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Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men… June 25, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in alt history, e-books, fantasy, nostalgia, sense of wonder, serial fiction, Tom Swift, Uncategorized, writing.
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…The Shadow does, of course. I enjoy the old timey pulp fiction for the sheer bravado of the pieces. Logic takes second place to daring fights and even more thrilling escapes. What better combination could there be in a mashup than The Shadow and Doc Savage?

That’s what Will Murray delivered in The Sinister Shadow. An epic battle of titans here, Doc and his “don’t shoot to kill” philosophy and The Shadow blazing away with his twin .45s, killing bad guys left, right and center. The plot deals more with The Shadow than Doc, with some of the alter egos being threatened by the vile Funeral Director. (OK, not as scary as it might be for a villain’s name, but it is descriptive). Lamont Cranston’s niece is kidnapped and threatened and so are several of The Shadow’s henchmen. And along the way Ham Brooks is nabbed, too, but that hardly seemed a bump in the rocky road of bitter fruit of crime.

Murray is undoubtedly knowledgeable as all get out about the pulp characters, but this one seemed strained to me. The good guys have to be at odds with one another (another case in point is Time Bomb, a Hardy Boys/Tom Swift mashup in Ultra Thriller #1.  That there was only a #2 and no more shows how poorly it was received). In the case of Doc and The Shadow, it is more antagonistic and pits lawful vs vigilante. It doesn’t work, not exactly. Fun going along but this is less a Doc Savage book than a Shadow adventure. The Pat Savage book struck me the same way–give me Doc and the fearless 5. The others are minor characters.

Enjoy this one for what it is: A retro plot written in 2015. But the originals are better. (And Murray’s other Doc Savages I’ve read are better, too. His Doc Savage: Skull Island is great, a mashup of Doc and King Kong. But I understand the temptation of having two of the most iconic crime fighters in all pulpdom dancing from your keyboard…)

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Time Is Not On Your Side June 18, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in business, death, e-books, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, serial fiction, Uncategorized, VIPub, westerns, writing.
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Tick. Tick. Tock. Cuckoo clock chimes. The weights descend and you are out of time. All a writer (or any of us) has is time. That’s the commodity to hoard and covet and use to its fullest extent.

I come up with a never-ending flood of ideas. That’s not a problem of “What next?” When I get down to writing, there’s not a writer’s block to be seen. No problemo. What is harder is choosing among the ideas to work on next because there is so little time and triage has to be done.

Looking back on 40+ years of writing, I mostly wouldn’t change things, but maybe, perhaps, kinda, one tactic stands out that should have been modified. Writing series books (ie, Jake Logan, Trailsman, Nick Carter) is fun and it paid a lot of bills. But none of those books is mine. I can’t put up new ebook editions or take them down or do anything. They belong to the publisher and are forever deadwood to me. Filling some of the time spent writing so many with my own work would have been a smarter move. I know writers of prodigious output who own almost no titles of their own–they did too many work-for-hires. As a result they have only a handful of titles under their control, ie, to make money now as opposed to when it was written.

Write what you need to stay alive. It’s tough out there and always has been. But do as much of your own as you can. It’s yours and there is never enough time to do “just one more.” Time’s arrow will pierce you and once gone from the quiver, time cannot be recovered.

In case you want some sf about relativity….

All Around the (New) World May 28, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in alt history, e-books, steampunk, VIPub, weird westerns, westerns, writing, zeppelin.
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It’s all yours when you write.  The world you create.  What do you put in, what do you ignore (since you can’t touch on everything)?  Choose what makes for a good story that challenges the characters and then go pedal to the metal (or meddle or medal or mettle, depending on what type of story you’re writing).

A couple years back I worked up details of an entire steampunk world slowly filling with holes in the fabric of space that lead to a world consumed by oxidation.  Oxygen was at a premium there and rust ate away at everything once great.  My hero becomes intrigued by these holes to a different world while the heroine is off fighting wars brewing in Europe, many of those conflicts over and about the curious holes because some allow instant transport from one part of the world to another.  The story has clockwork, pneumatically powered robot dogs (more in a second about Fulton) and zeppelins and a villain caught up in a maelstrom of evil even he cannot control.

