Author Corner: Double Helix, Book 2 in Production!

I’m happy to announce that book two in the Double Helix series is currently being written. Or should I say, re-re-re-written.

I have never struggled harder with a concept than I have for the sequel to Never Mind the Genetics. Not because I couldn’t think of a plot for it. It was because I thought of every single plot possible.

When I settled on my final concept for book two (which has gone through literally five different titles), it had already traveled all across the literary universe. It buzzed with the gadgetry of science-fiction. It donned a suspense-drama uniform. It oozed with the sappiness of illness-related tragedy. It flaunted bright comedy colors. Book two in the Double Helix series has touched almost every genre imaginable, and all of them terrible, and didn’t match at all what I wanted to get across in terms of Kevin and Andrew’s relationship. The truth was, I had no damn clue what I was going to do.

My point is, I was being pretty foolish about what I was doing. Hell, I’m still kind of shambling about, wondering if I should even bother making this a “series” at all. With all of the failed concepts, signs are pointing to “maybe you should have held out on calling this a ‘series’ until you figured yourself out”. When one of my ideas was no more complicated than “they were birds in another life,” I knew I was dead in the water.

Yeah, birds. No, I don’t take any recreational drugs, but man, imagine what kind of stuff I’d write about them if I had.

The funny thing is, I revealed these ideas to those who support me. None of them stopped me and said, “That’s a terrible idea, Mel.” I mean, I’m kind of (very) sensitive, so I don’t blame them for going easy on me. I’m only glad I snapped out of it and was honest with myself, and said, “Hey, these ideas are kind of terrible, man.”

So, naturally, going from idea to idea and back again has delayed this book terribly. I wrote about three or four (I lost count) rough first drafts that went nowhere. The first book’s concept was so easy. “A father and son fall in love”. Oh, okay, I can do that. Then I had the audacity to ask “now what?” once the first book was over.

A lot of people tell me that you have to have sequel concepts already  planned out before publishing the first if you’re doing a series. Well, that’s the thing– I did have ideas. They were just all bad, and I realized a bit late that they wouldn’t work. I had to come up with something new, immediately. It was only recently that I was able to do so. It is, so far, the closest thing to being substantial. I have a feeling that I’ll reach the end of the manuscript, say “this isn’t working” and toss that out with the others. It, like all other ideas, is definitely flawed at this point, but it still follows the same formula I was originally going for, as well as the same tone. After some intense storyboarding, I’ll be able to figure out what I can throw away and what I can keep, and polish it up before starting a whole new first draft.

Book two will feature the same characters– namely Kevin, Andrew, and Kyle. No, Ben doesn’t make a reappearance (because I don’t even like him, to be honest about it– and I never did. Note to self: don’t write characters that annoy the crap out of me). Kyle has a role other than “background jealousy machine” this time, and his development is based around about a year of me writing backstory for him, something I didn’t even do when I wrote the first book. Kyle has become more of a personal character for me now.

In the first book, Kevin and Andrew lacked the conflict I enjoy in a romance story. Though they did end up having some conflict at the end of the book, it didn’t last very long, and therefore, their reconciliation didn’t feel as satisfying to me. Because Kevin and Andrew have such a tight bond, breaking it would require something pretty serious. That was another struggle of mine: finding something strong enough to break the glue that stuck them to one another. In my mind, I always think, “They’d survive that. It’s not enough. Their relationship is too unique.” It wasn’t until recently that I realized what the “deal-breaker” could be– the thing so jarring that they might not be able to carry on afterwards– and when it hit me, I felt both elated and nauseated. Now I just have to  get the poor boys through the ordeal.

With this plan in mind, I can only hope that it’s the last one. I’ve already begun to storyboard in Scrivener. I’ve been writing down tons of notes. An ending to the story is even coming into view. It’s looking like this latest concept might truly be the final one.  Part of me can’t wait to go on this emotional roller coaster ride, while another part has a box of tissues, ice cream and Josh Groban ready while he chants, “LET’S DO THIS, GENTLEMEN!”

 

Fighting My D-Bag Inner Critic

Why, brain, must you forsake me?

These past couple of weeks… my writing has significantly slowed down. I’m terrified that it’s going to reach that inevitable halting screech, and I might never finish anything. The only reason why I assume such a thing is because I have had a habit of doing it in the past. I would start and finish a couple of projects, then boom, I start drinking myself to sleep again. Before, I would have blamed this on “writer’s block.” Except that it’s nothing like writer’s block at all, because I know what to write; my stories are practically boarded and tacked up scene-by-scene in my head, and I know exactly how it all comes out. Writer’s block is usually caused by a lack of creativity flow.

Lately, I’ve been on the, um… stressed-out side.

Maybe I should have chewed the paper harder?

Maybe not so much stressed as I have been really, really depressed. This isn’t anything new for me, exactly. I feel this way almost every day– some days are better and more neutral than others, but it’s bad enough to be… bad. But usually, writing will help curb my depression and make me feel more at ease. It relieves my stress. I haven’t been able to write for more than ten minutes at a time now. Mostly because whenever I look at my writing, I do one of these:

OH GOD. IT’S SO BAD.

And lately, that feeling has only been worsening. Every author has the inner critic, the little voice that challenges you, tells you, “come on, bro. You’re not that good. You’re not the next Stephen King, or anything. You’re just a nobody. A loser.” Mine is like that, only louder, angrier, and he’s holding about fifteen guns. He keeps them in a coat, you see. It’s heavy, but convenient. Oh, and he has at least three at a time aimed at me. How does he manage three when he only has two hands? He’s just that violent.

My inner critic is a gigantic asshole. The worst thing about him is that he doesn’t quit until I’m sobbing into a tub of ice cream and listening to Josh Groban while rain spatters the window as a puppy whimpers in the distance. He causes plants to wilt and renders sugar tasteless. He wrings my emotions through a spiked ricer and drains them in a colander of emptiness. I guess you could say he’s less of a “critic” and more of an “abusive sibling.” I’d say it’s this inner douchebag inside me that prevents me from writing, but it’s more like the 6-year-old child within me is at fault for taking everything this maniacal lunatic says to heart. The problem isn’t that I don’t know how to go about writing my sequels. It’s that I want to throw my fist through my monitor whenever I look at anything I made; especially a work-in-progress.

