East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Researching the Cimmerian

It is always good when a new job provides the opportunity to go back to a character we love. Right now, I am struggling with doctor John Watson’s voice as I try and finish my first Sherlock Holmes pastiche (the editor’s waiting), but in the meantime, I’ve had to dug out a few books about my old friend Conan the Cimmerian.

Of the various books, none is as thorough as GURPS Conan, but certainly none is as gorgeous as Roy Thomas’ huge Conan – The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Savage Barbarian (classy title, uh?), that has been sitting here on my shelf for ages, waiting for the right moment to be something more than a private pleasure, and turn into a research item.

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Robert E. Howard’s Birthday

It is Robert E. Howard’s birthday.
Is there anything I can say about Howard that was not said already, and better than I ever could? Unlikely.

I could once again say that Howard was one of those writers that I read as a kid, and made me say

This! This is what I want to write.

And I did – I wrote some horrid Conan pastiches when I was fifteen, and they are dead and buried, and it’s better that way. Continue reading

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Savage Scrolls: a brief review

I promised a review of Savage Scrolls, a collection of Hyborian lore by Fred Blosser.
Here we go.

Blosser’s book is a thorough survey of Conan’s Hyborian world, expanding to include many other Robert E. Howard characters and cycles. The basic idea is to take all the details Howard scattered through his stories, and collate them into a curated history book.
Culture, history, politics, natural sciences… the book covers all the bases, in a straightforward, engaging tone.
We meet characters, we visit cities and wild jungles, we learn the history of the Hyborian era. We discover connections, influences, references.
We catch a glimpse of Conan’s wolrd before and after Conan.
And where the original stories don’t go – or where Howard actually offered conflicting takes on certain elements – Blosser interpolates and speculates, filling the blanks with plausible hypotheses, doing a wonderful job.

The book reads in a breeze, it’s quite fun and it will probably send you back to your Conan collection for a re-read of some of the stories referenced.

Savage Scrolls is a good addition to the REH bookshelf, and apparently the first in a series – and we can only hope Volume 2 will be as good and solid as volume 1.


These are not the characters you are looking for

18fc6q4rejarypngI was reviewing my creative process (or the sort of blind blundering I call that) trying to optimize it in order to get more good words on the page*, and I found out a few interesting bits about my modus operandi.
And I thought, why not inflict my newfound knowledge on my blog readers?

When I start a new story, I generally open my copybook (or a txt file) and I start jotting down ideas.
Basic premise and concept, quick sketches of the main characters, a list of places, maybe a very rough logline.

Sometimes it’s like doodling – I sit waiting for my turn at the doctor’s or at the post office, and I just write down stuff.
Maybe I’ll never use those ideas, maybe in a few weeks, or months, or years (provided I can still find the file or the copybook) they’ll come in handy. Continue reading


Providing continuity

Today I’ll mix nostalgia with hype, if you don’t mind.

conan l'avventurieroWhen I was a kid, say 15 years old, I discovered Robert E. Howard and Conan the Barbarian through the Italian editions of the Lancer Books collections edited by Lyon Sprague de Camp.
My first was Conan the Adventurer, and I was hooked.
Also, I decided this was the sort of stuff I wanted to read, and possibly to write.

The little hardback book had a wonderful dust jacket (by Dutch artist Karel Thole), and it came with a gorgeous map of the Hyborian world.
Then there was a fun introduction by Italian critic and translator Riccardo Valla, and then the stories.
And each story was introduced by a snippet of text by L. Sprague de Camp, providing some sort of continuity to the series.

Stuff like…

After escaping from Xapur, Conan builds his Kozaki and pirate raiders into such a formidable threat that King Yezdigerd devotes all his forces to their destruction. After a devastating defeat, the kozaki scatter, and Conan retreats southward to take service in the light cavalry of Kobad Shah, King of Iranistan.

It was fun, it gave me a sense of history. Continue reading