Adult Swim: Secret Agent Time (Part one)

>> Sunday, March 19, 2017

A reminder for those of you who haven't been here in a while: "Adult swim" is the tagline for my yaoi reviews, i.e. boys love manga. If it's not your thing, I will do others as well, but this is one of my favorite topics right now.

As I slowly ratchet back up to weekly blog posts, I thought I'd hit on some of the mangas I've read by mangakas I don't have but one manga from but that I consider keepers worth reading over and over. And, among that list, I've a few where espionage that intrigued me. For some reason, they tend to be eccentric, and this first one is no exception.

It's called Silence by Akiyama Koito and it has three separate stories only marginally connected to each other. Despite the fact that none of them are quite like anything else I've read, OR each other,  I find each one charming in its own way.

In the first, Rebirth, a British secret agent (Zenji) resigns from the agency as he has a virulent blood virus that is eating him from the inside out, which is not so unusual except that it usually kills in a matter of days but he's had it over a month. Turns out, his body is special and heals and protects him enough that it's fought off the disease. He runs into a very very pretty young man (Madoka) who is being chased and asks for his help, offering him a fortune in return.

Unsurprisingly, the Madoka has no money but claims to be able to heal Zenji using a magic where he puts his hands directly into a another person's body. Zenji scoffs, thinking it's just a way for Madoka to offer himself up for sex but doesn't look forward to dying alone so says he'll be satisfied if Madoka just stays with him until he dies. Madoka is fascinated with Zenji's resilient body, feeling it up at every opportunity as they reveal a tragic backstory for Zenji and hint that Madoka's is hardly happier. Of course, that leads to lots of sex because,well, yaoi. Just about the time Zenji is "inexplicably" feeling better, they find out, well, no more spoilers. The pieces all fall together as we yaoi lovers have come to expect, including their pasts.

In the second story, (Bet/Bed/Bed), we have less a story and more a charming situation brimming with humor as one of Zenji's coworkers[Millie] (who has a thing for Zenji) is literally losing himself in his virtual reality to the point he nearly dies of malnutrition. His long-time friend [Theo] (who is tied to the underworld), and who very much has a thing for Millie  breaks in (again - this has apparently happened many times) and revives him with kiss-administered energy drinks and food he brought with him. Millie is not particularly grateful, even when Theo tries to convince him to run away with him to a life of crime via a bet a la Princess Bride. There are two other unrelated episodes where it's not clear if Millie is sadistically teasing him for entertainment or if Theo is just too cautious to take the hint and make it a real relationship. Millie definitely has the upper hand. Also, Theo is REALLY gorgeous.

[In real life, I like to think I'm not readily swayed by physical beauty but, I have to say, if I'm going to read manga, there's no reason why I shouldn't like they way they look.]

The third story is Silence with the only connection I saw to the other stories that it involves another person (Shion) with the healing(ish) gifts Madoka had, except he's not really good at healing and is using them as hit man where he sticks his hand in a man's brain and, like, squishes it. Seems pretty effective. [There is a hint that Madoka might be his long lost younger brother]. When he's clearing out a rival's HQ, he stumbles across the mute young man (Luca), who was used as a much abused sex toy including being beaten at that very moment. Shion spares Luca and encourages him to run away, but the boy has been effectively a slave since infancy and is just picked up by Shion's clean up crew. Shion defends him and is awarded Luca's fate, but has no intention of abusing him (and doesn't). Shion discovers, when he pulls out a rusted relic from one of the items used to torture Luca, that he can understand Luca telepathically even though Luca can't talk. We also see that his attempts at healing cause Shion a good deal of damage.

Luca wants to repay what he sees as Shion's kindness and offers himself up but Shion isn't interested in using him. Instead, Luca does his best at cooking and cleaning, though he tends to do more damage than not. A confrontation with one of Shion's enemies (in the same group) while Shion's on travel ends with Luca more than willing to offer up his life if it will help Shion, while Shion's clients are threatening Luca in order to control Shion. In the end, it's Shion who risks his life to save Luca from his injuries and his internal demons and Luca who works to give some of that life back. Really, it's pretty damn touching and the extra where they try to contact each other via phone (when Luca is clumsy and mute) is hilarious.
So, why did I enjoy this so much? Well, for one thing, there was a line of humor through the whole thing that wasn't overbearing or silly, subtle but everywhere. For another, though there are three full story arcs in this one volume, none felt rushed or incomplete and the characterizations were drawn quickly and surely so that I was almost immediately captivated. And, as a hopeless romantic, people who care about other people more than themselves makes me giddy with delight. Yet, with that common theme (and no rape by a protagonist, yay!), the mangaka managed to make three stories that captured my imagination, charmed me and intrigued me. Not bad for a single volume.


Adult Swim: Diving into Hell

>> Saturday, March 11, 2017

Well, not really. In fact, this is a favorite manga and we're talking Buddhist hell which is a whole different story.

Which is part of the charm.

I won't lie. I love mythology and, though I grew up on Western mythology (Greek, Roman, Nordic), I always love to learn more. One of the many many reasons I enjoy manga so much is that they tend to enjoy injecting their mythology/religion into their stories as if it's perfectly reasonable. Maybe it even is.

