Thursday, April 30, 2009

Date Day--Chicago Botanic Garden

I mentioned before that Eugene and I took yesterday off. We haven't found a local babysitter, so it's hard for us to do date nights. Hence date days, when we get some couple time while Alex is in daycare. We plan to do this about once a month.

Yesterday, Eugene and I went to the Chicago Botanic Garden. We're members there and go several times a year. This was our first trip of the season. It was a bit brisk and cloudy, but there were plenty of spring flowers. The cloudy weather also made for good photography conditions. I'm not much of a photographer, unlike Eugene, who typically hauls around enough gear to make Alex's diaper bag seem lightweight. I normally just do point-and-shoot with my camera, though I have used macro. Yesterday, I wound up experimenting with the other settings, such as aperture and color. Here are a few of the best shots:

Despite what Eugene might like, I don't intend to get into photography as much as he is--our budget couldn't handle all of the equipment and workshops! Besides, I have enough to keep me busy as it is.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

Just a quick post, since it's getting late:

Currently On: Chapter Eight, page 81
Total Pages: 286
Total Words: 92,000

Hopefully I won't cut so much I end up with a novella instead of a novel. That would be harder to market. ;)

It's almost the end of April; according to my plan of editing/rewriting two chapters a month, I should be done with Chapter Eight. At least I'm working on it, so I've made up some time. I didn't get much done over the weekend, and I didn't do anything today. (It was our "date day"; I'll blog about it tomorrow.) But we're headed into the last week of the throwdown, so I need to finish this chapter soon. I do have to research some things before I get much farther, though. Hopefully this next week will be productive.

Contest Update

Maria declined her gift card, so I decided to hold another drawing for it. The winner of this card is....


Congratulations! Please send me your snail-mail address (my e-mail address is sandra at sandraulbrich dot com) so I can put it in the mail.

I'll update my Work in Progress later this evening.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And the Winners Are...

Here's a drum solo from Ringo to set the mood...

And the winner of the $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble is....


Congratulations! Please e-mail me at sandra at sandraulbrich dot com so I can send you the gift card.

I promised to give a second $10 gift card to the person who brought in the most followers. Well, as far as I know, no one came here and said, "I'm following this blog because of S0-and-so." However, Maria Zannini was the only person I know of who advertised this contest on her blog and Tweeter. Therefore, I'll give her the second card by default. Congratulations again! Please send me your snail mail address so I can mail you your gift card.

I don't have much planned for today. I'll be working, though we'll get to have an ice cream cake. Eugene and I have a "date day" planned for Wednesday, so we'll probably go out then. So I figure I may as well celebrate with some Beatles videos:

Hope all of you have a good day too. Thanks again for following my blog, and I hope you enjoy it! I'll be running other contests from time to time, so stick around.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Last Chance!

My birthday is tomorrow (and not today, despite what Facebook's Birthday Calendar thinks). That means I'll be holding the drawing to see which one of this blog's followers gets a $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble, as I promised three weeks ago. I'm also giving away a second card to someone who refers a follower. So far, I haven't had any referrals, but I have a backup plan. Anyway, if you'd like to be included in the drawing, please start following this blog! Today is your last chance to do so. Thanks to everyone who joined so far, and good luck!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday

I forgot to check my wordcount after lunch today, but I did note where I am in the story:

Currently On: Across Two Universes, Chapter Seven, Page 75
Total Pages: 290
Total Word Count: 94,000

I think I'm close to finishing Chapter Seven, possibly by the end of the week. I do have to figure out the logistics of Chapter Eight (I'm writing new scenes), but at some point, I think I may actually stop tossing everything I've previously written and just edit text. Wouldn't that be something? It would be nice, because May is going to be busy for me. I'm on three panels at WisCon Memorial Day weekend, then the following weekend is Alex's birthday party. The weekend after that, I'm off on a business trip. (At least I should get to read/write while I travel.)

