I have Nothing. Or Too Much.

Boo!

As the name implies, sometimes I have time to write. Sometimes, I don’t. This was one of those “don’t” times.

I have a feeling that soon enough, it will be one of those “do” times. In spades. The layoffs at work have begun. They say it’s seasonal, and maybe that’s true. Summer is a slow time and maybe it will pick up again in September. Then again, it tends to be slow in summer for a lot of companies in many different industries and they don’t lay off. Especially unexpectedly and without warning. I have my doubts this is “seasonal.”

In any event, I decided now was a good time to fire up the resume and start looking around. Just in case. While I’d love nothing more than to have time to sit around and write (until I got frustrated and started banging my head against the desk) the reality is that there are bills to be paid and therefore, I need money. Like an actual reliable, I can count on this being in my checking account twice a month kind of job.

Way back when, before this “I’m gonna be a writer!” thing, I was a manager. A person in charge of hiring and firing. A person with a master’s degree. A person with a lot to offer.

In an entirely different field.

And, by that I mean, not a writing field. Not a journalist field. Not a marketing field. Not a new media field. Something totally different. So, while I have a lot of experience and an advanced degree, it’s not in the right field. Not even a related field.

Which is not entirely true. I’ve been freelancing for a while, so I have a body of work, but nothing very current and with my name on it. That’s the funny thing about the Internet. It changes. Constantly. So, stuff I did, say 2 years ago, is gone. I have the originals but no active links on the Internet. That means it doesn’t count.

Lots of people don’t really want to talk to me because of that advanced degree and experience as the in-charge type. They make assumptions about the amount of pay that I’ll work for or what kind of team player I would be. Sure, they call me in for an interview because they have to, to make their hiring pool look good, but then I get in there and it’s a whole bunch of questions that make them wonder why I’d even bother applying in the first place.

It’s hard to say in an interview, Well, I never should have gotten that degree to begin with. I just wasn’t ready for the real world and it seemed kind of interesting, so, you know, I did that, even though, deep down, I never really wanted to it’s just that I lacked good guidance and certain skills to say that and sort of ended up there and I don’t know how but I just woke up one day and there I was in a job I really loathed because of choices and mistakes I made years ago. Then smile sheepishly, because that’s always cool to do in an interview.

It’s tough, I know. I’ve been in their shoes. On the one hand, I don’t really fit what they want in a candidate. And the next 16 applicants do, so why would they hire me? On the other hand, I’ve got an advanced degree, so obviously I must be kind of smart and persistent and all sorts of cool sounding corporate buzz words, but what’s to say I won’t get bored with the job and leave when something better paying, more interesting or more ______________ comes along?

I’d love to start each application with: Look! I’m a writer. Obviously, I’m not in to big pay checks and glory. And I’ve been working for peanuts for the last year! Clearly I’m willing to compromise on everything!

But I would say it in a much less desperate way. because no matter what I can or can’t offer an employer, I’m a writer. That’s what I do. Make it all sound better than it really is.

On to Something New

I’ve talked before about Twitter and how I’ve been finding all sorts of writing prompts and games on there. They’ve been fun and have led me to write some interesting things and to explore topics I may not have thought about otherwise.

One of the prompts has encouraged me to ditch my current WIP and try something new. Completely new. This won’t be the first time I’ve abandoned a project, but it will be the first time I’m going to try and write in a different genre.

It will be interesting, to say the least. And, I think, challenging, but I’m hoping challenging in a good way. Like, in a way that allows me to complete a project and actually send it out instead of just talking about it. Or pushing to get to nowhere.

So, here goes. Out with the old. In with the new.

Memorable Writing

Someone remembered my writing and used it as an example!

Of bad writing.

(Oh, come on. You had to see that coming.)

I can’t say that I disagree, per se. It wasn’t my best work and could have used some polishing. However, that’s not why it was used as an example. Of bad writing. (I might be a tad bitter.)

I know up front that I still have a lot to learn about the craft of writing. Loving to write, needing to write, being unable to stop writing, isn’t enough. That’s the truth I’ve come to grips with lately. Loving it isn’t enough. Very few of us are naturally “that good.” Most of us are good, but have to really work at the “that” part. I’m one of them, and that’s fine.

The reason it was held up as a bad example wasn’t because of the writing but because of where it started. Specifically, because this reader didn’t care about the character yet. There was no emotional involvement so why do we care about what is happening to the character.