Jigoku Miguri by Kuju Siam is a wonderful sort of story wrapped up in the Eastern view of Hell and, naturally, government servants who have to come in to straighten up the filing. In this story, a government worker comes to help out in Hell a few days a week and is coveted (sexually - it is yaoi) by the leader of this corner of hell, Enma-sama, a demon who was once a human being. Takimura Ono is an apparently normal human being but seems to have no trouble fitting it with the ruthlessness required of Hell.

However, as a nice aside, Enma doesn't use any sort of force or coercion and Ono has no trouble holding him off. Both Enma and Ono are rather popular with the demons about the place, all of which are part of the natural order of business (a nice way of looking at it, one I favor).

I'll have to note that I was as interested in the mythology/religious aspect and the bits and pieces of that as any part of the story. The crystal mirror (Jouharinokagami) that tells the truth and shows your deeds and deepest wishes. The levels of hell that vary in length and intensity depending on your crimes (after which, back into the cycle of rebirth). Fascinating.

But, hey, maybe you don't care about mythology or Buddhism. Well, the good news is the story is interesting as well.

Enma floated on their river of death after committing suicide from a rather tragic and short life and was put to work as a demon, still riddled by guilt (not going to spoil you as the story, but his sin is pretty tiny compared to some). Enter Ono who he's drawn to, suffering from his own unrequited love and the guilt from an affair he had with a married professor. Naturally, some of the mystique and magic of hell follows him into the human realm and Ono is tempted to use his new insight to help, even in small ways. That's a no-no that earns him some laps on the field of nails. And ends up getting him an affair with Enma. But, when the professor Ono loved finds his way into Hell to be judged, Ono interferes again, for selfish reasons, and their relationship is threatened.

And we still get the kind of sappy happy ending people like me still love. It's complex and convoluted with two sets of star-crossed lovers, but, in the end, ultimately satisfying.


The Unlikely Otaku is going to come back to life!

>> Sunday, March 5, 2017

I know what you're thinking: where the heck has Stephanie been? What, no more fanfiction? No more reviews? No more chatting in general about her manga obsession (which is still going strong, my friends; it's one reason I haven't had more time for blogging)?

Well, I heard your silent screams of despair and I have resolved to do better. I still love manga and anime. I still love talking about it. I still love interacting with people on my blogs. I might even come up with a bit more fanfiction if the mood hits me. We'll just have to see. So, though it's been languishing for far longer than I like to think about, expect to see me talking about all thinks otaku here in the near future.

And, yeah, that will still involve new releases, but brief and only for new releases. I won't be posting daily--got three blogs and a girl's gotta sleep--but I'll try to post something at least weekly.

For those who are still deeply interested in the writing itself, but don't like checking back on blogs and stuff, I'm starting a monthly newsletter. You can sign up on the right.

You'll get notifications of new releases and the single monthly newsletter and that's IT, but only to people who signed up, who actually want to know all that.

The newsletter will include some insight into my writing, why I love it, what I think about it and what I like or don't like, a handy reference for all my existing books and news about forthcoming events, and an original short story so my "fans" can get a first look on my stories. I want it to be fun and hope it will be because, though I hate "marketing" I love interacting with people and sharing things I hope they'll like.

If you're one of the people interested, sign up. I will not be using your email for any other purpose.

First Newsletter will go on next Friday, March 10.


Saving Tessa: Now it's Science Fiction!

>> Thursday, February 9, 2017

I have reworked Saving Tessa to be a science fiction YA adventure (though it was close to that already).

In the year 2045, smart tech is everywhere, much of it devised by the teenage prodigy Dylan Chroz. But being at the top of the technical world means being in demand. Sometimes, by people who should be looking out for you. Sometimes, by people who won't take no for an answer.

Tessa alone makes Dylan's life more than schematics and computers, a spot of vibrant color and irrepressible life in a dreary world of users and frauds. 

So what do you do when someone steals your girl to make you perform your technical wizardry on their sketchy hardware? Do you curl up and cry? Do what they want? Defy them? Or do you outsmart them and do your damnedest to smoke out every one of them so they never can do this again?

That is, if Tessa doesn't beat you to it.
Also, as with Curse of the Jenri, I'm going to make it available in book form. Proof is on it's way to me now and I'll announce it when it's available. Eventually, I'll do this with all my books, but I'm excited about this one because I have a character frighteningly like me there.

Thanks for the gorgeous cover by Ryn Katryn.



One of the things I did with this story when I moved it to 2045 is work on a post-Trumpian recovery. I found it therapeutic.


Curse of the Jenri is OUT!

>> Saturday, February 4, 2017

Curse of the Jenri is now OUT, out in ebook and, for the first time, I'm going to be putting it out in print as well. I got the proof, my first ever, today! I'm so excited (so no print now but soon; I'll keep you posted). You can find it on amazon and smashwords and it should soon be available at Barnes and Nobles, Kobo and the iStore. Links for Amazon and Smashwords are available now


Finally, a Sword & Sorcery epic like it ought to be: manly hero who swings a massive sword and stumbles into spells, lovely wife who can kick his ass, a fleet of fiery and fierce compatriots, dastardly villains with vile intents, even griffons, all that and a dragonet. Oh, and six kittens. Because every manly man needs kittens, right?


Or, alternatively,

The world of the Jenri is a dangerous, primitive world, where women are prized as chattel, but the Jenri women, every one from the eldest archivist to the smallest babe, strike fear into battle-hardened mercenary hearts. It is a world where battle steeds are mythical beasts and magic is as deadly a weapon as a sword. Those who wield both are doubly dangerous and those who cross them are thrice damned. The Jenri are mistresses of all these things. If you love one of these marvelous women, you must best her in a contest of her choosing to win her love in return.

