Monday, October 31, 2016

Finding an inspiration: Travels

I do not believe in the idea that you start something to get an inspiration for your creative production. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about paintings, sculpture, photography, writing or whatever else that involves a creative process.
I believe that inspiration comes by chance, without the need to search for it.
I have dedicated my holidays and part of my free time to travel or to plan the next trip. I have started relatively late to travel in my life; the life of a student is a poor and humble life, particularly if you have to work to pay your studies. In many countries you can use the student loan (a way to be robbed since the young age), luckily, I didn't have this option so I had to work and study.
Left aside my past life, since I started to travel and see the world outside my comfort zone, I had the chance to open my mind to other realities totally alien from the one I was used to. I could get in touch with cultures of which I could only read in the articles of papers or in some travel guide...
That is not enough!
I realised that I had no idea of what was outside my country until I could touch other realities with my own hands.
My very first  real journey was in Africa; first destination Kenya, without any idea of what was waiting for me.
It was quite a long time ago, digital cameras were not yet even in commerce, and the ones that were available were not for everyone to buy.  I was not lodged in one of those fancy five star hotels and I actually booked one hotel only for the first two nights. I wasn't sure whether I was going to stay in Nairobi for the whole length of the holiday or I would have liked to visit also Tanzania or see if we could arrange a safari.
Again, no clue!
I travelled with my husband, and already as we travelled in the taxi from the airport to the hotel (yes, no airport pick-up), we could see the differences from our country and I was caught in the admiration of the landscape. I was amazed of how different life looked like from western countries, just as if it were another world. Indeed, somehow it is another world; it is a different culture, and another way to go on day after day. However, just for this diversity, I was attracted by it.
I will not go through the details of the entire journey; I might leave this for another book project.
I will let some of the pictures I took to talk on my behalf.
What I truly fell in love with was the simplicity of the people, their friendliness and contagious happiness. It made me rethink about my life, about what I really need to be happy and live a good life. I realised that I was wrong, and I didn't need all the gadgets I had, and since then my life had been easier.

Watching a documentary on TV, might amaze you, and it is easy to dream about those places. However, if you think you have seen it all, you are fooling yourself, as there are no words to describe the feelings of being in the presence of those magnificent animals. Nothing compares to the experience of having them so close, in one of the most beautiful natural environment on Earth.

Then there is, of course, the proud tribe of the Maasai, we were lucky to approach them not as tourists coming to have a taste of wildlife, but as foreigners trying to understand different lifestyles and cultures. We spend nice time chatting and learning from each other, even if at that point I suppose I was the one who learned the most.
Of course, I could never share their same lifestyle, but I could get the chance to rethink one more time about my life and the way I wanted to live it.

