Author Archives: Pam Uphoff

About Pam Uphoff

After ten years working for oil companies as a geophysicist, I quit to raise a family. As an empty nester, I'm writing Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. Whew! And I thought children were tough!

I Quit!

I. Quit.

No, no, not MGC.

But I’m taking a hiatus from my big series and trying some new things this summer.

Now, why would I do a silly thing like that? Well, it’s pretty simple. I’m a (nearly) complete unknown and as such my sales numbers are low. And since I’m in this for the money–yeah, I’ve got an husband bringing home the bacon, but he’s teetering on the brink of retirement, and I’d really like to bump up the projected (post retirement) household income. That means I need to do a number of things. Marketing . . . I’m also working on. But another (and much more fun!) thing I can do is broaden my fan base by publishing in other genres.

But how is a writer of a huge series to break the bad news to her fans?

Well it depends. If the series is at a natural stopping point, it’s easy. This is one of the advantages of an overarching Mega Problem. Once it’s solved, you can give your readers a brief glimpse into the Happily Ever After and then quit.

Hahahahaha! As if!

And the more popular, the more fans will want you notice that there’s a problem behind the problem and keep going.

In my case most of the stories are stand alones . . . but it’s one big saga with a fair amount of background that builds up. But there’s no clear cut end point. It’s just a Cross-dimensional Multiverse full of potential. It has been mentioned that it would make a great SF soap opera.

So again, why quit?

There’s a dozen reasons.

I need to broaden my reader base, so getting out of this specific sub- genre and into Time Travel, Space Opera, and Urban Fantasy sounds like a good idea. I mean, Regency Romance may sell better, but I seriously doubt I could tempt any of those readers to try my older work . . . where SO and UF have plenty of overlapping interests with my old series.

And then there’s the challenge. Something that will stretch my knowledge base and send my research in a new direction. Time Travel hurts my head, BTW. And I have zero knowledge of how Law Enforcement actually works. Which is really necessary when you’ve got a thin blue line standing up against demonically engendered werewolves. Space Opera will be the easiest, what with me being a space fanatic. All I have to do is check that what I know really is so. Ouch! Our knowledge of reality changes so fast it’s easy to fall behind.

I recommend this to all writers. It’s too easy to get into a rut, to coast. “Oh, I know everything about this Universe, after all, I created it. I don’t need to research anything!” Too easy to depend on the character building you did in the previous books and leave your character flat and uninteresting. Or viciously attack and maul him, to give some space for Mr. Perfect to (re)grow. Kill her, because you’ve come to hate her.

It’ll be a good separation, a refreshing vacation. I’ll come back to the Wine of the Gods with a new perspective, new enthusiasm.

I’m breaking the news to my fans gently. Umm, because, being an addict of my own series, I seem to have, umm, let me count. Oh bloody . . . eight stories in the pipeline. Not counting the novella that’s out with the Beta Readers. That will be published next month. So while I’m going to write other stuff this summer, I’ll also get out at least one more big Wine of the Gods book sometime this fall, and the rest at reasonable intervals. So it’s just a slow down, not really quitting.

I can get over this addiction. I can stop any time.

Can you? Tell me how that works, eh?

And, being unfortunately well acquainted with my subconscious, as soon as I post this, it will pop a story into the frontal lobes, crack the whip and make me write it . . . What’s that? Xen teams up with Ebsa, Ra’d . . . and Eldon! To defeat the Cyborg Empire!

Oh, just kill me now!
But first, buy a 99¢ short story. I promise I won’t leave [spoiler] in [spoiler] for too long.

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Childish Dreams

Childhood Dreams

As a teenager, I was all angsty, except when I was depressed, except when I was angry, except when I thought *anything* would be better than the dreary drag of everyday life.

I didn’t fear a nuclear war. I doubted ducking under those school desks would be an effective shelter . . . but if I did survive! Ah! Then I would shine! No school! Living off the land!

I had a pretty high opinion of my survival skills for a girl who felt it unfair she had to pick up her room once a week or so, and might rake leaves a few times every fall.

But anything, anything! Would be better than the horrible drag of everyday life as a child. Not allowed to have serious responsibilities, be on time to school, do your homework before TV. Mind your manners and hug your father, he’s had a long day at work . . . Other people controlled my life, I had no power to change it in even minor ways.

It’s probably no surprise that my reading leaned heavily toward escapist on one hand and post-apocalyptic on the other. I wanted to know how other people survived. How they rebuilt civilization. Or saved it in the first place—look at how many mega-hit thrillers, both in print and movies, are basically “stop the bad guy before he destroys the world” adventures.

