Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Real Writers and Rumours

This morning I was told I am not “a real writer” because my last works published had been tie-ins, works that are part of other properties. The Raiders of Bloodwood is part of the Descent, Legends of the Dark franchise, as is Dreams of Fire (the book I should be writing instead of writing this post); I have stories in The Devourer Below and Secrets in Scarlet, both part of the Arkham Horror franchise.
And in the past two years I have published a few Sherlock Holmes stories.
So you see, not a real writer.

Now, it could just be bad faith (like when a guy accused me of plagiarism because I wrote a scenario for a TTRPG of which I was a co-author, and thus had “plagiarized” the game IP), or it could be this weird belief in “pure art” and “absolute originality” – whatever those can be.
But one way or another, it is not the best way to start the week – and therefore instead of ignoring that observation, I replied to it.
And here is my reply…

You might want to go out to your local record store – or maybe on Amazon – and buy yourself a copy of Rumours, the 1977 Fleetwood Mac album. Yes, you can listen it on Spotify, or Youtube, or whatever, but it would be better for you to go out and buy yourself a copy.
Vinyl, possibly, but the CD is also OK.

Once you’ve got the record, you should play it, and listen to it.

You will notice that the record includes some songs by Lindsay Buckingham (such as the opener, Second Hand News), a few by Stevie Nicks (such as the closer, Gold Dust Woman), and a few by the late Christine McVie (the classic Don’t Stop, for instance, or You Make Loving Fun).
Now, no one, but no one, would mistake a Buckingham composition for a song by Nicks or McVie, and any other way around – each of these songwriters is absolutely distinctive.
Their musical structure, their themes, their approach to the composition and execution – each one is perfectly individual and unmistakable.
Yet all the songs on Rumours are also, undisputedly, Fleetwood Mac songs.
Once again, you listen to them, and you can’t mistake for anything else.
And at this point you might want to check out Stevie Nick’s The Wild Heart, or Buckingham’s Go Insane or Christine McVie’s eponymous 1984 album – and you will find in them songs that are unmistakably Nicks songs, or Buckingham songs, or McVie songs, but are not Fleetwood Mac songs. There’s something different – not less or more, just different.
Rumors is also interesting because it features The Chain, a song that was credited to all the members of the band. It is indeed a Fleetwood Mac song, you can make no mistake placing it – and it is not exactly Nicks, or McVie, or Buckingham.

Writing tie-ins, playing in someone else’s universe, maybe adopting someone else’s characters, is akin to playing in a band – you are an individual, but you are also part of the band.
When your work is done, it is both yours and the band’s.
No sane individual would claim Lindasy Buckingham, Stevie Nicks or Christine McVie were “not real songwriters” because they were operating as part of an outfit, as cogs in a larger machine, working (hopefully) to move in a certain direction.
The same can be said of anyone working inside a franchise.
You are working as part of a larger outfit, you’ve got to be part of the band, but you should be able to maintain your individuality, your style, your personal quirks.

Of course, one hopes one’s part of Fleetwood Mac (or the Beatles, or the Stones, or Yes, or any of a million outstanding bands out there) and not the East Elbow-St.-John All Star Skiffle Band and Revue, but, well, that’s another story.

Not a real writer my foot, in other words.


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Damask without Damascus: Duncan, Howard, Eddison and another style of world building

Last post of the year, and somewhat unexpected – I am suffering from a bout of insomnia, and about one hour ago, while exchanging new years greetings, I suggested to my friend Marina Dave Duncan’s novels in the A Man of His Word series.
This led to a quick search online – are they still available (they are!), are they affordable (more or less, yes), have they a good rating…?

And this leads me to a review of Magic Casement, the first book in the series – and the reviewer writing…

personal and place names, as well as cultural items such as furniture, fabric, dance types are a mishmash, a veneer that cannot make sense naturally in this world…how is there damask without a Damascus? How are there minuettes and ballet without French?

The reviewer notes that Duncan’s secondary word is filled with names pulled straight out of ours, and that puts a strain on their suspension of disbelief.
Fair enough.
It works fine for me, and actually I like it, but to each their own.

I remember Samuel Delany mentioning how Robert E. Howard’s penchant for dodgy names in the Hyborian world as a cause for a similar breach of suspension of disbelief – the obvious references to historical geography (Vendya instead of India, the Kozaki or the lands of Shem and Stygia) bugged young Delany, dragging him back in our own world instead of helping him settle in the Hyborian landscape.

And really, I get it.
I mentioned a few days back how characters using “OK!” while living in a psaeudo-medieval secondary world bugged me.
It’s OK.
Each one of us has a different degree of tolerance for this straining of the worldbuilding, these fractures in the coherence of the creation. What is OK for me may be unacceptable for someone else, causing the world not just to creak and shudder in a pleasantly reassuring way, but to crumble and collapse in dust and ruin.

