[RK Rewatch] Episode 8: New Battle! and Live-Action Trailer

Saturday, December 17, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald



It's been a while since I've added on to the RK Rewatch, and it's no wonder - the time has come for Megumi and Aoshi to make their entrances. I've never liked either character much, and if I recall their introductions drag on unnecessarily long. They're just so...bland. And boring. (Please don't hurt me Aoshi fangirls.) So let's power through this and get to the incredible news of the week.  

Episode 8 Summary: Kenshin and Sanousuke cross paths with Megumi Takani, a woman and doctor who is being hunted by a band of ninjas called the Oniwabanshu. Megumi as it turns out is the sole-surviving member of a clan of renowned healers which is good because the group needed a cleric anyway. Megumi takes shelter at the Kamiya dojo. They are attacked again and Yahiko is poisoned. Time for that cleric to earn her keep!  

My Thoughts: We meet 1/2 of the Oniwabanshu group. As I mentioned in an earlier recap, the game has changed since Sanousuke joined the group. Kenshin isn't going to be fighting the same level of two-bit ordinary humans anymore. More and more, enemies and allies will display super-human abilities that only make sense in absurd shonen anime style. That's how we get Hyottoko - the fire eater. The man is literally larger than a house and able to breathe fire. I wish I could explain how, but I can't. I'm not even going to try because I'm afraid I'd have to use the words "flammable vomit" at some point.

So that seems like a pretty good note to end on. I really have nothing to say about this episode as nothing  happens. Sanousuke suspects that Megumi is involved in the opium business that killed one of his friends, but nothing is revealed or resolved. Moving on to the best news of the week - a teaser trailer was released for the live-action adaptation! Check it out! 





Anime adaptations are often terrible, so I'm really trying to lower my expectations. It's hard though because visually they've nailed it thus far! And I'm pretty happy that they opted to do away with the pink haori for this and play up the penniless hobo look. What do you think? I think I'm in love.

[Marketing] SEO Protip: Blog Post Titles

Friday, December 9, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

SEO means Search Engine Optimization for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, and one of these days I should probably do a big, giant post covering the basics. For now here's one simple basic tip on improving your search results for blog content. It begins at the beginning with the title of your blog post.

Sometimes we get too creative for our own good. Titles that are fun and those that are whimsical do not always also communicate what the post is actually about.

Titles are key bits of metadata - the descriptive back-end pieces of information that Google search crawlers use to to find and define your site. Which is why it's important to fit in specific and strong keywords when naming your blog posts because it'll help your blog be found by Google. It'll also be the first thing a reader sees as they are scanning their search results so a title ought to inform readers of what they can expect to find in your post.

As a bad example of what not to do let's look at one of my old posts,  Ramblings on a Wednesday and Indiana Jones.  In that post I mainly talk about writer's block and not Indiana Jones. I think I was trying to be witty that day and reference the Roadtrip Wednesday topic that week. If f I had a Tardis I'd probably go back and change it to "Writer's Block and Indiana Jones".  This new title is still interesting and kinda fun, but now it reflects the content better.

So there is still room for creativity for SEO friendly titles. Your blog should reflect your voice as an author after all. Cut and dry titles may not be engaging enough to your audience. Just keep these questions in the back of your head before you hit publish - 1.) Is there a place to seamlessly toss in a keyword to my title? and 2.) Does my title inform or distract?

[Marketing] Klout

Monday, December 5, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

I had some time to actually write this weekend so I thought I would weigh-in briefly on Klout. (Edit: Did I say brief? Hah!)

What Klout Is:  

According to Klout:

"Our friendships and professional connections have moved online, making influence measurable for the first time in history. When you recommend, share, and create content you impact others. Your Klout Score measures that influence on a scale of 1 to 100...The Klout Score measures influence based on your ability to drive action. Every time you create content or engage you influence others. The Klout Score uses data from social networks in order to measure: True Reach (how many people you influence), Amplification (how mjuch you influence them), and Network Impact (the influence of your network)."
In basic terms, Klout ought to be able to answer the questions that often eludes marketers - does any of these things that I do, tweet, and promote across all my many channels have any real effect on our audience?! Anything at all?! Or am I just a voice shouting in the woods? What's nice about Klout is that Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and a host of other accounts to be scored by Klout which again to ought to be very helpful in interpreting the overall effectiveness of a marketing campaign. Klout measures that influence with a numerical value, allowing a marketer to establish a baseline from which they can set goals towards future growth. Seems like useful information, right?

What Klout Really Is:

Kinda useless sad to say. At least for me it has been. Is it hella fun though? Hell YES! But more on that later. This has been my personal experience so I will fully admit that results may vary. If you're on Klout and you've found a way to interpret the data that is meaningful and helpful to you - more power to you.  As I played around with Klout, I tried to come up with a good enough reason to recommend it specifically to authors and I just can't find it. It's all interesting data, but ultimately I don't see it helping as much as it distracts. Writers can be notorious procrastinators as it is. For a certain kind of person, I can see Klout being another shiny thing to check-in on hourly to avoid writing.

I think there is just too much data for Klout to collect and then produce a meaningful return on and sometimes the results just don't make sense. Here's an example: For a long time 'Karate' used to be one of my Top Topics not because I was an expert on the martial art or Tweet about it frequently.  I suspect the reason was because I once live-tweeted a re-watch of the first three Karate Kid movies and response to that was decent. Now Karate vs. The Karatie Kid (film) are two very different topics. Klout at the time was unable to separate the two. In fairness their most recent update does seem to have taken out the more ridiculous Top Topics. So we'll see how the service changes.

Since the algorithms behind the Klout score are not as transparent as I'd like them to be and due to other incidents similar to The Karate Kid story, I don't feel like I can trust Klout's numbers.  Scalzi brings up some great points and other issues about Klout numbers and labels in his post on CNN Money. You should definitely check it out.


When does the fun start?

The perks are pretty fun. My roommate, the amazing @causticsoda (who crochets similarly amazing things), is always qualifying for Klout perks and I have enjoyed the benefits of this. It has all been good fun. When the Have Mercy samples were delivered, they were delivered by hand and still chilled. It was pretty awesome; however, I rarely qualify for the perks. Ordinarily, I'm not bothered by it. If I'm being honest with myself, I'm just into the Klout perks for the free food.

I do think that Klout Style is an interesting feature. My Twitter seems to waffle back and forth between Networker and Explorer. It a good thing for my ego, but I'm also not going to change how I use Twitter based on the label Klout assigns to me. The descriptions of each are just too vague to be super useful.


And at the end of the day:

I am still addicted to Klout, but I have an analytics addiction.  My advice to any writers who have been looking into Klout is this - there are probably better uses for your time. It's a fun thing to check passively, but not an analytics program to take too seriously. Unlike the social accounts of large corporations, your Twitter and Facebook feeds are likely going to be less static and hopefully more creative and fun so expect some strangness in your stats and Top Topics. You should also be prepared to see a Klout score that is lower than you expect even if you do have a healthy following. Klout scores seem to favor the large corporations like Best Buy and McDonalds. So don't rely on Klout to tell you how successful you've been. That's something you ought to decide for yourself.






