Monday, October 31, 2011

A Review Treat and a Sleepy Hollow Trick

Happy Halloween!

I got a nice treat over the weekend; Michelle McLean reviewed Lyon's Legacy over at Operation Awesome. She said, "This book just had a little bit of everything; science, time travel, romance, major character growth, a bad guy you want to smack upside the head, heartache, and hope."She also interviewed me on her blog and on Pots 'n Pens. Thanks so much, Michelle!

I happen to live not too far from Sleepy Hollow, Illinois. Friends who live there invited us to join them at the town's festivities this weekend. There was a costume contest, hay rides, and a chili contest. The main attraction was twofold. The first part of it was a huge bonfire lit shortly after sunset. Although the day was sunny, it quickly got cold in the evening, so I was grateful our friends had reserved a spot as close to the bonfire as we were allowed to go. The second attraction was an appearance by the Headless Horseman about an hour after the bonfire was lit. (I found out later he was actually a she.) He rode in on a horse, carrying a jack '0 lantern by his side. He passed back and forth in front of us a few times, then rode slowly along the barrier so kids could pet the horse before disappearing back into the night. Thankfully, the experience wasn't too scary for a four-year-old.

Here are some pictures my husband took of the bonfire and the Headless Horseman:

Enjoy your holiday, and beware of strange horse riders!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Science of the Week, 10/28/11

Here are some links to science articles of interest:

Scientists create computing building blocks from bacteria and DNA

Your DNA may carry a "memory" of your living conditions in childhood

Rare model animal for studying depression

More time outdoors may help Johnny see

Paper-based wireless sensor could help detect explosive devices

Researchers build transparent, stretchy, skin-like sensor

New technology helps spinal disc regeneration

Scientist Cracks Mysterious Copiale Cipher

Among interesting articles in the November 2011 issue of Scientific American is one about an experiment to test whether microbes can survive a trip from Earth to Mars and back. If they can, then perhaps a long time ago, Mars could have seeded Earth with life. Check out the issue if you can.

Have a good weekend, and see you on Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

NaNoWriMo Cheerleader

As I said last week, I have too many other projects to finish first before starting something new, so I'm sitting out of NaNoWriMo this year. That doesn't mean I won't be writing; I'm about 19K into a fantasy novel. I just couldn't wait until November 1st to start it. However, there's so much writing energy going around the blogosphere during November that I hate to be left out of it completely. So I'd like to be a NaNoWriMo Cheerleader--as long as I don't have to wear one of those outfits. (Trust me; that's a bad idea.) I got the idea from Sommer Leigh. She's set up a blog hop where NaNoWriMo participants can sign up to receive notes of encouragement from others. You can sign up at the link. If you'd like me to be on your personal cheerleading squad, please leave a comment below.

Time to work on some cheers...."Write, write, write all night! Sixteen sixty-seven will do it right!"

Um, maybe I should just stick to SF and fantasy....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just a Reminder...

That if you'd like to be entered into a drawing for a Harry and David gift basket, you have until midnight CDT next Monday (Halloween!) to do so. Please check out this post for the rules.

I hope everyone enjoyed the fair yesterday! I added some books to my "To Read" collection; I hope you did too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Internet Book Fair Blogfest!

M. A. Leslie is sponsoring an Internet Book Fair Blogfest today. It's a chance where authors get to promote their works and readers get to discover new books and authors. If you're coming here for the book fair, welcome! If not, please check out the link and browse the selections. There are a lot of authors participating, so you should be able to find something of interest.

My contribution to this book fair is Lyon's Legacy, a science fiction novella featuring Joanna Lyon, great-granddaughter of the legendary TwenCen musician Sean Lyon. Joanna may have inherited some of her ancestor's musical talent, but her parents' bitter divorce and her Uncle Jack's attempts to remake her into another Sean have left her hostile toward her family and music. Her passion is for science, but since she has no access to the family funds, she struggles to earn enough credits for graduate school. Then her uncle sets up a business deal with her employer to make Joanna go on a mission for him: travel via the spaceship Sagan to an alternate TwenCen universe where Sean is still alive. Joanna must collect a DNA sample from Sean so her uncle can create a clone of him. She refuses at first, but finally agrees to go. Secretly, however, Joanna believes her uncle will exploit the clone, and she plans to sabotage the project to stop him. But when she falls in love with one of the scientists in the Sagan's genetics lab, clashes with other time travelers who fear she'll change how history develops on the alternative TwenCen Earth, and receives devastating personal news, Joanna will find herself pushed to her limit even before she comes face-to-face with her hated ancestor. Their encounter will leave her changed forever. Will she still be able to thwart her uncle's plan, and what will she have to sacrifice to do so?

