Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Give it a spin

It started because of the podcast I am producing and co-hosting with my friend Lucy. After we recorded the last episode, we started talking about a cancelled project for a spin-off series, and we both agreed we would have watched the hell out of such a spin-off. But there is not a hope in hell we’ll ever see it. Dang.

But of course the obvious follow-up was that if no official spin-off is made, a writer could always take the basic concepts, change the registration plates, give it a new paint job, and then give it a spin.
I mean, you can’t copyright story ideas, you can only copyright the way they are executed.

And so, after spending five to eight hours a day on my current ghostwriting gig, I decided to see what would happen if I spent one hour after dinner jotting down a few ideas.
Throw in a few other influences, change this and that… throw in a little John Carpenter, a little George Miller.
Add a political twist, but classy. Add a few original characters.
And I had to spend a while researching how much blood you need to lose in order for your heart to fail. fun stuff, what?

And now I have the first draft of a six-thousand-words story in the can, and two outlines for other two stories – one of which I dreamed, believe it or not … first time this happens to me.
And so I am seriously thinking whether it would be better to try and pitch the finished stories to a magazine, or self publish them. And again, self-publish as three shorts, or as a three-stories volume?
And where do I get a cover, or three?
And considering it’s been over one year since my last self-published ebook, will anybody be interested?
Ah!
But it’s fun, and it’s a relaxing exercise, because there are no strings attached – I am doing it for the best reason there is for writing: because I’d like to read these stories myself.
The result is pulpy good fun, without too many complications.
And the great bit is, these stories are starting to look like they are set in the same universe of my other project, the science fantasy adventure one. Which is fitting.
I might have a big thing here going, and no time to really work on it. As usual.


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No rest for the wicked (or something)

April started with uncertain weather, the shift to Daylight Saving Time, showers, a number of problems and headaches, and the typical springtime weariness that makes sleeping the best apparent option.
But there is no time for that – or at least for over-sleeping.

I am currently working on the double to close the ghostwriting job I’ve spent the last six weeks working on. The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight, and it’s a good thing, because there are unexpected expenses on the horizon, connected with my mother’s grave being moved – a service that used to be free, and now that the Turin cemetery has become a for-profit company costs in the order of fifteen hundred euro minimum.
It’s great to live in an ultra-liberist society, what?

But things are moving, more or less in the right direction.
I have a lot to write – apart from the ghostwriting gig – and there might be interesting stuff coming.
Watch this space.

And because as usual when I am overworked I get ideas that I’d like to put to paper instantly, a friend just pointed out to me a connection between Hammer’s Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, and and the anime movie Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. One that it would be great to explore in a story or six.
But let’s jot down a few notes, and save that for the long sleepless nights of summer.


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Cover reveal: The Devourer Below

I am pleased to share the gorgeous cover, designed by John Coulthart, for the forthcoming Arkham Horror Anthology, The Devourer Below, edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells and published by Aconyte/Fantasy Flight. The book will be published in July, but the cover was revealed only today.

The volume includes a story of mine, set in Arkham during the Jazz Age, and called All my friends are monsters. I am very proud of being part of this project, and I am extremely pleased with my story.
But then, I’d have to be, right?


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Paris to Berlin and back

I’m writing a story, for a big anthology that will never, but NEVER buy a story of mine, but it would be criminal not to try, both for the money, the exposure and the company I’d be sharing. So, a hopeless task, but I am writing.
And this morning, while I was revising the first draft, the brilliant thought struck me, that I might get a better end result by moving the action fromParis in the 1950s (a venue I have used in the past in a couple of well-received stories) to Berlin in the 1960s (a venue I never used).

After two hours of on-the-fly research and assorted rewrites, I came to the conclusion that no, it would not work better in Berlin than it does in Paris. The problems I am seeing have nothing to do with the place, and the general atmosphere, or the historical and political moment. So back to Paris we go – at least I’ll be playing on my home turf, so to speak.

And this is, of course, one of the great advantages of writing over, say, film-making.
A complete change of setting can be done on a zero budget.

The problem remains that the story is not working as I want it to work, and this further lowers my already low chances of making a sale.
But of course this is the reason why rewrites exist.
Back to work.


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The burgers always taste the same

I was talking with my friend Lucy, a few moments ago. We were discussing the first pages of a book we’ve both picked up and, alas, dropped real fast. The first pages are critical, and here, in two pages, we got such a distillation of elements done to death in the last thirty years, that we were both unable to go on. And we talked about this, comparing our reactions.

