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Old Towns and Research November 2, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, education, geocaching, ghost towns, history, hobby, ideas, music, New Mexico, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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After leaving LA, I dropped down to San Diego, mastered the (easy) trolley system and zinged down to their version of Old Town. Relatively recent compared with Santa Fe or even Old Town in Albuquerque (California’s was settled some 60 years later) But this is the first European settlement in California so was fodder for the western fiction research mill.

But I am on a different time zone so got to OT a couple hours before it opened. I took the $10 plunge and had installed the android geocaching app on my cell phone. The 2 hours gave me a chance to try it out. I found 3 caches, one in Presidio Park, another on 1769 Hill and yet one more virtual cache showing how metal rusts in salt air. By the time I had wandered around, it was opening time for the museums.

Life is tough all over. I had breakfast at a restaurant that boasted that it had been established in 2010. In today’s economy that might be long-lived. From here hiked up the hill to the Mormon Battalion Museum. Very slick, very cute girls in period costumes, interesting high tech video presentations, had the chance for some hands on examination of props since I was the only one in the “group” (not peak tourist season, I’d say), got a couple teeny gold nuggets, and was surprised when I asked about music of the era and one guide disappeared and came back later with a handwritten list taken from a contemporaneous journal. Very kind of her to supply this and info will certainly be used (but I’m not likely to order a free copy of Book of Mormon or send one to a friend). The Mormon Battalion has a monument between Abq and Santa Fe (and a geocache, btw) and it was good seeing the end of the 2000 mi trail in San Diego. Not sure I buy all the achievements of the Battalion but they might be true. Will look to see if they actually started the first newspaper in Northern California (California Star–ok, looks factual since Alta California grew out of CStar–founder Samuel Brannan was the first Gold Rush millionaire, but some conflation is going on. Brannan wasn’t part of the Mormon Battalion, coming around the Horn in 1846. And, hmm, this might be the second trailing The Californian from Monterey) or were responsible for first finding gold at Sutter’s Mill (but I certainly think they worked to build it so might well be true). All a bit before the time period considered the Wild West but great background.

On to Whaley House, supposedly the “most haunted” house in California or the US or somewhere. The best that could be conjured was it was built on an Indian burial ground. NM is built on an Indian burial ground, fer Pete’s sake. Nancy Holder later said it was the site of public executions. So why didn’t the period-dressed guide say this? Mostly like restored houses elsewhere in the West, but renewed my interest in writing a western that simply has no mass market. Ah, VIPub. When I get time. Mike Resnick ought to be proud–he had a lot of copies of The Buntline Special on the museum bookstore shelf.

To the World Fantasy Convention itself soon and the VIPub vibe building like a tidal wave there.

Mormon Batallion Museum

Sticks and Stones May 19, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, history, Texas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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I just finished reading James Reasoner’s most excellent Diamondback and appreciated how the book’s trajectory had finally ended in publication. For lots of reasons you can read about in the afterword, the book was marketed around in ‘84 but never found a home until now, when James did it VIPub.

This is a perfect example of a professional quality book being published by the author because legacy publishers passed on it (for myriad reasons). In a way, the book fits a sub genre that no longer exists, at least among legacy publishers. Men’s adventure fiction has a market, just not one big enough for mass distribution. But a few thousand readers, which I hope this will garner, can find the kind of fiction they’ve been missing for so long.

But I wanted to touch on something else in the book and publishing in general. Times certainly change and what legacy publishers find acceptable changes, too. I had a book rejected because the protagonist was a racist–neutrally racist, not actively discriminating but not too bothered when he saw it. Set in the 1880s, West Texas, building the railroad from El Paso to San Antonio, it deals with what the Chinese railroad crews faced. The character arc ran from Jack being as described above and finding both friendship and love as he came to understand the crew working for him. In other words, he changed. A character arc has to start somewhere and go somewhere–it seems to me this is the proper direction to go. But without a starting point of racism, what’s the point? Jack starts by defending them and ends by defending them? Not much drama or anything to root for there. The reader should want to see him change, and for good reasons.

In Diamondback James uses language that has become completely, totally verboten in polite company. The characters using it are not the good guys and you don’t *ever* want them to win. Their language defines them and gives the protagonist, Tom Sloane, serious adversaries. You can cheer when he triumphs because the antagonists are such racists. But I doubt the book would ever be considered by a contemporary legacy publisher without changing the language and emasculating the true evil of the bad guys. Such words cannot be used now.

