Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Developing a Habit

Today, I'm going to talk about writing everyday. Every single day. Doesn't matter if you're tired, exhausted, comatose, or dead - you must write EVERY SINGLE DAY. Wait - are there people out there that believe that? If so, I'm not one of them. I can't write if I'm too tired to think. But I do run...

Developing certain "chores" into a habit is sometimes necessary to improve. Dieting probably falls into this category. Eating healthy is a lifestyle choice, not an I'll-see-how-I-feel-on-that-particular-day kind of thing. I would know, because I eat crap. But I did manage to turn one thing I absolutely hated into a habit, and now I'm experiencing the misery of breaking it.

I started running when I was 21. I'd always been athletic, but I hated doing anything for long distances. I got tired. And slow. Some doctor told me I had a heart murmur to make me feel better about running out of gas. In any case, I loved soccer games and swim meets and tennis matches, but I loathed practice. In college I started running because, well, I hated biking more.

I started with a half-mile. Almost died at the end of it. By the end of the week, I'd built up to a mile-and-a-half. Within a month, I was running three miles a day. These were slow miles, but still a solid distance for a total beginner. I ran each day at dawn in the bowels of New Jersey - cold, grey, and often snowing. I wore two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, and five shirts of various thicknesses. When I moved to Chicago, I started running at 11 pm at night, but I had to institute a new rule: no single digit temperatures. That was the bootcampers' rule, and I adopted it.

I stuck with my three-miles-a-day for six years. I ran at night, after work, in wind and snow and rain and even a few blizzards. I ran through the city streets of Chicago and Boston, and later, San Francisco. When I was tired, I ran. When I had the flu, I ran. For six years, I ran my three miles six days a week.

And I never improved! Fail!

But who cares, because I never entered a single race. That changed in medical school, as stress mounted and my need for an outlet grew. So I started running longer distances. And hills. Oh, the hills! But like any faithful SF runner, I embraced them. I bought one of those Nike workout things. I realized I was running 8:30 miles, then 8:00, then a pretty decent sub 7:00 for a self-timed 5K. At which point I entered my very first race and blew everyone away!

No, that didn't happen. I got hurt a week before my race. Iliotibial-band syndrome, the dreaded injury that befalls most serious runners at one point or another. I'm still fighting it. I'm back at the gym, riding that odious bike and lifting weights. Without running, I feel lost.

So that's my running journey. For those just starting, or thinking about it, I'm telling you that running that half-mile on a bitter February morning in 2004 changed my life. Get through that first month, and you'll never look back.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

So That Was an Epic Hiatus...

Well, it looks like I fell off the planet for 2010. Not really, but in the blogging world, I kind of did. That's not to say I wasn't writing. In fact, a ton of things happened in 2010. I wrote a new book, found an incredible agent (my last one left the biz), and inched ever closer to publication. Well, that's the hope, anyway. As for many writers, it hasn't been easy getting here. Lots of hard work, ups and downs, and serious self-doubt. And of course, a serious shortage of blogging.

I'm going to do my best to change that this year. And hopefully more people will swing by here (hello, lurkers - I know all your quirks. I do. I'm a true professional when it comes to online stealth). I'll also post my e-mail address somewhere around here in case you want to ask me about writing, or running, or gestational trophoblastic disease.

I just got back from a weekend of work in the E.R., so it's time to take a nap or stare into space. My favorite one-liner so far: "The patient is drunk and crying and has a cold." See? Things could always be worse.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Story on the Short Story

I used to inhale short stories growing up. Not the nice, chipper, fairy-tale kind, but the dark, warped stories written by depressed people who fixated on death. I'm not sure who I have to thank for this, although it probably has something to do with my mom's obsession with Edgar Allan Poe. Her favorite story of his was always The Tell-Tale Heart, and things kind of spiraled downward from there. No ten-year-old kid likes to read about hearts beating beneath the floorboards.

All damaging childhoods aside, I think there is something to be said for the short story. They aren't very lucrative these days, and people rarely wander into a bookstore looking for a collection of short stories. I do think, though, that the skill of a good short story writer is vastly underrated. Novels weave in and out of subplots, characters come and go, climaxes eventually happen somewhere towards the end. But short stories are short, sweet, and economical. Beginning, middle, end. Characters are rich, but not overdeveloped. It's easy, right? Just 10,000 words and you have yourself a dinky little story.

