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Brands and otherwise August 13, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, New Mexico, science fiction, VIPub, westerns, writing.
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Writing westerns requires some knowledge of cattle brands. Not much, really, but enough to sound authentic. I have a great deal of fun coming up with ranches sporting such brands as the Rolling J. But writing has changed from merely thinking about such things and dealing with them every day. A different type of brand is needed now.

Publishers don’t promote (or advertise) much anymore, so it is up to the author to deal with this important aspect of writing. What good does it do to write the best novel ever in the history of the universe only to have it ignored? Advertising, promotion–and creating a brand for yourself. All are integral to sales now.

Some things seem obvious but aren’t. There are a lot of reasons to go to a convention. Attending as a fan is entirely different from going as a writer. How you dress, how you act, your entire persona is the face you are putting not only on yourself but your work. This is part of the author’s brand (and I’m not necessarily talking about that tramp stamp). You don’t have to be staid and sober (I’d say, sober as a judge but this is Abq and such things are rare here) unless that’s the image and fiction you are peddling. Enjoy yourself but don’t get falling down drunk or insult people unless you can do it in a humorous way not likely to get you sued or punched out. Even then….

Bubonicon is coming up. Come to my panels, come to my autographing (got lots of new titles!), see how I approach the idea of strengthening my brand. So you’ll recognize me, here’s a picture taken recently in New Orleans.

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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….

Of Cyber and Sound June 11, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in business, review, sense of wonder, Uncategorized, writing.
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Mario Acevedo sent me an honest-to-Ghu dead tree copy of Cyber World, Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow. It is, as the title suggests, cyberpunk. I’m not much of a cyberpunk reader, and many of the stories herein remind me why. The stories are well done, literate and mostly leave me feeling depressed. The mark of a good story is to elicit a reaction, but the drumbeat of down is a bit much for me to take at a reading, which is the way I tried this anthology. In the afternotes there’s an explanation of what editors Jason Heller and Joshua Viola were looking for. Mixing magic realism with cyberpunk is an experiment that didn’t work for me. Give me the good ole timey noir.

I used to read horror. I don’t anymore. Got too dark. Steampunk is more to my liking as a subgenre since it can be upbeat, have heroes … and stories that have a conclusion. Too many modern short stories leave me hanging, as if I lost the last page. “Lady or the Tiger” works fine–once. I don’t mind doing the work to come up with my own endings, and sometimes (!) they are better than what’s there. The stories that simply dangle make me feel cheated out of the author’s notion of what the story ought to be. And this collection is darker than I want to deal with right now. Too much dystopia in the real world for this to be either an escape or series of cautionary tales.

One clever marketing technique with this book alone might make it worth getting. A CD of what I’d call EDM/electronica is included and most listenable. In today’s world differentiating your book from the pack is hard. This works to accomplish that. I’d never heard any of the groups, but Scandroid has 3 songs of the 7 and give songs that are great to work to.

All Around the (New) World May 28, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in alt history, e-books, steampunk, VIPub, weird westerns, westerns, writing, zeppelin.
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It’s all yours when you write.  The world you create.  What do you put in, what do you ignore (since you can’t touch on everything)?  Choose what makes for a good story that challenges the characters and then go pedal to the metal (or meddle or medal or mettle, depending on what type of story you’re writing).

A couple years back I worked up details of an entire steampunk world slowly filling with holes in the fabric of space that lead to a world consumed by oxidation.  Oxygen was at a premium there and rust ate away at everything once great.  My hero becomes intrigued by these holes to a different world while the heroine is off fighting wars brewing in Europe, many of those conflicts over and about the curious holes because some allow instant transport from one part of the world to another.  The story has clockwork, pneumatically powered robot dogs (more in a second about Fulton) and zeppelins and a villain caught up in a maelstrom of evil even he cannot control.

My world, but I opened it to others to play in, introduce characters I’d never consider, poke about in corners of history and geography I simply had no time to explore.  Sarah Bartsch wrote Unforeseen  set in 1915 Japan where the Shogun rules and being a (lady) samurai includes airships.  Steve Sullivan took a different tack and gave use sexy female Russian spies in Heart of Steam and Rust.  Continuing exploration of this world (and the rust world) award-winning steampunk author David Lee Summers gave us a look at Pancho Villa, the Mexican Revolution and the rust world in Revolution of Air and Rust.

This steampunk world continues to expand.  Interested in joining in?  Drop me a line and let’s see what shakes out.

Oh, yeah, I’d mentioned the steamdog Fulton.  He’s in this world, which is set later than the upcoming Air Pirates of the Golden West.  That tale will be included in a monthly magazine with free weekly installments, starting with Millard Fillmore, Master of Steam.

EmpireS&R

Empires of Steam & Rust: The First Passage

Not Tired of Winning May 21, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in awards, business, e-books, outlaws, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Awards are nice. Very much so, but cutthroat, dog-eat-dog competition for them has always struck me as worthless. A writer’s job is to entertain. An award for giving readers a moment’s fun is great. A writing award gained by maneuverings and political machinations is not so great. And I am unconvinced that putting “Winner of XYZ Award!” on a book cover has much selling power any more.

That said, I am delighted and incredibly honored to have won the Western Fictioneer’s Life Achievement Peacemaker Award for my work, especially since it puts me in the company of writers I respect and admire so much.

While I am considering having the award tattooed on my chest, I doubt it means much in the way of additional sales. A million-copy bestseller means 329 million people in the USA never bought the book. A trickle more might have read it in a library. Most of those who do read the book probably can’t tell you the author’s name. Just the way it is. As authors we want to establish ourselves as a brand, something readers will hunt out when they are in the mood for more entertainment. Practically, it doesn’t happen except for a very few. Love the award, thank everyone responsible for giving it to me, but the lifetime achievement and $10 might get me a small exotic coffee at Starbucks.

