a commercial link here, because as I said the book is only available in Italian.
It’s likely to be my last novel to be.


Dreams of Fire

I am finally free to share the news that my new novel for the Descent, Legends of the Dark line will be available next summer through Aconythe Books.
It’s called Dreams of Fire, and it’s gonna be hot.

We’ve got dwarves, we got orcs (but not your father’s old orcs), we’ve got necromancy and rock-magic, we’ve got swordsmen-poets and more dragons you can shake a stick at.
And volcanoes.
It’s going to be a blast.

Check it out here if you want more news.


The Conan Re-read 1: The Tower of the Elephant

Robert E. Howard’s The Tower of the Elephant was published in the March 1933 issue of Weird Tale Magazine, and is the first of the two stories I selected for the forthcoming “Four from Conan” episode of my Italian-language podcast, Chiodi Rossi, that we are recording in 48 hours.

Because with my friend Germano we decided to do only four stories for this episode, and each one of us would select two, the choice was particularly hard. I have read all the original Howard-penned Conan stories a number of times, and I have a handful in my “best of Conan of all time” selection.
Choosing only two is torture – especially because one has to be People of the Black Circle.

So I weighed the pros and cons of each possible choice, I checked my counterpart’s choices, and finally decided to go with The Tower of the Elephant.

Art by Sanjulian

The Tower of the Elephant is one of the “Conan as thief” stories, and shows us a young Cimmerian as he learns to know the ways of civilization.
Indeed, the story includes one of the most quoted lines in the whole Conan canon…

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

The Tower of the Elephant, chapter 1

The set-up is quite simple – a brash young thief, Conan decides to ply his trade in the Tower of the Elephant, in which the sorcerer Yara holds the Elephant’s Heart, a jewel that is said to be the source of his power. Smart thieves avoid the Tower, that is guarded both magically and mundanely.
But Conan is young, bold, probably overconfident, and looking for challenges…

Art by Benito Gallego

It is a very basic sword & sorcery plot – a simple heist, and indeed the story has been adapted into a roleplaying game scenario, because, really, it’s the perfect setup for an adventure.
Like any basic heist story, it features a rival for the hero – Taurus of Nemedia – and a number of menaces/traps/tests the hero need to overcome to reach their goal.

But Robert E. Howard at 27 was a more sophisticated and smart writer than your run of the mill sword & sorcery hack, and he slips a stunning twist in the last chapter, while infusing his story with what can be only described as sense of wonder.
Pure, unadulterated, science-fictional sense of wonder.

Art by Mark Schultz

Because the Tower turns out to be the prison of Yag-kosha, a member of a space-faring species that has been on Earth for ages, a witness to the rise of the Hyborian world. Confronting blind, chained Yag-kosha, Conan is offered an overview not only of the history of his world, but also of the wonders of the cosmos, and is finally made into the instrument of the creature’s liberation and revenge.

Ruthless and amoral he can be, but Conan holds a barbarian’s simple sense of justice, and his horror at the condition of Yag-kosha counterpoints the awe the reader feels for the wonders the creature describes.

The story is fun, surprising, and carries the raw energy of Howard at his best.
It is compact and essential, and still packs quite a punch.

We saw men grow from the ape and build the shining cities of Valusia, Kamelia, Commoria, and their sisters. We saw them reel before the thrusts of the heathen Atlanteans and Picts and Lemurians. We saw the oceans rise and engulf Atlantis and Lemuria, and the isles of the Picts, and the shining cities of civilization. We saw the survivors of Pictdom and Atlantis build their stone age empires, and go down to ruin, locked in bloody wars. We saw the Picts sink into abysmal savagery, the Atlanteans into apedom again. We saw new savages drift southward in conquering waves from the arctic circle to build a new civilization, with new kingdoms called Nemedia, and Koth, and Aquilonia and their sisters. We saw your people rise under a new name from the jungles of the apes that had been Atlanteans. We saw the descendants of the Lemurians who had survived the cataclysm, rise again through savagery and ride westward, as Hyrkanians. And we saw this race of devils, survivors of the ancient civilization that was before Atlantis sank, come once more into culture and power—this accursed kingdom of Zamora.

The Tower of the Elephant, chapter 3

There are a number of reasons why I chose this story.
I love the setting, the city of Arenjun in the nation of Zamora, and the disreputable neighborhood of the Maul, a kaleidoscope of peoples, deftly described in a single scene.
I like young Conan as he tries to come to terms with civilization.
There is a good deal of action, including a fight with a giant spider (together with giant snakes, quite a common specimen of Hyborian fauna).
We also get a thumbnail summary of Hyborian history.
And the whole third chapter, with Yag-kosha’s narration and death, and then Conan confronting Yara the Sorcerer to dish out some barbarian justice, is absolutely excellent.

This is also one of the rare stories in which Conan does not get the girl – for the simple reason that there is no girl.
And it’s OK like this.

The Tower of the Elephant is a short story, and yet it offers a perfect balance of worldbuilding, action, adventure, horror and wonder. It is strikingly visual, and this explains probably why so many artists have created paintings and sketches based on it.
I have placed a few examples in this post.

I have also linked the electronic text of the story, in Wikisource, and the complete scans of the March ’33 issue of Weird Tales in the Internet Archive.

And as an extra bonus, here is an audio-drama adaptation:


Re-reading Conan (for starters)

In 2022 I launched an Italian-language podcast called Chiodi Rossi (Red Nails), together with my friend Germano – who is a fine writer and an excellent editor, and a fellow Howard fan.
We started every two week, reviewing and discussing a classic… well, “classic” 1980s fantasy movie – and we started with John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian.

The podcast was well received, and we have somewhat widened our scope – we did a couple movie trailer reviews, we covered the eight episodes of the Amazon Prime series The Rings of Power. Our listeners were reasonably happy with what we did, so we are experimenting further.

And so we said, OK, we are both writers – but discussing our own writing would be in poor taste. Why not discuss the stories that we like from the authors that we love, within the sword & sorcery and fantasy genre?

As a test run, we’ll do an episode about four of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories – having selected two each. We will re-read them, and take notes, and then talk, and record, and inflict the result on our unsuspecting listeners.

The four stories we selected are

  • The Tower of the Elephant
  • Shadows in the Moonlight
  • People of the Black Circle
  • Red Nails

As I mentioned, the podcast is in Italian*, but I’d love to do something for the blog here – maybe a single post on the four stories, maybe a post each.
And then, maybe, do it again with other Conan stories, or other non-Conan stories from Howard, or with stories from other classic authors.
Watch this space.

(* – i can add that I’d love to do an English-language podcast, but first, my spoken English is VERY rusty, and second, in the past I have found out that I am no good when I have to carry a whole episode by myself… but who knows…?)