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“Don’t Let the Sound of Your Own Wheels Drive You Crazy” June 19, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in cats, conventions, history, ideas, Texas, weather, westerns, writing.
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It’s been like that this week. Tiring driving back and forth to eastern Oklahoma. I missed getting my car pummeled with baseball-sized hail by 24 hours in Oklahoma City. OKC is, by the way, a horror to drive through. One pass through they closed I-40 due to a wreck. Another closure dealt with an ammunition truck overturned. Closures of all but one lane makes for a terrifying Venturi effect along the damned whappa-whappa-whappa concrete slab freeway. If they didn’t have the highway numbers painted on the roadbed, I’m not sure I could ever get through the spaghetti maze of roads.

But there is some benefit staring at the miles of miles in the Panhandle, zooming past the largest cross in North America (Groom, TX), seeing the devastation of drought and fire, seeing the flooding in OK only miles to the east. First time I was in Tahlequah about 6 weeks ago, it was so dry that the lightning bugs weren’t even out at night. This time big ones flashed their cheery greeting since it had rained so much in the interim. Love lighting bugs. Hate bugs. Especially the vampire-sized mosquitoes. One good suck at a vein and I am drained.

But the benefit of driving. This is probably wrong but my brain turns off on empty stretches, and there were lots of them. Not much traffic (except for the idiot woman from Arkansas in a mini Cooper who would zoot past me at 85, then slow to 60 so I’d pass and then repeat. Endlessly. Or the subcompact piled 3 stories high with…who knows what. The cross winds were having a field day with that poor sucker. I won’t even mention the mugger trucker so stoned he could hardly stay in two lanes and a shoulder. Or the semi that got blown over just west of Amarillo.) The benefit of turning off my mind. Yes, I am still groggy from the road.

Ideas pile up and spill out since I don’t have any other distractions. No phone, no cats, no doorbell, that funny noise that wasn’t there a minute before (if I get one of those on the road, I turn up the CD until I can’t hear it any longer) I hit upon a nice fantasy short story idea for an anthology that I hope I’m not too late to submit to. Got to write the story, but it’s a good one, so… Two new western plots. A story line for a new Jackson Lowry novel. Rewriting mentally a story I had just done (wrong pov, I figured, but am letting it stand with only a small amount of additional stuff required). Some mental writing on Hot Rail to Hell. Very productive drives idea-wise. Not once did I think of Pantex blowing up as I passed. But I did think of the helium mines. And of course thinking on the Albuquerque Comic Expo at the end of this week. Wheee!

I leave you with this…

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Road Kill(er) June 9, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, iPad, iPhone, sci-fi, science fiction, Texas, westerns, writing.
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Things are becoming dynamic again–or is that a new kinetic writer action? The jargon changes so fast these days. Anyway, I need to spend another week on the road, clock a new 3k miles and then return in time for Albuquerque Comic Expo. That’s the easy part.

The hard part is working while on the road. I’ve got a monstrously old laptop. It takes longer than 5 minutes to boot (no kidding). I’ve got 2 hrs then to do whatever I want to do. The onboard wifi crapped out so I need to use a stick-in card. The laptop keyboard is, like all laptop keyboards, not to my liking but good enough for some usage. Doing a big project (which I have to do ASAP) isn’t possible on the road, especially since I need reliable YouTube connections. I’ll have my iPad with me for that, but in eastern OK wifi is something you say when you meet somebody. “How you?” “Why, fi-ne, thanks.)

The stories I could tell trying to connect at Taco Bell. And then at McD’s exorbitant pay $5/hr connect time before their latest round of updated free wifi.

Anyway, a short story or a novel synopsis (sold 2 more westerns, btw) is more likely to do since this requires nothing more than using the word processor. I have yet to use Pages on the iPad for any protracted work. My fingers just don’t feel right.

I do have my new android to add to the electronic road warriorism. But its keyboard is almost unuseable by fat fingered me. So I have one of the capacitance linking pens. But try to type that way? Never.

More than things electronic, the difficulty I have working in a motel room or at a McD’s is considerable. I am a creature of habit and love my messy desk with its cat sprawled out between my (ancient, usable) keyboard and the screen. My CD player/radio died when I touched it (static electricity is potent here) so I have been using my iPad and Pandora (and Tune-in), so this much can go on the road with me, provided I have good wifi. Too many variables to chip away at my serious concentration. (Why do people bring their pet elephants to motels? Or are they body builders practicing dropping 200kg weights on the floor? All night long?) Something will get done on the road. Not sure what yet.