OK. I see what she’s saying. Really, I do. But.

(Because you knew that was coming, too.)

Don’t you automatically care about the character because you picked up the book? Part of me wanted to say, isn’t that what book jackets and synopses for? You’re reading the book because your friend said it’s awesome, right? So, don’t you automatically want to know what happens even if you’re not emotionally connected to the character in the first 200 or so words? You don’t just give up on a book after 200 words do you? If you’re an agent, maybe, sure, but a reader? Don’t you keep reading a little further, just to see?

Personally, the soonest I’ve ever given up on a book was about 3 pages in. A record for me, to be sure, and it wasn’t because I didn’t emotionally connect with the character. It had to do with some really bad writing about testicles. Don’t ask. But that’s more than 200 words.

Don’t misunderstand. She wasn’t saying she had to like the character, which is a totally different thing. She just needed to connect. And that’s fine, for her. Not everyone needs to connect with a character just to keep reading.

Take The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I loved that book. But the first 70 pages. Yikes. What the hell was that? I couldn’t understand what all the fuss and hype was about. But, people told me not to give up and I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t. And, in turn, I shared that advice with others who wanted to give up. Don’t, I said. I promise.

I didn’t connect with any character in the beginning because, frankly, there was no one really to connect with. Lots of set-up, no action. Boring. When I was reading it I remember thinking, I could easily condense this into about 3 pages and move on, but, that’s not how that book was written. I would have missed out if I had given up after 3 pages just because of the lack of connection.

So, what does this all mean? While the critique was coming from a good place, I just can’t agree. I started in the right place. Perhaps I needed more characterization for context and connection, but, no, I was right to start where I did.

And I’m going to keep going.

You Never Know Unless You Try!

Just a quick note.

There are all sorts of things to find on Twitter – beyond the promoted posts and click bait. There are lots of writing prompts to help you improve your writing. One of those is 200 Word Tuesdays. Each month there’s a theme (or two) and you write a story to fit said theme, but use only 200 words. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds.

I don’t generally think of myself as a short story writer, but given how the novel thing is coming along, I probably shouldn’t rule anything out.

So, I tried! And succeeded! Read Beautful Armor here and follow on Twitter at @200WordTuesdays (and the fabulous person behind it all @ReeDwithaBee).

Minimum Pay, Minimum Work: Why Customer Service is Dying

The house is warm, it stopped raining in the kitchen and I have a new phone.

Several things collided this weekend, culminating in an interesting Monday (part of which I blogged about here). In truth, all of it was nothing and it was a bunch of first world problems. Sometimes, to keep it in perspective, I remind myself that it could be worse. Before I started pursuing this lucrative writing thing, I worked with drug addicts, criminals, and juvenile delinquents. Perspective is everything.

Saturday it started “raining” in my kitchen. Not raining, but water was dripping down from the light fixture over the kitchen table. I contacted the electrician and, turns out it’s no big deal – as in, not a roof leak – and he’ll be by to fix it Monday around 12:00.

Ok. I have plans to get a new phone on Monday but that should give me plenty of time. And by “phone” I mean 2 phones and a tablet that had been ordered 2 weeks ago and I had confirmed they were at the store, waiting for me to come get them.

Except I wake up Monday morning to the cold house and spider infested furnace. Fortunately, the HVAC guy can come by that day, also around 12:00. Perfect.

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Not where rain should come from

I head to the store and it opens right at 10AM. There’s one employee there (the manager). Fortunately, I’m first, and everything is there so this should be an easy transaction. Only, it wasn’t. One of the phones I was told was there, wasn’t. Which isn’t really the manager’s fault, as she hadn’t been the person setting this up. She tried calling and texting the person I was working with repeatedly to find out what happened to the missing phone and he didn’t answer.

The manager offers to go over to another store to get it, but she won’t be able to do it until later but should have it by 12:45. Which is a problem because I don’t know if I can get back to the store that day because of the rainy kitchen and spidery furnace. (Side note: I wonder if it would have snowed in the kitchen if the furnace was out for much longer?)

But, I don’t have a choice. I leave, telling her I’ll be back. I go home, everything is fixed, I improve my fire starting skills and life is decent.

I go back to the store at 1:00, figuring that would be more than enough time for her to go and come back in lunch time traffic. Only, when I get there, it turns out she had just left the store to get the phone. Now I’m really not happy. The staff (there are 3 of them there now, 1 is a new guy. Poor guy. Crappy day to start a new job), try to talk to me but I explain I’m pissed and why I’m pissed and they are smart. They leave me alone.

