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!

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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The Frozen Past and Malleable Future

The Frozen Past and Malleable Future
Pam Uphoff

If this “Real World” is all a Virtual Reality game, it is missing one major feature.

The reset button.

Really, think about what life would be like if you could “Oops!” and back up 24 hours and do it over.

Unfortunately, unless every one but you is a NPC—Non Player Character, for the non-gamers—it would be chaos. You’re trying to reset your nasty rude comeback that caused your boyfriend to dump you, while some one else is resetting to avoid a speeding ticket and someone else is “fixing” their child’s broken wrist, traffic accidents, heart attacks . . .

And if there was a big reset? Whoo! Would I ever cruise through University if I knew then what I know now. Just start the scenario over, knowing what I know, understanding things and people. Having developed a serious work ethic. Except . . . would I ever meet my husband? Have the identical kids? Nope. When I hit that reset, that future, or rather, more recent past, ceased to exist.
Yeah, so forget the reset button.

The best you can do is apologize, take a drivers ed class for ticket dismissal, get your kid a cool cast, and . . . deal with real life now and work for the future.

If we dare not change the past, what can we do about the future?

And that’s where fiction comes in.

And yes, message fiction. In your world building you consciously or subconsciously put in your hopes or your fears. And usually both. But you need to do it right. This all basic stuff that we should all know, but I’ll beat on this poor deceased equine a bit more.

I think (hope!) we are seeing the last gasp of the communism/socialism/one world government pushers. Mind you, as a writer of science fiction, I find the concept of a single planetary government amazingly useful. I have enough trouble with multi-planet Empires at war or threatening to go to war. If I had to deal with three hundred nations on every planet, I’d spend so much time trying to organize the universe that I’d never write. In fact, that could explain my lack of published hard SF.

But if I wanted a single government on Earth, my background for stories might have the benevolent government of the world. Or the violent chaos of multiple governments failing to deal with the crisis my heroes will take on. And vice-versa if I hated the whole idea.

I think we’re closing in on the end of race based prejudices, despite the efforts of the current politicians. I know too many people of mixed heritage and/or in mixed marriages for that to not happen. That’s not to say we’ll be free of prejudice. I just think America currently, most of the West to follow soon, and perhaps the rest of the world (China and Japan last!) eventually, will stop pre-judging people based on skin pigmentation and a few other external features.

So my stories have a mix of races and a lot of people with the characteristics of several races. And pretty much everyone indifferent to it. A dark complexion is of no more note than the hair color. Someone else might design a world where the races are distinct but equal under the law. Or very much not equal. But definitely race would be an instantly noticed and pigeon-holed attribute of a person.

Medical advances . . . it would be nice to cure a whole slew of diseases, and extend the expected lifespan (again!) with some age defeating drugs. Especially that last. If all you wind up extending is old age full of infirmities, forget it. Rewind the metabolism to where it was twenty or thirty years ago, and I’m all for it. And knees. I want my thirty year old knees back . . .

The main medical advances of the past, the ones that truly changed the human race are vaccinations, antibiotics, and birth control pills. They turned pneumonia from “half of all children die before the age of five” into miss a few days of school. Cuts and injuries , no problem. They changed the expectation of having many babies, hoping to not bury all of them, into having one or two children and never considering they could die.

And they made not having babies so easy that sex and reproduction are nearly unconnected in some people’s minds.

Hard to get more SF than that!

And the development of an artificial womb will increase the separation.

I shall have to add a culture where this has been taken to extremes. Imagine the shock when the system breaks down . . . not that it hasn’t been done before, but I will have fun with it, in my own way.

But if I had a different opinion of the matter I might write about a Utopia of sexual and reproductive freedom. Peace and Love and Unicorns. The Bad Guy (no doubt a white male, leader of a pseudo Christian cult) would be keeping sex slaves, forcing them to conceive and give birth the old fashioned way.

There are dozens—more probably hundreds—of ways to show your readers the potentials and hazards of theoretical future reproduction and sex. Good and bad.

That’s the power of a writer. To pull the reader into a world, to try to make them like it, or not, as we wish. But the writer needs to remember that it is _just_ the world. Your message is not the story, it is the stage setting, possibly a very important prop. But. It. Is. Not. A. Story.

First and foremost you must have a good story. You must have characters the readers will bond with, to experience the story viscerally. Because if they don’t like your Main Character, they won’t give a whoop about your dream—or nightmare—about the future.

They’ll go play a game, and wish for really good virtual reality gaming systems. Even the ones who think they’re already living in a game.

And now for the inevitable bit of self-promotion:

The latest, greatest, and an inflection point in my Wine of the Gods Universe:

Embassy

And in case I have failed to recently mention my YA under the pen name Zoey Ivers . . . Brace yourself for weirdness:

The Barton Street Gym

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Planning the Blitzkrieg

Or, trying to judge the ebb and flow of the market
Pam Uphoff

How much does timing matter? The End-of-School slump is solidly in place, as I write. When will everyone get back from Disney Land and visiting the grandparents and start looking around for something good to read?

