Getting Weird…But It Always Has Been April 2, 2017Posted by bobv451 in history, robot rights, science fiction, serial fiction, steampunk, westerns, Wild West, writing.
I am talking about weird westerns, of course. Writing has taken me on a curving path the past couple years, but weird westerns have always been there along the way. Awhile back I looked into the history of WW and found, to my surprise, that they have been around almost as long as western fiction and, more than once, have saved the traditional western from extinction.
Back in 1860 Beadle’s Dime Novels ran a story, “Captives of the Frontier” by Seth Jones. Straight ahead western–and it sold 400,000 copies. The appeal of the frontier, the Wild West, the freedom offered by endless vistas (and the dangers, such as being kidnapped by ferocious savages) proved to be a big hit with Eastern audiences starving in rat-infested tenements. But even such derring-do and fraught-with-danger tales can pale. In 1868 Edward Sylvester Ellis perked up the field with what is likely the first WW: “The Huge Hunter or The Steam Man of the Prairies.”
Even better (for me) it’s got a robot in it!
Tale tales in the West (or anywhere else) are hardly unique. Paul Bunyon and Pecos Bill and La Llorona and…lots. Creepy and funny, outrageous and maybe hinting at what it was like to be an explorer, the stories were told around the campfire. But the Dime Novels gave a new dimension–the printed word. As the western rose, WWs languished, but as the traditional western fell out of favor, WWs flourished in many forms. Today the traditional western (published in NYC) is on the wane. Indie publishers are taking up the slack but WWs are proliferating (and along with them steampunk stories set in the Wild West). A forthcoming WW anthology has some of the best sf writers around in it but very few western writers–that’s good for cross-pollination. It’s hard these days to find such an anthology of only traditional western writers (and if you know of a new one, let me know. I missed it.)
The Great West Detective Agency October 5, 2014Posted by bobv451 in e-books, history, outlaws, westerns, Wild West.
Tags: Colorado, gamblers, mystery, western
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.
The Times They Are A’Changin’ January 26, 2014Posted by bobv451 in history, ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, web & computers, writing.
Tags: historical perspective, writing
As they always do. We have lived through a unique span in history where we can watch (and know) major upheavals in the world. The Internet is as big as the Gutenberg printing press. The new Industrial Revolution is happening with 3D printing. A house in 2 days. No problem. An iPhone? I’ll print it for you today. Replacement organs? Feed in the DNA template and that kidney will be yours next week. What a chance to see and understand major influences driving our world.
To a lesser extent, there has been a change in writing, or rather in writing technique. In sf the late ’60s and early ’70s saw the New Wave. Story became less important than the characters, much as literary fiction was almost 100% angst and no idea. SF didn’t go that far but ideas took a backseat to the more literary emphasis on drilling down into the character. Somewhere in the early ’90s another change came about. This one hasn’t been touted or given a name, but it is there.
Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Thesis=pure idea sf of the ’40s. Anthesis=New Wave. Synthesis=now. SF has always been interested in the “what if?” playing with ideas–and still is. Social commentary or hard science extrapolation, doesn’t matter. SF is an idea fiction. But in the early ’90s what the readers expected changed. The “now” is a equal merging of the idea with the character.
I’ve had some sf stories from the 1980s reprinted and I cringed when I saw how little characterization there was in favor of the sweeping idea, the grand space opera adventure. But that was ok then. Readers expect more now with background on who is engaging in that grand adventure–and what drives them. Flaws? Better have them since this is more realistic, even in a superhero story (or maybe especially in a superhero story). Villains have to be more than bad because they’re bad or they turn into parodies as in Despicable Me.
Not only do I enjoy writing the more complete package of idea married with characterization, I prefer reading it now.
You can still enjoy the galaxy smashing style of earlier space opera but today’s work has to be more complete, a synthesis of space opera and New Wave to stand out. And that’s not a bad thing.
Of Alien Worlds…and Adjectives and Nouns January 12, 2014Posted by bobv451 in e-books, history, iPhone, movies & TV, sci-fi, science fiction, steampunk, Wild West, writing.
Tags: alien worlds, characters, ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, westerns, writing
I have mentioned before that writing westerns is now equivalent to writing sf. Science fiction envisions new and different worlds filled with characters unknown or unimagined by the reader. The traditional western set in the post Civil War era through 1890 and the closing of the frontier is now the same. Growing up, my oldest relatives lived at the edge of that time. Now that the WWII generation is shuffling off its mortal coil, firsthand stories are lost. With iPhones, 3D printers and wifi our everyday reality, the 1880s is completely unknown to modern readers through personal experience of family story. That means the same techniques we use to bring sf alien worlds alive are now necessary for westerns. We need to take the reader to a time and place completely beyond their ken with vivid description–and explanation of why the world is as we write it with “alien” elements like horses and cattle drives.