As long as I'm blogging, I'd like to remind people that there's less than a week left to follow my blog and become eligible to win a $10 gift card from Barnes and Noble. You can see my original post here. And if you refer someone who then follows me, you have a chance to win a second gift card. The drawing is next Tuesday, the 28th. Don't forget!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: The Books of My Life

For this round, Kate wants us to focus on reading:

Specifically, what books have influenced you? This can be books that influenced you as a writer, or simply books that touched you as a human being. If you want to talk about one book, a top three, ten, or even twenty go right ahead.

Archy posted before me.

Before I discuss some of my favorite books, I'd like to provide some background music. This song popped into my head as soon as I read Kate's title:

Anyway, where do I start? If I go back to childhood, I read books such as the Hardy Boys series (I got the first eighteen as a Christmas present when I was seven or eight; even then, I wondered why the boys were the same age in every book), The Oz books, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues. (I learned the nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons" from the last book.) As an early clue to my impending nerdettehood, I even read English and science textbooks. Authors I remember reading include Edgar Eager and Andre Norton (though she may have been when I was a preteen). I went through a classics/historical fiction phase in high school. I read a lot of Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt. I've discussed Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance before in other Blog Chain posts, so I won't go into detail again. This book did influence my philosophy and inspired me to read about Taoism.

When I first became a fantasy/science fiction fan, I read a lot of Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffery, and Mercedes Lackey--some of the big name authors in the field. Although I now find them formulaic, they have influenced my writing. In particular, I picked up a love of interior monologues from Lackey. These days, my favorite author is Patricia McKillip; I would say that reading The Sorceress and the Cygnet started my appreciation of her. (I met her at WisCon a couple of years ago and got her autograph.)

As for science books, I read In Search of the Double Helix and In Search of Schrodinger's Cat when I was a teenager; the latter book got me interested in quantum mechanics. I read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions when I took a history of science class, and that changed my view of science.

I'll end with one more book: The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Back. That book influenced my view of romantic love. Considering I've been with the same man since I was twenty, I'd like to think it was a good influence!

In conclusion, I've read a lot of books most people wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. No wonder I'm so weird. (grin) Follow the chain to Kat Harris's blog to find out what her favorite books are!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

Here's my progress on Across Two Universes since last week:

Currently On: Chapter Seven, Page 69

Total Pages: 290

Total Words: 94,000

I feel like I made some good progress since last week, but I know I still need to go back and tweak some things before I'm satisfied.

Since last week, I decided to join a Writing Throwdown suggested by Elana. My goals are modest compared to some of the other participants: I just want to edit/revise through Chapter Eight by the end of the 30 days. Of course, my writing time is pretty slim to begin with, but I'd love to exceed my goal if possible. It depends on how many new scenes I feel compelled to write. Anyway, if all of us meet our goals, Bobby Flay will show up and cook us dinner. No, wait, I'm just saying that to be funny. But I bet I could beat Bobby in a science fiction throwdown. When is he going to walk through the door?

Also, I've joined the Dark Side. That's right; I'm now on Twitter. There's so much writing discussion going on there I feel the need to keep up, though I was sick of the "Blankfail" the first time I heard that being used. My username there is ulbrichalmazan. I'm still trying to get the hang of tweeting and hashtags and following, so any advice would be useful. Anyway, where are the cookies? The Dark Side promised cookies. I hope they're chocolate chip.

I better finish this post before I have a late-night snack.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Quote of the Day

From Russell Baker:

"The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Alex Photos

As promised, here are a few photos of Alex I took over the weekend:

After the egg hunt. He looks tired.

After we colored eggs, he decided to smash them. I'm afraid of what he'll do to a raw egg now!

In his Easter outfit.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Hoppy Easter...Finally!

Those of you who've been following my blog for a long time (at least a year) may remember how Alex spent his first Easter--in the hospital. We brought him to ER in the middle of the night when his fever didn't respond to Tylenol, and he not only had a bad ear infection but also an elevated white blood cell count. You can read the full story here.

This year, although Alex and I are both congested, we're well enough to do things. So we made up for lost time. I took him to an egg hunt at a local park yesterday morning. He was tired and clingy, so I wound up picking up the eggs--all two of them. One had candy I didn't feel he could eat yet; the other, a tiny yellow duck. I don't know why they included that, as it looked like a choking hazard. Alex studied it for a while, then dropped it back in his basket.

