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!

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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Summer of the Lab Rat

Lab Rat

The Real World is not a laboratory.
Unfortunately.
If it were, we could control for single variables.
Trying various things in marketing ebooks is a case to point.

My best sales period (tripled my monthly average) was immediately after:
(1) Last year’s Labor Day Sale, organized within this group, which had very few books on it, so potential readers weren’t overwhelmed by the sheer number of books, plus it was widely shared.
(2) I released four titles in quick sequence, all in September. Then one in October, and one in November.
(3) Amazon started the KULL.

Hard to duplicate that last. 😉

So, how about this year?
(1) No big promos. Minimally hyped—facebook, my LJ page, and a mailing list.
(2) New titles published in February and March.
(3) A “Summer Reading Blitz” of four books released from the middle of June to early this month. Roughly three weeks separation between books, squeezed tighter when sales spiked and died.

It picked up my badly sagging sales and got them back to what I consider my average. And then they kept selling.

But since you can’t duplicate an economy, have the same distractions (Politics! Outrage! All! Day! Long!), get Amazon to do something that might have people taking a chance on an unknown author . . . nor repeat the biggest variable: Different books . . . it’s a tough comparison.

So my conclusions are . . . dubious. Yes. Dubious is a good term.
(1) Forget summer, for multiple or big releases, if you want a large spike to get you some visibility.
(2) But the sales will trickle in, as dedicated fans get back from vacation.
(3) Multiple releases work best at weekly spacing.
(4) I should work at expanding my very small mailing list.
(5) I should go back and read the marketing advice here, and follow it.

 

Now one take away from this marketing experiment is that releasing several new things in a short time works. But however I peer at it, my main conclusion is that I have still not broken out of my usual circle of readers.

To do that I’m going to have to force myself out of my comfort zone, both socially and professionally.

Attend school board meetings. Pay attention to local and state politics and contact them when I have something to contribute. Get back to writing letters to the editor. Attend some of those museum things I keep getting invites to. And look around for other venues where I can be helpful and spread name recognition.

Write in other genres. Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance and MilSF are selling well, and each would be a small first step out side my usual habitats.

When, all things considered, I’d rather crawl back into my introvert’s retreat of a house and write as the Muse dictates.

But, if I’m going to write as a business, I’ve gotta do it anyway.

That will be my next experiment.

 

And speaking of marketing . . . this totally awesome cover was designed by Cedar Sanderson for the the tail end of the Summer Reading Blitz. And the start of a spin off series, for those who haven’t read my exhaustively long main series:

https://www.amazon.com/Directorate-School-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01JXYH4EI/

28 Directorate Cover 4

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Open Season

I’m not sure who’s supposed to post today. But we’re all on vacation, so talk about anything, ask anything, advertise a story or book.

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