How Anime Changed my Life (actually, not really, but I need a title for this Speak Out with Your Geek Out post, and this is all I can come up with on a Saturday night)

I never wanted to get into anime.

Anime was for weirdos. Perverts. One of the guys on my dorm floor had La Blue Girl and a bunch of people watched it, late at night. It was…pretty gross to watch. And then there was all the comic books he had. I remember taking one off the shelf and flipping through it. It had a little fairy. How cute, I thought, and flipped the page. The fairy had been caught in a spider web, and the spider was coming towards her with appendages that definitely wasn’t what you saw on a normal spider, uh-uh. Then to make it up, the guy showed us Akira. Which didn’t have sex. Oh no. Just an overinflated guy oozing pus and blood floating over Tokyo.

I decided not to watch anymore.

Being a good little Christian girl, I avoided anime as much as I could. Anime was nothing but porn, and if it wasn’t porn, it was violent. And if it wasn’t violent, it was weird. If you’re especially lucky, it was all three. So how did I get sucked into it?

Blame my youngest sister.

Sometime between 1993 and 1995, don’t ask me when because that’s all one huge blur (and no, it wasn’t due to partying–I was working full-time as a secretary and going to classes at night and then crashing to sleep, then work, class, study, sleep, work, class, study, sleep), my mother asked me to stay overnight at her house while she left to go to some seminar. She didn’t really trust my younger sisters (teenager and just-out-of-teenage-years) to behave themselves while she was gone, so I was to be "adult supervision". I didn’t really want to, since it meant me getting up at a god-awful hour to take the train into work, but somehow, she convinced me to do it.

So on Friday, I got up, groggy, and stumbled into my youngest sister’s room to let her know I was heading off to work. To my surprise, she was already up: and watching cartoons. On screen, a group of girls appeared to be stuck in a wall while a monster roared at them. Okay, weird superhero show, I thought. I was about to leave when one of the girls, a blonde pigtailed girl, raised something up and yelled "Moon…Prism…POWER!!!"

And there were sparkles. And lights. And twinkles. And make up. And as I stood there, slack-jawed, the girl twirled around as ribbons appeared on her arms and legs and she struck a pose. And then she proclaimed:

"I AM SAILOR MOON!" (arm criss-cross) "DEFENDER OF JUSTICE." (arm swoop) "I FIGHT WRONGS AND TRIUMPH OVER EVIL!" (turn, pose) IN THE NAME OF THE MOON…" (pause, weird point of fingers) "I WILL PUNISH YOU!"

And then she proceeded to fight. Not like a superhero though. No. Sailor Moon was a horrible fighter. She ran, she screamed, she wailed, she ducked. And when she finally did dust the bad monster (in a musical flourish that lasted at least a minute), it was more out of coincidence than skill. It went against every single superhero stereotype I knew.

"What a stupid show," I said.

The following Monday, I had to get up at another god-awful early hour because I had to go into work early. So because I wanted something to keep me occupied, I flipped on the TV, flipped through the channels and hey look, there’s Sailor Moon again…and they found the fifth member of the team, Sailor Venus. But was she the princess they were looking for? "Probably not," I thought, and went to work.

On Tuesday, I didn’t have to get up early, but at 6:30 I rolled over and turned on the TV just to see if my hunch was right. Of course it Sailor Moon was, which wasn’t all that surprising….I mean…I could’ve seen it a while away…

On Wednesday, I got up *before* 6:30 so by the time Sailor Moon came on, I would be eating breakfast and hey, look at that, Darien *was* Tuxedo Mask all the time, but now he’s being brainwashed by Beryl and…duuuuude….how could he be so mean to her? He and Sailor Moon were destined to be together…

By Thursday, I was hooked.