After Eugene came home, we colored a few eggs. Alex helped, though he used his hands to dunk the eggs more than the spoons. Afterwards, he climbed back up on a chair to play with the eggs. Before long, they were all cracked so severely I wound up tossing them all. Oh well; at least we don't have to eat them.

This morning, Alex got his Easter basket. It included a toy camera, two books, bubbles, a chocolate bunny, and some chocolate eggs. Later, we had brunch at a nearby banquet hall. The buffet tables were well-stocked with both breakfast and lunch items, including oatmeal (I thought Alex might like it, but he didn't), lox, shrimp, ravioli, lasagna, and more food than I could sample. I didn't even make it to the carving stations! There were also two sweet tables, one with homemade ice cream and the other with a chocolate fountain. Once Alex discovered the cookies, he kept grabbing us and leading us over there for more.

After Alex napped, we visited Eugene's family. Alex got upset because he wanted to go outside, so we brought him to a nearby park. He loved the slide and kept asking for it after we left. His mood improved once he ate a little more. He fell asleep on the way home. We wound up having to wake him up to change him into his overnights and pajamas. He was tired, but it still took me a long time to get him settled in his crib. I hope he sleeps through the night!

It's getting late, so I'll post pictures tomorrow.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Things to Do on Your Day Off

Yesterday was a rare day for me; work was shut down and daycare was open. I took advantage of my free time by doing the following:

dropped Alex off at daycare
had my car emissions tested (a state requirement)--this involved a drive well out of my way
finished reading The Tipping Point
ran the dishwasher and unloaded it
tidied up the kitchen and living room
swept and mopped the kitchen, foyer, and bathrooms
washed and vacuumed out my car
deposited our change at the bank
went grocery shopping
boiled eggs for coloring
baked a loaf of bread in the bread machine
vacuumed the upstairs
scored a new high score in Bejeweled Blitz
picked up Alex
took him to the park
made dinner and did most of the dishes
gave Alex his bath and put him to bed

Oh yeah, and and I also wrote 500 words in Across Two Universes. I wrote in the afternoon before picking up Alex, but it felt more dramatic to list this accomplishment last.

Such a day of wanton hedonism, wasn't it?

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Tipping Point

I just finished reading The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference this morning. Basically, it's about how little things can tip a sickness into an epidemic or turn something into The Next Big Thing (hereafter abbreviated TNBT). There are a lot of interesting points in the book, but there were a couple that struck me as being useful for writers:

People--Three types of people are good at tipping things past the crucial point: Connectors, who know lots of people in different circles and network them; Mavens, subject experts who share their knowledge; and Salespeople, charismatic persuaders. These are the people who can help you network or convince others that your book is TNBT. Certain blogs (such as agent blogs) might be Connectors, and reviewers might be Mavens or Salespeople. Any nominations for specific people?

Groups--The magic number here is 150. When a group gets larger than that, it's impossible for everyone to have personal relationships with everyone else. Some companies and organizations split when they grow beyond this stage.

There's a lot more in this book -- Stickiness, Context, and other concepts--but I'd recommend you read it, since I can't summarize everything in a single blog post. But the overall point of the book is to look for little things that make a big difference. They might not be what you'd expect.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Truth about Articles on Self-Publishing

I found this link through Nathan Bransford's blog. Last week (I think it was last week), CNN posted an article about self-publishing. The journalist selected two authors who had found success through self-publishing their books (though one of them had a best-selling book after it was picked up by a traditional publisher). By presenting only one side of the story, the journalist made it sound as though self-publishing was a vast improvement over traditional publishing for the typical author.

Here's the other side of the story, as presented by Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware! Blogs. Strauss shows how articles about self-publishing are constructed; facts are omitted, and quotes are chosen to present only one side of the story. No matter what the subject, writing an article this way while purporting to be objective is just plain wrong. As Strauss points out, journalists have a responsibility to present both sides of a story; whatever happened to that?