My world, but I opened it to others to play in, introduce characters I’d never consider, poke about in corners of history and geography I simply had no time to explore.  Sarah Bartsch wrote Unforeseen  set in 1915 Japan where the Shogun rules and being a (lady) samurai includes airships.  Steve Sullivan took a different tack and gave use sexy female Russian spies in Heart of Steam and Rust.  Continuing exploration of this world (and the rust world) award-winning steampunk author David Lee Summers gave us a look at Pancho Villa, the Mexican Revolution and the rust world in Revolution of Air and Rust.

This steampunk world continues to expand.  Interested in joining in?  Drop me a line and let’s see what shakes out.

Oh, yeah, I’d mentioned the steamdog Fulton.  He’s in this world, which is set later than the upcoming Air Pirates of the Golden West.  That tale will be included in a monthly magazine with free weekly installments, starting with Millard Fillmore, Master of Steam.

EmpireS&R

Empires of Steam & Rust: The First Passage

Not Tired of Winning May 21, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in awards, business, e-books, outlaws, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Awards are nice. Very much so, but cutthroat, dog-eat-dog competition for them has always struck me as worthless. A writer’s job is to entertain. An award for giving readers a moment’s fun is great. A writing award gained by maneuverings and political machinations is not so great. And I am unconvinced that putting “Winner of XYZ Award!” on a book cover has much selling power any more.

That said, I am delighted and incredibly honored to have won the Western Fictioneer’s Life Achievement Peacemaker Award for my work, especially since it puts me in the company of writers I respect and admire so much.

While I am considering having the award tattooed on my chest, I doubt it means much in the way of additional sales. A million-copy bestseller means 329 million people in the USA never bought the book. A trickle more might have read it in a library. Most of those who do read the book probably can’t tell you the author’s name. Just the way it is. As authors we want to establish ourselves as a brand, something readers will hunt out when they are in the mood for more entertainment. Practically, it doesn’t happen except for a very few. Love the award, thank everyone responsible for giving it to me, but the lifetime achievement and $10 might get me a small exotic coffee at Starbucks.

But would I trade it for that $10 cup of exotic Starbucks coffee? Not in a million years. It tells me readers (and other writers) appreciate the handful of books I (as Jackson Lowry, Karl Lassiter, Jake Logan, Jon Sharpe, Ford Fargo and others), have written.

As a real bargain, you can get not only what I consider my best Jackson Lowry western (The Artist) but also seven others from different writers for a mere 99 cents.

The Artist

Double Down May 14, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in awards, business, contest, e-books, ideas, Uncategorized, VIPub, writing.
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When you write a story, consider how many different ways you can use it/sell it.  Easiest of all is submitting a story to a contest.  I saw one that is pretty nifty with big prizes.  Futurescapes Contest

Benefits: you write, you win.  You become an award-winning author (and much richer, in this case).  If you don’t win, you’ve got a story that can sell elsewhere.  A story you can use as a promotion for other work (your ebook can contain an entire novel *plus* that story as a bonus).  A story to put into your own collection.  A story that might just fit into the raft of theme anthologies that crop up all the time (but which have impossibly short deadlines–”Sure, I can get you a story by Thursday.”  And you can since it is already written.)  And it’s possible that story can serve as the beginning of a longer work.  A first chapter, if you will.

How many other ways can that single story be used?  Let me know.

Some contests are futile to try, being set up to give specific authors a win.  Beware of those which charge an entry fee.  Those might be used to generate money for the people running the contest and nothing more, but if the reward is big enough and you’re confident, go for it.  Look for contests where your entry is anonymously judged to avoid a judge knowing and hating you (for whatever reason).  Some contests you might have to swallow hard to consider, but there are worthwhile results.  Writers of the Future
might be like that, but the contest seems fair, the judges are well known and respected pros and if you win (and there is a steady stream of winners), you can make a bunch of bucks with your story.

Your story is going to be tied up in the sales process anyway.  A few extra weeks or months can benefit you greatly by putting a contest at the start of the submissions queue.