The following week, the Sailor Scouts stormed Beryl’s stronghold and one by one got "captured" by the Negaverse, which didn’t make sense because you never saw them actually captured. In fact there were some scenes that indicated something happened, but it got edited or cut. I became suspicious. So I went online…and discovered a whole slew of Sailor Moon information, including the fact that the Sailor Scouts weren’t captured. They died. And there were video clips.

…and I got hooked.

This was during the early days of the internet when webpages were still new and strange and wondrous.  The fact that I could *go* online and find out things about Sailor Moon was relatively new. It was like looking at a mirror that you see every day, then one day, getting the urge to take a coin and scratch off the surface, like those scratch and win cards, and uncovering a deeper universe. From my searching, I was able to see that the actual Japanese ending was more intense than the DIC English ending. I learned there were more seasons. I learned there were movies. And I learned there were fanfics.

Before forums, before Facebook, there was the Fanfic Mailing List. It was a community of people who loved to make up stories based on their favorite anime. And they didn’t put up with junk stories either. There were whole threads dedicated to grammar, punctuation, developing characters, making sure they remained in character, even how not to descend into Japanese stereotypes. It was our own writers group, and it was there I leaned the basics of writing story. You could even say that being on that list changed my life, because it was there that I got the courage to start writing stories. But that’s another blog post, which you can read some other time.

The FFML was where I learned about Ranma 1/2, another anime series. They had had several episodes at my local video store, but I had avoided it because on the back it had the blurb: "A romping sex comedy!" From reading the fanfics though, it didn’t seem to be the pornographic show I thought it would be. I finally gathered up the courage to rent it, and was delighted to learn it had nothing to do with sex at all (it did have nudity in it–granted, but more of the comedic kind.), but it had to do more with martial arts and engagements and two kids who liked each other but couldn’t admit it. Pretty soon, I was wolfing down every episode I could find.

It never bothered me that I was watching essentially cartoons. Having grown up with Saturday morning cartoons, I found that I liked the medium. It could be artsy without being overly cute, and you can do so much in animation that you can’t do in real life. Samurai Jack came out around that time and let me tell you, the animation, the storyline, the music, killed. In fact, in the 90s and early 2000s, that could be considered the golden age of animation, both in Japan and America.  I didn’t care I had no life in my college years, because Cartoon Network and Adult Swim was showing awesome anime and cartoons, and it was the bomb.

But for me, anime was what I geeked over. You see, yes, anime could be zany. It could make no sense. But there are other times when the story just sucks you in. I love shows that wrestle with ideas and philosophies and made me care about its characters. And it’s not just me, either. My hubby loves anime as well. We watched every single episode of Full Metal Alchemist on Adult Swim, probably the last great show they’ve done, and I still get choked up by the last couple of episodes. Every few months we host Anime Night at our house–although I’ve been instructed not to show Revolutionary Girl Utena anymore–there are still some weird anime out there.

They say the golden age of anime is over. It’s overgrown with tired schoolgirl harem tropes. And yeah, I’ve grown more selective of the type of anime I watch. It’s so easily accessible, I wonder if all the fun has gone out of tracking it down. I can go on Netflix streaming, or Crunchyroll. I can go to my library. What am I watching now? Ehhh…Deadland Wonderland is interesting, if not a little creepy. I’m watching Ganketsuou: the Count of Monte Cristo because I never saw it in English, and it gives me a chance to focus more on the dizzying graphics. I’ve been heavy into reading Nana.

But other than that–not much. I don’t cosplay, nor do I go to anime cons. I just really want to appreciate a well-drawn story. And with that, I’m happy. Well, that and the fact that I own the entire 18-volume manga series of Sailor Moon. In Japanese. I know more people have much more collections out there, but hey, I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of fine manga. And in my memory, there’s only been one series that’s been the best.

Tsuki ni kiwatte, oshiokyo!


Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? …or Don’t be such a jackass in the comments section…

So ever since RaceFail, I’ve been keeping an eye on what people are buzzing about in the writing world. The latest is an anthology to be published by called The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF. Take a look at the table of contents. Notice anything about them? Now take a look at the comments.