But would I trade it for that $10 cup of exotic Starbucks coffee? Not in a million years. It tells me readers (and other writers) appreciate the handful of books I (as Jackson Lowry, Karl Lassiter, Jake Logan, Jon Sharpe, Ford Fargo and others), have written.

As a real bargain, you can get not only what I consider my best Jackson Lowry western (The Artist) but also seven others from different writers for a mere 99 cents.

The Artist

Double Down May 14, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in awards, business, contest, e-books, ideas, Uncategorized, VIPub, writing.
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When you write a story, consider how many different ways you can use it/sell it.  Easiest of all is submitting a story to a contest.  I saw one that is pretty nifty with big prizes.  Futurescapes Contest

Benefits: you write, you win.  You become an award-winning author (and much richer, in this case).  If you don’t win, you’ve got a story that can sell elsewhere.  A story you can use as a promotion for other work (your ebook can contain an entire novel *plus* that story as a bonus).  A story to put into your own collection.  A story that might just fit into the raft of theme anthologies that crop up all the time (but which have impossibly short deadlines–”Sure, I can get you a story by Thursday.”  And you can since it is already written.)  And it’s possible that story can serve as the beginning of a longer work.  A first chapter, if you will.

How many other ways can that single story be used?  Let me know.

Some contests are futile to try, being set up to give specific authors a win.  Beware of those which charge an entry fee.  Those might be used to generate money for the people running the contest and nothing more, but if the reward is big enough and you’re confident, go for it.  Look for contests where your entry is anonymously judged to avoid a judge knowing and hating you (for whatever reason).  Some contests you might have to swallow hard to consider, but there are worthwhile results.  Writers of the Future
might be like that, but the contest seems fair, the judges are well known and respected pros and if you win (and there is a steady stream of winners), you can make a bunch of bucks with your story.

Your story is going to be tied up in the sales process anyway.  A few extra weeks or months can benefit you greatly by putting a contest at the start of the submissions queue.

And another list.

Write on!

The First Rule of Fiction May 7, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in alt history, e-books, fantasy, ideas, steampunk, writing, zeppelin.
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Entertain. Keep the reader moving from page to page and always wondering, always wanting more. It’s hard for me to find a book that I admire because I need to get lost in the story and forget I am reading. All too often I dissect what the writer is doing, either good or bad. That stops the immersion in the world and sometimes turns what might be a good book into one less … entertaining.

I was delighted to find Jim Butcher’s Aeronaut’s Windlass. Somehow I had missed his work, though I occasionally watched Desden Files on TV (I had pictured Butcher as looking like Paul Blackthorne–Butcher’s picture was something of a surprise, but imaginings like this are best left for a different discussion). What drew me to AW was its steampunkedness. I was in the mood and had exhausted all of Cherie Priest’s titles. The book surprised me on a lot of levels.

I enjoyed it. ie, it entertained immensely. I also tore it apart as I read and still enjoyed it. The book might well be a master’s course in what to do right in a book. The world is clever and imaginatively constructed. It is both alien and understandable. The characters are ones you know and love–or feel uneasy about but still understand. Butcher’s development of their character arcs is wonderful. The action scenes are visual and well realized (and I am a sucker for airship fights, anyway). The plot is straightforward and compelling. The culture and, indeed, the entire world has a feel of reality to it, in spite of not being ours.

Read the book for pleasure, read it to learn. I’ve done both. Best of all from the author’s standpoint, the ending left me angry…because there wasn’t more. I hope there will be lots more in this series. Until then I’ll have to check out his legions of other books.

Reading Weird April 17, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in alt history, e-books, fantasy, sense of wonder, weird westerns, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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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).

Weird Western

Semi-Weird April 9, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in business, fantasy, Haiti, movies & TV, outlaws, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Weird westerns are like zebras, either black with white stripes or white with black stripes, depending on your viewpoint. Is it weird, ie horror oriented? Or is a western, complete with western tropes? Mixing the two requires some kind of a decision. Mostly, when I write weird westerns, I go with the western basis and the horror/fantastical added on top of it.

Considering the interests of the readership (is it western or is it horror?) I have chosen poorly going the way I have. Western readers don’t seem to like much outside the traditional. Horror readers are more eclectic in their tastes, and a western setting can be reshaped into Victorian or even Gothic. I tried a trilogy, which I quite like both in concept and execution, with the voodoo element causing the western protagonist all kinds of trouble. Marketed to western readers, it hasn’t done well at all.

Punished was called semi-weird by one reviewer because it isn’t the usual stew pot of weird (like Penny Dreadful with Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, witchcraft and about everything else in the supernatural arsenal). I stuck with one menace. A not very nice protagonist is cursed by a voodoo practitioner and slowly turns into a zombie. To lift the curse he has to cross country from San Francisco to New Orleans. Along the way the very people he hates most are the only ones who can help him hold the curse at bay. As a zombie he is old school, not George Romero brain-eating, shambling or hyperzombie.

Poor Vincente has lost everything and now deals with Navajo shaman, Chinese herbalists and reluctant black voodoo mama loi. But at its core, this is a western dealing with outlaws, riverboats and all the usual, including cavalry, hanging judges and snake oil salesman. I enjoyed writing the three books but if I had them to do over, I’d go the route of western romances (romance base, western setting). Undead, Navajo Witches and Bayou Voodoo would be horrific stories set in the West.

Undead

Punished 01