The style of writing has changed immensely in the last 25 years, where idea driven stories have fallen out of favor to ones with character driven plots. Westerns need to gear up, too, but a lot of writers already understand this and are working to give depth and motive (other than “revenge”) to their characters.
Along with this change is the broadening (I hesitate to say diluting, but that is part of it) with so many cross-genre stories. The noun is always the dictating form. For instance, ranch romance is a romance with all those conventions set in the west. If you happen to come across a romance western, you will have found a rare entry. Most all “…” romance is above all a romance. Paranormal romance. That’s romance with creepy happenings. Historical romance. A romance set in some other time period. And so on.
One interesting backwater is the western steampunk story. It can as easily be steampunk western. Adjective defining the type of western. Or the weird western. There aren’t many other sub genres that let us do a western with different overtones (there might be western mysteries like Longmire but check the adjective and the noun) but to maintain the structure, the very world of western lore requires us to understand what we are writing.
I love traditional westerns, but they were/too-often-are action driven with little regard to the characters. The best in the field like Elmer Kelton either consciously or unconsciously realized a western becomes more vital with living, breathing characters doing things the reader can identify with. With this additional writing technique, we now have to describe a world so far removed in time and space that it has become science fictional.
For your perusal, check out this Western Fictioneers series centered on individuals in the Old West. My Jackson Lowry title The Artist is an example of what I have been rattling on about. It is set in the Old West with a real character with a history, motivation and depth to bring him alive to today’s readers. It’s on sale right now, so you won’t be out that much to see what I mean. You won’t go wrong with the other novels in the West of the Big River series, either.
Happy trails, buckaroos.
Looking Backward Into the Future December 30, 2012Posted by bobv451 in history, nostalgia, sense of wonder, writing.
Tags: 2012, 2013, new year, obits, passing friends
The year 2012 is about finished. Somehow the dark parts are remembered more than the upside, at least for me this year. Jim Young and Mike Montgomery both died unexpectedly, suddenly, both younger than me. Dave Locke’s death wasn’t as unexpected but still a shock.
I can’t help but think back on others who have meant so much to me and the friendship and utter resources of their great minds lost in prior years. Gwynne Spencer was a constant source of ideas and knew more about children’s books than, well, anyone. I was never quite sure how much of the Art Bell-esque stuff she believed or merely played with because of the imaginative challenges afforded in believing in such things. And I still find myself reaching for the phone to call Geo Proctor to get his take on…well, about everything. He never saw the ebook revolution. In a prior century we argued over so many of things that are commonplace today. His marketing expertise and artistic talents are lost–as is his friendship which I so highly valued.
But 2012 saw the deaths of others of note. N Jospeh Woodland, who invented bar codes (and who used to be a gangster). Martin Fleischmann of cold fusion infamy. Georges Lamour invented the paper chef’s hat. Jack Tramiel of Commodore 64 fame. George Rathmann founded Amgen. Jean Giraud (Moebius). There was also Ray Bradbury and Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride. And Airship Ventures, whose bankruptcy takes away a touch of wonder in our world.
The grains of sand run through 2012’s hour glass more like a river than a trickle. I doubt 2013 will be different, but then I am something of a pessimist. Will we see improvement in our lives next year? I think the opposite, but I am willing to be wrong. Entropy has set in to our society and the tides of prosperity ebb.
Leaving you with fond wishes for a better 2103 and this…
Merry Mayan Apocalypse December 20, 2012Posted by bobv451 in business, death, End of the World, history, sci-fi, sense of wonder.
Tags: end of world, mass delusion, mayas, science fiction
Tomorrow, as I write this, the 5125 year Long Count Mayan calendar runs out. I personally think their next page with future 5125 years on it was lost. Or maybe got banned because it was a pinup calendar with sexy pictures of jaguars cavorting with Mayan maidens.
I have some fun with this and zombie apocalypses and so on, but too many people (even if it is just one, it is too many) take this seriously. Or at least use it for their own benefits, such as this sex hunt in NY.
Maybe not so bad? Will there be a population spike 9 months from now as after power blackouts? I doubt it. Like so much of this, just people scrambling for their 15 min of fame. (Doesn’t that 15 min come with some sort of inflation COLA? It’s *still* only 15 minutes. Unfair! We need a gummint commission to investigate the lack of increase.)
This hoohaw isn’t something making just occidentals crazy. Orientals can share it, too. China? Yup.
