Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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You don’t know Jack… but you will

20071128dumplinghouseMany years ago I spent a long night with some friends, eating Chinese and talking writing.
Fueled by Cantonese Rice and Flambé Dumplings, we came to the conclusion that the best ideas are those that feel completely crazy, and that make us a little scared, a little uneasy.
Not so much scared as in a John Carpenter movie, more scared as in “heck, how am I going to pull this one?”

If you can answer that question, you’ve got a good story idea in your hands.

So each one of us, that night, set down his own impossible story idea, and the morning after, these were forgotten.
Or at least tucked away in some dark corner of our memory.

That night, I invented Jack Nada. Continue reading


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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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Author-Publisher, please

This is an impromptu post.
Chuck Wendig just posted another fine piece about… authors that publish their own stuff.
About the name you slap on such individuals.
Something I’m interested in, as I’m one of those that get slapped.

Let’s see.
The most common labels are:

. self-published author
. independent author
. self-produced author

copierLet’s admit it – they do suck.
At best, they aremisleading.
In my language, the label is usually (autore) Autopubblicato – and it reads as a mark of infamy.
It means, more or less, “you sucker, a real publisher would not touch your rubbish with a ten foot pole”.
And in my case might as well be correct – I’ve this thing which seems to ruffle the feathers of most publishers.

Incidentally – I do prefer author to writer, because it describes more precisely who I am.
A writer could be writing under dictation.
He could be a graffiti artist.
I’m an author.

Or, here’s another definition which is quite fun, content crafter.
Which is fine when I’m authoring stuff that’s not orthodox book- stuff – online articles, blog posts, slide text, infographics, etcetera.
Beats any day of the week the horrid web-writer so many people seem to enjoy (so much so there’s people out there actually selling “professional web-writer” certifications, these days!)

When it comes to publishing my stuff, anyway, the standard labels suck, but there are two other definitions I like much better.

The first is artisanal publisher, coined by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welsh in his excellent APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book.
I’ve been using that a lot – it removes the stigma of the guy working in his basement with an old HP printer and adds a touch of highly marketable mistique.

The second, which was recently proposed by Chuck Wendig, is author-publisher.
Which, and I have to agree with the man, sounds just like a multi-class character in a role playing game – like wizard-rogue, which I have played once in a while in my long gaming career.
And is mighty fine.
Sounds great.
It’s classy.

So here we go – from this moment on, I am Davide Mana, author-publisher.
I’m into artisanal publishing, actually.


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Lazarus Gray and my weekend plans

laz3coverMy plans for the weekend (including the updating of this blog) went belly up when Pro Se Press released, early this week, the third volume in Barry Reese‘s The Adventures of Lazarus Gray series.
As soon as I was aware of the book’s availability, I grabbed myself a copy (ebooks are just great – they are cheap and there’s no waiting for the postman!) and shelved every other project for a while.
The fun bit being, after all I can file the hours spent reading this baby as “research” (but more on that later).

For the uninitiated, Lazarus Gray is the central character in Barry Reese’s series of pulp stories set in Sovereign City in the 1930s, and featuring crime-busting, evil-thwarting team, Assistance Unlimited.
An obvious, heartfelt homage to such Lester Dent classics as Doc Savage and The Avenger, Lazarus Gray is a man of mystery and action – his past gone, he swears to bring justice to the city, and assistance to anyone in need.
And so he does.

The Lazarus Gray stories feature all the classic pulp elements – the stalwart, omnicompetent hero, his varied team of quirky assistants, a choice of villains, thrilling locations, superscience, ancient mysteries, the supernatural…
In a proper new pulp twist, Mr Reese approaches his materials with a modern sensibility, sidestepping the trap of political correctedness by providing us with a fresh, modern, intelligent take on “delicate” issues such as gender, race, politics.
This is pulp like in the days of old, but without the outdated and unpleasent biases of our grandfathers.

The third book picks up where the earlier entry in the series (Die Glocke) left off, and shows us that the universe in which the characters move is still evolving – there’s big changes in the air, there’s lots of stuff happening, old enemies are back in the game, new enemies are in, too.
The author’s willingness to let his characters grow, change and mutate is another element of fun and interest in the series. There is a dynamic quality, in Sovereign City and its denizens, that keeps the reader’s attention up.

This is new pulp as it’s meant to be, and to me, the Lazarus Gray stories are an almost perfect template of how it’s done – they are complex, tightly-plotted, hard-hitting, fun.
There’s a lot to learn, here, for someone trying to crack the genre.
That’s why I file ’em not as entertainment, but as research.

The ebook edition of the third volume in the series – which goes by the title of Eidolon, but let’s not spoil the fun by revealing more – also includes a short, gorgeous comic and a selection of black and white illustrations.
Not bad, for something like 3 euros.

Defects?
There’s too little of it – the Lazarus Gray stories are a fast, fun read, and the new book’s over way too soon.

All in all, a highly entertaining, intelligent, stimulating read.
The whole series is highly recommended.


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O’Neill’s Scheherazade

n320056I’ve a thing for the Arabian Nights.
I’ve collected different editions, read essays on the subject, discussed it with friends until I scared them off or bored them to death.
So yes, now it’s your turn.

As one of the founding texts of fantasy, the Arabian Nights have been to me a source of endless discovery and fascination.

