Category: Thoughts

Stuff to… think about


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.

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!

When Art Isn’t Fun Anymore… and What to do to Fix It

For a long time, drawing hasn’t been fun for me. While I can draw, and if I work really hard at it, I can do it well, I’ve been lacking the motivation and desire to do it for some time now. For some reason, drawing and painting are the only areas where I feel this tremendous hopelessness. Challenges in writing don’t stop me from writing. Challenges in games don’t stop me from trying again and again until I get it right. Challenges in life are things I shake my fist at and try something new. I love to learn new skills and teach myself new things. Art in particular has been nothing more than a tedious affair for years, something I do only because I know I can, and thus, do it in cases when I have to, rather when I want to, such as for book covers. It isn’t laziness, nor is it because I don’t like challenges. It’s become work, and nothing more.

A lot of things can cause this to happen. I tend to start projects only with the intent to finish them by the end of the day. If I think an art project will take me several days, I’m fed up already, as I’ve already got five different types of things I’m juggling at all times. Writing is work, but it’s still fun for me to tell a story and do so with good grammar, and books can take up to a year and a half for me to complete. Editing is fun for me, too, always has been. With drawing and painting, it’s a gigantic chore, even when I’m drawing something I like, and I think this is because I strain myself way too hard when I’m not feeling in the mood because I need to get “work” done. Cover artwork is “work” that supports the novel beyond it. As you can imagine, getting bored with drawing my covers can cause problems as an author. If the cover looks terrible, a lot of people are going to judge it.

Obviously, this is something that bothers me, because as a child, I once adored drawing, and had fun, no matter what I drew. I would draw entire comics and color them, filling entire sketchbooks with panels and artwork. I also used to have a more fun “cartoony” style than I do now. More often than not I think to myself that I want to go back to a cartoony style, but then I think how much I prefer my art to look “realistic,” and thus, I never know how to draw my pictures, and they turn into some odd combination of both, and sloppy. I’ve stopped thinking about what’s fun in art and more about what I’ve convinced myself is “acceptable.” I’ve hit sort of a wall in terms of how art feels to me. I “like” to draw, but I don’t want to draw. It feels, shamefully, like a waste of time and energy now.

So, I’ve begun to feel like I should “start over,” re-inspire myself, maybe find a particular model I’d like to draw a portrait of, or start practicing my figure drawing. There are lots of great things out there I could draw, and the idea of doing it again is exciting, even though it bores me now. To get back in the habit of it would be difficult, though. Growing up, I drew every single day and got better over time. Now I draw maybe once every couple of months, or less. The mood doesn’t strike me as much as it once did. It helped when I was still in school, since I would draw in class and would get my necessary daily sketching done. I have to admit that I was a better artist back when I had a passion for it. Even when having a better idea of how to interpret anatomy and shading now, my art had life back when I was in high school. It had a soul. You could tell I cared about every little thing I drew. It saddens me to look at them now, remembering where I was and how much I enjoyed it when drawing it.

Now that I’ve addressed the issue, I’m leaving a bit of advice and vow to myself.

I think going back to the basics of art will make it fun again. As experienced as I am, I never stop learning, and learning should be fun. The problem now, though, is finding time to draw in between working on novels and chainmaille. I really should be making time for it, but my novels are my priority. If there is something to “work” on, it needs to be the current draft of one of my books. I care a lot about my stories and want to perfect them to the point of near-exhaustion. I want to feel that way about art again.

I’ve mentioned to my husband that I wanted to draw portraits of people again. Here’s hoping my model jumps out at me soon and inspires me to get back to it! I want to draw because I want to again.

Edit: I’ve composed a second part to this blog post, complete with a link to some helpful videos and tips from myself.
Check it out here

Everything I Learned About Business, I Learned From Online Gaming

Most people who don’t game aren’t familiar with the way online games operate. They know people play it for fun, perhaps take it a bit too seriously, and possibly even consider us a bunch of loser nerds, but what they probably don’t know is that sometimes, in the world of gaming, many aspects of it are similar to real life. You just look cooler and have more adventures.

