INFJ

Grains of salt are recommended with this post, like as salty as the smoked salmon omelette my friends choked down yesterday.

The 16 personality types (like the Meyers-Briggs test, but free) is a fun way to learn a little about yourself with a little bit of soft psychology. As I’ve warned, some skepticism is recommended because we’re human and often don’t fit in to simplified categories.

I’ve tested as an INFJ since college. Periodically I re-test, because I firmly believe that a person may change as they age and as life events create periods of upheaval.  After my car accident, I stayed stagnant in every portion of my life for seven years. I was dependent on my husband and lost my sense of identity. Then, a year and a half ago, I found EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and after four months I was comfortable driving myself around, being on my own at places like the grocery store, and was finally developing a backbone. It was a massive change and I thought, “perhaps my personality has changed.”

Nope!

I’ve changed what parts of my personality are more lively, more seen, but at my core, I’m still a weird little introvert who lives in a rich world of my thoughts and creativity. Being and INFJ feels like no one understands all the facets of me, like there’s a different me for every situation, but  I’ve been collecting other INFJ’s over time, and they are my favorite people. They skip small-talk and get right to the meat of what it means to be human.

Today I’m thankful for them. They help me feel less isolated in my oddities.

 

 

Story Genius: Review

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)

This is an excellent breakdown of character backstory and depth. It has an odd nomenclature, but can blend with more traditional terms. The prescribed story structure is more for literary fiction, but is adaptable for genre fiction. It’s not great for understanding story structure, but workable for building a story blueprint. Overall, it’s not as useful for developing a plot outside of a character’s psyche.

Would highly recommend to anyone who wants or needs an in depth understanding of how to make characters feel like real, flawed human beings.

Great for character—amazing, even, but not so great for everything else.

Happy Halloween!

Sailor Moon

Tomorrow marks three months of living off family and being jobless—talk about scary.

If my husband doesn’t find a real job soon, then I’m worried we’ll be living with my in-laws for another three months. It’s not that I’m unwilling to work, on the contrary I’ve been editing myself blind on my most recent manuscript, but as many other writers can attest, it’s not lucrative when you’re starting out.

I’m in a period of my writing career where I’m desperately questioning everything. Am I good enough? Are my stories original ? Do they capture the audience? Yet I know I’ve improved, I’ve learned so much and yet there’s just as much I don’t understand.

Then again fuck it. If I’m going to be unsuccessful then so be it. I’ll live off baked potatoes and figure out how to build a tiny house. Because you know what’s scarier than failing?

Not bothering to try.

My Why—A Misfit

“Misfit: a person whose behavior or attitude sets them apart from others in an uncomfortably conspicuous way.” That is who I am.

I am, to say the least, an odd duck. I think this insight into my life is going to be a curious and possibly unrelatable look into how my brain functions (or lack thereof).

My mother and sister were, and still are, avid readers. They never went far without a book in hand, and even though I was read to as a child, and encouraged (even bribed) to read, I HATED it. I am the second child, so perhaps it was an unconscious rebellious act, but it took Harry Potter to show me reading could be fun. Even then, I was convinced it was a fluke.

Classic literature gets a lot of praise and I’ve never understood why.  I couldn’t relate to the characters. I read classics like Charlotte’s Web and felt disgusted at the character’s choices and outcomes. Then in school I felt betrayed by Animal Farm and horrified by Of Mice and Men. Even more cerebral choices like The Catcher in the Rye missed the mark and convinced me that books were, at best, circular wastes of time with no hope and no meaning.

I felt other. I didn’t belong. I still don’t, as though this otherness in me makes me an alien somehow passing as human.

Even now I don’t identify with classic literature. I also don’t identify with epic fantasy. Or historical romance. Or dozens of other sub-genres, but I still try and branch out and read and learn. The thing is, I found urban fantasy and paranormal romance because there was a hint of other used in such a way where I felt at home.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to a place where I could be open about my otherness. Six years ago I was in a car accident that could have killed me, but instead it gave me an experience that I couldn’t share and it became an unintentional secret. It isolated me. The weight of it was so heavy on my soul that it began to crush me until I wished I had died that day anyway.

I had to learn how to live again. I had to find my why to live again. And find my why to write…

When I was a teenager I wanted to write for the people like me who didn’t have a place. The ones who were there, but never seen. The ones who blended into the crowd, but never belonged there. The ones who had a spark of other alive and well inside them, but had to hide and pretend to be normal for self preservation.

Now I write to connect us, because not only is isolation dangerous, but we are the misfits—we belong together.

So join me. Be my family of misfits, and together we will find our home.

Flash Fiction—Haunting Hell

Hell wasn’t what I expected. No fire, no brimstone, no torture; well, no torture in the traditional sense. Waiting on entitled customers marked high on my personal meter of Hell-on-Earth, but I never thought it would literally be the case.

In the endless halls I passed rooms of obscure retail shops: the ones you only notice when you go on vacation and then never find again. Punished souls inhabited bodies like they’d put on suits for work. This was only the first level of Hell—I didn’t want to wander too deep into the maze.

Oops. One of the demons spotted me darting through the shops. The thing is, demons are not red-eyed evil monsters with a burning hunger for human flesh. They’re more like hall monitors on a power trip. He jabbed a finger against my sternum and noticed my marks. He was cute, so I didn’t mind.

“Oh, you’re one of them. Follow the rules. Don’t get in the way.”

“OK. What’s your name?”

“Why?”

“Because you’re the first person to help me.”

“No, I didn’t. It’s Glen.”

“Thanks, Glen. I’m Bea. You’ve been here for a while to make demon status, how much longer until you move up?”

