Davide Mana began writing in high school, typing away on his mother’s old Olivetti Lettera 32. ‘I have always loved stories. And I was always an avid reader of mysteries, science fiction and fantasy, historical novels, and espionage,’ begins the author, speaking to us in an exclusive interaction. He tells us that trying to tell his own stories was an obvious development. ‘As it is only normal, my first stories were horrible. But it only took me fifteen years to make my first professional sale,’ he says.
‘Faking’ at First
Mr Mana, whose mother tongue is Italian, lets us know that his first published work was a fake academic article, which was published in a roleplaying gamebook. ‘At the time, that is, in 1999, I was working on my BSc in Palaeontology. And my English-speaking friends were encouraging me to try and write fiction in English. I essentially used my academic background to write something convincing. This led to a few published works in the field of gaming,’ he shares with us.
He says that later on, he tried his hand at self-publishing fiction while at the same time submitting short fiction to magazines. ‘Some of my stories caught the eye of Acheron Books, an Italian publisher that was trying to break through on the English-speaking market. This finally led to my first novel entitled “The Ministry of Thunder”, a historical fantasy adventure novel set in China in the 1930s,’ he explains, adding, ‘I learned a lot writing that book.’
Christmas Special for Davide Mana
The author, who is now a full-time writer and translator publishing in a number of genres, both in Italian and English, tells us that his latest work is a historical non-fiction book. He says it is a collection of biographical sketches of Italian travellers and adventurers that visited far-off lands between the nineteenth and early twentieth century. ‘It will be published in Italian and is slated to hit the shelves for Christmas,’ he lets on.
When we ask him if he considers himself a pantser or plotter, the fifty-three-year-old, who is currently residing in Castelnuovo Belbo, a small village in the wine country of Asti in northern Italy, says he usually starts writing with a handful of characters and their voices, along with some background information – historical facts, some weird idea about the setting, and a plot for a new crime all.
‘All of this depends on the genre I am writing. If I am lucky, I also have a strong theme I want to explore. I am not a detailed plotter. I usually go for what they call the 3 x 3 outline system – three acts, with three things happening in each one of them. Then I let the story grow as its internal logic demands. Usually, the characters take me to some unexpected places, and the light outline I started with gets much more complicated. But that’s the fun part of my work – the exploration and the discovery,’ he explains.
I let the story grow as its internal logic demands. Usually, the characters take me to some unexpected places, and the light outline I started with gets much more complicated. But that’s the fun part of my work – the exploration and the discovery.Davide Mana
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‘I Once Dreamt of Becoming as Good as Fritz Leiber’
And does he have any favourite authors that he derives inspiration from? ‘A lot!’ he pronounces. ‘As I started a genre reader, I dreamt of being one day as good as Fritz Leiber, or Roger Zelazny, or Harlan Ellison. This is the reason why I probably focused so much on short fiction. Raymond Chandler was also a big influence, together with John D MacDonald. When you are making a living as a writer, you need to learn to write a lot, fast and good – and those old magazine writers have a lot to teach in this sense,’ he tells us.
The author adds that he deeply admires Michael Moorcock for his imagination and his ability to go from wild, fun genre fiction to highly sophisticated literary fiction while always maintaining a level of quality that’s absolutely impressive. ‘Today, off the top of my head, I’d add to the list David Mitchell, and most certainly Lucia Berlin and Sam Shepard, whose short stories have been a revelation. But I’ll never be that good,’ he adds with a guffaw.
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‘I Sometimes Write for the Fun of It’
While Mr Mana tries to keep a schedule, writing from 10 AM to 5 PM, with a short break for lunch and several pauses, he concedes that many unexpected events tend to shatter his schedule. ‘But that’s life I guess,’ he states. ‘Also, I sometimes just sit at the keyboard and write for the fun of it – without a deadline or a target market, or a contract. Especially when the going gets rough, and it happens, writing is a good way to clear the mind and stop worrying about those things you can’t control anyway,’ he adds.
Nevertheless, the author, who studied earth sciences and palaeontology in Turin, London and Bonn, and later got a PhD in Geology at the University of Urbino, while working as a researcher and a lecturer, says that becoming a writer was a conscious decision he made.
‘As my contract with my university ended in 2013, I found myself out of work and taking care of my father in a small village situated in the middle of nowhere. Writing was at that point the only thing I could do while sitting by my dad’s bedside. So I did it, concentrating on foreign markets that are harder to break but pay better,’ he lets on, adding, ‘After my father’s death in 2016, writing became the only viable career choice for a man of forty-nine. I could not work as a palaeontologist, so I wrote a Clive Cussler-style adventure novel with dinosaurs entitled “House of the Gods”; and it was published by Severed Press, a publisher based in Tasmania. That’s when it became my full-time job. In 2018 I also started offering my services as a ghostwriter.’
‘My Brother Helps Me Preserve My Sanity’
While writing keeps Mr Mana occupied for most of the day, he says he tries to find the time to look after his house and schedule supply runs with a friend to share the car. ‘I am lucky to have my brother sharing my house as he helps me keep on track and preserve my sanity,’ he trails off, only to quickly add, ‘Writing is a lonely job.’ And therefore, the author tends to cook and collect recipes and cookbooks when he is not writing.
‘Living as I do in the countryside, I try to regularly take long walks in the hills and the vineyards, taking my camera with me. I have two blogs – one in Italian and one in English. And this year, I started hosting a podcast about horror and fantasy movies with my friend Lucia Patrizi, who is a movie editor in Cinecittà,’ he shares with us. He says that it started the show to hold on during the pandemic, but it somehow grew on them. ‘It’s called Paura & Delirio, Englished as Fear & Delirium. We do a weekly episode about a movie of our choice in Italian, but I am trying to convince my friend to try and do a few episodes in English,’ he says.
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When asked if he is currently working on any new books, Mr Mana, who is often awakened by the church bell that rings at seven in the morning, says he is juggling a few projects at the moment. He lets us know, ‘I am writing a mystery novel set in the 1970s and inspired by the classic Mario Bava/Dario Argento movies. It’s just for fun; I will probably self-publish it. I still don’t have a title for it.’
At present, the author has a contract to write a choose-your-own-adventure book about the historical (and not-so-historical!) exploits of Giovanni Battista Belzoni, the Italian archaeologist that was an inspiration for Indiana Jones. Besides, he says he is busy writing short stories and articles for magazines. ‘And soon, I will also be taking care of the English translation of Brancalonia. It is a highly successful Italian fantasy roleplaying game that is about to go international. I was one of the concept designers for the game, and I did some writing for it,’ he reveals.
Be that as it may, does he have anything to tell budding authors? ‘Well, I’d like to tell them to hold on,’ states Mr Mana, who also knows to read Spanish and French. ‘Sometimes it gets hard because writing is not a sure thing. You can do your best and still your story may fail because it’s the wrong time or the wrong market. Rejection is not about you; there’s a lot of factors you can’t control. So, I know it hurts, but it’s a natural thing,’ he points out.
And as the conversation draws to a close, we learn that the author is a nature lover. He tells us that if he could change one thing in the world, he would get rid of a society that harms the environment. Also, I’d like for all people to have free access to quality education. Who knows, maybe that would also take care of the environmental problems in the long run,’ he states, signing off with a smile.
I dreamt of being one day as good as Fritz Leiber, or Roger Zelazny, or Harlan Ellison. This is the reason why I probably focused so much on short fiction.Davide Mana