And another list.

Write on!

The First Rule of Fiction May 7, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in alt history, e-books, fantasy, ideas, steampunk, writing, zeppelin.
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Entertain. Keep the reader moving from page to page and always wondering, always wanting more. It’s hard for me to find a book that I admire because I need to get lost in the story and forget I am reading. All too often I dissect what the writer is doing, either good or bad. That stops the immersion in the world and sometimes turns what might be a good book into one less … entertaining.

I was delighted to find Jim Butcher’s Aeronaut’s Windlass. Somehow I had missed his work, though I occasionally watched Desden Files on TV (I had pictured Butcher as looking like Paul Blackthorne–Butcher’s picture was something of a surprise, but imaginings like this are best left for a different discussion). What drew me to AW was its steampunkedness. I was in the mood and had exhausted all of Cherie Priest’s titles. The book surprised me on a lot of levels.

I enjoyed it. ie, it entertained immensely. I also tore it apart as I read and still enjoyed it. The book might well be a master’s course in what to do right in a book. The world is clever and imaginatively constructed. It is both alien and understandable. The characters are ones you know and love–or feel uneasy about but still understand. Butcher’s development of their character arcs is wonderful. The action scenes are visual and well realized (and I am a sucker for airship fights, anyway). The plot is straightforward and compelling. The culture and, indeed, the entire world has a feel of reality to it, in spite of not being ours.

Read the book for pleasure, read it to learn. I’ve done both. Best of all from the author’s standpoint, the ending left me angry…because there wasn’t more. I hope there will be lots more in this series. Until then I’ll have to check out his legions of other books.

Reading Weird April 17, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in alt history, e-books, fantasy, sense of wonder, weird westerns, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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I write weird westerns, but it probably goes without saying (or should) that I enjoy reading weird westerns, too. Like every other genre, or sub-genre, some are wowsa and others leave me cold. Much has to do with timing. A mediocre book hitting me at the right time will get me thinking for weeks. I’m not so sure if a great book ever leaves me cold, buried and mummified since that wouldn’t be a great book then. To me. I’ve said for a very long time the writer brings 75% to the party. The reader furnished the other 25%, and what that is the author has not a clue.

I know what Peter Branvold brought in his 75% of Dust of the Damned, and that is a a cast of good guys that I wanted to read more about, which is my 25% contribution. The creepy crawlies they face are varied and unusual enough to keep me reading–hobgobbies, werewolves, vampires (spillers), brujas, and dragons! But added into the ghoul killing, the world itself is alt-history since Lincoln brought werewolves over from Europe to defeat the Confederates at Gettysburg, then he and Grant killed themselves out of shame at what they’d done. Sherman is president. But the real story is that after escaping Union dominion, the Hell’s Angels gang was born (if that’s the proper way of stating it). They infest most Western states and are tracked down by bounty hunter Uriah Zane and deputy US marshal Angel Coffin, sometime lovers and always ready to tangle with the ghouls.

The setting is good, the action is topnotch and the characters are worth following to the very last page. This is why I like weird westerns (and alt-history).

Weird Western

Story Arcs and Double Rainbows August 2, 2015

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, serial fiction, writing.
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..and even a pot of gold at the end of a series. Serial fiction can be like a mass murderer or a serial killer. The author’s choice comes in which style to follow.

Mass murderers are indiscriminate and go for a big number in a particular setting. In its way, an open-ended series is like this, especially if written by many authors. I’d put the Jake Logan series in this category (for which I wrote around 130 titles). Each story used the same main character but no title referred to any of the others, details found in them or situations. If poor Slocum lost the love of his life in #131, title #132 made no mention of how it affected him–or that he even had a love of his life, much less lost her. Each title stood on its own, but the readers came back for a main character with familiar behavior and attitude. The trappings are the same but the situation changes along with the personnel.

Serial killers (and fiction) are more interesting in that a single MO is used, only every title hones the technique and drives toward a goal. Nothing indiscriminate. There is a story thread running through every book contributing to an overall story, while each book has its own problem to solve. That is, each should stand alone but contributes to the overall story. A trilogy is an obvious case with a big story being dealt with and each book pushing along the story. What happens in each preceding book is used and built on in subsequent ones.

