Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Italian author Davide Mana author of The Corsair: The Devil Under the Sea
Hi Davide , thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Hi, and thanks for having me. I am a paleontologist and geologist by trade, and I worked for many years in academia as a teacher and researcher. I always loved writing and reading fiction - it was my hobby. But when my job expired in 2014 (not many dinosaurs around anymore) I decided to start writing professionally, while I waited for the phone to ring and a new job to appear. The phone has not rung yet, and in the last two years I’ve been (barely) paying my bills with my writing and my translation work. I mostly write fantasy and adventure, usually with an historical element.
Do you aim for a set amount of words \ pages per day?
Yes. My daily target is 5000 words. I usually set small prizes for me should I meet the target - a piece of chocolate, or maybe a 99 cent ebook. Basically I bribe myself to write more.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I started writing on my mother’s old Olivetti Lettera 35 typewriter, when I was a kid, but now I write on my computer. I run on Ubuntu Linux, and use Scrivener for most of my writing jobs.
Where do the your ideas come from ?
Ah, “the question that should not be asked”!
I think ideas are everywhere. I get ideas from the books I read (I like reading history and science books), from talking with people, from just taking a walk and looking around. From eavesdropping in shops and waiting rooms. Finding ideas is not that hard. It’s recognizing ideas that could make for viable stories that requires some experience. That, and matching two or three ideas to build a plot. That’s the tricky part.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively ?
I certainly evolved since I started, and then when I moved from writing for fun to writing for fun and profit. Confronting a paying market forced me to improve the quality of my work, both in terms of plotting and in terms of language. I (hopefully) write tighter, better stories. I also learned a lot thanks to my editors. Also, writing to the market, I had the opportunity to try my hand at genres I had not previously considered - like thrillers. This too was a great part of my learning process. And I learned to write faster.
What is the hardest thing about writing ?
Loneliness. Writing is a lonely business, because often even those that are close to us won’t “get” what we are doing, or won’t be able to relate to problems such as deadlines, dead ends, runaway characters and the simple pain and panic of sending a story out there to be read. For this reason I think reader feedback, and connections - often online - with other writers are important. We need a support group from time to time.
Do you ever get writer’s block ? and if you do is there any tips that you use which could help others through their dreaded writer’s block.
It happens that one gets stuck while writing. Ideas don’t click, words won’t flow. I don’t usually call it a block because if you give it a name you give it power. In these cases, anyway, I usually go for a walk, and then start writing something completely different. A blog post, the outline for my next story, a few pages of a translation. The idea is to write through the block. To keep going until the brain doesn’t start collaborating again. That has worked for me so far. That, and the fear of being unable to pay my bills.
Can you tell us about the cover's and how they came about.
The idea is to build a cover that will strike and fascinate the readers, convincing them to pick up the book and give it a try. Then it’s a matter of tastes and habits. I grew up reading genre fiction, and I often say I started writing, beck in high school, because I dreamed of having a cover painting like those McGinnis or Whelan did for my favorite books. Colorful, striking depictions of key scenes in the book.
Who designs your book covers ?
When I am working with traditional publishers, I can rely on their artists, and they do a great job. I think of the excellent work Antonio de Luca did for “The Ministry of Thunder”, or the wonderful steampunk covers Alberto Bontempi is doing for my “Hope & Glory” novelettes, or again the stylish graphic design of Antonio Lo Iacono for Pro Se press.
As for my self-publishing stuff, I usually do what I can with my limited graphical skills. But professional artists are another thing. In the past, when I could afford it, I availed myself of the work of the excellent Giordano Efrodini, and for my next project, that I am currently writing and promoting, I was lucky enough to contract Luca Morandi, that did a superb job on an as-yet-undisclosed cover.
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
It can work, as a tool to expand the readers’ pool - like participating in group giveaways, in which basically a number of writers share their readers. And it is certainly useful to grow a mailing list, that is still the top tool for marketing books.
The downside is, of course, that if you start giving away your work for free, then nobody will like the idea of paying for your stuff. That can be bad.
What is your favourite positive saying?
“It doesn’t matter what happens, as long as it’s interesting.”
It comes from an old episode of a TV series called Space:1999. One of my faves when I was a kid.
Where can you see yourself in 5 years time?
Hard question. Currently I’m going through a rough patch, and for all I know in five years time I might be in a shelter for the homeless, ranting about what I could have done. But I am working at solving the problems, and that’s really the worst case scenario from hell.
So in five years time I see myself more or less where I am now, but with a wider audience, more titles in my catalog, and maybe a little money in the bank. Not much, just enough for me and mine to be safe.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
First find a job, then enroll in university. Don’t stop writing, and have faith in your ideas. Also, leave Italy as soon as you can.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
Another hard one. I would love to have written Roger Zelazny’s “Lord of Light”, because it’s one of my favorite books, and because it would mean I’m as good as Zelazny. The same goes for Gene Wolfe’s “The Book of the New Sun”, and Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast”.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The standard: read a lot, in all genre, in all fields. And write at least 1000 words per day. Some will be rubbish, but it’s OK.
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
Major publishers seem to be looking for a standardization of the market, trying to find the one-size-fits-all book that everybody will like, and buy. In the shadow of the big ones, smaller presses are filling in niches and catering for small groups, and this is fine, because there is strength and health in variety.
And talking about variety… Self-publishing, hoping it does not collapse under a million fake books published to play the Kindle Unlimited algorithms, will probably become more professional, creating an ecology of indie writers working with freelance editors and artists. This will once again increase variety.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
I can’t think of anything, really.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
I have a blog, called Karavansara (http://Karavansara.live) where I talk about my work, my interests and various odds & ends, including news about my new books. And on the first of December I’ll launch my Patreon page, and my patrons will have access to behind-the-scenes material (notes, cut scenes, assorted flotsam and jetsam) and will get a new short story every month.
Thank you very much Davide for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.
Thank you for this interview, and thanks to all those that took the time to read it.