Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why you should go to a Con...

I've spent the last two days with my 16 yr. old at Anime Boston. For people who don't know what anime is....anime is Japanese animated serial cartoons. These are not your typical cartoons, tho. They tend to be fantasy, with some definite urban fantasy and steampunk, which is right up my alley. So while I don't watch it, I totally get the concept of it. The good guys are not always good and the bad guys are not always bad. (And the book form of this particular genre is called manga - think graphic novels but in book form, black & white.)

My son is majorly into both anime and manga. So, of course, Anime Boston is his nirvana.

So, what is Anime Boston like, you ask? It's hard to describe (and hopefully when my overloaded brain starts working again, I'll put up some video and pictures because words...well, they fall short.) It lasts 3 days and about 20,000 people attend. Most attend multiple days. Most have multiple costumes. And most spend a small fortune to be there. There are panels where you can learn to make plushies or amigurumi (crochet plushies), listen to anime music, talk about various series, meet writers and illustrators. There's shopping. There's a masquerade ball. And soooo much more.

The convention takes place at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston which is attached to both the Prudential Center and Copley Place, both malls, with the Pru having an observation tower at the top where you can see all of Boston, and (if I remember right) something like 50 miles in any direction. The Pru is a huge tourist draw. And Copley is snoot shopping (think the most expensive stores where a tank top costs $300) and a hotel. The convention attendees spill out into both of these areas for the three days and mingle with tourists who have NO clue what's going on (you can tell them by their blank faces as the swarm of anime costumes pass by them) and locals (you can tell them by their complete ignoring of them).

Now, the Hynes is 3 stories with several auditoriums, and probably 40 or so convention rooms. Every room has activities from 10am-12midnight and some rooms are 8am-2am.

There are 3 huge rooms of dealers - maybe 300 or so, selling everything from steampunk to hand-drawn art to plushies to action figures to pins. Dealers who want to sell here have to be fast. The convention lets them know a date and time that they can sign up. All spaces are filled within 15 mins. (they do it online and only the fastest get in according to one I talked to).

As for who goes to Anime Boston...well, I would put the majority between 16 and 30, but as young as infants (saw one dressed as Yoda) to as old as 70's (a group of women in period goth vampire clothes). People dress as their favorite anime characters, right down to the last detail including weapons that stand 10-15 feet tall. There is some steampunk and some people who just wear anime t-shirts and hats, but they're the minority. Most of the costumes are handmade, although there are some professionally made mixed in. Men dress as women, women dress as men. And I kid you not, there is one man who goes every year who the crowd calls "Mansty". He dresses as Misty from Pokemon with his belly hanging out - he curses and makes seriously vulgar comments while posing for pictures.

And the pictures? Everyone has cameras. Everyone knows what anime character each other is. People hand over cameras to complete strangers to get their photos taken with other characters and they strike poses like their characters might.

There is a joy in this crowd that is hard to explain. People high five each other up and down the escalators. It's not unusual for the entire crowd to break into song (usually the Pokemon theme, but I heard "Closing Time" too). In the food court, a group of about 30 people spontaneously sang a number of songs while some of them did an impromptu dance.

Periodically, someone will shout something (the favorite is "Marco") to which the ENTIRE crowd (all 20,000 of them) replies (in the case of Marco, they shout "Polo"). The other favorite is "What time is it?" and the reply is "Adventure Time".

Everyone is enthusiastic, friendly and downright excited to be there. Nobody looks at anyone oddly no matter how they're dressed. They are, each and every one, accepted and welcomed as they are. And I think that's probably the most amazing thing about it, because I have the feeling that this is not a normal thing for 90% of the crowd.

I saw complete strangers hugging and laughing and talking about how much fun they were having. I saw grown men carrying pink plushies with the delight of a small child. I saw 6ft. tall men in skimpy Japanese schoolgirl costumes, their ass cheeks peeking out from their panties, walking on platform Mary Janes. I saw girls dressed in goth Lolita (my personal favorite - if I was 16 again, I'd be so into that) handing out candy. It's probably the only place in the world that someone dressed in combat gear with a gas grill tank strapped to their back turned into a flamethrower can walk around without being arrested. There were zombies and a group all dressed as Waldo. There were vampires. There were southern belles with huge hoop skirts. And each and every one of them had a smile on their face and a bounce in their step.

It was inspiring.

That's why I think everyone should go to a Con at some point. There's a magic that happens there that's hard to explain.

(And yes, I did the plushie workshop and made a zombie doll!!!) SO MUCH FUN!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why I Love Lilith Saintcrow

She doesn't pull punches.