This story is available as an e-book for $2.99 at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. It's the first book of the Catalyst Chronicles series. The second book, Twinned Universes, will be ready early 2012.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the story!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Happy Book Birthday, Maria!

Maria Zannini's second book in her Second Chances series, Chain of Souls, is out today. Here's the overview:

Banished from Heaven for refusing to harvest an unwilling soul, Liam Chase drinks to forget night after night until the Angel of Death pays him a visit. For the price of a few humans souls, Ziva promises to get him reinstated into Heaven. Liam doesn’t doubt her influence, but milking humans of their light is an unspeakable crime, punishable by eternal oblivion. He’d rather rot on Earth than commit such a monstrous sin. But the Angel of Death didn’t get where she was by taking no for an answer. Ziva is a huntress of extraordinary skill and cruelty. If he refuses, his loved ones will be her next targets. And Ziva never misses. Ziva has already set her sights on Shannon, the soul he once refused to harvest, and his beloved servant, Evie. He’ll do anything to keep them safe, even if it means his death. But something goes wrong just as he concedes, and the chain of souls picks a new mistress before he has a chance to deliver. Brought for trial before the most feared angel in Heaven and Hell, Liam discovers he has failed to protect his loved ones and now they too could share his fate.

You can purchase it for $2.99 at B&N, Smashwords, and Amazon. It is an e-book.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Science of the Week, 10/21/11

Before I get to the science articles, I thought I'd let everyone know about an Internet Book Fair being held by M.A. Leslie next Tuesday. I learned about it through The Alliterative Allomorph. If you'd like a chance to promote your book or meet new authors, check it out here. I plan to participate, so I'll be skipping my Ten-Word Tuesday next week.

Here are some articles from Science Blogs that I found interesting this week:

Dark Matter Mystery Deepens (It doesn't behave as predicted)

Psychopaths' word choices

Self-Replication Could Lead to New Materials

Gratitude as an antidote to aggression

Record-Breaking Photo Reveals a Planet-Sized Object as Cool as the Earth

Tech turns iPhone into SpyPhone

Superhard, amoprhous diamond created

That's it for this week. Enjoy your weekend, and see you Monday!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I goofed; yesterday's post about RPGs for kids was supposed to be today's post. But at least now I can say that I have an author profile on Goodreads. I'm on there as Sandra Ulbrich Almazan if you'd like to add me as a friend. I

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

RPGs: Not Just for Grown-Ups Anymore

Anyone out here familiar with D&D and GURPS? (Dungeons and Dragons and Generic Universal Role-Playing System) I played some role-playing games back in undergrad: Star Trek, Star Wars, and a spy game I can't remember the name of anymore. I even tried running a superhero campaign in GURPS, but we only did it once. I wouldn't claim to be the greatest gamer, but I had fun with it. So it was nice to see this article on CNN about a guy who's come up with a RPG for kids. It's not a video game; it's a tabletop version. (I wonder what kind of dice it uses.) RPGs not only foster creativity, but they also help kids with their math and reading. Hopefully something like this will also encourage a lifelong love of fantasy and science fiction as well.

Of Borrowing E-Books and Publisher Contracts

Today I have a couple of items that don't really belong together but are too short to post separately.

