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Along the 101 July 17, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in contest, conventions, ghost towns, history, ideas, Tom Swift, Wild West, writing.

Not the California highway or even the 405 Carmageddon, but the 101st anniversary of the publication of the first Tom Swift book. One year ago today I was in San Diego at the TS100 convention and having a fine time. The day before I had flown in a Zeppelin and once at the convention saw amazing amounts of TS memorabilia, including set pieces from a TS movie never filmed.

And today is the final day of Mythcon 42. These people are academics and actually get gold stars on their chart for presenting papers, but the situation is truly weird. Jane Lindskold was asked to be on a couple panels. Her husband Jim Moore is a top archeologist for the state and currently working the site around Spaceport America. He gets weekends off so is also at the conference. He offered to do a presentation on ancient shrines. I would have been in the front row (ok, I was in the back row when he gave the talk about flint chipping a couple years ago at the public library but he was giving a demonstration of the actual process and I wanted to avoid shrapnel). He could attend the conference for free if he did nothing but would have to pay if he gave a presentation. I can’t figure it out. So no presentation on ancient shrines in NM.

But a standout presentation was given by David Bratman on Roger Zelazny and his affinity for NM in his work. Funny, insightful, the hour flew by. I don’t agree on favorites but then this is an art, not a science. (“A Rose for Ecclesiastes” is about my favorite short story, who cares if the science is outdated now?)

There was a full page ad in the paper today on the http://www.catchthekid.com state tourism promotion. Good for them. I hope this proves successful since it is a way to get tourists to out of the way spots. Won’t save the dying towns and near ghost towns, but perhaps something similar might (I still like the idea of getting Chinese tourists in to see the Old West. Let them sneer, let them make disparaging remarks, let them leave their remnimbis)

Back to Mythcon. Book sales are not what I’d call febrile, but there are some.


It Takes Time to be A Legend July 15, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, contest, conventions, e-books, ghost towns, history, New Mexico, VIPub, web & computers, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Great post from Dean Wesley Smith today on time frames and becoming a writer able to make a living at it through VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing)..

Won’t happen overnight. Might be a decade. He does the numbers and shows that the single marker for success is to keep writing. I’d put it differently, but the result is the same. Stupid, dumb determination will get you there. Don’t give up. But in our high speed world, if gratification isn’t instant (or within weeks) the temptation is to give up.

Wrong. Perseverance is more than a habit, it’s a good habit for life and everything in it including being a successful writer. In a way, Dean is talking about wannabe writers, the ones who say “I always wanted to be a writer.” But they never have been before. Why not? There’s not very much fire in belly if you’ve always wanted to be….fill in the blank…and never tried. VIPub gives a great chance for someone with that book in ‘em to get it out there, but it might not catch fire and bring the “deserved” fame and fortune. (Note my scare quotes there.)

The Internet speeds up everything–but not success. Showing up (again and again) is important to becoming an overnight success in a year or ten years..

On a slightly different note, check out the New Meixco Tourism department’s Billy the Kid promotion. Wonderful idea to get people exploring the state. Catch The Kid will send anyone looking to win the $10k to some grand historical places. Go for it. This is a great state with history to match.

Off to Mythcon in a couple hours. See you there?

Preparing Me For Mars May 1, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in ghost towns, New Mexico, space, weather.

I’m referring to the weather, of course. It’s snowing. May Day and it’s snowing and this isn’t even North Dakota. Wind steady at 30mph and gusting to 50. At least it’s not a tornado. Yet.

Mostly I see the dream of space slipping away slowly. Virgin Galactic is in the process of easing away from Spaceport America. Two years now before a manned flight from their White Sands port. The state of NM has plunked down a $100m or better for the facilities so I hope they can find other private companies to get in fast. And no, Sir Richard isn’t on the hook for one sou. VG hasn’t kicked in any money and won’t have to until the flights start. He has already moved on to submarining to Atlantis or somesuch.

The space shuttle launch has been delayed for at least a week. Condolences to Walter Jon Williams who had been invited down by one of the astronauts to see the launch. Hope you can hang in there, Walter. This is the penultimate shuttle flight.

But things spacely abound. Here is a carnival of space with all kinds of intriguing links.

And the promise of a private lunar orbit is cropping up now for only 2x the price Russia is charging the US to get an astronaut to the ISS. Not that I have $165m laying around, and if I did it would be in declining value dollars so…. I love the number of companies going for the Xprize on rooting around on the Moon. But all those fun ‘50s stories notwithstanding, no chance for me to stow away.

What would this country have been like if the pioneers had reached the Mississippi and simply said, “nope, no farther”? I wonder if NM will abandon the spaceport and turn it into another ghost town? There ought to be a story in that. Kids find a perfectly good spaceport and use it to launch their own rocket and…ah, those ‘50’s stories are still with me.

Sorry, going crazy from being snowbound this late in the year.

Birth of a Ghost Town March 23, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, ghost towns, New Mexico, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Fascination is the only way I can describe how I feel about old west boom towns, their sudden rise and all too often instant fall due to mines or other sources of $$$ failing. In the canyon east of Albuquerque are quasi ghost towns, former coal mining towns now populated by tie-dyed T-shirt wearing, gimcrack selling hippies left over from the ‘60s (1960s, of course). If not for them Golden and Madrid would be full ghost-blown towns.