[Marketing] Name vs. Brand

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

What's in a name?

"Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?"  Of course it would because a four letter name does not in any way affect the chemical make up of the flower's scent; however, roses have taken on many other meanings in our culture through commercial branding. They become a symbol of love, passion, and even one of sincerity and apology. Culturally, we've been trained to think of them as more than just pretty flowers.

Like a rose, your brand is more than just a name, and I think that's what a lot of people are confused about.  The Shameless Self-Promoters - the ones whose RSS, Twitter, and Facebook feeds are filed with MY BOOK TITLE reviewed, MY BOOK TITLE onsale, MY BOOK TITLE, MY BOOK TITLE (you've all seen these accounts) are misunderstanding that branding is not just about maximum exposure of a select set of keywords.

That's not to say that the name is unimportant.  Your name, the title of your novel or series, blog, hashtag etc.  is the unique identifier that consumers and readers will be associating with your over-arching message.  It is your base. In time you'll build on your base and the end result will be more complex than the name itself.

Branding is a form of communication. The ultimate goal of successful branding is widespread awareness of your name, but you also want your brand to answer those "Who?" and "What?" questions too.  HOW you go about answering those questions is branding.

Photo Credits: Photo by Charisse JoyChyu, published under a creative commons license.



[Writing] The Gap

Thursday, August 25, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Still thinking about Writer's Block today. Then I remembered seeing this infographic posted by a friend and thought that I would share it.


[Writing] Ramblings on a Wednesday and Indiana Jones

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Today’s Roadtrip Wednesday tackled that perennial and most dreaded problem…Writer’s Block and how to beat it.


For me, Writer’s Block can be caused by one of three things, lack of food, lack of direction/inspiration, or lack of confidence. So the first step is figuring out WHY I’m feeling “Meh” about whatever project is in front of me. 

“I can haz NOMs, plz?”

Unsurprisingly, I love it when the answer is quite simply a low calorie count for the day.  Easiest. Fix. Ever. Why yes, I will have that “healthy” helping of cookie dough ice cream.  If it’s good for my work-in-progress, it’s good for me. Right?  *wink wink, nudge, nudge*

Why can’t all writing problems be solved by carbs and sugar?

“A stampede of pink aardvarks couldn’t liven up this scene.”

Then there are the times that I’m simply just BORED.  And sometimes, the shock of that realization feels like hitting a brick wall at 55 mph. (Huh? Why? How?  When did my own story go so far off track? How did I let that happen? How did I not seen this as a problem as I planned out this scene in the first place? Help! I’m trapped in the most boring story EVER! Doom. Doom. Doom.)  When the momentum is lost, it is difficult for me to get started  again especially when I’m stranded in the middle of a boring scene ripe with dry and stilted dialogue. There’s nothing to reach for and the quicksand is up to my chest.

Now, as the writer it should be within my power to change this.  I wrote myself into this sand trap, why can’t I write myself out of it? Where is my strapping errant knight who bears an uncanny resemblance to Harrison Ford to help pull me out of this mess?  I have the pen. This scenario should not be beyond my ability to create, but what I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t operate well under the duress of Writer’s Block. I waste a ton of valuable time trying to resuscitate a dead horse when I should be moving on or taking a break to plan out my next move in an outline. It’s a personal failing of mine.  Maybe it’s familiar to some of you too?

It helps to remind myself that this stagnation usually stems from a lack of purpose.  I may know where the story is supposed to go next, but I probably have gotten so caught up in the movement from point A to point B that I've forgotten the heart of the matter.  Once I've made that misstep, everything falls flat. So I take a break. Do some yoga. Re-evaluate, and for me that means physically walking away from the document. That’s what helps me get back on track assuming I’m able stop worrying about the problem at hand and remember this fact about myself. (Which is always easier said than done.)

“It’s not you, WIP. It’s me.”

Sometimes I can’t blame it on the story.  Sometimes the problem is me. Some days there is just no other explanation other than that I'm having a bad day. 

Doubt. Everyone, in all industries or walks of life, experiences moments of insecurity and melancholy.  Only you can diagnosis the core issue.  Allow yourself a reasonable time to decompress. Make use of the tricks and exercises that you've learned throughout the years in managing your stress-levels and moods.  And rely on those you trust and love to soothe the worst of it. 

Likely this is not your first time at the rodeo.  You’ll get through this. I know you will.  Now, good luck writing. Or doing whatever it is that you need to do today. 

[Marketing] The Importance of an Ideas Folder

Monday, August 15, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

A quick post today while I wait for a phone call at the office.  I'm starving folks, but it'll be another hour or so before I can get home to some frozen waffles. Mmmm, waffles.

Many writers keep a folder or digital archive of their ideas, inspirations, false starts, and what-have-you. It's a great idea, because you never know when inspiration will hit. By that same token, you never know when marketing inspiration will hit you in the face like a waffle out of a sonic-powered-toaster.

Meredith Barnes, posted something to her blog today that I wanted to reshare for two reasons.

First, Eric Telchin shares his experience behind the marketing of Boy Sees Hearts. There is a ton of great info in this post, and I really urge you to check it out. Unlike a lot of marketing posts out there, Eric delivers value with a charming light-hearted tone that matches his brand beautifully.

Secondly, because something Meredith said on her blog needs to be repeated: "Case studies, man. Case studies is where it's at."


TRUTH!

Past experience and discovery informs the present, and can greatly help you in planning and executing your current and future marketing strategies. There is a catch though. You can't expect the same results by replicating the successful marketing campaigns of the near-past. Every blog post and tweet should be viewed as moment in time that can't never be revisited in exactly the same way.  A marketing ideas folder can help you avoid wasting time on things that didn't work for others. It may help you to pick up on strategies that compliment your own voice, genre, and skills or spark a new idea entirely. An inspiration folder can also help you through the marketing equivalent of Writer's Block.  (Oh it happens, and it is just as awful. T_T)

As you roam the internet, be aware of those things that you find affect you in a meaningful way - even if it's not publishing related.  Anything that influences your buying habits or convinces you to interact with a website, fan page, or author is a point of data that may be valuable to you in your role as a marketer. Take the two seconds and bookmark it for later use. The burden on any marketer is to apply creativity to a basic core concept, expand on it, and grow it into a fresh approach.

Fortunately, writers tend to be fabulously creative people.

[RK Rewatch] Episode 7 - Deathmatch Under the Moonlight: Protect the One You Love

Saturday, July 9, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Brief Summary: Jin-e and Kenshin fight to the death with Kaoru's life on the line.