These were women who needed no one to take care of them. Until now.

It wasn’t enough that Jenri women had been stolen, including his wife, Layla It wasn't enough that those who had stolen them had nefarious plans. And phenomenal magic powers. And could escape in seconds. And an underground fortress in the midst of frozen mountains so cold Tander was afraid he’d shatter if he stumbled one more time. It wasn’t enough that he was surrounded by angry husbands worried about their wives and willing to take their tempers out on him if he was leading them in the wrong direction. It wasn’t enough that he was also surrounded by the remaining women from his tribe who were equally angry and more than capable of kicking his butt.

No, on top of all those little issues, he discovered he's no longer “just” an extraordinary swordsman, but also a great and powerful sorcerer with absolutely no idea how to use his powers. He was not just any sorcerer, either, but one chosen by six tiny kitten familiars who did know how to use his powers and who had no problem telling him. All the time. While they demanded to be carried all over his person, purring and taking inopportune naps. He didn’t want these powers or a flock of noisy but helpful kittens, but he was going to need them. He'd need all the skills and talents he and his companions possess in order to save their women—and Layla.

But we love you, Tander! Solace insisted, purring and licking his neck.

Things have got to get better soon.


Otaku Moment

>> Wednesday, December 28, 2016

An extreme otaku moment (because if you're going to be an otaku, extreme is the only way to be):

As I finish watching the whole anime opus of (through episode 366) of Bleach for what I think is the fourth time (the first time was in subtitled Japanese) and I queue up Hell Verse because, what the hell, I gave a passing thought to my favorite Kido (or really Bakudo) 81 Danku ESPECIALLY when used by Kuchiki Byakuya who does it with negligent flair. Anyone else have a favorite?

Just wanted to share.


Amazing Changes on the Writing Frontier

>> Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Many of you have likely noted my large repertoire of self-published novels and anthologies. I had a good reason for doing it, namely, I couldn't seem to connect with a publisher who appreciated my writing like, let's face it, I do.

And there's no merit in a story that sits forever in a virtual drawer. So I put them out there, where, they were mostly ignored, but nowhere near as ignored as they were on my computer alone. And, I maintain, that was largely because my marketing skills are not impressive. But the books...

This past year, I've dallied in a field I haven't dallied in in decades, short stories. Prompted first by contests, then a great friend, Chuck Larlham, who enjoyed reading my work and kept finding new opportunities to check out and, ultimately, write a story for. So, after a year, I've got more than a dozen new stories, mostly fantasy science fiction and fantasy, but several that are also in different genres I haven't tried before or, at least, not in a long time.

As I've been rediscovering my writing talent, Chuck's also been key to my sending it out there. I got in JAMM magazine (as I noted previously), have a story accepted in an anthology meant for book club type parties, and another short story in charity anthology to support a charity that works with domestic abuse (Dove).

The publisher for the Dove anthology specializes in science fiction and fantasy and the name could not have been more perfect for me: The Dragon's Rocketship Publishing. They're relatively new and small, which is fine with me, and also accept short stories. So, a story that didn't make any waves in a contest (I seem to do more poorly in those than straight marketing) seemed like something to try because I *liked* it. So did they. They in fact gushed in the way I've been dreaming of a publisher gushing since time immemorial and wanted to know if I could make it into a novel. Well, no, I hadn't intended to make it into a novel, but, oddly enough, I'd written two side short stories that were related to a novel I'd already written (Curse of the Jenri) and was weeks away from self-publishing.

Not the final cover, just my own concept

Well, they liked those stories and then the novel. So, here we are, a few weeks later and I have signed contracts on seven short stories (plus the anthology story) and a novel.

Am I happy?

I, who am never at a loss for words, can't even find a word to describe how fantastic I feel to find people who *get* what I'm writing ans saying.

If you're on facebook, feel free to go by their facebook page and give 'em some love.


A bit of Anime history for the Otaku

>> Friday, August 26, 2016

I know, I know, I've been so neglectful. Nothing about anime and manga for months even though I do keep reading it.

Busy busy. Today Right Stuff Anime (who has sold me a tome or six and several movies/shows) sent me an email linked to an article about the history of Anime.

Fascinating stuff so I'm sharing it with you.

The History of Anime


New Story Published!

>> Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My new story, "Second Life," is out in the e-zine "Just a Minor Malfunction" available now for a limited time at $0.99!

My story, "Second Life," is set aboard a space station so I get to use actual rocket science expertise and I allow a little bit of sleuthing for the biologically minded. With people trapped forever in space, finding yourself confronted with what might be an epidemic has got to be terrifying, especially since insanity comes with it. I hope you'll check it out

Chuck Larlham
is in there, too, and a number of other awesome science fiction stories. In fact, it's one of the best collections of hard science fiction I've read in a long long time, so I'm proud to be part of it. Something for everyone, folks!

It's a steal right now. If you like science fiction or just being entertained, well worth your dollar.


So, I sold a short story to a new e-zine of hard science fiction

>> Saturday, April 30, 2016

That's independent to an unusual degree. But, you know, I'm pretty avant garde myself. Looks like I'll be in the first issue of Just A Minor Malfunction along with my good writing buddy, R. C. Larlham. So, fun will be had for everyone.