You’ll never believe how this happened…

So, if one writes to help their depression, but can’t write because their own writing depresses them, what are they to do? Have a lollipop and get over it would be step one, but apparently that’s beyond my scope of reasoning. Stop listening to my inner critic? Yeah, right. He’s the reason people keep telling me, “your work is really well-written.” Without him, I’d go into E. L. James territory… and we all know that’s a territory too seedy to tread. He’s the reason for me noticing when a sentence just sounds really stupid, and tells me whether or not I should delete it. This is even after I told myself in another blog post a month ago that I have to keep writing or I’ll go insane. Way to take my own advice, me.

Soooo I called my therapist, feeling a bit at a loss otherwise. Until I start up a few sessions with her, I’m afraid my profession is going to have to take a short hiatus. I want to continue the Double Helix series– I really do. I want to write Kevin and Andrew. It normally makes me feel delighted to wake up and start telling their story. As the days go on… I feel like they hate me as much as my inner critic does. And when your own imaginary friends can’t stand you… well…

Wait! Guys! Come baaaaaaaaaaaaack…

I don’t blame them, of course. Their creator hasn’t been on medication in a long time. That and the hot showers I take are getting longer and longer– and hotter. So, maybe it’s time. Yeah, I suppose “depressed author” is a bit of a cliche. I don’t mind that. What I do mind is quitting before anyone can even call me an author. I’d rather be “depressed author seeking help” than a “person who is too busy wallowing in self-pity to get anything done.”

I’m determined not to give up. I’m not letting that jerk within me beat me. For good or for bad, my series (and subsequent series after that) will get published. I just have to be able to shut him up before I can.

Oh, and I have to do this:

*choke* Get the butter pecan…

I couldn’t get through it without my husband, who always tries to push me back on my feet whenever I fall down. He really does remind me that I shouldn’t give up.
I wish my conscience was as sweet as him.

Respect Your Readers

He’s fifty shades of WHAT?

There’s often a lot of debate whether or not certain reviews should be “disputed” on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Some indie authors, still to this day, continue to argue with those that give their books low ratings. To that I say, “What are you aiming to accomplish, here? They read the book and made their decision.”

Getting a critical, or negative review is always tough the first few times, but the fact of the matter is that you want those reviews. Not only do you want them, you need them. People are less inclined to purchase something with only glowing five-star reviews because they think someone is gaming the system. By writing a critical review, that reader did you a favor.

Although… it may not feel like it at first.

Bad press is better than no press at all. A book with only one review that is two or three stars will sell more copies than a book with none at all. People are curious creatures by nature, and want to “check things out for themselves.” Sometimes, reviews that are only negative will sell lots of copies based solely on people’s curiosity. Individuals will wonder “could it really be that bad?” There are few books out there these days that are so terrible that they warrant one star. Even I have been pulled in by a book’s mass of one-star reviews that slam a book’s god-awful writing and storyline. I too wonder “Is it really that bad? I have to check this out, and if it really is that terrible, I wonder if I’ll have a good laugh at it.”

Of course, no one wants to believe or hear that their book is “laughable.” But think of it this way: those critics are encouraging you to write something better the next time around. Show them that they can read something serious and well-written from you by improving yourself.

As an author, your job is to write, stand aside, and let people discuss it without you. Some say that you should completely ignore reviews altogether and never read them. I have to disagree with that. If the majority states that your book is garbage, it’d be good to know. You need to understand where to improve on the next book, and readers will help you by explaining themselves. Just don’t argue with them. Never argue with them. Don’t even explain yourself, or your book, to them. You cannot change their opinion. It is who they are. They have a right to that opinion as a person.

I’m not only an author. I’m also a reader. From a reader’s standpoint, I trust the author not to glom on to every little thing I say. I trust the author not to follow me around on various websites and harass me. I trust the author not to take things personally. I trust an author to not suddenly turn into a psychopath and stalk me and hunt me down like I’m a trophy for their wall. Only the truly arrogant, the narcissistic, and the spiteful do things like that. If you’re about to attack a reader for whatever they say about your novel, take a moment to think about how utterly crazy you’re about to behave. Even if you’re about to say something objective, and maybe even a little positive (“Thanks for your feedback and taking the time to read my book!”), it’s seen in a negative light. It’s seen as ego-stroking. It shows the reviewer, and other readers for that matter, that you pay very close attention to what is said about you; that you aren’t just interested in improving your writing. You’re interested in proving yourself as an individual to people you’ve never met. This rubs people the wrong way. It certainly does for me.

Me and my book are the greatest things to ever happen to you, baby.

Think about why you’re planning to do this, and ask what your real motivation is. Are you trying to get them to apologize? Are you trying to keep them as a reader? Why? If they hate your book, let them go. They wouldn’t be interested in your other ones. Your writing style just might not be their cup of tea. Are you trying to show someone, a complete stranger, on the Internet, that you’re worth the time and money because you’re so spectacularly, stupendously awesome-tastic? Look, a reader wants a good story with good characters and good flow. That’s all. They don’t want to talk to who wrote it unless they’re already a friend. They want to get something worth their money. Your job is to give them something worth it.

A book is a product, and your readers are consumers. If you owned a store, and someone purchased something in it, only to return it the next day because it didn’t work for them, would you sit there and explain to them why they’re wrong? No, because that’d be insane. Your readers expect to read something that isn’t a pile of garbage. If you take the time to polish and spit-shine your work, they will appreciate it even if they don’t like the story, because it shows that you care about them. You should care about them. They’re the ones making you money. They’re the ones making you who you are.

