Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Stories in the works

Fairy tales again, but not in a noir/hardboiled style – this time it is science fiction: I’ve just got a call for a collection of SF takes on classic fairy tales, and here I am trying to figure out a viable plot. The pay is good, the limit is 15.000 words but I’m aiming for 5000.

The deadline is damn close – the 15th of December – but I have good hopes: I can write a story in two evenings.

So here I am juggling options – Sleeping Beauty is sort of obvious, you just change stasis fields for sleep spells, and it’s done. But it’s so obvious that it’s not such an original idea. And yes, originality is overrated, but sometimes it’s a good thing.

Otherwise, what?
A robotic version of Nutcracker?
Transhuman Three Little Pigs?
Jack and the Beanstalk set on top of a space elevator?

Back when I was in high school I wrote a story about a team-up of Odysseus, Loki and Sun Wukong, that looked like De Camp style fantasy, but was in fact science fiction.
The story was not very good (hey, I was 15!), and it’s been lost now for almost 35 years, but it might provide me with some neat ideas.

In the meantime, I have two further stories done halfway through, and in need of a serious shakedown – a straight fantasy with a sort of Dumas-esque setting, called Goblins by Candlelight (basically, a fantasy take on the home invasion genre), and an occult detective piece set – hypothetically – in Paris during the Belle Epoque. I want to have one of the two finished in the next 36 hours.
Insomnia rules.


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A complete writing course for 4 bucks

So, the idea was to check out a few short story collections to use them as writing handbooks. And the real problem is, as usual, to select the right books. There’s a few personal collections I’d recommend, like Bradbury’s and Dahl’s from Everyman Classics, or The Best of Charles De Lint, and a few others – say Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder. These I have mentioned often in the past, and are wort checking out (and make for great gifts at Christmas).

But right now I’d like to point out a series of books that might be worth a look, that by providing a grab-bag of different authors writing within one genre and about a narrow range of topics, make for a great resource as one-stop tutorials.

Continue reading


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Bookshelf archaeology

51jAwNDM1rL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I was looking for a book, and I found two.
I did some digging on my shelf for Damon Knight’s classic Creating Short Fiction. As I mentioned, I started talking about short fiction with my friend Claire, and I wanted to check out if Knight’s book held some momentous secret I had forgotten.
For the uninitiated (but then, what are you doing here), Damon Knight was one of the greatest short story crafters in the field of science fiction – he is the author of To Serve Man, that was adapted in what is possibly the most famous episode of The Twilight Zone – and he also was an editor and critic. He was one of the founders of the SFWA, and of the Clarion Workshop.
He is the man that, as a critic, defined the idiot plot.

His writing handbook focuses on short stories, and it is quite good all things considered. It was originally published in the early ‘80s, but it is still well worth a look. Continue reading


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Writing Short Stories: the best advice I ever got

shortstory1OK, I was talking with my friend Claire, the other day, and she was telling me she wants to start writing more short stories.
Which is just swell, because, hey, I want to write more short stories too!
So – you know me – I tried to talk her into doing something together, because she’s a fantastic writer and a great person and I’d have a lot of fun working with her – and who knows, she might have fun working with me on some weird and sideways project.
She was kind and measured as ever at my advances, and, what can I say, we’ll see.

But in the meantime I looked here on my shelves for stuff about short stories – because if that’s going to be the mood of the next few months, why not write a few posts on the subject. So I checked out books and stuff, and I will do a few posts and things, but because one has to start somewhere, I think I’ll start from here: from the best piece of advice I ever got about short story writing, that appropriately enough is a suggestion about beginnings.
Isn’t that neat? Continue reading


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More writing, more stories

Some people make their plans for the new year in December, but I still have this schoolboy attitude, to me the new year begins in September.
Or something.
Anyway, I think I mentioned my idea about writing more stories, and submitting them to magazines and anthologies and publishers. Sort of a good proposition for the coming year.
Well, the experiment is working.
In the last thirty days I have submitted five stories to as many publishers, for a total of about 20.000 words.
Two thrillers.
Two science fiction shorts.
One horror story.
This not counting the things I wrote for my Patrons, and my other stuff that I will self-publish, or my gaming material.

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Not bad, but it could be better.
What I would like to do would be to double that number, settling for 10 stories per month, roughly 40.000 words, while keeping the bouncing stories circulating.
It’s a tough call, but I think I can do it.
Right now, I’m revising a story I’ll submit tonight.
Then I have five more calls aligned over the next two months.
It’s a start.
The trick will be do this while still working on my other stuff, my stories and games and translations.
But after all, that’s the way it’s got to be if I want to pay my bills and get out of this place.

I wish to thank my friends, my readers and my supporters that have pointed out new markets, new resources and new open calls to me.
You know who you are guys, and you are helping me a lot.
Thank you.


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Very short stories

Short stories are tough.
There is this sort of… not really a debate, more like a feud, between those that Novels are proper literature, short stories are for losers and those that short stories are the true distillation of talent, any hack can write a 1000-pages trilogy given enough time and coffee.
Both are wrong, of course, and both are right, because the fact is, it’s not a binary system – there’s a whole lot of shades and issues there.

I write mostly short stories and novellas.
I feel comfortable with the word-count, and they make for reasonably fast writing, meaning I can sell them quick and keep the creditors at bay.
Sometimes I write longer stuff.
All formats have their pros and cons.
My favorite word-count is probably within the 8.000-to-12.000 words range. Shorter, I usually feel cramped, longer, I usually need a lot of time and planning and things get somewhat rambling. Continue reading


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Sleepless nights and dinosaurs

This last week has been pretty weird all things considered.
It’s now 2 am as I’m writing this. My usual insomnia made a major comeback, so that I spent most of the nights up, and then crashed into a deep, dream-infested slumber after lunch.
Which sounds pretty lovecraftian, but is really bad for the little social life I still manage to have.
On the plus side, I spend the nights writing, and have now hit a solid 8000-words per day rhythm, and I am now actually hitting all of my headlines in time, if not with a certain advance. Right out I’m putting the finishing touches on a story I’ll submit tomorrow morning – if I can dream up (ah!) a suitable title.
And I’ve been following online courses.
Apart from the course I am following about heart diseases (because I saw what happened to my father and I want to live), I’ve been brushing up my Spanish (because I want to leave this country, and Spanish is quite widespread) and I’ve just spent a few hours refreshing my knowledge of dinosaurs with a wonderful MOOC from the University of Alberta, called Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology. Because, dinosaurs.

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By the way, this course actually starts officially next week, and if you like dinosaurs, it’s highly recommended: clear, in-depth, fun, and with some spectacular interactive support.
Check it out.

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