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Of Alien Worlds…and Adjectives and Nouns January 12, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, history, iPhone, movies & TV, sci-fi, science fiction, steampunk, Wild West, writing.
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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.

A story of Charles Russell

A story of Charles Russell

An Elephant Ate My iPhone! March 7, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, business, fantasy, iPhone, writing.
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Not *my* cellphone, but a woman at the Arizona Renaissance Fair had one of the pachyderms reach out, snatch her phone and chomp down on it. Luckily, it wasn’t a blackberry and tasted bad so the elephant spit it out. You don’t get trophies like iPhones with elephant tooth marks at every venue.

That was only one of the stories of the fair. But hitting the rewind button for a second, on March 3 Michael Stackpole and I autographed all day long at Lady Chamberlain’s Book Shop. I don’t know how many years we’ve been doing this but it is several and always fun. This year I went in costume borrowed from Scott and Pat. A picture (and that’s me in the middle, if you get that far–Chantelle stage right, Jami on the left. Thanks, miladies!)


Another odd story of the autographing. A group of five came up, saw that I was autographing God of War and figured I knew everything about mythology. “We can’t get a crossword puzzle clue,” said one. “What god married his sister?” Between Mike and me, we came up with Osiris. I’m not sure this is exhaustive, those gods being such rakes, but the answer satisfied the group. I hope they find a good name for their kid.

In spite of it being cloudy (or I would have suffocated in the heavy velvet pirate coat) I still sunburned a bit. The common areas are watered down in the morning. By afternoon the dirt had turned to fine dust that settled on everything, books and me included. That’s what you get with 17k people walking by.

After sundown and closing. Don Juan (of Don Juan and Miguel) invited us to his birthday party. Always fun seeing the behind the scenes people and how different their real personalities are from the on-stage persona.

Books were sold, fun was had, new people were met, fans spoken to (Taos Hermit and his family stopped by) and I’m already looking forward to next year and doing it again. [For those of you who want books autographed sooner and not in Phoenix, I’ll be autographing here in Albuquerque on March 30, 1-3pm, at Hastings Entertainment, 840 Juan Tabo NE)

The book that garnered the most attention from Ren Fair attendees.

Career Guide Your Job in Hell

Career Guide Your Job in Hell

Give It A (e)Read as The Giants Jockey For Position May 10, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, iPad, iPhone, VIPub, writing.

“Target to quit selling Kindles” read the headline.

So, does this mean Amazon is yesterday’s “next best thing” or something else? The article says more about Target aligning itself with Apple than anything else. I see this as Apple expanding stores where its products are physically viewable/salable. Such strategic alliances flow like the tide. Target fancies itself an upscale Walmart and Apple certainly offers products that fit that image. And a large part of this, I suspect, goes toward ditching a product that can be showroomed, then bought directly from Amazon.

For those of you still on the fence about ereaders, here is a comparison of what to look for and various devices along with some news such as Amazon’s numbers looked better because the loss it takes on Kindle sales improved (due to slowing Kindle sales–sell fewer units that lose money and your bottom line improves).

From a business standpoint, Amazon is about breaking even on their Kindles (or, from the article, losing a bit with every sale), wanting the big $ bang to come from continuing content sales (hey, that’s us!) Amazon seems to be taking a longer view of sales rather than concentrating on quarterly p&l, which means its growth might stretch out for a lot of years. But this is a fast-moving business. The ereaders might change but Amazon knows the content feeding them is the “constant.” The medium is not the message–the message is the message. The signal goes on, no matter how it is received.

Here’s one way to make a smartphone use a screen as large as an iPad. Technology marches on, but what you read rather than how you read is the important goal to keep in your sights (and on your sites).

Speaking of sites, I am in the process of migrating my online store so it will be out of service for a few days longer.

And looking forward to tomorrow, a guest blog from Scott Gamboe on his career, his Kindle Fire contest (and more stuff to come) will be featured. It’s all about content, folks, all about how we do it, how we sell it.

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Move Over, Dick Tracy April 16, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, iPad, iPhone, science, web & computers.
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The Dick Tracy comic strip was never a favorite of mine but I was always amused by the weird villains and my stfnal soul yearned for that wristwatch of his. A video telephone. Wow. Heady stuff (and this was before I ever found a copy of Tom Swift and his Phototelephone–that book alone is worth a lot of verbiage, but I’ll save that for a later time).