There’s something else I’ve seen in the indie literary world regarding readers, and even as an author, it gets under my skin– because if an author ever said these things to me as a reader, I’d be more than just a little annoyed. Authors will claim that readers should be forced or obligated to review what they read.

You have no right, even as the author of the book, to tell a reader when to review your book or how to review it.

I’ve seen many indie authors say things like: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” Are you kidding me? As if the ones who create that rule ever follow it themselves. You know damn well that if you bought a faulty, useless, or PoS product, you’d have something to say to those selling it to you. Your ego is not as important as those who care enough to tell other readers what they’re buying. Statistically, very few people review the things they buy on Amazon. People who buy books on Amazon are even less inclined to review them than they would other products (10% of buyers on Amazon actually review things– and the number is lower for books). There are many reasons for this.

1. They couldn’t finish the book, for some reason or other. It’s not your business why.

2. They got it free, and will never even look at it, let alone open it.

3. They completely forget to leave a review (I’m guilty of this– even when the book is really good!).

4. The book isn’t very good to them and they feel guilty giving a poor review of an indie book.

5. They don’t have the time.

6. They’re afraid a negative review will result in a scary author pointing their finger in their face and telling them how wrong they are.

So… did you like it? DID YOU LIKE IT?!

I’m sure the list goes on for reasons why readers don’t take the time to give you reviews. With those in mind, it seems pretty unfair to try to “call them out” and tell them they’re “obligated” to review the book they read. No, they aren’t obligated at all. They’re free to do whatever they wish. Just as you want to be respected as an author and person, they want to be respected as a reader and person. You cannot– I repeat– cannot tell them when or how to review something. If an author constantly hounded me for a review, I’d block them forever out of my life and never read another thing by them. They soiled my opinion of them. Instead of thinking “hm, I might buy their next book, this one isn’t bad,” I’m going to think, “What an effing psycho. If I review anything they wrote, I know they’d take it really personally, and I’m not boarding that crazy ship.”

Basically… don’t be “that guy.” There are millions of different types of people out there, and they are all wonderful for even giving your book the time of day, whether it’s worth it or not. There are shy people, outgoing people, brash people, nasty-asshole people, and if they’re buying your book, they’re welcome to it! Let them have their cake and eat it, too. Don’t focus on the things said about you or your books. Focus on writing the next one, you big ol’ fancy writer, you!

And now a serious moment to the authors out there:

I know I might make it sound like your feelings don’t matter, and that’s not true at all. Just as you have no right to attack a reviewer, a reviewer doesn’t have a right to attack you personally. Sure, they can bash your book, but that doesn’t make it okay for them to get personal with you– to call the author nasty names like “effing idiot” or “moron” or “dumb whore” or any of the awful things people on the Internet for some reason think is okay to say. If things ever get way too touchy, and a review is an obvious attack on your person and not on the book itself, Amazon will look into as abusive and will probably remove it.

In that same regard, remember that just because you’re publishing something on the Internet doesn’t mean that those anonymous souls reading your work aren’t actual people. They have feelings, just like you. Some people are spiteful, and take their rage and hurt out on others. The Internet allows them to do that. But those that are objectively critical are just trying to help out– trying to help you, and trying to help your readers. Not everyone who reads something is willing to do this. It’s important to let them speak freely.

And keep giving them more, better stuff to read!

Here is where I say: Thank you, readers, for making me someone I never would have been years ago.

And keep those beautiful printing presses turning!

Show Yourself: All About Amazon Reviews

Waiting around for that first review to come your way after releasing a novel is tough.

It may take days, weeks, months… it might never come. Your sales rank dips, along with sales in general. Then, your book is lost. You have to give it away for free in hopes one of the many hundreds of thousands of readers out there snatches it from the bargain bin and reviews it when they’re done with it. “Come on,” you say to yourself. “Just one. Just give me ONE.” As you pray for that review to come, you cross your fingers that it’s not negative. No, your book isn’t perfect. You couldn’t afford a professional editor, and you have to edit the books yourself. Your only beta readers are your buddies and family whose praise may or may not be disingenuous. There! Your first review! They said they liked it! They actually liked it!

But your sales don’t increase. “I thought more people bought things based on reviews,” you might think. And you’re absolutely correct. But it’s not that reviews themselves matter. It’s how many you have. Someone is more willing to take a chance on a book that has twenty ratings and reviews compared to one with only five. But how does one generate more reviews? From my experience, people rarely review things they read, even if they like it. I’ve been guilty of it many times. What can you do to make them review something?

Honestly… nothing. You have to wait. And wait. And wait. As you’re waiting, you’re probably sitting on a book that took you a year to write, as well as on an empty wallet. Attention from people draws attention from other people. Reviews are what bumps you up to being noticed, because people already think you’re being noticed. But how does one even begin to get noticed if they can’t get noticed in the first place?

Is the answer to simply buy a review?

I’ve noticed something about book reviews: negative reviews are usually the ones rated “most helpful.” Why? Because those reviews are the ones people think are actually being honest about the product, even if it’s emotional, inflammatory, or just plain wrong. I can’t blame readers/consumers for thinking that. The surge of buying five-star reviews is growing. Who knows whether or not that five-star review you just read was from an actual reader? Who knows if those weren’t written by the author’s family or friends? When you only have five glowing reviews (and even fewer books), people are less likely to take a chance on it, because they think you and they are liars. People are less likely to give a positive review than a negative one, so we apply our thought process to other buyers. This is why many authors say that a negative review can help you rather than hurt you.

But bump that number of stellar reviews up to fifty? Not that many people can be liars. That book must be pretty damn good if everyone is talking about it. Hey, Amazon is even recommending it to me. It must be popular for a reason, right?

Studies have shown and proven that people will take the word of a crowd as law. If ten people chant “buy this book, buy this book!” chances are, you’re going to sneer and walk away, assuming their peddling garbage. But if that crowd of ten grows to twenty, then to fifty, you’ll listen to every word they say. Being ranked in Amazon’s top 100 increases your chances of obtaining even more chanting followers. But how does one even get there in the first place? If you answered “write a good book and get lucky,” you’re only a fraction correct.