Thirty minutes later, the manager returns with my phone, apologizes and, truthfully, handles it like a pro. Engaging me in conversation, being genuinely upset at the guy I was working with for screwing this up, screwing her over and not responding to her for 2 hours (I don’t know what he said about the missing phone). She was all impressed that I knew to do an encrypted back up of the phone before coming in. And she made me laugh when she tested the phone to make sure the number ported over by pranking one of her staff. Good times. And, let’s face it, she drove over to another store to get this for me. That’s pretty awesome.

Later in the evening, in the warm and dry house, I started thinking about everything that happened in the store. Not just about my response to it (because, before the haters get started, yes I was pissed that the phone wasn’t there and I have a right to be pissed because they told me it was there and then it wasn’t and I don’t have all day to wait around for a phone) but about the whole thing.

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Apparently, this doubles as a spider hotel

I was told the stuff was there but it wasn’t. That’s poor customer service. I worked retail for years to help me get by and when a customer wants something, you put it on hold, off to the side with a note on it. If there’s a limit on how long you can hold it, you tell them. And if you aren’t allowed to hold things, you mention that before the customer leaves the store.

Then I get there and the manager is on by herself and sort of knows what’s going on but doesn’t and has to call her staff person who doesn’t answer his phone. Not her fault, per se, all though, as a former manager, I kind of feel like you should know what everyone of your staff is up to, especially on their day off (as in “what do I need to know since you aren’t there to make sure the shit doesn’t hit the fan”).

But, again, perspective. How much do these people make? Ten dollars an hour? Twelve? Let’s even say fifteen, though I doubt that very much. Are they hourly? Salaried? Do they get full time hours or are they restricted to part time? Are there any benefits at all? Is the company using predictive software that scheudles hours based on the weather and the probability that X amount of customers will show? Because I gotta tell you, if that’s the case, the software totally blew it that day. No one around here cares that it’s a -20 windchill. Stuff’s gotta get done.

Is it my fault for expecting more? Do I expect too much because I’ve been in that position before and think I would do better? But would I really if I were in that position now? Is it unreasonable to expect more than minimum work for just a minimum wage? I don’t know what the manager makes but she seemed to go above and beyond, all things considered. Why her and no one else? Will she still be like that in 6 months? A year?

Yup, I know, it’s all a bunch of first world problems. And, all things considered, it could be worse. But I find myself asking, shouldn’t we do better? First world problem or not, shouldn’t we be concerned about low pay and what it could lead to? What it seems to be leading to? Shouldn’t we be demanding better for everyone?

Heavy thoughts for a Wednesday. Discuss.

Apocalypse Prep

For weeks I’ve been dying to get some writing done. Specifically, writing while in front of the warm and cozy fireplace I don’t use very often. Let’s face it, a roaring fire might be the stuff of rom coms, but it’s not very environmentally friendly. Or, from what I hear, that efficient at heating much more than the immediate area it’s by. Also, I know from experience they are a PITA. You’ve got to kindle them, keep them going and so on. More on that in a minute.

Today, through a convergence of dumb-ass circumstances. I got my wish. Right now, it’s 5 degrees fahrenheit outside. I’m sure it was a lot colder when I got up this morning. Don’t remember now. And it doesn’t matter because when I got up it was 62 degrees fahrenheit in the house. Not because that’s how I leave it set over night. But because the furnace decided to quit sometime in the middle of the night,

That’s very rude of the furnace. When I went to bed last night, it was fine. Humming along and working, spitting out heat. But, apparently the demands of heating the house last night was too much and it decided to leave for easier work. Or a better salary. I’m not sure because it didn’t leave a note.

Not that I blame the furnace. It’s been crazy cold here (Chicago) the last few weeks and I think at some point last night or this morning the windchill was something obscene like -22. So, I get it. I’d be pretty pissed to. I kind of am, actually.

As a result, this morning, I found myself in a cold house. Not freezing, obviously. But cold. So, I decided to light a fire, because, why not? I’ve been wanting to write by the fire so, here’s my chance.

Yeah. I know better than that.

While I totally believe the zombie apocalypse will do us all in one day, I’m not exactly prepared for it. I’ve got some stuff ready (like a go bag with some matches and maybe some clean underwear) but I seem to be lacking in survival skills.

