Reviews

Con Review- Scares That Cares

Scares That Cares is a family friendly Horror convention that donates a share of proceeds to a person or family with health issues such as cancer.  It is held annually (This was the third year) in Williamsburgh, VA, in between Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburgh.

The Good:

Hugs.  Before I even signed in to the hotel a guy ran up to give me a hug.  Turns out he was author, Mike Lombardo.  Never met him before, didn’t matter.  Hugs were the norm here because apparently, if you’re there, you’re damn well gonna be made to feel welcome.  I got a lot of  hugs this weekend, and all were equally glorious.  From meek mild not really touching hugs to full on acupressure up the spine ones.  I also got to meet the hugmaster herself, Janet Rogers- Empress of HugTown.  The unofficial mayor of hugging at Conventions.  If you see pictures of her at conventions, it’s hugging someone.  And it was glorious – so go back for seconds, thirds, tenths or so as I did.  With her was her equally hugaliscious family- The Paynes- and her husband, Phillip Rogers.  All great huggers, artists, and people.

Kids.  I found myself saying at one point, “I like the kids here.  Not a one has been obnoxious” and I meant it.  I’m not the biggest kids in public person.  They’re unpredictable, they can cry and tantrum and other things because – they’re kids.  I never hate them for it, can just find myself rolling my eyes on occasion because it’s their nature.  The kids here were amazingly awesome.  Maybe it was because there was so much for them to do.  There was a trick-or-treat for them to go to all the celebrities and vendors and get candy.  There was a 5K run.  There was a zombie hunt where they got equipped with nerf guns to go hunt volunteers dressed up as zombies.  The kids weren’t a tag-a-long but incorporated into the program, and when you feel welcome and included at any age you feel better and act that way.

There were two girls who kept rounding the vendors tables on the last day.  There was one table where all the vendors were dumping candy.  Each time they passed they giggled and looked at us (as Jacob Haddon, head-master at Apokrupha, and I were next to it) and we told them to take it all.  They would take a handful and giggle and then go around again.  When even more places dumped their leftover candy there and it was about to crack from the weight, I wondered where the girls were.  I found them sitting outside giggling to each other.

“You girls should go back, there’s even more candy there now!” I said.   “And take bags.”

When I ran into them again they held up bags stuffed to splitting with the candy, thanked me, and laughed.  That was a sample of the way the kids behaved- respectful, sweet, funny, nice, etc.

Activities.  There were activities for everyone, of all ages.  Kids stuff during the day, adult stuff at night (I’m told, I went back to my room by 10 pm most nights to write before sleep.).  There were celebrity talks, author readings, costume contests, vendor rooms, celebrity rooms, etc.  There was even a screening room that was super cold where you went to take naps when needed.  I don’t know the movies screened there, it was a mix of public domain and indie, but I don’t think I saw anyone with their eyes open in that room.

Authors.  I went there because my novella, Marta Martinez Saves the World, debuted.  It’s not officially out yet, and I will have a longer post on it’s creation and the creation of the series it’s part of, Kaiju Revisited, when you can buy it elsewhere.  Authors lined the back of the vendors room, for the most part, with some in upstairs vending rooms.  I was told it was a great year for authors there.  My novella, with no cover yet, in the back of a room, and with me (as John Boden put it) believed to be a computer that passed the Turing test as I keep photos offline, sold out.  It sold out at the very literal last minute.  I was walking out the door when a vendor ran up and asked if I had one more copy left.  I ran out to the car (Jacob’s car), got it, and sold it to him.  Dudes, I autographed books.  My novella.  People who I didn’t know on facebook bought them.  Everyone chuckled when they heard what it was about – One person gave it the best tagline, “It’s the Brave Little Toaster meets Jurassic Park,” they said – and it fits perfect.  I also met many many authors that I’ve known on facebook and off.

And I met Joe Lansdale.  Who was friendly and awesome and if I didn’t feel like I was imposing could talk to for hours for his voice alone.  And the writing wisdom, that was important as well.  We spoke of Bubba Ho-Tep (a favorite of mine that made me realize I could let the weird fly in fiction when it serves the story to do so) and Godzilla’s Twelve Step Program.  We spoke a bit of racism and my job working in a clinic that provides healthcare to refugees and torture survivors.  We spoke of just how many books people hand him at conventions, on the streets, at his home, etc.  I got to see him do his reading with Weston Ochse and both were just amazing.

Artists and Other Vendors.  I spent most of my ‘con money-not food’ budget at Jellykoe:  Arts and Toys.  It’s a husband and wife team.  He makes the arts, she turns them into stuffies and other toys.  He has a line where he paints cartoon aliens on old photographs he picks up along his travels and I bought a few of those, wishing for more.

There were many other vendors selling so much stuff!  I picked up a Yeti purse at one place, drooled over Munsters purses at another.  There were horror stuffed teddy bears and other dolls, bathbombs, crocheted horror icons (I did buy some mini eyeballs there), hot sauce and pickles, and tons of other randomness and arty awesomeness.

The Bad:  Transportation, really, was the only complaint.  Williamsburgh is not near a traffic hub.  It’s a regional tourist spot for regional things.  Kids go to the ‘historic triangle’ on field trips to explore the past or you go to Busch Gardens.  It was near impossible to find a flight that was convenient for me, and even worse getting back.  My flight back ended up having mechanical problems, and there wasn’t another flight going my direction for a few days.  To the airline’s credit, they put me up in a hotel, gave me a 70$ voucher to take a taxi to the next closest airport, and got me on a flight out the next day. The only reason I ended up being awake over 24 hours was because my anxiety kicked in and had me in the restroom that night.  However, it wasn’t full on panic attack anxiety, just a few tears and watching late night Disney shows because I couldn’t sleep type of anxiety.  When I got home I passed out for 17 hours.  I’m getting ready to pass out again. Had I not planned ahead and taken two days off of work, though, I’d have had to call in for one of them.

