Holiday Sweetness and WTF is a Culture Fit Interview?

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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.

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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!

The Agony of Pronouns

I realized, today, that I take exception to a modern use of pronoun: the gender-neutral “they” and “them.”

I was reading Roses & Rot by Kat Howard, which is a pretty good read for those of us who dig fantasy. One of the complicating elements of the plot is the classic theme of not being able to discuss Faerie to the outside world. The characters fall into cleverly employing pronouns to get around the restriction. (Don’t worry; I haven’t given the story away.)

My issue with pronouns isn’t rooted in anything Kat Howard wrote; instead, I was shot back to my first encounter with a person using “them” instead of designating “her.” My nephew, a young teenager, was playing with my daughter, a very female three-year-old. In explaining part of their game to me, he said “they” wanted to put the dolls to sleep, so he helped “them” do so. I was disconcerted with his narrative at first, thinking, “Who the hell else was in the room? Or, is he speaking of himself and my daughter in third person, royalty-style?” On the heels of this, I realized he was employing the now politically correct “neutral pronoun” strategy, to not inadvertently insult myself or my three-year-old by assigning a gender “they” don’t choose.

As a writer, I’m turned off by this. “They” has a meaning, and it’s a good one: multiple people, or, yes, someone without a specified gender. But always, always, it’s important to be specific about my story, to tell you just who it’s about, because skimming along on the surface of a thing, telling you that a vague “they” is doing “something,” is the best way to make you feel like what you’re reading is the literary equivalent of tepid, gray, sugarless oatmeal.

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Who is “they,” anyway?

It’s a classic line. “They” are the invisible standard-holder, the legion that makes judgements and hold invisible, sinister strings of influence. “They” are who every hero worth his or her mettle wants to escape.

My daughter is a she. My son is he. I am she, my husband is he. Please, for the love of all that is human and identifiable and humanly connectable, don’t screw up our pronouns into unidentifiable gray mush. Mess with gender roles! God, yes! My female daughter shoots pretend guns at her brother, jumps tall obstacles, digs in dirt and then runs inside to put on her plastic crown and tattered mermaid costume! None of those things are inherently he or she activities. My son, the world’s most prolific builder of Lego vehicles, destroyer of all things delicate, gleeful enjoyer of tree climbing and general horsing around, puts plastic babies to sleep with his sister, and wears the occasional fluffy tutu.

Whatever you think about Caitlyn Jenner, however you may feel about how that person is a hero or an abomination, Bruce did not go through all that surgery, therapy and general effort to transform into “they.” He wanted to be she.

I don’t know why it’s a trend to despise categorization into gender roles. I think there are some people, especially young people, who are unsure of who they are, who don’t know whether it makes more sense for them to be he or she. And that’s difficult. But “they?” They is another way to render a human being less specific, more vague. Less human.

Subtlety: Powerful Magic

As I washed dishes, listening to Pandora Beatles Radio, a familiar song came streaming through the tinny speakers of my laptop. You probably know it: a classic rock ditty called Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

I was unable to resist the slight head bounce (that of course belies the passionate cigarette lighter-waving, hair shaking “yeah man” that’s really going on inside) while I rinsed Dawn suds off my coffee cup. Aw yeah, be a simpuuuul, kind of ma-aaan! Be something you love and understaaaaand!

And that’s when the dime dropped.

As the music swelled, guitar strings vibrating deep in the soul, awakening dreams and longing and the whiff of the fog machine under blue and purple stage lights … none of that is simple! Lynyrd Skynyrd, rock gods that they were/are, had not a simple man amongst them! The entire song is basically saying, “Mama told me to chill out and stay home, and get a steady job, ya know? But I didn’t.” Each belting out of the word “simpuuuul!” and melodic confession that his mama told him to be satisfied proved that he was anything but! ‘Cause no rock star ever has been content, satisfied, simple or generally chilled out about their status in life. It just doesn’t work out that way.

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Possibly—maybe—Cat Stevens could have made that claim. Having converted to Islam, that music superstar put aside his guitar for decades. But he’s back in the spotlight, because that’s what rock stars do. They find the spotlight.

Anyway … you can say a lot without saying it at all. It’s about context, about presentation, about exactly what you’re not saying, sometimes. That’s subtlety.

Heavy, man.

XIII: Poor Valley Witch. It’s Over.

Well, avid readers, it was inevitable, I suppose. Here’s the end of Poor Valley Witch, a little joy-writing I started many months ago. It’s also inevitable that the last installment drops on number 13. I had thought the round number 10 would be the conclusive installment of the short story serial, but I was wrong. It was to be 13. Lucky XIII.

The third in the Mermaid Underground series is still marinating before being broiled in the first major rewrite. It’s not too late to become enchanted with the story! Parts one and two are available for your enjoyment on Amazon.

But, for now, it’s time to see what Landon, having been led to and then left in the dark by his bewilderingly (mostly) absent parents, is up to. If you’re new to the series, go here to start from the beginning. Thanks for reading!

***

Landon raised his hand to knock on the flimsy sheet of particle board that hung, dejectedly, from a couple of hinges that were clearly too small for the task. He dropped his hand and blinked, taking a step back. I’ve been here before. Wait. Did I ever leave? Had he dreamed driving away in terror, his courteous reception by vultures in his grandmother’s attic? His mother flying up from Florida? Of all that had happened, this last was possibly the thing to jolt him hardest out of his life-as-it-always-is perspective.

He looked down, and felt around in the deep front pocket of his jeans. There. The mint tin, rattling around in his pants, rounded, rusty edges now familiar to his fingers. That was the proof that the last days of his life had really happened. Landon took a deep breath and looked around.

