East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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A tiny snippet of my WIP

That goes to show that I always write about the same things, in the end…

After crossing the Kin Tang bridge, and going east, the Chintang Strasse becomes Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and then turns into Petrograd Prospekt once you have passed Corso Trento. In less than two kilometers, a person who walks along this route will be subject to four different legal systems – Chinese, Austro-Hungarian, Italian and Russian, each administered by its own court. And yet, thanks to extraterritoriality, a citizen of one of the Eight Nations who breaks the law, anywhere in the Tianjin area, will be extradited to his sector. In a surreal variant of the classic joke, if there are an Italian, an Englishman and a Japanese who rob a bank together, if caught, each will be tried by a different court, and will suffer a different sentence. But it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.

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The new book has been outlined: now comes the fun part

This morning I put together the first proper outline of a book that will supposedly see the light in early 2020: a non fiction book for a small but classy Italian publisher dealing with one of the topics of this blog: travelers and explorers in exotic parts, between 1800 and 1940-something.

The trick will be weaving together the lives of at least twenty historical characters, so that the volume will be a homogeneous narrative and not a series of episodes.

So I spent quite some time trying to decide whether to use time or space to tie the story together.

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The guy you love to hate

Parabellum Serenade is at the halfway point, and there is a believable prototype of a cover, and the plot is thickening. What I like about this story – maybe I already mentioned this – is the way in which all the pieces are falling together in the right place without me having to do any major effort. I only have to type the story as it unfolds.

My modus operandi is as follows: I devote half an hour before falling asleep and about another half an hour after I wake up to stay under the covers and run through my head the scenes of the novel, like they were a movie. Usually the post-wake up session orders and cleans up, and adds detail to the pre-snooze ideas. Then I only have to sit down and write down the scenes I saw. Revising what I wrote yesterday, I do a first clean-up and some minor adjustments.
And the story grows.

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Work in progress, June 2018

1966-200Just a quick roundup for those that like to keep track of what I am doing.

I am currently working on four big projects:

  • AMARNA is about to close, and the last episode will hit the shelves at the end of the months. Then work will start on the Italian translation and on the one-volume special edition. Basically, in 12.000 words from the end of this story, and it feels pretty emotional, all things considered.
  • LIVYATAN is shaping up nicely, and I plan on delivering it to the publisher by the end of the month, give or take a few days. Having found the right structure, this is writing itself pretty nicely.
  • MARTIAN ROULETTE (working title) needs to be ready by the beginning of July, and I am working on it in a rather different way from my usual, outlining it in depth, and then I will write it in two or three sittings tops. Being a 25.000-words story, it’s feasible.
  • THE MINISTRY OF LIGHTNING is going to be published as a serial on Patreon, and is probably the fastest writing I ever did. It’s a bit like having Felice Sabatini sitting here by my side, dictating his memoir. Right now, I’ve completed the prologue, and I’m looking at old maps, in search of the right place to set up a stunt I’ve been dreaming about since I was in high school. Last night we had a terrible storm here, and thunder and lightning chased each other across the sky for hours. I see it as a sign of approval from the Esteemed Personages in the Ministry of Storms.

Also, I’m writing short stories – I still owe one to my Patrons, and there’s a few submissions I’d like to hit.
To avoid the meltdown and explosion of what’s left of my brain, I’m working on a very strict schedule, morning and afternoon. In the evening, I’ll be doing some translation work, because the bills keep coming.

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Translating The Builders

Daniel Polansky’s The Builders has been one of the best fantasy stories I read in the last two years.
It was only natural that when Acheron Books gave me a gig as editor for Zenobia, their new line of science fiction and fantasy stories in translation, The Builders was one of the first three titles I put on my list.

I am now happy to share with you this press release

We are excited to announce the Italian publication of the fantasy novel THE BUILDERS, by Daniel Polansky, Hugo Award 2016 finalist. Coming soon for Acheron Books (Zenobia series, translated by Davide Mana – cover in progress by Alberto Besi)

While we wait for the Italian cover, here is the original…


… and now, back to translating.

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The Shanghai Bund

Today I gave a good shake at The Mother of Lightning, the story I’m writing for Pro Se Press’ The New Adventure of Ned Land – hoping I’ll be able to finish it, and they’ll like it.
The deadline looms closer, it is time to check the details and nail the box shut for delivery.

The story is set in Shanghai in 1871, and that’s the tricky part, because this is exactly the moment in which the British and the French, aka The Most Favoured Nations, were redesigning the former fishermen’s village in their own image.
The Bund was there but it was not yet the wonder it would be in the 1920s, and a lot of the city was very different from the Shaghai we usually get from movies or novels – the Paris of the East.

1775939So I went through my collection of old maps and books,a nd finally fell back on Peter Hibbard’s The Bund, Shanghai: China Faces West, a wonderful historical and architectural guidebook to the waterfront of Shanghai.
The book, published by Odyssey, is beautifully illustrated, with both old and new photos.
Some complain that it is not up to date (it was published in 2007) and so it does not work – or so they say – as a proper guidebook when you are out in the field, but for an armchair traveler or a writer looking for details about the Shanghai Club, it is an absolute treasure trove.

I was a little surprised in finding out that some of the details I had put down on the fly while writing were actually correct. But I’ve spent so much time reading (and sometimes writing) about Old Shanghai, that apparently I know the ins and outs of it better than I remember the streets and bus stops of my hometown.