The Underground Truth

Writers are often asked about their inspiration. It’s a surprisingly tough discussion.

Many times, the origins of a story are like little seeds strewn around. One or two catch the attention, and the others are tough to find, hidden under blades of grass. It’s an apt metaphor: at first, there’s delight in the discovery. (Look! A shiny idea!) And then there’s the agony. (But where is the rest of the story?)

I found an article (proof that not all internet searching is a waste of time!) that reminded me exactly of why I started my Mermaid Underground series, and I thought it’d be a good time to talk about my own inspiration. For this story, anyway.

This is an article about a photographer who swims around underneath the ground in Florida, taking pictures of the cool stuff she sees, and of the state of the ecology via algae and other plant growth. If you’re at all familiar with Florida, you might think of the miles of beaches. You might even know there are swamps and ponds and lakes.

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But you might not realize there are thousands of interconnected aquifers under the land. The water is crystal clear (unless terribly polluted) and it’s fascinating.

When I was a little girl, growing up in Pasco County (that’s where Tampa is), we would go to swim in some of the crystal-clear, cold rivers that welled up from these amazing springs. I never strapped on scuba gear to explore further, where the sun doesn’t reach, but it always captured my imagination that underneath us, who lived on dry land, was actually a world of water.

What if mermaids lived there?

If you’d like to see where the story goes from here, please check out the book links to the right of the screen. Book 3 in the series is on its way!

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Two Big Truths of Life (According to a Writer)

Today, I’ve decided to publish a two-parter on life philosophy (cue the angels singing.) Occasionally I’m struck with truths so important that I must remark upon them, and, having remarked upon them, my husband often points out that these truths would make good blog posts. So you, dear reader of my blog, are about to benefit from some truth. Read on!

Part I: The First Truth

You know, in a discussion with my partner-in-misbegotten-life-choices, we both realized how very underrated this particular personality philosophy is: Don’t be an A-hole.

Just … don’t be an A-hole.

Honestly, it covers all manner of social situations. Do you know someone who’s having a rough day? Don’t be an A-hole to them. Perhaps even say or do something supportive. At the very least, remain neutral and quietly back away from the sad person. Just don’t make things worse.

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Is this really necessary in the workplace?

It’s amazing to me—no, really, actually amazement-inducing—how many people completely lose the subtle talent of not being an A-hole at work. For example, the job I’m in now was very recently occupied by a young woman who was much more interested in winning arguments than she was in actually doing her job. (Which was writing, by the way.) She’d been placeholding my position for three months before she traipsed off to pursue her art (which, you know, more power to her! I’m all about the pursuit of art!) and she had not written much at all to show for her time there. Instead, she’d spent her days—you guessed it—being pretty much an A-hole. Blustering and trying to be sparkly instead of sitting down at her computer to write. Which is what she’d been hired to do.

Honestly, I’m not complaining about her, because her A-holeness landed me a job. And just by being generally nice and working on my projects, I’m already looking pretty rosy in comparison, so really: “Thanks, girl who held onto my job until I could come and get it!”

Part II: The Second Truth

If you want to be a writer, you must write.

No, seriously.

People seem to be graduating from some program of study out there that says writing is all about dropping amazing idea bombs and then letting minions pound away on the keyboard to flesh it all out. But guess what?

Writers actually do the keyboard pounding. Writers research their topics, double-check their facts, put one word down in front of the other until the work is done. Then comes the editing. Lots and lots of editing. And the suggestions and requests from managers (in my case) or outside editors (also in my case.) All of which begets more editing.

Writing is difficult.

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Think that’s a lot of books? Imagine; each one was written and rewritten. And rewritten.

Writing is looking at the same passages so many times they stop making sense, and then putting them aside to rest, and then reading over them once more. If you’re lucky, with some talent, you’ll notice that when you revisit your published works much, much later, you find (much to your delight) that your work is actually readable.

But if you don’t think that writing is hard work, really, actually hard work, then you’re not a writer. That’s a fact. And I’m not being an A-hole by saying that.

***

By the way, I’m still working on that last Mermaid Underground novella. I thought I had finished my latest revision, but then I realized I needed to do something about Sparrow. So I’m working on that.