Transportation there was also not made for those without cars.  I went to Colonial Williamsburgh, which was small and would have been expensive had I not gotten the educator discount, by bus.  To catch the bus I had to cross an 8 lane stretch of roadway- with no crossing signs.  Nor did the lights on half of it face my direction so I could tell who had turn signals or not.  I had to go back to my days when I was the Frogger Wizard and pray I still had it.  I did- barely- and survived.  I was harassed by an older woman on the bus who didn’t like me putting my hands on the back of the seat in front of me- even though she was no where near it, and no one was there, she kept telling me to take them off.

I could add heat was a bad thing too.  It was high humidity there the entire time, but save for my visit to the past, I was mostly inside and it was fine.

The Female:  There were a few female author readings, not near an even split, and I think if we got to racial lines the disparity would be even greater.  I’m told that the readings went to the people who bought table space, understandable, which shows that there were few females who bought table space.  When it came to celebrities, there was an even split until cancellations happened at a steady pace leading up to the con.  The two I wanted to meet and gush over awkwardly cancelled, and other celebs stepped in.  When it came to walking around the con the ratios seemed even in terms of gender.

Overall:  If I had an easier mode of getting there, I’d be a regular.  To those who can drive, even if it’s a half day drive or so and you don’t mind it, go.  There’s stuff for everyone, you’re (mostly) all friends, and it really does Care like the title of the convention says.  Everyone was super nice.  It was a great time while there, just the getting there that was the issue.

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Books and Marketing or My Review of Shadows Cast by STars

Marketing is amazing, especially how it’s used in literature.  Whenever the ‘genre vs. literary’ debate kicks into full swing – every other month basically – there is an argument that inevitably is along the veins of ‘the split is just for marketing terms’ and I have used that one myself.  Horror, Science Fiction, Literature, even YA are ways for marketers to fit a book on a shelf and attract the type of reader they thing will most likely plop down money for a book.  Books themselves, like people, slip in and out of all sorts of categories if you’re forced to actually categorize them.  And readers read their own views into books, which makes the categorization even harder.

If you ask an MFAer who is fighting for a foothold with their professor, there’s a good chance they still might say the difference is that literature is creating culture, while the rest, that evil ‘g’ word they can’t say, is pandering.  That’s one I got at least.  “Literature illuminates the human condition” was what the most obnoxious offenders of defending the line in the sand would spout.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do is broaden my reading habits.  It’s SO easy to pigeonhole yourself, the world makes it the thing to do.  So when I saw a list of books where the protag was a non white male, I went through and read the descriptions and then found a couple of them to read.

Shadows Cast by Stars was one of them.

Here is the Amazon description of the book:

Two hundred years from now, blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet—especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antibodies that protect them from the Plague ravaging the rest of the world.

Sixteen-year-old Cassandra Mercredi might be immune to the Plague, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe—government forces are searching for those of aboriginal heritage to harvest their blood. When a search threatens Cassandra and her family, they flee to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory protected by the Band, a group of guerilla warriors—and by an enigmatic energy barrier that keeps outsiders out and the spirit world in. And though the village healer has taken her under her wing, and the tribal leader’s son into his heart, the creatures of the spirit world are angry, and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument…

Incorporating the traditions of the First Peoples as well as the more familiar stories of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend, Shadows Cast by Stars is a haunting, beautifully written story that breathes new life into ancient customs.

Now, that’s not exactly how it was described in the list I read it on.  That list emphasized the first paragraph – about the blood of the aboriginal people and the struggle to be free from that hunt.  That excited me.  I thought that could delve into wonderful race politics, especially for a YA novel.

But that’s not what the book is about.  There are maybe 2-3 mentions of this outside threat but no more.  The book itself is more of a spirit quest for Cassandra, the main character.  She needs to heal the rift between the spirit world and the human one.  Bring people to nature and themselves.  She can see the totems of others and begin to heal them.

Many books, especially YA, are about the main characters coming to terms with their identities.  Exaggerated identities are used to make that theme become clearer – you are amazing and unique and powerful once you accept yourself.  In YA magic has become a heart of that discovery.  Think Harry Potter.  Or Katniss finding her inner warrior type savior strength.  These kids are saviors not just of their families, but worlds.  (diatribe – funny how our popular YA books do have the heroes fighting against the atrocities of the worlds they’re in, lets hope the next generation learns something from that message)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that being the central message of this novel.  It definitely goes hand in hand with fleeing a plague because your people are harvested.  And the book itself was definitely engaging, if heavy handed in other metaphors at times.  The Arthurian legend was slammed into our faces when it cropped up, her being named ‘Cassandra’ and it’s importance was also fully typed out in case we ‘didn’t get it’ instead of using allusions that would have allowed different levels of reading or interest to look into the importance of the name.  As was totally overused.  Do not use ‘as’ that much.  Ever.  But I did stay up to finish reading it, I wanted to see what happened.  Part of that was me being interested, part was me waiting for more meat to the story.

However, I felt a bit duped.  Soul searching stories are common and this didn’t rise above others, even if I did get introduced to new mythology.  I wanted a story to explore more of the meat and bones of the politics of the world and being an ‘other’ (as they refer to themselves in the book) during a national crisis.  This book is far ‘safer’ than the book I was hoping to read.  I want to read books that ask questions that aren’t safe in our current climate.  That explore things a bit more openly.