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Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 3)(game tie-ins) March 2, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, writing.
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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.

Fate of the Kinunir, a Traveller tie-in novel

Fate of the Kinunir, a Traveller tie-in novel

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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?)

Of Alien Worlds…and Adjectives and Nouns January 12, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, history, iPhone, movies & TV, sci-fi, science fiction, steampunk, Wild West, writing.
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I have mentioned before that writing westerns is now equivalent to writing sf. Science fiction envisions new and different worlds filled with characters unknown or unimagined by the reader. The traditional western set in the post Civil War era through 1890 and the closing of the frontier is now the same. Growing up, my oldest relatives lived at the edge of that time. Now that the WWII generation is shuffling off its mortal coil, firsthand stories are lost. With iPhones, 3D printers and wifi our everyday reality, the 1880s is completely unknown to modern readers through personal experience of family story. That means the same techniques we use to bring sf alien worlds alive are now necessary for westerns. We need to take the reader to a time and place completely beyond their ken with vivid description–and explanation of why the world is as we write it with “alien” elements like horses and cattle drives.

The style of writing has changed immensely in the last 25 years, where idea driven stories have fallen out of favor to ones with character driven plots. Westerns need to gear up, too, but a lot of writers already understand this and are working to give depth and motive (other than “revenge”) to their characters.

Along with this change is the broadening (I hesitate to say diluting, but that is part of it) with so many cross-genre stories. The noun is always the dictating form. For instance, ranch romance is a romance with all those conventions set in the west. If you happen to come across a romance western, you will have found a rare entry. Most all “…” romance is above all a romance. Paranormal romance. That’s romance with creepy happenings. Historical romance. A romance set in some other time period. And so on.

One interesting backwater is the western steampunk story. It can as easily be steampunk western. Adjective defining the type of western. Or the weird western. There aren’t many other sub genres that let us do a western with different overtones (there might be western mysteries like Longmire but check the adjective and the noun) but to maintain the structure, the very world of western lore requires us to understand what we are writing.

I love traditional westerns, but they were/too-often-are action driven with little regard to the characters. The best in the field like Elmer Kelton either consciously or unconsciously realized a western becomes more vital with living, breathing characters doing things the reader can identify with. With this additional writing technique, we now have to describe a world so far removed in time and space that it has become science fictional.

For your perusal, check out this Western Fictioneers series centered on individuals in the Old West. My Jackson Lowry title The Artist is an example of what I have been rattling on about. It is set in the Old West with a real character with a history, motivation and depth to bring him alive to today’s readers. It’s on sale right now, so you won’t be out that much to see what I mean. You won’t go wrong with the other novels in the West of the Big River series, either.

Happy trails, buckaroos.

A story of Charles Russell

A story of Charles Russell

Triage March 17, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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Ideas are easy, developing them isn’t. Worse, choosing which to work on is even more daunting. I have a row of notebooks filled with ideas accumulated over the years and, as good as some are, I will never try to use them because others are better.

This segment of a Dilbert cartoon seems appropriate.

Did you ever have to decide?

Did you ever have to decide?

So how do you choose? Excitement has to be a factor for any writer. All you have in way of capital is time that must be spent properly. An idea that won’t let go of your imagination is a good candidate, but writing and rewriting it in your head isn’t good enough if you want to sell it to a publisher. Think of a Venn diagram of all the ideas you want to write and ideas that are salable. The intersection of the two sets is where you write. That’s not to say any other point in your “what you want to write about” set isn’t worthy. But to sell to an editor, that overlap has to be there.

Otherwise, VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) is the way to go. Do it yourself. Damn the commercial sales, full steam ahead! This opens vistas galore, but the money isn’t likely to be as good (face it, not every book is going to be 50 Shades of Gray, which, depending on your outlook, is a good thing. But I am talking sales, not content.)

So, traditional dead tree publishing requires that overlap in idea/commercial. That eliminates a lot of what is always kicking around in my head. For a year or two I’ve wanted to do a Gormenghast type fantasy but it doesn’t have the feel of something that would sell. But it would be great to write (from my personal standpoint). Likely, it’ll stay on the backburner until a mystery and an sf book, both dancing on tippytoe through my head for years, are done since both strike me as great fun to write and commercial. One way of deciding if an idea is “good enough” is the test of time. Does it endure in your head and even grow? Or do newer ideas supplant?

You’ve got to decide, then stick with it to finish the writing before moving on. Don’t be seduced by the Siren’s lure of a “better” idea or you’ll never see a completed story.

Welcome to the New Mayan Long Count December 22, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, End of the World, Free, sci-fi, science fiction, steampunk, VIPub, writing.
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Survived the last 5125 and unfortunately the new page on the Mayan calendar doesn’t have any of those frisky Mayan maidens with cavorting jaguars, either. Next time.

For those of you looking forward to the next end times but unsure what to do until then, let me remind you I’m having a super duper post-apocalyptic sale in my store on all sci-fi titles. Only a couple more days so hurry hurry hurry.

Today’s Lio cartoon sums up so much so well so quickly in 2 frames.

lio121222

Been There, Done That…But… December 9, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, fantasy, ideas, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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A couple years ago I came up with a dynamite idea. Super stuff. Still think it’s great but there’s only time to do so much, and this one has been sitting on the cerebral back burner. Imagine my horror when I came across other authors’ use of that very idea. How dare they!

