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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

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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

Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 5)(mosaic series) March 16, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, ideas, outlaws, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Imagine a stained glass window, only every piece is cut and installed by a different artist. That’s the way a mosaic novel is done. Each author writes a chapter or two in an overarching plot, then the pieces are strung together like a pearl necklace. (A single author can also do a mosaic novel, loosely interconnected short stories telling a greater story. My favorites in this technique include Edward Bryant’s Cinnabar and Joe Landsale’s The Magic Wagon.)

But that loose congregation of stories isn’t exactly what happens in the Western Fictioneers’ series, Wolf Creek. Editor Troy Smith, a Spur Award winner, comes up with a plot and then each author takes his own special character and stirs it up in a chapter or two to advance the story.

Each novel stands on its own but the entire series progresses well in developing not only the town of Wolf Creek, Kansas, but also the major characters. That each book stands on its own allows change in the characters but readers choosing “out of sequence” won’t be too shocked by differences. My character is a lowlife named Wilson “Wil” Marsh, the town photographer always on the outlook for the quick (and shady) buck. He takes blue pictures of the town’s most prominent women because he knows their secrets. He sells lurid photos of dead outlaws and slain Indians to magazines back East hungry for such notoriety. And he even manages to get photos of bank robbers, not to use as evidence in court but to blackmail them. He’s not a nice guy, but he drops money in the poor box at a church he hates and has some empathy for the downtrodden. Why is slowly coming out as I work in my miniature stories within the mosaic novels.

To date I’ve done chapters about Wil in The Quick and the Dying
and Kiowa Vengeance with a new story about a Sand Creek-like massacre on tap. And yes, Wil has a new way to profit off his photographs not involving blackmail but still fraudulent as hell.

What is strange about this for me, at least, is that my Jackson Lowry pen name, has a pen name (Ford Fargo). Others taking part include some of the finest writers working today in the western field. Frank Roderus, Robert Randisi, James Reasoner, Matthew Mayo, LJ Washburn, Cheryl Pierson, Jory Sherman, Meg Mims, Bill Crider, LJ Martin, Jacquie Rogers and a whole lot more.

What you get in every book is a spectrum of top writers and a complete novel-length plot. And an exciting read.

Wolf Creek #2

Wolf Creek #2

Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 4)(series books) March 9, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, ideas, sense of wonder, serial fiction, Wild West, writing.
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There can’t be any character development in the main character. That puts a damper on a lot of things, but it shouldn’t be a killer for a series. I’ve done more than 125 titles in a series I’m not at liberty to name, but I can recommend a new book or two (ahem).

The series bible is set up so that independent authors can write without needing to read every other title to keep details straight. With the one/month publication schedule such attention to details (or changes to the canon) by other writers would be impossible, especially if there are a half dozen in the pipeline. So, no mention is ever made of any other book in the series and only what is in the bible counts as canon. This isn’t as onerous as it seems. The main character might end the book the same as when he started, but there are a lot of other possibilities.

In spite of what the reviewer (who didn’t seem to have read the book rather than getting it as a gift) said, the plots are where the fun can come in. I haven’t duplicated a situation in all the books I’ve done, though some of my favorite settings have been reused in different ways. My very first title was set in San Francisco amid a tong war. A “giant” had to do with returning bones for burial to China and most recently among the published books I used the same setting for a prison break (or unbreak, actually). What might well be the last of my titles has to do with a huge silver theft from a San Francisco-based railroad. More than different plots and locales to explore and history to unveil, the other characters can get story arcs where they change motivation and alliances/allegiances. They can grow or devolve. After all, only the protagonist has to emerge unscathed emotionally and with his motivations the same at the end as when he started (so the next author doesn’t have to explain why the hero suddenly likes to drown puppies or no longer drinks trade whiskey).

The same dictum worked when I did eight titles in the 1980’s Nick Carter: Killmaster series. These were told first person, which further limited the changes, but wildly strange bad guys were the mark of this techno-oriented spy series. They weren’t likely to change as much they were to be killed. Hence the series name: killmaster. (This reimagined series had a completely different character from his earliest origins in the nineteenth century–that changed but in the incarnations of the series, the Nick Carter character remained static)

This unchanging main character worked in other series books I’ve done. I ghosted an Executioner book and only had a short time to pick up details on the series (only a few additions rather than changes from ones I had read years earlier). But what you get out of these series are nonstop action, great supporting characters and the feeling you’re one of the gang taking part since you know the protagonist so well.

I also did a title in the ’70’s Baroness series that never saw the light of day. But I love the feel of those old series and started something similar with new characters, as much at the behest of others in the yahoo Baroness group as because they are fun to write. I did this one almost 3 years ago and the Navy is just now getting around to deploying some of the gadgets mentioned. Love the techno speculation! One of these days I’ll get back to these characters, so it won’t merely be the first in the series.

Hot Rail to Hell Deluxe

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?)

How Long Is It? February 2, 2014

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The second most asked question after “where do you get your ideas?” has to be “how long did it take to write that book?”

A seemingly simple question but one that has no real answer for me. The time spent at the keyboard is short compared to the time spent getting ready to pound away on the keys (after pushing the cat off the qwerty row, of course). An idea pops up, like Minerva from the forehead of Jupiter and takes form. Only it is ghostly. Some details might be sharp but most are seen through a gauzy curtain that has to be pushed and pulled until a good gust of creative wind blows it away. Then more of the story is apparent.