Something similar to the coal, silver or gold mines closing occurred during the 1950s and ‘60s. For a while there were anti-bypass laws demanding that the interstate highways not take the straightest route but having to go through all the tiny towns not fortunate enough to be situated along the proposed roadways. When that law died, so did the smaller towns unlucky enough to be bypassed. Mesilla in southern NM made a bad decision to gouge the railroad for right of way. Las Cruces, only a few miles off, gave the land for free. Mesilla is a subset now (and has been for some time) of Las Cruces.

Stories abound in such towns and former towns. It is with some amazement I read about American cities becoming shadows of their former selves as we watch.

If this can happen to major centers like Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Detroit (now about the same size as Albuquerque), what is going on with smaller towns? All this is for economic reasons–no jobs. Same as in the Wild West days.

Modern society is in the process of adding a new reason to create a ghost town. This abandoned atom lighthouse is curious but understandable, considering it is Russian.

I suspect Fukushima is likely to be concreted over and buried deep, unlike most ghost towns where people simply walk away. But this will be an instant ghost town? Ah, the story possibilities, both from the old west and current headlines.

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.

If You Didn’t Have Enough to Worry About January 16, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, ghost towns, weird news, westerns, writing.
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It takes a lot of time, effort, skill and material to make a nuke. The NORK wet firecracker underground test a while back is proof of that. The Stuxnet worm was so devastating because it screwed up the computer controlling the Iranian centrifuges. A little off and you’ve got a pile of burnt bearings and a big mess, so computer control is vital. (That they found the worm shows it failed to some degree–it ought to have erased itself entirely after doing its dirty work.)

So, worrying about somebody setting off a bomb amid radioactive medical waste is more likely. But the “nice” thing about radioactive junk is that it can be tracked down with Geiger counters and isolated.

Not so with biological weapons, and the potential for this one is utterly frightening. Prions had been thought to be transmitted only through ingestion of diseased meat and meat, uh, byproducts (why do I think of Vienna sausages?) But no longer. Prions–mad cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease–can be spread using an aerosol. And in the test mice, it is 100% fatal.

When a kid in a high school lab can modify DNA in E. coli, this is especially disturbing. Start spraying at a basketball game and you can infect hundreds. Put it in the vent system and…? We can only hope any terrorist wanting to try this starts at a UNM football game. The few fans who go now all have paper bags over their heads.

The 100% fatality is the scary part. In the Old West there were all kinds of plagues, smallpox being the worst. But diphtheria and cholera were able to wipe out towns. Sanitation wasn’t high on folks’ minds back then. A plague starts, you hightail it to the high country away from the infected. This theme gives me the creeps but I have used it in at least one book.

And Bent’s Fort might well have been abandoned and burned because of smallpox. That is one possibility I explored in Warriors of the Plains.

I enjoy writing but not being out among the snuffling masses makes me even happier. Time to get to an article, then a short story. No sniffling, no sniveling.

Warriors of the Plains by Karl Lassiter

Back to the Conestoga Travel Time January 12, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in ghost towns, New Mexico, westerns.
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Used to be a dangerous trip from Mesilla all the way up the aptly named Jornada del Muerto to Socorro or Santa Fe. Back in the day you could ride a horse over the 200 or so miles and if you really pushed it you could make it in five days. With the advent of modern technology we are back to that. The Leaf runs 75 miles before it needs 18 hours of recharging.

I rather like the graphene battery technology cutting recharge times to minutes but this is for cell phones, not autos. The technology has great potential, though.

The politicians (who probably own the right of way) have talked about a high speed train on the north-south route for decades but the RailRunner from Belen to Santa Fe is a $1bn money pit with another $400m necessary to upgrade the line in the next couple years. This serves almost 0.1% of the state’s population but everyone pays for it. But Union Pacific is talking about moving a $400m rail hub from El Paso a few miles west to Santa Theresa.

Politicos are falling all over themselves to give tax breaks for this rather than making a level playing field and business-friendly state tax structure for all sizes of business. Since 40% of all imports come through the port of Long Beach, trains and trucks need to get a huge amount of cargo moved throughout the country. Here we are! This new hub would be great for the state but it might just be a bargaining chip to get El Paso to repair and upgrade bridges. There’s nothing that says the railroad is serious yet since money’s not on the line and contracts aren’t signed. Only hopes have been raised.

When the railroad originally came from LA going south to San Antonio, TX, the people of Mesilla figured they could gouge the railroad on land right of way. On the other side of the swamp, the teeny town of Las Cruces said, “here’s your right of way and it’s all free.” Guess which town is big and subsumed the other?

Let’s let the Chinese put in maglev trains. They’ve got the money and technology we don’t.




Instant Ghost Towns December 23, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in death, ghost towns, gummint, ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, weird news, westerns.
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I don’t believe in ghosts but there is something beguiling about ghost towns. The West abounds with them and the causes are usually related to boom and bust. A silver or gold strike used to bring in hundreds or even thousands of people, sometimes within days. Check out the history of Gutherie, OK (which is hardly a ghost town–Sheldon Russell lives there, after all) and how its population exploded before the OK land rush.