1. I finally borrowed my first e-book from the library today. (If you're curious, it was Juliet Immortal.) I've been stalking the library website for the past few days since I knew I was next on the hold list. The process was much easier than I expected it to be. I followed the link in the e-mail notification to the website, signed in, and checked out the title with a few clicks. I did have to download it to my Kindle afterwards, but that was just another couple of clicks. I had thought I'd have to go through Overdrive (a special program for borrowing media like this) or download the book first to my computer and then transfer it to my Kindle via cable. Instead the book downloaded wirelessly to my Kindle. Gotta love that! While I was there, I browsed through more books and placed holds on a couple more. I think it will be a balancing act to figure out how many books to place on hold in order to get a steady but not overwhelming stream of them.

2. If you read Writer Beware, you may have seen this guest post today about an author who has been attempting to get her book back from her publisher since, according to her, the book is no longer "in print through regular trade channels." What exactly does that mean? She contends the book is no longer physically available in book stores and is only available in the publisher's warehouse. Robert J. Sawyer responded on his blog saying he found the book available through some Canadian bookstores and in on (I tried looking for this book tonight on the U.S. Amazon website and saw it was listed as being "temporarily out of stock.") Does this author have a case? I am nowhere near qualified to rule on that, but I think the wording in this contract is subject to interpretation. This case is a reminder to all of us that in any contract, the wording should be as clear and specific as possible; if you're not sure about something in it, you have the power to negotiate before you sign the contract, not afterward.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Let's Talk Computers

I don’t remember exactly when I purchased my Dell laptop, but it’s about as old as my son. Four may be a golden age for children, but it’s leaden for laptops. My programs were crashing all the time, I was having trouble with the Sleep and Hibernation modes (I’d wind up rebooting anyway), and most ominous of all, the hard drive was too quiet. Figuring a hard drive crash was just waiting to happen, I decided I’d better replace my laptop sooner instead of later. So I did a little research and bought a HP Pavilion from Best Buy. It has at least twice the RAM of my old laptop, over six times the hard drive space, and cost a lot less. If only everything else in life improved in quality and price over time like computers.

I remember the last time I bought a computer, I had to buy a special program to set up the new one. I had to hook up the two computers and let them sync up overnight to transfer my files. This time, the new laptop came with a Windows Easy Transfer program. I was able to transfer the bulk of my files in a couple of hours via my external hard drive. Some things didn’t survive the necessary program conversion/transfer, and I still need to see if I can import my e-mails from the old computer. But for the most part, the transition has been pretty easy.

So, what programs do you consider vital for a writer to have on her computer? I still have to upgrade the trial version of Word, but I do have Calibre, Dropbox, Overdrive, and a trial version of Photoshop Elements. What else do you recommend?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

We Interrupt This Weekend....

To bring you a very serious photo:

If you don't recognize these men, they're Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, part of the Whose Line Is It Anyway? cast. They put on their special two-man improv comedy show in Elgin last night. Eugene and I saw them perform a few years ago; it's somewhere on this blog as "Dances With Mousetraps." (The final part of their show involves them doing a routine blindfolded and barefoot with 100 live mousetraps scattered on stage; they call it the most dangerous improv routine ever. They did it again for this performance, though with a different scenario. They were also trying to throw mousetraps at each other, so even though the skit made me cringe at times, you knew they were asking for it.)

Eugene and I got tickets through Groupon earlier this week. Our seats were in the back. We didn't get any suggestions in at this show, but for the Sound Effects act, Brad came up to our row and had everyone take turns doing his sound effects. (Eugene does a much better blowdart than I do.) At the end of the night, we went to the table where they were selling DVDs and bought one. The seller announced Colin and Brad would come out and sign them, so we waited. It was probably about fifteen minutes or so. We were among the first few in line. Eugene took the above picture with his cell phone while they autographed the DVD liner. I'm glad my parents didn't mind watching Alex a little bit longer so we could meet Colin and Brad. Seeing the show was fun enough; getting autographs and a picture just topped it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What I've Learned So Far About Formatting and Publishing

I did most of the formatting and file uploading of Lyon's Legacy last week. Here are a few things I learned--the hard way.

1. No matter where you plan to upload your files, use the Smashwords Style Guide to get a nicely formatted version of your manuscript. It's free, and it walks you through the process. You can find it here.

2. Start using styles to format your manuscript, as they carry over through the conversion process. If you use the Smashwords Style Guide, it will talk you through how to create and modify a style.