Even then this might not be much of a story. A character? Where does the character come from? Go in terms of plot? Research? What surrounds and further erases the impediment to actually seeing the details? All this gets turned over. Maybe a first line or a final one comes to me. From this more is built, scenes, other characters, plot, complications. More reading and research. Or maybe not in that order. All is chaotic.

And still utterly perfect. Things become more defined and less perfect when I get the ideas put down into a synopsis. The plot takes shape and the characters fit in better than before–or not at all. Some get lost and others discovered hitchhiking along mental back roads. The synopsis might be written in an afternoon or a month.

More thinking, more fiddling, more rearranging and invention. When the synopsis says “now!” the time is right to write. And then, of course, the writing reveals fatal flaws that must be remedied. And a second draft. More thinking. More tinkering and research, as needed (and it always is).

A month actually tapping out the book? Probably. That much more to redo, rethink, polish it up. If I’m lucky.

From idea to “The End” might be a month or, as in the case of the book I am still working on to get a decent synopsis, years. By my count, five years. If everything clicks, and it doesn’t seem to be at the moment, I’ll have the synopsis done in a few days. It’ll be a long book. Easily a month to write. But what do I answer when asked “how long did it take?” With research and ideation and writing and redoing? The answer has to be “as long as it took to produce an entertaining book.”

The Times They Are A’Changin’ January 26, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in history, ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, web & computers, writing.
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As they always do. We have lived through a unique span in history where we can watch (and know) major upheavals in the world. The Internet is as big as the Gutenberg printing press. The new Industrial Revolution is happening with 3D printing. A house in 2 days. No problem. An iPhone? I’ll print it for you today. Replacement organs? Feed in the DNA template and that kidney will be yours next week. What a chance to see and understand major influences driving our world.

To a lesser extent, there has been a change in writing, or rather in writing technique. In sf the late ’60s and early ’70s saw the New Wave. Story became less important than the characters, much as literary fiction was almost 100% angst and no idea. SF didn’t go that far but ideas took a backseat to the more literary emphasis on drilling down into the character. Somewhere in the early ’90s another change came about. This one hasn’t been touted or given a name, but it is there.

Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Thesis=pure idea sf of the ’40s. Anthesis=New Wave. Synthesis=now. SF has always been interested in the “what if?” playing with ideas–and still is. Social commentary or hard science extrapolation, doesn’t matter. SF is an idea fiction. But in the early ’90s what the readers expected changed. The “now” is a equal merging of the idea with the character.

I’ve had some sf stories from the 1980s reprinted and I cringed when I saw how little characterization there was in favor of the sweeping idea, the grand space opera adventure. But that was ok then. Readers expect more now with background on who is engaging in that grand adventure–and what drives them. Flaws? Better have them since this is more realistic, even in a superhero story (or maybe especially in a superhero story). Villains have to be more than bad because they’re bad or they turn into parodies as in Despicable Me.

I stand by what I did in, say, Alien Death Fleet because that was right for the times. But I much prefer putting in characters to go with the derring-do, as in Fate of the Kinunir

Not only do I enjoy writing the more complete package of idea married with characterization, I prefer reading it now.

You can still enjoy the galaxy smashing style of earlier space opera but today’s work has to be more complete, a synthesis of space opera and New Wave to stand out. And that’s not a bad thing.

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

Tied-in, Not Tied Down April 28, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in awards, business, Star Trek, writing.
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I’ve done a lot of books in a lot of genres and all have their special claim to my writing pleasure. Doing tie-in books is a skill that requires more honing than is immediately obvious. Mostly, tie-in writers “can’t get no respect” as Rodney Dangerfield might have said. This is the reason the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers was formed several years ago.

Tie-ins are more of a committee effort than you might think. The property is owned by some megacorp (usually) wanting to protect not only the written word but the entire franchise, whether it be gaming or TV or movies. As such, everything has to pass through the hands and red pencils of someone charged with maintaining continuity. Even when you are a big fan, writing such novels can be an exercise in banging your head against the wall over (to you) trivial details. When I wrote the Star Trek books I used the word ”chair” and was told in no uncertain terms that there are no chairs aboard the Enterprise, only seats. How I wanted to have a meeting with the “seatperson” presiding!

Those books were tie-ins, but not the kind demanding even more research and head banging. Original novels set in someone else’s universe are one thing (think: Star Trek, Star Wars) but tie-ins also include adaptations. Pleasing everyone (or anyone!) is difficult when something like a video game becomes so popular that every nuance is etched in the players’ minds. Deviate from this in a book and trouble boils up. You have violated a tenet, but the truth is that 100% adherence to what happens in a game would give 100% boring book. They are different and need different treatments. God of War is a thrilling game to play but it is entirely about fighting, solving puzzles and moving on. This isn’t the stuff of a novel. Putting in material not in the game but *implied* to form a background is necessary to build the world, shape the characters and give new dimensions to the story. I think I have done that in both God of War 1 and the recently published God of War 2.

New characters otherwise in the shadows, political intrigue, motivations brought into the spotlight, these are the things a novel can do that a game doesn’t–and shouldn’t. They’re different beasts. Each has its strengths and both are enjoyable.

If you think tie-in writing is somehow inferior, I recommend to you any of the IAMTW Scribe nominees. This is a first rate slate of books for about every genre taste.

The 2013 field will be just as strong.