My Thoughts:  While they wait, Kaoru and Jin-e bicker back and forth about who knows Kenshin better.  When Kenshin arrives, Kaoru is shocked to see how much he is changed. His eyes are cold and the color has changed to a deep red for added aesthetic effect.  Okay, it looks cool but it is pretty unnecessary. It's clear enough that Kenshin is not himself.  Or is it that he's more himself than ever before? His speech patterns have changed too, and he's no longer being so formal.  Visually, it's an interesting scene.  Kaoru is tucked away inside a shrine that sits between the two fighters denoting that there is something sacred about her innocent faith and ethics. This fight really is as much about the argument between Kaoru and Jin-e as much as it is about Kenshin internal struggle against his code of ethics.  The duel forces her face some hard questions. Does Kaoru really know Kenshin at all?  And if she doesn't, can she EVER hope to understand him since unlike Jin-e she didn't fight in the Revolution and hasn't felt the burden of taking a life?

Although Kaoru's kidnapping has clearly angered Kenshin, he's still holding back. So Jin-e ups the ante by using his special attack, the Shinoippo on Kaoru to paralyze her lungs. The only way to break the spell is through Jin-e's death or in the unlikely event that Kaoru is able to break the spell herself (only if her will is stronger than Jin-e's).

To be brief, Kenshin kicks Jin-e's ass and it is awesome! At the crucial moment, fueled by her feelings for Kenshin, Kaoru breaks Jin-e's spell with the strength of her own will proving that she isn't just a damsel in distress.   Her true strength is the strength of her convictions which is an area which Kenshin sometimes shows weakness. He's more susceptible to the temptation of a quick-and-easy kill to achieve the greatest good because he has the carnal knowledge of first hand-experience.  When he falters in this fight, it is Kaoru's belief in him that ultimately brings him back. As a fighter it would be unfair to hold her to the same standard of those that survived the chaos of the Revolution.  A life of theoretical knowledge and sword study isn't quite the same as wartime where a fighter's skills and spirit are tested under the greatest pressure on a daily basis.

[YA] Books For The Girl Who Always Wanted Blue Hair

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Last weekend I was asked to come up with a few recommendations of books all featuring characters with unnatural hair colors through either natural or supernatural means and unfortunately I was totally stumped. So I turned to Twitter and you all came through for me in a major way! So here's the list as it stands now. With these books it isn't always the MC with the unnatural hair color; sometimes it is the supporting characters or the villains. Thanks to everyone who gave their suggestions. If you have any other suggestions feel free to add them to the list in the comments.



But overwhelmingly, the number one book that was recommended via Twitter was Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone.

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?


This book sounds AWESOME!  I can't wait until it releases in September so this is my Waiting on Wednesday pick.  Know what else is cool?  Laini has some seriously pink hair and she totally rocks it too! Love it!

Summer Reading Contest Winner

Friday, July 1, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Drumroll please, Ritsu.  And the winner of my Summer Reading Contest is...

 DONNAS! Congratulations!

Good luck to you all on completing your summer reading goals.  I'm happy to report that I've already devoured the first two books of the Mortal Instruments series and will be finishing up City of Glass over the weekend. Have a happy and safe holiday everyone!

[Marketing] Equal Linking

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Today's post applies to authors with published works, but hopefully it will be useful to all of you in your futures.

Take a quick look at your blog or website. Are all places where you might digitally purchase your book prominently placed where readers can easily and quickly click through to the retailer of their choice? If so, good; we're done here. Go enjoy your day or this adorable youtube video.

I am always surprised by how often this information is either missing or banished to the bottom of the page where it does the author no good. Guys, you must provide a way for the consumer to buy your books, and unless you're publishing your work as an exclusive on a single platform then you really ought to be linking to more than just your Amazon page.

Think of your blog and website as your digital "home". Visitors to your blog are your guests in a sense. So in addition to creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere through the editorial voice of your content, it's important to build a page that serves their needs and interests. When they arrive at your blog and hopefully become interested in your work, give them the option to buy your book without struggle. People have difference purchasing preferences which you should be mindful and accommodating of. There is a greater probability of making a sale if they are able to click directly through to the title page of their favorite e-retailer as opposed to having to seek the book out.  These links should be positioned near the top of your sidebar where it can be found easily - never in the middle, below the blogroll, or at the bottom.

Diversity among book retailers is also a thing to be celebrated and supported. A retail environment without competition will not be a healthy environment for books and literacy. A lot of blogging authors who link-out to retailers, often link to the big ones such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but often missing is any reference to the Indiebound title pages where consumers can look for a book stocked at their nearest independent.

If you are self-publishing digital editions then logically it would follow that you'd link to all the e-retailers where your product is available. Honestly, I have never seen a self-published author who hasn't covered all their bases on their blog already. This tends to be more of a problem among authors who are published by traditional houses or small presses.  It's sounds like such a simple thing, but it is easily forgotten when you're one step removed from the sell-in aspect of publishing. So when you've got the time, glance over your website and make sure your representing every sales channel. Compare it to your publisher's title page.  Routine check-ups are important for humans, and they're also important for websites too.

...............................

Need a few good books for your summer vacation?  Enter my YA Summer Stack contest open until 7/1.

Of Contests and TBR piles

Monday, June 20, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

First off: I've reached 500 followers on Twitter over the weekend!  Holy cow!  Thanks for all the support.  It's been great chatting with a lot of you.  I look forward to meeting more of you.  So as I promised on Twitter last week, if I got to 500 followers then I would do a contest.

Over at Scholastic's blog the staff showed-off their Summer Stacks and To-Be-Read piles. "Books we’ve been meaning to read, books we can’t wait to read, or books we’ve been saving for a long plane ride or a day at the beach." Since graduating college and entering the workforce, I don't find that summer affords me any extra time to read. In fact, I usually have less time to read as my focus is more on enjoying the weather while it lasts; however, the post did get me thinking about what I -want- to accomplish this summer. I began looking over my shelves with the aim of building my own summer stack. These are the books I must have read by summer's end.


Not pictured here because I'm still trying to round-up the missing volumes that I need are the 15 volumes of Mars by Fuyumi Soryo.  I've been wanting to reread the series for a long time, but only recently came across a large collection of this out-of-print series at a used bookstore.  Still need about six more volumes.

So in addition to the usual ways of entering these contests, I thought that it might be both fun and useful to define our summer reading goals.  

Point System
+1 Blog follower
+1 Twitter follower
+ 1 Blog about your summer reading goals (you must provide a link to your post)

Every point gains you one entry. Tally up your points and provide any links as a comment to this post on Ink In All Forms.  You must comment to be officially entered. The winner will be announced on Friday 7/1.

The Grand Prize - a YA mini-stack

Arcadia Awakens by Kai Meyer ARC
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson ARC
The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney
The Hollow by Jessica Verday

Good luck to you!

(Open to US only)

[RK Rewatch] Episode 6 - The Appearance of Kurogasa: Visitor from the Shadows

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Summary:  A rogue Manslayer from the Revolution is on the loose systematically killing officials of the new Meiji government.  The police come to Kenshin and ask for his help as all efforts to apprehend and/or slay this criminal have ended in failure.  Although the residents and friends of the Kamiya Dojo: Kaoru, Yahiko, and Sanousuke, are thoroughly against it Kenshin agrees to help the government once more.

