What They Read (Kids) May 11, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, ideas, iPad, sense of wonder, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
Tags: children, discoverability, e-books, education, fantasy, kids, reading, science fiction, sf
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Discoverability is an important part of any author’s excursion through the profession. How do you get eyes on your work? A study on what kids in K-12 read makes for fascinating reading, especially when you dig down into it and find the youngest grades are more amenable to ebooks than other groups. I’d always said ereaders would never become commonplace until the earliest grades read using them. It has happened.
The report What Kids Are Reading is downloadable as a pdf and takes a while to go through.
Here are some of my takeaways.
Many of these books are assigned by teachers and, to my way of thinking, aren’t of much use to us as writers of VIPub original fiction. A student reading To Kill A Mockingbird as a class assignment is less important than finding that Hunger Games has found itself a high ranking over the past few years or that the younger students read Dav Pilkey. Those are hardly revelations but give direction to our hunt to garner new readers. One trend that seems obvious to me in the younger readers (pre 6th grade) is the number of “outcast” stories. The kids want stories in the little tailor vein, Heinlein’s ordinary person who overcomes great peril to triumph as an individual. Superheroes are ok (are we being force fed them?) but the kids read stories about solitary heroes and heroines, probably because they see themselves that way (a fight between Katniss Everdeen and Percy Jackson?). No super powers, just outcast and subpar and wanting to do great things. Stories of accomplishment seem to rate higher than those of ordering the kids to have self-esteem. SF looks important in this extracurricular reading.
As long as I have been in science fiction fandom, there has been the semi-joke about the golden age of sf being 12. This report bears that out when you look at the number of words read by each grade group (page 55). The sixth graders read the most. You might make the argument later grades are reading more challenging books and are therefore reading less due to the time it takes to wade through. Maybe so, but if you want to capture an audience and keep it, find what appeals to a 6th grader. By that age they have access to an ereader, are becoming autonomous and developing their tastes in reading, and probably have more money to spend on their epurchases than the authors writing the stories.
Mostly, I need to sift through this report and find what is being read for pleasure, then figure out how to capture some of the market.
Confirmation Bias May 4, 2014Posted by bobv451 in Uncategorized.
Tags: confirmation bias, fiction, science, sf, Time, writing
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One of the hats I wear at this time of year is working on the editorial staff of a four-play of great fantasy football magazines. One of them won best fantasy football magazine of the 2013 (beating out such also-rans as Sports Illustrated and Rotowire <g>). One article that just passed through my computer this year takes the usual fantasy selection process to a new level by discussing confirmation bias.
This started me thinking about how confirmation bias enters into fiction writing overall. In a nutshell this is (subconsciously) looking for information that supports your own beliefs.
Everyone filters what they choose to read simply because there isn’t time enough to read everything. If I write a book a month and you can read it in a day, you have 29 or 30 days free–but there are hundreds of authors also publishing a book to take up that schedule. Read 3 a day–there are more than that being published. And I’m just talking f&sf. Throw in mysteries and westerns and romance and nf and all the rest, you’d have to read faster than the speed of light. So of course you need to pick and choose (call it discriminate, if you will). You read space opera with a touch of other sf? You still have to figure out how to best spend your time. Favorite author? This is music to my ears if my name is on that mental list because it means I write what you like.
Here is where confirmation bias can be both good and bad. It’s good that you read for enjoyment what entertains you. It’s stupid to force yourself through a book that isn’t delivering the groceries. All you have in life is time and you must make the most of it. The same goes for being a writer. I pick and choose what interests me to write. Confirmation bias supports my choices since I need look at only the bits and pieces that reinforce my foolish belief I can sell what I write. Would something outside the box (I am beginning to hate this cliche) be better? Maybe, but not if it doesn’t spark my interest. I love reading about physics and my bias is in that direction. That’s not to say civil engineering wouldn’t add to my store of info, but mostly I don’t care about asphalt roads or designing parking lots or see how a story about them would be fun to write. I would rather find another article on the Alcubierre warp drive.