From Kenya, we decided to have a short trip to Tanzania. Even if it were for a few days, we thought it would have been interesting to see the differences between the two countries. We couldn't have any time to reach the Kilimanjaro, for which, we reserved to schedule another journey only for it.
The real adventure on that part of our holiday was the trip from Arusha to Mombasa, where we had booked a room in a hotel which had its own beach. After that road trip, we thought we needed some comfort. What we didn't yet know was how badly we needed after the last road trip
We decided to reach Mombasa by bus, so that we could have the chance to see more of the environment.
The travel agent who sold us the tickets, assured us we would have one of the best buses available and that the journey would have last not more than four-five hours. At that point we were not really aware of the distances, nor about the conditions of the roads.
We reached the bus station and we realised what was supposed to be the "best bus we have."
It was something that surely had four wheels, an engine and somewhat a body; however, if that was the best they had, I didn't even dare to imagine what was their worst.
The floor had holes in many places and it seemed that it was set on fire several times. No air condition, and the windows were blocked closed. You cannot imagine the heat!
Our trip started and after three hours our reserves of water were over. We didn't have any idea of where we were nor how far we were from Mombasa. The only thing clear was that we were in the middle of nowhere in a place without roads and with a driver that wanted to establish a Guinness record on the travel time. Most of us asked him to stop for at least our physiological needs, but he didn't even listen. He stopped only when people started to threat him seriously.
In any case, the journey last not four-five hours, but eight. I have no idea how did I survived, because I was extremely dehydrated, I needed a shower and also to go to the restroom.
I was in shock.
The other agent came to pick us up from the bus station and considering our state, he was smart enough not to ask us about the trip.
The formalities were taking far too long and I wasn't even listening what he was blabbering, I just needed a toilet and water, a lot of water.
We managed finally to reach the hotel in the evening...
Oh- and Ah!!
It was a paradise lost.
Far away from the city, and the noises, far from civilization.
A beautiful white beach, palms and a bamboo bar/restaurant.
I had something like two litres of water, which I consumed in a few minutes, a long shower and a great dinner.
The following days were pure bliss, it was us, the beach, the ocean, and the palms...
We spend time walking a lot to discover the natural beauties of the place, gathering shells, and resting. It felt like all the misfortunes in our journey have been worthwhile.
One day we were resting on the beach admiring the waves coming and going, when a voice interrupted our thoughts:
"A mango?"
We turned our gazes and there was standing an old man pushing an even older bike where there was a basket full of mangoes.
"They're good," he assured.
"Well, why not? Can we have one divided in half?" I asked.
"Of course," he said and took out a knife which was slightly smaller than an average machete, and with surgical precision, he cut a mango in half, practiced perpendicular cuts on the flesh and handed the two perfect halves to us, "It is one dollar," he said with a bright smile.
I gave him two dollars for the skills, and thanked him.
I have no idea whether it was the magic of the place, the kindness of that man or whatever else.
The fact is that the mango was the most delicious fruit I've ever tasted.

We returned home after a couple of weeks; our life had changed, and we could no more live without Africa.
I guess that this is what they call "Africa blues," we felt like we were missing something in our lives, and we realised that our hearts were left there on those endless prairies, running with the gazelles, hunting with the lions, jumping with the monkeys, and bathing with the hippos. Our heart was in that amazing starry sky and the Maasai tales told in front of the fire. We left something important, and for this reason we needed to go back.
We had no idea that going back meant only lose another piece of our hearts in that amazing land, but we did, again and again...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A new beginning

I have waited a bit before writing again, and that was for a good reason. Just yesterday I received my author copy of my novel.
I have to be honest, it made me a bit proud of myself, but what mostly thrilled me, was today a great feedback I received from one of my first readers. As a first time writer, I do not have an audience waiting for my next novel, so I have to build my reputation; well let me tell you something, it is not easy.
I knew someone bought one kindle copy of my novel, and I wasnt really expecting anything positive. You know, it was like I didn't want to believe too much on my work, so that I wouldn't be too disappointed if someone found it "not good enough."
I kept telling myself that this is how it goes and that I should not get discouraged by the fact that my book is not selling immediately. I knew from the beginning that with so many great writers in the business, I was not going to have an easy start.
However, today my very first reader sent me an extremely flattering feedback.
Nothing compares to the feeling of hearing someone say Bravo! I think this is one of the most powerful words. It means that the story you were writing with your heart, was able to touch other people's hearts with the same intensity. I really hope that my book can entertain other people like it entertained this first one.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Getting published