Let me check my tea leaves . . .

Marketing is my weak point, and timing the market a mystery. Last year, there were slumps in May/June and late August. Other writers complained, so it wasn’t just me. So . . . a mid summer blitzkrieg will surely work this year, right?

Like all Indie authors, I keep trying various things marketing my books. Several things have worked, but all short term.

The first method was to pub a book or collection of short stories every other month. Of course, I don’t write that fast, and I ran out of “done enough to polish up for publication in two months” manuscripts after a year.

Then there was “Price your books like you’re a professional and proud of them!” Weird. Bumping stuff up to $5.99 actually produced a sizable bump in sales numbers, and therefore income. Then the second Summer of Recovery . . . and sales tanked again.

So I lowered prices, and had a small short bump. Then on to the next experiment. Five titles released in quick sequence, starting in September and running into October. Now that produced a really nice bump! . . . that petered out immediately.

Drat. Thought I had it there, for a minute.

So . . . back to guessing market timing again. Will a mid summer release work better?

Only one way to find out. I’m just putting the polish on four titles that I can bring out in quick sequence, two or three weeks apart, to try and boost my sales, my author ranking and my visibility. Will it work? The crystal ball is in the shop for a tune up (not that it ever seems to help.) Only hindsight is reliable, and some days I have my doubts about it.

But after this blitz, I think I’ve got things lined up to where I can publish something, at least a novella, every two or three months for awhile. So maybe I can sustain the momentum, finally.

So . . . pre-publication list of things to do . . .

(1) Editing, in progress. First story done. Entering and obsessively double checking on the big novel will be done today. The two novella offering looks good. The last . . . darn it, it’s so close to being novel size—I need to add just a few complications and then get the beta readers to take another look at it. But it is copyedited. Until I add bunches to it.

(2) Covers. I have decided to buy covers. I like most of mine, but they don’t seem to be doing the job of selling books. I’ve got the first one. And looked at the art for the second. I’ll go back and redo the old covers, to match the fonts and styles, replace a few with utterly hopeless cover art . . . sometime.

(3) Formatting. I’ve got the chapter headings all correct, checked the numbering, need to double check the dates. Then it’s just a matter of the legal page and the table of contents.

(4) Blurbs. Must write blurbs.

(5) Keywords. Must consider what potential readers might search for.

(6) Prep the mailing list.

(7) Consider exact timing and preorder dates, and links from one book to the next.

(8) Scream and run about in panic.

(9) Push the button. Four times. Maybe starting next week.

(10) Okay. Fine. I’ll do it right now. Olympian will be available . . . probably later today. And of course the pre-order on the third one, with the place-keeper cover went live within an hour . . .

Am I insane?

Don’t answer that. I’m a writer.

And on to the self-promotion. You guys who’ve already read my other stuff? I really need reviews. Even if you hated them. Honest.

The series starts here:
Outcasts and Gods

But a more recent entry point is here:
Empire of the One

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Pulled from the Attic

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Science Fiction able to steer the future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saying Goodbye

What? How did it get to be Friday already!

Saying Goodbye
Pam Uphoff

I love my characters.

But have I gotten stuck in a rut? Am I writing the series because it’s (moderately) popular, or because I’m lazy?

It’s so easy to jump back into a story with the same characters, my good buddies. Just a new problem, maybe a slight expansion of the world, a few new secondary characters, some new Bad Guys . . . But the heavy work, the Hero is already there, full formed and raring to go. You already know the color of his hair and eyes, how tall he is and why he has this bad attitude toward women. His job, his proficiencies, his boss, home car or horse, favorite gun or sword . . . already done.

Now, the fans, all twelve of them, are clamoring for more stories with the hero. And being who they are, they all have specific things they want to see, and apparently spend a serious amount of time thinking up disastrous situations I ought to throw him in.

It’s really hard to resist.

Hard to tell yourself that you’re feeling stale, and need to do something entirely different for at least one book, maybe two.

And once you’ve done that . . . darned if that one doesn’t show signs of being the first book in a new series.

You can’t win.

You just have to keep writing.

How to kill a series? The main one that seems to work for TV series is to marry off the MC. Once there’s no sexual tension, it’s Dead, Jim. Or at least it’s supposed to be. Mine had kids that took over. Then grandkids. Great grandkids are starting to show up.

Maybe I will solve The Last Problem in the Multiverse, and all the fans will be happy.

The first book:
http://www.amazon.com/Outcasts-Gods-Wine-Book-ebook/dp/B005VFXN3U/

And the 24th!!!!!!
http://www.amazon.com/Cascades-Wine-Gods-Book-24-ebook/dp/B01DL6F0C2/

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