Confirmation bias supports my beliefs in fiction reading and writing. Making decisions that involve life and death situations certainly require examining your beliefs to be sure they aren’t doing great harm or are just not right. What if the accepted mass of the electron was wrong, maybe just by a tad? Such “absolutely known” numbers need to be verified and are never “accepted science” in real science.
Playing In My Own Sandbox (part 2) April 13, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, Free, ideas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
Tags: ebooks, mysteries, series, westerns, writing
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Nothing is certain but change. That’s the way of life, but not necessarily so in series. If you intend to do a limited series, say a trilogy, your protagonist can have a character arc where all kinds of flaws are corrected or augmented by the end of the series. The protagonist usually grows as a person and responds to the vicissitudes of the plot thrown at him/her. This makes for a satisfying conclusion but presents a problem if the series stretches to more titles.
Readers get invested in the character. Watching one grow and change is fine if the series ends in a predetermined number of titles. If the series has multiple entries, this isn’t such a good idea. A reader coming into the series after 5 or 6 titles (or 50 or 60) can fall in love with that character, go back to read earlier titles and find the character doesn’t measure up. End of interest. Ebooks have the advantage of always being in print so a reader can scrounge up the first book and ride the wave through all the titles and enjoy the character development. But in a print series, this isn’t an easy thing. Print books go OP (out of print) in a few weeks.
Some many-authored long-running series like the Jake Logan books insist that the main character (in this case, John Slocum) never change from the traits listed in the series bible. Authors don’t have to deal with changes or details a book or a hundred books earlier. But what’s an author to do with a static protagonist?
The answer comes in the secondary characters. They can change (or even die). The protagonist carries the plot and everyone around can learn and grow or devolve. End of book, satisfying character changes, but not in the protagonist who moves on, as is, to begin a new adventure.
I am trying something a bit different in a western series starting in October. The protagonist in The Great West Detective Agency is a gambler and something of a wastrel whose liking for the ladies always gets him in trouble. It’s a print series so Lucas Stanton’s not going to change much, but I hit upon the idea of publishing short stories using secondary characters to augment the plot. What are the histories behind the characters in the book? The dance hall girl or the bartender? The sidekick or the femme fatale? The curious “source of all information” or the hellfire and brimstone preacher or the sweet young thing who entices Stanton into a new mystery? This volume (the first will be called 4 Lives) will be an ebook and maybe PoD. But it gives a chance for the behind the scenes look at the characters and how they got to where they are in the book, leaving the protagonist free to push the plot.
If you want a free copy of 4 Lives when it is ready in a month or so to see what I’m doing, drop me a line via my website at http://www.cenotaphroad.com and mention it. Be sure to tell me what your preferred format is.
Playing In My Own Sandbox (part 1) April 6, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, fantasy, writing.
Tags: edgard rice burroughs, series, structured series, writing
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Prior bloggy installments dealt with different ways of working with someone else’s property. I have done quite a few trilogies and short run series (the longest is the Swords of Raemllyn at nine titles) and decided to meander about with some ways I have developed them.
Most trilogies are structured similarly. There is one overarching plot that has to be resolved by the end of book 3. But each book has to stand on its own for a variety of reasons. In the legacy publishing days, it might be a year between books in a trilogy (Stephen Donaldson’s first Thomas Covenant trilogy was a groundbreaker–all three books were published simultaneously). In the publishing world this is an eternity. The second book will hit the stands and the first book might not be in print any more, or if it came out in hardcover, there was a boost with paperback publication concurrent with book 2 (in hc). If book 1 came out in mass market, finding it will be difficult. That third book stands the best chance of being the worst seller, both through interest attrition and inability to muster an audience since the first two titles are out of print. (I’ll get into e-books and how great they are for series in another installment)
Making each title a standalone helps keep the series interest high. A reader coming in on book 3 might know how the major plot is resolved but won’t be disappointed picking up the first two since those are different books, different plots but with the overarching plot being developed.
I do a synopsis for everything I wrote (even short stories). Doing one for the main plot and then a separate one for each book in the set helps keep action high and avoid the “marking time” complaint so common about #2 books in a trilogy. (That complaint will always be there, no matter what, because too many readers think it is the smart thing to say–it might be true, but planning keeps it from happening).