See, when I grill outside during the summer, it’s kind of sad. I’m that person that pours about half the bottle of lighter fluid on the coals because I can’t seem to get them to light with a “light squirt” of the bottle. Also, I’m impatient and don’t have time to wait around for all the coals to light in a slow and uniform manner. I’m hungry, damn it, and I want to eat.

Impatience and hunger are not a good combination.

It’s worse when I have to light a fire. I can’t use lighter fluid to speed things up. Well, I guess I could, but I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to. Actually, next time I grill, I’m going to check the bottle for that information. And stock up for the apocalypse.

So, I ran out this morning, (not because it was cold but because of other things) then came back and, much to my disappointment, the furnace had not magically started working agin. Time to light a fire.

I grab some wood from the garage and bring it in. Then, I make a bed of newspaper in the log holder thingy (I’m so technical) with the wads I’ve been saving and collecting for weeks. I stick the logs on the bed and try to arrange the logs in such a way that they will catch fire easily. Preferably instantly.

For some reason, at this moment, I’m thinking of Tom Hanks in “Castaway” when he’s stuck on the island and he has a sudden epiphany and yells to Wilson that the fire needs air. Or something like that. I try to arrange the logs so they can breathe.

Then I light the paper and it ignites right away. Flames are burning bright and high and I’m warm for an instant. They burn quickly. Then they are out and the logs didn’t catch. For a brief moment I wonder how houses are able to catch on fire so easily when I can’t make these logs burn intentionally. I try again.

I twist up the paper, shove it in between the logs and light again. The paper catches easily and burns and starts to shrivel. As it does, it falls off the log holder thingy and does nothing to help with the wood.

Not one to give up even when I should, I try again. Shoving a ton of paper in there and lighting it in as many places as possible. It’s a pretty sight and a touch warm. It’s so bright in there, I have to look away for a second and when I look back, the paper has burned out and…

Success!

Sort of.

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And that only took about 15 minutes, which is a new personal best for me.

The problem is that that’s not enough to keep it going so I shoved even more paper in there and lit again and finally got more to catch. Then I poked it with the poker a bunch of times and it’s going OK now. It’s burning on its own and I’ve got a little bit of heat.

I could almost, maybe, possible, cook a hot dog in this. I’m not going to, (mostly because I don’t like hot dogs), but  it’s nice to know that if the apocalypse happens right now, I’m ready for it.

The Hungry Stomach

Today, I’m getting the oil in my car changed. You’re jealous, I know. I got here (yes, I’m still here), and they told me it would take about an hour. Which to me translates to hour and a half, minimum, but probably closer to two. Fine. No problem. I brought stuff to do. Like the WIP and some other minor housekeeping items. And I brought my water bottle and a snack. 2 hours? I’m good.

But the car isn’t. Let’s just say it’s going to cost me another $500 or so I hadn’t planned on spending today along with another 2 or so hours I hadn’t planned on sitting here.

While I could easily work on the WIP for a couple of hours, I don’t know if I can do it while I’m hungry. I figured I could make do with some of the snacks around here – like goldfish crackers and the like. Not great but at least it’s food.

However, this lovely couple just walked in and took a seat across from me. And opened lunch.

Sigh.

I shall comfort myself by telling my stomach the food looks gross and probably tastes bad. And my stomach will respond by telling me, “Whatever. I’m hungry.” Which means I won’t get much work done.

So, I’ll try to read a book I found on Amazon. And by try I’ll mean really try. It’s an indie and I like the idea of giving indies a chance, but… Win some, lose some, I guess.

I hate the idea of trashing an inide author, but I just can’t seem to get through it. I’m trying. I mean really trying, but the first few pages of this aren’t great. Not awful, horrible, oh my God how could this happen bad. But, not good. And I can kind of get why a traditional publisher maybe wouldn’t have wanted it.

But, who am I to judge? Really, who are any of us to judge? Judges, maybe. Ok. But, the rest of us? I remember when “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was popular. I started it and almost couldn’t get through the first 70 or so pages. It was just a lot of crazy backstory and set up. Everyone said, “Just get past the first 2 or so chapters and then it’s really great!” And they were right. It was. But, man, those first few chapters were tough.

I learned from that, though. To keep trying and really give a book a chance. So, I’ll try. Since I’ve read through this post and wow, I really need to eat. My muse gets quite cranky when it’s hungry.