Such a serial story can be done with a more open-ended scheme that is still not a “mass killer” book. These are more difficult to write since each book has to be interesting to a new reader who hasn’t read earlier background stories but still intrigues those who have been along for the entire ride. The story never really has to end (think of that soap opera) but can if the story arc is satisfied.

I’m trying to get an open-ended series going (under the pen name Dana Fox). The eXtraodinary Bureau follows an FBI agent tasked with investigating possibly paranormal but likely highly technological crimes. Each story stands on its own but the story arc is not only his career advancement but his relationship with a feisty, independent woman caught between world wars where societal mores are changing dramatically. Ralph and Marla work together in Casefile 1, The Burning Man Anomaly but are on the outs in Casefile 2 being written now, The Aztec Automaton. The third title will have them together again. The story arc is their relationship; each title is an adventure that tests and strains and strengthens them.

Follow the arc and find a pot of gold. And you can even sign up for my mailing list with eXBureau info and a lot more.

Riding Off Into the Sunset October 26, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, New Mexico, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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If a song can be said to have an impact on my life, it might be Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin'”. I have always liked the line about getting out of the way if you can’t lend a hand. Looking at publishing this way has kept everything in perspective for me over a long writing career.

Ebooks changed the publishing world. Dead tree books will always be around but I found out Friday that there will be a lot fewer from a Big 5 publisher in the future. My editor of quite a few westerns (including Sonora Noose and The Great West Detective Agency) was gone. Along with her apparently went the entire Berkley line of westerns. Earlier this year they had gunned down all their monthly series. With this lynching, I’d say upward of 100 books won’t be published next year. The times are, indeed, changing.

This opens the door for a slew of indie presses to fill the vacuum. And for VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing, where the author writes, edits, produces and markets the book–every aspect of traditional publishing all in the author’s grip). Check out Western Fictioneers, Western Trail Blazer, Rough Edges Press, and more riding down the trail every day.

At the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium I gave a talk on how the weird western has saved traditional westerns at least twice before. We may be looking at it happening a third time. The times are a’ changin’. And we have to move along or get plowed under. For one, I see this and am doing what I can to stay in the saddle.

One benefit of speaking at the LCCS is meeting a lot of great people. Here’s a picture of me with a very nice lady, 2014 >Mrs NM Kori Zwaagstra.

(Those are some of my books in the center!)

Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium

Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium

The Great West Detective Agency October 5, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, history, outlaws, westerns, Wild West.
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October 7. Write it down. Check it out…the release of The Great West Detective Agency by “Jackson Lowry,” of course. It has been a long trip getting here, or so it seems. Time travels in crazy spurts and long stretches like silly putty being pulled endlessly. The wait is over now and the book, both print and ebook, is available.

GWDA is my attempt at combining some elements of the traditional western and some humor a la Maverick with a mystery thrown in. I don’t think mysteries have to be murder mysteries necessarily. There are plenty of gunfights and bodies littering the pages, but this is a “Maltese Falcon” type of story with the ultimate discovery, amid political infighting and double-crosses, popping up at the end to wrap up a lot of subplots.

And it all starts with a gambler being hired to find a lovely lady’s poor little puppy dog.

This is the kind of story I enjoy reading. Something trivial snowballs into full-scale mayhem. GWDA has Russian revolutionaries, filibusterers, the possibility of Colorado seceding from the Union, millions in hidden treasure–and it all begins with Amanda Baldridge having her puppy stolen.

One thing about novels I’ve enjoyed is speculating on the backgrounds of characters. I’ve addressed that here with 4 Lives (in both print and ebook), a four story background on characters that play important roles in the story. In addition, the GWDA’s first chapter is included as a taste of the book itself. This is a good way to ease into the world of ne’er-do-well gambler Lucas Stanton and how he came to be the reluctant owner of the GWDA.

It was great fun to write. I hope you’ll find it as much fun to read.

Great West Detective Agency

Great West Detective Agency