My Thoughts: So the Meiji government can’t handle or escape their past can they? That sounds familiar.  Luckily for them, they’ve undercovered the whereabouts of their former ally - Battousai the Manslayer.  I really feel for Kenshin in this episode and empathize with Sanousuke’s anger towards the government.  The former Imperialists are using Kenshin to clean up their dirty work as they've always done; nothing has changed.  It’s no wonder that Kenshin kept wandering for over ten years. Since he started setting down roots in Tokyo it’s been a constant life of battle for him.  I wonder if this sort of thing happened often during his rurouni period; somehow I imagine not.  Otherwise the Meiji government would have found him sooner if Kenshin Himura - an unusually gifted and helpful swordsman with a cross-shaped scar on his cheek had begun to make a name for himself among the poor and distressed. But being too noble for his own good our Meiji-Era Ned Stark agrees to assist the police.

It becomes even harder to muster any sympathy for the government once we meet the official whom the police are protecting.  He is your typical short, fat slime-ball willing to throw down any amount of money in order to save his sorry skin regardless of the cost of human life.  It’s pretty obvious that he’s a corrupt official.  I assume that is government money that he’s using to hire the roomful of muscle that he’s gathered to protect him.  It makes you wonder if all of the other officials killed by the rogue Manslayer were equally as loathsome.  Maybe we ought to be cheering for the assasin?

Oh second thought…maybe not.  He seems pretty evil. And scary. Yeah that smile is the thing of nightmares.

When the mysterious assassin arrives on the scene he makes short work of the police and paralyzes the room of armed guards through a hypnotic attack emanating from his eyes.Sanousuke is caught in the assasin’s spell, but Kenshin’s will is too strong to be overcome by such simple mind tricks. (He would have made such a bad-ass Jedi. Just sayin') The two fighters of the Revolution face-off and of course...Kenshin is recognized instantly as Battousai the Manslayer.

The assassin is a former member of the Shinsengumi called Jin-e Udo or Kurogasa " the Black Hat". The Shinsengumi were a unit of the Shogun’s forces that opposed the Ishin-shishi and Choshu factions in Kyoto and they were Kenshin’s greatest rivals. However, Jin-e was cast out of the Shinsengumi for his brutality and honorless love for blood and murder.  Kenshin and Jin-e never fought each other during the Revolution, but Jin-e is thrilled to finally be able to cross blades with the Battousai and prove himself to be the strongest. Only it’s quite clear to Jin-e after exchanging blows with the Sakabatou that Kenshin has grown soft.  Jin-e calls a time-out to the battle and announces that he’s sparing the official only because his new target is the Battousai.  He makes it pretty clear, however, that he wants to fight the Battousai and not Kenshin Himura before withdrawing, leaving Kenshin with a heavy decision to make. It's a lose-lose situation. Kenshin is not sure that he can win against Jin-e as Kenshin Himura.   He could renounce his vows and let go of his restraint - in a sense killing the man that he has become or die honorably in the duel thus leaving Jin-e free to poison the new era. However, no matter the outcome it's a safe bet that Kenshin is likely to start wandering again as settling down is proving to be far too dangerous.

That dummkopf*, Kenshin, sends a message back to the Kamiya Dojo stating that he will not be returning home right away. This way he can focus on the fight so they should all just wait for him.  I think he's known Kaoru and Yahiko long enough to know what's likely to happen, but sometimes Kenshin can be far too trusting.

Knowing that if Kenshin is forced to kill again he'll run away, Kaoru chases after him. Dear, sweet, oblivious Kenshin takes way too long figuring out what she' trying to say by lending him her favorite ribbon, but Kaoru is desperate to get some kind of commitment from him to return to her. Given how often Kaoru is overcome by her own emotions, I find it interesting and adorable that she's not very good at expressing them. It's a darn cute moment; however, before it can get any cuter the samurai storyline interrupts and Kaoru is captured by Jin-e. Curses!  I know this is what irks so many people about Kaoru.  She is constantly getting into trouble and needing rescue or help, but she thinks with her heart first and not always her head.  I actually love that about Kaoru.  I think it's sweet, and it wasn't like she was unwilling to listen to reason this time.  She was ready to return to the Dojo and wait for Kenshin to come home when Jin-e snuck up on them.

The episode ends with Kenshin alone at the riverside screaming with unrestrained anger at Jin-e. Oh boy! Shit's about to get real!  Will we finally get to see Battousai the Manslayer?

Best Line:  "She's scarier than Jin-e, she is!" ~ Kenshin

*Apologies for the german. I have been reading Scott Westerfeld's Behemoth of late and this is my new favorite word.  Translation: dolt

[RK Rewatch] Episode 5: The Reversed Blade Sword vs The Zanbatou

Thursday, June 9, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Summary: Kenshin and Zanza/Sanousuke meet again to finish their duel and the story behind Sanousuke's past is revealed.

My Thoughts: In this episode we find why Sanousuke holds such a grudge against the Imperialists. As a child, Sanousuke was an orphan who was taken in by the Sekihoutai,an army under the command of the Ishin Shishi (the Imperialists for whom Kenshin fought). The Sekihoutai were sent into the countryside to spread news of the coming regime change and act as a propaganda machine to bring the peasants to the side of the Imperialists. They did so with promises of lower taxes, promises that the new government was unable to uphold after the Revolution ended. The Sekihoutai was condemned as a rogue army who had acted without orders from the Imperialist government. In Rurouni Kenshin, Sanousuke alone managed to escape when the Imperial army arrived and executed the Sekihoutai. Sanousuke, took his last name from the leader of the real life Captain of the first unit of the Sekihoutai, Sozo Sagara. He chose the life as a fighter-for-hire to become stronger, but I think he also chose the life of a criminal because he couldn't accept living peacefully in the world won and created by the Imperialists who had betrayed him and the only family he had ever known.

One of the things that I love most about Rurouni Kenshin is the history involved. Granted, this "history" ought to be taken with a grain of salt as it is taken and overly romanticized to suite the story; however, there remains a lot of truth in the show. The Sekihoutai did exist and were set up by the Ishin Shishi once the revolutionaries had no more need of them. Sanousuke Sagara did not exist, but Sozo Sagara - the Captain of the first unit did.

Kenshin himself is unaware of Sanousuke's connection to the Sekihoutai until the end of their duel, but allows himself to be baited into the fight anyway. I mean, I know Kenshin had to fight Sanousuke for the sake of acquiring this character among the good guys and that Sanousuke was not likely to ever stop coming for him until they had their duel, but come on! Kenshin usually has to be dragged into a fight (even when the enemy is a two-bit thug like Gohei that could in no way cause Kenshin much trouble or angst) yet this time his curiosity seems to overwhelm his pacifism.

The fight itself felt slow to me as I watched it probably due to all the flashbacks and the play-by-play narration by Kaoru which broke up the action; however, there were a couple of really interesting things happening during the bout.

