Reading Weird April 17, 2017Posted by bobv451 in alt history, e-books, fantasy, sense of wonder, weird westerns, westerns, Wild West, writing.
Tags: alt history, review, weird western, western
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I write weird westerns, but it probably goes without saying (or should) that I enjoy reading weird westerns, too. Like every other genre, or sub-genre, some are wowsa and others leave me cold. Much has to do with timing. A mediocre book hitting me at the right time will get me thinking for weeks. I’m not so sure if a great book ever leaves me cold, buried and mummified since that wouldn’t be a great book then. To me. I’ve said for a very long time the writer brings 75% to the party. The reader furnished the other 25%, and what that is the author has not a clue.
I know what Peter Branvold brought in his 75% of Dust of the Damned, and that is a a cast of good guys that I wanted to read more about, which is my 25% contribution. The creepy crawlies they face are varied and unusual enough to keep me reading–hobgobbies, werewolves, vampires (spillers), brujas, and dragons! But added into the ghoul killing, the world itself is alt-history since Lincoln brought werewolves over from Europe to defeat the Confederates at Gettysburg, then he and Grant killed themselves out of shame at what they’d done. Sherman is president. But the real story is that after escaping Union dominion, the Hell’s Angels gang was born (if that’s the proper way of stating it). They infest most Western states and are tracked down by bounty hunter Uriah Zane and deputy US marshal Angel Coffin, sometime lovers and always ready to tangle with the ghouls.
The setting is good, the action is topnotch and the characters are worth following to the very last page. This is why I like weird westerns (and alt-history).
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.
What They Read (Kids) May 11, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, ideas, iPad, sense of wonder, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
Tags: children, discoverability, e-books, education, fantasy, kids, reading, science fiction, sf
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Discoverability is an important part of any author’s excursion through the profession. How do you get eyes on your work? A study on what kids in K-12 read makes for fascinating reading, especially when you dig down into it and find the youngest grades are more amenable to ebooks than other groups. I’d always said ereaders would never become commonplace until the earliest grades read using them. It has happened.
The report What Kids Are Reading is downloadable as a pdf and takes a while to go through.
Here are some of my takeaways.
Many of these books are assigned by teachers and, to my way of thinking, aren’t of much use to us as writers of VIPub original fiction. A student reading To Kill A Mockingbird as a class assignment is less important than finding that Hunger Games has found itself a high ranking over the past few years or that the younger students read Dav Pilkey. Those are hardly revelations but give direction to our hunt to garner new readers. One trend that seems obvious to me in the younger readers (pre 6th grade) is the number of “outcast” stories. The kids want stories in the little tailor vein, Heinlein’s ordinary person who overcomes great peril to triumph as an individual. Superheroes are ok (are we being force fed them?) but the kids read stories about solitary heroes and heroines, probably because they see themselves that way (a fight between Katniss Everdeen and Percy Jackson?). No super powers, just outcast and subpar and wanting to do great things. Stories of accomplishment seem to rate higher than those of ordering the kids to have self-esteem. SF looks important in this extracurricular reading.
As long as I have been in science fiction fandom, there has been the semi-joke about the golden age of sf being 12. This report bears that out when you look at the number of words read by each grade group (page 55). The sixth graders read the most. You might make the argument later grades are reading more challenging books and are therefore reading less due to the time it takes to wade through. Maybe so, but if you want to capture an audience and keep it, find what appeals to a 6th grader. By that age they have access to an ereader, are becoming autonomous and developing their tastes in reading, and probably have more money to spend on their epurchases than the authors writing the stories.
Mostly, I need to sift through this report and find what is being read for pleasure, then figure out how to capture some of the market.
Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 4)(series books) March 9, 2014Posted by bobv451 in business, ideas, sense of wonder, serial fiction, Wild West, writing.
Tags: ghost writing, high tech thrillers, series, westerns, writing
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There can’t be any character development in the main character. That puts a damper on a lot of things, but it shouldn’t be a killer for a series. I’ve done more than 125 titles in a series I’m not at liberty to name, but I can recommend a new book or two (ahem).
The series bible is set up so that independent authors can write without needing to read every other title to keep details straight. With the one/month publication schedule such attention to details (or changes to the canon) by other writers would be impossible, especially if there are a half dozen in the pipeline. So, no mention is ever made of any other book in the series and only what is in the bible counts as canon. This isn’t as onerous as it seems. The main character might end the book the same as when he started, but there are a lot of other possibilities.
In spite of what the reviewer (who didn’t seem to have read the book rather than getting it as a gift) said, the plots are where the fun can come in. I haven’t duplicated a situation in all the books I’ve done, though some of my favorite settings have been reused in different ways. My very first title was set in San Francisco amid a tong war. A “giant” had to do with returning bones for burial to China and most recently among the published books I used the same setting for a prison break (or unbreak, actually). What might well be the last of my titles has to do with a huge silver theft from a San Francisco-based railroad. More than different plots and locales to explore and history to unveil, the other characters can get story arcs where they change motivation and alliances/allegiances. They can grow or devolve. After all, only the protagonist has to emerge unscathed emotionally and with his motivations the same at the end as when he started (so the next author doesn’t have to explain why the hero suddenly likes to drown puppies or no longer drinks trade whiskey).