I never liked the Dystopias, where everyone raids and all the building seems to concentrate on weapons and vehicles to attack and take from others. Even in the middle of the Cold War, and the middle of teen angst, I had some places I didn’t want to go, even in a book.

I think back to that bored whiney child when I see college students protesting and rioting today.

And I see powerless children like I was . . . except these children have found a way to create their own emergencies, their own opportunities. Can I blame them? Not only do they have to attend school and do homework , most of them are running up debt to acquire a piece of paper that *might* help them acquire a job. Most of them are older than I was when I graduated and went off to work. Today’s college students are children in every way except the number of years they’ve been alive. Other people *still* control their lives. They had no power . . . until now.

But it’s a destructive power. My dreams of post-apocalyptic life involved building, rebuilding, forming new and better societies. I never dreamed, nor desired to tear down civilization. The destruction was out of my young hands. A missile launch away.

These young people are actively working to destroy the system they are utterly dependent on. Can they think beyond “My student loans will disappear” to “and I still have no skills anyone wants” or if they’ve truly brought down the country “I have no survival skills, no food. But I have this club . . . and I know how to intimidate people.”

I don’t understand them. Do they somehow see themselves as the Heroes? Bringing down the corrupt system, no matter how many lives they ruin doing so? Got news for them. It’s the Bad Guys that destroy civilization. They are turning themselves into the classic disposable pawns, used and discarded as soon as their masters have gotten what they want. The power they are gleefully seizing is short-lived, and it’s shallow. It exists to serve those who want a different kind of power and it only exists until one side or the other stomps them flat.

But they don’t see that.

Maybe we should make up a reading list for them.

Unfortunately, modern publishers are highly Progressive. In their books, the corporations are evil, not the real-life creators of the jobs our rioters so desperately seek. And the military, yeah, they’re bad. Despite being a practical way out of poverty for many youngsters, including, or maybe especially, minorities. The Big Five give us characters we would rather not live next door to, worlds we don’t want to visit and hopeless futures.

Fortunately the Indie publishing boom is changing all that. Now one can find builders instead of destroyers. Heroes and heroines worthy of the name. Interesting places to take a mental trip to, adventures to have and monsters to slay. Future worlds to save, or improve, and yes, rebel against. Diversity of thought, opinion, lifestyle, sexuality, and physical body.

If you look, and yes there’s a whole lot to riffle through, you can find stories that entertain, that show you futures worth fighting for, characters you’ll love, and make you proud to be human.

Indie can teach you to hope. To build instead of tear down. Indie has it all.

How about a list of “Build a Civilization” books? And “Save the World,” while we’re at it.

Post links. Here’s one of mine to start:

 

Edited to add reading suggestions from the comments below:

Building or rebuilding

1632 by Eric Flint

Dies the Fire by S. M. Stirling

The Red King by Nick Cole

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Out of the Dell by Laura Montgomery

Exiles and Gods by Pam Uphoff

 

Saving the World

Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy

The Satan Bug by Alistair Maclean

Cobra Event by Richard Preston

 

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Jumping the Shark

Jumping the Shark
Pam Uphoff

“Wait! I know! I’ll write a mirror image story! On this world Ra’d will be a criminal . . . and his sweet little sister will be number one on the shoot-on-sight list! Yes!”

This is how you know you’ve used up all your ideas and need to back off.

Or, that you’ve made the main character of your series so powerful there are no challenges left. I mean, how many times can you save the world and then go off to explore a dinosaur world? Yeah, a couple of each and you find it hard to top it in the next book.

IMO, this is a sign that you need a break from the series. That you need to catch up on your reading, and doodle around with very different things. Maybe even . . . a new genre?

Yep. Another learning experience. It’ll be like vegetables, they’re good for you, and even taste good once you figure out the right spices. It’s the experiments that, umm, get tossed that are the nasty part. I’ve dug quite a rut for myself and I’ve nearly forgotten the basics of crafting an interesting story. So, back to review the notes from Creative Writing 101.

Let’s see . . . The major genres.

I’ve got SF/F covered, but not all subgenlawyers-smallres. Ahem, at least not in publishable form. My Urban Fantasy is pretty . . . amateurish. SF comedy? Got that.
 

