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Monday, March 21st, 2011

Hi guys!

Wow. Your post on Konrath’s blog blew me away and there are at this very moment thousands of heads exploding over thousands of keyboards.

The sounds of a revolution.

For those who haven’t read it yet, stop what you’re doing, go pour yourself a stuff drink, then go to JA Konrath’s blog and read it. I’ll wait here.


So–Barry and Joe–your number crunching abilities are extraordinary and I bow to them, not being very numerate myself , but in all your analyses of the coming world of publishing, there’s one thing I missed in your conversation.

The world.

Yep, the world of 1.8 billion English readers. 1.8 billion readers who up until now you reached with difficulty. Oh, sure, your books could eventually make it to Australia, New Zealand, India, the UK, Ireland, Canada, but not without huge corporate friction that ate at your royalties, requiring sub licensing agreements and new covers and two and sometimes three corporations all taking their share of the pie. Not to mention all those English readers in Europe, Africa, Asia, where the American edition was sold at a huge markup because it’s an imported good.

Imagine those 1.8 billion English readers having instant access to your books. Press a button and there you go. They haven’t digitalized yet but when they do, the sky’s the limit.

And then of course there’s the rest of the world that loves American books but must read them in translation. The translation you have no say over, and in which (sorry guys) your text was probably cut by the translator to fit local editorial book sizes.

Not to mention olive-green garage door covers.

Now imagine a world where you control the translation, the cover is the same cover you chose. Right next to your book in English on amazon, there’s a button on amazon.de for the German language edition, or on amazon.jp there’s the Japanese edition, etc. And you get all those royalties. All of them, with no intermediaries. It will cost you about € 5000 and you’d have to find a translator you trust, but once you do and have paid the cost (which you’ll probably make up in 4 days of sales) all those royalties go straight to you.

Hark! What’s that sound I hear? Of pitchforks being sharpened at the gates of the Bastille? And that fire on the horizon? Those are the torches.

Allons enfants de la patrieeeeeee….

Friday, March 11th, 2011

The two events are unrelated, honest! If ever there’s a person who wishes to keep bookstores alive, ’tis I. However, the sad and brutal truth is that San Francisco lost its major bookstores more or less…while I was there.

You know how when a city is beloved and familiar, you immediately rush to go to all your favorite places? That’s what we did upon our arrival. Very near the top of the list is the Barnes and Noble at Fisherman’s Wharf, which is a fun, albeit very touristy, place anyway. going there is a real outing for us, we love the crab at those funky filthy stand up places along the bay.

To do it right, you take the F line. Again, funky, something San Francisco does superbly well. It’s a tram line that goes from the Civic Center, down Market, past the Ferry Building and all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. All the trams are antiques, salvaged from castoff trams from cities around the world and the US — Milan, Buenos Aires, St Lous, Boston–restored and put into service.

So–you take the F tram and it trundles along some of the most beautiful cityscapes in the world, right down to the bay, with the Bay Bridge to your right and the Ferry Building to your left, takes a left and takes you all along the waterfront. At the Terminus, the Barnes and Noble is about a five minute walk away. An extremely pleasant five minute walk.

The bookstore itself is set in a low-lying red brick complex surrounding a little plaza area with some greenery. The store–ah, how to describe how fabulous it is? A huge space with a loft-like second story, all wood, with light streaming in from huge windows. Air, light, books. It’s magic. Thousands and thousands of books yet it smells clean and fresh, not musty.

It’s a place to dive into and spend hours floating around it. It has huge, well-stocked genre shelves–romance, thrillers and mysteries, science fiction and fantasy. Very well-selected literry fiction section. Wonderful magazine section. Lovely coffee shop. It is sheer magic.


To my horror, having happily taken the F line, walked with increasing anticipation under a brilliant blue sky, I walk up the steps and…don’t believe my eyes. The windows are boarded up. thinking this must be a mistake, I try the doors. Locked.