A marketplace selling reviews, Fiverr, offers five stars for five dollars. But at what risk? Could Amazon close your account for dealing with these unscrupulous individuals? Or do they let it lie, knowing they too could make money off of it? I have yet to see anyone lose their account for this, but I have seen that Amazon will pull a review if they think it’s biased. Even if it’s not. The real question is: does it work?

Buying reviews sure worked for John Locke, who sold over one million copies of his suspense series thanks to investing in five star ratings. It was a marketing tactic, and not an honest one, but since people are so hard to reach, and people are so hard to convince to buy something, it was one of the few tactics that made sense. My friend, who is also one of my biggest fans, spread the word of my book to everyone he knew, not because he was trying to make me money, but because he honestly loved the novel. Not one of the people he suggested it to purchased it, and another few of them said “Meh. I don’t read much these days.” Either he’s in a non-reading crowd, his word-of-mouth technique isn’t practiced, or the book just doesn’t seem interesting. Whatever the case, sometimes word-of-mouth isn’t your best bet. It’s who people hear the news from that matters. People want to hear it from readers. More importantly, readers who review things.

So what does this mean for indie authors?

Other than it says that our job is one of the most frustrating ones on the planet, it also says that those who cheat get ahead, and those who can’t or won’t end up falling behind. If everyone in the market is a cheater, it means you too must cheat to catch up to them. The fact that Amazon does little to prevent this exacerbates the cause and effect. As far as I can tell, Amazon cares more for their business than their authors, but it’s the best avenue for us to take.

Worst yet, this means that people will no longer trust five star reviews. Even if your book is a good book, and even if people enjoy it, they still will never take a chance on you if everyone says they love it. As you can imagine, this is complete and total BS. You might be thinking, “If everyone loves my book, I did my job RIGHT. If I did my job RIGHT, how can I ever prove that if no one trusts me?” The answer is that you can’t. The market has become so saturated with “fake reviews” that people look past five star reviews nowadays. Not only do they do that, but they consider the positive reviews “ignorant” and “nonsensical.” People are more willing to listen to the rants of an angry lunatic than they are of appraisal. You could write a fantastic book that everyone who reads it, loves, but if no one says “this book is garbage,” they are actually less likely to purchase it. However, I’ve also heard people admit to being swayed by negative reviews when they were about to purchase a book they thought sounded interesting. It’s a double-edged blade, and it hurts the author either way. We can’t win. Ever.

So what do we do? Five-star reviews hurt us. Negative reviews hurt us.

Maybe we all just need to write three-star material, and everyone would be satisfied.

 

Mel’s Memos: I Just Want to Write

The urge to write something comes to me the moment I wake up in the morning. I go to sleep thinking about what I’ll write the next day. Plots and summaries are a slideshow in my mind at all times of the day. Characters lounge about in their own room until it’s time for them to take the stage and play their part on paper. Writing is more than a job. It is more than a hobby. It is more than just some lines on paper. For me, it’s many things, but most of all, it’s my therapy.

Many of my characters suffer from mental illnesses. This is part accident and part deliberate. I have several characters, many of them primary ones, that suffer from depression, are loners, and don’t get along well with others. In fact, I find it difficult to think of a character that doesn’t have some kind of mental illness. This, I imagine, is because I am also severely depressed. The ultimate question is: does writing help?

Yes and no. Due to my depressive nature, my stories will sometimes end tragically. This doesn’t sit well with a reader. However, writing tends to relieve so much of my stress that whenever I’m not writing, I become depressed again. It’s impossible for me to take breaks, because the downtime affects me so badly. Performing other tasks is almost impossible, even if I once enjoyed them. I lose interest in them now, rather quickly, in fact. I work indoors, alone, away from people. I’m already antisocial, so it’s a good profession for me, but as you can imagine, lack of social interaction isn’t good for one’s psyche. Chores get done, but not to the extent that they should.

Apparently, it’s common for authors to be depressed. If I hadn’t been married, I’d be much worse for wear. I don’t even know what I would be doing if it weren’t for writing and publishing. I do it so much that I’ve seen a vast improvement in my overall style in the past four or five years. But an author works in a field of constant criticism, mostly from those we don’t know or have never met. Publishing your own work is not only scary, but can also induce episodes in those with depression. I have no editor, no agent, and few who can review my work. When I release it to the world, I know I’m stumbling through the dark, trying to figure out what works, tossing rings to see which ones land on a spike. For all I know, I’ve written terrible novels that the world would never love, and the only way to find out is to cross my fingers and set it free into the wild world where millions of books lie dead.

Knowing that I might have written an awful book doesn’t stop me. I have to keep writing. It’s all I want to do. I live for it. If I didn’t write, my whole world would fall apart, as would the countless worlds I’ve created over the years. My biggest problem, however, is being unable to look at my work objectively. I look at it through the eyes of someone who hates it. While this allows me to be a good editor, it forces me to overwork the manuscript and add and delete things until it’s bled dry. Even the final product is mediocre to me most of the time, even if it gets praised.

But I have to keep doing it. Or I’ll lose my mind.

Author Corner: Six Year Romance Novel… Finished

Happiness is all about lazing about with someone else in your underwear.
Wait, is that Justin Long?

Seven years ago, I met my husband. An adorable, bespectacled young man who I had dinner and a movie with. I’ll never forget the evening when we stepped into that cinema. The Dark Knight was a smash hit, and the theater was crowded full of people lining up to see it. As we reached the counter to buy our tickets, there was a movie I asked to see. And it wasn’t Batman.

“Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” I said. The cashier handed us tickets to The Dark Knight instead. To this day, I don’t know if it was a hint that we wanted to watch Batman instead, or if they had been so used to handing out Batman tickets all night that they were on autopilot. I like to believe it’s a little bit of both. My now husband and I sat through the latest Mummy film, cringing the whole way, not laughing once, and mostly just whispering shit to each other to get through it painlessly. I learned something that night. Okay, I learned two things. First, just because you loved the previous installments of a film franchise doesn’t mean the newest release isn’t going to be worth watching. Second, I had a new best friend.