Mind-blowing indeed.

When I was doing the 31 days to Build a Better Blog, one of the things they suggest is to contribute to the comment section in blogs you like. But sometimes, when I look at what brews there, it’s like looking at shark-infested waters. Ain’t no way I’m sticking a toe in there, much less my opinion.

Part of that may be due to my own insecurities. When I was younger, I used to think that no one would value what I had to say. That’s why I wrote stories. Much easier to hide my opinions in them. But another part is that I dislike heated arguments. Especially when they stray from intellectual debate to name calling, F-bombs, slurs, nastiness, etc. It happened in RaceFail. It happened with the whole ROF cover thing (and for a great summary of what happened with that, check out this visual summation here. Hilarious!). It’s almost becoming a cliché: a post appears that makes a bunch of people comment, then an idiot makes a knee-jerk comment, people get up in arms, more commenters defend the slanderer, and soon we got FAIL this and FAIL that.

That’s the ease and the curse of the internet. It’s so easy to type something out and hit enter. You don’t think of consequences. The people you’re writing to are faceless. You don’t see them laugh. You don’t see them flinch. You don’t see the anger, or the hurt on their faces. They’re voiceless until they put their own fingers to the keyboard.

What really gets me in all of this is that, well, aside from those who contribute or read such things,  no one else really knows…or cares. I can go up to my mother, or my co-workers, or people at church and talk about RaceFail, and they’ll give me blank looks, or politely just nod their heads. For all the talk and hype and brouhaha we do in comments and LiveJournal, it’s all so insular.

And the real sad thing is, these are legitimate issues. They deserve to be discussed. For instance, someone asked a question on a reading list I’m on: "Should we, as consumers, make it mandatory that every SF anthology, no matter how small or archaic, include female and POC writers?" That is a very good question. And from what I’ve seen of the discussion so far, it’s been very insightful. So it is possible to express one’s view with intelligence and respect.

I know. There will always be jackasses who will say anything they want, flamers who just want to stir up controversy for the fun of it, and folks who say stuff that they’d wish they slept a night on instead of posting right off.  But I guess the best way to counter stupid comments is to take Mur Lafferty’s advice. Don’t be an ass. Be polite. Don’t say anything that will haunt you later on. If you disagree with someone, say so. But don’t slander. Don’t call names. It’s really not that big of a deal. If the greater world don’t care about it, it shouldn’t get our panties in a wad either.

And frankly, in regards to the all-white guy anthology, I don’t think it ever entered the editor’s head to include any females or POC, because, well, it didn’t really occur to him to do so. He just wanted to get some of his favorite authors together and print some stories of them. It’s what he considers the best science fiction. It reflects his tastes. Me? I looked at the table of contents, and the only author who looked interesting to me was Robert Silverberg, because I like his Valentine series. Everyone else…meh. But see, that reflects my tastes. I like to read stuff with more diversity.

Now…if you excuse me, I’m going to finish reading Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen so I can dive into my Dark Matter: Reading the Bones anthology. Not only has Link’s book blown my mind, it has smashed it to smithereens, then took all the mushy bits and mashed them together into a likeness of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Surreal, yet impressive.

Death of a Writer Mama

This past week, I took Daniel to get registered for kindergarten. It hasn’t really hit me yet that come September, Daniel will be going to big-boy school, as we’ve been calling it. It hasn’t really struck me yet that within a few months, I’ll no longer have a preschooler on my hands, but an honest-to-goodness school kid. That means he’ll be doing homework, coming home from school later (although the school district’s idea of "full-day kindergarten" doesn’t quite match up to my definition, i.e. "What do you mean they’ll get out at 1pm on Mondays? That’s no different from what he does now.").  And it means I’ll probably be writing less and less about Daniel as he starts to gain his own identity.

The thing is, though, when was the last time I wrote about him in the Cafe anyway?

