East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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The dark side of storytelling

This one is going to be a little rambling, so please bear with me.

I’ll start by saying that I hate gossip.
In real life, I mean.
No problem with gossipy characters in stories, but let us say that I’ve been the object of gossip campaigns in the past that caused a lot of grief, to me and others, so there, hatred is an empty feeling, but I do hate gossip, and gossip-mongers.


Now, I always considered gossip a form of sick entertainment – and indeed it is rife in all those places you see listed in notices at the start of DVD movies: schools, prisons, air bases, cruise ships, Antarctic ice stations…
Any place where you can’t legally show a rented DVD but in which you can legitimately set a slasher horror movie, is where you’ll find gossip thriving.
It’s a thing worth considering. Continue reading



Doctor Mana’s Pocket Guide to Talent for Writers

work-ethic-quotesLast night I got caught up in a discussion about talent.
I find the subject as fascinating as useless.
I usually tend to stay clear of people claiming to possess talent, or to be somehow indentured to it.

To me, talent is like Luminiferous ether.
Quoth Wikipedia:

Ether, or luminiferous Ether, was the hypothetical substance through which electromagnetic waves travel. It was proposed by the greek philosopher Aristotle and used by several optical theories as a way to allow propagation of light, which was believed to be impossible in “empty” space.

So here follows my own little collection of talent-related quotes.
Enjoy. Continue reading


Rough & Cheap

I’ve just left a conversation in which the works of Robert E. Howard, and his Conan stories in particular were described as rough and cheap.
Now, I beg to differ.
Granted, at his worst Howard was basically a competent storyteller, compensating with darkness and pathos his lack of a good story. But at his best, Howard’s Conan was not cheap, and was not rough.


Being notoriously incapable of letting a matter rest when it peeves me, I’ll summarize my points here. Continue reading


The Road of Kings: Conan and Italian Opera (probably)

Sometimes good ideas are not.
Foreign-sounding names for characters, for instance.
Apart from the vaguely Welsh/Gaelic/Tolkienoid elves and the alphabet soup of Lovecraftian monsters (of which my favorite, if apocryphal, remains “Shuub-Wankalot”), a name can make or break a character.
A basic trick I was taught long ago when naming secondary characters in my fantasy stories is to select a geographic area that somehow has the same feel of the place from which my character comes, get a map, jot down a few place names, and then tweak them a little, moving vocals around or cutting and pasting names.
Et voilà, instant names for characters.

The method can backfire spectacularly – in the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth we meet Frau Göteborg, as portrayed by gorgeous Arlene Dahl; the scriptwriters thought that, if London and Washington are legit family names for Brits and Yanks, then Swedish ladies could be called Göteborg, the second largest city in Sweden. They were wrong.
Much hilarity ensued when the movie was distributed in Sweden.


The name is Goteborg, Frau Goteborg.

But there’s an even more spectacular example of “foreign” sounding names backfiring. A case in which a fine, no indeed an excellent writer, played fast and loose with naming conventions, and probably having listened to a few opera records too many, created a surreal experience for some of his readers.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Karl Edward Wagner’s Conan and the Road of Kings. Continue reading


Wizard of Science needed

I am a scientist. Maybe a defrocked, non-practicing scientist, but that’s my culture.
We have a method, we have an ethic, we serve Truth.
It’s hard work, but it’s also way cool – explore the mysteries of the universe and all that.
Science is something that informs my worldview – granted, I can suspend disbelief and read and enjoy (or write, and sell) a fantasy story, but at heart I have a certain set of rational routines and I will never be able to completely dis-install them.

And I’m getting increasingly nervous about the growing backlash against science I see around me.
You can’t correct someone’s wrong notion that you will be billed as an “arrogant know-it-all”.
And I wonder if fiction doesn’t have a part of responsibility.


Continue reading


The condition of media tie-in

“This novel is one you will live like a 3D movie. […] I loved it, it’s like the most vivid videogame!”

This is from a real review of a real novel.
And yes, together with the author’s admission he had “researched” the book by playing Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed, it sort of caused me a certain depression.


The depression comes from the realization that the market (and many readers with it) moved on, and I was left behind.

I love doing research for my stories, and I have already bored you enough with this.
I need to get my facts straight – or as straight as possible before I bend them.
And I do not want to write stories that feel like 3D movies (wobbly, out of focus and causing headaches?). I want my stories so that they are vivid, but not like videogames.
I’m old. Continue reading


How to keep reading while broke

Reading is a vice, a habit that is hard… nay, it’s impossible to lose.
I’ve been a reader all my life, I started at six and never came back. Comics, novels, non-fiction, magazines, blogs, the sides of corn flakes packets…
When I was in high school I skipped lunch to save money for books. But it was easy, because I knew I’d find dinner prepared when I got back home.
When I finally got a paying job, I set myself a monthly allowance for books.  Something around 100 euro – which means five hardbacks, or eight/ten paperbacks, or a whole lot of ebooks per month.
When the going got rough, around 2014, I cut that back to fifty quids, then to twenty. And that allowance had to make room for Kickstarters, too.
Then, back in May this year, things turned real bad, and I was at 0 money for entertainment – because putting bread on the table and paying bills was more important that buying books.


Basically it meant going cold turkey.
But not really. I found a way around that, too, and kept reading.
Now things are better, I have a 10 quid monthly allowance for my books, and what follows is a list of strategies I used and I am using to keep reading while broke. How to get my fix, if you will.
Maybe someone is interested.
And you are invited to add your tricks and tactics to save on books in the comments.
Let’s go. Continue reading