1. This was the first time that Kenshin did not fell his opponent in a single stroke, foreshadowing that the enemies are about to get MUCH tougher.
2. It's also the first time Kenshin uses a named attack in a fight which is again - significant foreshadowing. Similar to how in Fantasy all special weapons tend to have names, advanced techniques will usually also have unique names, special effects, unique costs etc. Now we'll start to see what Kenshin's Hiten Mitsurugi style is really all about.
3. Firearms show up in this episode and it's implied that they are the tool of the corrupt. We're shown that the Sekihoutai were mercilessly gunned down by the Imperialists, and later Gohei (who can no longer wield a sword) fires a handgun at Kenshin after Sanousuke fails to defeat the Battousai. I should mention that Sozo Sagara, Sanousuke's mentor, was not shot in either the manga nor in real life but decapitated instead as punishment; however, this minor change does help to further illustrate the conflict between modernity and the way of the samurai in the show.

I believe I promised you a rant about the Zanbatou in my last episode summary, but as this write-up gets longer and longer I find myself asking - do I even need to? I mean...LOOK AT IT!?  As Kenshin points out, because of its size and weight it can only be swung at a diagonal or straight down making it very easy to predict. How did Sanousuke as Zanza become the most feared gangster in the Tokyo underworld with a weapon like that? I wish I could say that this is the most ridiculous weapon we'll see in Rurouni Kenshin, but alas I remember quite clearly that it is not.  I am so happy that the Zanbatou gets destroyed in this battle.  Sanousuke is a great character and a much better street brawler.  He doesn't need to be burdened by a ridiculous weapon with a fancy name. 

I loved the resolution of this fight. Sanousuke get's the snot beat out of him, but stands up time after time because his rage towards the Imperialists won't let him stand-down although he is clearly outmatched. What Kenshin finally tells him to diffuse the situation was brilliant. "Did the Sekihoutai teach revenge against those who wronged you or did they teach you to complete the Revolution." As we've already seen, the Meiji Era is no utopian. With so much corruption in the world there is still a reason for warriors to exist and fight to protect the innocent. In that moment Sanousuke realizes that what Kenshin stands for is the same principle of his former mentor. I think he also realizes that he wasn't serving anyone but himself in his pursuit to become strong and that's not true strength. As a fighter-for-hire, he never achieve his ideal to be strong like his Captain and stronger than any Imperialist.

[YA & Books] A Reading Funk

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Guys, so I finished Divergent by Veronica Roth not too long ago and OMG.  It was SO good!  It was SO good that it blew my mind.  It was SO good that I couldn't sleep at night.  Over three weeks later, I am still trying to decide what faction I would have chosen.  This is some serious business, folks.  I've got it bad. 

Now I can't seem to get into any other book that I start reading.  Memorial Day weekend was supposed to have been spent at the end of the dock with a book in my hand and a box of Pop Tarts at my side. But nothing is hitting that sweet spot quite like Divergent did.  It's like everything else is a plain Pop Tart but all I want is the Strawberry Frosted ones.  I am drooling in eager anticipation for more, and it feels like nothing else will do.

So you might say that I'm in a funk, a reading funk. Usually when this happens I take a quick break and turn to some craft projects to get me through it. There is a certain sense of achievement that comes of making something with your own hands whether it's art, pottery, writing, or sewing.  It is usually grounding enough to distract me from the euphoria of having found something marvelous and new. When I get into these manic moods, I'll start and finish a new project. But since finishing Divergent, I've crocheted three scarves and will be starting on a Hunger Games themed project next that may very well take me all summer to complete.

So my questions for you this week are: does this ever happen to you (obviously I don't mean fiber-art based anxiety attacks). What do you do to get out of these reading funks?   Do you turn to a hobby?  Do you read out of your normal genre?  Do you reread beloved favorites?

And since it's Wednesday, let's hear some of those #WaitingOnWednesday picks.  Maybe something will inspire me to pick up a book again.

P.S. Read Divergent. Do it. You must. Do it now!

[Marketing] The Fun Factor

Thursday, May 26, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

I cannot stress how important it is to have fun with your blog.  If blogging is nothing more than a chore to you, something that you have to do because you've been told you need to market your book or platform, it'll be obvious to your readers.  If it's boring to you then it'll be boring to them, and you'll be unhappy with the results of your efforts which fuels the downward spiral.  The more your indifference grows then the less engaging your content will become, and your traffic will putter away to a pittance.

There will be boring posts some days and that's okay.  There is a certain kind of meta information that must get communicated to your audience and certain news just doesn't always lend itself to thrilling blog copy.  Life is kinda like that too and in-between the quieter moments you've got to find an element of fun. 

Doing so is important for both you and the reader. It gives the reader reason to keep reading and to come back often which in turn exposes them to your product and/or brand again on every visit.  It also makes the act of blogging more fun for you and less of a chore.  Keep the fun factor at the forefront of your mind as you sit down to write and it will enliven your blog copy.

If you're struggling with coming up with content for your own blog, the best way to find what is Fun is to turn inward.  Look to your own passions, interests, and habits or those of your characters.  Try to find things that are unique to you and that you enjoy to give your blog more life and variety. The truth is, you never know what will resonate with your readers.  When you do find out, that data is worth gold!  But until you figure it out, you should experiment a little and cast your net in other waters, but waters where you'll have fun doing so.

A quick thing about Fun - when I talk about it, I do not mean to imply anything of of the following nature.  Take a moment to watch this clip from Family Guy. I'm sure that many of you will remember the original bit that spawned this sequel.  This type of Fun is just a gimmick. Gimmicks and cliches are not a sincere way to market or build your brand.  Be careful when you're having fun that you don't turn into a wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-balloon-man. Happy, excitable, and crazy can be funny, but not always fun.  You want your audience laughing with you; never at you.

[RK Rewatch] Episode 4: One word: Evil! The Fighter for Hire

Monday, May 23, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Summary:  Yay! Another new character is introduced, Sanousuke Sagara, and an old (and annoying) villain returns, Gohei Hiruma - the false Battousai. Boo.

Angry at the Battousai for humiliating him and disabling his sword hand permanently, Gohei turns to Tokyo's underworld to find a fighter strong enough to defeat Kenshin Himura.  He finds a thug named Zanza aka Sanousuke Sagara, a tall and overly eager brawler who conveniently carries a major grudge against the Imperialist government and hires him to defeat and kill the Battousai.

My Thoughts:  This episode opens with the residents of the Kamiya dojo trying to justify the expense of a fancy beef pot at the Akabekko once again, leaving me hungry as usual and wanting to know just what the hell is in that beef pot!  Opium?!

At the inn the situation gets a little heated when a group of drunk patriots supporting Democracy in Japan start causing trouble, but for once Kenshin doesn't end up resolving it.  After one of the waitresses gets involved in the fight, Sanousuke steps in and takes the men outside.  He defeats the ruffians with ease and a minor assist from Kenshin when one of the men draws a concealed sword.

I did notice some not-so-subtle attitude towards the policies of certain *cough, cough* democratic nations in this episode. Example: "Somehow I always thought that Democracy existed for the weak or is it that the Democracy that you fools preach is the freedom to get drunk and give innocent folks a hard time with your big mouths." ~ Sanousuke.