Right now, I'm in the middle of the first book in her young adult series, Strange Angels. Dru, the main character, is a girl who's spent most of her life moving from place to place as her father hunts monsters. At the very beginning of the book, the unthinkable happens. Dru's father doesn't come home. And when he does - as a zombie - poor Dru is forced to make the worst decision of her young life. She's forced to kill him. What follows is a roller coaster of traumatic events that never really let her get her feet under her.

Lilith doesn't dumb down her reading for young adults. This series is a gritty and dark as Dante Valentine and Jill Kismet, her adult series. Dru is floundering in a well of emotions as she comes to terms with her drastically altered world. Yes, there are boys. Because after she shoots her father, Dru goes to the mall. She's sitting in the food court in shock when a boy (Graves) from one of her classes sits down and offers to help her. With most teen lit writers this would be the point where brainlessness takes over. (You know what I'm talking about - ooh cute boy, forget everything, does he like me? gag) For some reason, a lot of teen authors tend to dumb down their books like that. Story takes a back seat to boy oogling. And emotion is blunt and stunted. They suck the life out of their stories by assuming that teens either don't want to delve into emotion or don't have the capability. But not Lilith. She delivers a gut wrenching horror fest as Dru turns to a complete stranger not because he's cute but because she needs something to ground her on the worst day of her life.

I love the emotion in this story. Dru is alternately tough as nails and desperately fragile. Her grief is overwhelming. Graves, her initial savior is an unexpected burden, and a reason to survive. I'm not sure if she could survive without him, but his lack of knowledge of the 'Real World' (where werewulfs and suckers live) is just as likely to get both of them killed.

In both her Dante Valentine (Dante is perhaps the most damaged character I've ever read) where Japhrimel keeps Dante going and her Jill Kismet series (thank God for Saul), she takes a female character and shows that just because they're female, that doesn't mean they can't be tough, mean, hard, badass killers and still be gentle, caring, needy and female. And she doesn't take the easy way out with her characters, either. There is no guarantee of a happy end. And to me, that makes it all the more enjoyable. I want to doubt that things will turn out okay. I want to cry with the characters. I want to rail with them at fate's capriciousness.

That she can write a teen book and still produce a story with the ability to make my stomach knot and my throat grow tight right along with the character is phenomenal. So, yes, I love Lilith Saintcrow. Seriously. I bow to her brilliance and worship at her writer's feet.

(The next book in this series is released tomorrow. The books are as follows: Strange Angels, Betrayals, Jealousy, and Defiance. If you shy away from teen books because you think they're shallow, try these.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

FYI - Free Read...

Just a quick FYI. Pocket After Dark has Sonya Bateman's first book, Master of None up as their Free Read for this month. If you haven't read her books, you should definitely check it out. I just finished Master and Apprentice, the second in the series which I give a resounding 4 stars. It's action packed, with djinn (who have shapeshifting clans), a thief (Gavyn Donatti) with bad luck and attitude, his kickass girlfriend, surprise son, the mob, and badass enemies. So - Go! Read! I promise this is one you'll want to add to your library.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A month of emo posts, I guess...

First, I promise this isn't going to be my norm. I don't like to bitch. But kiddo started having trouble about a week ago. He's feeling like he's floundering. And why wouldn't he? He's a 16 yr. old with the social skills of a much younger person and a near genius IQ, forced out of high school & trying to make the best of it by taking college courses/getting his GED. He's feeling overwhelmed. As positive of an environment it is compared to his high school experience, its still college. He feels robbed. And I don't blame him. He's depressed, hopeless, anxious and lost.

Anyway, his meds aren't working. He's rapidly cycling 3-4 times a day. High ups, low low downs. And his psychiatrist is out of the country until the last week of April.

We were put into a position where we had to see a psych we've never seen before. He doesn't know the kid, doesn't know even what meds he's on, but the minute we walked in he announced he had the perfect med for us. He prescribed a very new drug - a stimulant - that can cause manic episodes. It's a drug that is described as being extremely close to speed with the effects of cocaine. He talked about how 'up' it will make him feel. While that might be great when he's down, what the hell is it going to do when he's up? 3-4x a day he's off the wall already. And nothing I said could get thru to this doctor. Why? Well he presented us with a very nice brochure from the drug company and a special credit card that will pay our part of the co-pay for a year from said drug company. Can anyone say kickback? Its just totally fucked up.

Am I going to give my rapid cycling kid this drug? No f-ing way! We saw the psychologist today (he says its definitely a med issue & was the one who said to call the psychiatrist) & told him the story. While he's no drug expert, he said putting a kid who is having rapid cycling on a drug that can cause mania when they're known to go manic from that type of drug (and we're talking "is my life in danger from this crazy person" scary manic) is "questionable" - especially when he didn't even ask what meds he was already on, if he'd ever been described this type of med before & what the reaction was to it, and what the problem that brought us there was in the first place - until after he'd written the script. He'd decided what med to prescribe before we even walked in the building.

