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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

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.
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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.

Riding Off Into the Sunset October 26, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, New Mexico, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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If a song can be said to have an impact on my life, it might be Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin'”. I have always liked the line about getting out of the way if you can’t lend a hand. Looking at publishing this way has kept everything in perspective for me over a long writing career.

Ebooks changed the publishing world. Dead tree books will always be around but I found out Friday that there will be a lot fewer from a Big 5 publisher in the future. My editor of quite a few westerns (including Sonora Noose and The Great West Detective Agency) was gone. Along with her apparently went the entire Berkley line of westerns. Earlier this year they had gunned down all their monthly series. With this lynching, I’d say upward of 100 books won’t be published next year. The times are, indeed, changing.

This opens the door for a slew of indie presses to fill the vacuum. And for VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing, where the author writes, edits, produces and markets the book–every aspect of traditional publishing all in the author’s grip). Check out Western Fictioneers, Western Trail Blazer, Rough Edges Press, and more riding down the trail every day.

At the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium I gave a talk on how the weird western has saved traditional westerns at least twice before. We may be looking at it happening a third time. The times are a’ changin’. And we have to move along or get plowed under. For one, I see this and am doing what I can to stay in the saddle.

One benefit of speaking at the LCCS is meeting a lot of great people. Here’s a picture of me with a very nice lady, 2014 >Mrs NM Kori Zwaagstra.

(Those are some of my books in the center!)

Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium

Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium

What They Read (Kids) May 11, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, ideas, iPad, sense of wonder, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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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 My Own Sandbox (part 3) April 20, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, history, VIPub, Wild West, writing.
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The word circulated last week that Random Penguin had axed four different western series. This wasn’t unexpected–I pretty much assumed this in December and realized what the merger of Random House and Penguin meant last year when it was announced. I said in an article by Rod Miller in the Feb 2014 issue of WWA Roundup Magazine about the merger: After the dust settles on most mergers, fewer titles are published and fewer editors are needed.

No swami crystal ball sf futurist navel gazing required. That’s how business is done. The easy explanation was also in the article where I said: A merger yields one company selling into a customer base inadequate to keep the two in business.

In other words, the number of readers for separate companies isn’t big enough but a smaller output of books to that same readership might let the merged company survive. That’s the way legacy publishers have to work. Be the biggest fish swimming in the ocean or die. The problem is when your ocean dries up to a mere mud puddle. Big doesn’t work for survival then.

VIPub is different. Ebooks have changed the game, and for the reader (and probably the author) for the better. Four cancelled series = 50 books a year. That’s quite a void for the nimble VIPub ebook author to fill. In the case of westerns, a lot of the readers don’t want or use ereaders, but thanks Amazon, thanks for CreateSpace. Print on Demand! With overhead smaller for independent publishers, smaller lead times and more agile editing and production, this deficit can be addressed fast.

And it seems to be in the works. At least one indie publisher is working on several possible new series, and I expressed my interest. I would love to have input into how these series are structured, since they can be done radically different from legacy publishing. I pitched several weird western limited series years back, to no takers. Maybe now. Interlocking stories is a possibility. A return to the old-school sf trilogy, only with westerns? Open-ended series are fine but sometimes you want a story to, you know, end. Fifty books is a big gap to fill and numbers are on the side of the VIPub/indie publisher. Ten percent of that former legacy market is good money.

But reaching it might be difficult since Walmart isn’t likely to take PoD books due to size and nonreturns. That will go into a future blog post on discoverability and pushing your own series titles.

A tribute to all the fallen heroes in those four series.

Playing In My Own Sandbox (part 2) April 13, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, Free, ideas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Nothing is certain but change. That’s the way of life, but not necessarily so in series. If you intend to do a limited series, say a trilogy, your protagonist can have a character arc where all kinds of flaws are corrected or augmented by the end of the series. The protagonist usually grows as a person and responds to the vicissitudes of the plot thrown at him/her. This makes for a satisfying conclusion but presents a problem if the series stretches to more titles.

Readers get invested in the character. Watching one grow and change is fine if the series ends in a predetermined number of titles. If the series has multiple entries, this isn’t such a good idea. A reader coming into the series after 5 or 6 titles (or 50 or 60) can fall in love with that character, go back to read earlier titles and find the character doesn’t measure up. End of interest. Ebooks have the advantage of always being in print so a reader can scrounge up the first book and ride the wave through all the titles and enjoy the character development. But in a print series, this isn’t an easy thing. Print books go OP (out of print) in a few weeks.

Some many-authored long-running series like the Jake Logan books insist that the main character (in this case, John Slocum) never change from the traits listed in the series bible. Authors don’t have to deal with changes or details a book or a hundred books earlier. But what’s an author to do with a static protagonist?

The answer comes in the secondary characters. They can change (or even die). The protagonist carries the plot and everyone around can learn and grow or devolve. End of book, satisfying character changes, but not in the protagonist who moves on, as is, to begin a new adventure.