I worry that some sales venues, such as Nook, have a hyperlink to report objectionable content. To some, Diamondback (and my own China Jack) would fall into that category because of language. These are the same people who demand Tom Sawyer be bowdlerized because of its language.

It’s hard to overcome racism if you’re not allowed to portray true racists, even in fiction.

Expurgated Tom Sawyer

What Do We Really Know? April 1, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in education, ideas, nostalgia, pranks, Second Life, weird news, writing.

The name for that, something Greek like epistemology (not to be confused with episiotomy), gets to heart of a day like today, April Fool’s Day. In the past hoaxes have been great fun and today would garner life in prison sentences. Poe’s Great Moon Hoax comes to mind and yet the so called news outlets have no trouble passing off equally irrational things and doing so because “the public has a right to know.” The world has changed, mostly in a decreasing sense of humor.

Here is a great list of April Fool’s Day jokes. I was especially taken with #7 because it was perpetrated by a CESE member. The obvious way to make such things work is to have just a tad of “sure, that could happen” mixed in.

The harmonic convergence ought to be listed but the planetary alignment reducing gravity enough so you could float around the room certainly qualifies as how you can convince yourself of anything.

Some were scams like the Cardiff Giant but Nessie dead body washed up on the shore is of a kind.

I’m not sure UFOs or the chupacabras fall into the hoax category as much as delusions, as in willingness to suspend disbelief in spite of all evidence. But they make for good stories. Bigfoot, too, zipper or not. What fascinates me most about the chupacabra is how recently it came into being. What’s next? What can be next? Therein lies the task for the inventive writer.

Somewhere PT Barnum is laughing at us

Content is King, Context is God March 17, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, education, podcast, VIPub, web & computers, writing.

So said Gary Vaynerchuk at his talk Tuesday night. The point he is making boils down to finding how people get their information. Push ads traditionally have been aired on radio, TV and in print. Then came spam. All of it is being ignored. His stat was the average teenage girl texts 14 times a day and only uses the phone to speak a few times a month. Get into the mobile world and you’ll see better results with your promotions.

He just aired his 1000th YouTube video on wines and got 300 emails. He put his first mobile video up and got 1100 emails. The shift is occurring from desktop to mobile and to reach the most people you need to drift with it.

He is less a FB proponent than a Tumblr. I’ve never found anyone who used Tumbr, so tell me about it. I know you can easily post video and audio as well as text. Anything else recommending it? Is there an easier pipeline into the mobile handset market?

One takeaway from his talk sums up business and life as a whole: effort is underrated.

You have to want to make it and ignore the roadblocks. No playing the victim. Think about where you want to go and how you want to get there. Then be flexible when the rules change–or the game changes.

Vaynerchuk sells wine. Translating what he says about marketing to books and VIPub is fairly easy. We can sell virtual products, we can set the price, we need to bring in readers–and we need to keep those readers. I always thought of reading as a personal pursuit and have come to believe the author supplies 75% and the reader 25% to any “reading experience.” The author cannot possibly know what hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, a reader has so that 25% is always out there flapping in the breeze. But touch even a part of it with our 75% and a thread is spun. Use Vaynerchuk’s ideas of promotion and it can be a hawser.

As I said yesterday, I’m probably not going to get The Thank You Economy but I do have my copy of Crush It! and likely will give it another read with new eyes to pick up on what I missed the first time through.

Crush It! In The Thank You Economy March 16, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in education, ideas, VIPub, writing.
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Gary Vaynerchuk’s lecture last night was both fun and thought provoking. He’s a good speaker, relaxed, earnest, humorous when necessary and conveys a ton of information. In a way, reading the reviews of The Thank You Economy, I see no reason to buy it. It’s apparently the rationale behind what he is saying–Crush It! is more in the how-to vein, which is what interests those of us in the choir.

He dropped some interesting hints. He might well be advisor to Pepsi and that the coming advertising battle between McDonald’s and Burger Thing (ok, Burger King–I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em) might result in the death of one. In fact, he predicts the death of many major corporations in the next 5 years if they don’t understand that “push ads” such as we’ve had for the past 50 years or so are dead. Radio, TV, print, email, those aren’t reaching people–we’ve learned to turn off the ads, if not the media. GV opines that we are returning to a more traditional way of selling not unlike the corner store where the owner knows your name, what you like and dislike, how to reach you on a personal basis.