I do believe that all the people who decided to publish something for the first time found themselves in the same situation.
I finished to write my novel, and I was happy about it, then when I decided to publish it I realized that since there were many companies and private professionals offering services like proofreading, copy-edit, manuscript critique and so on, I should as well invest on polishing my manuscript. I gave the job to one proofreader who assured me that the turnaround time would have been 12 weeks.
Now, I do not know if there is a different way to count the time in different parts of the world, all I know is that I got the final version after 16 months. I cannot really express my frustration, but since my career didn't depend on that, I just kept waiting patiently.
In the end, I finally got my novel ready for the public, and since I was satisfied with the result, I felt like I couldn't complain.
What now? I had the novel, it was proofread, so what was left was to publish it; but how?
Should I have to ask for a literary agent? That is something I tried, but it was like a never ending list of rejections... again it was frustrating.
One suggestion for all the people who want to get published: Do not let anything stop you if you really believe in your manuscript.
I tried then to look for all the self-publishing possibilities, and they are many. However, only one seemed to give a real chance of visibility, offering at the same time the best royalties: CreateSpace of Amazon.
The decision was made!
So what now? I have my perfect novel, I have a place where to publish it, what is missing?
Oh God, yes! The blurb and the bio, not to mention the cover...
The cover???
Whether CreateSpace offers a very nice selection of customizable covers, I thought that I wanted something that was totally "me."
Hiring someone to make my cover would have been easy, but terribly expensive; I had to come out with another solution.
Did I or did I not graduated at the Art Institute? Yes, I did!
Therefore, I could easily do it by myself. At my side, my husband who worked for some years at an advertising company, and together we could reach the final solution for the cover.
I left the writing of the blurb to a professional, after all, that is the most important part; the text the potential readers are going to read before deciding to buy the book.
I could not fail that.
In the end, I had everything ready, and it was finally on sale (what a satisfaction!)
"What next?" I thought.
Promote, promote and promote.
Don't forget to promote :-)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Something about me

I have never been very popular in my life. I was considered a strange kid by my classmates. My primary school teacher defined me "smart like a weasel, but sometimes it is hard to catch her attention."
At those times I wasn't really able to express myself in words, and I mostly communicated through my drawings. I loved mystery and horror even before having watched a horror movie (in the 70's, we didn't even have a television). However, very soon after discovering the use of paper and pen, I started to write. I didn't keep a diary, like many girls of my age, but I kept a small notebook where I could write my feelings and draw them.
When was the time to choose the High School, it was for me very clear that I needed to go at the Art Institute. I knew that was the place where I was meant to be and that was where I was going to study, at any costs. My father was not really convinced, but as an art lover, he accepted my decision.
I finished my studies with good grades, but when it was the time to choose whether to find a job or to continue to the University, I didn't have any second thought.
"I will go to the University," I announced in a mid summer day.
"Great!" said my father, who wanted since the beginning to address me to science "did you already decide what Faculty?"
"I will go to some presentation courses to understand what's on the market."
And so, full of hopes I started diligently to follow all the introductory days, courses and so on.
Mathematics... I hate maths!
Physics? ... Oh please! No way!
Chemistry... Hmm... Nope, not on my list.

The list went on and I was almost hopeless, when I stumbled on the presentation of the faculty of Geosciences...
Love at first sight!
I graduated with decent grades (hey! I had also a life to live) but looking around me, I saw nothing to make a career of. The only places I could find a job were on a voluntary base...
I was looking for a job to pay my bills, not for slavery!
I started to look around what the rest of the world had to offer, and finally I landed to an International Master course offered by the University of Tübingen (Germany).
"Maybe this is the chance I was looking for," I thought.
Without even consulting my family, I sent my application and got accepted.
It was difficult to tell my mother that I was going to move away from Italy to Germany, she took it as a personal offence, but that was my life, so I packed my life in a suitcase and left, never to return.
Life in a new country, alone for the first time, was darn difficult, but I didn't life scare me; not even when I didn't have money to buy food for an entire week. I was just there saying "throw your shit against me, you won't have my soul."
I didn't survive, I thrived and graduated, just to be accepted for a gig job in Finland.
What can I say? I packed once again my life in a suitcase and left, never to return.
Life rewarded me, and I can consider myself an accomplished scientist...
Though, I've never quitted writing, even if it was just for myself.
Now, all the stories that I have written will see the light of day in the form of self published novels, in the hope that someone can read them and enjoy them.

The long road of writing a book.

Publishing a book is a journey on a rocky path that involves several stages, from writing and pre-editing to editing, formatting, selecting ...