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!

Places of Interest

Places with Personalities
Pam Uphoff

I was upset when Harry Dresden’s basement apartment burned down. Really.
221B Baker Street. An indelible part of the Sherlock Holmes mystique.
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin without their NYC Brownstone? Inconceivable!
And vehicles too. Would Star Trek be the same without the Enterprise? Star Wars without the Millennium Falcon?

Making a tiny part of your make-believe world a familiar place, describing a minute part of a whole world in detail can both pull a reader into a story, and establish a starting point for a world that you just can’t describe in the same detail. Using it as home base for a series starts the readers off knowing where they are: at home with their old friends. Or in danger, and a good thing they’ve got this ship/car/tank/whatever.

I find myself doing that in my stories. The village, the inn, the hotsprings.
And now I’ve got this silly vehicle . . . I didn’t mean for my characters to attach themselves to this battered old wreck. It just keeps coming in handy.

 

“That’s a bit of a wreck.”
Ebsa eyed Acty, then looked back at the dents in the crawler. They look . . . familiar.
The mechanic bristled. “Do you have any idea how short on equipment we are? If the Powers That Be will stop panicking over their precious Special Super Secret Project—which everyone knows has to be those weird Helios people—or wait six months instead of trying to instantly field every team in existence and some that aren’t,” he glanced meaningfully at them, “we could properly supply those teams. We can supply you with everything you need. What is available right now is the crawler we decided to use for spare parts, rather than try to repair.”

From _Fort Dinosaur_ by Pam Uphoff

 

Now it really doesn’t matter _which_ vehicle they check out of the motor pool, but this one has a history that the reader may suddenly recall. Even without having read the previous book, it’s battered and distinctive. It makes this vehicle special, it hints at history and give the world depth. Ahem. It also let me toss in a small data dump and first foreshadowing.

A single place, an office or home with “personality” can be an excellent start to world building. A place for characters to have roots. It’s location in a city, a village, a hundred miles from anywhere. A hut in the forest. A mansion in the ritzy part of town. Or the only house on the street in decent repair, the lawn, such as it was, mown. All these things tell the readers a lot about the world and they’re already making assumptions about the inhabitants.

Looking around at the rest of the Mad Geniuses . . . Dave is having a love affair with Australia. Kate . . . is all over the map, but her Vampire has become the protector of SF cons. Cedar’s got some interesting homes for Pixies and Gods. Sarah’s got a Diner in Goldport. A home on a spaceship called the Cat House.

 

And then, out of nowhere I hit something. Not hard. And whatever I hit was not as deadly solid as the diamond-hard trunks and certainly no powerpod. For one, it didn’t blow up.
Even after hitting it, I couldn’t see what it was. It was . . . dark. Straining, I could make out a rounded outline but barely distinguishable from the surrounding gloom.
My throat closed. It was a darkship.

From _Darkship Thieves_ by Sarah Hoyt.

 

And pets. A character’s reactions to animals can speak volumes about his character. Is he a puppy kicker, or a puppy saver? Does she get upset when her evil cat gets sick? Keep pet triceratops? Tarantulas? A character’s choice of pets tells a lot about the character and about the world.

The black-and-white sheepdog was more experienced at love than the dragon, and he was a young pup still, maybe eight months old. Barely more than a pup. But Dileas—whose name was “faithful” in an old tongue, long forgotten by most men—would go to the ends of the world for her, and beyond, as they were now. His mistress was his all and he would search for her until he died, or he found her.
Fionn knew that he would do the same.

From _Dog and Dragon_ by Dave Freer.

 

Dave tells you all about the dog, and the reader nods, personal experience kicks in. The reader _understands_ the devotion. And with a few more words, Fionn becomes a hero. As loyal and determined as a dog.

### Totally off topic! The above are examples of “Fair Use” of copyrighted materials. But after some outstandingly obtuse argumentation and attempted justification on facebook recently, I thought I’d head off any overreactions (and set a good example of “if in doubt, ask”) by asking Sarah and Dave. Who, of course, gave permission. I didn’t ask that Uphoff woman, she’s crazy and there’s no telling what she might say. ###

So here’s a writing assignment for you.

Make a home, a home away from home, or a vehicle. Some thing or some place your character loves or will come to love. Good Guy or Bad Guy. A Fortress of Solitude or an Evil Lair. A new character or an old one, doesn’t matter. They need a home.
What kind of pet does your character have? None? Well, that won’t do! Get him a pet, find out how much world building you can do while acquiring some odd critter.