In all honesty, Dave Duncan’s heterodox approach to his worldbuilding never caused me any stress – sure, it’s weird that he says “faun” and then describes an individual of apparent Celtic ethnicity instead of a guy with goat feet, but it’s OK. Similarly, Imps look Mediterranean and Djinns look Middle-Eastern. It’s strange, for the first five pages. But it’s also fun, actually.
To me, at least.

And I am also reminded of that old E.R. Eddison passage in Mistress of Mistresses, that I often use when discussing worldbuilding…

At least, I am fortunate. For there is peace in these Arctic July nights, where the long sunset scarcely stoops beneath the horizon to kiss awake the long dawn. And on me, sitting in the deep embrasure upon your cushions of cloth of gold and your rugs of Samarkand that break the chill of the granite, something sheds peace, as those great sulphur-coloured lilies in your Ming vase shed their scent on the air. Peace; and power; indoors and out: the peace of the glassy surface of the sound with its strange midnight glory as of pale molten latoun or orichalc; and the peace of the waning moon unnaturally risen, large and pink-coloured, in the midst of the confused region betwixt sunset and sunrise, above the low slate-hued cloud-bank that fills the narrows far up the sound a little east of north, where the Trangstrómmen runs deep and still between mountain and shadowing mountain. That for power: and the Troldtinder, rearing their bare cliffs sheer from the further brink; and, away to the left of them, like pictures I have seen of your Ushba in the Caucasus, the tremendous two-eared Rulten, lifted up against the afterglow above a score of lesser spires and bastions: Rulten, that kept you and me hard at work for nineteen hours, climbing his paltry three thousand feet. Lord! and that was twenty-five years ago, when you were about the age I am to-day, an old man, by common reckoning; yet it taxed not me only in my prime but your own Swiss guides, to keep pace with you.

Mistress of Mistresses takes place, of course, in fabled Zimiamvia, but here we are, with rugs from Samarkand and Ming vases…

For me, it works.
Soon we will leave the mundane behind and travel to the Mezentian Gates, but for the time being this mishmash of references builds anticipation, and wonder.
That’s what I am here for.
More, it is a form of fantasy creation that fascinates me, and that I’d love sometimes to imitate.
It gives me this impression of the secondary world as a sort of strange, dusty attic, in which bits and pieces from different times and places somehow came together, to form something that is new, and different, and still has ties, but weird and unlikely, with the Known World.
This form of continuity is more explicit and straightforward in Howard – his ancient lands and peoples are somewhere in the past of our own past.
In the case of Duncan and Eddison – but also of Lord Dunsany, I dare say – the echoes and the flotsam of our own world and history are less immediate, and come through the veil of fantasy – in the sense of fabulation and faery tale, or fairy story.
Just like in Peter Pan we have pirates and crocodiles and in Alice in Wonderland we have Victorian hatters (but mad) and hookah-smoking caterpillars, so in Duncan’s books Imps are basically your ancient Romans, and in Eddison you can have collections of Earth exotica and Zimiavian magic.
We do not question the provenance of the items contained in Red Riding Hood’s basket.

Pulling such a trick – building a secondary world with explicit bits and pieces of our own, in open disregard for what goes under good and proper practices of worldbuilding as exposed in no end of manuals – is no little feat.
And we are indeed talking great authors, with an immense zest and passion for their creation, a conviction that (usually) manages to grab the average reader, and drag them along in an adventure, but also, I believe, rests at least in part on the will on the part of the reader to go along for the ride without questioning page after page, paragraph after paragraph, the skill or the good faith or the intent of the writer.

And yes, of course there are some kind of stories in which such mishmash, to quote the critic, can grate and feel out of place.
But there are some stories in which it works just fine – if we let it work.

Back in the days of Eddison – but also much more recently, when Dave Duncan set out to write Magic Casement – readers were maybe less interested in the authors’ magic system rules, in the coherent syntax and grammar of their made-up languages, and in the fauxtentication of their worlds through accurate mapping and worldbuilding. They wanted fantastic imagery and high adventure, and as long as those were there on the page, it was fine.
Maybe modern readers are more sophisticated – or they just know more about the theory of the writing practice, and look at the way the pudding was cooked instead of just appreciating the flavor.
Or maybe I am just old, and I am shaking my fist at those pesky kids and their newfangled ways.

I really believe, anyway, that getting distracted by what I perceive as technicalities can often distract us from appreciating what is, basically, a damn good story.

I still believe fantasy has enough freedom to bend the rules – any rule – and as long as the writer gets away with it, be as anarchic and jazz-like in the building of the worlds, the characters and the stories.


