An Interview with Riccardo Mori
Low Fidelity is an innovative, curiosity-engaging and untraditional format for a science fiction serial. It is currently available only on Vantage Point, Riccardo Mori's compact digital magazine in Apple’s Newsstand. He publishes two issues per month. A monthly subscription costs $2.99. You can subscribe here (The first demo issue is free.)
Serialised novels were popular well over a century ago now, but revolution in digital publishing has led to a resurgence in short fiction and serialised fiction.
As Alex Roddie puts it in his interview with Riccardo and review of Low Fidelity: "The narrative is unusual in a number of ways. There are no speech marks; dialogue is denoted by a dash at the start of the line. It’s written in the present tense. The overall result is startlingly immediate, rhythmic prose that plunges the reader directly into the story without hand-holding or unnecessary decoration. It’s an unusual but exquisite writing style."
In a nutshell, Riccardo asks readers to consider Vantage Point his idea of a ‘morrick.me membership’. It’s a way for readers to support him, and receive in return a kind of tech and literary supplement, where they will find more articles and a new episode of his novel in every issue.
What was the catalyst moment which made you decide to write fiction for publication?
There wasn’t a specific moment. I started writing short stories in 1990. The first experiments were exactly that, experiments. Some were reflections, some were little more than journal musings fictionalised. I was immediately aware that that wasn’t suitable material for publication. I was 19 at the time, and dealing with the typical identity crisis and self-exploration processes of a person that age. Writing poetry, writing short stories and journal entries was part of my process. I knew very well that my first attempts at fiction were raw, and essentially written for myself or, at best, for my close circle of friends. But I wanted to be a writer, I’ve always wanted that, so I kept working on it, refining my style, expanding my vocabulary, and reading. A lot. I had never read so many books (both fiction and non-fiction) before, and will probably never read so many for the rest of my life.
When I started going at the university (of course I chose the liberal arts), I met a lot of like-minded people, and I started writing more stories and circulating my work via self-published booklets. I wanted to put my stories in the hands of very different fellow students (and professors), with very different tastes, because I wanted to see how they reacted to my themes and style. I wanted to see if I was going in the right direction. The feedback was exceptional, so if we have to pinpoint a catalyst moment, I’d say when I received very encouraging feedback at the university in the mid-1990s.
Also, keep in mind that I started writing poetry, prose and fiction in my first language, Italian. When I decided to shift to English (a language I was familiar with since the age of 4) to look for a broader audience, that process of working on my style and voice started all over again. But I’ve always ‘known’ I wanted to write fiction for publication.
How long do you generally research before beginning your first draft?
It greatly varies from story to story, from project to project and, in “Low Fidelity,” from episode to episode. Sometimes the idea for a story is so strong, I just start writing and see where it goes. Other times the original idea gives way to a more complex structure, therefore I can spend a few days researching. It’s difficult for me to quantify exactly, because I rarely separate the research process from the writing itself. Most of the time the two happen concurrently. Also, I generally don’t write a complete first draft to then review and revisit and edit it again from the beginning until it gets to a stage where I say ‘Okay, this is it.’ I don’t write this way. The major editing happens before I even start writing: there is an idea, but the story doesn’t begin until I find a suitable beginning, no matter how clear the original idea is. When the first sentences are finally written down, the writing and editing go on from there completely intertwined. When a paragraph is complete, I re-read it and see whether there are changes to be made, etc. On and on until the story comes to a conclusion.
What are the keys areas you research? Where does your inspiration tend to come from?
I’ve always been extremely curious, and drawn to many different areas of knowledge: from art history to astronomy, from philology to linguistics, from literary criticism to architecture and anthropology. I’m fascinated by how things work, so if I’m creating a character and this character happens to collect vintage folder cameras or practices fencing or repairs old clocks for a hobby, I will do research into these fields and learn enough information as to create a believable character (and also to sustain a conversation, which never hurts).
Sometimes, for inspiration, I just let the current information overload hit me and it’s amazing how the inspiration for a story can come from a photo of a house in the country, or from an article about a new communication device, or a critique of a particular social phenomenon, and so on and so forth. But of course the main source of inspiration are the usual suspects: music, photography, movies and TV series. I watch a lot of series, and it’s for research as much as personal enjoyment. Series are extremely useful to me to study character building and interaction, not to mention the various narrative techniques and even the cinematography. I love to analyse the visual ingredients that work together to create a particularly intriguing atmosphere, to then try to transfer them into words, descriptions, etc.