To add insult to this, or maybe injury to insult, I got rear-ended yesterday. Trunk lid got sprung, my back hurts like, well, yeah, that, but all else is ok. In my febrile mind, every bit of road noise will be the rear end falling off somewhere in the middle of the Panhandle. Sometimes having an imagination isn’t that good a thing.

And you have until tomorrow to take advantage of 50% off all my sf novels at the Cenotaph Road Store. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Book #1 Weapons of Chaos

The Importance of Being Bad June 1, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, history, Texas, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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All writers live lives of purity and honor. That’s why we enjoy the villains in our fiction so much (and if you believe the former, I’ve got some prime NM swampland to sell you–but you’d better believe the latter since it’s true).

You can have many conflicts in a story. Man vs nature is a favorite, especially in the western. But the man a man fight of hero vs villain is the mainstay of most popular fiction, and with a good reason. It’s fun. We can identify with the bad guy, maybe a little, and see what our baser impulses would be like running rampant. Choosing the antagonist in a story can be done in a lot of ways but firsts and lasts, especially in frontier fiction, is particularly rewarding. The era of exploration, taming and settlement. The closing of the frontier due to modernization). My good buddy Geo Proctor did the latter especially well in Enemies. And a more modern treatment of dying dreams in Before Honor.

But first and last baddies? I came across an article on Pearl Hart that intrigued me. A female stage robber? Maybe doing the last (or almost last) stagecoach robbery and then being the only female prisoner at Yuma Penitentiary? And going on to appear with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show? Now that’s an intriguing character, perhaps as much so as the more written about Pearl Starr daughter of Belle Starr. I’ve written about her (Slocum #67, The Dallas Madam) way back in ‘84 (1984, btw)

In today’s expectations of fiction, you have to show some good side to the villain, which in the case of true psycho killers is hard. What good there is about Billy the Kid or John Wesley Hardin strikes me as wishful post modern thinking. Jesse James and the Youngers and Daltons might have been good to their families but weren’t so good to anyone else. I can’t help but wonder if modern stories such as Thomas Harris’ dealing with Hannibal Lecter are not popular because Lecter is such undiluted evil. No equivocation, no chance for rehabilitation, a force of nature both psychotic and unstoppable. Do readers yearn for their baddies to be *bad* or is literary writing showing they are occasionally good to kitties and send money to a homeless shelter more important?

Whatever the villain is like, this is the fun character for writers and usually why the baddie shines as the standout in a book.

Geo W Proctor

Topic-oca Pudding May 22, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, ideas, Texas, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Changing societal norms make use of some words totally verboten now, while others that were forbidden (as in George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words are, if not acceptable, then not punishable by ostracizing when used now in ordinary conversation. Times change and what is acceptable does, too. My previous post touched on this.

Ideas change, as well, as to what is believable and what isn’t. I proposed a western where the hero (ok, the protagonist–he’s wasn’t *that* good a guy) assumes the identity of a man found dead in a freight car, only to discover he had assumed the identity of an undercover Texas railroad detective of some notoriety. He’s got the tiger by the tail since he doesn’t know anything about the detective’s background–but most people don’t, since the railroad bull prided himself on being a man of a thousand faces. He finds himself in a box, expected to find a killer.

Before he can get away from a rather nasty crime the detective was investigating, he falls in love with a woman who has fallen in love with the detective’s reputation. If he continues to use the false identity, he keeps the girl. If he doesn’t, death is likely to be the least of his woes.

My agent said the idea was unworkable since no one would believe the switch in identities. I suppose DNA tests would make this a non-starter? In 1875. Photos of people were rare (see my other posts about the fun use of photographs of Jesse James, Billy the Kid and other dead outlaws) and the detective made a point of disguises. And not making friends to trip him up. I had even taken care of the problem with his boss identifying him–the heinous crime was the murder of his boss on the train. The new boss knew the name but not the face.

But my agent had a point. Today’s CSI savvy audience would demand more technical stuff–which did not exist in the wild wild west. Part of creating a work of fiction is building a believable world that didn’t exist, or in this case mostly did but which is alien to our society and norms. Reader connection with character and theme is necessary, and if they don’t buy the premise, the book falls flat.

