Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Pitch perfect

Well, no, not perfect.
Perfection is a trap.
But last night I was informed that two of my recent pitches have been accepted, and I’ll be writing two new stories that I need to mail off by the summer. The acceptance of the pitches is not a guarantee the stories will sell, but hey, it’s a start!
Time to get writing again!

And I am putting together notes and ideas to make another pitch on Monday.
And this one is going to be big, and I’m pretty excited at the opportunity.

It’s been suggested I set up some kind of instructional thing about pitches, and how to do them.
It might be fun, but as usual I am not sure I can really teach it to people.
I’ll think about it.

And talking about teaching: I’m following an online course about dealing with toxic people in our writing career.
Because stuff happens, you know.
It’s turning out to be quite fun.


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How I spent my Workers’ Day

Working on a ghostwriting gig is great because it pays the bills, and because it gives me the opportunity to discover, explore and write stuff I would not normally have in my life – business, current affairs, other people’s lives.
It’s a great source of inspiration.
It is also a soul-killing experience, most of the time, because it means working for a boss, and a boss that usually hires a professional to do a certain job, but basically believes they know a lot more about the job at hand that the professional they have hired to do it. The result is, they do not respect the process.
Because they do not know there is a process.
They have this romantic idea of writing, that’s something that comes to you and possesses you like an ancient ghost, and they are quite sure they are the ones possessed … because it’s their book, right?
You are just a hired hand.
It can get tiresome.

But because I was thinking about these things, instead of spending my May Day weekend writing writing writing, I spent some time reading about writing process and writing structure. The fact that I was trying to put some order in my library, tackling the writing shelf, also helped.

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Gearing up for #StoryaDay May 2021

Novel writers do the NaNoWriMo, where they churn out a first draft of a new novel in the month of November, and they post a badge and blog about it. Short story writers have their own high-pressure challenge, and it is StoryaDay May: we set our own rules, but the basic idea is writing a new original story each day, for the duration of the month of May, based on a prompt provided by other writers.

I did it last year, and ended up with 20-odd flash fictions, half a dozen of which I sold in the later year – and one was actually longlisted for the BSFA Award.
So deciding to do it again was a no brainer.

My own rules for this run are pilfered from my friend Claire’s own run – because I am lazy, and because why re-invent the wheel, right?
So here they go…

  • Flash fiction.
  • At least five stories a week.
  • First drafts only. No revision – not at this stage.
  • And I’d like to say “No research”, too – but… yes, well. Let us keep it at “No rabbit holes,” shall we?

That’s absolutely perfect. I particularly appreciate the rabbit hole bit, because… research, right?

If I will be able to keep up with this, I might end the month with 20-odd flash fictions again, and then I’ll be able to revise them, and send them off into the world to provide money to buy food and pay bills.
Because that’s the way I do it.

Last year I used Scrivener, but since this year my copy of the software refuses to run on Linux, I’ve shifted to Focuswriter, that’s proving to be quite good, and comes with typewriter sounds for those moments when I feel nostalgic.
So the idea is simply to write all the flash fiction into a single file, separating them with a “##”, and then sort them out later when I will revise.

I’ll keep you posted.


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The last goodbye to my mother

My mother died in june 2007, for complications after a cancer surgery. She was buried in the “Cimitero Parco” (that is, the Park Graveyard) in the outskirts of Turin. My mother had always been flippant about her final resting place. She said my brother and I would not even bring her flowers, and she’d rather have a Native American-style burial, her body exposed on a tree, for the crows to feed and take her back into the cycle of things.

Six weeks ago I got a call from the graveyard administration.
It was time to remove my mother’s remains from the ground, and place them in a boneyard. Of course I knew this would happen, and I was not overly worried about it. I had seen it happen for my grandmother – a matter of a few signatures on some papers, and learning where the body would be placed.

But things have changed, since my grandmother was moved from her grave.
In particular, the Park Graveyard is now a for profit company – and the translation of the remains is now a business.
The call I got six weeks ago informed me that there would be a price to pay – around 1500 euro, minimum. Less, maybe, if I could produce papers certifying my current shaky financial situation.
The basic service that was free twenty years ago, is now fifteen hundred bucks.

That was a shock.
First, we can’t afford that kind of money, and then… is this some kind of kidnapping?
“We’ve got your mother’s remains, now pay!”

I asked the lady at the other end of the line whether there is any alternative, but was told “we can’t discuss this on the phone”.
I was given an appointment, for today, and I started doing the rounds of the office to gather all the financial documentation I hoped would help.
All this, with all the obvious difficulties of living in the countryside, of being in a soft lockdown situation, with a virus still infecting people, and working over two provinces – I live in Asti, my mom is buried in Turin, 100 kilometers away.

We checked the website of the graveyard company, and retrieved their services and fees list. We found out the figure of 1500 euro was exactly accurate … 600 euros for the digging up of the remains, 900 for the placement in a boneyard.
Anything else would be more expensive, up to over 5000 euros.
We also found out we’d be able to ask the graveyard to hold our mother in a deposit, for up to two years, for 8 euro a day.