I haven’t forgotten books as sources of inspiration, obviously. I’ve always been drawn to authors capable of building entire worlds in their novels. In this regard, the most inspiring work I’ve read is probably Joyce’s “Ulysses”. I read it back in high school, and I was so thrilled, so fascinated by the story, by Joyce’s process, by the symbolism and architecture of it, that with hindsight it’s perhaps *the* book that definitely pushed me towards becoming a writer. Other important ‘world-building’ authors I’ve read are Thomas Pynchon, Neal Stephenson, David Foster Wallace, J.R.R. Tolkien (way before “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” became box office hits), just to name a few.
What led you to write Low Fidelity?
I needed to write something a bit different from what I had been writing up to then. In late 1992 I had started writing my first novel, “Richard Martyn” [still unpublished], and it rapidly became an ambitious, creatively demanding project. As I wrote on my website, I had hit a creative dead end with that first novel (finally completed in 1999), I was feeling somewhat trapped in its themes (amnesia and its identity-related implications), and I badly needed fresh ideas. The first attempt at something different came in 1994, with a short novel called “The Dead Has Tears”, but I wasn’t really satisfied with the result — too fragmented and too openly autobiographical.
Low Fidelity’s very first concept was extremely radical: since I was fed up with characters, dialogues, strong first-person points of view, and the like, I wanted Low Fidelity to be a novel about places and objects. The challenge was to write a story without characters. However, after a promising start, I soon realised that while such a story was definitely doable, it could not easily stand the sheer length of a whole novel. I stored all I had written up to that point, and planned to re-use it later, as a part of a bigger project or as a standalone short story.
Despite this false start, the mere process of working on something else that wasn’t Richard Martyn had the positive effect of reigniting my creativity, and in December 1995 while at the university library, I started jotting down ideas and a possible plot involving a conspiracy related to culture, information propagation, and books. Since the beginning I had a rather clear idea of the main character, a skilled, seasoned ‘cultural investigator’.
In the following months, the novel quickly reached a sort of perennial work in progress status, with alternating periods of abandonment/inactivity and periods of resurgence and information-gathering. As my life got increasingly busy, I couldn’t find enough time and energy to devote to this project, but I would keep gathering information and ideas that now lie scattered throughout 16 different notebooks.
What led me to finally revive Low Fidelity? One day I was going through the fragments I had written between 1995 and 2009, 2010 and 2012. I realised that the idea behind the project was still strong, I realised the world of Arslan deserved to be properly rendered and developed, and that I could insert new themes and layers on top of the foundation. I also thought I could explore the sci-fi post-apocalyptic genre from an unusual angle, and blend dystopian and utopian elements in an original way.
How long does it take you to write the first draft of each ‘episode’? Is ‘episode’ even the right word for serialisations now?
The more I advance with the story, the less it takes for me to write an episode. As situations are created, as new information is introduced, and scenes left in suspension, the next segment of the narration will already have a series of plot elements to pick from, scenes to further expand, situations to develop. The first episodes were critical: I had to set the tone, the pace… The fine-tuning took a few days. Now it takes me one day and a half, two days at the most to complete one episode.
I don’t know whether ‘episode’ is the right word for serialisations, but I know it’s the most suitable for my project. From the beginning I knew I wouldn’t use ‘chapter’ because my idea of a chapter in a book is something much longer, more final. At first I thought about using ‘segment’, but then I thought that ‘episode’ was the best choice, because I’m really treating the flow of the novel — and the delivery of the various segments of the action — as if it were a TV series. Hence the idea of calling each installment an ‘episode.’
How many times do you personally edit your drafts and how do you edit?
As I was saying before, I don’t write in drafts. Many writers have this method where they just write down a first draft, from beginning to end, then go back and start editing, rewriting, until they have a second draft, and then again, lather rinse repeat, until they get to the final text. This is not how I work. The page stays blank until I haven’t found a proper way to begin (an episode of Low Fidelity, for example). Once a beginning is established, I proceed, sentence after sentence until I’ve written a paragraph or come to a point in the narration where feel I can take a break (e.g. I’ve finished describing a scene or an interaction). At that point I check how that paragraph or chunk of text sounds, and do any edit I feel necessary. When it sounds good for me, I move on. This way, when I reach the end of an episode, the text is at a ‘95% final’ stage. Then of course I re-read everything, looking for repetitions, weak phrases, and so on. The text-to-speech feature in Mac OS X is very useful to me for this purpose: hearing the text read aloud helps me spot typos and sentences ending up being too convoluted.