It does make a lot of sense given what was happening historically.  In 1853 and American fleet lead by Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into a Japanese harbor and negotiated/demanded that Japan open itself up to free trade with the West. Prior to that the Tokugawa Shogunate enforced an isolationist policy that lasted for over 350 years designed to avoid trade with foreigners and keep the Japanese spirit and culture pure from their influence and invasion.  It seems that the Shogunate was right to be afraid of the threat that foreign influence and modern ideals posed to their sovereignty because sure enough, it wasn't long before the flames of revolution ignited after the first Black Ships arrived in Edo Bay. However, the revolution itself caused a lot of problems and heartache for many low-born and high-born families alike.  There was still a lot of resistance to the new world order and those that did not want to see the old, right ways disappear. So it is logical that the attitude towards Democracy and the West was less than favorable among some folks.  Perry and the other new Westerners certainly could be viewed as bullies from a certain perspective.

But enough about government for now, this episode marks a change in the show that becomes the new norm eventually.  We're moving into the episodes where the villains become increasingly more-and-more superhuman in their abilities and endurance.  For instance: Sanousuke takes a DAGGER to his HEAD and remains uninjured. Not only does the dagger fail to cave his head in like a melon, Sanousuke breaks his opponent's arm by STANDING THERE.  I guess it was his thick head and the strength of his fighter's spirit that shattered bone. This kind of thing requires complete suspension of disbelief, but it is somehwat necessary to further the action of the series.  The caliber of Kenshin's enemies until now has been very so we've not gotten to see the rurouni really let loose.  Since Kenshin is one of those superhuman characters himself, Nobuhiro Watsuki - the creator of the series, had to start providing him with enemies that could challenge his abilities and test the strength of his moral code.  Because if Kenshin can defeat every enemy in a single blow, it's just not that interesting is it?

After the fight at the Akabeko, Sanousuke is hired by Gohei who reveals the truth behind Kenshin's identity. The fighter-for-hire arrives at the Kamiya Dojo anxious to fight the strongest fighter of the Imperialist Army in order to fulfill some personal vendetta against the Imperialists; however, the fight is interrupted when they are discovered by Ayane and Suzume - the two adorable children whom hang out at the Dojo and have adopted Kenshin as an uncle.  It is agreed by the fighters that their match will have to wait because the children shouldn't be exposed to such violence. (Aww, isn't that sweet of them, but I wanted to see some fighting, darnit!!!)

This episode ends before anything really get's started, and was over before I even realized that we were coming to the end.

I'm going to save my rant about the Zanbatou for next time.  The what, you ask? Check out the above photo. No, that is not a surf board that Sanousuke is trying to bludgeon Kenshin with.  That is a sword and perhaps the most ridiculous weapon ever created  next to Cloud's busterblade or Squall's gunblade. For now, just have a good long LOL.

[Marketing] The Blog's the thing!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

The Internet enables writers to connect with their audience, promote their books or brand, and network with industry professionals in so many different ways now. So. Many. Different ways. And still, almost everyday some Marketing guru out there is touting the next new exciting digital thing that'll supposedly revolutionize EVERYTHING!  How often have you thought: It's too much!?

Honestly, it is too much especially considering that most writers have a career and/or manage a family, must find time to write between the first two things, and have to invest time and energy in their own marketing and promotion.  So no, you probably won't be able to do it all.  You need to tailor your digital strategy to your life and commitments to truly be efficient and worthwile, but that's a discussion for another day.

However, if you do just one thing, then you must have blog or a website.  I feel a blog is less of a hassle to throw together if you have no experience in web design and allows for a more open and transparent channel of communication between yourself and your audience so my recommendation is to keep a blog over a website if you do only that one thing.  There are so many professional looking free templates out there that it won't be too much trouble finding one that suits your work and personality. Even after all these years, the blog still the most important thing you can do to market yourself. And yet, it amazes me how often writers don't have or keep up with their blogs.  Think of your blog as the foundation stones of your online platform that you will build up from.

Your blog should help aggregate all the information about you, your books, and all the publicity information surrounding them.  Your reader should be able to get a sense of who you are - your personality, humor, and maybe your interests, and feel a connection.  They should be able to read a blurb about your book or excerpt (of edited work with your editor's or agent's approval) or character profiles. Something that will wet their appetite for your product.  And your blog should always link to a wide range of places where the reader can go to get more information or connect with you and other readers in other ways. This might be the publisher's page, Twitter, a Facebook fanpage, Goodreads. It should go without saying that you should promote the events and blog tours that your publicist arranges for, from your blog. And it's courteous to re-promote what others are doing for you elsewhere in the blogosphere to foster goodwill and help support one another within your interest communities.

But a word of warning: you mustn't let the blog be all about selling your books.  You won't build a committed audience if all you do is pitch your book at them. You have to let your personality shine through.  Now if you're uncomfortable with that level of online sharing there are other alternatives.  Build your blog into a resource pertaining to something that will interest your intended audience.  It can make blogging a bit more fun too if you're delving into your own passions and interests.

[RK Rewatch] Episode 3: Swordsman of Sorrow - The Man Who Slays his Past

Monday, May 16, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Brief Summary: While off on an errand Kenshin runs afoul of the Police Swordsmen, an elite and corrupt group of lawmen who are the only people who are legally authorized by the Meiji government to carry a sword in public.  Meanwhile, a squad of city policemen show up at the Kamiya Dojo ready to arrest the Hitokiri Battousai whom they've learned is currently in residence.

My Thoughts:  I can still remember my reaction to this episode on my first watch of the series.  This was the episode where I knew I was hooked. It's the first really satisfying fight of the show. In this fight we see Kenshin's soft exterior slip and get our first glimpse at how the Hitokiri Battousai must have fought.

Kenshin unsheathes the sakabatou and within moments all but the leader of the Police Swordsmen are down while Kenshin stands over the bodies looking very unlike the wide-eyed rurouni we're used to.  The reversed blade sword is nestled in the crook of his arm and his posture is still and relaxed; however, there is no mistaking his demeanor for anything other than deadly and confident.  It's not a defensive stance.  It's not an offensive stance.  It's not even a neutral stance!  Kenshin's stance says that he doesn't respect his opponents swordsmanship enough to take this fight seriously. The police swordsmen are no threat to him. It is definitely a cool moment, but a strange one for a peace-loving rurouni.  Kenshin is baiting his opponent almost like he's toying with him, and it works.  The captain of the Police Swordsmen flies into a rage and attacks with his signature strike to no avail.

At the conclusion of the duel the city police rush in to arrest the Battousai, but an old friend and comrade from Kenshin's revolutionary days, Aritomo Yamagata, steps in to stop them.  (Fun fact: Aritomo Yamagata actually existed; was the leader of the Japanese army during the Meiji Era; and had quite the handsome mustache!)  It was Yamagata that issued the warrant for Kenshin's arrest in hopes of driving him into the open again.  Yamagata had been searching for Kenshin for some time now and wanted to offer him a position in the new government, but Kenshin refuses Yamagata stating that he has no desire to be rewarded for manslaughter. Yamagata calls him out one more time trying to force him to accept the position and takes a stab at the futility of Kenshin's position as a single swordsman trying to find a purpose in the modern age, but Kenshin rejects him again with characteristic politeness. 

