East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Karavansara U. – first courses

When you have a good idea (or one you think is a good idea), you better put it in practice as soon as possible. Hesitation is a trap. So, I mentioned my idea to present a selection of courses the readers of Karavansara might be interested in taking, using online platforms.

The rules of thumb (we can’t really call them by-laws) of the Karavansara University are quite simple:

  • free online courses
  • related to the topics we usually cover on this blog: adventure & historical fiction, fantasy & pulp, history, the East, the Silk Road, and the whole wide world

And with this in mind, here’s a first selection of five courses that might kindle your curiosity…

Continue reading


Learning Italian?

I just saw this post out there

The Top 5 Reasons To Learn Italian

… and ok,  a couple of points are pretty silly – but they do underscore how there’s a lot of Italian in the language a lot of English speakers speak.

So I thought, what with my current need for work and all that… what about offering my services as a language teacher, via Skype?
After all Continue reading


Two voices

flag_ita_engOne thing I’ve mentioned already, I think, is how, writing in both Italian and English, my writing changes.
Clearly, the two languages syntaxes are different, but it’s also my way of building phrases, and the rhythm of the phrases.
The dialogues change, the interplay between characters.
It’s not like I’m two different writers but, well, almost.
It’s clearly two different voices I’m dealing with – voices that go deeper than the tone and language of the individual stories. Continue reading


Changing languages

I’m having a weird experience – I’m writing the first Italian-language story of Aculeo & Amunet, and it’s tough going.
Now the plot is fully outlined and the action pieces are set-up.
I’ve got the historical background and some of the imagery.
And of course the characters are my own, and I love to write about them.
It’s the way they speak.
The dialogue is stilted.
The rhythm of the exchanges between my characters is heavily connected with the language I write in.
In Italian, Aculeo and Amunet are still witty and fun, but they are… different.
Aculeo is tough but lacks class, and uses too many words, Amunet comes across as too soft and vaguely querulous.
This is not good.

The reason is, probably, that English is a much more concise and economic language – to me at least, maybe because it is my second language and I first experienced it through narrative and songs and not through everyday use.
I think Aculeo and Amunet in English.
I hear their speech in my head in English.

The general effect: scenes that are clear and “as well as written” in my mind slump on the page and read horribly.

All in all, this is a bad problem – writing this story in Italian is slower going than I imagined, and it cost me so far two full days: I should have closed my story on Friday night, and here I am still writing and rewriting, only 50% of the way in.
The editor waiting for my story is not going to be pleased, and this is subtracting time from other (paid!) projects.
Now, at around 3000 words, I’ll scrap the last 500 I wrote, and I’ll try and complete the story in English.
And then, I’ll translate it.
It will be easier, faster, and I’ll connect again with my characters.

But as I said, this is getting weird.

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Wrong language with Kindle Dictionary

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

There’s an unwritten truth which I often repeat myself – a man’s computer-based disasters are another man’s jokes.
Our digital disasters, which cause us stress and waste of time, not to mention the loss of data, are one-click, quickly-fixed problems to those who know what to click.

This said…
An Italian reader was reading Bride of the Swamp God – and quite enjoying it, he said! – when he needed to check a word and the default dictionary did not work.
Or rather, it worked, but it was the wrong one.
English text – Italian dictionary.
He mailed me.
What gives?

Now, it took some work, but finally I found out what was wrong with my ebook.
Probably. Continue reading


The return of Pinterest for Writers

I already did a post on Pinterest, and how it can be useful to writers.
Heck, I did two posts about Pinterest!
Well, there’s more.

avventurieriMy Italian-language non fiction ebook, Avventurieri sul Crocevia del Mondo, my pulp-history overview of adventurers in Central Asia between the wars, is doing fine on Amazon – good sales, excellent reviews, nice Top 100 position.

But I get lots of requests for graphical contents – maps, photographs of the characters whose stories I’m telling.
It figures.

Now, putting graphical contents in a Kindle book is not that easy – and maybe not even worth the time and the effort, considering that older, cheaper readers (like the one I use) are not that good at displaying images.
Can you really appreciate a map of Central Asia on a 6″ b/w screen?
Old grainy pictures?
Very large, garish paintings?
Also, a graphically-intensive ebook can be huge – and Amazon charges you some extra cents for big files.
And finally, there’s the lengthy (and expensive!) matter of the rights to the images.

And yet, it’s the sort of content that would make my ebook more appealing to the paying public.

So, I did a Pinboard on Pinterest – pinning the maps, and the photos of the historical characters.
As hi-quality as possible, with Italian captions, in the proper order – so that as you read my ebook, you can browse the pinboard and meet the characters.

Not only this free extra web-content allows my readers to finally get a good look at those faces, at their leisure, on the bright, colored display of their device of choice.
It could also work for the undecided – now they can look at the pictures, and decide whether they’d like to purchase the book or not.
And it can be updated.

With the next update of my text, I’ll place a link and a short note at the very beginning of my ebook – and at that point, it should all be nice and fine.

I’ll certainly adopt the same strategy for my next non-fiction book – which, after all, is about Dinosaurs!
You’ve got to have pictures in a dino book!


Escape from the Old C Block

Last night my friend Claire launched her English-language blog – Scribblings.
Now Claire being Claire, I guess her new blog (she already runs one in Italian) has been meticulously planned, insightfully designed and thoroughly tested, the pros and cons carefully evaluated.
I point this out not to make fun of Claire (who, apart from being a fine writer and a dear friend, is also one of my gorgeous but unflinching editors); I’m pointing it out to explain that I think Claire started working on her new blog well before the summer, early in 2013.
Which is more or less when Karavansara was launched (with far less planning and thought, admittedly), and when a lot of other Italian bloggers I know started looking at the outer world – some opening a new weblog, others simply starting to post in English on their old platform, some alternating posts in Italian and English on their blogs, others posting bilingual content, experimentally. Continue reading