Friday, January 1, 2010

10 Resolutions I will not be Making for 2010

Like a lot of people, I make resolutions at New Years for what I’d like to accomplish in the year ahead. But, this year, along with my list of To-Do’s (still to come), I’ve put together a list of frequent former resolutions that I will NOT be aiming for this year.

1. Long Distance Travel – In the last few years I’ve done a lot of travelling all over the U.S. but this year I’m going to give myself a break from the expense and headache of travel. When I have time free and am feeling wanderlust, I plan to check out cities right here in New England, or close enough for a day trip.

2. Writing Programs / Classes – Grub Street and The Artists Way have been great for me in the last few years, but in 2010 I’m just going to concentrate on writing on my own. There comes a point when working in a group is more of a distraction than an aid.

3. Getting Published – This one has been on my list, even if it didn’t get formally written down, every year as long as I’ve been making resolutions. This year I’m not going to feel guilty about it, though. I’m working on a novel this year and that’s it. No short fiction, no freelance work, just a book draft and no guilt.

4. Blogging – There are just too many other priorities I place above this blog. When I have time and something interesting to post I will, but it’s just a recipe for failure to pretend I’m going to make any sacrifices to post here on a regular basis. Sorry. (I’ll still read my friends’ blogs though)

5. Getting a New Job – Ideally next week my dream position at my company would open up and I’d jump on it, but if that doesn’t happen I’m not going to give myself any grief. I have a good job that I do well and these days that’s pretty lucky. Someday the next opportunity will appear, but until then I’m not going to worry myself out of a good position, just to take something I don’t like as much.

6. Saving X amount of money – This year I’m not going to set an amount of money I want to save up. In prior years I’ve set a specific goal, and then saving just starts to feel like another expense. Instead, this year I plan to cut back on expenses and change my spending habits. I already know where the waste in my budget is – food and travel. If I cut back on those my savings will increase.

7. Losing X pounds – Instead I plan to grow 2 inches. (just kidding) Weight loss resolutions never work for me, so I’m not going to bother this year. I’m in a healthy weight range and I feel good. If I lose some weight, great, if I don’t, I’m not going to feel bad about that.

8. Remembering birthdays – This one almost did go on my resolutions list again. I had a big plan for buying a bunch of birthday cards now, addressing them all, and just mailing them out when the birthdays approach but you know what? Screw it. I’m lousy at remembering birthdays and I’m just going to accept that. I don’t want to drop $100 on cards I’ll probably forget to mail anyway.

9. Large purchase – This year I will not buy a car, pet, or house. Maybe next year.

10. Finish a first draft of a novel – because I did that last year. Some resolutions do come true!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Post Nano Wrap Up

It’s now December 16th which means half a month ago I finished writing my novel. I’ve wanted to catch up on blogging during these two weeks, but I’ve just today recovered enough to put any kind of coherent entry together. During November I was suffering from a condition I call “writing-stupidity” for which the only known cure is TV and movies (and cupcakes, I guess).

What is writing-stupidity? It’s basically when so much time and concentration has gone into a writing project that the brain’s thoughts have been squeezed out of it like toothpaste. The first words to go are names, then adjectives (which is almost a benefit), then verbs (which is not), until before you know it you’re asking your sweetie if he wants to eat a “ummm… you know?… that food that goes in the toaster… with squares and the sugar sauce?” for dinner. (When it gets really bad I cut the word pizza into my arm Memento-style so I won’t starve when I’m away from home.)

But all that’s behind me now. The sweet, beautiful English language is back in my brain, and I can summon the words I need at will! Like, cantankerous! Or crinoline! Or persnickety! Or prestidigitation!

On second thought I hate all those words, but I have lots more to choose from!

Now that my brain is back, I can take a clear-eyed look at what I actually wrote in November. For the first time in the four years I’ve been participating in Nanowrimo, this year I sat down and re-read what I had written. Folks, it was surprisingly not terrible.

It’s true that the timeline makes no sense whatsoever, the science is sketchy at best, minor characters change gender with a frequency Mrs. Doubtfire would envy, and one side character is surprised over and over again to learn that hookworms can cure his asthma, but if you overlook those small problems, the book is not garbage. Not garbage is a big jump up from my prior Novelling attempts. (And before you get all optimistic and ask me how I know the other books were garbage if I never read them, let me assure you that I know. I know the way a mother gerbil knows which of her children to raise and which to eat. Those books were losers.)

