Interview with Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, author

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan 1. Tell us about your book(s)

.—Lyon’s Legacy (permafree) and Twinned Universes are part of a science fiction series called The Catalyst Chronicles. It revolves around Paul Harrison, the clone of a rock legend. Paul may not be able to play a guitar or sing, but as a product of two universes, he has some unusual abilities. I’m currently working on a five-book fantasy series called The Season Avatars, which features a quartet of young women, each gifted with a different type of magic, who must work together to save their Victorian-like country from recurring weather storms that mix up the seasons. Four books are currently available: Seasons’ Beginnings (permafree), Scattered Seasons, Chaos Season, and Fifth Season, which goes live 11/28/16 and is currently available for pre-order. I’m almost done with the rough draft of the final book, Summon the Seasons. Note: all links are universal and will allow you to choose from several eBook distributors).

2. Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

—This question interests me because my Meyer-Briggs personality type is INTJ, which is one of the rarest types. INTJs are thinking types, not feeling. (This doesn’t mean we don’t feel emotion, but it generally doesn’t rule us.) I think it really depends on the genre you’re writing. Mysteries and hard science fiction may be a better fit than romance. However, emotions are an important part of the human experience, and many readers are looking for emotional journey in the books they choose. If you really want to connect with readers, you need to make them feel as well as think. It’s not always easy to conjure emotions when demands on your time leave you overworked and too exhausted to feel much. The best way to overcome that is to remember the characters are feeling emotions and let them emote for you.

3. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

—Not to bother pursuing traditional publishing and not to wait so long to finish the Season Avatars series.

4. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

—I went indie in 2011 when I published Lyon’s Legacy. As an indie, I have to be more self-critical of my work before I publish it, since I alone am responsible for any flaws in the piece. At the same time, there’s also more pressure in the indie world to publish quickly and often. Finding the right balance between speed and quality means having to plan my stories more thoroughly before I write so I produce fewer (but better) drafts.

5. What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

—Lyon’s Legacy and Twinned Universes originally included John Lennon as a minor character. (I’m a big Beatles fan.) Before publishing them, I decided to change several key details (name, birthplace, childhood home and history, etc.). Since his immediate family members are still alive, I decided it would be more respectful (and less trouble) to disguise the character.

 

Thanks, Sandra Ulbrich Almazan! You can find Sandra’s work in the Sci-fi and Fantasy book giveaway. Just follow the link below!

Sci-Fi and Fantasy book giveaway

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About the Author
Sandra Ulbrich Almazan started reading at the age of three and only stops when absolutely required to. Although she hasn’t been writing quite that long, she did compose a very simple play in German during middle school. Her science fiction novella Move Over Ms. L. (an early version of Lyon’s Legacy) earned an Honorable Mention in the 2001 UPC Science Fiction Awards, and her short story “A Reptile at the Reunion” was published in the anthology Firestorm of Dragons. Other works include the science fiction Catalyst Chronicles series, the fantasy Season Avatars series, SF Women A-Z: A Reader’s Guide, and several science fiction and fantasy short stories. She is a founding member of Broad Universe, which promotes science fiction, fantasy, and horror written by women. Her undergraduate degree is in molecular biology/English, and she has a Master of Technical and Scientific Communication degree. She currently works for an enzyme company; she’s also been a technical writer and a part-time copyeditor for a local newspaper. Some of her other accomplishments are losing on Jeopardy! and taking a stuffed orca to three continents. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband, Eugene; and son, Alex. In her rare moments of free time, she enjoys archery, crocheting, listening to classic rock (particularly the Beatles), trooping as a Jawa with the Midwest Garrison of the 501st Legion, and watching improv comedy.

 

Sandra can be found online at the following links:

 

website (www.sandraulbrichalmazan.com)

blog (www.ulbrichalmazan.blogspot.com)

Twitter (@ulbrichalmazan)

Facebook (SandraUlbrichAlmazanSffAuthor)

Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5282664.Sandra_Ulbrich_Almazan).

Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/sandraulbrich)

 

Whew!

November….what was I thinking?! I am sorry for my absence. So many things are going on this month. I got distracted by politics and then was tempted to come here and have myself a political rant…and nobody wants that. Seriously.