I don’t want a lot for Christmas … my new job will do!

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Christmas is just ’round the corner, and I got a new job for an early gift!

You’ll be happy to hear how, after roughly four thousand interviews of the voice, video and shared airspace variety, I landed a salaried job. I’m the copywriter for a fairly substantial corporation. It’s what they call “in-house writing.”

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Aaah, that freshly-employed smell!

With all that job hunting experience, I thought I’d drop a few pearls of wisdom for you writer types out there who might also be looking for a day job to pay the bills.

 

  1. Figure out what you want. And stick to it. It may sound like self-help mumbo jumbo, but it is so very powerful. I remember when, working as an hourly employee at an ad agency, I looked around at those fancy-free salaried folks and thought, “Why not me?” I’m talented, intelligent, and worth the benefits and perks that come from knowing my next paycheck was on its way, with no “maybes” attached. I didn’t chase parttime ventures during this job search go-round. I didn’t waste my time on ridiculously low-paying jobs. (Hint: there are lots of ridiculously low-paying jobs out there for writers.)
  2. Don’t be ridiculous. While you have worth, you need to be reasonable. I didn’t ask for crazy high pay. It’s frustrating that many companies expect you to open the negotiations for pay, which puts you wrong-footed from the start. (Did I ask for too much? Am I underselling? Am I out of the game already?) But that’s usually how it goes, so do your research and find out what’s reasonable for salaries for your position and experience. Negotiate accordingly.
  3. Be yourself. (Unless you’re an a-hole. Don’t be an a-hole.) Just getting a job is not your only objective! Getting a job that won’t make getting out of bed feel like a trudge, that makes you feel valuable AND pays the bills: that’s the goal. Be honest with your interests and goals. Be smart, too: do research on the company, and if you can tie in how your championship status in cosmic bowling will match the company’s objective, then by all means: mention that! If the company is lukewarm about who you are, and you feel ambivalent about them, then maybe you ought to move on down the line.
  4. Wait, all that stuff under #3 is about personality, not skills … ? Yes, that’s right. Skills matter, and you should do a fabulous job of both having them and selling them with your resume and cover letter, and “elevator speech.” But much of the interview process is actually about how well you’ll fit in the company. Do more than just sell yourself as a great potential employee; scope them out, too.

 

Don’t lose sight of your personal and creative goals! Most companies (good ones, anyhow) will realize that your creative endeavors round you out, and add value to your work—even for a corporation! Yes, really! My bosses and co-workers were genuinely interested (impressed, even) regarding my mermaid novellas on Amazon.

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Choose your own path!

Good luck with finding the day job, fellow writers! Hey, if it works out, you can crank out your next graphic novel AND put pork in the pan (shout out to CCR.) And if it sucks, well, it’s all fodder for the plot of your next book.

Holiday Sweetness and WTF is a Culture Fit Interview?

gold tree ornament

We’re almost to December! I enjoy the holiday season so much more, now that I have little kids. I’m sure that when they’re older, and able to express deep, sarcasm-laden disappointment that I didn’t buy them the electric guitar they’d been heavily hinting at for months, I’ll go back to being mostly annoyed at the buying-crap frenzy that December turns into.

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Holiday sparkles are magical once more.

But, for now, my kids are pretty much content to open their simple surprises and see the sparkly glory of decorations with unjaded eyes. Which helps me see it all that way, too. For the first time since childhood, I have a contented kind of wonder at Christmas, again.

It’s nice.

I’m still editing the third manuscript of my Mermaid Underground series. (Is it a manuscript, really? It’s digital. “Manu-” seems reminiscent of something I can hold in my hand. Hm.) I keep thinking I only have a few pages left before I’m finished with this second/third/fourth-ish draft, but then that last few pages are rather stretchy. They keep springing past my page count, adding on to the total number, with every editing session.

