East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Cleopatra in pictures

I just fell in love with this Rolf Armstrong painting from 1939.
If only I could place a cover like this on my Aculeo & Amunet stories…


But there’s more – I found out this excellent roundup of Cleopatra portraits through the centuries – check them out.

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The Good Stuff

john-d-macdonald-60sYesterday I wrote great writers are those that can actually write down what we feel, but we so far have been unable to express with the same economy and focus.

Here’s John D. Macdonald, from the introduction to his short story collection, The Good Old Stuff.

First, there has to be a strong sense of story. I want to be intrigued by wondering what is going to happen next. I want the people that I read about to be in difficulties–emotional, moral, spiritual, whatever, and I want to live with them while they’re finding their way out of these difficulties. Second, I want the writer to make me suspend my disbelief…. I want to be in some other place and scene of the writer’s devising. Next, I want him to have a bit of magic in his prose style, a bit of unobtrusive poetry. I want to have words and phrases really sing. And I like an attitude of wryness, realism, the sense of inevitability. I think that writing–good writing– should be like listening to music, where you pick out the themes, you see what the composer is doing with those themes, and then, just when you think you have him properly analyzed, and his method identified, he will put in a little quirk, a little twist, that will be so unexpected that you read it with a sens of glee, a sense of joy, because of its aptness, even though it may be a very dire and bloody part of the book. So I want story, wit, music, wryness, color, and a sense of reality in what I read, and I try to get it in what I write.

He makes it sound almost easy.

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Writing as Sleight of Hand

Cover of "Royal Road to Card Magic"

Cover of Royal Road to Card Magic

I often say that writing – no matter if it’s stories, academical articles, blog posts – is a practice akin to sleight of hand.

Writers are illusionists, doing verbal prestidigitation.
We have an audience, and we must impress and entertain this audience not only with our contents, but with our presentation skills.

And here I am tonight (it’s a little past midnight, Saturday night, as I write this), and in Hugard & Braué’s indispensable 1947 book, The Royal Road to Card Magic, I find the following: Continue reading

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Working on a new story

I am proud to announce that one of my stories, A Spider with Barbed-Wire Legs, will be part of the rewards for the backers of the Kickstarter for the Dennis Detwiller collection of short stories Tales from Failed Anatomies, to be released by Arc Dream Publishing.

My story was set as a stretch goal for the target of 20.000 dolalrs – a target achieved a few hours ago.

It will be excellent to be part of such a great project, and to see my story released side by side with the works of many authors I respect and admire.

My story is going to be a horror/espionage number, and is set in Paris in the ’50s (but it does include some Orientalist elements).

old Paris

Right now, I’m doing some background research on the time and place, to spice-up my tale.
As usual, I’ll collect a cartload of photo references.
Might as well start a Pinboard on Pinterest… I’d call it “Paris, When it Sizzles“.

In the meantime, there’s still 6 days to go and many interesting rewards to be unlocked by financing the Kickstarter.
Check it out.

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The Fantasy Guilt Trip

2dw9ugiA rambling post, tonight.
A friend of mine just posted a long and rather disquieting (to me) piece on his blog, about the systematic harassing of women that seems to be an established element in what I’ll call, to be brief, “fantasy fandom” (which to me includes SF, comics, games, the works).
You find it here – it’s in Italian.
The author, Elvezio Sciallis, is an independent journalist and a fine critic.

Now, the idea of women being harassed and discriminated in what I consider my community scares me and pains me on two levels.
The first is, such behavior is not something I can accept – the examples cited really hit me hard.
I hate these guys.
The second level is possibly even harder to stomach – my experience of science fiction and fantasy fandom never caused me to think such problems were in any way widespread, or something more than an occasional asshole to be rounded up and isolated.
Therefore, now I ask myself: have I been lucky, distracted or, damn, part of the problem myself?

Does the fact that I read old pulps and fantasy and SF make me a sexist, racist individual?
Am I instinctively what I hate intellectually?
And as I normally do nowadays, I’m writing to set my thoughts straight – and you are reading my ramblings.
Continue reading

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Characters at Large into the Media Landscape

452719337_640I’m taking part in a strange experiment.
As part of my online course on The Future of Storytelling, the 50.000-odd students were asked last week to create a character, give him/her/it a web presence, and let them interact with each other.

So, during this week, some 50.000 imaginary web citizens entered or will enter the net – as Facebook profiles, as blogs, as G+ identities, as tumblrs, as e-mail addresses, as podcasts.
They are out there, or will be soon, interacting with each other, and with… you.
With us.

There will be stories born.
There will be stories, I think, developed across the media landscape – a weird, heady mix of storytelling, multimedia and roleplaying game.

Now, admittedly – setting up a character with a virtual life is no laughing matter.
It takes time, imagination, effort.
Outlining the character was simple and fun – I picked an old character from some stories I wrote 30 years ago.
But then translating it to the web in a believable way… ouch!
It’s a chore – I got bogged down in passwords, nicknames, whistles and bells.
But the results… ah, the results will be fun.
Of that I’m almost certain.

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Copy & Content

My new ebook is ready to roll.

20246060-warning-sign-wrecking-crew-vectorTime to give credit to my editors.
While beta readers, artists and marketers are a relatively new thing, to me, I’ve been working with different editors for a few years.
And I learned to respect and appreciate their work.
And I ‘m finally learning to work with them – because it’s not something that comes to you straight away.

Now, there’s this strange theory, going around, that the editor rewrites your story.
Which is, to me, eminently dubious.
Oh, granted, I did work with editors that just went and changed my text straight away – in one case requesting a 10.000 words article and then arbitrarily cutting it to 6.000 because the available space on the magazine had “contracted”.
My reasoning then was, they could have asked me for the cuts – or for a shorter piece from the start.
And no, I’m not selling my stuff to that mag anymore*.

And yet, the practice of rewriting has become such, that one can actually recognize the editor’s style when reading the text.
The author is reduced to the role of content provider, not of text stylist.

In my experience, good editors point out the problems, and get me on the right track for rewriting my own stuff in a more efficient way.
The sort of professionals that can accept the fact that yes, it does sound weird, but it’s supposed to sound weird.noir-art-glen-orbik-fifty-to-one-via-anantoinetteaffair-tumblr

Anyway, I’m very lucky – not only I worked with great editors in the past, but right now I’m exploiting shamelessly some of the best editors – both copy- and content- – I ever met.

Which is why I’m taking some blog space to thank both Marina and Chiara.

Thank you ladies!

[yes, both my copy editor and my content editor are gorgeous, brilliant young women, and excellent writers in their own right – it’s one of the perks that come with writing pulp fiction]


* In another case I worked with one editor that was so enthusiastic about my work, he did not see a number of problems – causing me to withdraw my ebook after publishing it, in order to insert the corrections suggested by my (paying) readers.
It was awkward.