East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Lawrence Block’s lives in crime

It has been observed—I forget where or by whom—that only kids have heroes. I’m not entirely sure that’s true, but I do think you have to stop being a fan in order to become wholly a professional. You can continue to admire and delight in the work of another writer, but if you’re slavish in your devotion, if you’re stuck in the role of full-blown fan, your own growth will be limited.

51O0k6c2kXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I can really relate to that.
It’s taken from The Crime of Our Lives, an excellent book by Lawrence Block, collecting the author’s essays, introductions and columns about his colleagues and his experiences in the field of genre fiction. It is not as one might think, an autobiography (and I realize the title of this post is misleading), but a collection of personal reminiscences about other people1.
It’s quite a good read – but then, I am a fan… or rather, I admire and delight in his work, without giving in to slavish devotion, and I consider Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit one of the best books about writing I ever read2. And I did read a few.

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The Karavansara summer reading list for students (and everybody else)

I don’t know how it is there where you are sitting, but hereabouts schools are about to close for summers, and teachers are busy assigning homework and projects and stuff.
One of the things that hit the kids every year is the dread read at least five books from this list list.
I always hated that when I was in high-school – I usually approached summer with a stack of a dozen big books I wanted to read, and here I was forced to slip more dull novels in the mix. And now I’m told that with the lowering standards of our school they are reducing the required reads to three, but you get the idea.


And I thought, why not put together my own suggested reading list?
For kids out there, high-school level, to broaden their horizons, and provide some much-needed food for thought.
I’ll also do a list in Italian for my blog, as a form of service – but putting together a list of English-language titles is easier, and I’m told list posts are quite popular.
But with a twist: I’ll focus on a list of books in theme with the usual topics of this blog. Books that talk about science, nature, philosophy, literature, history and imagination.
With an eye for adventure, exploration, and a modicum of swashbuckling – because this is, after all, Karavansara!
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New surprise project, and Scrivener

OK, so yesterday I got an idea for a new non-fiction book in Italian – a fun thing that might have a market and is based on the classic 36 Stratagems by Sun Tzu.
A nice intersection of some stuff I’ve been doing recently and my long-standing interest for Chinese culture.

Scrivener (software)Currently I have a lot of stuff on my plate, but this is the sort of sweet and easy thing I can do in my spare time, and it’s probably going to find a lot of readers and sell nicely.
In the spirit of doing the maximum work with the minimum expenditure of energy1, I set out to outline and plan the book as a sort of ultrafast, guerrilla project.
Scrivener, the software i normally use for big projects, was pretty useful.

Here’s how I planned the thing, in case you are interested2Continue reading


Getting to grips with Twitter – part one

41LRx+h-EsL._AA160_Yesterday I got me a copy of Twitters fro Writers, by Rayne Hall.
Basically, I have a very conflicting (meaning, messy and discontinuous) relationship with Twitter, and I enjoy very much Rayne Hall’s books – both her fiction and non-fiction.
So, it was not a hard decision.

My main problem with Twitter comes from the fact that I never really studied the thing – I browsed a few tutorials, but I never sat down to learn the ropes. Continue reading

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Running on ice

Lady-Juggler-2What a week! What a month!
Bad health, broken PC, various mishaps, then…
Just out of the easter weekend, I had to take a quick jaunt in Milan to give y lecture about writing and gaming, then back – two days to finish the complete draft of my novel (that still misses a proper title! Damn!!), then I’ll hop on not one, not two, but three trains to get me to Modena for the Play Festival, where I will spend two days (and one night, probably) gaming.
Then back – to see if a project that I finally was able to get underway this morning is giving any fruit, and to plan future conquests.
And work on my writing den – which will mean redesign and refurbish a room here in my old house – and do it at zero cost.
Then, a little peace.
Until the 24th of April, that is – when I’ll be giving a presentation about my non-fiction books here at the Castelnuovo Belbo Library.
And then back to Milan on the 28th, for the final lesson in the Acheron Books Writing Course (that has been so far a success, thanks to great teachers and students).
And then May will loom on the horizon.

A few nights back a friend was asking how I manage.
The answer, plain and simple, is – I wing it.

Am I getting anywhere?
Well, hopefully yes.
And if sometimes feels like I’m running on ice, well, it’s still a good way to keep in shape.

I promise I’ll post more coherent contents in a few hours.


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!

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Some of my non fiction

It’s the hard life of the indie writer.
Or something like that.
You write your stuff, you get it to the editor, the ditor likes it.
The publisher publishes it, the people buy it and like it.
You get your copies for your swank shelf, you tell your friends (they do not buy a copy), and then start working on something else, on something new.
And in the meantime, people forget.
“But… did he ever actually publish anything?”
Some like to forget, they are very happy to forget.

Two nights ago, I received a sound thrashing from friend.
I was told to strut my stuff, because it’s worth it.
Or so she said.

So, never ignore a sound advice, delivered with passion: here’s three of the works of which I am more proud!

It was a pleasure and a privilege, as a long time Fritz Leiber fan, to be part of Fritz Leiber: Critical Essays, edited by Benjamin Szumskyj and published by MacFarland.
Taking an eccentric angle, I wrote Thank God They Are on Our Side (I think): The Cat as Alien in Fritz Leiber’s Fiction, which mixes literary analysis, cat ecology, and my veneration for Leiber’s genius, and mixes the lot.

One year later, with the same editor and the same publisher, I was part of the volume Dissecting Hannibal Lecter: Essays on the Novels of Thomas Harris. Once again it was a great, fun experience, and I contributed apiece on the noir aspects of one of Harris’ classics – This is the Blind Leading the Blind: Noir, Horror and Reality in Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon.

The ball was rolling, so when Benjamin proposed a third contribution, I was happy to join his team once again – this time writing about an author, William Peter Blatty, whose work has been to long in the shadow of the movies based on it. And as a ghost-story aficionado, it was great fun writing It Ain’t Over Until the Fat Lady Sings: William Peter Blatty’s Elswhere and the Haunted House Formula.
The essay appears in American Exorcist: Critical Essays on William Peter Blatty

So here they are, my early professional sales as a non-fiction writer.
I can strut my stuff with the best of ’em!