Of course, while I’m wrestling the snake called an unfinished manuscript, you can read the first two in the series! Check them out here and here, or click on the images of my books in the side bar, over here >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I’m also still job searching. My day job is, at the moment, interviewing for jobs. I’m getting to be an industry expert in interviewing. Not sure if that’s a skill I’ll be adding to the ole resume. I wrote here about phone and video interviews, but there’s another interview that’s becoming quite popular on the job search circuit: The Culture Fit Interview.

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An at-home culture interview. Ahem.

What is this new phenomenon? Is it yogurt, or perhaps kombucha related? Is it about religious or ethnic tendencies? Well, no.

The Culture Fit Interview is about how well you might fit in with the existing (already snug-ly employed) crowd at the office. At first, I felt an impending sort of exhaustion at the scheduling of my culture fit interviews (yes, I’ve had multiple, at this point!) But after sitting through them, answering questions like “What kind of fruit would you be?” and “What are your football allegiances?” I realized I was glad for these interviews, because it’s basically a party where you all have to sit at a conference table, and there’s no alcohol served. They’re low-key (except everyone is staring at you, of course) and generally fun.

NOTE: If the culture interview is NOT fun, then don’t work at the company. Walk away. Truth.

And it’s the above statement that supports my appreciation for the Culture Fit Interview. It lets me interview the company, too.

Whatever you’re up to right about now, have a good one! Happy Holidays, Happy Writing, and Happy Interviewing! Just, you know … Happy. Do that.

 

P.S.: I’d be a persimmon.

Facebook Sucks, But Let’s Not Blame It For How People Think (Or Don’t Think)

Happy Tuesday, Y’all! For my international readers, that’s “You” plus “All.” I start out pointing at one person, then pan my finger over the crowd to include everyone. Y’all.

That lesson in Southern United States vernacular out of the way, I’d like to get a little bit political. Let’s talk about Facebook.

Is Facebook a creeper entity, trolling your personal stuff for its own nefarious gains? Absolutely. Did Facebook play a (creepily) significant role in (mis) information dissemination during America’s latest public debauchery, i.e. the election of our president? Yes indeed.

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But Wired Magazine (of which I’m a huge fan!) recently published an opinion piece that is the most technological bleeding heart bunch of crap I’ve read in a while, and I feel compelled to write about it. In it, the author berates founder Zuckerberg, giving him way more credit than the guy deserves for bringing about the election of Trump via ads run by Russian goons.

Does nobody else see a couple of glaring, horrible issues about all this?

  1. Why the hell is every journalist jumping on the “Facebook made the good citizens of America do bad things against their will” bandwagon? Nobody fully trusts the major news networks, let alone ads run by Facebook! The truth is always on a spin in this country (and in most of the world, from what I can tell.) Do your damn homework, people! It’s called fact checking! If Trump supporters propagated bogus Facebook ads, you can believe it was because Facebook’s major downfall as a networking tool is that it creates space for an echo chamber. In other words, nobody ever said they made a major life change based on Facebook information. If they did, they weren’t very intelligent to begin with.
  2. It doesn’t matter who Facebook took money from, because they are not a government entity. If I’m wrong about this, and Facebook has more political pull than I’m aware of (and, let’s face it, anything is possible at this point) then we have more to worry about than just a few Russian ads.

The Wired author’s point, in her op ed piece, is more about giving a “shame on you” finger to Zuckerberg than calling for any kind of lawful action. I agree with her that the guy is more than a little sociopathic. But she ends the piece by comparing Facebook’s culpability in the election outcome with the crashing down of the Twin Towers on 9/11, and says, “God help us, we have nowhere to go.”

Really? You are literally stuck inside Facebook, and your life will end if you get fed up and walk away or—heaven forbid—just glance at the feed occasionally to see what your friends are up to, instead of treating it like your surrogate life?

This is why I love fantasy literature. It makes way more sense than the real world, sometimes!

Hysterectomies and Architecture.

I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology on my Kindle these days. It’s more of a scholarly work than lots of his other things; he researched his favorite tellings of the tales and retold some of the stories of Thor, Odin, Loki and the rest in Neil’s unique way.

