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!

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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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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