Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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A woman with a past

The first time I met her, she called herself Helena Saratova.
She claimed to be a Russian aristocrat, and she managed a high-class brothel in Bubbling Well Road, in Shanghai.
She was in her forties, and had blue hair.
It was the summer of 1936, and Felice Sabatini was in a bind.

I was one-third into my first novel, The Ministry of Thunder, and I had painted myself – and my main character, Sabatini – in a corner. We both needed help, and fast, so I summoned a throwaway character, someone that could come in, help the hero, and be gone.
I got much more than I bargained for – Helena not only solved the problems in my plot, but she stayed on scene for most of the second third of the novel, stealing the scene from the leading lady and showing such an easy chemistry with the protagonist that when all was said and done, the novel finished, packaged, sold and read, most of the readers were quite happy,m yes, and wanted more of it.
More action, more adventure, more flying white apes and Chinese demons.
More of Felice Sabatini.
And oh, please, more Helena Saratova.

So I wrote the short Cynical Little Angels, a prequel of sorts to The Ministry of Thunder, that told the story of the first meeting between Felice and Helena.
The readers were once again happy.
Helena Saratova had become my first breakout character.

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The Soldier’s Disease

Again on the joys of research – because focusing too much on that mess that is the Russian Civil War would be monotonous, and I really like (no, seriously, I like it) doing research on the fly when writing.
So, let’s put down the books and the videos about Russians killing each other in the snow, and let’s look into something different.

Like, the Soldier’s Disease, a definition first coined in 1915 to describe morphine addiction among the troops – a phenomenon observed for the first time during the American Civil War.
Ah, doing research, an endless series of discoveries…

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Into the heart of Chaos

Just to make sure you don’t think I’m only spending my time reading novels and being idle, I’ve been doing some on-the-fly research for my current story – that I hope to have finished, one way or the other, by the weekend.
And I’ve spent the last two days immersed in absolute Chaos.
And if this did nothing for my headache, it will certainly do a lot of good to my story.

So, what I’ve been researching?
The Russian Civil War.
And to give you an idea of how chaotic the thing is – we know there was a civil war in Russia after the Great War, but depending on the sources it ended in 1920, in 1923 or in 1926. It probably started in 1919. Or maybe in 1917.
Or something.

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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…

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Pandora in Krasnojarsk

For my next story, that will be part of the Seven Lives Project, I have put together a handful of pieces, like cards in a solitaire, or pieces of a puzzle. I will start writing the story tomorrow, and work on it for the whole week, and once it’s ready (hoping it’s ready in a week) I will translate it in Italian, and post it to my patrons.
This, at least, is a plan.

But right now, these are all the pieces I have…

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Belle, Buck & Candle

There’s a thing that happens when you write, and it’s that story ideas keep coming at you, like hailstones, like bullets, like drops of rain during a monsoon. This is something non-writers often fail to see – they come to you and they tell you “You know? I’ve got a great idea for a story! Let me tell you, so you can write it and make lotsa money…”
And you think, “No, please, not again…”
Then they wink and mention their share of the profits.

Ideas are everywhere, you only need to keep your eyes and ears open.
And then you need to learn to filter them, and keep the good ones, and know which goes with what to build a story.
It takes some experience – you need to read and write a lot.

Then one day you are browsing Facebook, and you get the full package – a story that wants to be written, all there, all in one place.
Like this…

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