3. Going along with #1 and #2, use styles to define your paragraphs. If you set up a style with an automatic indent, then you don't have to worry about tabs. (And apparently tabs are bad.)

4. Start using styles in your current WIPs, so you don't end up having to remove a lot of blank lines between paragraphs. It was bad enough doing this for a novella; it will take twice as long for a full-length novel.

5. When you publish through Smashwords, you will have the option to prepare e-books in various formats, including those for Kindle and Nook. Go ahead and include them, but opt out of distributing to Amazon and B&N. You can do this through the Distribution Channel Manager on your Dashboard. I didn't realize this was in a different place at first, so I panicked a little until I figured out how to do it.

6. Double-check all the information before you hit "Publish." For example, make sure you remove all references to Smashwords when you prepare the Kindle edition. (I wound up making separate files.) You can edit your information afterwards, but the process can take time. Amazon seems to take longer than PubIt! or Smashwords to accept changes.

7. Make sure the size of your cover file meets the requirements of the various sites. I had to use Paint to downsize the file for B&N and for

8. If you want ISBN numbers for your e-books, you need separate ones for each format. In other words, your Kindle version will have a different number than your Nook file. Amazon and B&N assign their own numbers, but I think the ISBNs may be useful later on. If you publish through Smashwords, you need an ISBN to distribute to Apple and Sony.

9. Once you hit publish, the stories may be up sooner than you expect. Smashwords seemed to be the quickest, followed by B&N, with Amazon last. I published on B&N after uploading to Amazon, but it was available on B&N first.

10. Don't be intimidated by the process; just give yourself extra time to review formatting and what fields you have to fill out for each site. The sites do offer help as well.

I hope that was helpful. I'm no expert, but if anyone has any questions, I'll do my best to answer them.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: Give a Little Crit

I was originally scheduled to participate in the Blog Chain on Monday, but since I had some exciting news to share, Kate agreed to switch dates with me. This round, Sarah asked,

Do you work with critique partners? How did you find your crit pals, and what influence have they had on your work?

Yes, I do work with critique partners. I feel it's vital to have someone--preferably several someones--look over your work before you submit it. Since the whole point of writing is to communicate with others, it's important to make sure your words are saying what you think they're saying. Crit partners can catch errors, inconsistencies, plot holes, and other "big picture" problems, but sometimes it's also useful to have someone look at your story on a line-by-line basis.

Over the years, I've found many crit partners in many different ways. I found one of my first crit partners (I think his first name was Richard) through a snail-mail science fiction/fantasy group for writers. (I can't even remember which one this was, but it was well over a decade ago.) I've met others as part of writing workshops held at conventions; I'm still friends with some of them (Hi, Margie and David!) even if we no longer exchange drafts. I met Heather through Broad Universe, and we still review each other's work occasionally.

These days, I mostly find crit partners on the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. It's a paid workshop, though you get a trial month for free when you start. It works by requiring members to earn points by critiquing others' chapters and stories. (My lifetime review count stands at 875.) After you've earned four points, you can spend them by posting your own work for critique. Although anyone can review any story, in practice, most members form crit groups with people who post on the same schedule or write stories they like. My current group of crit partners consists of Susan Elizabeth Curnow, Heidi Garrett, Elizabeth Hull, Ann Winter, and Zvi Zaks. You might recognize those names from the Acknowledgements page of Lyon's Legacy I posted last week.

What influence do my crit partners have on my work? In brief, a lot. I use most of their comments when I revise; sometimes I go in a different direction than what they may have suggested, but I do that when I feel their advice has merit but doesn't fit with my vision of the story. These situations may be the most valuable, since they make me stop and think about my story. I feel that critiquing and being critiqued has really improved my writing ability. In particular, sometimes my main characters come across as unlikeable in the beginning, so my crit partners have made me focus on that and work to overcome that problem.

I can't resist adding a little tribute to my crit partners:

To follow the rest of the chain, see what Matt said yesterday, and check out Cole's blog tomorrow.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lyon's Legacy is Live!--Plus a Contest!