National Novel Writing Month is happening. Sometimes without me. I built myself a great cushion at the beginning of the month so I am not too far behind. But I have hit my wall. It started last week, which is early for me. I usually don’t poop out until around the middle or end of week three! However, I am getting back on the horse today. Email me if anyone would like a word sprint partner, this seems to help me a lot.

Also, I belong to an online writing group that will be hosting a Sci-fi and fantasy book giveaway from November 20-November 26. See the link below if you are interested.

Sci-fi and Fantasy book giveaway

I will also be hosting an interview with the author of one of the books. This will happen here on Tuesday, November 22.

I had a mammogram and ultrasound on Thursday. I didn’t realize how freaked out I was about this until I was actually sitting in the waiting room and felt my shoulders up around my ears! It literally hurt to relax…But I had a lot of support throughout the day, which really helped. And everything looks fine. So far, so good.

Thanksgiving…Is everybody ready? These are some of the things I am grateful for this year: My awesome family – especially my son, my supportive and understanding friends, my rock star medical team, music, lime popsicles, my right to vote (yes, even when it doesn’t go my way), my life (this one should probably be higher up on the list!), time to heal, my sense of humor and resilience (I suspect I am going to need them), pantsuits, differences of opinion, kindness, Kleenex and chocolate cupcakes, my bizarre childhood and misspent youth, to be cancer free at three months out, that I can swear eloquently and in several languages, and that I am still allowed to express myself freely.

I would love to hear some of the things that you are grateful for!

NaNoWriMo

b094c075c449e815b16b877d926a4c471 Today, November 1, is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. I have participated in this event four times before but have never finished. This is my year though, I can feel it!

So I have four half-finished, terrible, horrible, no good, really bad novels floating around. And today I started another one. In the past, I just sat down and remained seated until I had a good chunk of writing done, which could sometimes take forever. This time I tried to write in 30 minute chunks and it seemed to work better, I wrote 2,741 words today!

I wonder though, what makes me want to do this every year? What makes me think I have something to say that no one has heard before? Why do I want to commit myself to cramming 50k words into 30 days? What makes me think I am good enough to create something that anyone would be interested in? Ego, probably. Maybe.

If anyone would like to join me in this endeavor though, sign up at NaNoWriMo.org . I am Hlavallee on the nanowrimo site if you’d like a writing buddy.Wish me luck! Or email me if you have any writing secrets or advice 🙂

 

SpongeBob Squareboob (aka the Rubik’s Boob)

20161030_214450So I had a lumpectomy, reduction, and lift almost immediately upon arrival in New Mexico. My cancer surgeon, Dr Anna Voltura of the Christus St Vincent Breast Institute, is a rock star. Totally awesome. She took the lump and some lymph nodes out and then the plastic surgeon moved all the furniture around. When I woke up I felt like my boobs were coming out of my neck! I don’t think I was EVER that perky…and I kind of like the scars. They look like two happy, one-eyed minions.

I went into chemo as soon as I was healed.

About a month after chemo, I had a mastectomy. I am not a petite woman. I have a wide back and shoulders and, when they did the lumpectomy, they made me significantly smaller. I thought it looked weird so I asked if I could be close to the size I was before. When I had the mastectomy they put an expander in. This is to stretch out the skin so they can put a bigger implant in. Its kind of gross and cool all at the same time. It is weirdly shaped and wrapped in cadaver tissue. Ew.

Mine was wrapped oddly and, once it was in there, it had corners. It looked like I had a Rubik’s cube in there! Hence the SpongeBob Squareboob and Rubik’s Boob. I had to go to the surgeon’s office to get it filled every week so the skin would be stretched a little at a time. It started off as uncomfortable and is now pretty painful sometimes. Here is the thing though…I slosh when I walk. Or move around. It’s pretty loud actually. I feel like the little organist lady from the movie 16 Candles. I had a friend tell me that she hums at the grocery store whenever she has to fart so no one will hear her. So now I hum as I stroll through the grocery store so no one will hear me slosh!

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My Year of Living Cancerously – Part 2

As I said before, the day before Thanksgiving will be my “cancerversary”. I have had a lot to be thankful for over the years but, obviously, especially this year. I’m alive. I have people who love me and whom I love. I have a roof over my head, food to eat. I’m pretty broke, bald, and tired…and I have Frankenboobs…but, as I learned this year, this is only temporary. Everything is just temporary. Except the Frankenboobs.