 

 

 

 

15-dancer

 

 

Mystery? I read a whole bunch of mysteries, maybe I ought to try one. I’ve had mysteries inside my SF/F, but my amateur sleuth was rather incompetent. I can fix that. I think. It might require outlining for the proper placement of clues. But a bit of imposed order might help all of my work.

 

 

 

 
fancy-free-vibRomance? Umm . . . I have plenty of romance and sex in the SF/F. I suppose I could write something with the focus on the romance.

Western? However much I loved watching all the old westerns on TV, I haven’t actually read very many. Okay, this is a genre I ought to explore. Horses are familiar territory, after all. Just add cows and bandits or something, right? And avoid slipping into Cowboys vs Aliens. Plot. Must have plot. Must have story problem that matters to the MC. Must have the right equipment for the exact period of the book. I think there were a lot of weaponry development over the usual time frame of Westerns. Indian tribes and relations . . . This is going to take some research.

Christian? Probably a bad idea. Not having attended church as a child I’m “tone deaf” to the details and would probably mess up entirely.

demigod-wps2

 

I’ve written YA. Both Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy. Been accused of shoehorning a Girl-and-Horses story into my main SF/F series, so that’s not new ground.

Right. So there’s my plan. Bone up on Mysteries and Westerns. Think up some story problems. Pick a time and place for them to happen.

That’ll keep me out of trouble for awhile.

So, what genres do you write in . . . and which ones would challenge you?

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The Artiste and the Professional

The Artiste and the Professional

My dad died last week. Not a surprise. I’d been waiting that call. A toss up whether it would be Mom or Dad who went first.

I’ve always thought of myself as the Artiste, the dilettante, writing spontaneously. Just enough of a professional to respond to kicks in the rear—usually self-afflicted—to stay on task and at least pretend to be a professional. And I really need to be a professional today, and for the next couple of weeks.

So I’ve got my head down, trying to keep on track as I sit in the quiet of the house I grew up in. I need to write, to edit, to do a cover. And Blog.

I think we writers are all a combination of artist and professional. We need the inspiration, the vision of what we want to create, but we also have to be businesslike in our production, in our awareness of the market, the traps in contracts. Indies especially cannot neglect the business side of their careers.

Me? What do I need to do, to be professional? I told too many people—readers of mine, for the most part—that I would be releasing seven titles this winter. And I’d only released the first. But the second was ready to go. So I wiped a tear and published it.

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And the third book is . . . odd. I need to reread it and get ready to kick it out the door. Heh. As if I’m in any condition to tell if my characters are angsting enough or not. As if I give a damn if the cover is brilliant, or merely good enough. A bad state of mind to be in. I am so glad I don’t need to write, right now. But I can buckle down and get it out the door on schedule. And the next four will go out on time as well.

Time will pass and writing will start again. Partly because this is my business, but more because I’m driven to create stories.

Because for the long term, for a long successful writing career, I think the artist side is much more important. That special touch that brings the characters to life. That makes the readers want to move to that place . . . or avoid it at all costs! The perils expressed so well, the reader is scanning the pages, breathing hard and telling that lump in the pit of their stomach that the author could not possibly kill their favorite character!

So the care and feeding of the artist is important. The artist’s soul is easy and fun to satisfy. A trip to the museum, the beach, the mountains, a battle reenactment, researching something you love. (Researching something you don’t love is the fault of the business mind. ;))

The artist’s body, on-the-other-hand is more difficult.

Must have caffeine!

Go easy on the carbs!

No decongestants or antihistamines!

Get plenty of sleep, even if you can’t breath!

Oh, and avoid stress. Heh. As if that was possible.

Health, family, jobs, moving . . . even the election. And internet arguments.

We live in stressful times, culturally, politically, technically. We writers are in mid-adjustment to a massive upheaval of our industry. The internet made online sales possible. Ebooks became a thing . . . and with Amazon, a very big thing. An easy big thing for both readers and writers. Our adjustments to a new marketplace is ongoing and unavoidable. And the market place will keep changing. The tech that helps us will infuriate us as it keep changing.

Just remember that it’s the story that is important. The rest is just new equipment.

But when things get especially rough, when several stresses join forces, it’s time for your big mean professional alter ego to step up and take over. Let the artist creep away for a good cry and long nap. And the professional can decide if the diet can slip for a few days or if antihistamines are a good idea, right now. The professional also has to decide if editing is a good idea, or not, in this state of mind. Perhaps this is a good day to kick back and read something pleasant and light.

For me? Tomorrow will be a good day to start the editing.

But today it’s ice cream and a good book.