I still like the idea and maybe will do something with it at some point. But writing is like working a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces have to fit, including those the readers *think* should fit.

For a mighty fine railroad detective series set during WWII, check out Yard Dog.

A Hook Runyon railroad detective story by Sheldon Russell

Sticks and Stones May 19, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, history, Texas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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I just finished reading James Reasoner’s most excellent Diamondback and appreciated how the book’s trajectory had finally ended in publication. For lots of reasons you can read about in the afterword, the book was marketed around in ‘84 but never found a home until now, when James did it VIPub.

This is a perfect example of a professional quality book being published by the author because legacy publishers passed on it (for myriad reasons). In a way, the book fits a sub genre that no longer exists, at least among legacy publishers. Men’s adventure fiction has a market, just not one big enough for mass distribution. But a few thousand readers, which I hope this will garner, can find the kind of fiction they’ve been missing for so long.

But I wanted to touch on something else in the book and publishing in general. Times certainly change and what legacy publishers find acceptable changes, too. I had a book rejected because the protagonist was a racist–neutrally racist, not actively discriminating but not too bothered when he saw it. Set in the 1880s, West Texas, building the railroad from El Paso to San Antonio, it deals with what the Chinese railroad crews faced. The character arc ran from Jack being as described above and finding both friendship and love as he came to understand the crew working for him. In other words, he changed. A character arc has to start somewhere and go somewhere–it seems to me this is the proper direction to go. But without a starting point of racism, what’s the point? Jack starts by defending them and ends by defending them? Not much drama or anything to root for there. The reader should want to see him change, and for good reasons.

In Diamondback James uses language that has become completely, totally verboten in polite company. The characters using it are not the good guys and you don’t *ever* want them to win. Their language defines them and gives the protagonist, Tom Sloane, serious adversaries. You can cheer when he triumphs because the antagonists are such racists. But I doubt the book would ever be considered by a contemporary legacy publisher without changing the language and emasculating the true evil of the bad guys. Such words cannot be used now.

I worry that some sales venues, such as Nook, have a hyperlink to report objectionable content. To some, Diamondback (and my own China Jack) would fall into that category because of language. These are the same people who demand Tom Sawyer be bowdlerized because of its language.

It’s hard to overcome racism if you’re not allowed to portray true racists, even in fiction.

Expurgated Tom Sawyer

El Paso Gators in the Moat May 16, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, dinosaurs, history, sense of wonder, Texas, weird news, Wild West.
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A lot has been made of Obama’s talk of a moat filled with alligators. I find it amusing that he made the talk in El Paso, which has a long history of alligators in a pond in the middle of the city. Really.

I lived in El Paso from the mid ‘50s to the early’60s and always got a kick out of seeing the gators in what is now called. Plaza de los Lagartos. The real beasties are long removed to the zoo and replaced with fiber glass replicas (which I find to be horrifyingly awful, but I am not a fan of this style of sculpture. At all.)

The trips downtown from the far northeast where we lived were always great fun. There was a newsstand to the east of the post office that carried…Ace Doubles! And cheap magic tricks and gag stuff. Better yet, in those days there weren’t bookstores but the big department stores had small book sections. The Popular and especially The White House on the plaza carried such treasures as new Tom Swift Jr books and Hardy Boys, though it was really the former I sought. And, of course, Rick Brant Science Adventure books

$1 per title, hog heaven for a kid like me. And a few blocks to the north of the plaza along Oregon Street was the main library (El Paso had a great library system–Carnegie Grant funded) and across from it was a super used bookstore (in later years).

But in the center of it all was the alligator pond. They decided to move the gators in the ‘60s when a drunk soldier got his hand bitten off. Most of the gators were huge and docile and more like lumpy logs. The smaller, younger ones were…hungry. Fast and hungry.

I was never able to find out for certain why there were gators there but one (probably apocryphal, but who can say?) story is that they were harnessed to ore carts and used to pull them out of the tin mines. In case you didn’t know, these are/were the only tin mines in the US. I spent too much time poking around in these mines as a kid but somehow didn’t die. But the image of a gator wiggling along on its spindly legs, pulling a tin-ore laden cart down a low-roofed shaft is somehow amusing. I suspect the real reason El Paso had alligators in the plaza is more prosaic, but who knows? Maybe they were anticipating the moat along the border.

Luis A. Jimenez, Jr. sculpture