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Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men… June 25, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in alt history, e-books, fantasy, nostalgia, sense of wonder, serial fiction, Tom Swift, Uncategorized, writing.
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…The Shadow does, of course. I enjoy the old timey pulp fiction for the sheer bravado of the pieces. Logic takes second place to daring fights and even more thrilling escapes. What better combination could there be in a mashup than The Shadow and Doc Savage?

That’s what Will Murray delivered in The Sinister Shadow. An epic battle of titans here, Doc and his “don’t shoot to kill” philosophy and The Shadow blazing away with his twin .45s, killing bad guys left, right and center. The plot deals more with The Shadow than Doc, with some of the alter egos being threatened by the vile Funeral Director. (OK, not as scary as it might be for a villain’s name, but it is descriptive). Lamont Cranston’s niece is kidnapped and threatened and so are several of The Shadow’s henchmen. And along the way Ham Brooks is nabbed, too, but that hardly seemed a bump in the rocky road of bitter fruit of crime.

Murray is undoubtedly knowledgeable as all get out about the pulp characters, but this one seemed strained to me. The good guys have to be at odds with one another (another case in point is Time Bomb, a Hardy Boys/Tom Swift mashup in Ultra Thriller #1.  That there was only a #2 and no more shows how poorly it was received). In the case of Doc and The Shadow, it is more antagonistic and pits lawful vs vigilante. It doesn’t work, not exactly. Fun going along but this is less a Doc Savage book than a Shadow adventure. The Pat Savage book struck me the same way–give me Doc and the fearless 5. The others are minor characters.

Enjoy this one for what it is: A retro plot written in 2015. But the originals are better. (And Murray’s other Doc Savages I’ve read are better, too. His Doc Savage: Skull Island is great, a mashup of Doc and King Kong. But I understand the temptation of having two of the most iconic crime fighters in all pulpdom dancing from your keyboard…)

Time Is Not On Your Side June 18, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in business, death, e-books, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, serial fiction, Uncategorized, VIPub, westerns, writing.
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Tick. Tick. Tock. Cuckoo clock chimes. The weights descend and you are out of time. All a writer (or any of us) has is time. That’s the commodity to hoard and covet and use to its fullest extent.

I come up with a never-ending flood of ideas. That’s not a problem of “What next?” When I get down to writing, there’s not a writer’s block to be seen. No problemo. What is harder is choosing among the ideas to work on next because there is so little time and triage has to be done.

Looking back on 40+ years of writing, I mostly wouldn’t change things, but maybe, perhaps, kinda, one tactic stands out that should have been modified. Writing series books (ie, Jake Logan, Trailsman, Nick Carter) is fun and it paid a lot of bills. But none of those books is mine. I can’t put up new ebook editions or take them down or do anything. They belong to the publisher and are forever deadwood to me. Filling some of the time spent writing so many with my own work would have been a smarter move. I know writers of prodigious output who own almost no titles of their own–they did too many work-for-hires. As a result they have only a handful of titles under their control, ie, to make money now as opposed to when it was written.

Write what you need to stay alive. It’s tough out there and always has been. But do as much of your own as you can. It’s yours and there is never enough time to do “just one more.” Time’s arrow will pierce you and once gone from the quiver, time cannot be recovered.

In case you want some sf about relativity….

Getting Weird…But It Always Has Been April 2, 2017

Posted 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, 2015

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, serial fiction, writing.
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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 4)(series books) March 9, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, ideas, sense of wonder, serial fiction, Wild West, 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.

Hot Rail to Hell Deluxe

A: The Clone Ranger February 9, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, death, ideas, sci-fi, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, serial fiction, writing.
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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?)

Visit from a Bear January 10, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, sci-fi, science fiction, serial fiction, writing.
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Greg Bear, that is. Last night he held a talk/autographing at Page One. In spite of a top of the article mention in the Arts section in the Sunday Journal using words such as “legend” and “master” the turnout was not all that great. Perhaps 30 people?

Anyone not there missed a pleasant, insightful presentation. I’d met Greg once about 20 years ago and was interested in hearing his adventures writing in the Halo universe. Comparing how God of War works viz a vis Halo was an eye-opener for me. Greg is pushing the 2nd novel in his trilogy of the Forerunners, Primoridum, with the third cleverly hinted at.

I was especially taken by his attitude toward writing. If it entertains, it’s worth doing. Crossovers (he mentioned vampire ranch romances, somewhat jokingly, but I am sure there are a lot out there) and tie-ins and sf and…it’s all worthwhile. He pointed out the immense popularity of video games, saying the industry revenue passed that of Hollywood movies back in the ‘90s. I can’t address that but the reports on the recent Call to Duty said it pulled in almost a billion dollars in 16 days. (Eat your heart out, Avatar).

Halo isn’t a series I follow, though I did read Eric Nylund’s First Strike back in the day. Halo sounds like an interesting idea, especially for novels.

In a day or two I’ll have a report on the Kindle promo for both A Career Guide to Your Job in Hell and Moonlight in the Meg.