 

Try this if you’re looking for one. College Interns. Studying Dinosaurs. In the field. What could go wrong?

102-tale-of-three-interns-grunge

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A Memorable Character

Cadfael

Sarah tells us we need to create memorable characters.

I can’t think of a more memorable character than Peter Ellis’s Cadfael, and that ties in with the research everyone tells us to do. Alma Boykin’s excellent blog on ATH last week https://accordingtohoyt.com/2016/12/08/flavors-of-history-alma-boykin/
is a good intro to history if that’s what you need to research.

cadfael-1

Part of the reason Cadfael is so real to me is the totally authentic world he inhabits. It was painful to come to the end of the twentieth book and realize that there would be no more stories, that Ellis Peters—Edith Pargeter—was no longer with us.

And for the first time I was driven to do some historical research. Because I had to know what happened next. This involved lots of spelunking at the Houston main library, for histories that were probably well removed from original sources.

But let me tell you, there’s stuff happening that has Cadfael’s fingerprints all over it.

Oh, and “Real life can do stuff that a fiction writer can’t get away” is everywhere you look.

The Empress Maud’s son Henry (the future King Henry II), aged 14, hires a bunch of knights on promise of payment. They crossed the channel, besieged a couple of castles unsuccessfully. His little army walked. The Empress had no money, and in fact retreated to Normandy later that year. His uncle, Robert Earl of Gloucester refused to pay for the debacle . . . So Henry applied to his mother’s cousin, King Stephen . . . who sent him enough money to go back to Normandy.

For those of you not familiar with this mess, this war was between Empress Maud and King Stephen. Yep. The Bad Guy sent him home. Okay, maybe you could get away with that in a book. Maybe.

Or the Earl of Leicester persuading the barons on both sides to refuse to fight? Leaving King Stephen and Prince Henry riding up and down opposite sides of a river both shouting about their traitorous supporters? Nope. No way.

My main question, at this point, is how the heck did they make history so bloody boring in school?

And I really ought to see what I can find on Project Guttenberg, my notes being totally insufficient to re-satisfy my curiosity a decade later.

However, the best research find was actually at my childhood home.

cadfael-2

My Dad never saw a book he didn’t covet, the older the better. Where he came by these I have no idea . . . but I sort of remembered them . . . and sought them out the next time I was in California.

And there it was, full of issues between King Stephen and the Church. But far away from Shrewbury. Really, it’s silly to imagine an old monk had anything to do with any of it . . .

cadfael-4

Cadfael himself is totally fictional, but what, you ask, about the rest of the characters in the stories? When William Fitzalan was reinstated as sheriff after King Stephen’s death, he eradicated every mention of King Stephen’s sheriff. Hugh Beringar was made up whole cloth. Abbot Radolfus (real person), died the next year and Prior Robert (real person) became the new Abbot.

Cadfael’s in trouble.

 

And since it’s December, I’ll put my old Christmas Story up for free:

mall-santa-cover

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Fall

The Great Fall . . . maybe

Pam Uphoff

 

The weather has turned, the last two nights were chilly and the days crisp to almost-warm.

My husband jokes that Houston has three or four good days in the Fall, and the same in the Spring. He exaggerates, slightly. It’s feeling like a great fall, here.

This is a writing blog, so I suppose I should say something witty about perhaps this will be the season the Trad Publishers getting a grip on the new reality of ebooks. Or I could talk about Indie as the winds of change sweeping over the world.

But I think everyone here knows that the tech and thus the market will keep changing, and we need to be nimbly dancing around the pumpkins and the shocks of corn, ready to switch to a tango with the scarecrow at a moment’s notice. It’s true in the industry, true in politics, and true in our own lives.

It’s all just “heads up and ears to the ground, troops!” We will adapt and keep writing.

I expect a great many falls, this year. The only question is which ones and how far down.

Personally? It’s not going to be a good year. Both my parents are in home hospice care. My mom’s blown through two estimates of her life expectancy already, but she’s sinking. My dad’s started later, but he’s sinking faster. It’s a race to the end, with the jockeys hauling on the reins, to slow the horses.

But we’ve managed, so far, to keep them in their own home, with their own “stuff.” They’re happy.

It’ll do.

The country? It’s teetering on the brink of a fall.
Has the financial system finally hit the point of no return? Are we looking at a recession, a depression, or a complete financial meltdown with hyperinflation? My husband and I are old enough to not be able to come back from the loss of our savings, our IRAs. And if those go, will Social Security still exist?

