Pulled from the Attic

Short and sweet. Probably incoherent.
I plead a combination of jet lag, a virus and morning-after-Nyquil.


The Old, The New, and The Things I wish I’d Never Done
Pam Uphoff


I think writers have to be pack rats and hoarders, otherwise half their good ideas would get tossed before they were ever written.

I came across an old YA SF adventure I’d written . . . Really, I have no idea how long ago. It was sort of a branch off a horror novel I tried to write. And on a reread, I really ought to finish it, fix my old problems with dialog tags and so forth, and publish it. The old horror attempt, however, was not to be found, not on even on the oldest backup CDs. And . . . I started wondering just which computer I’d written it on. Surely not to that old Apple II+ . . . but you know what? A hunt through piles of spiral notebooks, and there it was.

It may not have actually predated my first computer, but it was well before I switched over to electronic first drafts.

It’s kind of fun to find old stories. Oh, Sun Tap, there was a good one, probably broke half the laws of Physics, and all the laws of common sense. Things I barely recall writing, and some early stabs at my current SF/F series. Umm, good thing none of this was seen by eyes other than mine. I’ve learned a bit about writing since then. You know those million words we get told we have to write before we’re good enough to publish. Yep. Got ’em right here. But there are a few good idea I might use someday.

So, keeping the old stuff is actually worthwhile. Huh. Even stuff this old. Nice fresh ideas, beginner writing. Early beginner writing.

But right now, I need to focus on the new stories . . . Because the field has changed, and i need to keep up with the changes. Some of the changes are the result of the new ways to publish stories. And some because the world outside of writing has changed. The politically charged atmosphere has touched everything. The economic stagnation has affected everyone. And we’ve all gotten older. Some readers have died and some people have been born and grown old enough to start reading the sort of things I write. No one is the same as they were when I wrote those stories.

And my new stories have changed. Had too. I’m not the same person who wrote “The Blob.” Not kidding. I wrote something called The Blob.

Some of the changes since I penned those early tales are just gadgetry. The new stories don’t have to explain the computer in the pocket, the communicator, ditto. Makes me wonder if, or rather, how soon using what’s today’s cutting edge tech will date me.

The main thing I see about these old stories of mine is that I had no grasp of how to write the larger story. How to shape the whole into a coherent tale. I am, apparently, not a natural storyteller. I can see, in plain sight what I now need my beta readers to tell me. That I don’t have a clear story problem. That I don’t have try-fail sequences. The stories tend to have an introduction, lots of fun gadgets and imaginary places, and a “happily ever after.” Oh, and usually I remembered to have a villain of some sort show up and get defeated somewhere in there. Usually.

Gah. I hate to admit that’s a problem I haven’t completely conquered.

But my love of world building was there from the start. I had—still have—a clear sense of what ought to be up there in space.

Is Science Fiction able to steer the future?

I would love to think it could, but it’s obviously a hit or miss proposition. Some of the big things haven’t happened—yet. But the space habitats, the base on the Moon, the Mars Colony, the FTL or warp drive . . . . I may need to add a century to all my dates. But I’m not giving up on them yet. They can stay in the stories.

Papers on how FTL could actually work have started showing up. Genetic engineering and human animal chimeras are a current (and fast advancing) field of science. Multiple dimensions, check. No portals to alternate Earths, but can they be far behind? Okay. Centuries, probably. But they may actually exist, somewhere outside my imagination.

There was a discussion earlier this week about SF as prep for future shock. Oh, definitely. From FTL to zombies, we know the potential, both good and bad. And we’ve mentally explored several methods of dealing with the bad side. Well, with zombies it’s pretty much all bad. But that’s where SF slides into Horror.

As genres go, I’d much rather run head first into an SF future than the sorts of things in a horror novel. And all things considered, I’m glad that The Blob is the closest I’m capable of coming to writing horror.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Space Alien Blob cycled out of his amok stage, was horrified and went away. Ashamed of himself.

And . . . I can’t believe I’m going to admit to writing that.

So ‘fess up. What early works of yours have interesting ideas and horrible writing?


  1. Somewhere around here I’ve got a part of a story, longhand on ruled paper. Along with it, I have a detailed house plan I drew for my fictional family’s house. I don’t dare look at the story. I cringe thinking about it! I know there’s a lot of lost material from my first wordprocessor (it wasn’t a full computer, but used floppy discs) that I am just as happy is gone forever.

  2. I had a couple of stories that I remember but “lost in the various moves” (I think they were before I got a computer).

    One was about an Earth where everybody lived in domed cities with powerful psychic mutants and ended with the mutants leaving Earth in a spaceship.

    The other was a space adventure that was IMO Star Trek’s Starfleet done Right. Oh, no true aliens in that universe as for some unknown (in universe) reason all intelligent life found were humans (able to interbreed with Earth humans). Note, I had an explanation but not one that would work for me now.

    1. I hate it when I realize the original premise won’t work. My first time travel story . . . sigh. The conflict depended on something that flat wouldn’t work, and not because of the science..

  3. Teenaged depressed Mary Sue gunk that leaned on Hammers Slammers. With a unicorn. The unicorn kind of remained, although in a form far darker than the traditional version. (Yep, that character.)