Greg Bear

Are You Being Undercheesed? January 1, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, End of the World, movies & TV, sci-fi, serial fiction, steampunk, VIPub, westerns, writing.
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That’s what an ad for a pizza joint asked me. I had never considered life in those terms, perhaps because I drop in on Cheese Magnet regularly. But “undercheesed?” If so, I need to watch more cheesy sf movies. (I did watch This Island Earth last night and no, it is not a cheesy movie. It’s pretty decent and one year Santa will bring me an interocitor.)

I doubt the world will end, but watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ NY last night made me think it is possible. Poor ole Dick looked like a zombie. Any year that begins with Lady Gaga and Michael Bloomberg co-pressing the lever to drop the ball already has 2 strikes against it. My option was watching “Hair Removal at Home” on Ch 2. Or watching metaluna monsters menace Faith Domergue.

The year is already filling with projects. Have 2 westerns under contract, have agreed to take part in a Western Fictioneers project of a story collection set in Dogleg, Kansas and have lots of other projects begging to be done. No lack of work. Now all I need are sales, so pitch in, everyone, do your part, feed those e-readers you got for Christmas.

I have a small window of opportunity to work on the first of the Empires of Steam and Rust stories so will cut this short. Already up to 15k words in the “First Passage” and just getting into the plot after introducing the situation, the bad guy and the two good guys. And the compressed-air powered dog, Fulton.

Off to see if yet another brick and mortar bookstore has bitten the dust. I leave you with this snarky cartoon hope for 2012.

F-Minus by Tony Carrillo

Technology Trudges On December 29, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, iPad, science fiction, serial fiction, steampunk, VIPub, writing.
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Over on FB Bobbie posted this about an iPad USB drive. Amazing wifi connection to the iPad. The price tag at $160 is steep but if you need it, you need it. That it can be read 150 ft away makes me hope the security on it is topnotch. But progress!

Not so much progress on my part came in finding Thunderbird no longer sent my replies or new emails. Rather, it claimed they were sent but the recipient never recipped. I have no idea what trouble this has gotten me into but I suspect I will find out since I use the comcast email account as a business clearing point. The mail was still coming in (I think–how would I know?) But sending was not happening. Two days spent playing with security protocols and all that availed me nothing. I was in hot water anyway with Thunderbird since it updated and erased all my address book and archived emails. I suppose they are still on my computer but simply changing the profile did not reveal them and now I can’t do even that small fix.

I changed to Outlook Express. Things seem to work ok there.

And this morning Firefox went berserk on me. Rabid firefox. Bad firefox. Loading endlessly and erased my homepage and…it was not working and nothing I could do even got me to the Mozilla help page. After such frustration with Thunderbird (I had tried to change to Eudora and found it is a Mozilla product, too, and migrated all the same problems I had with Tbird), I bailed fast. I changed to Chrome, which seems to suck up more memory but works faster and has less functionality. I liked being able to go to Twitter off the Firefox toolbar and get stock quotes updated every few minutes. At least I can’t seem to find add-ons for Chrome. And also it seems to assume I want to use Google as a search engine. Fancy that. I use ixquick so it doesn’t keep an 18 month record of everything I look up and report me to attackwatch as being a terrorist for wondering if it’s potassium permanganate or potassium manganate that blows up. I’m a writer. I need stuff like this. Last night hunted for types of German WWI era machine guns (yes, have started writing Empires of Steam and Rust: Passage One).

On VIPub front, have shifted A Career Guide to Your Job in Hell and Moonlight in the Meg exclusively to Amazon Select. Check ‘em out. And if you want to give me a present that doesn’t cost you anything (but time), how about reviewing some of my work and posting it on Amazon and B&N? Tis appreciated.

Non Sequitur 12/29/11

Alms November 19, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, Chain story, e-books, movies & TV, nostalgia, science fiction, sense of wonder, serial fiction, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.

Every now and then I put in this plea. I make my living as a writer, selling my work. To you, dear friends, and others who don’t know me at all. This past week has been hectic since I have been unable to work regularly because of jury duty (and I thought the plots on CSI were far-fetched!). This will run another couple weeks, taking me away from my most productive time at lithe keyboard.

So, humor me. Keep the cats from considering me as food since I couldn’t afford to feed them. Buy something from my store, from Kindle
or Nook or from the other fine venues peddling my stuff. It won’t cost you much and you will get lots of enjoyment in return. More than paying an exorbitant ticket price for a 3D movie.

If you can’t part with a buck or two right now, there is someone you can do to help out. It’ll take just a moment. Go to Amazon or B&N and leave a review. Goodreads is a fine place to mention my work, too. Others see reviews and rely on them. A Career Guide To Your Job in Hell has some fine reviews on it. Toss in a few more if you like the collection. Even put reviews up on my website. I might be inclined to run a contest offering a few dollars off coupons for the top reviews. Doesn’t have to be hyperbolic or even good, but give me a review. But if it is bad, I might turn lachrymose or even suicidal. And then the cats would starve after they finished picking the flesh from my bones.

Your call.

Hot Rail to Hell