S0, I'm stuck trying to keep my kid in a holding pattern by keeping him too busy to cycle too hard until his real psychiatrist gets back. Now, a depressed me trying to deal with an aspergers, anxious, bi-polar kid??? Holy f-ing hell. Not good. I hope we both survive.

Books read this month is at a standstill....sorry.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An Emo Post on Autism

There is a story that's making headlines on the news here. A woman with a severely autistic child who developed non-hodgkins lymphoma is on trial for not giving him his meds. He died. Its a terrible tragic story & its KILLING me. And its not for the reason that its probably bothering most people. See, I understand. I can put myself in her shoes. I live with a child with Aspergers (a mild form of autism) day in and day out. I remember what he was like at six. I remember what he was like at nine. (This child developed NHL at six and had been thru multiple treatments for it.) People are calling this mother a murderer because she didn't give those meds that might have saved her child's life.

People know nothing.

I wonder how many people understand what its like for these kids just to get thru a day? Do they know what its like as a parent watching your kid struggle day in and day out? The anxiety & depression these kids experience with each failure? I wonder if they know the heartbreak of watching their kids bullied not just by other kids, but by adults? I wonder if they've ever had to deal with complete strangers coming up to them to tell them how to discipline their kid? I wonder if they've had friends and family accuse them of being a bad parent? Had people avoid them like autism is contageous?

I wonder if they understand the sensory problems that go along with autism. Do they know these kids are challenged by eating certain textures and colors of food? Do they know that swallowing a pill can be impossible & send them into a tailspin of hysteria that they can't function for days afterward? Do they understand that some can't stand to be touched unexpectedly? That is causes them physical pain? Or that loud sounds feel like someone jabbing knives into their heads? Do they get that a smell can make them vomit? Or that too much motion or noise can cause their brain to go into a neurological meltdown that sends them into a screaming, crying fit on the floor? What is it like as a mother to have to put a child with autism thru cancer treatments? Especially if that kid is severely autistic and can't even understand what's happening to them? What does that do to a parent?

Do they know that these kids function on a level of fight/flight every minute of every day like they've just been in a car accident and almost died? Do they know how unfriendly and unaccepting the world is to them?

I want to hug this mother. I want to tell her how sorry I am. I want to tell her I understand. I want to see the media stop crucifying her for choices that they can't even imagine the horror of.

The second story was about a third grader who had a meltdown in school, threatened his teachers and was maced by the police. I watched this kid being interviewed by a reporter who seemed to think it was her duty to teach him right from wrong - like his mother wasn't there & hadn't done her job. This kid is special ed. They said he was in a behavioral class. I watched for 2 minutes...and I know KNOW that this kid has aspergers. It doesn't take a genius. All the signs are there. Has anyone suggested that to this mother? Has this kid been tested? Or is he just labeled a behavioral problem and shuffled off as not salvageable? Its obscene. This kid didn't make eye contact, he talked in an odd speech pattern, he intellectually understood his behavior was unacceptable, and he explained that he shorts out. He melts down! It started because the teacher was switching activities and he said he wasn't done with what he was doing. Classic aspergers behavior. Change is bad. Change is confusing. If these teachers understood, they would be using techniques like preparing for change (warning its coming over an interval of time so the change can happen) and they would know how to redirect a kid heading into meltdown & have a safe place for him to meltdown. But no! They escalated the situation until the kid felt he had to physically protect himself, locked themselves in a room & called the police. The police didn't even try to de-escalate. They maced him and put him in handcuffs EVEN THO THEY KNEW the mother was less than ten minutes on the way & rushing there.

I want to talk to this mother and tell her to have her son tested. I would put money down on him having sensory issues. I know in my heart he has aspergers. He needs help but instead they label him behavioral (its totally neurological) and treat him like a criminal. No one is even trying to help this mother. What is wrong with this world?

Autism (and aspergers) is on the rise. The latest numbers say 1 in 101 kids have it. That's astronomical, considering 10 years ago it was 1 in 1500 and 20 years ago it was 1 in 10,000. (My son believes its genetic mutation to deal with technology advances.) But because our kids look normal, they're expected to be normal. Autism is a hidden condition. It doesn't show up in physical features. It's in the brain. I hate the world some days. Damn it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Barnes & Noble - a vent

As I've mentioned before, I really REALLY don't like Barnes & Noble. But with the unfortunate disaster that has swallowed up Borders (and until they've sorted things out) getting new releases means a trip to my local B&N in Hingham, Mass.

Can I say I hate that place??!?

Today, I ran there to pick up the new releases from various authors that I love. I quickly found Devon Monk's Magic on the Hunt, James Knapp's Element Zero and a few others. The problem came when I tried to find Rage (Jackie Morse Kessler) and Red Glove (Holly Black), as well as The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf (Molly Harper) which has been out for a WEEK. They were NOWHERE to be found.