The smartphone is about everything that wrist video/radio was–almost. Now Sony has gone that extra diminished inch and created a true wrist smartwatch.

Android, of course, and sorta clunky looking like the first digital watches. The difference lies in the touch screen, I suspect. And the Bluetooth connection. It doesn’t appear to have an annoying ringtone but rather vibrates. Or pings in your earpiece. It’s creepy now seeing people wandering around, glassy eyed and talking to themselves. This might carry the creepiness to a new level since they don’t have to have a cell phone in their hand or hooked to their belt.

Apps seem limited but how hard can it be to port these over from Android smartphones? The chips are small enough and how much storage do you really need if you can use your wristwatch to float into the iCloud?

Wristwatches have become something of an ornamentation device rather than useful. Ask someone now what time it is and they look at their cell phone. A kid asked me what time it was yesterday while I was elegantly dining at McD’s and I checked the display at the top of my iPad, in spite of wearing my nifty atomic watch. Even I succumb to the zeitgeist.

The Sony Smartwatch is hardly a fashion statement but let Rolex get hold of this and…Katie, bar the door!

Blatant Poppycock! And Balderdash, Too! March 5, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, ideas, iPad, iPhone, movies, movies & TV, music, web & computers, weird news.
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The NYT business section has one of those articles intended to inflame, further driving home the point of newspapers is to…sell newspapers. Good on them for that, but the ereaders that were supposed to be their salvation haven’t stanched their not-so-slow decline. So, this article is mostly self-serving on their part and not a little “dog in the manger” kind of opinion.

More people get their news (or what passes for it–there is something seriously wrong with journalism when The Onion delivers more pertinent news than the MSM.) from the Internet now. The NYT, especially their dead tree editions, are struggling and such articles as this on how ereaders will promote illiteracy are their reaction. Get their declining readers to nod knowingly, feel superior to those poor illiterate e-ignoramuses and then turn the page feeling good about their intellect.

The basic idea is that having such power as an iPad in your hand will force you to stop reading an ebook and go right to Angry Birds instead. You won’t look at that textbook; you will instead choose online porn (at UNM, there’s not much difference in some departments–the former head of the creative writing dept just lost a lawsuit protesting another professor’s B&D website).

I still read dead tree books while watching TV. How is this different since the god-box (the remote) is at hand, too? Must be I’m illiterate already? Reading at the beach? Yeah, you dig right into those pages to the exclusion of everything else happening around you. The mode of reading has nothing to do with how you respond to distractions around you, but this might be too arcane for the typical dead tree NYT reader to understand as they stare fixedly at their smeary print pages.

If anything, I am reading more since I fired up my iPad 18 months ago. And I’m still loving it. I got my mother a Kindle. Her eyesight’s not as good as it once was. She can still read cranking up the font size, something she cannot do with a print book. She’s still reading as a result.

Consider the NYT opinion piece as Cheyne-Stokes breathing on the part of a dying medium: paper news.

Cracked analysis of paintings

Mechan-app for the iPad February 8, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, inventions, iPad, iPhone, web & computers.
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A few years ago the dreaded “check engine light” blinked on. I’d had the car for a while, but maybe it wasn’t anything serious. Or it could mean the sun was going nova. A look in the operating manual (after I found the section in a language I could read)offered no help. So, off to friendly neighborhood car repair guys.

They could check it out by hooking into their diagnostic computer, of course. But that single light could mean any of 1400 things were wrong. The car was hooked up and downloaded and…they had no idea what the returned code meant. They offered to turn off the light for me. They did and I haven’t had any trouble since. But it cost me a trip to the mechanic, both $ and time and there wasn’t any real resolution other than “sh*t happens.” Only this was simply a light coming on and nothing more. Unless the inscrutable Oriental car is being really sneaky and has lain in wait for 7 years to spring the problem on me when I least expect it.

But the ever astute app makers for iPad (and I assume Android) have a diagnostic app so I can check out my car personally. It’s pricey and I wouldn’t know what the heck it told me, but this seems a way of reassuring yourself that the check engine light doesn’t spell the Mayan Apocalypse early.