I'm actually rather excited as it's set in a science fiction setting I'd been planning (and am still planning) to write a novel in, only this is more a prequel. Thing is, I'm so in love with my characters in this new short story, Second Life, I may have to make room for them in the novel.

But then, I do love a challenge. If you're interested in reading my story, Chuck's or any of the other stories gathered, check it out.


New Release: Saving Tessa

>> Saturday, November 22, 2014

I just released my personal favorite of my novels (so far) today. You'll be able to find it at the compelling price of $4.99 at your favorite retailer.

Dylan Chroz, high school senior, had a reputation as the unchallenged king of the technical world, a genius with dozens of patents to his name. He also had a reputation for being as cold and calculating as the supercomputers he could design in his sleep.

So he was unprepared when Maxcomm discovered what really mattered to him: the spunky girl at the center of his existence. Or when they stole her away so they could use her against him.

It was a mistake, of course, to make an enemy of Dylan, even if he was hampered by his fear for Tessa. After all, people who threaten Tessa were definitely not going to come out unscathed.

And Maxcom didn't appreciate what those around Dylan will do to help him save Tessa.

But the real mistake they made was thinking Tessa was going to sit quietly by and get used. As if Tessa would stand for that!

That last mistake was really going to cost them

Contains some language and violence. You can find Saving Tessa on Smashwords

In the iTunes store


Barnes and Noble



Fourth book, third novel coming out September 15

>> Saturday, September 6, 2014

I have another book, Nine Lives, available for preorder that will become available September 15. Right now, you can order it for $2.99 (price will go to $4.99 after it's released). You can preorder it now from Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple as well as Smashwords, which has available in all formats including Kindle. (It will be in on sometime on September 15).

That's three books already out, Conjuring Dreams (short stories),  Tarot Queen (adult novel), and  Beast Within (YA novel). 

"Trapped on a planet across the universe from their homeworld, more than a thousand youngsters, teachers and crew must make a new home for themselves in this beautiful and dangerous world. Some, however, are shapechangers, Bete, that many look on as demons, so they have more to fear than their new environment. At the same time, their powers have also saved all the refugees more than once. To protect themselves from the humans that fear or hate them, the Bete have started a separate colony from the rest.

With their little Bete colony going well with his foster brother, the intolerably perfect Xander, in charge, Laren, was feeling a trifle unnecessary, which didn't sit well with his pride. Or his temper. But when his arrogance nearly got himself and his best friend Rem killed, he decided to reign back his anger and deal with things with a little more thought.

He did so just in time because Xander became dangerously ill, hurting his mate, the healer, in his delirium. And, at nearly the same moment, the other colony was overrun with those that feared the Bete as demon-spawn. With an unknown disease in the camp and potential attack from outside, a level head was definitely needed. Who would have guessed that Laren would be the one to provide it?

Who knew this being in charge business was so troublesome?

Sequel to Beast Within. Contains some language and violence."

Unlike Tarot Queen, but like Beast Within, Nine Lives is a SF/Fantasy Adventure YA with an ensemble cast, so it's not as racy, not quite as violent and a bit more teen friendly. But, I do think it's quite interesting for adults as well. I make a point of not dumbing down language but letting context clues expand the vocabulary.

Links for all available books and pre-orderable books wills stay in the right hand column.


Beast Within

So, two books all the way out, Conjuring Dreams and Tarot Queen, and now another book available at bargain prices for preorder: Beast Within

Update: Now it's been released, it's still available at the bargain price of $4.99

"When a ship of youthful refugees maroons on a strange and dangerous new planet, Xander had no choice but to take charge of his shapeshifting clan, the Bete, to protect the strange foreign healer, K'Ti, from humans as well as his own suspicious clan. Among humans, shapeshifting and magic were frequently equated with evil. The lives of the Bete and K'Ti would readily be forfeit if certain fanatical factions discovered their gifts.

After Xander convinced the captain to let them be the first to set up camp outside, the healer's extensive magical skills quickly became key to survival. When K'Ti discovered the Bete's shapeshifting abilities, Xander defied his clan to let her live.

To defend themselves, and the humans, from the vicious predators like the man-sized Klixit, of the new planet, the Bete will need every skill, shred of knowledge and capability they possess. Xander will have to weigh the needs of his clan with his trust of humans, the risk from the dangers all around them, and those that lie within his fellow refugees. "

Unlike Tarot Queen, Beast Within is a SF/Fantasy Adventure YA with an ensemble cast, so it's not as racy, not quite as violent and a bit more teen friendly. But, I do think it's quite interesting for adults as well. I make a point of not dumbing down language but letting context clues expand the vocabulary.

Note also that Beast Within is the first of the Bete series. Nine Lives, the second of the series, will come next.


Another book available for pre-order!

>> Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I know what you're thinking: "I haven't even finished the first one (which was free)." True, but, if you do finish Conjuring Dreams and are jonesing for something else from my talented brain, you're in luck because you can get a deal on the next novel that takes up where the short stories stop.

Update: It's now out and $4.99.

 This one's not free, but you can get a deal on it since you can preorder it for $2.99 - it and will go to $4.99 after it's published on May 15 (which coincidentally is my 25th anniversary as a Rocket Scientist since I started working at Johnson Space Center in May of 1989). This novel is a grown up story, but fun and hopefully thought-provoking.