The classic plot structure for a trilogy was used by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his first Barsoom books, A Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars, Warlord of Mars. A great value both for entertainment and to see how a longer series is done can be found here. This is where I learned how to do it.
Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 6)(collaborations) March 23, 2014Posted by bobv451 in e-books, fantasy, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
Tags: Chris Achilleos, collaboration, fantasy, genre series, Geo W Proctor, Matthew Stover, writing
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This isn’t strictly about playing in someone else’s sandbox as much as learning to share your toys. For someone who doesn’t like doing collaborations it seems I have done quite a few. 16? About that. Mostly I go with the dictum: coauthoring is where you do twice the work for half the money.
An early collab was with Victor Milan in the 6-title series War of Powers. This one had a strange journey going from Playboy books to Ace/Berkley, but the best of the covers were in the twin omnibus New English Library volumes–the covers were by Chris Achilleos and rank with the best on any heroic fantasy book, any time, ever. The migration came about as Playboy dropped out of genre publishing but sales were so good Berkley nee Ace continued them.
I was doing the Cenotaph Road series for Ace when the first 3 Swords of Raemllyn books with Geo. Proctor were sold there. Geo and I talked over where we wanted to go, I did the synopsis, we rewrote it, I did the first draft since I wrote faster, Geo did a rewrite and then I did a final rewrite with him doing the page proofs. The process went quite well and we were able to talk endlessly about it. Geo lived in Texas, I was in NM. We both had Apple ][e computers and bought super hi-speed modems (4800 baud!) We swapped work via the modem, though a book took as long as 20 minutes to transfer, whereupon we would talk for another 2 hours about how techno savvy we were and how we saved so much money on postage. No matter that the phone bills were higher!
The first 3 Raemllyn books did so well, we sold 3 more. Ace balked at a final 3, but those sold to New English Library and never saw American dead tree publication. Unlike the lovely NEL covers for the War of Powers omnibus volumes, I thought these were all subpar. But they did ok in sales and the third omnibus with book #9 in it completed the series we had started ten years earlier.
Working with Geo was trying, especially when our ideas diverged, but the books came out a great fusion of his characters and my plots. And somehow we remained best friends throughout and after.
My other collaboration came with Matt Stover under not so ideal conditions (see the earlier blog about God of War 1), through no fault on either of our parts. His medical problems aside, it went well enough but the merging wasn’t as seamless as with Geo and the Raemllyn books.
Alas, Geo died before the Raemllyn ebooks were put up. It would have been fun doing more titles, with some of the old characters but new situations. We had an sf collaboration in the works, Forge of the Stars, but this isn’t a project that will go anywhere now. Time and science have left it behind. And without Geo, it wouldn’t be the same.
Do I recommend a newer writer collaborate? No. Do your own stuff. Do I recommend 2 authors at similar places in their careers to collaborate? Maybe. For fun. Then get to your own stuff. Always focus on doing your own work. (Remember, a collaboration is doing twice the work for half the money.)
Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 5)(mosaic series) March 16, 2014Posted by bobv451 in e-books, ideas, outlaws, westerns, Wild West, writing.
Tags: Bill Crider, Cheryl Pierson, Frank Roderus, Jacquie Rogers, James Reasoner, LJ Martin, LJ Washburn, Meg Mims, Robert Randisi, series, Troy D. Smith, westerns, writing
Imagine a stained glass window, only every piece is cut and installed by a different artist. That’s the way a mosaic novel is done. Each author writes a chapter or two in an overarching plot, then the pieces are strung together like a pearl necklace. (A single author can also do a mosaic novel, loosely interconnected short stories telling a greater story. My favorites in this technique include Edward Bryant’s Cinnabar and Joe Landsale’s The Magic Wagon.)
But that loose congregation of stories isn’t exactly what happens in the Western Fictioneers’ series, Wolf Creek. Editor Troy Smith, a Spur Award winner, comes up with a plot and then each author takes his own special character and stirs it up in a chapter or two to advance the story.
