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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…)

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.

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

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

Confirmation Bias May 4, 2014

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One of the hats I wear at this time of year is working on the editorial staff of a four-play of great fantasy football magazines. One of them won best fantasy football magazine of the 2013 (beating out such also-rans as Sports Illustrated and Rotowire <g>). One article that just passed through my computer this year takes the usual fantasy selection process to a new level by discussing confirmation bias.

This started me thinking about how confirmation bias enters into fiction writing overall. In a nutshell this is (subconsciously) looking for information that supports your own beliefs.

Everyone filters what they choose to read simply because there isn’t time enough to read everything. If I write a book a month and you can read it in a day, you have 29 or 30 days free–but there are hundreds of authors also publishing a book to take up that schedule. Read 3 a day–there are more than that being published. And I’m just talking f&sf. Throw in mysteries and westerns and romance and nf and all the rest, you’d have to read faster than the speed of light. So of course you need to pick and choose (call it discriminate, if you will). You read space opera with a touch of other sf? You still have to figure out how to best spend your time. Favorite author? This is music to my ears if my name is on that mental list because it means I write what you like.

Here is where confirmation bias can be both good and bad. It’s good that you read for enjoyment what entertains you. It’s stupid to force yourself through a book that isn’t delivering the groceries. All you have in life is time and you must make the most of it. The same goes for being a writer. I pick and choose what interests me to write. Confirmation bias supports my choices since I need look at only the bits and pieces that reinforce my foolish belief I can sell what I write. Would something outside the box (I am beginning to hate this cliche) be better? Maybe, but not if it doesn’t spark my interest. I love reading about physics and my bias is in that direction. That’s not to say civil engineering wouldn’t add to my store of info, but mostly I don’t care about asphalt roads or designing parking lots or see how a story about them would be fun to write. I would rather find another article on the Alcubierre warp drive.

Confirmation bias supports my beliefs in fiction reading and writing. Making decisions that involve life and death situations certainly require examining your beliefs to be sure they aren’t doing great harm or are just not right. What if the accepted mass of the electron was wrong, maybe just by a tad? Such “absolutely known” numbers need to be verified and are never “accepted science” in real science.

(more…)

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