Announcing Tarot Queen.

After nearly four hundred years as the Tarot Queen, Roxell might still appear young and beautiful on the outside, but inside she was bored and jaded. Reading fortunes and conjuring futures was no substitute for an adventure of her own, a life of her own. Instead, she felt a prisoner, exiled within the confines of her cottage, growing more and more contemptuous of the supplicants who came to ask for her insight. And, for four centuries, not one person had given her heart the slightest romantic flutter . . .
Until Dante stepped in and turned the life she knew upside down. Handsome, intelligent, capable, he was everything she'd ever dreamed up . . . except that a tryst with a succubus had left him a demon and therefore soulless. The cards said he was definitely her destined lover, but Tarot Queens only get one lover and she had no plan to become a demoness.

For love, she abandoned her self-imposed exile and set out with her ardent suitor on a quest to find a solution to their thorny problem. Turns out, Dante's demonic venereal disease was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to their problems and Dante's mysteries. And Roxell was going to have to depend on her wits and her magical talents far more than she'd ever envisioned when they first ventured out.

And she loved (nearly) every minute of it.

Contains some sexual situations (not erotica) and a modicum of violence.

You can preorder at Smashwords and should shortly be able to preorder from a number of distributors.

A note about Smashwords - they distribute to most of the major ebook distributors like Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobi, Applestore, etc. But, I don't know when they'll show and there's a lag. You can preorder from Smashwords right now in all of those applicable formats. If you're struggling with how to get the downloaded Smashwords files to work with your application or device, you can get insight into how to do it here.

Naturally, no one is required to read my stuff, but, for those of you who might be interested, I wanted you to know it was out there.


My first BOOK!

>> Saturday, April 12, 2014

At long last with a self-crafted book cover, I have self-published my first e-book: Conjuring Dreams And it's FREE!

"Magic-wielders, shape-shifters, mermaids, empaths and diviners and even teddy bears and computer programmers wander through 26 stories, written into life for situations thought-provoking, compelling or absurd. It's a collection of diverse stories, from the first one written when Stephanie Barr (then Beck) was13-14 years old to the last ones finished last year. The tales show off not only Stephanie's eclectic imagination but the growth of her story telling as she taught herself to write (in the way she wanted to) through writing. So it's all fiction and totally autobiographical at the same time. "

Smashwords: Conjuring Dreams

Hopefully soon it will also be distributed at Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. Will post links when I have them. There are, however, formats available for most if not all readers/computers already available at the Smashwords link. There's also an interview of me.

I've also put it on Amazon but they wouldn't let me do it for free so it's 99 cents: 

Amazon: Conjuring Dreams

My suggestion is to go ahead and download it for free on Smashwords since they have Kindle format there.

More books (namely novels) are coming so "stay tuned".


I love Yoshinaga Fumi.

>> Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I love, just love, Yoshinaga Fumi. She's one of the best story tellers I've ever read and I can't help reading her books over and over, voraciously, even when she has characters do things I despise. They're that good.

Unfortunately, because of the format (manga) many of the readers I know would never even try these which is a great pity because the artwork is a key part of the effectiveness of the story. Even for those people willing to read manga (like my sister, Cheryl Beck Carvajal), I can't recommend the stuff I like best because yaoi (particularly Yoshinaga's yaoi) is not for the faint-hearted. Of the non-yaoi stuff, Garden of Dreams and Antique Bakery are great. Ooku, the Inner Chamber is also fantastic but horrible at the same time, but I can't stop reading it once I pick it up and can't sleep for two days afterwards because I can't stop thinking about it.

Sorry, I'm giddy because I haven't been able to track down the first volume for Gerard and Jacques (definitely yaoi) for ages, couldn't find any copy, even though I had the second one, until just recently and I even got it for less than a fortune. Don't mind me. Though I've written about Yoshinaga Fumi's work before:

I've written about her here  and here on this blog, too.  The more often I read her (and she's among the most rereadable authors I've ever stumbled across), the more I find myself entranced.


I think I might have finally figured it out.

>> Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I liked manga and even yaoi, even before my husband left me, but I've been pretty consumed by it the past two years or so since he's been gone. I'm open-minded and all but even I was a little stumped as to why it (Boy's Love manga) was so fascinating to me, why I've all but ignored my regular novels and the like, why even the shoujo mangas (I'm stilling buying new volumes of to finish the series) were languishing while I read and reread my favorite yaoi.

What is it?

(For those of you who think this is better suited to my Rocket Scientist blog because this is all about me rather than the manga, fear not, I'm cross-posting it).

Today, as I'm wiping away tears reading a manga I've read before (single volume: Dekichatta Danshi by Mikagi Tsubaki), I think I finally figured it out, not just why I'm focused on manga, but focused on yaoi in particular. The tears, by the way, were only slightly because the story was touching (though it was) - mostly I was jealous because the touchy hard-case main character had someone who loved him desperately, unequivocally, with everything he had. I just loved Yu and I'd love to have him for myself.

Not Yu specifically (since he's way too young for me and I'm not doing that again, not to mention he's in love with someone else, oh, and fictional), but someone who loved me, treasured me. I used to believe I'd have someone like that in my life.