It’s not because I don’t have anything to say. Daniel’s been growing by leaps and bounds, and he amazes me everyday with what he says and does. And it’s not because I’ve been blogging less due to time issues (which, given the choice between blogging and working on a story that has a definitely deadline, which do you think I picked? Hmmm…been awful quiet at the Cafe, hasn’t it?). Actually, that is a good thing because it means I have been writing, which is always glorious. And yes, I have started actually writing out the 2nd draft of Willow as of this week. And boy oh boy, just the prologue alone is turning out GRRRRREAT!

I guess I haven’t been writing about Daniel because, well, I’m not really defining myself as a stay-at-home Writer Mama anymore.

When I first started writing seriously, I just had Daniel and was getting used to staying home without going out to the job or speaking to another adult about grownup issues. Where I lived, there really wasn’t much of anything else to do except do the whole ‘stay-at-home’ thing. Join playgroups, attend MOPS, go to parks, libraries, open gym, anything to get some sort of variety in my life. And at some point, I realized, hold on–I’m staying at home, raising our son. Didn’t I always say I wanted to do that and be a writer? Well, I got the at-home part down pat. Where does the writing part come in?

So I started taking workshops and going to writer groups and most importantly, I wrote. I wrote about everything I could think of. When I wasn’t writing stories, I wrote essays. When it wasn’t essays, it was blogs about my son. And since I was doing the whole Mommy thing, I considered myself a "Writer Mama", because at the time, it was my profession: writing and mothering.

But now, my profession has expanded to that of HR Assistant. In fact, ever since we’ve moved to Madison, I’ve gotten involved in a whole number of things that’s outside motherhood. I’m a co-worker, Wiscon book club member, scifi/fantasy writing group attendee. And a lot of what Daniel and I used to do, like going to the library or out to the gym to hang with other kids, is pretty much covered by him going to preschool. And Daniel is getting to the point where I do want to limit what I write about him, to protect his privacy (I can hear him now in 10 years—"Yeah, but what about all those potty training things you posted?" And I’ll tell him, "Kid, after all you put me through, be grateful I didn’t post pictures, you stubborn little—" and that will shut him right up.)

I haven’t stopped mothering. Oh, good gracious, no. I’m still involved in teaching and disciplining him. We still go to the park, and the library (though not as often as I like). He’s my pride and joy, and I take great delight in watching him play and work, when he isn’t getting on my nerves.

At the same time though, I’m finding that I deeply miss the community of Mommies I connected with because I had nothing else to do. Granted, if I hadn’t started writing, there would’ve been many, many days I would have been bored out of my skull. And I haven’t found the same kind of community here yet, though I’m sure they’re out there. In fact, I should start actively looking for a group that has working mommies in their midst.

And I know what you’re thinking. If I like doing the stay-at-home thing so much…nope. Not gonna finish that. Let me just take the liberty of rolling my eyes and saying, "Yeah, yeah, I know…"

In the meantime, I guess, "Writer Mama" doesn’t work for me exclusively anymore. Instead, I’m a "Part-time Working Writer Mama"? No, that sounds like I do it all part-time. "Working Writer Mama"? No, that implies that I’m a full-time worker. "Part-time Worker, 3/4-time Writer, Full Time Mama"?

Hmmm…gotta work on that….

Book Reviews at the Cafe (Or why should you care what I think about the Mists of Avalon…)

If you’re a regular at the Cafe, you’ll notice that I haven’t done any book reviews for a while. I can say that I’ve been busy working on our house, so I haven’t had time to read, much less write. And while that’s true, there’s also a more simpler reason–I got a bit burnt out on writing reviews.

It’s a big downside of being a writer. I can’t really read a book out of entertainment anymore. When I pick up a book, there’s a part of me that turns into an scientist of sorts, analyzing every word, every sentence. Why did the author chose ‘this’ word instead of ‘that’? Why would he chose to do this whole passage in dialog without any tags? Why put the description of the eyes ‘here’ when he could have done so at the beginning of the book?

