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!

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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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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We Are All Dragons

We have our lairs, and fill them with our hoards.

Oh, some people call them by other names. Houses, apartments, mansions . . . but we know what they are. And our hoards are furniture, books (lots and lots of books!) dishes and flatware. Knickknacks; gifts from friends, mementos of vacations. Art, from posters of our favorite bands to original water colors.

Tools and toys.

Oh yes my precious. We have jewelry and clothing and other fine things.

And we have ideas in our minds. Memories. Stories. People who never really existed. Wild ideas and wonderful dreams. Entire worlds, universes, all times and all places.

But the most precious is not thought to be a thing of dragons.

We have friends and family. People we share lair and hoard with, especially those ideas and dreams. Or perhaps they too are a part of our hoards, we certainly save and treasure our interactions with them.

Writers go one further. We write out our ideas and spread them, broadcast them to any who will give us a token in return. We do not hoard our ideas, although a few expressions of them will never be seen by others. We want to share them with the world.

And then, dragon-like, we collect reviews, facebook comments and “likes.” We hoard our readers opinions of our wild flights of fancy, retreat to our lairs to count and weigh our Amazon reviews, track our author ranking, the sales ranks of the latest dragonette we’ve kicked out of the lair to fly, to soar or falter.

And we tread a circle in our nests of old rejection slips and best reviews, and start incubating the next idea.

And the last idea:
https://www.amazon.com/Tale-Three-Interns-Directorate-Book-ebook/dp/B01L2ZLZDC/

 

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Help! It’s Gone Stale!

Help! It’s Gone Stale!

Somewhere around book 5 or 6 of the series, you start feeling like every idea you come up with is either more of the same thing you’ve already written, or so over the top, trying to outdo the last book that . . . it just isn’t working.

There’s about four different types of series. More or less. They sort of blend, but for discussion purposes this’ll do.

The first kind, I first heard called a hyper-novel by Eric Flint. It’s the Wheel of Time, the Game of Thrones . . . a single over arching story that simply can’t be fit into a single cover. Or a dozen. If it’s feeling stale, think about the over-arching problem, the one that is important. Lost track of it, did you? Stopped making progress toward solving it, did you? You have my sympathy, now go make some progress. And don’t neglect character development of some of your cast of thousands. Pick a new focus character for the new story, look at the big problem from a different angle. But show some movement on the Big Problem.

The second kind is quite similar, but there’s a very strong subthread that each book, or pair of books, deals with while progress on the over-arching series story progresses more slowly. David Weber’s Honorverse stories are of this type. And again, if it’s gone stale, maybe you’ve neglected the bigger picture. Or character development. Throw in a story with a twist, with a new character, or an old secondary character.

In the third kind, the individual book threads dominate, and if there’s a series-long problem, it’s definitely in the background. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series falls into this group. Every book is a complete story. The over arching problem is “Life of Miles.” Or perhaps “Four generations of House Vorkosigan.” How do you deal with Miles getting stale? You write Ivan’s hysterically funny romance. Or swing back to the very start, and check up on Cordelia coming to terms with losing Aral on the planet where she met him. With a Universe, you’ve got room to expand and go somewhere unexpected. So do it. With a family or friend, or secondary character, if you insist on a strong tie back to the main series arch.

The fourth kind is almost not a series. But it’s stories all in the same world/universe/alternate history. And using Lois again, her Five Gods stories have a few repeat characters between the first two, but the third is completely divorced from the others in time and space. Then the Penric and Desdemonia stories in a yet different country, a different time. How do you get stale when each story is so different? And if you do, there’s the rest of the universe. Go find a whole new place and problem.

If you’ve invented a whole world, galaxy, universe, multiverse—don’t let yourself get stuck in one place, one time, one set of characters. Look around, and see where the cardboard settings and characters are, and go adventuring. Make them real and three dimensional. Visit the evil empire, and see it not for the monolithic threat, but a complex society with both good and bad people.

If you’ve got a long term, multi-book problem, either make progress on it, or, if you dare, make it worse. And it’s even better if solving the obvious single book problems is what made the big problem worse. And then do some work on the big one in the next book. You’ve got to solve that puppy sometime.

Now, look at your plots. Have you got a reasonable number of try-fail sequences for the length of the work? Do your characters all seem to fall into the same pattern of try-fail? Diagram it out. Make the falls deeper. Make them the fault of the MC. Make the characters sweat harder to recover from each fail.

How about the story problem? Too much like others you’ve done? Throw your characters into something completely different. Give them something to adapt to, something to force them to change. Or amuse your readers while they try. Stuff the barbarian into a tux and make him play diplomat. Strand the Metrosexual vegan on a planet full of hungry carnivores, where he has to learn to kill to survive, and eat what he kills. Let the honorable lady slip up, or the rogue find a reason to try to redeem himself. Yeah, yeah, it’s been done. But have you done it to _your_ characters?

Tell the next story from the POV of the Bad Guy. If the bad guys have just been faceless aliens, well, about time they got their POV heard, right? He’s too evil for that? Then pick a less important person trying to balance his or her ethics (or the survival of his family) against the demands of the Evil Overlord. Take the Boogieman and make him the hero. Look at Larry Corriea. Just look at what he did to Agent Franks! So just do it. Grab a Bad Guy and kick him good and hard. See what happens.

And then there’s romance. Whether it’s falling in love, losing a loved one, being pursued by someone . . . do something different, that you’ve never done before.

How about your personal style? You like a single POV? Try several. First person or third? Break an old habit.

And even if you prefer a specific genre, there are always secondary threads that can bring in aspects of other genres. A murder in your SF story, a fast paced thriller story in your fantasy world. A romance thread _anywhere_. Comedy. Make some of your old characters’ children or younger siblings the POVs and write a YA story. Add a cat or dog. Or a bright green slave girl.

If it feels stale, do something really, really different. Write a Trump, instead of another Clinton. (Wait . . . well, Okay, so long as you wash your hands afterwards and . . . are we actually doing this in the real world? Gah! Mind boggling absurdities belong in fiction, not the real world.) Even if that means abandoning your series and writing something completely unconnected. You can go back to the series later. Honest. And hopefully with the old habits broken, and fresh ideas in your head.

And for the obligatory advert: Check out the first story of this collection, where I take a break from the previous serious save-the-world stuff and introduce the kid who’s about to take over the series.
Growing Up Magic

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