So, I go to the help desk. I stand there and wait for someone to acknowledge me as the women behind the counter (who weren't helping anyone) in their Anne Taylor snootsville outfits pretend I don't exist. Eventually one of them, with a little huffy sound, asks how she can help me. She does it in such a way that I check to make sure I don't have lice crawling all over me. Nope, sweatshirt, jeans and Adidas running shoes all look clean & spiffy, hair's in place, makeup on. So, I say yes, I'm looking for Holly Black's Red Glove. She types it in, stares at the screen & informs me it's a young adult book - like its entirely inappropriate for a 48 year old woman to be asking for it - and like I didn't know that. Um, I say that I know that & inform her its not over there. She huffs and adjusts the POLE up her ASS, glares at me and tells me to look in the YA paranormal section. Then she asks if there's anything else & its obvious she's hoping me and my less-than-couture clothes will go crawl back to the pestilence section. I say, yes I'm also looking for Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler. She lets out another sigh & tightens up her sphincter on that pole, tilts her nose up in the air and types into the computer. Then she hautily informs me they don't carry that book or its predecessor. That if I want it, I'll have to go into the B&N at the Prudential Center in Boston to get it. Um? Hello? Sure, I'll hop in my Jag & zip in there right away (JK - I don't own a Jag. I own a Matrix.) I inform her its a really wonderful series & they ought to carry it. She looks like I've just suggested they fill the store with cockroaches & says she can order me a copy to be delivered to my house, but that they have no intention of carrying it in the store. WTF? I inform her I can order it online myself (and I'll be damned if I'll order it from THEM). She sighs again, truly put-out at this point by my dregs-of-society presence and asks if that's all. I decide I'm just going to bust her balls at this point & ask about Molly Harper's The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf. I thought she was going to pass out! She asks for the author's name again, beats on the keys and then asks me to repeat the title - which I do maliciously and loudly. Hell, if I'm going to ask for it, I might as well make a scene, right?!? She looks and tells me they don't carry that series at ANY B&N. What??! I guess the title is too much for them or something. Finally, when I don't go away, she asks again if I'd like to order it and I tell her no. I'll just buy it elsewhere. She asks if I need help finding Red Glove and I tell her yes. (Believe me I wanted her help about as much as I want a poker jammed in my eye, but hell. I couldn't find the fucking thing.) So she stomps in her designer pumps over to the YA section, marches up and down it & pulls out the book and hands it to me. (It was not filed alphabetically - it was with M's! Why? I don't know.) When I thank her (because I'm polite even when I'm being a royal bitch) and say something inane like I looked and couldn't find it, she draws herself up and says 'that's why I work in a bookstore'. What?!? Um, hello? I worked in a library. I read more books in a week than she probably does in a year. I know the freaking dewey decimal system back & forth. Pretty sure I could have found the book if it had been filed ALPHABETICALLY in the right place. And why is it not with the NEW RELEASES?? Hunh?! Anyway, she turns on her dainty little three hundred dollar heel and takes off before I can say anything more. She's probably still in the bathroom washing the cooties off herself from having to stand within three feet of me.

You'd think this would be the end of it. But no, I get in line to buy the books. There are two registers open. The one woman is doing NOTHING, but does she offer to ring up my books? NO! She looks at me and adjusts her Talbot's sweater like she's gearing up for war and then ignores me. Eventually, the other woman finishes and also IGNORES me. I'm the only freaking person in line! So I march up to her register and set my stack of books down. She looks at me. I look at her. She adjusts her glasses and straightens her Coldwater Creek blouse. I look at her. She looks at me. I clear my throat. Her lips turn down into what I like to call "the B&N bitch face" and asks if she can help me. What the hell is wrong with these Stepford freaks? I'm at the register with 6 books. I have my credit card & B&N card in hand. What does she think I'm there for? A critique of my clothing choice? I smile and say I'd like to purchase my books. She looks at the books - Devon's book is on top. Her frown increases and she picks it up like its a frog right out of the pond. With each successive book her face grows more grim and the POLE up HER ass tightens until I think it might explode out her head. Finally, she asks if I'm a member. I hand her my card and she takes it & runs it through - she asks for my name & phone number like she thinks I've stolen the thing. (Seriously, I don't look like a vagrant - honest to God). I give it, charge my books, sign my name & get the HELL out of that SNOOTY, STUCK UP store.

And that is why I hate Barnes & Noble and I'm weeping for Borders. I'd rather have nails driven under my finger and toenails, be branded with a hot iron and have my teeth pulled then go in there again. But go I will because they're the only store carrying new releases (at least new releases they approve of) around me. Does that SUCK or what?