The episode strikes home how hard it must be for Kenshin to carry on in the Meiji Era.  We still don't know his reasons for disappearing after the revolution ended or why Kenshin refuses to kill again.  We are are told that Kenshin fought alongside the Imperialists for a better world, but ten years later appears that corruption has replaced corruption. 

A Particularly Ominous Line: "Even if it's only the handful of people that I meet on the street, I can still protect them with just one sword, that I can." ~ Kenshin Himura

You seem pretty confident about that, Kenshin.  Let's test this theory over the next 92 episodes, shall we?

Go Team Kaoru Moment:  Kaoru totally unleashes a can of Judo-whop-ass on the city policemen as she tries to make her escape in order to go warn Kenshin.

[RK Rewatch] Episode 2: Kid Samurai - A Big Ordeal and a New Student

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Brief Summary:  It’s been a little too quiet at the dojo lately so Kaoru thinks to liven things up by having Kenshin take her and Dr. Gensei’s family out for a moderately extravagant lunch -extravagant at least to the penniless wanderer!

While out on the town, they run across a young pick-pocket named Yahiko Myojin. Yahiko has been forced into service for the local Yakuza in order to pay back a debt owed to them for medical expenses incurred by his now deceased mother.  Tender-hearted Kaoru pushes her way into the situation hoping to convince Yahiko to leave the syndicate and gets the both of them in-over-their-heads.

My Thoughts: There really is not a lot to say about this episode.  It is quite basically a vehicle to introduce Yahiko’s character.  Funnily enough, I think Kaoru is more interesting in this episode than Yahiko.   In the RK fandom there are two camps: those that HATE Kaoru and those that absolutely love her.  Kid Samurai illustrates many of the major arguments of these opposing sides.  

We definitely see the worst of Kaoru’s bossy nature as she bullies Kenshin into lunch and literally drags him around Tokyo.  She shows no restraint over her temper and acts according to her whims and wants rather than from any mature calculation of the moment.  And predictably in what will become a trend of the show, she winds up in the hot-pot after barging into the Yakuza headquarters and getting tricked into a game that she cannot win.  

But we also see that her spontaneity comes from her enthusiasm to do good in this world and protect those that need protecting.  That her personal safety could be at risk comes as a secondary consideration.  It’s a pretty typical stance for your standard Anime heroine, but I think it is absolutely necessary for Kenshin to have that around him and is what endears her to him. 

What I liked about this episode is that it does show Kaoru as a warrior and not just a damsel in distress even if she does end-up needing a bit of rescuing at the end.  To her credit, she is not a bad swordswoman.  She successfully fends off a group of eight Yakuza before being disarmed by their leader.  She wasn't even doing badly against said leader until he pulled out a concealed sword and shattered her bamboo blade.  Kaoru was not unqualified as a fighter to stand up for Yahiko, but wooden swords cannot stand up to steel and the Meiji Era is not yet a perfect world where her innocence and idealism can survive. 

[YA] So Pretty It's Art: Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Wow, I love this!  I love this cover so much that I want to hang it on my wall. And best yet, the the story appeals to me too.  It's the kind of dilemma that's not only really relevant to teens today, but it is also one that even adults struggle with.  I'll have to pick this one up when it releases later this month.

About Awaken: Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.

Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking. In this not-so-brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.

[RK Rewatch] Episode 1: The Handsome Swordsman of Legend

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

The show opens with a brief (very brief) history lesson of the revolution that lead to the Meiji Era in Japan (1863-1912). It's a pretty typical thing to do in Anime, but I feel like it has gotten less common now and is a characteristic of more dated Anime.  I find it interesting though that the summation is told from the perspective of our modern age which the audience never again returns to (in my memory) in any recap, info dump, or preview.

150 years ago amidst the chaotic times of the Bakumatsu, a revolution that would spell the end of the 350 year reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the (completely fictional) legend of Battousai the Manslayer emerged.  The Hikokiri Battousai (roughly translated in the English dub as 'Battousai the Manslayer') was a swordsman of extreme and legendary skill who helped the Imperialist forces achieve victory over the Shogunate and restore the Emperor to his throne.  With the Emperor leading the country again, the isolationist policies of the Shogunate came to an end and free trade with the West in goods and ideas resumed unfettered by the conservative ideals of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Meanwhile, swordsmen like the Hitokiri Battousai passed on into stories and were never heard from again after the age of the sword came to a close.

The opening sequences show a young Kenshin, kicking ass with cold hard eyes. It's a pretty awesome fight scene set against the backdrop of the city of Kyoto burning to the ground. You're thinking 'Wow!  This is awesome! I can't wait for more of this!' until we flash forward ten years and oh my,...it seems like the Battousai has fallen on some rather rough times.

The audience recognizes this wide-eyed, effeminate swordsman wearing a ratty pink haori as the Battousai of legend and we definitely won't be the last to do so.  Oh and the most feared swordsman of the revolution: yeah, he's taken a vow never to kill again.  His katana is called a sakabatou - a fictional sword that has the sharpened and dull sides of the blade reversed thus preventing Kenshin from delivering fatal wounds to his opponents in combat. Bummer.

In this episode we're introduced to the man that the Battousai has become after he comes to the aid of a local girl in Tokyo named Kaoru Kamiya.  Another man claiming to be the Battousai has been hanging around the city lately and killing unlucky townsfolk in the name of his sword style - Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. This is the style of swordsmanship that had been mastered and passed down through Kaoru's family for generations.  As the last of her line and with her ancestral dojo on the brink of financial ruin, Kaoru is hellbent on restoring the honor of her family's swordsmanship.  Kamiya Kasshin Ryu teaches that the sword is a tool to protect the innocent and that it should never be used to take a life for either revenge or justice.  They fight exclusively with wooden swords which is probably a good thing given that it is illegal to carry a bladed weapon in Meiji Japan. It doesn't really sound like the sword style belonging to aN assassin does it? But the suspicion that these incidents have cast on Kaoru's school is enough to drive away all her students.

Feeling some responsibility for what has happened, Kenshin hangs around in an attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery.  He is forced to reveal his identity as the real Hitokiri Battousai after the fake Battousai, a former student of Kaoru's father, sneaks into the dojo to take his final revenge on Kaoru for the banishment and humiliation that he received at the hands of her father.

After the business with the fake Battousai is wrapped up, Kaoru asks that Kenshin stay on and help her rebuild her school.  Kenshin is hesitant at first fearing that others will come after him and cause trouble for Kaoru, but her insistence that she doesn't care about his past moves him to accept her hospitality with the understanding that there may come a day when he'll have to wander off again.