“We don’t talk about it. Now get out of here before I change my mind and assign you a spot.”

For once my feet moved before my mouth did. Still, I couldn’t find her. I’d lost track of time. There was no day or night here, and as a soul I couldn’t judge by my heartbeats or breaths. I hadn’t had time to adjust to my new state, let alone the new surroundings. My family up top had been so disappointed, but I had to follow my heart, even when it led me to Hell.

Another store flashed by on my left, but there were no souls tending it. The emptiness called to me. Had the punished soul slipped through the wards? I tiptoed inside. It was an antique shop, but children’s toys had been scattered, ruining a display. By habit I nudged them into a basket.

“What are you doing?” A ninety-year-old woman grabbed my arm, or the soul inside her did. I panicked, forgot the wards, forgot I was a soul, forgot the rules of Hell and broke her hold to burst through the front door. It wasn’t until I was halfway down the street that I realized I was a free ghost now. I’d found a way out of Hell! More importantly, I’d also found her!

I returned to the shop as fast as my see-through legs could carry me.

“You aren’t supposed to be here.”

Now that I knew what to look for I could see Annabelle’s face shine through the guise of the elderly woman’s skin suit.

“We promised we’d see each other in Hell. It’s not my fault you died ten years before I did.”

“That’s not what I mean. You don’t belong in Hell. You should be up there.” Luckily the store was empty, so it didn’t look strange for her to be conversing with air or gesturing wildly.

“No, we made a promise.”

“We also promised we’d tie up Captain America and keep him in our basement. Somethings we said for fun.”

“I’m not leaving my best friend to rot in Hell alone!” I balled my hands into fists. “I never thought you’d really end up here.”

“Are you kidding? You know what I did. Who I did.”

“But you aren’t a bad person.”

“Bea. Stop. You can’t be here. Go back up.”

“No. There are special circumstances for souls like me.” I held up my arms, allowing them to shine. The imprinted filigree looked like white tattoos scrolled all over my skin, marking my choice to follow her into the darkness.

Annabelle brushed the marks, tears forming in her human suit’s eyes. She couldn’t touch me, but her soul did behind the borrowed flesh. “Why?”

“We promised. I don’t mind being here”

“You idiot! This is Hell. You can’t…you can’t—”

I hugged through the suit to Annabelle’s soul. “Besides, I can leave when I want. And I don’t actually have to work. I can sit around and laugh at you. Does that help?”

She snorted and cleared her throat. “Never mind, now I don’t want you around.”

“Also it’s not really eternity. Just some reconditioning. A little community service for past indiscretions.”

“Out. I’m done with you.”

“I’ll go find some hot spirit guys to lounge with while you’re tortured. Add to the humiliation.”

“You’re the worst.”

“Best friends for life.”

“And death apparently.”

I grinned. “I’ll have to get Glen in on this. You’ll like Glen.”

“Who’s he?”

“Demon friend.”

Annabelle palmed her face. “You haven’t changed.” The door chimed as a customer entered.

“Nope. Now get back to work.” I turned to the customer, who couldn’t see me or hear me as I didn’t have a suit. “Welcome to Hell!”

Haunting was going to be fun.

Baking with Constructive Criticism

On a recent sick day, aka hangover, I decided to forgo my usual book binge in favor of a netflix binge, and came away with a surprise lesson in not just perfectly prepared breads, but ideal constructive criticism. 

The Great British Baking Show eliminates a contestant each episode, but not before putting everyone’s skills to the test. After each of the three baking challenges, the judges critique the confections with balanced assessments of the pastry’s strengths and weaknesses.

The beauty of the show is its British nature: the judges are exceedingly polite and anyone can turn a phrase better than a cake from a buttered pan. So when the judges critique the contestant’s works it is specific, useful, and compassionate.  

In essence, they use perfect constructive criticism.

The first critique I ever received was from my grandfather, and he tore apart my early draft so harshly I would have preferred a new anus to the humiliation I felt. Yet this show balances tips on how to improve as well as areas of success, and not for the sake of assuaging ego, but to inform contestants where they’re performing well. Often times it’s too easy to focus on where we fail, obsessing over mistakes and errors, and forgetting that we’ve improved or even perfected certain skills. It is essential in any craft to understand the smallest details of perfect execution, even in something as subjective as taste—literally or figuratively.

These judges are harsh, to the point, and yet compassionate and complimentary.

How can you translate this into your own critique groups? Many of us (yes, myself included) could learn from The Great British Baking Show not only the difference between a hot water crust and a flaky pie dough, but how to approach critiques honestly, yet without cruelty. Too often I see other writers shrug off bad news, saying the person’s advice is jaded or irrelevant. Yes, yes, I’m including myself in this, and the reason is it hurts. Bad critiques are attacks that slice through our souls like poisoned blades, sinking into our hearts and polluting the creative waters. So we put up our guards, laugh it off, ignore it, or do whatever we have to to keep moving. This is why you as a fellow writer must learn to critique as well as to write because I guarantee as some point a favor will be called in and you’ll be up next to beta read a manuscript, but by studying the tact of The Great British Baking Show it’s possible to learn how to say what you mean, without being mean.

But as one last nugget of thought to leave you with, baking and writing are not always going to line up. Neil Gaiman said, “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they’re almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

So unlike writing, if a baking judge tells you you over baked the cake and curdled the eggs, he’s probably right.

TL;DR

The Great British Baking Show can teach you to give practical critiques on what isn’t working, some possibility as to why, and then to focus on what did work. Finding the balance between successes and areas to improve is paramount in an open and honest dialogue between writer and critiquer, just as it is between baker and judge.