One example of that similarity is the game’s economy, and just how important it is to have a business sense in both the real world and the gaming world.

In most online games, if not all, there exists an “auction house” or “bazaar” where players post items to sell for virtual currency. Just like in reality, this currency buys you things you probably need to make your character efficient. Without these things, you can’t really do much. Think of it sort of like buying groceries, clothes, and tools. You can’t function without those things (well, you’re not supposed to anyway).

So what, exactly, could a pile of virtual currency have in common with real dollars? Well, let’s take a look.

1. You need to work hard for your money
While this rule obviously doesn’t apply to everyone in the real world, it does to most of us. Collecting this virtual currency requires you to, more often than not, break your back to farm goods, such as crafting materials, to make ends meet. In fact, I’ve found that at times, I’ve worked just as hard in a game to collect these materials as I do to make real money in real life. Just like in reality, you don’t earn gold by sitting on your ass (despite needing to sit down in order to play). You have to work for it. The process can be time-consuming and requires patience.

2. There’s always competition
This applies more to people like me who own their own business. You learn, firsthand, that you’re not the only one doing your job. There are hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of others performing the same craft as you. In gaming, someone may have just posted hundreds of crafting materials of the same type you just spent hours farming, meaning that the chance of you selling your items decreases. Most of the time, you have to advertise, to let people know you’re selling yours, maybe even at a discounted price just to get them sold.

3. Undercutting hurts you, and the entire economy
I can’t stress enough how important this is, not just in games, but in real life (especially online businesses like Etsy), because it means just as much in both worlds. Let’s say you have some stock, some inventory, that you desperately need to be rid of. You want it off your hands, and don’t care about its worth. You have a ton of it available, and none of it means anything to you. Perhaps you need some quick cash to save up for that… bike, or whatever. You post your items, and when doing so, you cut the average price in half, or even more. It’s pretty common knowledge that doing this hurts you, but try explaining that to someone who has no patience, or even worse, doesn’t know how much they are worth. By practically handing your items over for free, you not only eliminate the chance of earning good money for your product, but you tank the market, and force other sellers to drop their average price, making them less money, and making their undercutters less money, and so on and so on until someone decides to bring the market back to normal (and in many cases, that never happens. It stays ruined forever). Know what you’re worth. Know what your items are worth. Nothing is free, not in the gaming world, or in the real world. Chances are high that you spent time to make those items, and time is money (friend), no matter how desperately you need that bike. Sure, you might sell it faster, but you might not, and either way, you just ruined an economy for nothing but your own unwillingness to wait. Have patience, and do some research.

4. You need to do some bookkeeping
Believe it or not, not everything sells, regardless of how cool it looks or how useful it is. Sometimes it could take you months. Most of the time, if not all, that item took a lot of materials and a lot of time to craft. This forces you to consider your expenses. Whatever materials you used to craft that item, they cost you, whether its costing your time or money (and yes, they are both COSTS. Again, nothing is free). You need to always keep track of your expenses, and whether or not you obtained a profit from those expenses. If you only acquire a loss, then you need to keep that in mind for the next thing you sell. You also need to keep trying to sell the old item (while retaining its original price– seriously, don’t undercut, ever). While it may take a while, someone out there will eventually need it. Everything costs something, and you need to keep track of it.

5. There Are Fees
Yes, there are fees in games with virtual currency. You pay fees. To be honest, I admit this is actually ridiculous. In the real world, the fees go to a person charging that fee. In games, the fee doesn’t go to anybody– it’s just a deduction of your gold (or platinum, or whatever) meant to balance the economy. Regardless, just like in the real world, you have to pay them. There are fees for all sorts of things: sending mail, posting auctions, buying materials, you name it. Consider them sort of like game taxes. Selling something via auction takes out a percentage of your currency– it keeps that percentage. You have to consider this percentage each time you post something. Sometimes, you have to post it a few silver or gold over your original price to make up for the extraction. It works sort of the same way with selling something online, sometimes with listing fees and shipping costs.