I must have looked insane. Massive cognitive dissonance. This is where the Barnes and Noble is but…it’s closed.

Cody’s closed a few years ago, as did the huge Virgin Megastore, 3 stories of books and music. So Barnes and Noble and the Borders are more or less It.

I felt real grief. Two passing women saw my discombobulation and we stood there for half an hour, commiserating with each other. The area now has no bookstores, none. One of the women said that at least there were the two downtown Borders and when I said that the newspapers said Borders was sliding into bankruptcy, she looked horrified. No other word for it.

To be continued…

PS — i’m posting blogs I wanted to post from SF, but I only had my netbook with a sticky keyboard, so

the psts wooold hve ooked lik thi

Italian rock’s bad girl has a baby at 54!
Friday, January 7th, 2011

Wow. Gianna Nannini, the bad girl of Italian rock, just had a baby at 54. The baby’s name is Penelope, because it took Gianna a long time to get to her, or so she says. Gianna, a mom. Her entire persona is rebellion and it’s hard to wrap my mind around her enforcing discipline and teaching manners to a youngster. Not that she has bad manner, but she has spent a lifetime defying convention.

Gianna is the author of one of my favorite songs in the world. Just listen to this gem, BELLO IMPOSSIBILE


There isn’t a woman (or a man for that matter) who hasn’t been infatuated with someone impossibly beautiful and simply impossible to deal with.

Gianna is the Bruce Springsteen of Italian rock, and she has a similar voice–throaty and raucous, as if singing somehow hurts and yet she has to do it. And like the Boss, she ran away from home. But you mustn’t think of running away from some rankly polluted, broken down former industrial dump, like Bruce:


No, Gianna ran away from SIENA. Where her parents were Sienese royalty, the owners of a very famous pasticceria that had been in the family for generations, called, well, NANNINI. Siena is exactly the kind of city that treasures superb craftsmen, businesses that have been in the family for generations and have become part of the landscape, as the series of Nannini Pasticcerie are.

It must have been hard to run away from Siena, where life is incredibly sweet, and absolutely everything you see is beautiful, honed over the centuries to be perfect. That tree on that hill–perfect. The confluence of small streets making a piazza of all the earth colors–perfect. The Palio, which has a central role in every Sienese citizen’s life–perfect.

it takes guts to run away from a perfect city and a perfect life. Siena has an enviable standard of living, integrating modern elements slowly and well down through the centuries. there is amazing comity and closeness among the Sienese, though if you’re not born Sienese, don’t really think of moving there. People’s relationships go back centuries and they don’t take their past lightly.

I wrote a murder mystery set in Siena during the Palio, the only book in English with that setting (Frederick Forsyth wrote a novella set in Siena during the Palio), DYING FOR SIENA. I know the city well anyway, but i did my due diligence, spending days and days wandering the city specifically with my book in mind, eating the delicious food, sitting in the Piazza del Campo, one of the most gorgeous places on earth, calling it research.

The Italian police headquarters, just off the cathedral, within whiffing distance of the best coffee shop in the world, is a delight to visit. The Commissario and his Ispettori were friendly and incredibly helpful. However, no one could remember the last time there had been a murder.

No, it’s not some decaying industrial town in New Jersey.

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Hi. This is a blog about Italy and writing. So if you’re interested in Italy and things Italian and/or you’re interested in writing, stop by often.

They are my interests because I live in Italy and love it and because I’m a writer and a fanatical reader. So Italy fascinates me and so does anything related to books and writing.

The two topics, however, have surprisingly little to do with each other because the nasty secret about Italy, dear reader is (lean closer here because I have to whisper this) Italy writing su… er, is very bad. That is a harsh statement, I know, and not too elegant as a literary judgment, but it is God’s truth, I swear.

