Poor Valley Part VII: Lost Wax Ring

Here is Part VII of Poor Valley Witch, the short story I’m writing, warts and all, on this blog. I’m editing as I go and making lots of mistakes! But, hey, it’s a writing experiment. Go here to start at Part I. Here’s Part VI.

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“Sacrificed? What the hell does that mean, sacrificed?” Landon gripped Mamaw’s shoulders. She shook her head.

“Nothing. Let me see the ring,” she said, holding out her hand. He gazed at her a moment more, then sat down on the bed next to her and took the ring off. She took it from him and squinted at it, teeth bared in the shrewish expression he remembered from his childhood. It was her concentrating expression, reserved for tricky bits of sewing or the contemplation of broken things. It had always scared him a little bit; the exposed teeth made her look feral.

“There’s the engraving, but that’s not what I’m looking for … See here,” she muttered, turning the ring to look inside. “See the little bump in there? The circle.”

Landon leaned close to see. “Yes.”

“This is the lost wax ring.” The lost wax ring? What the hell did that mean? Was the ring lost, or somehow made of wax? It looked like gold to him.

“I don’t understand, Mamaw.”

“It’s a way to make jewelry. You carve what you want to make out of wax and press it into clay, then bake it to melt out the wax and make a mold. See, you have to leave a little nubbin that sticks out of the clay so it all drains out. And you have to leave little nubbins inside to hold it together while you’re carving the thing.”

“Lost wax,” said Landon, bemused. He didn’t understand what this had to do with anything, but Mamaw seemed calmer talking about it. She seemed more like herself. He wanted to keep that going. “Then what?”

“Yes. Then you melt the gold and push it into the clay mold. With centrifuge.” Her words became a whisper. “Little gold nubbins are left on the ring. From the mold. You have to cut those off.” She caressed the slight bump on the ring with one finger.

“Your mother made this ring,” she said with a finality that startled him. “In college.” Landon’s mother. Mamaw didn’t usually like to speak of her. She lived in Florida now, had gone south for a vacation when he was a kid and never come home again.

“Come with me,” said Mamaw, swinging her legs around to get off the bed.

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Landon put one hand on her arm. “You just fainted!”

She took his hand in hers and patted it with a wan smile, then stood up and walked out of the room. He looked down at his hand. She’d tucked the ring into it. He ran out after her. She was already out the back door, headed to the garden shed. She pulled open the door with a jerk and marched into the gloom. Landon barely made it to the shed before she marched back out, almost colliding with him.

She held a rusted mint tin. “Here.”

“What’s this?” He took the tin from her, still holding the ring in one hand.

“It’s the nubbins,” she said. He opened the rusted lid and looked inside. There were three tiny, misshapen cylinders of gold and a desiccated dead beetle. She closed the lid again and closed his hands around the ring and the mint tin.

“Keep these safe,” she said. “They are more important than you know.”

 

 

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Part 2 in the J-O-B Series

In Part 2 of an as-yet-undetermined number in my newest blog series, J-O-B, I promised to discuss what happens when your pristinely crafted cover letter and resume get attention and you actually get in the door of a future employer.

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I’m talking about the interview.

Many writers are introverts. I get that. The thought of sitting across from a manager’s desk, or on the couch in a creative director’s office (and talking about such things as why you’re the best candidate for the job, and what your professional goals are, and if you could change careers and do anything what would that be and why …?) might actually cause you to break out in hives.

I don’t have any ground-breaking secrets here; you just have to get over it. You don’t have to suddenly become an extroverted version of the introverted you, but you do have to actually talk to people, and at least give an appearance of enjoying it. At least a little.

To get to this point, O Unemployed Pilgrim, you have to practice. Even the most introverted person has a friend or two in the world. Ask one (or both) of them to sit down and have a mock interview. Research job interview questions from multiple online sources and compile them. See which questions make the list most often. Figure out your answer to those questions. Throw in a few oddball questions. Figure out your answers to those, too.

If you’re relatively new, out of practice, or just prone to anxiety, you absolutely have to sit down, face-to-face with your friend (the mock future employer) and have them “interview” you, using all those questions. Do it a few times, until you feel more comfortable.

Dress up. Even if it’s a casual, modern office, dress up for the interview. Send the message that you care about making a good first impression. Don’t think that playing it cool will land you a job; it won’t. Be professionally eager. Show that you want the job. This isn’t the same as dating in middle school. (And if you were that person who pretended you weren’t interested to try and get a date, how’d that work out for you?)

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Bring hard copies of your resume, cover letter and writing samples. So, so many writers don’t do this. Yes, it’s accessible online. Yes, you sent the stuff according to the format requested by the company. (If you didn’t, you probably didn’t get an interview. Go back to Part 1 of the J-O-B series.) But, again, you’re sending a message: “I’m making it easy for you to see all the things that make me the best writer for your company.”