And, sure, losing my hair, nails, breast, that all sucks. Being tired and nauseous all the time is not fun (dear God, PLEASE let me be able to puke up this alien that is eating me from the inside out. I was ALWAYS nauseous but hardly ever able to throw up…at least I didn’t have to have someone hold my hair back). Premature mental pause is a drag. The worst side effects for me though were my super smelling powers, the change in my taste buds, and neuropathy in my hands and feet. I could smell perfume, food, cigarette smoke like someone had just shoved it directly up my nose and lodged it in my brain. And everything tasted like salt, even sugary things. Water tasted like rocks smell in the middle of a sweltering summer, like salt, minerals, dirt. The numbness in my hands and feet made it impossible to sleep and made walking painful. All these things are still true, if to a lesser extent than before. Except the neuropathy, that still sucks at ramming speed.

Physical side effects, I think, pale in comparison to the mental ones though. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc…. And the worst was/is the uncertainty. Should I continue to make plans for the future? Should I prepare for the worst? Will I feel good enough tomorrow to go grocery shopping? Will I ever feel like myself again? what if it comes back? Should I wear the damn wig (Other women seem to be able to pull this off. Every wig I tried on looked like a guinea pig on my head. My oncologist told me I had a nice head so I just rocked the baldness)? And inevitably: what am I going to do after this? I will never be the same. I don’t know who I will be, nothing I have done before seems appropriate now…

Getting cancer is terrible but it is also transformative, like being reborn. It is traumatic but it also has the potential to make me better than I was before. You do a lot of waiting as a cancer patient. Waiting for the doctor, waiting for test results, waiting for labs, waiting for your treatment to be done, etc… That is a lot of time to think. And worry. And make promises to yourself that things will change if you make it through this. I did a lot of thinking about how I want my life to be from now on. This past year has kind of been like…limbo? Just kind of waiting around to see what happens. Now that it is almost over, it feels like I am beginning again. I know I am almost a blank slate, my memory is so bad that I barely  recall parts of my life before all of this happened. They seem like something I read about a long time ago. I have trouble with word retrieval, remembering names, I have to write EVERYTHING down. But I think it has also made me more open to things I would not have considered before. Like blogging, sharing my experiences.

It has also been a very lonely experience. I ran away from the east coast to escape, I guess, the person I was. I didn’t think that person had the right attitude to survive this. During chemotherapy, I slept a lot and didn’t really have the energy to go sight-seeing or try to make new friends. It was all I could do to make it to all my appointments. Toward the end, when I started to get more a  little more energy, I was depressed and didn’t really want to meet new people even though it was probably what I needed most. The friend I am staying with was concerned and often suggested activities and places to visit or go hiking. I didn’t do any of it. About a week after chemo ended though, I went to a women’s cancer retreat at a place called Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM.

I don’t know what made me decide to go after refusing to interact with people for so long, probably the prospect of sleeping in an actual bed for a few days. It was the best thing I could have done for myself though. I am SO NOT a group therapy or support group person but I went to group every morning, I walked, I drew, I socialized. I hiked! I met the most amazing women. I made friends. Awesome friends.

I started going to classes and workshops …and survivor’s groups…sigh. But it has been good for me. I have a great group of friends here. The only problem now is…all my friends had/have cancer. I mean, it has been great making new friends who have the same experiences as me. They are wonderful: patient and kind and loving, concerned for my health and emotional well-being (my old friends are too but they aren’t here with me). But I have to go back out into the real world soon. It’s a little (um, a lot) overwhelming, the thought of leaving my insulated little world where people are gentle with me. Of  interviewing for jobs with no hair and weird fingernails and chemo brain. The world has marched on while I was hibernating, I feel a little obsolete.

 

Aside: If you ever get a chance to visit Ghost Ranch, I highly recommend it. It has a rich history, beautiful scenery, unbelievably amazing staff, and restorative qualities that I have never experienced anywhere else. Go to one of the cancer retreats or just go as a tourist.

My Year of Living Cancerously

I will have my…cancerversary, I guess you could call it, next month. I got diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer the day before Thanksgiving last year. I thought it was ironic then. Now, not so much. I was living in Virginia and hadn’t been to see a doctor in quite some time as I didn’t have insurance. I had been tired for a while but, otherwise, hadn’t noticed anything odd. I found a place that would see me on a sliding scale so I went in for the full woopty doo. The booby bus  was there so my doctor had me get my first ever mammogram. I was 45.