He and I spent that entire night talking shit about the awful movie we saw. “We should have just seen The Dark Knight,” we kept saying. We did eventually see The Dark Knight together… on DVD, when we purchased it at the video store together as a live-in couple. I think I preferred the latter.

About a year into our relationship, I told him about a book I had plans for. I was not yet an author at this time, and I had never published anything before. To be honest, I had no idea that a book could be self-published for free these days. I was always told that self-publishing was a huge scam because you have to foot the bill for the copies you print. Times have changed with on-demand publishing, a method that costs you nothing and gives you nothing but opportunities. I was certain that in order to publish anything, you first needed an agent, and then you needed that agent to give a crap about you. Agents still exist of course, but they aren’t necessary.

He and I were sitting inside of a Chili’s restaurant. I remember it as though it happened yesterday. I wanted to share everything with him: my hopes, my dreams, my really, really weird fantasies, and most of all, my writing. I deemed this night important, because it was the evening I knew for sure that he would always be someone to support me in my endeavors.

“The book is about…” I hesitated. “It’s… a little taboo.”

He told me to tell him.

“I mean, it’s not really too extreme.”

He again asked me to just tell him what it’s about. He might have laughed, in that forced, awkward way. Knowing the way he is now, I wouldn’t doubt it.

“It’s about a young man named Andrew. He meets his father for the first time at age seventeen. And he falls in love with him.”

“Oh,” he said first, then, “That’s not that weird. It happens. The way you built it up, I thought you were going to mention something horrible like… raping babies or something.”

“They have sex.”

“They’re adults, aren’t they?”

It was then that I realized writing this book might not be so difficult. Of course, he would later admit that the book made him uneasy during my progressive writing of the first draft. I wanted him to help me read and revise it, to prepare it for a rewrite or republishing. I wanted his up front, honest criticism, his hard-edged truth. I always trust him with that. He never lets me down. If he weren’t already overworked, I’d pay him to be my editor. For a while, he avoided reading it. It made him uncomfortable, and he wasn’t shy about this opinion.

I kept writing it.

Soon, the original manuscript lingered on to over five hundred pages. I was hooked on this story. It was unlike any I had written or read. I no longer cared whether Andrew and his father, Kevin, would become a literary legacy or not. I had to tell their story as if it actually occurred. I was so engrossed in my writing that I took long breaks from doing anything else. I would stay up at all hours of the night, even when I had to get up early to work in the morning, to write a new chapter. Kevin and Andrew became more than characters to me. I had spent so much time with them that with each push of the plot, their personalities evolved, became more real. They were no longer some generic couple I originally wrote them as. They had good points and bad points. They were happy, and they were sad. They were more than romantically involved. They were destined to be together, and I was destined to write them.

Never Mind the Genetics was technically the first novel I ever wrote, and completed.

But even back then, I knew it wasn’t going to see light. I worked my fingers to the bone telling their tale, and realistically, I faced a fact all too consuming: that the common public might share my husband’s opinion. That it was uncomfortable. “Just read it and see them for yourself,” I’d say. He still hadn’t. I love my husband, and I respect his thoughts and emotions. I took “no” for an answer. Instead, I shared with him the plot, and plans for the future sequels I wanted to follow it with.

I let the manuscript sit, untouched, for a long time. Months became years. If digital documents could collect dust, Never Mind the Genetics would be buried in it. After a few years, my friend suggested I self-publish on digital media. On Amazon Kindle. “Wait, what? What the hell is Kindle?” She said that since I loved writing erotica, I should try it out. So I did. I wrote a short, erotic story about a step-father and step-son. Amazon banned it.

Okaaaaaaaay. Square one is a few steps back, but not far. I was more than a little livid that my story had been banned, and hundreds of other stories just like it remained living, but after Amazon gave me a half-assed “Yeah, well, we did what we wanted and you should live with it. Oh and you broke some rules or something,” I decided to give up erotica, seeing as how I had no freedom whatsoever, and Amazon arbitrarily ensues the ban-hammer on anything they deem “inappropriate” based on nothing but their own knee-jerk reaction to things that make their skin crawl a little bit. I wrote another full-length, non-erotic novel instead.

For the Sake of Happiness was probably the most depressing year of writing I’ve ever experienced. The book was, for the most part, about the consequences of abuse. It was dark, it was unhappy, it was sad as fuck. But people seemed to really love it after its publication. Seeing as how I was much better at writing novels than short, sleazy tales, and my skill had significantly improved, I put my foot down.

“I’m re-writing Never Mind the Genetics. I’m finishing it once and for all. And I’m going to publish it.”

The re-write was more than fun for me. It was an incredible experience. Both Kevin and Andrew had so many years to grow in my imagination, and since they had, I already knew who they were as if they were life-long companions. They turned out even better than before. For the first time in my life, I felt proud of my accomplishments. I’ve come a long way since the first draft– many years. I’ve gotten married since then. That’s how long it’s been. Now that it’s done, I almost want to cry. But it’s not truly over, not really. I have sequels to write now. Many of them.

You might be wondering if my husband still holds the stance of refusing the read Never Mind the Genetics. He doesn’t. He’s agreed more than once to read it for me. In fact, after all this time, he’s come to accept Kevin and Andrew for who and what they are, including how important they are to me. He has long discussions with me about my plans for the sequels. He tells me which ideas are good and which are bad. If someone asked me if he liked them as characters, I’d even say he does. During one discussion in particular, I once said, “Ben (another character in the novel, a friend of Andrew’s) doesn’t really like Kevin.” Surprised, he asked, “Who could dislike like Kevin?”