Although formatting and uploading weren't always easy (I'll blog more about them later this week), I was able to get Lyon's Legacy (Catalyst Chronicles, Book One) up on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. It's available for $2.99 in all three places. Currently it's only in e-book form, but I plan to combine it with Twinned Universes in a paper edition next year. Here's the blurb:

Sometimes being a geneticist isn’t enough to understand your family....

When scientist-in-training Joanna Lyon learns her rich uncle plans to have their rock legend ancestor, Sean Lyon, cloned, she’s disgusted. Uncle Jack pushed her into music when she was younger, and she hated it. So it’s particularly galling that he wants her to travel through a wormhole to an alternate universe and sample Sean’s DNA. She only agrees to go so she can secretly sabotage the project. But meeting Sean forces her to re-examine her feelings about her family, including her estranged father. Can she protect the unborn clone from her uncle, and will she have to sacrifice her career and new-found love to do so?

To celebrate the release of this novella, I'm going to run two promotions as described below:
1. I'll give away free copies of Lyon's Legacy through Smashwords to the first five people who request them through commenting on this post. In return, I ask that you review my novella. You can do so either on your blog, on one of the sites where it's being sold, or on Goodreads. Please mention where you plan to post your review when you make your request, and please post it by the end of the month. (And of course, please be honest!)

2. Some people may still think self-publishing is going over to the Dark Side, to which I say, "At least they have cookies." Now you can have them too! I will give away a Harry and David gift basket worth up to $40 to one lucky winner chosen at random. They offer cookie collections, but if you'd prefer something different, they also offer fruit baskets and other types of food. You can enter the drawing by spreading the word about this contest, posting a book review on one of the sites mentioned above, or interviewing me on your blog. Please comment on this post with the link by the end of the month. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments as well.

Thank you for your help in spreading the word, and I hope you enjoy the book!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Acknowledgements and Dedication

There's one very important part of Lyon's Legacy that I'd like to share with you before it goes live. Here's the Acknowledgements and Dedication:

Thanks to Aviva Rothschild and Susan Ryan for inspiring the original draft of this story with their own works.

So many people critiqued different versions of this story that I’m not sure I remember them all. Some of the people who have helped me improve this story are Heather Barnes, Sam Butler, Susan Curnow, Heidi Garrett, Elizabeth Hull, Gregg Lipschik, Ian Morrison, Darrell Newton, Walter Williams, Ann Winter, and Zvi Zaks. With the exception of Heather Barnes, they were or are members of the Online Writing Workshop for SF, Fantasy, and Horror. If I’ve missed anyone, I apologize. Any errors in this book are my own.

Lauren Sweet was both developmental editor and copyeditor, and Meghan Derico of Derico Photography designed the cover. Both of them did fantastic jobs.

Special thanks go out to my husband, Eugene Almazan, and my son, Alex, for supporting me through the writing and publishing process.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this novella to my writing mentor, Kathleen Massie-Ferch, who passed away in 2002.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

"How Much Farther, Papa Smurf?"

The good news is I'm formatting Lyon's Legacy into e-book format.

The bad news is I'm formatting Lyon's Legacy into e-book format.

I'm not sure how long it's going to take me to finish it. There are still a few more details I have to take care of yet before I can start the triple upload process to Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. I expect to have it done by the end of next week, but at this point I can't predict an exact day.

Stay tuned....

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Science of Science Fiction: Energy from Hot Air

I saw this article on CNN yesterday and thought it had an interesting idea for an energy source. Since hot air naturally rises (because it's less dense than cold air), an Australian entrepreneur wants to use it as a potential source of energy. The idea would be to build a very tall tower (2,600 feet) and surround the ground around it with a canopy. The sun would heat the air under the canopy, which would then flow into the tower. As the air rises, it would spin turbines which would be used to create electricity--enough to power 100,000 homes every day. Is the idea feasible? There are some concerns about how long the tower would stand and if it really would produce as much energy as promised. But if it works, it would offset the environmental costs in less than three years. Funding still has to be secured, but whether or not the real tower is built, it's still a concept that might be used in near-future science fiction.

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