One free iPad app that will ruin my work schedule is Frotz. Gordon introduced me to Zork! in the early ’80s. At (I think Milehicon in Denver) he pulled out a suitcase filled with a computer and acoustic coupler, logged into the MIT computer and we played Zork for I don’t know how long. I bought a copy for the Apple ][e and played it until the ferric oxide fell off the floppy. This is a text adventure, no flashy graphics. And Frotz is similarly text based. I’ve gone through the first of, oh, 300?, adventures. (Hint: look under the bed)

Speaking of Gordon, he sent me this. I pass it along for your amusement. (And this, too, where a 12-yr-old UK kid learned some words from Siri he might not have known before, but probably did)

Eating iPads February 5, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, education, food, gummint, ideas, inventions, iPad, iPhone, VIPub, web & computers, writing.

The restaurant business operates on razor-thin profits. I ran a big restaurant for a while and we sported the best profit in the chain at a bit over 1%. That took constant vigilance and attention to who was hired, especially at waiter and waitress (this was back in the day when they were called that and not some PC variant like server, which can apply to a computer as easily.)

The paper today told of a NC restaurant equipping its servers with iPads. If the customer can’t decide, a picture of the food comes up (something that I have always felt is counter productive. There’s a reason food ads on TV use Elmer’s glue for milk, varnish on meat and other ugly things to mimic food–real food looks terrible photographed). I suppose this is a way to get past a language barrier, but the idea was to broaden the menu and give the potential feaster a hint as to which wine went best with that hot dog. (Hint:1787 Lafite claret is always a good choice.) The server touch screens the boxes, then submits the order via the iPad. No messy written checks.

It wasn’t stated but there might be another benefit other than using the iPad as a POS device. Put the order into a computer and have that decide how to optimally prepare the meal. Might be possible to fix 2 or 3 other customers’ same order together, cutting down on waste food and improving response/cooking/order time. Churn that computer a bit more and you can inventory the same way that bars inventory using a liquor gun. Every shot is monitored and matched with income. Every shallot can be similarly tracked. And it would be even easier if you could put in an edible RFID.

Why not couple the iPad to a webcam in the kitchen so you can watch the cook spitting in your food?

But my stfnal mind jumped a bit beyond simple profits on this. Paper checks are discarded. Once the meal is paid for now, all the tracking you get is the purchase price. (My son took me to a place in LA where they use Scantron sheets to order on–but below is an article on a restaurant near where he lives in Torrance using iPads) Using an iPad can record what every diner ate, or at least ordered. This can be pumped into a gummint database, let’s call it Michelle’s List, and the FDA can order out the TSA to arrest you if you are not eating properly. Or maybe the FDA will have its own SWAT team like the Dept of Education.

Fertile ground for stories. Of course, since this interests me, I’ve already done one novel with background like this. You can read it for free here, if you like.

Or maybe you can use a restaurant app like Fandango. Set up a reservation, order food and expect it to be ready when you arrive. The restaurant can monitor your approach using GPS to make sure you’re not one of those who orders a mushroom/onion/pineapple pizza and sends it to another house as a prank. With so many fast-casual (this term is being applied to places like Chipotle and, maybe a favorite of mine, Souper Salad) restaurants putting in wifi to keep the patrons there a bit longer, all kinds of other innovations might crop up.

Social Disease? February 3, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, iPad, iPhone, movies, VIPub, writing.
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Back in ’78 or thereabouts Tony Hillerman started First Friday, a place for published authors to show up and swap war stories (or just stories–no mss please!). It continues to this day, after we’ve been thrown out of some of the best restaurants in town. We now meet in the Albuquerque Public Schools library offices. No food served but they have state of the art Prometheus computer screens.

Using said screen this month was UNM IP/film law prof, Sherri Burr, and her law student Shelby Carson with a presentation on authors using social media. Most interesting to me was the stat that the Millennial Generation (1980-2000) constitute a population of 80 million. This is a huge segment of out 320meg country steeped in using computers, iPads, smartphones and other gadgetry, especially in entertainment consoles. Another interesting stat was that of the Gen Z (born after 2000) cohort, 81% expect to get their 15 minutes of fame. The oldest of these kids is now 12–this might be why YA books are enjoying such an explosion. Good topics for YA would be a kid getting that 15 min of fame (like Hannah Montana).