Making a personal contact is going to triumph over “friends” on Facebook. GV’s main business is selling wine. His example: he had a big customer in Chicago. Rather than send a bottle of wine as thankyou, he researched the buyer’s druthers, found on FB that he was a fan of Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears QB–and yes, I hope my stint on the Fantasy Football mags is coming up real soon now). He got a signed jersey and sent it to the buyer, who is now a buyer for life compared with simply being business associates or “friends” on FB.

Another take on this. Work really hard to keep your customers rather than just recruit new ones.

A cautionary tale. Old Spice nabbed 125k on Twitter with a brilliant push ad. When the campaign was over, the ad agency folded its tent and snuck into the night to find another account. Those 125k were cast adrift when added effort should have been used to keep them.

More tomorrow on GV’s comment: content is king, context is god.

The Naming of Names March 14, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in contest, e-books, education, fantasy, ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Names matter. In fiction, a lot more than in real life (or maybe not–I have some real stereotyped names in my head and react to them even before I know the person. For instance, anyone named Larry conjures up quite specific character traits for me.)

When reading, we all tend to use a visual shorthand. This speeds up our reading without taking away any of the texture or detail of the story. Part of this is reducing Walden and Walton to the same “Wal” sight picture. If you don’t want these characters confused in your reader’s mind, rename one of them. And, of course, if you do want them confused, leave them with that same beginning letter. You might find this useful in a murder mystery with several suspects. I often wonder if Tolkien had Sauron and Sarumen so named for a reason or if he just didn’t care if you confused them.

In sf and fantasy, names tend to get ponderous and, especially in fantasy, often ridiculous. But short names are more effective and memorable. Frodo. Conan. Tarzan. Parker. Even wehn the names stretch to infinity and beyond, the reader shortens them mentally to the first few letters and often to only the first letter.

So, pad length with long names if you must but consider how readers would actually view the name. Differentiation is more important than stunning innovation that won’t even fit into a tweet. And don’t try to write a story with all the characters’ names beginning with the same letter–unless it’s about clones.

Once more, let me tell you about the contest running until the 19th. Some fun entries are already in. Give me more!

Below is (to my thinking) a goofy photograph. Give it your best shot at coming up with a caption. Funny is preferred, but if you can think of something somber, go for it. Contest will run one week (until Mar 19) and the winner will receive a dead tree copy of “Jackson Lowry’s” western SONORA NOOSE.

So give it your best shot!

Rethinking Westerns February 13, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, education, ghost towns, ideas, science fiction, steampunk, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Declining readership is a problem for all genre fiction, but there might be an added problem with the western. Readership is aging and newer readers are slow to move into those thrilling days of yesteryear…

Why? The way the western is written has something to do with this. Like the mystery, westerns have benefited from everyone “knowing” the background. A hard-boiled PI walks into a Holiday Inn room and there’s no need to describe what it looks like. Readers know. What is more important are the blood spatters and other clues. Western writers have been similarly blessed with this real-world familiarity–but modern readers have less direct knowledge of horses, farms, herds and even six-guns. These are alien elements and not as accessible to urban readers (and face it, the rural reader is a vanishing breed along with small family farms. The new reality is the UU Bar Express Ranch–a multi-million, multi-state, hi-tech, global business)

To recapture readers, western writers will increasingly have to adopt the techniques of the science fiction writer. I am not necessarily referring to steampunk (love it! Love to write it! Check out the anthology Steampunk’d with my short story “Transmogrification Ray”). What is necessary is treating the western setting as a character. You’re on another planet–how is it different? You’re in 1880s Tombstone. How is it different? Not only characters and plot will need to be developed but also the setting. Horses, saloons and railroads are only a part of this cultural description.

The credo of the west needs to be described also. Rugged individualism is not well thought of today. “The nail that sticks up farthest is hammered down first.” How different when Tom Horn and Juoaquin Murrieta and John Wesley Hardin rode the trails. How does the XIT differ from Express Ranch? The background is a new character and has to be developed. So do the courage and spirit of the “lonesome cowboy”west. These have to be woven specifically into a story so modern readers can get into “alien” heads and ride “alien” lands.

It’s a new world. The Wild West deserves the science fiction writers’ loving attention to building a world readers have never shared before.

As Jackson Lowry, I have just published Sonora Noose.