Each novel stands on its own but the entire series progresses well in developing not only the town of Wolf Creek, Kansas, but also the major characters. That each book stands on its own allows change in the characters but readers choosing “out of sequence” won’t be too shocked by differences. My character is a lowlife named Wilson “Wil” Marsh, the town photographer always on the outlook for the quick (and shady) buck. He takes blue pictures of the town’s most prominent women because he knows their secrets. He sells lurid photos of dead outlaws and slain Indians to magazines back East hungry for such notoriety. And he even manages to get photos of bank robbers, not to use as evidence in court but to blackmail them. He’s not a nice guy, but he drops money in the poor box at a church he hates and has some empathy for the downtrodden. Why is slowly coming out as I work in my miniature stories within the mosaic novels.
To date I’ve done chapters about Wil in The Quick and the Dying
and Kiowa Vengeance with a new story about a Sand Creek-like massacre on tap. And yes, Wil has a new way to profit off his photographs not involving blackmail but still fraudulent as hell.
What is strange about this for me, at least, is that my Jackson Lowry pen name, has a pen name (Ford Fargo). Others taking part include some of the finest writers working today in the western field. Frank Roderus, Robert Randisi, James Reasoner, Matthew Mayo, LJ Washburn, Cheryl Pierson, Jory Sherman, Meg Mims, Bill Crider, LJ Martin, Jacquie Rogers and a whole lot more.
What you get in every book is a spectrum of top writers and a complete novel-length plot. And an exciting read.
Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 4)(series books) March 9, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, ideas, sense of wonder, serial fiction, Wild West, writing.
Tags: ghost writing, high tech thrillers, series, westerns, writing
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There can’t be any character development in the main character. That puts a damper on a lot of things, but it shouldn’t be a killer for a series. I’ve done more than 125 titles in a series I’m not at liberty to name, but I can recommend a new book or two (ahem).
The series bible is set up so that independent authors can write without needing to read every other title to keep details straight. With the one/month publication schedule such attention to details (or changes to the canon) by other writers would be impossible, especially if there are a half dozen in the pipeline. So, no mention is ever made of any other book in the series and only what is in the bible counts as canon. This isn’t as onerous as it seems. The main character might end the book the same as when he started, but there are a lot of other possibilities.
In spite of what the reviewer (who didn’t seem to have read the book rather than getting it as a gift) said, the plots are where the fun can come in. I haven’t duplicated a situation in all the books I’ve done, though some of my favorite settings have been reused in different ways. My very first title was set in San Francisco amid a tong war. A “giant” had to do with returning bones for burial to China and most recently among the published books I used the same setting for a prison break (or unbreak, actually). What might well be the last of my titles has to do with a huge silver theft from a San Francisco-based railroad. More than different plots and locales to explore and history to unveil, the other characters can get story arcs where they change motivation and alliances/allegiances. They can grow or devolve. After all, only the protagonist has to emerge unscathed emotionally and with his motivations the same at the end as when he started (so the next author doesn’t have to explain why the hero suddenly likes to drown puppies or no longer drinks trade whiskey).
The same dictum worked when I did eight titles in the 1980’s Nick Carter: Killmaster series. These were told first person, which further limited the changes, but wildly strange bad guys were the mark of this techno-oriented spy series. They weren’t likely to change as much they were to be killed. Hence the series name: killmaster. (This reimagined series had a completely different character from his earliest origins in the nineteenth century–that changed but in the incarnations of the series, the Nick Carter character remained static)
This unchanging main character worked in other series books I’ve done. I ghosted an Executioner book and only had a short time to pick up details on the series (only a few additions rather than changes from ones I had read years earlier). But what you get out of these series are nonstop action, great supporting characters and the feeling you’re one of the gang taking part since you know the protagonist so well.
I also did a title in the ’70’s Baroness series that never saw the light of day. But I love the feel of those old series and started something similar with new characters, as much at the behest of others in the yahoo Baroness group as because they are fun to write. I did this one almost 3 years ago and the Navy is just now getting around to deploying some of the gadgets mentioned. Love the techno speculation! One of these days I’ll get back to these characters, so it won’t merely be the first in the series.
Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 3)(game tie-ins) March 2, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, writing.
Tags: fantasy, gaming, RPG, sci-fi, science fiction, tie-in
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Worlds don’t need to be created when writing stories in well-developed properties like Magic: The Gathering, MechWarrior and other RPGs since the history for such is already extensive. The trick becomes fitting a new story into an established world.
With Magic, the cards call the stories. I did a short story, “Festival of Sorrow,” for the anthology Distant Planes. The idea was to develop a story with characters that fit into the universe that, excuse the pun, played on the card. At the time I played Magic and loved the look of the Festival card. The story built around not a celebration but a warrior’s need for revenge–only to have the revenge stolen away by his foe’s untimely death. All this made for a story I still like a lot.
I also did a Magic novel, Dark Legacy,and this was more open-ended. Fantasy, exploration and the main character wondering why she lacked the charisma of a lesser rover. It turned out to be as much a story of fame and what this means as it did derring-do.
One of the more curious things that somehow happens and is beyond my explaining came to the fore with a MechWarrior book, Ruins of Power. Nothing went right with it, I put in 20 hour days to meet the deadline because of constant changes, and one day out the editor wanted a different ending. On schedule, I delivered a book well over the 90,000 words contacted–and got it edited down for length through such things as losing my dedication and buildup material. Still, the book wasn’t bad and fit into the BattleTech universe. However, it is my worst reviewed book on Amazon and, strangely, one of my best selling. This comes down to fame or fortune. I suppose fortune wins out since that pays the bills.
Finding the right characters that fit into an established universe makes these books sing and dance. I’ve done stories for Warhammer, Pathfinder, Vor: The Maelstrom and Crimson Skies and the trick is, as in any story, putting the character into a dangerous position. The difference is doing it in context with a wide and detailed background established by not only the game developers but the fans. It can be tricky. It is also a lot of fun.
Here is the most recent of such travels into an RPG/gaming universe.
Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 2)(God of War) February 23, 2014Posted by bobv451 in fantasy, iPad, movies & TV, writing.
Tags: fantasy, god of war, Joseph gatt, novelization, video games
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Last time I told some of my experience with a movie novelization. Doing novelizations of video games might seem the same but I found distinct differences.
Matthew Stover was originally signed to do the novelization of the Sony video game God of War. Matt had medical problems and wasn’t able to work full-time on it. Deadlines loomed. The book was slated to get out near the release of the second video game. I was asked to ghost write the book but ended up doing a large enough portion that I got front cover credit.
I had Matt’s outline and a couple dozen pages of the “cut scenes” from the game. This was new territory for me and I built a story around those scenes. Oops, not right. It had to follow the actual video game more closely. The problem with this is a video game is almost entirely action. Fight, solve a mystery, use a clue and fight some more until the conclusion. This makes for a dull book although it makes for a great video game.
I had just gotten an iPad and found that any number of people had put their entire solved games onto YouTube. Running a few seconds gave me the look of the scene, not to mention solutions to the hidden clues and deciphered codes. I am a terrible gamer and would still be on the first screen if I had to play the game before writing the book. The video solutions were exactly what I needed.
But simply describing action is boring. I had to throw in some connecting material and did this through the interaction of the gods and goddesses that wasn’t in the game itself–but was implied. But adhering too much to the action and not enough to this background story gave GoW1 a stilted feel.
I was asked to do God of War 2 and more successfully balanced a backstory of godly (and goddessly) conniving and backstabbing politics with swordplay. Again I used the YouTube videos (thank you, “Raven van Helsing”) and saw how to give less action and more story. This melding of the two made for a book that kept interest for diehard fans of the game as well as showing them a bigger fantasy world to explain what’s going on.
One of the unforseen benefits to doing the books was that I got to meet “Kratos” (or the actor who modeled for Kratos). I thought the cover/video artists had come up with a character out of whole cloth. Nope. Joseph Gatt *is* Kratos. (And don’t miss him in the upcoming Games of Thrones as Thenn Warg.)
A picture taken at the 2013 Albuquerque Comic Expo – Joe Gatt is the one on the left, if you needed such info.