The best part of having a draft that’s not garbage is that I now have something to edit. Now the purely creative side of me that’s been slaving away for the past month can go take a nap while the internal editor gets to work. The purely creative part has been LAZY all these years, so the internal editor’s never had a novel to work on before. She’s psyched.

To be honest, the next step will involve a little more writing, but now I’ll have the big picture to show me what needs to be written and how it fits into the wider whole. My goal for December is to have an outline of the book with a list of scenes I still need to write. I also want to do some reorganizing to make sure that the dramatic action falls in the right places. That means no hard core writing until I have the outline straightened out. Hooray for a few more weeks of tv!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day 1 of NaNoWriMo 09

So far so good. Today was the first day of NaNoWriMo and I racked up 3,510 words. I’m a little over a day ahead of schedule. With one weekend trip and unknown Thanksgiving plans ahead, getting as far ahead on word count as I can right now is going to be key.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve decided on a tiered system of backups to make sure I don’t lose this book if the new hard drive fails. I’m writing my novel on Word and saving it in a file on my desktop. Once it’s saved there, I upload it into Scrivener and put it into a file by chapter (not for backup purposes, but to make it easier to edit later). Then, I email the file to myself from my yahoo account into my google account. And, I’ll also be putting the entire desktop word document file onto my backup hard drive once a week. Flying by the seat of my pants was fun while it lasted, but for the foreseeable future I am going to be one of those nutso-super-backed-up people. (I draw the line at printing anything out, though.)

One question that’s been hard for me to answer -- Am I rewriting the immortality book? Yes and no. I decided to use some advice from Carolyn See’s book to create a better version of my novel. Basically, I made one list of everything I love to read, and another list of everything I hate to read. Now, I’m adding all the things on my love list to my novel and dropping the topics I hate. This is actually harder than you’d think. Those hateful things have a way of making themselves sound necessary. Such as children, victims, and descriptions of houses. blah.

One thing I realized when I was making my lists was that I was a lot more excited about the first chapters I wrote a year ago, even though they had less literary merit than the latest ones, because those chapters centered on the elements I'm excited to read about. There was mystery, intrigue, excitement, and a lot less brooding. It’s just so much fun to write about the handsomest man and woman in the world alone on an island with a bunch of deranged mutants and a mad scientist. I mean, come on! I’d love to believe that farther into the process I can edit it into a smart commentary on interpersonal relationships in the modern world or something, but for sanity’s sake I think I owe it to myself to just write the pulpy first draft that I want it to be. (And also apparently write the phrase “gave the appearance of” twelve times on every page, because I am completely o.o.c.)

Anyway, I won’t be posting much on the blog in the coming weeks (why start now, right?). I don’t want to waste my writing energies on posts that aren’t required by my employer or the NaNoWriMo rulebook. So have a nice early November and I’ll talk to you around Black Friday.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nanowrimo goals change

One week until Nanowrimo and everything has changed. Remember that part of my last post about how if my computer crashed I would lose everything? Well that happened. And in the middle of my first back-up! Thursday night I took my laptop to the Genius Bar and they confirmed that not only was the hard drive dead, but nothing had been transferred to the back up hard drive before it died.


So after hours of soul searching I’ve decided to devote Nanowrimo this year to writing a rough draft of the story I’ve been working on for the last 13 months. I’m afraid that if I spend the next month thinking about a different story, I’ll lose all the ideas I have for the immortality book, and won’t ever come back to it. I’ve just done too much work to let that happen.

Is it crazy to sign up for a month of compulsively working on a project I’m already burnt out on? Am I completely nuts to think a draft written in a month will be anywhere near satisfying after I spent a year carefully crafting the lost work I did on this book? And, am I putting myself at serious risk of failing Nanowrimo by taking this on? Probably, probably, and certainly, but at least it’ll be a good challenge.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Countdown to Nanowrimo

Just 11 days left until November, and the official start of Nanowrimo. Last year I fudged the rules by working on a novel I already had in progress, and aiming for just 30,000 words by month end. This year I am only too happy to set my W.I.P. aside and focus on something completely different for a month.