 

And the self-Promo

For those who insist on paper and ink, all six of the Directorate stories in one huge volume.

And grab it quick, this is the last free day. Ra’d’s first appearance. Speaking of mayhem . . .

 

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The Absolute Basics

 

I was surprised by the number of people last month who were having trouble with the first step of writing—writing the whole story.

So you’re getting the Kindergarten level talk, in the hopes that you can spot where the problem lies.

So . . . at its simplest, what is a story, after all?

A story requires:
• One or more characters
• A problem that matters to them
• How they solve the problem
• What they are like after having solved the problem

That’s it.

Oh sure, depending on the length and complexity of the work there will be several attempts and failures, before they grit their teeth and give it their all. But let’s start with the absolute basics. Take out that story you’re having problems with, and let’s have a look.

Who’s the Main Character? Not necessarily the only POV character or even the only Protagonist POV character. But who is doing the heavy lifting in your story? Don’t lose track of that.

What is the problem? Why does it matter to the MC? It doesn’t? Well there’s a point you need to address. Sometimes the first problem is the tip of an iceberg, but make it matter TO THE GUY WHO IS GOING TO RISK ALL FOR IT! Do you just need to show the character’s motivation, or are you using the wrong character as your Main Guy Gal Person Sapient Being?

How is the MC going to solve the problem? Does he need to acquire knowledge, skills, equipment, clues? Does he need advice? Does he need helpers? Does he need to study the problem and understand it better before he can solve it? All these things are interesting adventures and the meat of the story. If you’re writing a Mystery, your detective has to go around asking questions, interviewing people, getting beaten up, following red herrings . . . A Fantasy? Must find magical items, companions, steeds, sword fighting lessons, whatever.

Make your character do some work! You can put in a whole lot of world building while getting your hero ready to go. Get some try/fail sequences in there. Nothing like failure to make the MC realizes he needs [fill in the blank].

Think of several ways a sensible person (or hysterical, if that’s what the MC is) would try to deal with the problem. Then have him try one and fail. Get more stuff/training, try the next way, and fail. And the next.

Don’t make winning easy. Make him or her have a desperate dark moment, an emotional crisis, followed by renewed determination to win/solve/escape or whatever. Maybe a whole new strategy is needed?

And then go out there and do it.

And then, after the Big Win, show the character more mature, better skilled, filthy rich, more confident . . . or just going back home. A story has to have an ending. It has to have a conclusion.

That ending is an important part of the writing process.

Figure out what it is going to be. This will give you something to aim at, while you write.

You may decide later that it’s unrealistic, and change it.

No problem.

But if you don’t have a clue, not even “Frodo drops the ring in the ocean, then goes home and lives happily ever after” you are going to have trouble aiming your story. When you decide, “Wait, the ocean won’t work . . . umm . . . oooo! Let’s melt it in a volcano! And it has to be *the* volcano deep in enemy territory!” you’ve at least already got him on the road and collecting companions, weapons, experiences, and magic dodads. You’ve described the world, the people, established the personalities of his companions . . . you just have to get off the river and hike for the volcano.

Then you have your MC after the Big Win. Or if he made the ultimate sacrifice, you show your other characters getting with life, and the big hole left that the character used to fill. But show the reader that he died for a purpose, and achieved it.

And that’s it.

Main Character. Problem. Solution. Aftermath.

If you are missing any of those, you’re mucking about with the trained and honed expectations of a reader’s lifetime of stories.

Now, here is an old post with some story type and basic plot information: Back the the Basics
Which may also help clarify your problems.

But the number one problem with never finishing writing a book, is starting editing before it is completely written. Rereading may be necessary if a manuscript has been tucked away for very long between writing sessions. But in most cases, reading the last paragraph or two is sufficient to get your mind back into the story.

And the second reason many manuscripts are never finished? Not enough time to work on it. Do you need to find more time, or just pull the plug on the greatest time sink on the Earth? Yes, the Internet.

Master it, use it.

If you have trouble leaving it, try writing away from access. Bargain with yourself. “Five hundred words every morning before _any_ internet at all.” or “I can only have a soda/coffee/tea/beer if I’m sitting at the computer, writing.” “News and weather with the first cup of coffee. Then it’s time to go to work.”

Whatever works.

Get out that “never could finish it” manuscript. Analyze it. Main Character. Problem. Solution. Aftermath.

You can do this. I know you can.

And the Promo:

If you’ve never read anything of mine, try this one, the first taste is only $0.99

Or my most recent book:

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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.

29-god-of-the-sun

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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