It was extremely time-consuming, stressful and it made a difficult period even more so.
Then, just as I had almost all the paperwork sorted out, I was told my appointment had been anticipated.
And so, without the financial details, on Monday I found a passage to Turin, and I went to see the graveyard people about my mother’s bones.

A rainy day in a Turin graveyard, late April that felt like October.

It was there I found out there is an alternative to the 1500 fee.
One that is not discussed on their website, and they will only explain in their offices, and only on a direct, specific question.
And it goes like this: I sign a paper called “Disinterest Declaration”, in which I say I am not interested in what will happen to the remains of my mother. At this point, I will not pay a single cent, and my mother’s bones will be disinterred and placed in a boneyard in the Turin Monumental Cemetery and I will never know where they are.

Basically, it’s “We’ve got your mother’s remains, if you want to know where they are, you need to pay.”

And so I signed.
My mother would come back from the afterlife and haunt me forever should she know I have thrown away so much money for such a thing.
In a week or two, the body will be dug out, and placed in a small box, and put somewhere in the Monumental Cemetery.
I will never know where exactly.

Unless I decide to pay.
Because they will keep a record, and should I change my mind, and shell out the cash, they’ll be happy to point me in the right direction.

And remembering my mom, I know she’d be terribly angry, at the sole idea of this kind of ransom-like transaction.
And she would also laugh a lot, out loud, at the whole thing.

Because she’s with me every day, not in any supernatural or mystical way, but just out of memory and affection.
It does not matter where the fossil remains are stored.

Anyway, now you know why I’ve been absent so frequently in the last weeks.


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Mind over matter: Detective L (2019)

A very Holmes-esque mystery series set in 1930s Shanghai?
You know I’ve got to see it.
And I did.

Detective L is a 24-episodes Chinese drama series set in 1932 Shanghai, and distributed on the streaming platform Tencent Video. Newcomer Qin Xiao Man, a woman graduate from a provincial police academy, comes to the big city to serve in the local constabulary, only to be swiftly paired off with Luo Fei, a detective that sometimes acts as consultant for the police.
A Watson-Holmes dynamic ensues, with an extra of romantic tension, as mysteries are solved and a shadowy character, the Moriarty-like “Captain” emerges to provide an overarching metaplot.

The series is a rather classic Chinese serial product, with good actors, great costumes and a somewhat limited budget locations-wise. The 1930s Shanghai is brought to screen via a mix of back lot sets, actual Shanghai villas and mansions and a lot of CGI.
But it’s OK.
Granted, this Shanghai is strangely devoid of Westerners of any kind, and a few glaring errors, prop-wise, caused a laugh-out-loud moment or two (one word: the gramophone turntable), but really, this is light entertainment, not a documentary. So it’s OK.
Even the quirky anachronistic soundtrack really works.

The leads are charming, and the idea of developing a mystery over an arc of three episodes allows a modicum of welcome development. These are classic locked room mysteries, more puzzles than in-depth investigations of the human soul, and it’s fine like that.
Even the comedy manages to be classy – not a given, with Chinese series and Western tastes.

If you are interested, you can find the whole series on Youtube, in mandarin but with English subtitles.
It’s a nice way to spend half an hour before dinner.


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Liberation Day

We are approaching the end of a month that’s been particularly complicated, and painful. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and let’s hope it’s not the incoming train. In the meantime, today is April the 25th, and in my country we celebrate the Liberation from the Nazi occupation and the Fascist Regime.

As I think I mentioned in the past, my grandfather was one of the men and women who came down from the mountains where they had been fighting as partisans, and took control of our cities, waiting for the Allies to roll in. On this day he met his old friends, they remembered, and they cried, and it was weird, as a small kid, seeing big grown up old men crying.

This morning, as I wandered on my socials, I got the usual rubbish – a well known politico suggesting we celebrate less the Liberation day and “work more”, and also a friend, that posted a long piece about how he will not celebrate, because he was born free and we that are celebrating are the ones whose freedom is an illusion.

That gave me pause.
Because it is absolutely true – my friend was born free.
And he was born free because the people we celebrate today laid their lives on the line, and risked everything, not only for their freedom, and the freedom of their families, but for our freedom, the freedom of those that would come.
And indeed, had they not done what they did, probably posting on the socials about our freedom, and our choice of not observing a national celebration, would be met not with a shake of the head and a post on some backwater blog like mine, but with a bunch of guys in black shirts, armed with truncheons.
Maybe, who knows, there would be no socials.
Maybe there would not be us.
The same goes for the dork recommending us to work instead of celebrating – the Regime he likes so much would never allow him or his friends to step out of line.

And finally there is the young woman I’ve been knowing since she was in middle grade, that posts about “history being written by the winners.”
Oh, baby, we should thank our good stars that the winners were those men and women that cried along with my grandfather, all those years ago.


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Another cover reveal: Water

Today I can finally show you the cover, by Ashley Walters, for the anthology Water: Selkies, Sirens and Sea Monsters, edited by Rhonda Parrish as part of a series of elemental-themed collections.
The book will be available soon, and you can preorder now.

The cover is absolutely beautiful, and the anthology includes a story of mine, a short called The man that speared octopodes.

You can read more on the book – and find a complete list of contributors – on the editor’s own blog.