Now, of course, not so much; I'm pretty much sure that ain't gonna happen. But, for a long time after Lee left, I was starting to question if it EVER happens, if it's ever real. I mean, I love my children with everything. I cherish and treasure them (yes, not the same, but that notion that someone means more to you than yourself, that is the same) so I know that kind of love exists. And, intellectually, I know couples for whom that kind of thinking is part and parcel of their relationship, even if there are little strifes here and there. That devotion to one another remains at the core of their lives.

But I'd lost my faith in that magic. My faith in people who lay it all on the line (as I once did), who strive and struggle because there is someone in their lives they just can't lose no matter what. My faith in the happy ending.

And that was a serious concern for me. Not so much for how I live my life - I can survive the rest of my years as a bitter cynic, probably still even be a good mother if a little extra sarcastic, which probably won't bother my remaining children (the ones that live at home) until/if they start talking.

But it kept me from writing anything new fiction-wise and that was becoming a serious concern. When I write, I have to feel it or it won't come across genuine, won't come across real. It's not enough to tell myself it's true intellectually - I have to believe it.

Now, of course, I could write novels without any hint of romance, but I don't want to. I've almost always had some sort of romantic mush in my novels because I like it, I like reading it, I want to write it. I want to write novels that still believe in magic and romance and overcoming the nigh impossible. I don't want to be a cynical writer.

(For those of you who think I should publish this on Rockets and Dragons, since that's about my writing, fear not, I'll be cross posting it there).

So, Stephanie (the person) had to recapture her belief in the wonder of romance in a life deprived of same (and an argument could be made it always was) or she could never be Stephanie (the writer) again. Hence, mangas, where words and characters have more power because, hey, pictures. And yaoi because, hey, most are only a volume or two, the diversity in stories and scenarios is staggering, and the romance (in the good ones) is in your face - immediate and urgent because, on the whole, the romantic partners have a great deal more on the line, and stand a greater chance in losing everything just by mentioning their interest.

There are many other things in yaoi that are rather in your face (so be warned), but that's not why I read it (and the really smutty ones that are all sex/violence and nothing else don't interest me at all). I need that romance, I need to believe in it again.

I've read Dekichatta Danshi before and I didn't cry, I didn't feel it the same way. But this time, I did. I think that means I'm getting it back.

Yay, me.

Also, I know which manga I should review next. 


Adult Swim: Why I Dive In

>> Saturday, January 25, 2014

If someone were ever truly curious why in the world someone like me would read yaoi, I would be tempted, nay compelled, to direct them to the work of Junko. I have read everything I can find that she(?) has written and I love them all. I'm not calling her the most compelling or most powerful, most original or cleverest of the yaoi authors - though there are certainly brilliant yaoi mangaka and I've written about several of them - or saying she has the finest artistry, though I find her drawing quite appealing.

But - but - what Junko brings to the party are exactly those elements I find most appealing about yaoi, what I read it for: sweet, decent, misunderstood, imperfect characters struggling to come to terms with themselves, their feelings and their relationships in a world that isn't always understanding. There's a minimum of adventure or crazy setups or action or drama in general. These are quiet and compelling character studies, exactly what I like best. Powerful because it's all about the people. Oh, and like most of my favorite mangaka, she's often hilarious. And she manages to do that with little or no rape which is a rarity in the yaoi world (unfortunately).

There is sex. Sometimes a lot of it. (The stories, however, are all about love, which is my own litmus test to separate the yaoi I like from the yaoi that isn't my bag).

Take for instance Mr. Mini Mart (which was just published in English) also called Konbini-Kun. Here's a teenager (Nakaba) who, in his last year of middle school, had his unspoken crush for a friend outed publically and was so traumatized by the experience that he all but became a shut-in, unable to return to school or hardly talk to anyone. His uncle offers him (now sixteen) a job at a convenience store and Nakaba takes it in an attempt to recover and get past his trauma. At first, he's not sure it will work as he rubs one of his coworkers (a rather delinquent-looking forthright individual) the wrong way but the fellow (Yamai) turns out to be a decent guy and they become friends (over a cat Yamai saves in the rain). Nakaba is starting to find his niche when former classmates come in and start to needle him. Yamai shoos them away and then demands the story. Nakaba tells him, fearfully, but Yamai accepts it all casually and is adamant Nakaba did nothing wrong.

And that's when Nakaba starts to heal. And, not surprisingly, fall for Yamai (who is like the best thing in the world for him). And, when Yamai accepts him, it's all kinds of good.

And, like Konbini-Kun, most of the other stories are about very compelling (often quirky) people (and little else) and often examining one aspect or another of homosexuality in a complicated world.

Abarenbou Kareshi - Three unrelated stories told in one or two chapters a piece. The first, about two friends, where one (a handsome but volatile young man) is rather rabidly homophobic given he's often a target, and his best friend who is in love with him. Not smooth sailing, actually, but a fairly satisfactory ending. Then there is a pair of stepbrothers where one fell in love at first sight but has ruthlessly held himself back and the rather shameless brother who basically tricks him into a sexual relationship (for his own good). The last is a rather charming tale of a normal kid who remembers a crybaby buddy from gradeschool only to meet him again now in highschool as a rough tough delinquent (and enthusiastic uke) that he can't help but fall in love with.