When Italy was King of the World—from, say, the 13th century to the 16th century—it produced sublime writing. Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Machiavelli…names that will live as long as humans read. But afterwards…

Take the novel, at which, unfortunately, Italians are notoriously inept. In the 19th century, which produced Dickens, Hardy, Scott, Stevenson, Twain, Dumas, Hugo, Verne, Gogol, Tolstoy, Italy produced one novel which every Italian is forced to read and that is I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed). It is hard to find words to describe how utterly awful it is. Pious and long-winded and turgid and unspeakably boring, it is a primer for all other novels to come. It is on school curricula because there’s nothing else, otherwise it would have long since sunk into well-deserved obscurity.

The 1930s, which saw Somerset Maughm, Evelyn Waugh, John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, produced its Italian masterpiece in Alberto Moravia’s La Noia (Boredom) and never was a title more apt. It too was shoved down our throats in Italian schools and I read it the way you take castor oil—gingerly, a few sips at a time, because it is so repellent. Not even sharp writing to compensate for the story of (yes, you guessed it) a bourgeois man’s boredom. Just unrelieved tedium, as far as the eye can read.

There are too many examples to continue. The obverse is true, too. Good writing goes completely undetected. For example, Giovanni Tomasi di Lampedusa’s brilliant Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) went unpublished in his lifetime, having been turned down by Einaudi and Mondadori (presumably for being too readable).

This blog will probably come back to this theme often, because it’s a bit of a sore point with me. I’m a compulsive reader and I’ve tried to read Italian novels thousands of times but rarely succeeded in choking my way through even a few.

I’d feel guilty about saying this if it weren’t for the undeniable fact that though Italian writing is some of the worst on the planet, more or less everything else about the country is world-class. How can you feel sorry for the bad writing when the food and architecture and food and cities and design and fashion and food (did I mention the food) are so sublime? Half of all the art works produced by humankind are in Italy. Throw a rock and you’ll hit either a superbly well-dressed person or a work of art. It’s truly hard to find a bad meal here, in restaurants and in private homes. The wine is the best in the world. Italians excel at urban living, at village living and at country living. Nothing but the finest, everywhere.

So shed no tears for Italian writing because the Italians live quite well without it. Maybe good writing and the habit of reading is something that belongs to pale peoples living in cold climes with crappy food.

More anon…

Blogging in Paradise
Friday, November 26th, 2010

Hi, welcome to my blog! The blog itself is called Blogging in Paradise—A Writer in Italy. So if you like Italy and you like writing, stop by often and keep my Google ranking high. You might even find a few recipes.

So. I’m a professional writer – after being a professional simultaneous interpreter and translator – and I live in Italy. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I’m very lucky. But in this blog I’m going to show what it’s like to be a professional writer. And I’m also going to show you what it’s like living in Italy when you’re not George Clooney and you’re not restoring a villa in Tuscany. Warts and all, as they say.

Being a writer and being PAID for being a writer is a fabulous thing, but it is a long and arduous road getting there, with the Scylla and Charybdis of agents and editors to navigate. And unless you’re a best seller on SEVERAL lists, you’re not going to get rich any time soon.

In this blog I’m going to try to avoid talking about politics, which is no fun any more, anyway. I’m of an age and a station in life in which I would simply love to be a conservative, for a number of reasons, to wit:

  • After a lifetime of hard work, I have some property and investments and want to keep them out of the grubby hands of the rabble.
  • Unlike in my younger years, I have a greater appreciation of order. Anarchy is NOT fun when you’re not nimble any more, when your hormones are gone and your muscles are lax.
  • You should work hard and save. Any other lifestyle is unacceptable.

So—sign me up for any party that will cater to the above. Unfortunately, however, I do require a degree of sanity, just as a baseline requirement, and that excludes the conservatives (tea partiers) of my home country, the USA, and of my adoptive country, Italy, who are all batshit crazy.


For the rest, stay tuned to this channel for life in Italy as a writer.

Stay tuned!
Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Elizabeth starts blogging here soon.

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