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.)
Story Arcs and Double Rainbows August 2, 2015Posted by bobv451 in e-books, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, serial fiction, writing.
Tags: mystery, paranormal, romance, science fiction, serial fiction
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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.
Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 3)(game tie-ins) March 2, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, writing.
Tags: fantasy, gaming, RPG, sci-fi, science fiction, tie-in
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Worlds don’t need to be created when writing stories in well-developed properties like Magic: The Gathering, MechWarrior and other RPGs since the history for such is already extensive. The trick becomes fitting a new story into an established world.
With Magic, the cards call the stories. I did a short story, “Festival of Sorrow,” for the anthology Distant Planes. The idea was to develop a story with characters that fit into the universe that, excuse the pun, played on the card. At the time I played Magic and loved the look of the Festival card. The story built around not a celebration but a warrior’s need for revenge–only to have the revenge stolen away by his foe’s untimely death. All this made for a story I still like a lot.
I also did a Magic novel, Dark Legacy,and this was more open-ended. Fantasy, exploration and the main character wondering why she lacked the charisma of a lesser rover. It turned out to be as much a story of fame and what this means as it did derring-do.
One of the more curious things that somehow happens and is beyond my explaining came to the fore with a MechWarrior book, Ruins of Power. Nothing went right with it, I put in 20 hour days to meet the deadline because of constant changes, and one day out the editor wanted a different ending. On schedule, I delivered a book well over the 90,000 words contacted–and got it edited down for length through such things as losing my dedication and buildup material. Still, the book wasn’t bad and fit into the BattleTech universe. However, it is my worst reviewed book on Amazon and, strangely, one of my best selling. This comes down to fame or fortune. I suppose fortune wins out since that pays the bills.
Finding the right characters that fit into an established universe makes these books sing and dance. I’ve done stories for Warhammer, Pathfinder, Vor: The Maelstrom and Crimson Skies and the trick is, as in any story, putting the character into a dangerous position. The difference is doing it in context with a wide and detailed background established by not only the game developers but the fans. It can be tricky. It is also a lot of fun.
Here is the most recent of such travels into an RPG/gaming universe.
Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 1)(The Stink of Flesh) February 16, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, End of the World, fantasy, movies, New Mexico, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
Tags: alternative lifestyles, horror, movies, novelization, stink of flesh, tie-in, zombies
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Tie-in work comes in a lot of varieties and most readers don’t appreciate the problems inherent. This is why the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers was formed.
Too many readers dismiss such work as hack work. Might be, but expectations enter in that aren’t brought to other sub-genres. If the reader hates the original game/movie/comic/tv show, then any novelization is going to be awful. Similarly, if the reader loves the original source so much it is part of his life, his very soul, it’s doubtful any novelization will live up to those lofty expectations (those intensely *personal* expectations).
The challenges of adapting a work can be daunting, especially moving from a movie to a novel. In the next few weeks I’ll go over the tie-in work I’ve done for video games, card-based games, series tie-ins and some other stuff. This time I want to hit the movie tie-in I did for Scott Phillips’ The Stink of Flesh. This had some extra thrill for me since I was in the movie (even if my son gets better billing ) so could enjoy killing myself off all over again in the novelization.
I had a copy of the script but had to remember from the time spent on the set what everything around me looked like. Playing the VHS copy I had, stopping it and making notes, helped, too, but with tape this is a tedious process. When I had my notes for every scene, I looked them over and saw this wasn’t a full-fledged book. In a movie characters can, well, act. A major character never says a word. They show emotions without words. Things happen in the background that aren’t explicitly mentioned in the movie There has to be extra material in a book to communicate this. More than this, a script comes up short in terms of page count in a novel. I put in extra scenes to bridge ones in the movie and introduced new characters that fit into the strange world Scott had built so well in the movie. The “Vegetable Man” scene in the book is an example. We know what the zombies want. How do the regular, still-human people live?
The movie is on its way to becoming a cult classic. A 30-copy limited edition is just now for sale.
As Joe Bob Briggs would say, check it out. Also the novelization.
A: The Clone Ranger February 9, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, death, ideas, sci-fi, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, serial fiction, writing.
Tags: clones, ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, writing
Q: What goes hi ho, Silver, Silver, Silver?
My dreams tend to be pretty worthless for thinking up plots or characters. A while back when I had trouble sleeping, I tried melatonin. This worked wonderfully well getting me to sleep but it gave me the most vivid–and boring–dreams ever. The vibrant colors came through unmatched by any other dream, but the sequence itself tended to be unthrilling, boring stuff like waiting in line at the supermarket. That was it. Just standing in line.
Recently I had a bout of dreams about clones. Who knows why? Something about the dream theme set my conscious brain to thinking in terms of sf stories (none of this was in the dream itself–that all came later). The variants on Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” are obvious but the moral considerations (and legal ramifications) are what boiled up in my head.
If you have sex with your own clone, is this masturbation? If you kill your own clone, is that suicide? (The truly scary ending on The Prestige is a take on this) If clones are considered separate entities, what does this do to DNA solutions for crimes? How do you prove it wasn’t you but your clone that did the crime? Could a clever criminal use his clone as an alibi for actually committing a crime? If you create your own clone for the express purpose of a sex crime (on the clone), who is the victim and who is the perpetrator? Is this even a crime? Could therapy for a serial killer be killing his own clones rather than other people? What are the ethics involved of trying risky medical treatments on clones to find the proper one for the “original?”