If you believe we’re all doooomed, okay. As I write this, it is Dec 21 in Australia and they are doing just fine. Maybe better than the US but that’s another story entirely.
But if you are looking for some mighty fine reading post-apocalyptic fun, I have discounted sf titles on my store starting on Dec 21 and lasting a few days only.
Wishing you a nice eternity. And a cheery Saturday.
Slap Leather, Pilgrim October 7, 2012Posted by bobv451 in autographing, business, conventions, e-books, history, iPad, New Mexico, outlaws, Texas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing, zeppelin.
Tags: hot air ballloons, Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, marketing, VIPub, westerns
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The past few days have been spent getting a talk ready for the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium coming up at the end of the week. I’ll be on a panel Friday morning, give my talk on New Mexico railroads both Friday and Saturday afternoons. For me talking that much is a marathon event and I’ll likely end up hoarse (horse? Sorry!)
From a writing standpoint, I’m trying some new marketing ideas. I’m turning my notes into an epub for easier use on my iPad, then will post the ebook on my store next week (for free, of course) for anyone wanting to see more details since I don’t anticipate going too deep into any one part of the talk.) Along with the talks, I’ll be selling copies of Karl Lassiter and Jackson Lowry westerns, hyping Karl’s upcoming China Jack
because it is about railroads and specifically railroads in that region of the country, and seeing how a special project goes.
Just for the getogether, I’ve done a mini-anthology of three stories about Texas Rangers, past, present and future. A memento for the event. Something easily carried (as opposed to a copy of The Traditional West)
If this experiment works, I’ll do something similar, Tales from New Mexico, for the SW Festival of Books next May. Targeted to the regional interests, relatively inexpensive, a keepsake for remembering the event. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Who knows? I might even take pictures at the symposium and lost a couple here, but it will have to be next week. Still working on finding tidbits about railroads in NM (including the 1880 tale of a fish-shaped hot air balloon dropping blue origami flowers and a teacup on the Galisteo railhead. Most inexplicable.)
More soon. Until then you might want to check out
Durability September 30, 2012Posted by bobv451 in death, e-books, End of the World, fantasy, gummint, history, ideas, movies, sci-fi, writing.
Tags: movies. writing, sci-fi
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Everything gets creakier as time passes. Maybe even time does. Is there an entropy affecting time as well as entropic time? Questions best left for the theorists. What is in the balliwick of writers, though, is the longevity of our work.
Fantasy is perhaps easiest since the world is entirely made up, with rules and laws and elements unique to that world. Passage of time in “our” world, developments of science and technology and geography and nations means nothing. Middle Earth has a permanence simply because it has no foot in the door of our world.
Science fiction is different. A hard science book is likely to be obsolete, outpaced by actual scientific discovery, before it is published. And the question arises whether a sf story (or a story that was sf) in earlier times but which has been outstripped by the surge of reality, is still sf. Is a story about the first man into space still sf since that event has happened in reality and it wasn’t done as in the story?
In a way, sweeping space opera stands a better chance of avoiding this issue. Smash galaxies together rather than be the first man to reach the moon. Even items that might have seemed laughable in early space opera, if the idea is audacious enough, can prove enduring. Doc Smith’s intertialess drive wasn’t about the Higgs boson. Maybe it was the Higgs anti-boson. But avoiding being too specific keeps the notion in play. Sorta.
Near future sf is hardest of all to write. I did a novel a few years back about RFID chips in clothing monitoring what everyone did (because lawsuits prevented the gummint from implanting the chips in the humans themselves). Now there are 69 companies manufacturing spy drones–for use by civilian police forces. RFIDs are already obsolete for this purpose. Cameras most places become cameras everywhere in the sky 24/7. The FBI is putting together a facial recognition database and the reason you aren’t allowed to smile on passport photos or drivers’ licenses is that smiling makes for harder recognition. Thank about that and try not to show fear.
The 1984 scenario is not being forced on us–half the US population wants it. To stay safe. I highly recommend the movie, The Lives of Others. And I want to see Barbara The days of the Stasi in East Germany are becoming the present in America. So we can stay safe.
But put fancy spy stuff into an sf book and it is likely to be laughably obsolete in a very short time. Concentrate on the characters, and durability might come your way.
I leave you with this from the ’60s.
Just Playing Around September 19, 2012Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, history, outlaws, Texas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West.
Tags: anthology, rangers, texas
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I finished the mini-anthology, Tales From Texas, and will debut it at the Lincoln County Cowbowy Symposium before going wide/public with it. Let me know what you think of this first attempt at doing a book trailer. Limited to 30 seconds, no control over the fade or effects, but I think it works pretty well for a first effort from an aesthetic idiot.
And here’s a look at the cover.