East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


The Baltimore Gun Club

I am writing a story featuring the Baltimore Gun Club.
In case you missed them, these were the gentlemen that had the bright idea of building a cannon in Florida (near Tampa, to be precise) and shoot a bullet to the Moon, in Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and its sequel, Around the Moon.

While everybody knows Melies silent movie based on Verne’s novels (and a lot fewer people remember the 1950s movie featuring Joseph Cotten), the books themselves are probably less known than, say 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea or Around the World in 80 Days.

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Nothing wasted

Eighteen months ago, a publisher I respect a lot opened a tiny window for pitches – they were looking for a series of stories, and they wanted the whole package: premise, cast of characters, hooks, and short synopses of twelve episodes. And they wanted it within a week.

I had a great idea (if I do say so myself) and so I started putting the pitch together. Three days in, the publisher announced that all the available slots had already been filled – they had received pitches that were so good and solid, they had filled all the available spaces in three days.

So I shelved my notes and things. No way I could be able to do such a series as a self-published thing, and while I loved the premise and the characters, I had too much already on my plate to put some serious work in such a project.

Ten days ago, that same publisher opened again a tiny slot – for something completely different.
But this time I was ready – I only had to resurrect my notes from the folder where I had buried them, and tweak my pitch, to fit the guidelines, the request this time being for a stand-alone novelette.

And I am happy to report my pitch was approved – with minimal changes – in 24 hours.
I am in business – and I’ll be able to put on the page those characters I liked so much, and a lot of the stuff I had put together for the original pitch.

Bottom line: never ever delete a file.
Yesterday’s missed opportunities are tomorrow’s new chances.

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The Poor Writer’s Dinner

I was talking with a friend, today, about a book I always liked a lot – Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, a classic collection of food writing and other wonders published in ’84 and compiling a selection of thirty-odd years of the writer’s articles on magazines and newspapers.

I was also celebrating the fact that yesterday, for the first time in over six weeks of lockdown, I was able to find eggs at the supermarket.

This led to talking about food, and the fact that I have learned to eat well on a very tight budget, and thiis led to the the idea of a challenge – can I prepare a good simple dinner for two people, spending less than 3.50 euro each, that is 7 euro in total?
Considering that a Margherita pizza is 4.50 and a pack of crisps at the local grocery is 2.50, what could I do?, I was asked.

Well, I said, I’ll show you what I can do…
And this is quite interesting, as my #StoryADayMay from a few days back asked me to compile a list, and give it a meaning. So, here’s to killing tow birds with a stone. This is the Poor Writer’s Dinner.

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Writing a pitch with the LAYER system – part 1

I have a week to hit my publisher with a detailed pitch for a 10.000-words story I hope will be the first of a new series. So today I spent some time doodling on a notebook while I was waiting in line at the supermarket. This is something I learned over thirty years ago, from a series of articles by Piers Anthony. Be able to write anywhere, and use your dead time.

As I have a limited time (I’d like to mail te proposal by the weekend), I decided to try and use the Plot Gardening method by Chris Fox – I got the book of the same title a few days back (as you know I collect books about writing), and it looks like it might be my sort of thing.

In particular I am trying to apply the LAYER System, as outlined by Fox, that requires me to define

  • Lead – the hero of the piece
  • Antagonist – the main antagonist
  • Yard – the setting
  • Engagement point – where it begins
  • Return – how it ends

This is the basic set-up to get a viable story on the way.
Once this is done, I’ll outline the story – the request is for as detailed outline as possible – and wait for the publisher to tell me how much he likes my idea.

I am still in high seas where the reasons of the characters are concerned.
But I’ll work that out as I add more layers to the cake.

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The writer’s responsibilities

I am reading Philip Pullman’s Daemon Voices, a collection of essays, articles and talks about the ins and outs of storytelling. I love reading books about writing by writers, and so far I am finding much to agree with Pullman’s positions.

The book opens with a the transcript of a speech Pullman gave about the idea of responsibility for writers, and I found myself cheering and taking notes as I read. Yes, it’s that good.

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Cruel and Unusual

Quite a few years back, I used to contribute reviews and articles to a small literary magazine based in Turin. It was a lot of fun, I met some great people, and started to develop the habit of writing regularly on themes and with schedules set by others.

The magazine hosted a number of independent writers, and it even had some international contributors. One of these was a Japanese gentleman who was writing a book about the Tokyo underworld of fetish and BDSM clubs. He would send chapters to the magazine, that published them as a series. He was quite a good writer, and his pieces were always a great read, very literary and really in no way X-rated.

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Never write angry

One thing I learned a while back is that writing to vent frustration or anger is – for me, of course – a bad idea. In the past I did write a few times to “put somebody in their place”, or to prove with my work that what others claimed was wrong.
The stories sucked.

This is because, I think, no matter what the main engine of our writing is – I have friends that write to keep sane, or to leave behind a reality they find oppressive and explore alternatives, and people that writes just because it’s fun, or it’s the only thing they know … no matter what the nature of the impulse that pushes us forward, we cannot have anything else in our mind but the story.
If we write for ten minutes, in those ten minutes we need to be into the story, without distractions, without second purposes or agendas but to write the best damn story we can.

Writing is a process, a craft, a set of behaviors.
But we need to sort out our priorities.
Writing out of anger can happen, but it does not work if the anger is not focused on the story. If we’re focusing on someone, if we are keeping it small-scale and personal, it all goes pear-shaped.

Which probably means writing should be a form of transmutation – we come to it with our load of anger, anguish, sadness, fear or whatever, and by passing through the story, through the writing process, we make it less personal, less limited. We leave those emotions behind, strip them of their power on our life. We look at these emotions with clarity.

Or something.
Bottom line: never write angry, or if you can’t avoid it, direct your anger at some universal injustice.