A few years ago, I showed the original first draft to someone I barely knew. I had only spoken to him for a couple of weeks. I told him about the novel, and he expressed interest in its originality, and asked for a copy of the manuscript. He devoured it, and begged me to write more. That man is now my best friend, and to this day, still anticipates reading the final print of Never Mind the Genetics. I’ve already ordered him an author’s copy, which I plan to sign and ship to him ASAP. He knows all about the sequels I plan to write as well, and how they’re going to play out. He’s still excited. Something he told me a long time ago still hovers around in my mind regarding the novel:

“I never would have picked something like this up on my own. And I would have missed out on a great story.”

Here’s to hoping the general public love it just as much.

And to praying that Amazon doesn’t stamp a “too icky” sticker on it and ban it forever. I’d do more than send a few angry e-mails their way.

Never Mind the Genetics will be available for sale in time for Valentine’s Day. Give a copy to your love… or maybe your father. Hey, it happens.

Book link for Never Mind the Genetics

Author Corner: Why Happy Endings Aren’t Always Happy

What makes you happiest?
Is it a lavender sunset just on the horizon? Is it a stop at Taco Bell late at night after having watched several seasons of your favorite television show? Is it your significant other, whose quirks are part of their lovely charm?

We all have a place in our minds we retreat to for happiness. In times of stress, we indulge in these small treasures to get by. Often times, we escape the pressures of reality with an old pastime: reading, or watching films. But there’s a trend in storytelling I find at times disturbing, and that is the ever-so-popular last-minute change to the ending– to make it more “happy” for the target audience. As you can imagine, this late switch almost never works out, because nine times out of ten, it doesn’t fit the story at all. Often times, the ending is very generic. “They lived happily ever after” is a common theme, and we laugh at it, makes jokes about it, but we have to have it. Why?

My spouse and I rented four movies over the weekend. We’re huge film-lovers (as well as book-lovers), and we love to try new things. Three out of the four films had endings that seemed abrupt, as though the director added it in after receiving complaints. The only reason I felt that way was because the endings didn’t make sense, and didn’t fit the flow of the movie. I’ll give you a guess as to the effect these endings were meant to have on their viewers. Here’s a hint: It involves “saving the day” in some manner.

We all want to feel like we can overcome disaster and tragedy. After all, what’s the point of living if we can’t? But we need to question why we seek that pleasure in all things, not just life. Why must someone who isn’t likely to attack his wife suddenly become like a serial killer the moment she finds out some not-so-surprising secret? So that she can stab him in the neck and save the day, despite it making no sense whatsoever. We will change things deliberately to pleasure our inner selves, and we don’t question for a moment the cause.

Come to find out after some research we did, each of the films we watched had “alternate endings” that upon reading about, sounded much more interesting than the one they left in. We find endings about a man coming to terms with his mistakes “controversial” for some reason. We find a woman who accepts changes in her husband and living a lie “too much to handle”. In the “happy” versions of the story, it didn’t take long for us to grasp how awful it really was– not just in our opinion, but for the characters involved. We would come up with our own endings that made more sense following the conclusions given to us in the films, ones that would definitely make the main character’s life more complicated and screwed up simply because of the “happy ending” that happened. It made us realize that we blissfully forget how life could continue after a “happy ending” happens– how just because the movie backs out of a stronger ending to make it happier doesn’t mean that it would work out realistically, that the character might end up in prison for example for butchering a rapist. We love the perfection of this imaginary universe where everything works out for everyone. It gives us a sense of comfort that if we are ever in danger, we don’t have to give up… which is why if such things in films were attempted in reality, they would end in the worst way possible.

It became clear to me that we don’t entertain ourselves with books and movies to be told a wonderful story. We do it to pump dopamine into our heads, and we don’t want anyone spoiling that. We consider it almost a personal attack that a main character dies in a tragic manner. These characters are not real. They are fictional. No one is really dying. But if they care enough, people will hate you for killing someone they liked, even if they existed only in our imaginations. We are hopped up on a drug called “the revenge fantasy” and if a movie doesn’t give us that, we feel frustrated. I for one, get frustrated when a movie ends on a sappy note. It doesn’t make me feel good, or happy, that someone saved the day if there was no day to save. Whether or not your ending is “happy” it needs to make sense.

You could avoid this ranting nonsense by saying “I’m not changing my ending because it’s good for my story, and it’s the ending that was meant to happen for my character.” And that’s the kind of author/director I appreciate. But many others will change it because they don’t want to be criticized. To them, I must say this: Let them cry, let them mourn, let them throw the book across the room and tell everyone how bitter and sad it was. Because in the end, they care enough about that book you wrote to get mad at you. They care enough about those characters to get upset that they’re harmed. You made them care. And that’s what matters. That makes you a good writer/director.

I didn’t realize this for a long time. I thought it was all about giving people what they wanted so they would “be happy.” But maybe, just maybe, we can also find happiness in the other wonderful emotions we feel. I can feel happy crying at the end of an amazing tale where suffering took place, because it was good enough to make me cry, and that’s pretty damn rare. When a film or book affects me deeply, it’s better that way. If there were two characters named Sarah, and one lost her husband to a gunshot wound at the end of a movie after he had spent the whole film trying to find ways to prove his love to her, I’d find that a better film than one about Sarah who giggles with her boyfriend and lays around in flowers and drinks tea and reads poetry from her binder. I don’t want to read about someone who never goes through any conflict. I want a story about someone who struggles with something difficult, something that may change their entire lives forever if they do or don’t deal with it.

Being happy in life is incredible. Being happy in fiction…
is boring.

Mel’s Memos: Cuckoo for Ravens

For the past week, I’ve had birds on the brain (dodging obvious “birdbrained” joke for the sake of my dignity).

The passive obsession didn’t come to me completely out of the blue like many of my short-lived crazes. No, this came to me when I had finally decided how I wanted the end of my novel series to play out. It involves ravens (I won’t say how), and it inspired me, encouraged me to research these beautiful, intelligent creatures at great length and depth. In just a week’s time, I’ve learned so much about them, and learned to love them even more than I always had.