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A story a day (again)

I’m currently editing a new short story that should come out by the end of the year in a new anthology. And I am waiting for an answer by a publisher about a pitch for a novel that I have submitted. And there are two more stories I plan to write and mai – the deadline being September.

But in the meantime, because life is too easy as it is, I have joined the StoryaDayMay adventure. I did the challenge last year, and one of the stories I wrote not only sold nicely, but it was also longlisted for an award. And really, what I need is a little fun – I have been writing with very specific targets for so long, this runs the risk of becoming a job.

And I guess my long-suffering Patrons will benefit from a sudden burst of short fiction shenanigans on my part.

As the guy said… stay tuned.


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Next summer, in Bloodwood

Today I took a day off from the web. I shovelled some snow off the courtyard and then went with my brother for a supply run. In the next weeks, we will hole up in our house and crawl under a stack of blankets.

And while I was away from my PC, the news dropped about the Summer of 2022 release schedule from Aconyte Books … and lo and behold, there is my name on the list!

I am therefore happy to announce that next year my novel The Raiders of Bloodwood will be released by Aconyte, as part of their line of novels supporting the Descent, Legends of the Dark tabletop game.

The novel is a sprawling high fantasy romp, featuring a mismatched band of common people that will find themselves in a tight spot, and will have to learn to be heroes. It is going to be fun.

I am very proud of being part of the Aconyte team, and I am very happy with the opportunity they gave me to write a big fat novel filled with monsters, escapes, battles, magic and strangeness.

And here is the cover, by the excellent Asur Misoa.

More news as stuff hapens.


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Unbreakable Ink 2 is out for preorder

The second volume of the anthology Unbreakable Ink, edited by Shebat Legion, will hit the shelves on the 15th of January 2022, but you can preorder it now. The volume includes a wide selection of fine fiction, and also one of my stories, called Out of the Closet – a spooky comedy featuring ghosts and monsters.
Check it out, if you feel like.

And here is the cover…


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More worldbuilding, and beyond

It’s now ten days that I’m working on my 30 Days of Worldbuilding Challenge on Patreon, and it looks like the world is conspiring to make me spend more money and more time on books and software.
Which is good. Sorta.
I mean, it’s almost a sign I finally managed to surf the flow of the Tao.
Or something.

First there was the Maps Bonanza bundle on Humble Bundle, and I ended up getting a ton of mapping software – and I formulated the new year’s proposition (in November, because I like to get ahead with the work) of learning to use the Campaign Cartographer 3+ software and start producing my own gaming and fiction maps.
Who knows, might even turn into a collateral source of income…

Then a second Humble Bundle came up, about game-design – and it is quite interesting, but as it is chiefly focused on video games, I spent only one buck, and got the minimum offer of three game-design books that look like all I will need for quite a while.

… and considering I had already splurged for a massive Numenera RPG bundle, and for a selection of Eastern philosophy ebooks by Shambhala, it seemed to me this month the Bundle had more than earned its keep.
And really, buying these bundles is a way for me to keep true to another of my new year’s propositions, from 2020 – if I find myself with enough money in my pockets, I will spend some for charities. And Humble Bundle is a good way for doing so while at the same time getting a load of books.

But this month, I decided, enough.

But then Bundle of Holding popped up in my mailbox with – you guessed it, a selection of stuff for worldbuilding, specifically aimed at games.
And the basic tier was about 8 bucks, and included a 15 bucks book I’ve had on my wishlist for two years. And so I went and got that too. So now I have more stuff to read.

The excuse I used with myself to gift me yet another bundle of books is that I’ve passed the 15.000 words mark on my current novel – while at the same time hitting 5000 words on the RPG campaign I have hereon my desk (I’m slacking on this one) and 15.000 words again on my Worldbuilding Challenge.
Not bad, considering I’ve wasted over a month because I was typing with one hand short of a pair.

And here’s the fun thing: the daily chapter of my 30 Days challenge is what helped me get back in gear with my serious work. Not only I am slowly recovering as much functionality as I can for my left hand, but I’ve also connected back with the fun of writing.
Which is good, because writing is what’s paying the bills.

And I have more things to come – I’d love to give the podcasting thing another spin, for instance, and create something different than Paura & Delirio, which I am co-hosting and is a great source of fun and learning.
I’d love to do something on writing, or fantasy, or both.
But there are a lot of things to take into account, most important of all I’d hate to do one of those “Who’s this Nyarlathotep chap anyway” things that seem to be popular with the nerdz these days.
I’d like to invent something unique, and different.
Right now I’ve a copybook, in which I am jotting down ideas.

So, things are rather good.
Now I’ve only to keep going.

(and incidentally, I’ve put links in this post to both Humble Bundle and Bundle of Holding. I’m not making a single cent out of this, but maybe some one of you guys is interested)