The tech on the bus was very nice, took all the necessary pictures, told me not to panic if they called me back for a second one as they needed to establish a baseline for me, etc…which they did. I still didn’t think anything of it, I had never really been sick before. I was strong like bull, did not have a family history of breast cancer, I went about my business. They called me back again for an ultrasound a few weeks later and I ended up having a biopsy that same day.

If you ever have to have this procedure and get curious and want to look down while its being performed…don’t. My biopsy was done on the mammogram machine with a paddle that had an opening in it. The doctor – a child -made an incision in my breast and put, basically, a straw into it. Then the needle, hooked up to a suction machine, went in the straw. It quickly took about 30 samples while the machine noisily slurped them all up. Gross.

It was another week or two before I got the news. Like I said, the day before Thanksgiving. I was sitting in a consultation room with my boyfriend while a doctor that I had never met before and a nurse-navigator handed around a box of tissues and told me not to go home and Google it because I would just freak myself out. They were all going to be gone for the holiday- I was their last appointment of the day – but they would see me in a week or so and we would talk more about it then.

Hell. no. I Googled the crap out of that diagnosis. You can’t just leave a girl hanging like that! It turns out that Triple Negative is an aggressive and fast moving cancer with a higher chance of reoccurrence within the first five years after treatment than most other types of breast cancer. It responds well to chemotherapy but can’t be treated with hormone therapy, as other types can. Great, well…that DID freak me out. But not as much as not knowing. So thank you, Google.

Anyway, they did talk to me but I always got the feeling that their main concern was keeping me calm and not saying anything to me in a way that would make me REALLY panic. I appreciate your concern but, when it comes to my health, always just tell me the plain truth. All of it. Getting the cold, hard facts out of them was like pulling teeth.

And thus began the whirlwind of tests, poking and prodding, scans and consultations with my team of rock star cancer doctors. Everywhere I went I had to show my breasts to someone…no one even bought me dinner or told me I was pretty…My Oncologist, the only member of my team who ever spoke the plain truth to me (“not much of a bedside manner” they had told me of him), told me how impressed he was at my taking this so calmly.

I guess that was the button to push because, as soon as he said it, I began NOT to be calm anymore. I freaked the hell out. I was having a full fledged freaky field melt down and no one could see it but me. All of a sudden, I felt a little claustrophobic by the love of my friends who just wanted to help, I felt like my current circumstances would not help me live through this, I felt like an alien. I wanted to be someplace where no one knew me. But I made plans to go home to New England instead.

I ended up in New Mexico though, accepting the invitation of a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I wanted to be somewhere nobody knew me, maybe so I could try to be someone else, a different version of me…I don’t know. But I certainly got what I wanted. I have been here for almost a year, been to all my doctor appointments and chemo appointments by myself. It was probably the loneliest thing I have ever been through.  And I have a lot of guilt. I have uprooted my teenaged son and dragged him across the country to stay on the couch of a stranger (to him), deserted my friends and family, hurt a good man who loved me, become the guest who stayed too long, etc…people told me I was brave…I wouldn’t call myself brave.

 

 

 

Hi

You know how, when you love to do something, you often won’t do it in front of other people (or at all) because you are afraid of being judged or criticized? No? Maybe it has just been me then. I have three things like that: writing, singing and art.

I have always loved to draw, paint, make things out of…stuff. It is therapy for me. One day I just stopped. I don’t know why…life, I guess. So I didn’t really make any art for probably…18 years or so(unless you include my son, which I do). Until I got diagnosed. And I don’t have a problem showing friends what I make. It is something I do a lot when I’m waiting. Anyone who has ever been through cancer treatment knows there is a lot of waiting so I have been particularly productive over the last year or so and lots of people see it while they are waiting too. But I have never tried to have a show or sell my work or anything. I wouldn’t call myself an artist.

Since I was a little girl, I have wanted to be a writer. I love stories and books. To be able to make them, to create the world to which people want to escape, to make characters that make people feel like they are not alone in their situations, what an honor. But I almost never write. I mean, I have a journal that I write personal things in, a notebook that I write story ideas in, and I do National Novel Writing Month every year – I have five incredibly awful novels so…I DO write…I just never let anyone read what I write. I wouldn’t call myself a writer. So this is my first time writing for public consumption. Be gentle, please.

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