Ideas can’t be copyrighted, of course, and I looked this “usurpation” over. It’s, let’s be polite, terrible. Nothing like the idea still churning away like a green chile burrito in the gut, only in my head. I may still give this a try, but it has dropped a notch or two on my to-do list because of possible perception I was just copying what has already been done (and not too successfully if the Amazon sales # is accurate, which I doubt, but that’s another story).

Harken back to 1973. I had gone to Torcon World SF Convention and had a chance to meet one of the greats in sf fandom, Bob Tucker. We’d written a few letters back and forth and he had done a couple articles for my fanzine (think dead tree blog with staples, if you will). I had the horrible, awful, sinking feeling I would be introduced and have nothing whatsoever to say to him–and vice versa. Turned out to be a misplaced fear. Tucker greeted me like a friend of a thousand years and the first words out of his mouth were, “I stole an idea from you!” What? How can that be? And we spent the next hour talking…like friends of a thousand years.

But he had only taken something I’d written and run with it in a direction I never considered. Therein lies the truth about ideas.

They are never unique. It’s how you use them in a story that’s most important. Last night a friend said that Steinbeck stole Of Mice and Men from a social worker. I couldn’t pin him down if he meant flat out plagiarism or simply using information about the Dust Bowl. One is completely different from the other. It’s hard to believe anyone could see such social upheaval and physical destruction without thinking what a novel it would make. Ideas are out there everywhere.

The old story about John Campbell assigning the same idea to 3 writers might be apocryphal but the punch line is worth mentioning. Two turned in stories so far apart in treatment it was almost impossible to figure out what the kernel had been. What you do with the idea matters. And what writer hasn’t read something and thought, “I can do better than that!” And with elements completely missed and adding a character, and getting rid of that annoying part, but I can…

You get the idea. Which is the idea.

frankernest2

Durability September 30, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, e-books, End of the World, fantasy, gummint, history, ideas, movies, sci-fi, writing.
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Everything gets creakier as time passes. Maybe even time does. Is there an entropy affecting time as well as entropic time? Questions best left for the theorists. What is in the balliwick of writers, though, is the longevity of our work.

Fantasy is perhaps easiest since the world is entirely made up, with rules and laws and elements unique to that world. Passage of time in “our” world, developments of science and technology and geography and nations means nothing. Middle Earth has a permanence simply because it has no foot in the door of our world.

Science fiction is different. A hard science book is likely to be obsolete, outpaced by actual scientific discovery, before it is published. And the question arises whether a sf story (or a story that was sf) in earlier times but which has been outstripped by the surge of reality, is still sf. Is a story about the first man into space still sf since that event has happened in reality and it wasn’t done as in the story?

In a way, sweeping space opera stands a better chance of avoiding this issue. Smash galaxies together rather than be the first man to reach the moon. Even items that might have seemed laughable in early space opera, if the idea is audacious enough, can prove enduring. Doc Smith’s intertialess drive wasn’t about the Higgs boson. Maybe it was the Higgs anti-boson. But avoiding being too specific keeps the notion in play. Sorta.

Near future sf is hardest of all to write. I did a novel a few years back about RFID chips in clothing monitoring what everyone did (because lawsuits prevented the gummint from implanting the chips in the humans themselves). Now there are 69 companies manufacturing spy drones–for use by civilian police forces. RFIDs are already obsolete for this purpose. Cameras most places become cameras everywhere in the sky 24/7. The FBI is putting together a facial recognition database and the reason you aren’t allowed to smile on passport photos or drivers’ licenses is that smiling makes for harder recognition. Thank about that and try not to show fear.

The 1984 scenario is not being forced on us–half the US population wants it. To stay safe. I highly recommend the movie, The Lives of Others. And I want to see Barbara The days of the Stasi in East Germany are becoming the present in America. So we can stay safe.

But put fancy spy stuff into an sf book and it is likely to be laughably obsolete in a very short time. Concentrate on the characters, and durability might come your way.

I leave you with this from the ’60s.

On Geekery June 8, 2011

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I am at a loss to explain why people (good friends, even) like Big Bang Theory. It’s about geeks, right, and we’re geeks? SF fans are geeks and this is about us! I don’t see the show that way (though I admit I have only seen 3 or 4 eps, mostly waiting to see something good).

That the show is about geeks seems to be all that matters to people liking the show. I find it unwatchable since it is a “laugh at the geeks” show like you’d laugh at the antics of a monkey at the zoo. It wouldn’t surprise me if one BBT episode wasn’t about throwing poop at their inferiors.

So are there good geek shows? Definitely. Check out Eureka. The geeks aren’t freaks, they are real people who do smart things to correct things that go wrong and are more competent. In the case of some of them, they are *a lot* smarter. Who wouldn’t want to hang with Henry? This guy can do anything and is a super genius. He’s better than Tom Swift Sr and Jr rolled up and tied together with duct tape.

Even the laugh at ‘em crazies like the now gone Jim Taggert were competent and people you’d want to call if you had trouble.

SF in the early days (ok, the pulp era) piled on the competent geeks. They were super geniuses pitted against super evil geniuses–and they won. The Lens series is an example (of the lot, Worsel is more human but he’s still a geek). You didn’t laugh at them because they were smart or competent, you rooted for them because of that.

BBT brings out a superiority “I may be dumber, but look how Asperger *those* fools are” response. You don’t want to be like them because you pity them, feel superior in spite of them being smarter. That’s not a good thing.

Give me Eureka any day. Who wouldn’t want to actually know Tess or Allison, Zane or Chris or, yes, even Fargo? You geek, you.