The same dictum worked when I did eight titles in the 1980’s Nick Carter: Killmaster series. These were told first person, which further limited the changes, but wildly strange bad guys were the mark of this techno-oriented spy series. They weren’t likely to change as much they were to be killed. Hence the series name: killmaster. (This reimagined series had a completely different character from his earliest origins in the nineteenth century–that changed but in the incarnations of the series, the Nick Carter character remained static)
This unchanging main character worked in other series books I’ve done. I ghosted an Executioner book and only had a short time to pick up details on the series (only a few additions rather than changes from ones I had read years earlier). But what you get out of these series are nonstop action, great supporting characters and the feeling you’re one of the gang taking part since you know the protagonist so well.
I also did a title in the ’70’s Baroness series that never saw the light of day. But I love the feel of those old series and started something similar with new characters, as much at the behest of others in the yahoo Baroness group as because they are fun to write. I did this one almost 3 years ago and the Navy is just now getting around to deploying some of the gadgets mentioned. Love the techno speculation! One of these days I’ll get back to these characters, so it won’t merely be the first in the series.
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.
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?)
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.
The Black Hole Passes September 8, 2012Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, death, hobby, movies & TV, New Mexico, nostalgia, science, sense of wonder.
No, that’s not a typo. I’m not referring to Campbell’s The Black Star Passes but to the Black Hole surplus store in Los Alamos. The Black Hole was a compendium of junk and history, useable tech equipment and stuff I’m not sure anyone knew what it did.
The owner, Ed Grothus, died some time ago and was mostly anti-nuke, pro who knows what, who bought lots of surplus equipment at the Los Alamos lab and sold them. On one trip there, Gordon Garb laughingly asked for a 50kw oil bath capacitor–they had 3 on the shelf. I had less luck hunting for keyboards with the function keys down the left side–all their IBM keyboards predated fn keys. Stacks of Beta tapes (including the entire Prisoner series!). Dual trace oscilloscopes, miles of wire and coax, gadgets nobody knew what they were good for other than asking, “What’s that thing? It looks awesome, but…”
Entropy sets in, even in such backwaters of New Mexico. Alas, Hawking was right and black holes do evaporate.
A bit of irony is the closing coincides with a mini-Maker Fair here in Abq. Gordon is maybe going to come for that, which is A Good Thing since he missed Bubonicon this year.
I have been busy tidying up a lot of writing chores. More on them later. Got a short story to do ASAP, then…lots more stuff. But some of it is actually seeing the light of day this year. (And there are still prizes for the trivia contest available…hurry hurry hurry, time’s almost up!)
I leave you with the establishing shot for The Black Hole.
Boo…Boo…Bubonicon. 44 August 23, 2012Posted by bobv451 in autographing, Billy the Kid, conventions, e-books, fantasy, Free, movies, movies & TV, New Mexico, nostalgia, science fiction, sense of wonder, VIPub, westerns, writing.
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This weekend. Starting tomorrow! Coming amazingly fast this year–and anticipated even more since I missed last year.
Brandon Sanderson is GoH and via reports from GenCon he will make one fantastic guest of honor. Michael Cassutt is the TM and Ursula Vernon artist GoH. Wow. And George RR Martin and dozens of other writers will be there, too. But you can read all about this at the convention web site.
Want more info? Great article in the UNM student paper about us.
My schedule is packed to the gunwales. First out of the chute on Friday (that’s tomorrow as I write this!) is the Crazy Buck Rogers panel. 4-5pm. Following that I have a reading or discussion or whatever you want for an hour, 7:30-8:30PM. I’ve got a trio of stories I can offer up. A horror story (Avian Evisceration Device) from Career Guide to Your Job in Hell,, a fantasy (Memory of Wind) or a mystery mashup with Sherlock Holmes and Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Adventure of the Greenwich First Light). I don’t like to read so I am quite willing to talk about writing in general, ebooks, e-making your own, what to e-expect and all that good stuff. After all, my ebooks are now available in India via the Kindle. I can even be paid in rupees. If they offered royalties in a hard currency (say, Canadian loonies) that would be better. But I’ll take it in soft currency, ie, USD.
But wait, there’s more. There is the Cheesemagnet Panel at 9:30-11PM, if you don’t get enough cheesy movie talk in your workaday life.
Saturday the 25th? Why, yes, I have a panel 4-5PM on marketing sf via stuffing it into a teeny little niche. Instantly following that in the same room is the 5:20-6:30PM mass autographing, if your Higgs boson provides you enough mass to autograph. I don’t anticipate having much in the way of books to sell, so stock up from Nina and Ron Else in the huckster room (Who Else? Books), but I will have a copy or two of some titles (credit cards accepted). If you ask during the autographing, I will tell you how to get 44% off e-titles from my online store. Ebooks only, please, for this offer.
For most fans this would be enough. Not for yhos. Sunday.1:00-3:30PM auction. Super stuff. Super silly stuff, all auctioned off by the Bcon team of crazies (sans Gordon, alas–doctor things prevent him from attending this year)
This is coming up over the weekend. The past couple weeks have been filled. Finished 1.5 stories in a min-anthology I am doing before I speak at the 23rd Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium.
Also finished copyedits on China Jack, due out Dec 11 (you better read it quick–only 10 days from release date until the Mayan Apocalypse). And almost done on the edits for the final Star Frontier title, Black Nebula.
And work proceeds apace on the final touches for God of War 2.
Plus work on tax accounting stuff, student mss and generally goofing off. I leave you with this. My very first published book has been e-reprinted. This is it! Grab it at this low price while you can.