I am trying something a bit different in a western series starting in October. The protagonist in The Great West Detective Agency is a gambler and something of a wastrel whose liking for the ladies always gets him in trouble. It’s a print series so Lucas Stanton’s not going to change much, but I hit upon the idea of publishing short stories using secondary characters to augment the plot. What are the histories behind the characters in the book? The dance hall girl or the bartender? The sidekick or the femme fatale? The curious “source of all information” or the hellfire and brimstone preacher or the sweet young thing who entices Stanton into a new mystery? This volume (the first will be called 4 Lives) will be an ebook and maybe PoD. But it gives a chance for the behind the scenes look at the characters and how they got to where they are in the book, leaving the protagonist free to push the plot.

If you want a free copy of 4 Lives when it is ready in a month or so to see what I’m doing, drop me a line via my website at http://www.cenotaphroad.com and mention it. Be sure to tell me what your preferred format is.

Great West Detective Agency

Great West Detective Agency

Playing In My Own Sandbox (part 1) April 6, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, fantasy, writing.
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Prior bloggy installments dealt with different ways of working with someone else’s property. I have done quite a few trilogies and short run series (the longest is the Swords of Raemllyn at nine titles) and decided to meander about with some ways I have developed them.

Most trilogies are structured similarly. There is one overarching plot that has to be resolved by the end of book 3. But each book has to stand on its own for a variety of reasons. In the legacy publishing days, it might be a year between books in a trilogy (Stephen Donaldson’s first Thomas Covenant trilogy was a groundbreaker–all three books were published simultaneously). In the publishing world this is an eternity. The second book will hit the stands and the first book might not be in print any more, or if it came out in hardcover, there was a boost with paperback publication concurrent with book 2 (in hc). If book 1 came out in mass market, finding it will be difficult. That third book stands the best chance of being the worst seller, both through interest attrition and inability to muster an audience since the first two titles are out of print. (I’ll get into e-books and how great they are for series in another installment)

Making each title a standalone helps keep the series interest high. A reader coming in on book 3 might know how the major plot is resolved but won’t be disappointed picking up the first two since those are different books, different plots but with the overarching plot being developed.

I do a synopsis for everything I wrote (even short stories). Doing one for the main plot and then a separate one for each book in the set helps keep action high and avoid the “marking time” complaint so common about #2 books in a trilogy. (That complaint will always be there, no matter what, because too many readers think it is the smart thing to say–it might be true, but planning keeps it from happening).

The classic plot structure for a trilogy was used by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his first Barsoom books, A Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars, Warlord of Mars. A great value both for entertainment and to see how a longer series is done can be found here. This is where I learned how to do it.

ERB Mars series

ERB Mars series

Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 6)(collaborations) March 23, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, fantasy, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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This isn’t strictly about playing in someone else’s sandbox as much as learning to share your toys. For someone who doesn’t like doing collaborations it seems I have done quite a few. 16? About that. Mostly I go with the dictum: coauthoring is where you do twice the work for half the money.

An early collab was with Victor Milan in the 6-title series War of Powers. This one had a strange journey going from Playboy books to Ace/Berkley, but the best of the covers were in the twin omnibus New English Library volumes–the covers were by Chris Achilleos and rank with the best on any heroic fantasy book, any time, ever. The migration came about as Playboy dropped out of genre publishing but sales were so good Berkley nee Ace continued them.

I was doing the Cenotaph Road series for Ace when the first 3 Swords of Raemllyn books with Geo. Proctor were sold there. Geo and I talked over where we wanted to go, I did the synopsis, we rewrote it, I did the first draft since I wrote faster, Geo did a rewrite and then I did a final rewrite with him doing the page proofs. The process went quite well and we were able to talk endlessly about it. Geo lived in Texas, I was in NM. We both had Apple ][e computers and bought super hi-speed modems (4800 baud!) We swapped work via the modem, though a book took as long as 20 minutes to transfer, whereupon we would talk for another 2 hours about how techno savvy we were and how we saved so much money on postage. No matter that the phone bills were higher!

The first 3 Raemllyn books did so well, we sold 3 more. Ace balked at a final 3, but those sold to New English Library and never saw American dead tree publication. Unlike the lovely NEL covers for the War of Powers omnibus volumes, I thought these were all subpar. But they did ok in sales and the third omnibus with book #9 in it completed the series we had started ten years earlier.

Working with Geo was trying, especially when our ideas diverged, but the books came out a great fusion of his characters and my plots. And somehow we remained best friends throughout and after.

My other collaboration came with Matt Stover under not so ideal conditions (see the earlier blog about God of War 1), through no fault on either of our parts. His medical problems aside, it went well enough but the merging wasn’t as seamless as with Geo and the Raemllyn books.

Alas, Geo died before the Raemllyn ebooks were put up. It would have been fun doing more titles, with some of the old characters but new situations. We had an sf collaboration in the works, Forge of the Stars, but this isn’t a project that will go anywhere now. Time and science have left it behind. And without Geo, it wouldn’t be the same.

Do I recommend a newer writer collaborate? No. Do your own stuff. Do I recommend 2 authors at similar places in their careers to collaborate? Maybe. For fun. Then get to your own stuff. Always focus on doing your own work. (Remember, a collaboration is doing twice the work for half the money.)

To Demons Bound