Granted, it’s also a big plus, being a writer. It means that there are two levels I can enjoy the book: for entertainment, and for instruction. If it’s a really wonderful book, I learn how to incorporate its techniques into my own work. If it’s a mediocre, or even a horrible book, I learn what not to do and correct my writing accordingly. Writing book reviews is a way of cementing the lessons I learned into my brain, while at the same time giving you guys out there advice on what books to read and which ones to run away from (in some cases, screaming).

I’ve been wondering these past couple of months if I should continue doing book reviews at the Cafe. It’s not like I can’t do the same thing at a book review website–and I have been wondering if I should branch out a bit more to other blogs and such to gain more writing experience. Getting paid to review books is an option, too, though I don’t think there’s many avenues for this anymore. The book review as a whole has grown somewhat devalued since this whole blogging thing has started. And since “less people are reading books nowadays”, many newspapers have begun to cut down on their book review sections (I wasn’t surprised to learn that our own paper chose to move the book section from their Sunday section to their Saturday edition–which was a lame blow). Why bother paying for some schmoe’s review when a person could log onto anyone’s blog and read a review of it…for free?

I might look into doing some reviews on some outside blogs once everything here settled down into normality again (if that will ever happen), but in the meantime, I think I’ll continue my reviewing here. I can be open and honest with what I think, and I can write about any book I want, old or new. Plus, most of the people coming to the Cafe come to read my book reviews, according to my blog stats. If it’s a way to bring more people to the Cafe, then hey, come on in and dine to your fullest intent.

I think what I might do is limit myself to one book review per month. That way, I won’t get so burnt out in writing. I will list what I am reading for that month, so once I figure out that widget, I’ll put it up. And feel free to make comments of your own if you read the book or not. I have gotten some very interesting points of views from people who I don’t normally agree with, but the Cafe is an equal opportunity place. As long as you don’t say anything extremely nasty, we welcome all opinion.

And I should point out, all the reviews at the Cafe are copyrighted by LaShawn M. Wanak. Anyone using a Cafe review on their own website without permission will be bonked on the head with a plastic mallet.

Happy 1st Anniversary!

I just realized that the Cafe in the Woods has just completed its first year.

How about that? A full year of blogging. It doesn’t really feel like it. Seems like yesterday that I got this WordPress account and started writing. And in the time I started it, I did NaNoWRiMo, sold a couple of stories, poems, and essays, did a whole lot of book reviews, got my kid started on potty training, and I wrote a book. How’s that for productivity?

The whole idea of opening the Cafe was a place for me to share things. I didn’t want it to be a political forum or navel-gazing (though I’m pretty sure I had entries that came close). I just wanted this to be a place to talk about the craft of writing and the craft of motherhood. And the occasional rant when the crafts appear to take on leaks. And it looks like I’ve succeeded.

But I also want this to be for your benefit as well. Blogs are nice for vent, but really great blogs give their readers something to think about, entertain them, give them a chance to commiserate or give advice. So here’s some questions to all the readers who come to the Cafe, both the regulars and those who stop in on their way to someplace else: is there anything else you would like to see here at the Cafe? Are the entries too long? Too short? Would you like to read more about the writing life? Perhaps see more links to writing articles? Does the motherhood entries clash with the writing? Do you want to see more motherhood stuff? Less? Are you completely sick of Daniel? How can you be sick of Daniel? Look at him! He’s cute! Look at those curls…that impish smile…those pudgy cheeks. You can’t be sick of him! In fact, I’m going to to have more of Daniel! More, More, MORE! I’ll saturate these pages and–

Whoops. Got a little carried away there.

Anyhoo, thank you so much for coming to the Cafe. It’s been a wonderful year, and I’m looking forward to what the next year will hold. Thank you for all your comments and emails, and feel free to let others know of this place. We’re always open.