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Happy interviewing. If, like me, you are prone to sweating profusely during life’s exciting moments, let’s hope the interview space is air-conditioned.

Finally, I’d like to take a moment to say: Congratulations! You landed an interview! Go get ’em, tiger.

Landing a Job. Part 1.

This is a writer’s blog, dedicated mostly to creative endeavors. But, sometimes, painful as it may be, even fantasy writers find it necessary to seek out a J-O-B. We got bills to pay, habits to finance (like indie publishing mermaid novellas and collecting Neal Stephensons’s published works…)

So I recently found two freelance gigs and a part-time job. The freelance gigs came first or, quite frankly, I may not have pursued them at all, as my part-time hours are pretty good. But it’s a feast or famine industry, so I’ll take the extra-busy time and say “Thank you.” Want to know how I landed my jobs? Read on, oh unemployed pilgrim.

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I have three cardinal rules for those looking for gainful employment:

Get your shit together.

BE creative, then SHOW it.

Put forth the effort!

One of my work-for-pay gigs is working at an ad agency in Knoxville. I don’t have a background in advertising. Most of my professional writing experience is with small publications, blogs and, of course, my personal projects like Mermaid Underground and this blog. So how did I end up at an agency? I followed the steps.

Step 1: Track down the job posting.

I found my current job on Monster.com, but I followed the most basic rule of job hunting: follow the job back to the original post on the company website. Always do this. Sometimes there are additional instructions or just company culture cues to help you apply for the job, well … better. Going back to the company website also gets you started on the next step in applying for the job (NOT actually applying).

Step 2: Research the company!

Who are some of their past clients? What does their web copy look like? Who works there? What do their bios say? What is the company’s freakin’ motto? This is important, because it directs you to a) know whether you would even want to work there and b) tailor the copy in your cover letter to match the company tone.  Which leads me to…

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Step 3: The dreaded cover letter.

What most writers completely overlook is that your cover letter is your first writing sample for a future employer. Make ’em yawn with the cover letter or, worse, make ’em think you copied and pasted, and you’ll never get in the door. Find some specific reasons why you want to work for the place and use those as a jumping-off point. (See Step 1!) Tell them who you are, and why your you-ness makes you the perfect candidate for their company. Drive it home with a colorful anecdote.

Step 4: Follow directions!

If they want samples attached to an email, do it. Some places prefer samples in the body of an email. Give them links to your social media pages (if relevant), online portfolio (why don’t you have one?!) and contact information. Make it easy for them to get to you! You’d think this basic stuff was understood, but so, so few people seem to be able to get it together.

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I get it; you’re using the scatter shot method to get a job. You don’t have time to give each job posting this much attention, right? Then let me assure you, you will not enjoy the employer who’s willing to hire you. Put in the time. Job hunting is a full-time job, with delayed pay. How delayed depends on you.

Remember this: You’ll get rejected a lot, but you only need one “Yes!”

On a personal note, it was ultimately my quirky endeavors that landed me this job copywriting at an ad agency. My manager was impressed that I had the creativity, drive and discipline to finish and publish the Mermaid Underground books. You never know when the stuff that makes your parents go “Why the hell are you wasting your time?” might land you a unicorn.

Next up in this J-O-B series, I’ll write a bit about what happens when you get in the door: how to stick the landing in a face-to-face interview.

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2017

First things first: Happy New Year! Part of me loves this “fresh start” idea with turning over a new calendar. It’s a chance to make new goals with the bright-eyed outlook of actually achieving them. A smaller part of me thinks that’s silly; you can start a new year full of goals any time you want to. Our system of keeping time is arbitrary, anyway, and not very good. It’s imprecise enough to leave leftover days every four years, for goodness’ sakes.  

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It’s never a bad time to wish someone happiness and prosperity, though, so I wish it!  

I’ve been neglecting my blog. I have many good reasons for this, all falling under that nebulous, overarching prerogative-maker/changer called life. I have a new job. Three new jobs, really; two freelance writing gigs and a part-time position at an ad agency in Knoxville. I have to say, the last quarter of last year really opened me up creatively and professionally. We’re also in the process of setting up what amounts to a family compound in the woods of South Knox. See? I’ve been busy! 

For those readers who are trying to hack it in the thorny world of freelance writing, I have a series of blogs coming up in the next few weeks about my professional endeavors of late.  

For all those who barrage me with messages of irritation because I’ve waited so long to get back to the Poor Valley Witch story, I have this to say: Ok, Mike! I get it! I’ll get back to writing it. 

I had planned to release the third and final installment of the Mermaid Underground series at the end of 2016, but (happily) I was too entrenched in my new jobs and moving my family, or at least getting started moving them. I say “happily” because I needed to get better perspective on that story before I could immerse myself again. Mermaid pun intended. So 2017 will be the year of the final Mermaid Underground story: Revolution! 

May your new year start with joy or contentment, or, if those aren’t in sight, something cathartic that will be the bridge to a better outlook.