A quick update on the Work in Progress: I’ve been working on my immortality book for 13 months now, and am seeing the characters and plot lines coming together. The shape of the book has changed a lot, and what I used to envision as the first half or third of the book is now more than enough to cover the entire novel. The climax is still the same – boy becomes immortal! – but I’ve done a lot of work on characterization and world building, so I have a better idea now of what the tone of the book should be.

I’ve also been doing a lot of research. No one would mistake me for a scientist, but I certainly have a better grasp on the basic principles of genome mapping, dna manipulation, and where “aging” happens. All science and no play makes Kayleigh’s project a dull book, so in addition to banging my head into every information wall I can find, I’ve also done a lot of fun reading, including Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, some recent issues of Tin House, and Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life. Now I’m finally reading Frankenstein, which falls somewhere between research and fun reading.

Despite the progress, I’ve been feeling pretty burned out lately. All my documents and notes have become unwieldy, and going back through the early chapters when my characters had completely different names and backgrounds is utterly demoralizing. I must’ve written 20 “first chapters” and none of them are going to be the real one. I think it’ll be good to have a month off to regain some perspective, and also some time when I’m not reading about the free radicals that are building up in my cells, busting up my mitochondria and making me look old (not pleasant).

So, as November 1 and a sweet vacation from sci-fi approach, I’m gearing up for a month when the only thing that matters is word count, and nobody gets that glazed look in their eyes when I start chatting about telomerase (because I will not be discussing telomerase, of course). I will be a lean, mean, word typing machine and by November 30 I will have a complete story – beginning, middle and end!

Here are a few of the preparations I’ve made in advance of Nanowrimo:

1. First, I downloaded Scrivener to organize my book. Scrivener is a great little program that’s very intuitive. It organizes chapters, notes, and even source documents, and makes rearranging novel section or getting word counts effortless. During Nanowrimo, they’re offering a free trial subscription that goes now through December, and then 50% off the cost of the application to nano winners. After that, I
2. Bought a backup hard drive. Finally. What made the decision for me was seeing my old novels neatly organized in Scrivener and realizing I would lose ALL OF IT if my computer crashed. Luckily I found a great deal on MacMall for the one I’ve had my heart set on. Thus secured, I
3. Reread No Plot, No Problem. A great pep talk and excellent refresher on the nanowrimo rules. Now all that’s left is
4. Stocking up on easy-to-prepare foods and candies. I’m also going to need a sizable chunk of money for ordering Pizzas and Chinese food. Yes my diet will suffer, but there's no gain without pain right? But wait, I'd also love to
5. Get some more nanowrimo buddies. If you’re reading this and by some miracle your name is not Julia or Ryan, you can get in on the novel writing action at My user name is Kayleigh and I’d love to have some more people to race to the finish line. See you there!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Science Fact

Today’s a big day for me. A book I’ve had my eye on for a few months is finally coming out in paperback; Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life. In truth, I have a “to read” pile two feet high, so I shouldn’t be buying any more books for a while, but I’m sure I’ll scoop it up in the next two weeks.

As I’ve probably mentioned here before, I’ve been reading a lot of science lately. My current writing project is a science-fiction novel, and I’m trying to keep it as realistic as possible. It’s set in the very near future and addresses issues of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. While I don’t necessarily expect everything in my book to come true, it’s important to me that anything in the book could happen, so it won’t require too much suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader.

Now, my educational background is not very heavy on science. I can remember high school biology nearly bringing me to tears with concepts like Eukaryotic cells and the Kreb Cycle. And the curriculum at my college (COM) was so light on the sciences that it was affectionately known around the University as the “College of Optional Math”. (At the time I was feeling smug for being clever enough to choose a major light on memorization, but now I wish I’d challenged myself more when my brain cells were young and absorbent.)