A couple other things I'd like to mention about self-publishing; I think by making it so "easy" to publish a book, it allows authors to get by without pushing themselves to improve. Furthermore, there's still a need for someone to screen all of these books to separate the wheat from the chaff--what editors and agents do now. Some authors may find self-publishing useful, but many may be better off with the traditional route. Traditional publishing may evolve, but I don't think it will disappear anytime soon--and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

First, thanks to all who've started following my blog, whether you've been lurking for a while or you've just discovered this blog. I stopped at Barnes and Noble this afternoon after my dentist appointment (I took three hours off) and picked up the gift cards for the drawing and some books. You can tell I'm a writer because I was so excited about having some free time to work on my book that I didn't worry about my fillings until I was in the dentist's office. The fillings were actually to protect some recessed parts of my gumline, so it really was quick and painless. (No numbing shots needed, and I was done in less than fifteen minutes.)

Anyway, here's where I'm at:

Currently On: Across Two Universes, Chapter Six, Page 61
Total Number of Pages: 301
Total Word Count: 98,000

Currently I'm working on a scene from Yvonne's point of view. This is Yvonne's first POV scene in the novel. Even though I've been working on this story for several years, my characters keep evolving. Yvonne is a bit of a people-pleaser in that she does whatever others want from her. She's an interesting contrast to Paul, who was raised to think for himself. She's also much more spiritual than he is, so they're going to change each other in interesting ways.

I won a contest on Elana's blog, so my prize was a critique of the first ten pages of my novel. I spent the afternoon revising it before sending it to her. Let's see how much red text is in the file when she returns it. (big grin) I may do some more revising before I forge ahead in the story.

OK, time to go pick up Alex from daycare.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Contest--Follow Me!

My birthday is in three weeks. To celebrate, I've decided I'd like to give myself more followers on this blog. I currently have four, which is two more than I had the last time I checked. Thank you, Elana, Annie, Windsong, and Robin!

To encourage more people to sign up, I'm going to run a little contest. On my birthday, April 28, I will give a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card to a follower of this blog. The follower will be chosen at random by assigning everyone a number and drawing it out of a hat; I'd let Alex draw the number, but either he'll pull out gobs of papers at once or refuse to do it at all. You must be signed up by the morning of the 28th to be eligible. The winner will be announced later that day.

In addition to the above contest, I'd like to encourage people to refer others to this blog. After all, where else on the Internet can you come for one-stop stories about stupid lab tricks (I mean science lab, not the dog), pictures of a cute toddler, Beatlemania for the future, Back on the Blog Chain, and musings about whatever deep topic catches my fancy? So if you convince a friend to follow this blog, ask her to leave a comment telling me who sent her. I'll do another random drawing among all of the people named for another $10 Barnes and Noble gift card. This gift card will also be given away on April 28.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this contest. Good luck to all! In the meantime, I'll return the favor by following more blogs myself. But right now, it's time to write!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Critique Groups

When we last looked in on the Blog Chain, we were writing short stories about hearts. For this round, Mary has asked us about critique groups:

Are you in a critique group? If so, at what point do you send chapters to the members of your group? How detailed are the critiques you receive and give? Do all members in you group write the same genre?

Michelle was the last person to post before me.

As several other people have done, I'm going to break up this topic into the individual questions as I respond.

Are you in a critique group?--Yes, I'm a member of the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. I joined back in 2003.

At what point do you send chapters to the members of your group?--The OWW works a little differently from other critique groups in that you post chapters on a website (it's password-protected; the author retains all rights.) and then other members are free to read and comment on your chapters. In theory, any other member of the workshop can critique anyone else's work, but what often happens is that over time you develop critting partnerships with several other people. In my most active period, I was following at least six or seven people at once. You can have up to three chapters posted at any time. I post mine when I feel I've done as much on them as I can. I write pretty cleanly to begin with, but I will go back and try to add description (my description tends to be sparse on the first pass), clear up any inconsistencies or awkward phrases, and fix any other potential problems I spot. My philosophy is that it would be wasting other's time to have them point out problems I'm already aware of. I want my critters to push me and my writing to a higher level than I can achieve on my own, so my writing has to be the best it can be from the start.