6. There are scam and rip-off artists
Yes, even in a virtual world, people are looking for a “break” from having to do any actual work. This is why bots exist (an automatic program that does work for you without you having to play). There are people who steal accounts from others to take their gold and items. There are people who promise you items and don’t follow through. There are people who take things for themselves unfairly. Just like in real life, people will try to scam you. It’s just as transparent in the gaming world as it is in real life, but what can really annoy you about them is how badly they can ruin the economy, and how quickly. As you can imagine, someone who is using a bot can “farm” materials more efficiently than someone who isn’t cheating at the game. They can post twice as many auctions, a lot of the time, undercutting prices severely. You might see this sort of thing on Ebay once in a while, where things are priced much cheaper than they should be. It can also happen the other way around– someone posting an item for much higher than it’s actually worth, attempting to fool people who don’t know any better. It’s a lot like seeing a silver-plated bracelet that is priced about the same as a bracelet made from pure Sterling. You have to know when people are trying to rip you off, whether you’re buying materials, or buying items. Always do research before buying something. You might be able to get it from a vendor for half the price someone is trying to scam you for.

7. The rarer the materials (or items), the higher the price
Just like in reality, some items, or materials, are rarer than others, and you’d better believe that the richer folk are willing to drop tons of money on that. However, the time has to be right, and the customer does, too. It becomes especially imperative with rare materials to never undercut them. It’s inevitable that someone is going to drop the price way too low, but because it costs you so much to get it, whether it’s time or materials, reselling something you make out of those materials is important, and you have to know how to price it. In the gaming world, it could cost you hundreds of gold (or whatever the currency is in your particular game) to buy rare materials. If you make something out of those rare, precious materials and plan to sell it, you have to price it higher than what it cost you, always, or obviously, you lose a ton of money.

8. Sell enough of something, and you will have customers coming back
If your prices are good, and your items are good, people will continue to buy from you, especially if you’re pleasant to deal with. Always remember to treat your customers with respect– they’re the ones making you money.

9. You need to have fun doing what you do
Chances are, if you don’t like to work, you aren’t going to (in a gaming world, that’s an option, unlike reality). Some people are, for lack of a better word, “lazy”. It’s difficult to explain to everyone who asks me how I can keep doing the same things over and over, but I can do it best in this way: the repetition is comforting, and making new things is fun. I like to go on endless searches for materials to craft new things. I like to put stuff together. I like to work with my hands, to create, to work. If it’s not any fun, you’re likely to abandon it before getting very far with it. Sometimes it can be frustrating if you can’t get things just right. Sometimes you’ll be angered that someone else is ruining your shop by lowering their prices too far. Sometimes you won’t sell something for a while. But I honestly could never give up what I do. It’s fun, and it passes the time. I always play music, or listen to something amusing, or watch a film while working, in both worlds. It’s best, when running a business, to take it seriously, but it’s also important to relax.

10. Your friends will always support you
Assuming you have more friends than I do, and you probably do, you will have plenty of people there to help you if you get stuck. If I needed materials and didn’t have the money for them, someone was kind enough to give me or buy me some. Someone was there to influence me and encourage me to continue. In return, I provide them as much information as I can about how I do things, and how successful I am, as well as craft them gifts or loan them gold. Nothing beats a supportive group of people.

I’m absolutely a nerd for getting so involved in intricate things like this in games, but it taught me a lot about business before I opened my own one in the real world. Online games have been training wheels for me to be an entrepreneur, and continue to be, even to this day.

Using Writing to Aid Depression

I’ve been writing for a very long time– pretty much as soon as I was capable of stringing a sentence together. I would write when I was happy, and excitable, but I’d also write when I suffered from depression.