Kasa No Shita, Futari - A story about a graduating high schooler (Mio) who befriends some college students and finds out one (Yugi, one he's attracted to) has a hopeless love on one of the others (who is using Yugi for sex while having a romantic relationship with his long-term girfriend). Mio first tries to use it for his own advantage and is shot down, but then realizes he genuinely cares about Yugi. When Mio finds out Yugi is being abandoned, he is outraged for Yugi (though Yugi always knew it was coming) and comforts him, appreciating as he does so that it's torturous loving someone who will never love you back. Before Yugi disappears (and Mio graduates), Mio tries to encourage Yugi to let his love for the other guy go. They separate and don't see each other for several years which is where it gets interesting - when they stumble into each other again.

Kimi Note - Mostly about a couple of high school students who fall in love over a cologne. It's sweet and charming and somewhat aromatic, but what I really like are the three one shots at the end, two of which are focused on communication and/or second chances and one on a hopeless love that turned out not to be so hopeless after all. I just loved 'em.

Omamorishimasu, Dokomademo - The closest to an "action" yaoi where a country bumpkin (Akiro) comes to Tokyo for a job only to find his new company has gone out of business and he has no job and no place to stay. Fortunately, his pen pal from childhood is a very wealthy person whose all too happy to take him in and ask nothing in return. Fortunately, Akiro is also a natural born fighter, able to step in and save his friend when someone tries to kidnap him (a fairly common occurrence). Akiro gets hired as a bodyguard which makes his friend ecstatic since he's got a huge crush on Akiro. When Akiro finds out about the crush, he's weirded out and leaves, leaving his friend a sitting duck. Fortunately, Akiro (and others) come to his friend's rescue and all ends happily.

Ouji No Kikan - Again three excellent multi-part stories. The first one about someone rediscovering a former idolizer (then fat and ignored, now handsome and successful) who at first laps up the appreciation, then feels insecure, then uses the adoration as an incentive to improve himself. The second story is about a loner and his friend where the friend misconstrues a new friend for his loner and thinks there is a gay relationship when their isn't - made complicated when the friend realizes he's the one that loves him (which is fine because the loner loves him, too). The third story is about three friends. One "falls for" his friend just as his friend finds a girlfriend, but backs off when he realizes his friend really loves the girl - just as the other friend makes a move on him.
Recipe no Oujisama - Poor culinary student comes to live in a weird boarding house and falls in love with an aspiring actor only to discover later that a soup made a decade before set both of them on their current career paths.

Star-Like Words - a happy-go-lucky gay nymphomaniac with a number of sex friends falls head over heels, first with a painting then the antisocial artist that painted it, eventually drawing the artist out of his shell and finding out how much more important love is compared to empty lust. Also, a one-shot about a friends where one faked an common interest because of his crush ends up happy anyway when the other is flattered.

There's the occasional one-shot out there. For the most part, I think they're all worth reading because I find the characters appealing, as is the recurrent notion that you can't judge people with a glance. I like frequent misfit match-ups, too. More than one character comes across as at least borderline autistic which I like seeing given that my son is. 

Over all, I get the warm fuzzies (and maybe a little hot under the collar) every time I read these. What more could I ask for?


Gotta Have 'Em All: Kamisama Kiss

>> Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kamisama Kiss by Suzuki Julietta started out on my list as "Has a Certain Appeal". Then I ignored my list for a long time, meanwhile I found myself captivated by the series so it moves up in rank to "Gotta Have 'Em All." I'll be updating my list shortly.

Like many shoujo, it moves on the slow side, but it had aspects that appealed from the very beginning. I wasn't entranced but I was intrigued enough to keep reading.  Before I knew it, I loved it. It isn't just the charm and appeal of our outwardly cold main protagonist, Tomoe, though who wouldn't love a fox demon that's good-looking and capable? It isn't just the quirky premise or the mystique of an unfamiliar mythology (though I've always loved mythology and Japanese mythology is new to me). What really appeals is the relationship between Tomoe and the main character,  Momozono Nanami, a charming "normal" girl sucked into a surreal world, laden with heavy responsibilities and very very limited power. Her charm is augmented by the fact that she repeatedly fixes her own problems, not just through the intervention of her powerful familiar, not just due to her efforts to grow into her "god" powers, but due to her intelligence and her bright honest personality that snags her followers and allies along the way. 

Stories that empower women without just making them rescue-able eye candy and without trying to turn them into men appeal to me deeply. That she's such a fine person, honest but not without flaws, that her judgement isn't always true, but her heart is, that Tomoe (desperate never to fall for a human girl again) is inescapably drawn to her, all these things I find positively endearing.

Anime? Yes (subtitled) Volumes of manga: 18 (13 Eng) Status: Ongoing (but nearly complete in Japan, I think)

My rating: Gotta have 'em all

Age range: I wouldn't have a problem letting any teenager read this, but we all know I'm progressive.

Taboos and "warnings": Some sexual innuendo, some minor violence. If magic and the occult bother you, you won't like this, but I doubt you'd be frequenting my blog given my own tastes.

Premise: Nanami's no-account father has bolted, leaving her penniless and left with no place to live and unlikely to be able to stay in high school. As she contemplates her bleak future in the park, she rescues a terrified "man" from a stray dog and ends up telling the man her story. He (Mikage) tells her that he has a place nearby that he hasn't been using (had abandoned) and that she was welcome to take it over. Then he kisses her forehead, passing, unbeknownst to Nanami, his tochigami powers (tochigami is a "land-god" responsible for an area of land). Mikage had indeed abandoned his shrine for twenty years, leaving his familiar, a powerful yokai (a type of demon), to fulfill Mikage's duties as well as he could. The yokai, Tomoe, is somewhat irate already that he'd been abandoned so long. Finding a human girl of no particular distinction suddenly in charge adds insult to injury and he takes off to go back to his former wastrel ways, but is tricked and kissed by Nanami (who needs his helps on several different levels), thus become her familiar sort of against his will.

