East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Cursed by the pharaohs

md22104412845I tried.
No really, I tried.
I took the afternoon off, a nice bowl of tea, and I attacked Curse of the Pharaohs, the book about Tutankhamen’s curse I had found at a free giveaway a few months back – you’ll remember I posted about it.

Considering I am currently sketching an Egypt-related project – plus of course the Aculeo & Amunet and Contubernium stories, and the idea of re-playing Masks of Nyarlathotep… all this considered, a nice afternoon reading about Egyptian curses looked like a nice way to have fun and do research at the same time.

But what the heck… Continue reading

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Shut up and write!

This picture was posted yesterday on my Facebook wall.


I’ve yet to decide if it was somebody’s idea of a joke – but I did nor consider it particularly funny1.

Maybe comes from the fact that I write instead of posing at being a writer, but experience has taught me there is no magical artifact.

The only magic formula is

shut up and write

Which is what I will do.

  1. as a rule of thumb, never joke about a certain cathegory or group if you don’t belong to it. 


Making tea and magic

japanese-tea-ceremony1Doing research is always a source of delight.
In a true zen way, sometimes we don’t find what we are looking for, but we do find what we needed to find.
For reasons long to explain, I’m reading a few articles about tea – its history and diffusion.
And I chanced upon an article published in 2013 in the magazine Explore :

Metaphisics of Tea Ceremony: a randomized trial investigating the roles of intent and belief on mood while drinking tea.

… By two researchers called Shiah and Radin.
Strong stuff, eh? Continue reading


Wu Xing for writers – part one

In the pauses of my writing binge I’m trying to put together the bits and pieces I’ll need for my next writing job – a novel looms on the horizon.

Which, in a very circuitous way, leads us to Wu Xing – that is, Taoist elemental theory.

According to the Taoist masters, reality is built by the interplay of five elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood.
The five elements are connected by complicated relationships of generation and antagonism. Continue reading



… and no, I’m not gonna talk about the old single by The Kinks.

predictabilityFact is, I’ve just witnessed one of the most amazing tricks I ever saw.
A friend of mine – who’s very wise in the ways of the web – basically summarized the main points in a blog post, without reading the post itself.
He already knew in detail what the post was all about, how it was written – he even predicted a few phrases exactly.
Pure intellectual sleight of hand.
It’s all about structure, he explained.

Which is something that strikes me at various levels – because I’m very fond of structure when writing, because I am a blogger, and because I’m very fond of sleight of hand and stage magic.
And to me, someone that reads a blog post without actually reading it, knowing the full contents just by the title, is performing a mentalist trick worth of a fine stage magician. Continue reading

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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 & Brau√©’s indispensable 1947 book, The Royal Road to Card Magic, I find the following: Continue reading


John Blofeld

His father was the inspiration for the James Bond villain.

6273610-MI discovered John Blofeld‘s The Secret and the Sublime when I was sixteen.
The book, in its gaudy, cheap Italian paperback edition, was interesting for two reasons.
First, because it connected with my growing interest for zen and taoism.
Second, because it promised to reveal Taoist Mysteries and Magic – which was extremely good, because I was tired of the standard, psaeudo-celtic, or D&D-derived magic in fantasy stories, and was looking for some off-beat inspiration*.

In the end, the book was useless in developing my own magic system – but in retrospect, it was probably instrumental in convincing me that “magic system” is the wrong idea when writing fantasy.
Magic should be magic – and sure as hell it feels that way in Blofeld’s book.
On the other hand, Blofeld’s book fueled my interest in the East, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this blog, and I still feel a strong affection for this small book. Continue reading