The little building he’d gone in, where he’d heard his parents speak to him from the pitch black: it must have spit him out here, on the witch’s doorstep. He didn’t know if the place itself was enchanted to do it, or if his parents had worked it out. It didn’t matter. The outcome was the same. He started to wonder what his grandmother must be thinking about right now, but he shook his head angrily. It was time for the sacrifice.

Stop stalling. He raised his fist and banged on the makeshift door to the witch’s trailer house. It was more add-on than house; a whole, shifting structure made of lean-tos. Ancient aluminum trailer siding peeked out from cracks in scavenged, aging fence boards, old doors, entire walls that looked like they’d been cut away from abandoned sheds and clapped, whole, to the house. The ring glittered on Landon’s pinky finger.

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“Here you are!” The young woman he’d seen walking down the road as he’d been driving backward, trying to get out of this place, opened the sagging door and gestured him inside, gracefully. He went, and was swallowed up by the musty smell and gloom of the place.

***

“Well, let’s not waste any time about it,” said the witch, smiling sweetly. “I’m going to kill you.” She lunged toward him with a bowie knife, the kind that Davy Crockett had probably carried. Hell, maybe it’s old Davy’s actual knife, Landon thought, wildly. He didn’t have time for any other thoughts, for any other actions, because the witch was fast and her knife was true, and deadly sharp. He felt her impact him and he went down, twisting to the side in a belated bid to protect himself. His shoulder and arm crashed into an ancient t.v. tray, which broke into a twisted mess, gouging his skin with ragged edges, cutting him deeply. He shrieked and struggled to free himself from the broken tray, from the witch, who was fighting like a pissed-off cat, or so he imagined.

But she was already off him. When he finally stood, leaning against the paneling of the wall, the witch was several feet away from him, looking back and forth between her knife and his chest, and arm. His chest was—amazingly—unscratched, but his arm was covered in blood. Landon checked himself all over, more uneasy about her bizarre examination of him than he was about his own wound.

When he lifted his arm to see how bad the damage was, his ring was glowing, covered in blood, illuminating the whole room in sticky red light.

“No,” said the witch. She shook her head. Abruptly, bewilderingly, she turned and walked out of the living room, down a dark hall. Her cotton sundress disappeared, her bare feet flashed once in the light of the ring before bearing her into the velvety dark.

“No! Shit! No!” Landon heard banging, clattering noises, like someone checking through boxes and flinging them aside.

Now. It was the hint of a whisper, more feeling than word. He did not hesitate. He picked up a twisted chunk of broken t.v. tray and went down the hall. He didn’t have a plan, just a need. Had he wondered what the witch wanted with him? Had he entertained the notion that she wanted to transfer her romantic feelings for his dad to him? Had he thought he could get out of this, this muddled mess that he’d dropped into on the day of his birth, with nothing more than an awkward love imprint, like a baby duck who thinks the cat is his mother? He chuckled darkly to himself. His ring cast flickering, glowing light down the hall.

She was already coming back out of her bedroom (for that’s where all the clattering and cursing had come from) when he met her at the doorway. He raised his arm and tried to stab her, tried to do some damage, any damage at all to the evil witch who had ruined his family and tried to destroy him. It was just like a dream. Every move he made was through air made dense, like clear plastic. His twisted wedge of aluminum turned aside with each thrust, bumping harmlessly into the walls to either side of her. He couldn’t strike her. She cringed and snarled, trying (equally vainly) to bite him, to scratch his eyes out with her ragged nails.

He couldn’t impact her with his weapon, but one, tiny drop of blood landed on her forehead. Just above her left eye.

It burned a hole through her.

Landon saw it and understood at the same time her enraged shrieks rose to shake the house. She went down and he followed, flicking his blood onto her even as she fell, trying, trying to break through the invisible, nightmare barrier to touch her, to smear his arm all over her, to burn her into hell where she belonged.

Finally, she weakened, and the barrier did, too, though her shrieks were still deafening, still causing the whole place to shudder and tremble as though it were made of dry, autumn leaves. He touched her and crowed in triumph, a sound almost as ugly as her screams, and he painted her flesh with his blood. The ring, imbued with her ill intentions and the blood of a mother with a child in her womb glowed, screaming with light.

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The screams dwindled and she lay, a withered pile of flesh and sundress. The ring winked out. Landon stumbled down the hall and burst into the freedom of fresh air on the rickety front stoop.

His mother and father rushed to him, crushing him with their arms in a mad hug that reminded him of when he was a little boy, and he’d squeeze himself in between the two of them, calling “Family hug!” until they’d picked him up and showered him in kisses. He stepped back and looked at the two of them, sickened a little at the blood smeared on them from his arm. They looked like her, for a moment. Like the blood-killed witch.

“Quickly,” his mother said, “Quickly, now.” His father reached down to grab the plastic gasoline jug at his feet, and he tossed the fuel all over the house, circling it, wetting everything he could reach. Mom lit a match and tossed it on, and the three of them scurried off the porch and up the bank, stinking like gas and blood and triumph.

They watched the trailer house with its cancerous lean-tos burn. As they might have expected, it went up quickly, like nothing more substantial than a sheet of tissue.

“The nubbins,” said his dad. “Where are they?”

Landon dug into his jeans pocket, the blood caked on him starting to congeal. “It’s here.” She’d never even looked for the mint tin.

“Open it. Sprinkle them on the fire, over her if you can.”

Landon half-slid down the slope, shielding his face from the overpowering heat and light. He fumbled the tin opened and took out each nubbin, tossing it into the fire, one by one.

***

It would be days before he would wake up from his first nightmare, bathed in sweat, certain that the witch hadn’t really been killed, that she was coming for him, was already here. He’d lay in the dark and gaze at his ring, and know that he was safe.

The ring wasn’t glowing. They were all safe.

For now.

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