Cloning certainly eliminates the need for estate planning. Just will your clone your fortune. Skip a few hundred years into the future. Would all the wealth be consolidated in the hands of a few clones?
I need to get to work on a science fiction book. Not dealing with clones, not exactly (could a clone be used as a surrogate to serve a prison sentence?)
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.
Triage March 17, 2013Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
Tags: decisions, fantasy, ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, writing
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Ideas are easy, developing them isn’t. Worse, choosing which to work on is even more daunting. I have a row of notebooks filled with ideas accumulated over the years and, as good as some are, I will never try to use them because others are better.
This segment of a Dilbert cartoon seems appropriate.
So how do you choose? Excitement has to be a factor for any writer. All you have in way of capital is time that must be spent properly. An idea that won’t let go of your imagination is a good candidate, but writing and rewriting it in your head isn’t good enough if you want to sell it to a publisher. Think of a Venn diagram of all the ideas you want to write and ideas that are salable. The intersection of the two sets is where you write. That’s not to say any other point in your “what you want to write about” set isn’t worthy. But to sell to an editor, that overlap has to be there.
Otherwise, VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) is the way to go. Do it yourself. Damn the commercial sales, full steam ahead! This opens vistas galore, but the money isn’t likely to be as good (face it, not every book is going to be 50 Shades of Gray, which, depending on your outlook, is a good thing. But I am talking sales, not content.)
So, traditional dead tree publishing requires that overlap in idea/commercial. That eliminates a lot of what is always kicking around in my head. For a year or two I’ve wanted to do a Gormenghast type fantasy but it doesn’t have the feel of something that would sell. But it would be great to write (from my personal standpoint). Likely, it’ll stay on the backburner until a mystery and an sf book, both dancing on tippytoe through my head for years, are done since both strike me as great fun to write and commercial. One way of deciding if an idea is “good enough” is the test of time. Does it endure in your head and even grow? Or do newer ideas supplant?
You’ve got to decide, then stick with it to finish the writing before moving on. Don’t be seduced by the Siren’s lure of a “better” idea or you’ll never see a completed story.
Welcome to the New Mayan Long Count December 22, 2012Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, End of the World, Free, sci-fi, science fiction, steampunk, VIPub, writing.
Tags: apocalypse, end of the world, free, sale, sci-fi
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Survived the last 5125 and unfortunately the new page on the Mayan calendar doesn’t have any of those frisky Mayan maidens with cavorting jaguars, either. Next time.
For those of you looking forward to the next end times but unsure what to do until then, let me remind you I’m having a super duper post-apocalyptic sale in my store on all sci-fi titles. Only a couple more days so hurry hurry hurry.
Today’s Lio cartoon sums up so much so well so quickly in 2 frames.
Been There, Done That…But… December 9, 2012Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, fantasy, ideas, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
Tags: conventions, fantasy, ideas, sci-fi, VIPub, writing
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A couple years ago I came up with a dynamite idea. Super stuff. Still think it’s great but there’s only time to do so much, and this one has been sitting on the cerebral back burner. Imagine my horror when I came across other authors’ use of that very idea. How dare they!
Ideas can’t be copyrighted, of course, and I looked this “usurpation” over. It’s, let’s be polite, terrible. Nothing like the idea still churning away like a green chile burrito in the gut, only in my head. I may still give this a try, but it has dropped a notch or two on my to-do list because of possible perception I was just copying what has already been done (and not too successfully if the Amazon sales # is accurate, which I doubt, but that’s another story).
Harken back to 1973. I had gone to Torcon World SF Convention and had a chance to meet one of the greats in sf fandom, Bob Tucker. We’d written a few letters back and forth and he had done a couple articles for my fanzine (think dead tree blog with staples, if you will). I had the horrible, awful, sinking feeling I would be introduced and have nothing whatsoever to say to him–and vice versa. Turned out to be a misplaced fear. Tucker greeted me like a friend of a thousand years and the first words out of his mouth were, “I stole an idea from you!” What? How can that be? And we spent the next hour talking…like friends of a thousand years.
But he had only taken something I’d written and run with it in a direction I never considered. Therein lies the truth about ideas.
They are never unique. It’s how you use them in a story that’s most important. Last night a friend said that Steinbeck stole Of Mice and Men from a social worker. I couldn’t pin him down if he meant flat out plagiarism or simply using information about the Dust Bowl. One is completely different from the other. It’s hard to believe anyone could see such social upheaval and physical destruction without thinking what a novel it would make. Ideas are out there everywhere.
The old story about John Campbell assigning the same idea to 3 writers might be apocryphal but the punch line is worth mentioning. Two turned in stories so far apart in treatment it was almost impossible to figure out what the kernel had been. What you do with the idea matters. And what writer hasn’t read something and thought, “I can do better than that!” And with elements completely missed and adding a character, and getting rid of that annoying part, but I can…
You get the idea. Which is the idea.