    And I burned those notebooks a decade or so ago. 🙂

      1. Eschatology probably would have helped my stuff immensely. OTOH it helped get that first 100,000 words out of my system.

        I did find the notebook of poems to dead trees and similar. Erk. I was Goth-ish before Goth was a thing.

    1. Re: Hammer’s Slammers with a Mary Sue on a unicorn:

      If you ever want to see David Drake’s horrified face, threaten to commission an anime-style picture of all of a book’s characters looking cute or bishy.

      Of course, he will then make some truly horrible dark humor remark in return, so that he can see _your_ horrified face…. 🙂

      Why yes, I do get slaphappy at conventions. I don’t even have to imbibe.

  4. Most of the concepts in The Book Of Lost Doors series, the character of Cobb Russwin, the title “Gingerbread Wolves”, the name Agony Delapour (the original character to have that name was much more like Samuel the Pale Surgeon), the titles of Michael Chase’s books… Yeah, I’ve recycled a lot from my old work.

  5. I don’t have anything that I’m ashamed of! But on the other hand, I began writing fiction in May of 2013, published my first book in March of 2014, and my tenth novel this past Sunday. Ten novels, in three series, and the eleventh is underway, to be followed by the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth later this year. Always assuming my fingers don’t melt. Why all that work? I’m seventy six years old. Time nips at my butt. How much longer can I keep this up?
    One book hasn’t done well. ‘Hands’ is a novella, and it combines humor with sword-and-sandal fantasy. It’s not a bad little book, but it’s never found an audience. At this point, I have a couple of choices. One, buy a better cover (I did the one that’s on there now, which isn’t bad but it’s clearly not good enough). Promote it, to see if it will take wings. Or add a center section, converting it from a novella (~35k words) to a full novel of around 70k words, pull the original and republish under a different title. Thereafter, apply option one and two.
    My beta readers liked it, my editor likes it, and it’s got a five-star rating. The worm in that apple is that there’s only ONE rating.
    Now that I’ve got a following, maybe it’s time to try options one and two, and if that doesn’t work, begin writing that middle section.
    It’s a good concept, writing is good…stubborn man that I am, I’m NOT gonna give up!
    Unlike what you wrote, I’m a natural storyteller but not a natural writer. I have to work at it. I can rough in a plot in an hour, two at the most, that’s good enough to begin researching. After I’ve got better background for the science, I can start writing. That story line will get modified along the way, sometimes extensively, but it’s enough to keep me from falling over my big feet.

    1. I abandoned spending further years trying to get “really” published as I approached my 60th birthday. 34 titles on, all I can say is, just write the next one and don’t look back. I’ll collect typos and occasionally update a file, but I’ve only once seriously edited a novel, and that was after multiple “Ick! Disgusting! Stopped reading the series!” comments. Hopefully that will prevent future readers from stopping there.

  6. Heh. Everything I write is apparently horrible, and not in a good way, so that one’s easy. I wish I still had an epic poem in the Beowulf sense of the word. I wrote on notebook paper because what I remember of it wasn’t bad at all. Written from the hero’s POV as he caught his breath after combat in a snowstorm, he questioned the whole hero thing, but it was the only sort of thing he could do anymore. No, I’ve never been able to duplicate it.

    Gone to that Great Bit Bucket in the sky is a ST fan fic that dealt with the first Romulan War and what it was all about, and, thanks to General Relativity, something from that time was about to hit the fan. Left off it because the Romulan characters were a heck of a lot more interesting and fun.

    Some of the trunk I mine for scenes and characters. Others I save in hopes I can do them justice. I really need to try and polish one that had good comments but doesn’t quite say what I want it to say. Another, a bronze age adventure, I need to finish. The problem there are complaints the protagonists aren’t nice guys. The thing is, they have such a bronze age view of things that while they really are nice guys compared to other bronze age folk, they don’t come across that way to us.

  7. I hated writing when I was in grade school. Just hated it. I even made a vow to never write on my own. (Yes, well…) I figured out, at some point in the middle of junior high, that my problem was that I was sticking to an unwritten set of rules, trying to please an amorphous Somebody by writing the same thing, the same BORING thing, that I thought stories *had* to be.

    I remember when it really came into focus, too. We had an assignment, “The Mad Scientist and His Machine,” and the teacher started brainstorming (you know how schools do that, with the circles and lines and stuff? That kind) what the mad scientist looked like. “Wild gray hair.” “Old.” “White coat.” Something snapped in my head and I thought, “Young, cute, *popular*.”

    Everybody liked my story, with the cringeworthy name of “Hello Kitty.” And it was pretty good… for an eighth grader. With little practice writing.

    It’s not really the sort of thing that works anymore.

  8. I’ve got an MGC piece about some of my earliest writing, along with cringe-inducing samples, that will hopefully run here one day.