I’ve always been a sucker for mythology. What fantasy writer isn’t? Myths tell us where certain beliefs and cultural practices came from. I find this is useful for just about every part of life. It’s like architecture. Lots of our modern architecture comes from copies of other kinds of buildings that looked the way they did because there were only certain materials to hand. But those buildings were the very model of rich and cool for their eras, so younger designers took those older models and built them again.

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There are other cultural examples of mythology dictating current doings, such as hysterectomies. Ever wonder why the removal of female reproductive organs is called this? Because the myth propagated about a uterus was that it was the source of female hysteria. Remove it: remove the hysteria. I still wonder why it’s still called hysterectomy. I kinda hate that term. Although, if I want to be honest, here, the source of all my crazy comes from what came out of my uterus. I was more sane before kids. I think.

Myths also point us forward, at least creatively. Some of the best fictional works come from stories that have elements of our strongest, most pervasive cultural myths. Even though the author is basically telling a story over again with this kind of work, it feels fresh because it hits the bone of your very humanity!

What’s your favorite myth?

Job Interviews in the Digital Age

I’m back on the job hunt.

My main motivation? Gettin’ paid, of course! As all you artists out there know, having a day job is pretty important. Especially when a couple of tiny humans depend on you for security and sustenance.

I wrote here about how I landed a gig at an ad agency and freelance work in one feast-y month last year. The agency work dwindled to famine rather soon, but I still have a steady freelance gig: blogging about Tennessee culture and millenial and retiree concerns for a local realtor. (If you’re interested, go here to check it out.)

This time around, I’m not pursuing extra freelance gigs. Instead, I’m searching out a full-time, guaranteed-pay-check situation. We just can’t afford to muddle around with a “maybe I’ll get paid this week, maybe not” lifestyle.

So, all this discussion leads me to an interesting phenomenon: a method of preliminary interview that uses technology to both add an extra step to the job-hunt process, and eliminates the hassle of too much human contact between employers and the masses. If you, too, are job searching, you know what I’m talking about. The phone/video interview.

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My test run selfie. Anyone else think your face looks crooked when you see it anywhere other than the mirror?

On the one hand, this extra (or only, in many cases) interview step seems to set up another barrier, a hurdle to jump before you even get to set foot inside the fortress of employment. But, honestly, the more I’ve experienced these digital get-to-know-yas, the more I see their value. If they’re conducted the right way, it’s easier to discern whether the candidate is really right for the job, and whether the job is really right for them. It’s like a conversation before the date with the guy you met online.

I’m in that in-between generation, where I still know how to have a good conversation—with eye contact!—sharing the same airspace as another person. So, far from being freaked out at the thought of shaking new hands and making small talk, I enjoy the interactions for what they are. So I was a bit annoyed when I first realized I wouldn’t be having that experience much at all during this time around job hunting. I accept it though; an inevitable part of the world-wide communication that brings us all simultaneously closer together and pushes us further apart.

I do have a couple of tips, for you folks doing your own rounds of phone and video interviews. Read on, readers!

  1. Get dressed. Get your game face on. Most people recommend full professional dress, and I would, too, but if you’re a level up in this whole job hunt game, I’d say you can take the idea a step further: wear something that makes you feel confident and powerful. For me, that was a pair of shark’s tooth earrings my sister-in-law made. Fierce!

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    What? I got this. Just lounging on a stump, all tiger-y. Nothing fiercer.
  2. For video interviews, find somewhere in your home (yes, your home! No noisy restaurants where you might feel self-conscious or lose your answers amid calls for double-frothed-something-lattes!) that looks good behind you. For example, we’re renovating an old farmhouse, so I discovered the stained and cracked ceiling hovering above my head at my desk made me look seedy. So I set up a whole new phone interview command center in the living room. The light was better there, anyway.
  3. Test run. Ask yourself questions and answer them. Do you get stuck? Are your answers lame? Practice!
  4. For video interviews, test run how you look. Take selfies in your chosen location. What will the interviewer see when they come online? If you can, recruit a friend to help you practice the video conversation.

 

Just like for any interview, it’s good form to send a thank-you email within 24 to 48 hours after. Even if you’re talking to a modern, fashionable company, observe the old-fashioned niceties. Nobody ever got passed over for being polite!