I’ve always loved watching birds; was utterly fascinated by them since my youth. I spent a good amount of time as a kid finding photos of birds in our animal encyclopedias, one of my few childhood treasures, and drawing and sketching out artwork of them. I even went on to draw their skeletal structures in great detail. Dissecting owl pellets in fifth grade was one of the funnest experiences about that year of school, which I recall wanting to do outside of school. I was so amazed by the diet of owls that I read up on them for a while. Even to this day, I want to dissect an owl pellet again just to study them more, and that was almost twenty years ago.

Needless to say, I’ve always loved birds, but I’ve always loved them from afar. Then Jurassic Park came out when I was about nine, and my insane fascination for velociraptors reached critical heights. Dinosaurs in general became a huge hit with me, but it was the raptors I drooled the most over.

To call myself a bird enthusiast would be a bit dishonest, however. My attention to them lately was generated by a fixation on my own fictional characters. Or perhaps my characters allowed me to freely express a love for birds I’ve always had, but never was very familiar with. Either way, I’m hooked on them now– especially birds of the corvid family: crows and ravens.

Ravens are among the intelligent, if not the most intelligent birds. From what I’ve gathered, their intellect is on par with chimps and young children. Of course, we all know that ravens can mimic human speech, but that’s not the most amazing thing about them. Many animals can associate words with actions and objects. A dog recognizes “walk” for what it is after repitition. My cat Circuit, even after many months of not giving him canned food, will remember “Friskies” means “wet food” and will come running for it. It’s in his long-term memory. Ravens are no different in this aspect, however, they retain it in their memory in different ways. A raven detects inflection in human voices. They know when something is good based on the sound of your voice. They also know when something isn’t very exciting. They watch you, listen to you, and learn from you in ways dogs and cats can’t.

Ravens have, in what we might refer to as, a “sense of humor.” Of course, they don’t laugh at things like we do (at least not any kind we can hear?), but they do things for the sake of being entertained by it. They’re sort of like nature’s trolls. They will steal objects just to see what happens. They will watch other animals “bicker” with each other like we watch wrestling matches. They will perform aerial acrobatics, play with sticks, and even roll down snowbanks because it’s “fun” to them. I can’t read a raven’s mind, but I have a feeling that if I could, one would constantly be thinking: “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO THIS IS AWESOME”

Because ravens are so intelligent, it’s easy for them to develop tightly-woven kinships with humans. Not only do humans and ravens work really well together as a team, they bond with one another as family and friends. A raven in captivity can live up to fifty years. You could have a raven friend your entire life. Hell, he could even surpass you in years! This is especially true when they’re given a proper diet of calcium, protein and vitamins and given plenty of sunlight and exercise.

Since my discovery of such things, I’ve promised myself that I might one day take in a raven as a member of the family, but such thoughts are not to be acted on impulsively. Currently, we live in an apartment. I would at least need a house before bringing a raven into the home, and owning a house might take us a few years down the road. I still am also a bit undereducated on raven care, as well as training. This is something I plan to research for at least a couple of years before attempting it. The only way to purchase a pet raven is from a professional breeder, and they are not cheap. They can cost you at least two thousand dollars. It’s the same range of price as a used car. It is not a decision taken lightly.

However it ends up, it’s good to have a goal to work towards, other than being able to live off of my writing career and growing a garden and hunting deer. All in good time. All… in good time.

And no, I will not teach the raven to say “Nevermore” because I actually respect the damn thing.

More raven love!

Can’t get enough of these beautiful guys!

Sketchbook: When Art is no Longer Fun, Take Two

One thing I’ve noticed since creating this blog is that my post I made a while back about solving the problem of becoming bored with art is the most viewed of my posts. Apparently, this is a problem I am not alone in facing. The skill of practicing art becomes tedious and unrewarding for many individuals, so many in fact, that I wonder how many have given up.

I’ll admit that I draw less than I used to when a child and teenager. Art was my way of coping with poor living situations, and now that I have a better life, I’m pouring almost all of my creativity into my novels and fresh ideas for future books. My mind is so cluttered with these plans for stories and books, and I spend so much time story-boarding them that I don’t encourage myself to draw often enough. The result has left me with a satisfactory improvement to my writing skill, which had surpassed beyond what I thought possible for myself, but my skill in art lags somewhat behind. While I can draw well, I feel I can’t do it well enough. In my mind, there is always room for improvement.

One of the many things that helped me get excited about drawing again were series of Youtube tutorials on perfecting drawing methods. Some artists help make drawing fun and easy with guides to help you start learning new techniques, and to even get you started fresh from scratch. One such artist I’ve been following for a while is named Sycra.

Here is a list of art tutorial videos by Sycra that should help any artist looking to improve
How to Draw Playlist

Sycra not only introduces new concepts and theories into artwork on a regular basis, he teaches you these same methods as a means for learning. Improving your art is all about adapting, and more importantly, the time you spend on it. Every single day, I write. If I can’t proof or edit one of my novels (whether it’s writer’s block or something else just as nasty), I write side stories. When I wake up, all I can think about is writing. I can’t go a full day without doing at least thirty minutes of it. This is how you must treat your artwork if you plan to do it professionally, or to get better. I can honestly say that after long periods of not drawing, it shows that I haven’t been practicing. If I drew as much as I write, my quality would be twice that it is now.

I get frustrated easily, and failure discourages me. Nothing turns out right, and I want to throw everything out.
Don’t get discouraged by this emotion. It happens to me, too, and it does force me away from my artwork. But I’ll tell you now that it shouldn’t. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, and art will probably sacrifice many eggs in the process of learning how to make what you want to. Drawing is fun and easy– once you already know how to do it well. On the way there, the road is bumpy and unpleasant at times. You have to remember that it’s all part of becoming better than you were before. Even the failures are things you learn from. Failing over and over is how we succeed in the future.