Well, no. I've read many of the famous quotes out there about the gift of brevity, which always serves a good short story. Less is more. Always. And yet the characters in short stories require the same depth that characters in novels do. Otherwise who cares. I won't read five sentences about a dull, simplified character. I'm not sure who would, but that's another topic for another day.

And so, here I have proclaimed my love and admiration for the short story. If you can do in 10,000 words or less what a novelist does in 80,000, then you've already mastered pacing, editing, and cutting unnecessary details. And that, I think, is quite a skill.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Joy of the Rewrite

After my eighth revision, I'm still quite fond of my manuscript. I feel like this is a good thing. Rewrites, after all, have been known to drive even the most dedicated writers toward madness. Or something close to it. I absolutely know the feeling of looking at something you've seen 489 times, and thinking, wow, my brain feels nauseous. I get that feeling a lot in medical school. Then again, the only thing that seems to come up again and again and again in med school is this: smoking is bad for you. So is pregnancy.

In any case, I'm the type of person who savors criticism, not because I like getting burned, but because I simply don't see what other people see. I need someone to tell me what I'm doing wrong. I need a reader to step in and say, "Yeah, so...this doesn't make sense." I tend to overthink everything. I wrote one manuscript that made no sense at all. I finally saw the light when someone came right out and said it, and it was probably the best feedback I've ever received. Simplification is a good thing.

My favorite source of feedback/inspiration/confusion, though, is definitely my mother. She doesn't read manuscripts. I've tried. I've sent her every single one of them, hoping she'll read them and tell me how much she embraces her daughter's talent. But she's never read a single one, at least not beyond the first 30 pages. I used to feel slighted by this, but no more. My mom is always there to listen to my ideas, to tell me to keep a scene or throw it out (regardless of the fact she has no clue about the context), and she reminds me to limit the curse words and sex scenes. Note that my mom gets the PG-13 version of everything I've ever written. It was a relief for us both when I started writing YA.

Tonight I talked to my mom about a certain scene, an emotional climax of sorts when two characters finally make out. I dropped it from the final rewrite, and she told me to put it back in. "You write kisses well, Kathleen," she said. Huh?

So we'll see. I'm just happy Rewrite #8 is finished, and it's a thousand times better than Rewrite #2. At least I hope so. The kiss is back in, the curse words are gone, the sex scenes are non-existent. So according to my mom, at least, I've created a masterpiece.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Thanksgiving Non-Existent Plan

Let me preface this post with a very generic, but very true, declaration of love for Thanksgiving. I know it's steeped in some kind of tradition that I learned about twenty years ago in the first grade, but I've forgotten the history. I just like the tradition of seeing family, of cooking a ridiculous dinner, of looking forward to the holidays. For twenty-five years, I spent every single Thanksgiving with the same group of fifteen people.

Then I moved to California.

It isn't easy living 3,000 miles away from your family, especially during the holidays. And I know 3,000 miles isn't even that much; I have several friends in school whose families live on other continents. But I don't even have so much as a distant cousin who lives out here. My entire family - mom, dad, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles - lives on the East Coast, mostly in Philadelphia. And at times like these, I realize just how far home really is.

I don't like traveling over the Thanksgiving holidays. I don't like it because I hate lines. I'm the type of person who avoids the zoo on the first day of spring, steers clear of ski slopes on Martin Luther King weekend, and prefers red-eyes over convenient morning flights. I don't mind crowds all that much. I just despise waiting in line. And airports at Thanksgiving are overflowing with disgruntled, impatient people who just want to get home and see their families. I really can't blame them.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm staying in San Francisco. I've had a few friends offer to take me back to their families for Thanksgiving, and for that I'm very grateful. Last year, I even attempted to cook something (note to self: bring wine this year). It's Tuesday, 48 hours until the big day, and I still don't have any concrete plans. Then again, that isn't unusual for me. I hate lines and therefore, I do everything at the very last minute.

But I will say, regardless of my plans for this week, one of my favorite Thanksgivings took place on an airplane. When I was seventeen, my mom and I traveled to San Diego for a high school soccer tournament, and we flew on Thanksgiving afternoon. We had airplane food on the flight, and spaghetti in the room.