  9. I remember one year about this time when I was in grade school, plotting to make good use of my three upcoming months of glorious freedom by writing a trilogy of interconnected SF stories. In June, my two boy heroes, based pretty obviously on me and my brother, would venture to Earth’s natural satellite (I’m trying to avoid the Moon/June rhyme). In July, we — er, I mean, they — would voyage to Venus, which I still conceived as habitable. And in August, our intrepid heroes would sally forth to a planet of Alpha Centauri. Looking back, I rather like the month by month progression of increasingly distant destinations. It also strikes me that while I could imagine my brother and me traveling in space, I couldn’t imagine taking time off from school to do it. School was such an absolute in my little kid life that there could be no getting out of it. Alas, my grand intentions petered out before the first firecrackers of the Fourth of July were heard, and little of the project was ever actually set to paper.
    Along about this time, I was also inspired by TV episodes of the Jetsons to try my hand at writing about a boy of the future and what his typical life would be like a hundred years from then. Once again, my hero was basically me, and being me, he would be a science fiction fan. Which got me to thinking. What would the science fiction of the future be like? Would there even be science fiction since the future would be here by then? I resolved it by deciding that future SF would concentrate on travel to other stars, which wouldn’t have been achieved a hundred years from now, while travel to other planets in our solar system would be an everyday reality. Little did I know at age 10 or so what the science fiction of the future would actually be like… To be commended, I suppose, is my dim sense that the future wouldn’t happen all at once, that things would have changed a hundred years from now, but they would be even more different a hundred years after that. Some of this did actually get written, but I burned all my juvenilia when I was 19 or so when my maturing critical sense overwhelmed my nostalgia, somewhat to my regret now.

  10. Sometimes, when a school project’s guidelines were sufficiently vague, I would try to sneak in some SF by stealth. One time I did a newspaper of the future (have to see if I still have that). Another time I did a Biology report based on the voyage of a starship to a nearby exoplanet. Got a perfect mark on that one.

  11. I wrote my first mystery in High School. Aside from (ignorantly) naming my main character Joe McCarthy, it was a complete Hardy Boys ripoff. My English teacher thought it was decent (for my experience) and pointed out the problem with the name.

    Thirty years later, I’m on my second project.

  12. Even then the stories of villainous Christian Theocrats oppressing the noble witch were getting a bit old and samey. I decided I wanted to do the fanatics as the good guys for once, and went with Bible fanfic for a cosmology. I’ve since decided that some of the sociological underpinnings I used for that are leftist and do not hold together.

    I only had confused incomplete notions of what made a story, so it wouldn’t have been even if I could’ve done the writing. That project might’ve been a very early example of having figured out world building.

    1. I fondly remember an essay I did of: If the US military is bad because of x, we must satisfy x by emulating historical mass murderers y.

  13. Maybe not a million words. Maybe a quarter million. Words were harder to make before computers. Having a typewriter helped (my grandma gave me hers when I was 10) and moving to a Selectric when I was 20 helped even more.

    Pam must be my long-lost twin. I still have all my kidscribbles, and I mine the trunk for ideas regularly. My most recent novel *Ten Gentle Opportunities* is in fact a straight-line expansion of a dumb little piece called “Spellbender” that I wrote in 1967. I finished three full-sized novels in high school, and they’re still in the dime-store Duo-Tang binders I put them in, one page at a time, as they rolled out of my Underwood Standard #5. I flip through them now and then, generally looking for useful ideas.

    My overall reaction is this: I was good at ideas and action from a very young age. They read reasonably well (admittedly in a very pulp-ish way) for stories written by a 15-year-old. What my early fiction lacks is emotional maturity and intellectual coherence. A lot of what I wrote was basically me wandering around inside the worlds I had built, having fun and repartee with my friends and getting into and out of trouble. I had no clue about character growth and had no clue about having no clue about it. The stories moved along but made very little sense. When I got to college and tried to write novel-length fiction that had real characters and made sense, I had trouble finishing things. I found that short stories were a more manageable challenge, and once I took a good fiction course and read up on the process, I sold a story while I was still an undergrad. However, I couldn’t bring myself to write a coherent novel for another 25 years. Characters are hard, but managing a complicated background and plotline so that novels come out making sense is a whole lot harder. It literally took me until I was 48 to figure it out.

    Like Pam said, once you’re past 60 time is of the essence. I no longer have any patience whatsoever for tradpub. As the novels are finished, they’ll go up on Kindle, and the next one will begin. That trunk full of ideas has barely been touched.

  14. Hmmm. My backup system is versioned, so I suppose I could mine the horrors of the trunk any time.

    It’s not even twelve months deep yet, though. Like some others here, I abhorred writing in school, abhorred it in work – so am starting rather late in life.

    Mostly what I have is actually pretty good plot wise; needs some touch-up on timing, but not much else. (What is bad is dialog on stilts that rival the space program. What is truly terrible is titling. With which observation, back to work…)

  15. I just opened my “Story Ideas” file. Forty-nine that tweaked a memory, all piddling out. some for lack of time, but a lot of them have been around for a long time and just petered out for lack of the craft at the time to make real stories out of them. Three of them just really caught my attention. And more had potential, but less done. I really need to shove some of my SF/F crossover series out the door, and snatch the time to finish at least one of these.

  16. I have notebooks and composition books dating back to high school with scenes and story notes and a couple screenplays…

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