I was less sure of the sales figures presented, but those are like nailing jello to the wall. Cited was a blog about ebook sales and other things ebookish. Give it a look and see what you think of it.

The very questions I wanted answered weren’t, maybe because there aren’t answers. Not all questions have answers, after all. How do you increase the # of followers? Having them come to you isn’t a good tactic. I came across another blog on 10 tips for authors using social media. I like the idea #5 the best. Find a balance. I am slowly coming around to Dean Wesley Smith’s idea that producing more fiction is better than blogging, twitting, FBing. Goodreadsing, etc. But I do enjoy FB (and blogging is so much like my early days in sf fandowm when I did a fanzine–btw, an unabashed plug to you Hugo voters. John J. Miller for best fan writer! Go over to Cheese-magnet and see what he’s all about.)

Check out Sherri Burr’s cv. She’s done work on time management, the US film industry IP (and just had a book out in Korea) Freak her out and follow her on Twitter @sherriburr

Time Efficiency January 3, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, ideas, inventions, iPad, iPhone, Time, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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All a writer has is time. I suppose this is a subset of time being all anyone has in life. How do you fill it? With stuff you enjoy or stuff you hate? This economy makes it likely a job, any job that pays, whether you like it or not, is a precious commodity.

But writers may not be working but are never out of work. We might not get paid, but a lot of people are unemployed. Which would you rather do, write something you don’t get paid for but enjoyed writing or mope around looking for jobs you don’t want on Craig’s List? If the end result is zero money in both cases, I’d prefer the former. In addition to enjoying your time, you have a product that can go up on Kindle/Nook, and all the other usual suspects, and maybe pull in a few dollars that being turned down for interviews won’t get you.

Who knows? Lightning may strike and you’re the new Amanda Hocking. Chances are really good you’re not going to be offered that CEO position at Goldman-Sachs listed in the classifieds.

More than 4 million Kindles were sold over Xmas. That means 4 million more potential markets you can reach with an ebook. Will you? Good luck, but don’t count on it. But that’s a growing market, which is more than you can say about most markets in the US. Better yet, your reach is worldwide. IBM made the prediction (mentioned earlier in this blog) that 80% of everyone *in the world* will have a cell phone in 5 years. That’s almost 6 billion potential readers. Most won’t have any interest, but if a couple dozen out of that audience do, you’re still ahead with your writing rather than futilely looking for a job you will hate.

If you can find a job you love, good on you. But that job might just be writing, and if it is, write. (A nice thing about writing is that you can still hunt for the mind-numbing job and continue to write).

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Stepping Over the Digital Divide December 20, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, iPad, iPhone, movies, New Mexico, nostalgia, science, web & computers.
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I love this set of 5 predictions from IBM

The one that they kinda answer that I wonder about most is the biometric password. In spite of being a semi-comic movie, the scene with Wesley Snipes plucking out the warden’s eyeball in Demolition Man (1993) shows this was thought of a long time back. Problem there, of course, is maintaining the vitreous humor so the retina won’t be rippled. But how hard would it be to take a 3D picture and use that to break into biometric locks?

But the IBM prediction most fascinating to me is that within 5 years 80% of the entire world’s population will have a smartphone. The market! For my ebooks! 😎 But this would seem to me to mean that audio will be more important than ever since such a large proportion of the new users won’t be able to read.

One unanswered question on this is bandwidth. The idea of going faster isn’t to improve the user experience, it’s to cram more signal into the existing frequencies. The ATT/T-Mobile failed merger was more about bandwidth than anything else. ATT wanted it, T-Mobile wanted out of the US. Likely T-Mobile will look to the Russians for a sale. The possibility of a Sprint/T-Mobile merger might happen but that’s doubtful since the Germans want out entirely. So where is ATT going to get the bandwidth to deal with growth in iPhone, iPad and other tablet devices sucking up 3G? That’s a good question.

Is it possible for a smartphone to be put on a party line? Remember the old days when you shared your phone line with 2 or 4 (or more) people? No? I do. You had to listen to the phone ring to know if it was for you or the others on the party line.

But packet switching worked to speed up data transmission. Is there something that will buy us another yr or two of keeping the frequencies flowing? Or will we end up suing each other because the EM waves are irritating our “electromagnetic allergies?” (I wish this kind of idiocy was limited to NM, but alas, it isn’t.)