Up in Tijeras Canyon were old coal mines and precious metal mines. Mostly the towns are populated with another kind of ghost now–60-yr-old hippies still selling love beads and tie-dyed T-shirts. But the point is most towns became ones with a population of one or less because the reason for their existence went away (bigger strike elsewhere, mines petered out).

Here is a current ghost town via io9.com Amazing how this happened. Central planning gone berserk. Since everything is going so well in California now, this isn’t going to happen there. But what if it did? (I vaguely remember a Gordon Eklund story where Disneyland was a ghost town–is even this snippet of memory wrong?)

Future stories of Earth as a ghost town abound, of course, but what if central planners intentionally build ghost towns, say to house population increases that obstinately don’t occur? And interesting idea of a future with intentional ghost towns being built for the silly ghost hunter reality shows. Craig’s List ads for ghosts to come inhabit the towns? A bidding war for Indian burial grounds so they can build houses over them? Houses built with pieces of the one true Amityville Horror?

All this is making me want to go explore a ghost town. Might wait until early January and go to a shopping mall.



Pearl Harbor…and Back, Way Back December 7, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in death, ghost towns, movies, movies & TV.
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The TV is filled with showings of Pearl Harbor and Tora! Tora! Tora!  And the Ft Gibson National Cemetery is increasingly filled with WWII veterans.  My father is one of them.

Ft Gibson has a long history and one that seems strange when compared with present day sensibilities–it is a national cemetery on Cherokee land.  The cemetery itself is having to expand yearly due to the increasing population there but one of the earliest soldiers interred there was a Revolutionary War general.  The cemetery itself was established in 1868 (Ft Gibson itself dates back to 1833).  Washington Irving wandered by and Sam Houston’s divorced Cherokee wife is buried there.  Check out Brian Jay Jones’ book if you’re interested in Irving’s peregrinations west of the Mississippi.

There are ghost stories about the cemetery, of course.  Vivia Thomas followed a lover to Ft Gibson from Boston, dressed as a man.  She enlisted to be near her lover, who had gone West for adventure.  When she found him with an Indian lover she killed him.  The soldiers thought Indians were responsible and she was never suspected.  Every night she sat vigil at his grave in the cemetery until one January when she froze to death.  Her ghost supposedly wanders the cemetery.

From Civil War to present day, our soldiers and sailors are here.  Along with my father is my uncle.  My father had joined the Navy before Pearl Harbor, my uncle, being younger, joined after.  He switched services and became a major in the Air Corps.  My father received a medical discharge after service in the Aleutians.  He was a radioman and CPO.

Don’t forget WWII or earlier–or more those with recent service in our military.  There are too many cemeteries like Fort Gibson that are expanding, not only for the added numbers from the Korean War but Vietnam and later..

November 12, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in death, dinosaurs, ghost towns, gummint, ideas, movies, weird news.
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Pressurized Cheez-whiz

Saw a preview of Skyline last night. Full house. Movie was a throwback to ‘50s bug movies with lots of, uh, homage, to Independence Day. And movies where big monsters stomp fleeing peasants. At least it wasn’t filmed shakycam like the execrable Cloverfield. But when the audience laughs during supposedly tense moments (the humans are fleeing, in slo-mo of course) because it looked completely ludicrous, you know you’ve got problems. The big “aaaaaw” moment came when one of the monsters stomped on a Ferrari. Well, for me that was the most horrific scene. The ending was perfectly logical and utterly silly. Call this a spoiler if you want. Close your eyes if you don’t want to read it. Here it comes: the monsters win. And the audience loses.

At least the people of LA found out what those blue lights in the sky were (even if the real life one was over NYC).

Big “reveal” for the day is that the state of NM is in twice as much fiscal trouble as was revealed, oh, 3 days ago. No surprise since they are still lowballing it by a factor of two. The people in charge know this and aren’t bringing it out all at once, for some reason. It is not better to do slow reveals. Overstate it once (which is hard when you’re looking at actual deficits of $1b in a nothing state like NM) but then if you come in better, you look good. But Gov Bill is not likely to do this since he’ll be lucky to get out of the country unindicted. An ambassadorship to Cuba is looking better all the time. Or maybe there was a reason the spaceport was named after him since this provides a quicker way out of NM?

Gee, Post Awful lost $8.5b last year. All because they got turned down for a 2 cent increase in first class mail. (Yeah, right).

Lots of competition out east between Tucumcari and Santa Rosa for the Route 66 Museum. This still doesn’t address the problems of small town NM in attracting $ and staying alive. This is hardly an end-destination attraction. People won’t come from China to a Rt 66 Museum unless it can somehow be tied into the Silk Road. Somehow I don’t think Samarkand and Santa Rosa will get mentioned in the same breath. How hard would it be for a town to put in a server farm and have, say, an annual digital art competition? How big would the prize have to be to attract worldwide attention?

Burned up the keyboard yesterday. NaNoWriMo came in at 6300.