Look Skyward, Angels December 18, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in education, science, space, westerns.
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This isn’t the best time of year for things astronomical because of the heavy clouds that usually obscure our view.  But for those who might have a good view on the Solstice there will be a lunar eclipse, the first time the two have coincided in 456 years. There’s nothing mystical about this.  Natural occurrences like eclipses and solstices coincide eventually.  But it’s still something to think about.  You will see something on a specific night that hasn’t been witnessed in four and a half centuries.  That’s pretty cool.

I missed the Leonid shower this year but it was nothing like one back in ‘33.  That’s 1833.  The Night the Stars Fell.
I mentioned this in passing in my novel (writing as Karl Lassiter) Warriors of the Plains The Bents of Bent’s Fort fame wrote about it more as the effect it had on Indian prophecy as anything to be excited about themselves.  What is strange about this period of discovery is that it wasn’t until 1900 that the existence of meteorites (rocks falling from the sky) was widely acknowledged.  One of the most famous meteorite falls was in Poland in 1868 and provided a good chunk of material as well as speculation (which proved wrong) where the “Pultusk Peas” had originated.

But shooting stars or eclipses, we ought to look to the sky–and to the stars.  That’s where we ought to be going.

Misfiring PR December 17, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, education, VIPub, web & computers, westerns, writing.
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Part and parcel with the foundations of VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) is finding a reader for what you have written and published.  Advertising doesn’t work too well since you need a consistent ad in front of potential buyers, and this is hard (and expensive) to do for a single author.  Promotion is better.  The e-Booknanza is one way of doing this.  Feed over a million words into your e-reader for only $25.  But this is a sales item.  Getting people to know it even exists is the sticking point.

I saw this on Bryant Street and wondered at how these people get paid.  As an example of what not to do, it’s fine.  Learn from others mistakes, right?  Elyse Draper over on Facebook posted this Ben Franklin quote: “I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”  There are always more ways of doing things wrong than right, and the Sourcebook attempt to capitalize on Jane Austen proves that.  But Elyse also had another Franklin quote which is even more pertinent: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

From another blog comes this admonition for writers to buy a hardcover a month following the Blue Diamond ad campaign of “A can a week, that’s all we ask.”  Almonds are good for the digestion, but that’s a different ad campaign.  But this sounds like one of those book signings that goes horribly wrong–the only sales you have are to other authors and you are their sole buyer.  Better to direct your efforts to people who are not authors since there are so many more of them.  See the second Ben Franklin quote above.

But some PR can be inadvertently successful.  I came across a story of a peddler in the 1880s with a hot air balloon.  He used it to advertise businesses for a fee.  He was in Louisiana to advertise a house of ill repute.  As he turned up the burners, one of the soiled doves got caught in the banner fastened to the basket and found herself dangling far above the ground.  The onlookers got quite the view since she wasn’t wearing bloomers (or anything else) under her skirts.  You have to ask if this was a successful or unsuccessful promotion.

“I swear, Mr. Carleton, I thought turkeys could fly!”


Shaping the Past, Shaping the Future? December 11, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in education, gummint, sci-fi, science fiction.
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This morning I listened in on a great give-and-take with 35 or so folks about education and other topics. It seems that sf has been reticent when it comes to education (formal, meaning sitting in class and learning) and what might change. Isaac Asimov had the classic story “Profession” and there were Wilmar Shiras’ Children of the Atom and even Zenna Henderson’s stories of The People, but not really a whole lot about how education will be done in the future (except for Asimov, of course. Of course).

It is axiomatic now that the USA is mediocre and falling fast with it comes to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education. International evaluations certainly show that. Used to be about half of the foreign students getting PhDs in technical fields at UNM stayed in the country. That changed 4 years ago. Most go home now, wherever that may be, since the opportunities are better. And increasingly, there is no reason to even come to the USA. Homegrown schools are becoming better than those in this country.

I went on (and on) about how corporations might just be the salvation of our manned space program and how they were responsible for putting those transcontinental railroads down through gummint largesse. Education as we know it in this country developed because of those same corporations.

The first high school in Boston, 1821, was designed for “mercantile and mechanic classes.” By the end of the century companies needed more educated workers and not the “Tartarus of Maids” employees that Melville decried.

What will it take for the future in education to get away from cemetery seating and promotion of age-only cohorts? Will the corporations finally push public education for better educated potential employees again or will they simply outsource? There’s more places to outsource to now than there was a hundred years ago. India alone has three times our population and is becoming a techno powerhouse to rival China. Not a future to consider favorably–except in sf, of course. Of course.