I look at the internet and all the calls for “someone” to kill the president elect . . . Please, please, let’s not have that kind of fall. I’m getting very curious about just what sort of president we’ve got here.

I look at the international news, and see plenty of potential . . . and it’s the mood of the times that I mostly see the downside potential. But the upside is there. We all need to remember that.

We’ve got Brexit and the EU getting a bit shaken up. Not sure what will happen, but the individual countries working over their own economies might be useful.

ISIS in the Middle East is feeling the pain. Better late than never. It would be nice if the refugees could go home. I expect see a lot of refusals. Guess we’ll find out if they really are refugees, or if they’d rather be immigrants.

Further east, we’ve got China throwing it’s weight around. Nerve wracking, when I’ve got family in Taiwan. Yet, the news I read is about the difficulties China faces as it moves from an export economy to one supported by an increasingly affluent population of it’s own. Perhaps things are brighter than I’d ever hoped for.

And . . . because I can’t see the future, it’s time to stop guessing about what will come, and pay attention to what is actually happening. To not think so deeply about the possibilities that I miss the reality.

So in celebration of this gorgeous fall weather, I’m making my first pot of ham and beans.

Then if the Muse doesn’t feel like writing, I’ll kick back and catch up on my reading.

If you need cheering up, and haven’t yet read about the Martian Lizard Lawyers . . . give it a try.

lawyers-small

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Gimme Three Steps

Gimme Three Steps . . . and New Point of View
Pam Uphoff

Dave’s post Monday—mentioning parasitism being a matter of point of view—reminded me of a post I wrote back in the Pleistocene, probably on Baen’s Bar. Which, of course I didn’t save. But it was brilliant! It was Yugh! With luck this reboot will at least be coherent.

Take this song, think of it as a scene in a story:

Here’s some poor schmuck who unknowingly has danced with the local Boss Bad Guy’s girl. And he’s trying to explain his way out of getting shot for it. All flight instincts fully engaged, and he fast-talks, and no doubt is backing toward the door and ready to run.

Or is he that scared? In a book, you can stick some internal thoughts in there. Maybe he did know who’s girl he was dancing with, and did it gleefully, knowing he was stirring up trouble and he thinks if he has to, he can get his gun out fast enough . . .

Or you could write the exact same actions, but tell it from the girl’s POV. Is she horrified that her thoughtlessly accepting a dance from a stranger didn’t matter? And now the poor guy is going to get killed!

Or does she not give a damn? Is she gleefully delighted to have men fighting over her?

Or could it be a cold blooded calculation to make Boss Bad Guy realize that she’s still very desirable and he’d better pay more attention to her?

Maybe she’s seriously psychotic and is going to enjoy the humiliation of a complete stranger and maybe even get to watch him die.

And what about the Boss Bad Guy? What’s his POV? Is he furious, and only constrained from killing the interloper because of the public venue?

Or is he sick at heart, realizing that he has to kill this fool. Knowing that if he shows weakness his gang will pull him down? But he has no desire to kill this naïve idiot. Maybe he can just back him out the door, begging for his life . . .

What about that stranger, sitting in the corner? Personally, I think he’s a spy, who’s watching his meeting with an informant about to go to hell . . .

Yep. That stupid song was a real eye-opener for me about how critical the POV was for a scene. Do you have a scene that just isn’t working? Who else is there, or can be added, who has a different perspective on the same actions? Whose POV will engage the reader, steer them toward looking at the scene in a different way?

Or an entire book.

I wrote my cross-dimensional espionage story from the POVs of the infiltrating spies. Didn’t like it. Wrote it over again from the POVs of a government political analyst and a presidential bodyguard. Not bad, but it created as many holes as it filled . . . so I brought out the original version and intertwined them. Voila! Worked pretty good.

Now, by the time this posts I’ll be in Taiwan being given the personal tour before the Big Traditional Chinese Wedding Dinner. Ten courses. All vegetarian. Only forty guests (my very sweet daughter-in-law was trying to keep it small.) The vast majority of the guests speak little English. Just picture me offending them as I try to pronounce the written phonetic phrases on these flash cards . . . Completely incapable of understanding replies. I shall smile a lot, and rumor tells me that translators can be hired. I expect to have a great time and become a local legend for malapropisms.

Which is a long winded way of saying I may not be replying. So tear into it. Grab the last scene you wrote and write it over from a different POV.

Oh, and buy a book. The groom’s parents pay for weddings over there . . .

102-a-tale-of-two-interns-small

 

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