The food, while incredible, is always second. Family is first. I'll miss them this year.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Screening

Let me start with a disclaimer: last year, I went to the Twilight midnight screening alone. As in, just me. And screaming teenagers. And a guy with his girlfriend who assumed the seat next to me was occupied, then muttered something incomprehensible when I told him it was free. I have friends, don't worry. I just didn't think a single person in my med school class of 150 people (okay, 75, since we can eliminate the guys), would want to go. So I went alone, sat between two fourteen-year-olds, and had a lovely time.

This year, at the urging of my roommate, I decided to send an email out. Nothing too fancy (okay, actually it was a great email). See below:

Hi vampire-lovers! Sorry, you knew it was coming.

Anyway, for those of you living under a rock, the next installment in the Twilight franchise, officially titled THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON, is coming out on Friday, November 20th. This means a midnight screening on Thursday, November 19th.

I are going to buy advance tickets to the 12:10 screening at Daly City, and we want to get a group together to go. You may say this is premature, but MILLIONS OF THEATERS across the US have already sold out!!!!!11!!

In all seriousness, please let me know if you're interested in going. We are also thinking of having something beforehand (maybe a potluck, blood, fangs...too much?), so this will be a worthwhile endeavor. Plus you can witness the somewhat inappropriate Twilight-themed shirt I won for something...never mind.

So, the bottom-line: e-mail me if you want to get in on this. Here are the details:

What: New Moon, the 2nd movie in the Twilight series. Starring RPattz. If you don't know who he is, enlighten yourself here: Hotness
When: Thursday, November 19th. Screening at midnight (there is class the next day at 10 am, last year it was at 8 am. Don't complain). Twilight screening/party/potluck at my house beforehand.
Where: My house, then Daly City, Century 21 theater (if you can drive, let me know. If not, I will use my connections.)
Who: You. This may seem like a girly movie, but it's not. ACTION, TONS OF ACTION.
Why: I know I forced at least eight people to watch Twilight. If you want to watch the sequel under the influence again (you know who you are), that's fine. No one will judge you here.

Please email me by Sunday at 5 pm if you want to go. I'll send out multiple reminders. Tickets are probably like $10.50. Thanks!!

I didn't expect 20 people to go, not to mention the many compliments I received about the email ("I love your fangurrl personality, Kathleen!! ahhh!!"). I had quite a few of those. Then there was the roommate and friend who, last year, were smoking something when I came home with my brand new Twilight DVD. They thought the movie was hilarious. It kind of was, high or sober or drunk or whatever.

In any case, I had fun this year, even though I ended sitting up alone because there were hardly any seats free by the time we got there. Well, not alone. I talked to another teenage couple, who made me wonder where I can find a guy willing to go to a midnight screening of a vampire love story. I want that guy.

And as for my assessment of the movie, well, yeah. I only go for RPattz. Is that such a bad thing?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gossip Girls...and Guys...and the Fallout

There's a group on Facebook called, "Hey Med School, High School Wants Its Drama Back!" I ended up not joining this group because that sentiment is frighteningly true. Med school is exactly like high school, except everyone's over 21 (hello, booze!), people have all forgotten what second base is (if you don't score, then it doesn't count), and everyone knows way too much about everyone else. In some ways, that camaraderie is a very special thing. In other ways, your privacy just committed suicide. Forget about it. It vanished the second you put that stethoscope around your neck for the very first time.

I can feel a rant coming on, so I'll restrain myself. I should tell you that I try to avoid gossip; I really, truly do. Rumors are dangerous, shallow, and usually false. But people flock to those juicy tidbits about other people's lives. There is an obsession with covert knowledge, with being privy to something that really doesn't concern you at all. I know this because it's happened to me, and I'm sure I'm not alone. But sooner or later, you hear a rumor about yourself, and the fun is gone.

I usually don't mind rumors/gossip/talk about my life, maybe because I don't care, or maybe because I tend to shake things off within a day or two. But I'm human, too. I get hurt. Doesn't everyone, at some time or another?

I didn't want to come on here and preach about gossip, as I'm certainly not one to talk. I'm surrounded by the same 150 people every single day, and some things reach my ears and leave my mouth. I'll admit that. But the next time you feel tempted to spread some juicy info about someone else, ask yourself this:

Who cares?