East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Murder in the countryside

It all started with a nice article on CrimeReads, about British cozy mystery TV series we could binge-watch during the lockdown. Because, really, what’s better than having a cup of tea and two biscuits, and watch some gruesome murder being investigated in Britain’s green and pleasant land.

Now I like mysteries and I like cozy mysteries when they don’t get too silly or saccharine – and I have tried, once or twice, to write one, but find the genre very hard to pull in a convincing manner. A pity, because from the look of the Amazon lists, cozy mystery is one of those genres that never get old, and always find readers. Currently they seem to be filled with witches and cats playing detective, but there you have it.

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My new project – back from the dead after 82 years

I have just mailed a signed contract and then I’ll start working seriously on the outline of a 10.000-words story that promises to be fun to write, challenging, and might be the start of a series. Which is a nice way to try and dispel the lethargy this lockdown brought about.
What happened was this: Pro Se Productions, a publisher so reckless they even publish my stories (I mentioned Explorer Pulp a few days back, but there’s more), apparently went and licensed forty-two characters that were intended to form the stable of a little-known pulp magazine publisher based in St Louis, Missouri, a fly-by-night publishing company that was born and fizzed out in a matter of a few months, back in ’38. And I say “were intended” because the whole thing was over before it began, transitioning in the blink of an eye from the newsstands to the hazy memory of footnotes in pulp-collectors’ fanzines.

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Down yet another rabbit-hole

Two nights ago I read in a single sitting a book that’s been on my to-read list for over 20 years, and that for various reasons I always left behind when going to the bookstore. It is called Il Cammello Battriano (The Bactrian Camel), and was written by Italian journalist Stefano Malatesta.
It is the chronicle of a fascination for the Silk Road, and of a trip along the road in the company of old books by and about explorers and adventurers and what not. I guess you can see why I liked it.

It is a very thin book (160 pages) which explains why it became a bestseller – and by this I do not mean to shortcharge mister Malatesta, who is a fine writer that spins an excellent yarn, but for a fact the Italian Top Ten book list used to host books under the 200-pages (names like Baricco or Tamaro come to mind).

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The WorldCon Paradox

Back in 2007 I was supposed to attend the WorldCon – the annual World Science Fiction Convention – in Japan. I was all set, I had saved my money and I was planning on meeting old and new friends and have a wonderful time. Then my mother died, and everything changed.
In recent years, the Convention was hosted in Europe – last year in Ireland – but my finances were not up to the challenge.
And this year?
The 2020 WorldCon will take place in New Zealand – exactly on the other side of the world to where I live – and to the roughly 250 euro of membership fee, I should add about 2000 euro of air fare and food & lodging. Unthinkable.

But then the Coronavirus happened, and now the organizers of the New Zealand convention have announced they’ll move everything online – the 2020 WorldCon will take place in cyberspace.
Which means no travel ticket, no food & lodging, and a reduced membership fee. And so here’s the paradox: I might attend my first WorldCon in the year when it happens on the other side of the world.

I am waiting for the announcement of the new rates and details – but I’ve said jokingly with some friends that we should pitch a few panels and give a few presentations. And I am joking only up to a point. It would be fun to be able and do it.

Meanwhile, I’ve set up yet another piggy bank, to pay for this strange cyberspace adventure.
Let’s see what happens.

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Back to the Hollow Earth

I mentioned how this whole lockdown thing has not impacted dramatically my lifestyle – I can be worried about my income as projects are fizzing out and it looks like we’ll have a long dry summer and a cold winter, but my day-to-day routine and my general activities are the same as they have been since 2013.

Case in point: roleplaying games.
I have been playing with a regular team since the early ’90s, and when I moved to the countryside, 80 miles from our gaming table, I moved my games online. At the time I was still accessing the web via my coal-powered, copper-cable system, and the games where a chore. Paradoxically, when I finally landed a good, stable, high-volume connection, my old team fizzed out, and I remained player-less.

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The first 25.000

Today I delivered the first half of a book I was supposed to have finished and published in time for the Turin Book Fair in May. Niche-but-intriguing historical essay by an up-and-coming publisher, with my name smack on the cover, possibly with a live presentation, Q&A, signing session, the works.

But the Fair was cancelled – or postponed to a date yet to be established, and today I delivered the first 25.000 words.
I was supposed to deliver the whole shebang, but I decided to take the weekend off to try and recharge my batteries.

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