What works: Tomoe's apparent amorality and indifference to Nanami's plight (and to the master who abandoned him), make it pretty easy to accept him being effectively shanghaied in the beginning. By the time we find out he's a tsundere character (much nicer/responsible/caring than he wants anyone to know), it is already apparent that he needs purpose or he'll destroy himself. Her stealing him put the breaks on a self-destructive breakdown. He complains but is actually very responsible and quite protective and, very shortly, it becomes very clear that he genuinely cares about and even respects Nanami.

Over time, Tomoe has multiple opportunities to either escape or trade his inexperienced land-god for someone stronger or more experienced, but he never does and, on more than one occasion, goes out of his way to reinforce their pact. He is quite protective of Nanami and will put himself at risk on her behalf without much hesitation. Fortunately, he's a badass (yes, I like that) and his foxy appearance and cold demeanor add to his charm rather than detract. His overt jealousy as rivals show up (for Nanami's affection as potential rival familiars) comes across as sweet and awkward, especially given that he won't admit to any attachment. In the end, he is absolutely unable to stand in the way of her happiness.

But, more importantly, he is also completely incapable of stopping Nanami when she is set on a path. She is stubborn, intrepid, leaping rapidly where even Yokai would pause and the fact that she often extracts herself through her own efforts both frustrates and impresses him. Impresses me, as well. As much as I love protective men, even more, I love pairing them with capable, creative, self-sufficient women (it's a common theme in my own writing).

Nanami is honorable, empathetic, forthright, determined, smart, and patient. She is as hard on herself as anyone, but her kind and giving nature make her adorable and her tendency of putting herself at risk for the sake of others with no thought whatsoever to her own preservation make her pretty darn appealing as well, even if it scares the dickens out of Tomoe. Her ability to see through the BS makes her friends and allies even from individuals that should have been enemies.

In the end, it's her love (unabashed) for Tomoe that really makes this series sing. Tomoe is a complex character with a checkered and troubled past and Nanami's unraveling of that past is completely compelling, especially given her selflessness in how she does so.

It is amusing, but not laugh out loud funny. More cute and surprise amusing, situations that are charming and humorous.

Favorite character: Tomoe. Normally, this would be a hard call. Nanami is feisty and true, smart and generous and kind. She's a great protagonist. Tomoe is also smart and feisty, complicated and, underneath, giving and devoted. He is complex and his backstory is fascinating and adds considerably to our understanding and sympathy for him. And he is the one that grows the most. So, he likely had an edge on top character, but, at one point, he is changed into a little kid form of himself that is too cute for words (and he refuses to trade masters even though his life is at risk in this smaller form). That clinched it. Mikage, as the guy watching over all this who clearly has a plan in Nanami's and Tomoe's favor is pretty appealing, too.
Quotes (there aren't many because I didn't go through all thirteen volumes I have and because it's really the interaction that's amusing rather than one-liners):
Yokai: A mere human, a shabby girl becoming a tochigami. This shrine has sunk so low.
Tomoe: No, no, Nanami may not look it, but she's strong inside. Someday, she will be able to make the flowers bloom.

Nanami: (mentally) I couldn't help barging in and Tomoe told me not to. I couldn't stop myself when I saw the sword pointed at Tomoe. But, right now, I'm really scared . . . of Tomoe.

Himemiko: We met only once at Tatara Swamp ten years ago. He was an 8-year-old who looked very cute when he was crying.
Nanami: (mentally) Are all yokai sadists?

What I didn't like: Again, not much. The artwork is nice and effective but not outstanding or particularly noteworthy. Better than I could draw, of course.Things move slowly, especially at first, and it's always frustrating to draw out a romance where the characters are clearly attached to each other but still not making tremendous progress. Reading ahead of the published volumes, I can see what looks like a very satisfying end coming up, but there's no getting around that it dragged at times.

The anime: There is also a 13 episode anime available, subtitled rather than dubbed, but well worth the time to read/watch it. The same charm evident in the manga infuses the anime and I think it's quite well done with a tidy ending (which is not always so with animes that finish up before the manga is completed). It moves a little more swiftly than the manga.


Stepping out from the manga for just a sec

>> Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thing is, I don't just write blogs (in fact, one could make an argument I don't even write those given how I've let my blogs go fallow) or fan fiction or reviews of various manga.

I have and have always written fiction and I'm pleased to make note that one of my short stories was recently published in SQ's anthology Star Quake 1, available as both a paperback book and an ebook format. I don't know everywhere it's available, but I know it's available at both Barnes & Noble and at Amazon.

It's not a big thing, as real writing goes, but it's big for me.

More news, I'm gearing up to take my rather large backlog of novels and short stories and self-publish in ebook form (some of many different flavors of electronic book at once). Not because I don't believe in it, but because I do. I don't want to get rich. I want to tell stories.

One way or another, that's just what I'm going to do.

Stay tuned.

(Oh, and I'm still reading manga, one reason I've been so lax with work on the blog). I'll share more of what I've found charming later. No, really!

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