What is your writing background and how have you developed your craft?
I started writing when I was 14, more or less. At first I mostly wrote journal entries and lyrics for local bands. Then, at 16, that developed into poetry. At 19 I started writing short stories. I’ve developed my craft through incessant work and by always submitting to others my every effort. I used to tell my closest friends: “Be utterly sincere, even brutal. If you’re my friend, you’ll tell me the truth, not simply what I want to hear.” Constant feedback has helped me considerably over the years.
Do you use a professional editor?
If by ‘editor’ you mean specific professional software aimed at writers, the answer is no. I write using a variety of tools (pen & paper, iPad, my Macs) and using standard word processors and text editors such as TextEdit and BBEdit in Mac OS X. If by ‘editor’ you mean a person, a professional hired to help me with my work, the answer is again no. I do the writing, the editing, the proofreading. It slows me down, because correcting your own work is notoriously more difficult than having someone else’s fresh eyes on it, but I also find it rather rewarding in the end.
Have you started work on cover design yet – who will put it together and what input will you have?
I have a few ideas and a couple of images that I find particularly striking and fitting. It’s very likely I’ll do all the design work. But there’s still a lot of time before Low Fidelity is published as a standalone book. (For now it’s serialised and each episode is published within Vantage Point, my compact digital magazine.) So anything can happen in that regard.
What marketing do you tend to do to increase your public face?
First of all, I’m terrible at marketing. That has always been a problem for me. You have no idea how many times I’ve heard people tell me: “Your stories are great, but you should really improve your marketing tactics.” I mainly use my website and social networks to advertise what I write, but with a certain restraint. The fact is, I’m often at the receiving end of other people’s marketing, and their insistence gets annoying very quickly. So I avoid that insistence when it comes to advertise myself. I prefer to be polite than be that guy tweeting about his book every half hour. This, of course, ends up being a bit counterproductive at times. I’m open to suggestions!
How do you see the landscape of publishing developing over the next 24 months?
I honestly have no idea. What I’m afraid of, though, is this race to the bottom when it comes to pricing ebooks. ebooks are being treated like apps, and seeing the products of good-quality writing priced at 99 cents infuriates me. While I agree that an ebook should cost less than its print counterpart, I don’t think it should be subjected to the same ‘disposable culture’ we see with mobile apps.
What is your next work in progress?
Three short novels. The first is the re-writing and expansion of an experimental mystery novella I wrote between 2001 and 2003 called “The Elah-Unembris Hotel”. The second is a sci-fi effort that takes place in the same world described in “The Logic Bomb,” one of the short stories contained in Vol. 1 of Minigrooves. The third is, again, inspired by another short story from Minigrooves and is about Charles Winterman, an extremely perceptive (borderline psychic) consultant detective who specialises in finding missing persons.
Riccardo Mori was born in Italy in 1971. His educational background is rooted in the liberal arts, focusing on philology, Italian and English literature, and art history. He started writing poetry as early as 1985, and in 1990 completed his first collection of short stories.
In early 1993 he founded Laboratorio Quillink (now Quillink Press), a sort of small design & print centre aimed at publishing and distributing his and other people’s works, which soon became the official brand for all his self-published material. Some of his poetry in Italian was published between 1994 and 1996.
A large part of his corpus is in Italian. Since 2001, he has progressively adopted English as primary language. Notable works in English include:
- The Elah-Unembris Hotel (2001-2003), an experimental mystery novella.
- Collapsars (2003-2005), a small collection of poems (the PDF is available on demand).
- Minigrooves Vol. 1 (Published 2013 on Apple’s iBooks Store — http://minigroov.es/v1/), the first volume of a series of short stories.
- Low Fidelity, a science fiction novel currently published in serialised form on Vantage Point (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vantage-point-magazine/id844593538?ls=1&mt=8), a magazine Mori launched in June 2014 on Apple’s Newsstand platform. (More information on Low Fidelity can be found here (http://crosslines.wordpress.com/about-low-fidelity/) ).
His main interests are literature, art, photography, typography, Macintosh computers, vintage technology, design, user interfaces and usability. He write about these subjects, and technology in general, on his main website (http://morrick.me).
His main website: http://morrick.me
Minigrooves website: http://minigroov.es/
Crosslines — the Low Fidelity companion website: http://crosslines.wordpress.com
Vantage Point website: http://vp-magazine.tumblr.com
Minigrooves iTunes link: http://tinyurl.com/minigrooves
Vantage Point iTunes link: http://tinyurl.com/vantagepointmag