Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Write what you know

Back in the days of yore (meaning, for all practical purposes, the summer of 1993), with my brother we got this strange idea of joining the Friends of the Egyptian Museum in Turin. It made perfect sense: we were both interested in archaeology, and my brother was taking a university course in Egyptology. We spent a lot of time in the museum, that at the time was still in its old, “classic” configuration.

So we went looking for the Friends of the Museum office, and were quite surprised when we discovered

  1. it was only open one morning per week
  2. it was not open even then

But being young and persistent, and this being summer and we on vacation, we basically staked out the place, going there every morning for two weeks, until we finally found the door to the office open, and walked in.

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Fugue a deux

This morning I woke up and I wrote a story, in 35 minutes flat. Not a long story, of course – 1200 words. I spent about an hour straightening it afterwards – moving words around, and doing all the little checks and tweaks one does before submitting. Then I formatted the five pages in the Shunn format took a deep breath, and mailed the story to the editor.
Now the wait begins.

I submitted the story to a very quirky, high-profile anthology – and should it be accepted, it would mean being published together with authors I respect a lot.
The story is called Fugue a deux, and it’s a short piece about make believe, the purpose of fantasy and love – or at least that’s how I described it in the cover letter. It came out more or less spontaneously, and it’s pretty raw, and silly.
It might be “inspired by real events”, but that’s a detail.

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One story per week

Today I have mailed off to the editors two more stories – a 1700-words piece and a 4600-words one – bringing the total count of this year’s submissions to 20. Which makes 4 stories per month. One story per week on average.
Of these, five have been sold so far – which is a nice 25% sales rate.
Good, but I can do better.
Now I have two 8/10.000-words stories to write – having been contracted to write them – in the coming month. If I want to keep my average of one story per week, I’ll have to mail away two more.
Thankfully, the opportunities abound, and there’s no shortage of ideas – but right now I am rather low on energy, and somewhat overworked. A job I should have closed in April is likely to drag for another six weeks at least.
Bummer.
But so far, as the guy said, so good.
And now I can start and plan dinner.


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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.
Hopefully.

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.