East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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No inbetween

I was standing on my soapbox… ok, on my Italian blog… and I was talking about those guys that play the Amazon algorithms to increase their sales in ways against the company’s rules. A friend of mine is doing a series of videos on the subject, and if you are trying to make a living by writing, the presence of people that game the system is a problem – a livelihood-impacting problem.

And I was taken to task by a reader because, you see, I often write about adventurers, thieves, people living outside the law, rule-breakers and other shady characters – and are not these individuals that abuse the system to make money in the same class?

It’s easy to write about adventurers and other shady characters in smoky, exotic taverns, when you are not a victim of their activities.

Based on the same reasoning, of course, Lawrence Block, author of the books about thief and bon vivant Bernie Rhodenbarr should not complain – or, probably, call the cops – should his house be robbed, and Max Allan Collins, chronicler of the exploits of hired killer Quarry, should not speak against shootouts. And by the way, I highly recommend anything by Block or Collins, and the Rhodenbarr and Quarry books in particular.
And, further extending that line of thought, horror writers should not have any right to speak up should their house turn out to be haunted, or should a demon eat the cats in the neighborhood.

In other words, it’s silly.

But this led me to ask myself a new question: does my writing in any way glorify the evil-doers and bring down the victims?
I do not think so, at least after a cursory review of my stuff.
Also, does writing humorously about real-life knaves from the ages past amount to condoning knavery in our everyday life?
Should I refrain from trying to stop, say, a pickpocket on the bus, because I once wrote

“pickpockets are skilled professional, it takes no skill whatsoever to rob you by pointing a gun”

Or maybe – only maybe – there’s people out there that knows no inbetween?


My theme is stronger than yours

The market is shifting at a heady speed hereabouts – and if not the market in itself, the way in which the authors marketed themselves. This morning I caught a colleague (an excellent writer, indeed) explaining that his fantasies always tackle strong themes under a thin patina of fantasy adventure. A thin patina that includes “hard knocks”, “big boobs” and “100% fanservice”, probably, considering that up to two days ago the same author was signalling those as the selling points of his fantasies.

This makes me feel infinitely tired, because I am really tired of this constant, desperate, aggressive hustling – writers trying to sell themselves as the answer to this week’s taste: this week is social awareness and “strong themes”, next week might be ultra-violence and mindless mayhem.
If it sells, it’s what I’m doing.
The quality of the story, and the quality of the writing, are becoming meaningless, when instead they might be sufficient to hook the reader.

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Why don’t you kill it?

It started when the plastic cap of the oil bottle disappeared.
“What the heck…?”
We took a look around, and found the cap under a chair, partially eaten.
Oh, shucks!
Autumn is here, the first showers have hit us, and as usual we have an uninvited guest in our house. Field mice have learned that in the lairs of the Sapiens there’s food, warmth and no rain.

So we armed our spring-operated cage, put a piece of cheese crust in it and waited.

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A morning among the rude mechanicals

I took the morning off. My brother was to see the doctor, and I went along, basically to enjoy the air conditioning in the doc’s waiting room. I brought my Kindle along (about which, more later) and settled in one of the wonderfully uncomfortable chairs.
The air conditioning was on to Alaskan Winter levels – I guess the doctor is trying to increase his workload by causing his patients pneumonia or, who knows, maybe decrease his workload by offing the weakest.
And I had the opportunity of spending two hours surrounded by the nice villagers.

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Historical smoking and other unhealthy writing sins

I don’t smoke. I never did.
I consider it a foul habit and a waste of money. My parents did not smoke neither, my grandfathers both did (and it shortened their lives). As a kid, just walking by someone smoking usually caused me to break into a fit of cough. This was somewhat awkward during my teens and twenties, because it looked like everybody smoked then.
My girlfriend in high school smoked. Marlboros. Talk about awkward: it’s hard to be in love with someone and you start coughing like you’re about to spit a lung every time you get close to her.
But anyway…

I watched a lot of old movies, as I grew up.
I liked – and I still like today – old noirs.
Humphrey Bogart. High Sierra is one of my all-time favorites ever. The Big Sleep, too. But everything he did, really. He was a sort of role model, because like that guy said “We’re all Bogart at least once in our lives”. And Bogey always had his cigarette. The nails in my coffin, he called them.
And what about Robert Mitchum? What about all the other Marlowes of TV and Cinema?
Then there was Mike Hammer. Damn, the guy got routinely punched, stabbed and shot at, then he got home, took a shower, drank a shot of whiskey, lit a cigarette, and he was as fresh as a rose.
And don’t even get me started on James Bond.

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The politics of sword & sorcery

As a writer and a long-time reader of fantasy I like to take a look sometimes at the state of the genre in the place where I live – in part because it’s a good strategy to keep an eye on the market, in part because this is, after all, my tribe, and I like to see what the tribesmen are doing.

Being irremediably old, I have no problem mentioning the fact I find the current over-excitement of a juvenile part of the public for what Ian McShane called Tits & Dragons somewhat tiring. When somebody pops up and tells me they like Robert E. Howard for the relentless violence, the explicit sex scenes and the obscenities peppering the dialogues, I despair about the state of the genre and for literacy in general.

But together with the fixation for “fantasy of hard knocks” – basically an alibi for writers to write to the minimum common denominator – there is a new trend that is not new but is positively scary: the derailment of fantasy on the part of politics.

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Burn, baby, burn!

By now you’ve all probably heard about the Catholic parish in Poland in which they decided to have a nice book-burning event, making a bonfire of books that teach sorcery and witchcraft. What made the news is the fact that among the books that went up in smoke were both the volumes of the Harry Potter series and the ones from the Twilight saga.

Now call me weird, but I’ve been trying to learn about the other books that were burned. I can see there’s a book by Osho in the photo above, but the others I can’t recognize (you do? Please let me know in the comments! There might be something worth a read in that pile.)
I even ask myself – had the Harry Potter and Twilight books not been featured, would have we heard about this stupid little act of obscurantist rubbish?

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