So, all this is to say that I require a certain level of accessibility in science texts. When the greek symbols and tiny letters show up, my eyes cross and the book (or magazine) goes back on the shelf. At the same time, I’m skeptical of the popular-science self-help genre that spends the first 30 pages relating hard science about the brain and body, but then throws it all out the window in the rest of the book explaining how we can meditate or concentrate away what ails us. (Michael Paul Mason’s “Head Cases: Stories of Brain Injury and Its Aftermath” includes an excellent take-down of this phenomenon in Malcom Gladwell’s books) The search for an informative science book can be daunting given these limits, the short shelf-life of “current” science, and especially with the average bookstore’s protracted science section (the downtown Boston Borders' alphabetized science section is the worst - astronomy mixed in with evolution, mixed in with chemistry, mixed in with archeology)

But, in spite of the challenges, I’ve been lucky to discover a few sources that consistently inspire and inform. Here are four off the top of my head:

WNYC’s Radiolab - while I think they focus a little too much on style over substance, Radiolab does a great job of raising interesting questions and pointing listeners in the direction of experts in a variety of scientific fields. They use innovative sound manipulation and music to make science fun and welcoming to the general audience.

Carl Zimmer - (as mentioned above) is prolific and terrific. Check out his site: . It’s worth viewing for the collection of science-themed tattoos, alone. While Zimmer’s articles can sometimes be a little dense for someone (me) not familiar with whatever topic he’s discussing, they’re worth taking an extra swig of coffee and applying yourself. They’re written with a playful excitement that makes formerly boring subjects interesting, and you never for a moment doubt that every word is backed up with cold hard facts and a deep understanding of the forces at work.

Michael Paul Mason – as far as I know he only has one book out, but it’s a gem. “Head Cases: Stories of Brain Injury and Its Aftermath” explains the brain through the stories of people who’ve experienced its limitations. This book is equal parts informative and emotionally intense.

Ray Kurzweil - you didn’t think I’d leave him out, did you? I read the entire “Age of Spiritual Machines” with my jaw on the floor. What Kurzweil lacks in beautiful sentences he more than makes up for in audacity. By the end of the book you’ll not only believe your body will be replaced by a machine, you might even be looking forward to it! (ok, maybe not, but you might accept it at least)

(Pointedly absent from my list: Matt Ridley, Douglas Hofstadter, Oliver Sacks. Enough said.)

Of course I'm always looking for more "True Science" to read, so if you know of a good book on DNA, genetics, or neurology then please clue me in! I still have a long way to go on this novel, and haven't discovered a way to create immortality, yet.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Date Night at Myers & Chang

Who knows where my food obsessions come from? I get a craving and I must have that food Weekly! Daily! Hourly! Until I’ve had enough. This week it’s the food Joann Chang makes.

It started on Saturday with Flour in the Fort Point area. Greg and I were downtown for the Tall Ships. Our original plan was to find a nice seafood or Italian place to walk in to, but when we reached the waterfront we discovered 2 million people ahead of us in line.

Luckily, we’re savvy locals and I knew that Flour – the studio 54 of downtown lunch spots that I'd never had the time to visit during the workweek -- was around … here …. somewhere…

Success! The inviting café was open, fully stocked, and empty on a weekend afternoon! Our lunch – hearty, inventive sandwiches with chunky kitchen-sink style cookies for dessert – was so delicious it instantly sparked my foodie synapses firing. Not even halfway through my sandwiches I was already figuring out when I could come back. And, of course, when I could get to Myers and Chang.

How did I make it through Sunday? Who knows! But here we are at Monday night, and I’ve got my M&C leftovers

In the boxes :
- Red curry cauliflower
- Lemony Shrimp dumplings*
- Thai ginger chicken salad
- Tofu steak w/ buckwheat noodles
- Brown rice
- Green tea*
- Bittersweet coffee cake, Vietnamese coffee sauce*
- Lemon-ginger mousse coupe, homemade fortune cookie*

*ok, these ones are in my belly.

We feasted like emperors! Myers & Chang offers date night Sunday – Tuesday. $40/ couple, with 5 or so different combinations of foods around a theme. (We chose “healthy date”) The food was heavenly. I couldn’t stop closing my eyes while I was eating – drifting off into the flavors. Every ingredient’s flavor came through. Each dish had its own architecture of tastes. lemony, gingery, noodley, thingsI'veneverhadbefore-y... I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a meal this much. Believe the hype - this restaurant is wonderful.

After dinner we walked back to the bus, and passed Flour on the way. We stopped in to pick a few more snacks for the fridge -- more of those amazing chocolate-oatmeal-pecan cookies, and a few other treats. Hopefully these stores will get us through the rest of the week. I hear Myers & Chang does dim sum on the weekends.