Now, I’ve found another piece of this personal puzzle of mine in Anthony O’Neill’s Scheherazade, a novel published in 2002 which is a sequel of sorts to the classic tales.
And much more.

The cover blurb says it all

It is nearly twenty years since Scheherazade spun her tales for a thousand and one nights; the tales that saved her life and immortalised the city that she had never seen — until now. Scheherazade and her husband, King Shahriyar, arrive in Baghdad to a rapturous welcome from the Caliph and his people, but within hours the Queen is kidnapped from her bathhouse, and disappears. An ancient prophecy leads the Caliph to despatch a motley crew of sailors on a rescue mission. As the seven unlikely saviours venture deeper into the unforgiving desert, losing camels, supplies, and all sense of direction, Scheherazade must face her abductors alone. And once again she begins to spin a tale to save her life…

But it’s much more complicated than that – and therefore, to me, much more satisfactory.

Scheherazade is not just a fantasy and an adventure story, and it’s more than a literate and literary game.
It’s a book about how stories change not only those that read or listen to them, but also those that tell or write them – which is a subject very dear to me in this moment.
By being writers, by being storytellers, we write ourselves, we narrate our own existance.
And by doing so, we can make ourselves better – or let our stories make us different.
Anthony O’Neill’s book brings that idea to its extreme consequences – and it is both a fantasy and a historical novel, a comedy and a tragedy, a phylosophical novel and a sexy romp, a tale of friendship, betraial and sailors away from the sea.

Scheherazade is a good, complex read, filled with characters and stories.
It starts low and grows slowly, but there’s nothing out of place in its pages.

A novel I’ll have to re-read once in a while, as it does promise new discoveries.

PS – I have to thank my friend Marco Siena, of Vanishing in the Mist, for suggesting me this great book in the first place.
Grazie, Marco!

 


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Undisclosed Translation Project

It has nothing to do with my post - but I love this movie.

It has nothing to do with my post – but I love this movie.

Observant surfers will have noticed the new word-count picometer in the sidebar, tracking the progress of the Undisclosed Translation Project, or UTP.
How very mysterious!

Now, The Claws of the Purple Cat is currently on hold, as some details of the overall project are being revised by the publisher.
I will wait for the go-ahead from my editor before I start working again on The Claws, for the very simple reason that, as fun as the project is, spending time to complete something that might be cancelled would be a waste of unpaid-for time.
I am sure the project will start again, and I’ll be happy to resume my writing when it happens.

In the meantime, Continue reading


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Celebrating the Shadows, 2013

Fact is, reality always takes you by surprise... that's why we need fantasy. To be prepared.

Fact is, reality always takes you by surprise… that’s why we need fantasy.
To be prepared.

(no, not the band that did Apache)

As I mentioned a while back, in this weekend – which marks the birthday of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price – the idea is to do something to stress and underscore the relevance and dignity of imaginative fction.
Being chiefly a writer, I’ll write.

I call it Imaginative Fiction (using the old catch-all tag coined by Lyon Sprague de Camp).
You can call it horror, fantasy, weird, science fiction, pulp adventure…
You can call it faery tale, myth, folklore…

It is not kid’s stuff.
Oh, granted, kids love it – because kids are curious, and normally don’t give a damn about being perceived as serious, mature or respectable.
They want ideas – they hunger for ideas.
And if you are looking for ideas, fantasy fiction, imaginative tales, are the best spot in which to dig…

With this I do not mean to diss “serious fiction” – as usual my problem is not with mainstream or serious fiction, is with the fools that use it as a token of tribal belonging.

I read <put the author’s name in here>, therefore I’m acceptable.

That’s how “serious books” get sold but never read.

Now, good imaginative fiction is not normally read to fit in.
In school you are mocked and overlooked.
They call you a geek.
Desirable members of the opposite sex won’t date you.
Teachers appreciate the fact that you’re a reader but might point out to your parents that “the kid has too much imagination.”
As if it were a problem – real, serious, dangerous troublemakers are those without imagination, because they normally can think of just one solution to any problem.

And even if you, being a geek, finally find a suitable community – comic book readers, fantasy fans, roleplayers – that’s supposed to be a phase you’ll leave behind when you”grow up” and start thinking about “important things”.
Important thins seem to involve being unhappy because you want them, and then being unhappy because once you get them they are not so hot after all.
Weird.

But for a fact, imaginative fiction makes us better.

In its deviations from reality, imaginative fiction questions concepts like those “important things”.
Truly, we read these stories, watch these movies, not to escape reality, but to look at it closer from a new, fresh perspective.
We need these narratives not to escape reality, but to fight the need to escape reality.

So, during this weekend I’ll celebrate watching an old movie with dinosaurs in it, and then I’ll read some weird book full of monsters.
Not because it’s cheap escapism – but because there’s a point in surrealism, there’s a strong moral drive in adventure stories, because contemplating the strange it’s easier to understand the mundane, later.

IMMAGINE-1_g4x88jsmSo let’s raise a glass to our three patron saints – men of culture and intellect, that never despided imaginative fiction, and contributed making it popular, and acceptable.
Go read a book.
Go watch some movie.
Dust off the old comics collection.
And teach the younger generations that’s where ideas come from.

Cheers!