I’ve mentioned this to many people who already enjoy writing, but writing when depressed is an incredible therapeutic tool. In my case, my characters end up being projections of deep-seated feelings of resentment. It’s easy to use characters to channel your sadness and rage onto, much easier than it is real people (not that we’d ever want to do that to real people!). Fiction has its way of telling you how you feel without you even knowing it.

By default, many of my characters suffer from depression, whether it be derived from a tragic past, or they simply cannot function correctly in the world, usually due to social awkwardness. It’s identifiable to me. What’s important is how that character reacts and communicates with your other ones. I sometimes have other characters with sunny, upbeat personalities to contrast the weary hearts of my depressed ones. They’re usually the shoulder to lean and cry on, a true friend that is there to comfort the one in need of guidance. It can leave a person suffering from depression feeling a bit more hopeful; that times don’t always have to be dark.

The circumstances you write your characters in can also be very telling of your mood and state of mind. In my case, I’ve subconsciously recreated real life occurrences in my fiction writing to have more of a sense of control over them, and to discover how differently things might have turned out if the opposite had happened. Your characters’ awareness can be quite stunning! They have a way of comforting you when you need someone to talk to (when you don’t necessarily want to talk to anyone real) by revealing that it’s okay to feel a certain way about something. It can be relieving when you see “everything turns out okay” for the characters you invest time in that also suffer too much and too long. Assuming you want everything to turn out okay for them. Sometimes it’s better the other way around 😉

Many times in my writing, I create an instance where one character hurts another in some way, whether it be emotionally or physically. That moment of reconciliation is imperative to improving my mood. Redemption for doing wrong is a powerful message, and can melt away feelings of guilt you may possess. When one of your characters forgives another, it’s a lot like forgiving yourself. At times, my characters truly surprise me with how they react to certain situations. One that seemed humble and forgiving could suddenly snap at something small and unimportant, something that triggers inner frustration. It’s then up to my other characters to calm them down, or give them a big dose of reality. Again, when that moment comes, it’s like taking a painkiller. That hot-headed teenager that blew up and yelled at someone he loved and held dear will probably hate himself for doing it, and will seek forgiveness. He will try all he can to make things right again, and when he does, despite of how he manages to, it feels good to see your other characters take him in once more. They don’t only forgive him, but you.

Unfortunately, this obviously means that there are times when I write tragedy. Sometimes, I don’t want to be happy. I don’t want everything to work out. Sometimes, I look at a situation, however fictional, and say to myself “that doesn’t happen in the real world.” This is much less “depression” and more “fury”. This is when I end up writing characters with horrible personalities, vicious, cruel ones that hurt my other creations, despite how much I love and cherish them, and they do so in the worst ways possible. I can admit that in times of anger and frustration, it’s exciting and again, therapeutic, to take rage out on someone who isn’t real. All the same, though, my characters are still a part of me. I don’t like seeing them hurt, especially when I’ve grown very fond and attached to them, as I would real people. That’s usually when I write in someone who is a guardian or protector to avenge the abused. Just as it had been therapeutic to hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it, it feels ten times better to hurt someone who does. Things come full circle. That innocent person who was being taken advantage of doesn’t have to look at the world like everyone in it is fucked up. Someone cares about him. Someone loves him. Someone would die to protect him.

I’ve created, essentially, my own universe where all of my characters co-exist. Some of them are happy. Some of them are miserable. Some of them pretend to be happy while they remain miserable. Whoever they are, and whatever they become, they’re in a world all their own. When I’m feeling my worst, I think of them, whether they’re sharing my depression or not, and either way, it makes me feel better. Whether I’m picturing two of them in a happy, harmonious relationship, sharing romantic moments with one another, or they can’t stand each other and they’re trying to come up with a resolution, they all have the same effect on me when I’m depressed. Being able to look at them as more than characters, but as family, as close friends, writing them becomes much more important.

I can’t imagine what I’d be like without all of them.