Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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The countryside is dreary (and not in a good way)

Like Supertramp used to sing, It’s raining again, and the whole territory is under red alert for floods and landslides.
Yesterday night the take away pizza girl wrote down the wrong address – as a result, the pizza delivery guy drove under the pouring rain up to the door of our next door neighbour, and the moment he stood on their doorstep, the pizza boxed in his hand, the lady there started screaming, because who is this strange man bringing pizzas to her place in the middle of the night (as to say, a quarter past eight in the evening)?
My brother had to run there and intercept the lost delivery boy, and secure our dinner.

And I don’t know if this is a good starting point for the next Horror of the Belbo Valley, or if it’s just one of those funny things I should make cartoons about (if only I knew how to sketch) in order to attract people to my Patreon, as a social marketing guru told me about one year ago.
The only thing I know is it’s raining, the Belbo Valley is slowly slumping into the river, and we had to re-heat our pizzas in the microwave last night.

The dreariness of the countryside under the beating rain is not helping with my black moods and my general feeling of fatigue, the sort of things a warmed-over slice of pizza can only aggravate. And probably the two courses about forensic archaeology – that is, digging out the bones of the dead to find out what killed them – I am taking, while incredibly interesting, are not exactly contributing to cheer me up.

But who knows, things might get better.
They usually do.


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A woman with a past

The first time I met her, she called herself Helena Saratova.
She claimed to be a Russian aristocrat, and she managed a high-class brothel in Bubbling Well Road, in Shanghai.
She was in her forties, and had blue hair.
It was the summer of 1936, and Felice Sabatini was in a bind.

I was one-third into my first novel, The Ministry of Thunder, and I had painted myself – and my main character, Sabatini – in a corner. We both needed help, and fast, so I summoned a throwaway character, someone that could come in, help the hero, and be gone.
I got much more than I bargained for – Helena not only solved the problems in my plot, but she stayed on scene for most of the second third of the novel, stealing the scene from the leading lady and showing such an easy chemistry with the protagonist that when all was said and done, the novel finished, packaged, sold and read, most of the readers were quite happy,m yes, and wanted more of it.
More action, more adventure, more flying white apes and Chinese demons.
More of Felice Sabatini.
And oh, please, more Helena Saratova.

So I wrote the short Cynical Little Angels, a prequel of sorts to The Ministry of Thunder, that told the story of the first meeting between Felice and Helena.
The readers were once again happy.
Helena Saratova had become my first breakout character.

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The Fear and the Void

In his book About Writing, British novelist Gareth L Powell devotes a chapter to THE FEAR, a ghost that haunts the life of many – if not all – writers, the Beastie on the back (to quote Jethro Tull) of those that do creative work.
Powell describes it thus…

We’ve all been there.
I was there, actually, no more than half an hour ago, as I reviewed the first part of Shadow of the Rat God, and concluded it’s the most worthless, useless pile of wasted words I ever put together.

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Some numbers so far

I have been told that it is in poor taste to talk about our small daily victories or losses when it comes to selling what we write, because our art should be pure and ethereal.
But I do not give a damn about such silly posturing, and today one of my stories bounced back, together with a nice rejection letter, and one was shortlisted and passed to a second bout of evaluation to see if it will be accepted.
Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.

October has been an intense month (13 stories pitched, picking up from the slack September schedule) in a rather intense year, so I decided to go and check a few numbers in my submissions spreadsheet.
I post them here, in open disregard of everything pure and ethereal.

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Pandora in Krasnojarsk

For my next story, that will be part of the Seven Lives Project, I have put together a handful of pieces, like cards in a solitaire, or pieces of a puzzle. I will start writing the story tomorrow, and work on it for the whole week, and once it’s ready (hoping it’s ready in a week) I will translate it in Italian, and post it to my patrons.
This, at least, is a plan.

But right now, these are all the pieces I have…

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Anger

Conveying emotions in writing is particularly tricky but also an essential skill if you want to write. The basic rule of thumb should be that you do not declare the emotion of an action or a line of dialogue, because doing it explicitly is not elegant, and the clear mark of the amateur.

“Two sugars and no milk,” she said angrily.

… in other words, is not the best we can do as we write a scene in which an afternoon tea turns into a duel with cake knives.
We need to find a way around it.
This is not, of course, an unbreakable commandment – but as usual when writing, we need to keep an eye out and try to suggest tone and mood tot he readers without telling them.
This is the notorious show-don’t-tell rule, that’s generally abused by first-timers.

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