Once I draw something really well, I’m afraid to continue in fear of never making something that good again.
Maybe I’m the only one that goes through this, but I’ve seen people worship smaller accomplishments, which hold them back from working on tougher things. Repetition is the key to practicing. Even if one out of a thousand eyes you draw is the only one that looks good, you still need to draw many more so that all of them will look good and normal. This was a trap I once fell into, and anything that looks even semi-good compared to older work, I cherish it instead of improving myself, and working too hard on one project for hours will bore the hell out of you if it ends up not looking the way you wanted. Draw a thousand tiny mediocre pictures before working on one huge project that’s beyond your capability.

I have such good ideas for comics and pictures, and I want to make them reality! I’m too excited to wait!
Don’t rush a skill. It will take you years to perfect it. If you’re not the patient type, perhaps drawing isn’t for you. I speak from experience in that I myself am not patient at all. I don’t sit and practice because that’s “work” to me, rather than fun, like it should be. Writing is always fun for me, even when I’m working. Art has to be fun for you, and if it isn’t, again, it might not be for you. Consider your reasons for why you want to draw.

I don’t like people criticizing me.
This is one I can’t help much with. No one likes to be criticized. When developing a skill, it’s okay to ask for critique from other artists. Most are professional about it and recognize that you’re in the stages of learning. Remember to have some thick skin and try not to take everything too personally. Some people are trying to help you improve.

If after the tutorials and suggestions you still feel like drawing is too tough to tackle, there might be other kinds of art aside from drawing that appeal to you. For instance, I’ve always wanted to try sculpting, and I’ve made it a goal of mine to attempt it.

Remember, an artist spends time with their craft every day. How much time would you like to invest?

Tale of an Amateur Guitarist: Corruption Bypass

If you’ve been to this site before, you might have noticed that it got a huge upgrade, and doesn’t look like a dime store excuse of a blog anymore. If you haven’t been here before, welcome, and stay for gourmet coca. We– and by “we” I mean “I”– made it ourselves.

So… corrupt RockSmith profiles?
I’m getting to it!
The last time I spoke about RockSmith, it was just after my high E string broke. I replaced my old strings (which were way too thin for my playing style) and bought myself some heavy duty steel strings from Ernie Ball. I have to say, I’m in love with them so far. After purchasing them, I taught myself how to restring my guitar, and managed to get them on there much better than the pawn shop guy who sold it to me did. How’s that for efficiency?
After restringing Garotte, I had him back in action in no time, and restarted RockSmith, determined to find out what was causing my profile to constantly become corrupted. Here’s what I learned:

I completed a very specific mission with a CDLC and it corrupted my profile.
First, I wanted to clarify something about corrupt profiles. They don’t always happen because of CDLC. Since fixing this issue, I’ve been able to play and complete many CDLC songs without any problems. Now, however, I’m very wary of them. Your profile can also become corrupted if power is cut off to your system suddenly, or if the game freezes (especially on Xbox) during play and crashes. You never know what could happen, so always keep a back up!
Second, yes. I tried to complete a mission with a CDLC, and it corrupted my profile every time I tried. This does not happen with all missions, strangely enough. This particular mission was “Play a song in Drop D.” I kept playing a CDLC Rammstein song, and it would complete the mission. I would quit the game, try to reload, and the profile would be corrupted. So, I loaded my backup profile and played a Drop D song that came with the game, cleared the mission, and everything went back to normal. I could now play the CDLC Rammstein songs whenever I wanted without corrupting the profile. Which is awesome, because those songs are sweeeeet.

So, if you do download and keep CDLC, never fear. The files themselves after being played will not cause issues– but be wary of playing them for missions. I would definitely play it safe, no pun intended, and use a retail song to complete one. So far, I have not been able to recreate the phenomenon, but I know now what was causing it.

Remember that once a profile is corrupted, there isn’t a way to get it back. Keep regular backups of your profile so that you don’t lose your data forever the next time it happens!

How to back up your Rocksmith profile on Steam:
Navigate to Program Files–> Steam–> userdata You should see a folder with a name that is a bunch of numbers. That is your Steam user folder. Enter this folder, then open the folder named “221680” (assuming you have RS2014). Make a copy of the “remote” folder and paste it somewhere safe. I have a separate folder solely for this purpose, and I make sure to do this every time I end a RS session. Don’t back up the profile unless you’re sure it isn’t corrupt already. One way to be sure is to “quit” your game, which will take you back to the RS title screen. Re-enter the game and try to reload your profile. If it loads without problems, you know it’s not corrupted.

How to back up your Rocksmith profile on Xbox:
Learn how to turn on Cloud and backup your save games right here.

Hopefully those tips will come in handy. I know I’d be pretty pissed off if all of my hard work was erased.

I was wrong before about CDLC not including Riff Repeater!
I made a silly mistake before in my last AG post and stated that Riff Repeater couldn’t be used in CDLC. As it turns out, a lot of them do have the option, which is, needless to say, very refreshing! I’ve learned half of Garbage’s song “Push It” in this manner. The reason I thought it was impossible before was that whoever made the Rammstein songs did so without including Riff Repeater (the jerk!). But, since those songs are pretty simple to play, it isn’t as necessary.

Always check to make sure your volume and tone are cranked all the way!
I mentioned before (I don’t even know how long ago), that the game wasn’t registering when I played chords. I was completely mystified by this, because I knew I was hitting the right notes and it frustrated the demigod out of me. The reason, apparently, was because my tone was turned down. As soon as I moved the dial back up, it recognized my chords just fine. Strange that it was only chords it couldn’t read, but regardless, that seemed to fix what was wrong.

As for how much I’m improving with the Rocksmith technique…
I’ll admit that I don’t play every single day, though I should. I do, however, play for several hours when I actually start up the game. By now, I’ve learned to play a few of my favorite songs, and I’ve been exposed to songs I’ve never heard before buying Rocksmith! I’ve become particularly attached to the song “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse. Now that is a fun song to play. I love that you can add songs to a list of favorites to choose from as well. Since my list of songs has gotten massive since buying RS, I have a lot to go through! All the more reason to give myself a deadline.

That’s it for this installment. Remember to rock on, and stay in tune!