Now, I am not a big fan of gore-drenched slasher-fests, and so my distaste for the self-congratulatory tone with which the violence was portrayed in the text was somewhat natural. Lucy is more into this sort of books, and what she objected to was the cliché feel of the whole thing.

“We’ve seen it done better, a thousand times, since the ’90s”

she said.
And she is perfectly right.
And yet the book is selling like hotcakes, and it’s got a brace of rave reviews.
What the hell happened?

My take on the thing is, the book caters for the lowest common denominator, and that’s what the majority of the target audience is expecting. What they actually demand.

So a good strategy is to feed the audience a checklist of expected cliches, in the expected order, and with a language as commonplace and plain as possible.
Anything new, different and original might scare the target audience away.

And this, really, is the only thing that might convince me to go on reading this book – to see if the author is smart enough to hook his target audience in the first stilted throwaway pages, and then, once the readers have been hooked, reel them in and hit them with a few original twists.
It would be great.
But I doubt this is how it goes.

Talking with Lucy, we remembered the song Styx used to sing…

I like fast food
The burgers always
taste the same

Entertainment should be entertaining and, in this instance at least, it is not entertaining to me, or to Lucy.
We have been there already, now we want something more, something better.
I’d go as far as to say we’d be happy with a less-than-perfect story, as long as it goes someplace we’ve never been before, or throws a different light on ideas we are familiar with.
But we have to accept that to the majority of the readers, the lowest common denominator, the burger-like story that always tastes the same, is perfectly fine.

It’s a very unpleasant situation – both from a writer’s and a reader’s point of view.


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Three novellas and the need for an artist

Because trilogies, right?
I have just delivered a chunk of work, finished an article and cleaned up the first edit of a 10.000 words horror story. I have still a ton of stuff to do, but I’ve hit on a nice concept, that I’d like to develop in the next few months, possibly as a self-publishing adventure.

I won’t discuss the details at this point, but I have two characters, one of which has a name, and the other is still looking for their handle, look and identity, and I am seeing a world emerge.
And I have a few notes. A beginning, and a nice beginning, if I say so myself.

And I have a cartload of other projects in various stages of development, but you know how it is, right?
You are busy trying to finish something, and there comes this big, shiny, fun idea to distract you.

But as I am piecing the first story together – the idea is to write three 15.000+ words novellas – I have started looking for a cover artist.
Or, better, I have started looking for places where I can look for a cover artist.
My budget is small, but I am willing to make a sacrifice, and send my brother to bed without dinner for a few weeks in order to get a cover for my book. Having a cover would certainly act as a great push forward – and would probably help me sell my book.

So, where to look?
The aforementioned brother suggested Fiverr, which probably explains why he’s going to skip a few dinners.
And I follow a lot of great artists on Twitter, but they all seem to be way out of my league.
So I am asking you – any suggestions?
Use the comments and help me.
Thank you!


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The hard part

Last night I spent (or wasted) a few hours trying to explain to a contact of mine why writing is hard.
Because this guy was like, “hey, I’ve got this great idea, the story will practically write itself!” and from there it was all downhill to the classic “you just got to sit down and write it, right?”
Wrong.

So I asked him to give me the short summary for “Casablanca”, the 1942 movie. Because it’s a movie everybody knows, and because it illustrates perfectly my point.
The short summary my friend gave me goes more or less like this…

During WW2, in Casablanca, Rick Blaine is the owner of a night club. When his former lover appears, together with her French Resistance husband, Rick needs to straighten his relationship with her, while staying one step ahead of the Nazis.

Which is a viable capsule plot for Casablanca, and it has all the “great ideas” – star-crossed lovers, war, political intrigue, exotic locale, Nazis.
Nice and smooth.
Now write it.

“What do you mean, write it?”

And I explained that a great idea is indeed a good starting point, but then you need to develop it.
You’ve got to find a way to present Sam, and the Peter Lorre Character, and the Sidney Greenstreet character… you’ve got to figure out the scenes, what happens when, what to show and what to imply. Write the dialogue. Create a sense of continuity.

“Let’s say I give you two hours. Can you write me two pages of Casablanca, your own version, in two hours?
I’ll be back later.”

And I went and watched the movie we’ll discuss tonight on our podcast.
When I got back, my contact told me it doesn’t work the way I said. Writers don’t do it like that.
One does not write like this, one has to wait for inspiration.
At this point I reminded him of the time when he asked me for a story, 6000 words in ten days – “all you have to do is write 600 words per day. Easy.”
What about my inspiration, then? What if I had to wait for the Muse to appear for one week?
“You’re the writer, that’s your business.”

A business a lot of people think they know better than we that do it.