Other people who've already posted on this topic have said sometimes they give their crit partners "raw" writing to get some quick feedback about how well something works. I've seen other people on OWW do that too, though I tend to find that distracting to crit as I still want to make line comments. While I do see the value of brainstorming with crit partners, I don't do much of that myself, at least before they comment. Sometimes if I have a question about one of their comments, I will follow up with them for clarification or to ask if they think a particular idea will work better. Also, if I have a concern with a particular aspect of the chapter, I will ask for feedback on that when I post the chapter.

How detailed are the critiques you receive and give?--I can be a very nitpicky crit partner. I have done copy editing before, so I still do it as part of my regular critting. I feel I ought to point out as much as I can in a crit, since I don't know how much revising the author will do before submitting the work. Sometimes it can take me a couple of hours to copy edit a single chapter. Although I focus on "line edits," I always try to step back and look for larger issues as well. If the author has questions, I answer them. I always offer praise on some aspect of the work (it helps the medicine go down) and phrase my comments constructively.

The critiques I receive vary in level of detail -- and in how useful they are. Some people do line edits; others offer overall comments. No matter how I feel about what the person said, I e-mail them thank-yous if they've given me an e-mail address.

Do all members in you group write the same genre? -- By definition, the OWW is limited to science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. Some of my regular reviewers prefer fantasy; others, science fiction; and other people, like me, write both. (I'm not a horror fan--I get enough horror from the news--so I avoid it.) Only recently, as I've started to follow other blogs such as Miss Snark's First Victim, have I branched out and critted other genres. I have to admit it's easier to review genres I'm familiar with.

That covers all of the questions Mary had for us. If anyone would like to learn more about the OWW, please post questions in the comments. Otherwise, please visit Kat Harris's blog (she posts after me) or our newest member, Annie Louden!

Shout It From the Rooftops....

I mentioned Rooftop Sessions in my last post. This website for Beatles fan fiction, edited by my friend Susan Ryan, has been on hiatus for the last couple of years. Susan would like to resume publication, but she needs new stories and authors. (I personally am tapped out at the moment.) If you're interested in writing Beatles fan fiction, please check out the FAQ and Submission Guidelines first. Thanks!

Friday, April 03, 2009

With Strings Attached

What if you woke up and found yourself on a strange new planet...
sixteen years younger...
accompanied by people you have issues with...
possessing nothing but the clothes on your back and a musical instrument...
and totally clueless as to why you're there?

That's the premise of Aviva Rothshild's Beatles novel, With Strings Attached. She first started it in 1980; twenty-nine years later (including a seven-year hiatus), she finally finished it. She plans to self-publish it soon, but for now, she's posted a few sample chapters on her website, Rational Magic. She's also working on a sequel (and I hope it doesn't take her as long to finish it!).

I read an earlier version of Strings (or part of it) back in 1996 or 1997; I can't remember exactly. After glomming onto what was available online, I contacted the author and befriended her. This led to Aviva introducing me to Susan Ryan, editor of the Beatles fanfiction site Rooftop Sessions. I wrote a few stories for the site, including the two that became the basis for Across Two Universes. So in a way, my novel wouldn't be here without Aviva's.

Even if you're not a big Beatles fan, I recommend checking out Strings. It's a unique twist on the "Earth people being transported to another world" genre. Tell Aviva I sent you!

Edit: All links should be working correctly now.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

As usual, my writing time has been very limited this last week. I still managed to make some slight progress:

Currently On: Chapter Six, Page 58
Total Pages: 298
Total Word Count: 97,000

And just to add some substance to this short post, here's the theme song for my current scene (my hero, Paul, is trying to persuade his love interest to help him after she's been avoiding him). The lyrics fit the situation pretty well:

Touch of Fire Contest

The Apocalypse is closer than you think.
Buy TOUCH OF FIRE by Maria Zannini

To celebrate the paper release of her book, Touch of Fire, my friend Maria Zannini is running a contest from now through May 28, 2009. Post the above phrase on your blog, Twitter, or social networking site for the chance to win a prize package worth $100.00. (This includes a signed copy of the book, a gift card to Amazon, and other prize(s) to be determined.) You can earn points for posting the above message or reviewing the book at several review sites.

For complete contest rules, please visit Maria's blog (link above).

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