So conveniently our no-kill samurai has come to stay at a no-kill dojo belonging to a kind and compassionate female lead.  Let the Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story begin!*

Some random thoughts:

Besides being an angsty, ass-kicking, Bishounen warrior, Kenshin cooks, cleans, and is great with children.  It's no wonder the character has such a rabid fangirl following. Kenshin relies on politeness and his good humor to hide amongst the crowd.  It makes him really endearing, but I find it interesting that he rarely takes any pains to hide his physical appearance other than to dress like a ragamuffin.  He could have very easily adopted one of the western hairstyles that you see cropping up in the Meiji era, or better yet -  dyed that mane of red hair as much, as I hate to say it.

Gohei, the fake Battousai and two-bit criminal, is able to match Kenshin pretty easily to a description that he's heard of the real Battousai so Kenshin's reputation is fairly widely known. I often wonder if Kenshin is unable to accept and really understand the fame that his title has earned him.  After all, he doesn't value it or view any of his actions during the war as anything noble.  In his mind he was simply an assassin and murderer.  He believed in the cause, but probably can't see himself as a hero of rumor and legend.  The only adjustments he makes in the post-Tokugawa world are behavioral. He intentionally acts in every way contrary to what he fears might be his true nature.  Kenshin the Wanderer is a quiet-mannered, polite man who does not assert himself (especially not around bossy women). And although he doesn't kill anymore, but it remains to be seen who Kenshin Himura really is.

*The full series title of Rurouni Kenshin is Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story.  Nobuhiro, the original creator, was very clear that this was a Romantic story and not a Love story.  While the romantic elements are very strong in this series it remains an action samurai story that can be enjoyed by both boys and girls.

[Marketing] sell-in vs sell through

Laura Fitzgerald

I'm really bad about forgetting what publishing jargon is either known or not known among my wider circle of acquaintances.  While on vacation visiting my parents last week, they asked for clarification on a pair of terms so it seemed like a good thing to post about today.

There are two phases in the life of a book in terms of marketing and publicity: sell-in, and sell-through.  I sometimes see them bandied about on publishing blogs or dropped into conversation without much by way of explanation or distinction, so here we go.

Sell-through

The ultimate goal is to sell through the available stock in the marketplace with enough reorders to warrant a reprint. But if you've been doing your research into the publishing industry, you should know already that this ultimate goal is the Cinderella story and not the norm for a lot of books. Most books do not achieve this velocity of sale and a lot of stock comes back in the form of returns.

Sell-through is all the marketing, advertising, or publicity begins near the pub date.  It is anything that aims to bring the consumer into a store or to an online retailer in order to the book or e-book.  This is any book or blog tour beginning on or closely linked to the on-sale date.  This is all advertising that runs at around that same time that's been designed and written as a call-to-action encouraging the consumer to purchase the book.  The advertising may also highlight a specific uniqueness about the product or the marketing campaign.

Now obviously the more digitized publishing becomes the less appropriate the term sell-through is.  With an e-book there is no stock to sell through so the word probably ought to be phased out.


Sell-in

Sell-in occurs prior to publication.  The ultimate goal here is to sell in as much stock as possible to retailers be they traditional bookstores such as Barnes & Nobles, Borders, Amazon, Books-A-Million, the independents etc. etc. or secondary sellers such as Walmart, Target, grocery chains and so forth.

At sell-through the title, specs, and covers of the books are already known. At sell-in this may not be the case.  A cover may still be under-development or a title or release date may need to change.  You've all seen the complaint that books these days get almost no marketing for them, but in addition to  a place in the catalog, Advanced Readers Copies or galleys, and several other things that are already the subject of many other blog posts around the web, all books get support from the marketing department at sell-in. At sell-in a publisher's marketing department is talking with the sales reps and getting their feedback on what they think is best for the book in matters such as positioning.  Sales materials such as the catalog are being developed along with any other special sales pieces that might be necessary to pitch special projects to accounts.  And there are meetings, lots and lots of meetings, but that seems to be true of many industries.

There may be advertising, but it'll be targeting booksellers and retailers rather than the consumer since sell-in occurs so long before publication.

The near and post publication plans are being made and presented to sales which can positively affect the buy.  So just a little something to keep in your head: if you are already planning some big, unique marketing campaign on your own for the publication of your book then it would be a good idea to make it known to your publisher in a brief e-mail well in advance so that they can include it in these materials.

[Anime] Rurouni Kenshin Rewatch: Introduction

Sunday, May 1, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Okay, I've been wanting to do this for a while now, and because of THIS I feel pretty darn motivated to finally commit to it.

You might want to look away for a moment. I'm going to have a fangirl meltdown for just a minute before getting into a serious explanation of the series. I'm sorry; I can't help myself. After ten long years, the universe has seen fit to give my favorite Anime of all time some small revival.

Fangirl Momment (Watch out!): OMG OMG OMG!!!  *breathes*  OMG OMG!!  

Brief Summary:  Rurouni Kenshin follows a "peaceful" swordsman by the name of Kenshin Himura who has taken a vow never to kill again as he tries to find a life for himself in the Meiji era of Japan.  The brief Meiji era is one of my favorite time periods to study.  It is a period of rapid westernization for Japan, yet many still struggle on to maintain the old ways of life.

It has been over ten years since the television series ended in Japan after a disappointing third season. In the U.S. the Rurouni Kenshin anime was distributed by Media Blasters and the manga by Viz Media.  It was well received in both countries and was briefly run on cable as a part of Cartoon Networks' Toonami line-up.

Realistically, I'm expecting a new straight to DVD film(s), but with the recent treatment that Inuyasha, Full Metal Alchemist, Dragon Ball Z, and Evangelion all received it's hard not to hope for more.  What would make me happy would be to see the Jinchuu ARC done properly.  The Jinchuu ARC was a storyline in the final volumes of the manga that was never animated for the television series, and only briefly recapped in the Seishouen OVA that came later after the television series had ended. What would make me happiest to the point that my heart might explode would be to see the series redone like Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood - newly animated and adhering more closely to the manga.

I will be watching the episodes in English although I imagine this might be irritating to some fans.  I know, I know - I know all about the flaws, but I am incredibly fond of Richard Cansino's voice as Kenshin Himura and several of the other cast members.  I appreciate the original Japanese and I think Mayo Suzukaze does a wonderful job, but this is a rewatch after all and the English dub is how I most often chose to watch the series when I was younger.

It's been almost six years since I last watched all the episodes.  I've been a fan of the series since the first DVD release in 2000. It pains me sometimes to think about how much money I spent collecting that 26 volume series.  At almost $30 dollars a DVD in those early days (including tax), I spent $1,000 dollars on Rurouni Kenshin.  Eeep!  The dumb things we do in high school when we don't have to pay rent, right?  But on the other hand, I think I had a lot of fun waiting on pins and needles all month for the next installment.  Now-a-days, we are able to leap into the fansubs while we wait which isn't quite as thrilling in my opinion.  Some things are worth waiting for.

I only hope that I'll be able to say those same words after the new Rurouni Kenshin project finally airs.

[Manga] End of the Era of Tokyopop

Friday, April 29, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald


It’s not breaking news anymore being a week old, but I’m still heartbroken about it.  Tokyopop is gone, an icon of my adolescent years.  In my head, they were a company that I thought would always be there along with Viz.  To my teenage brain, they were a giant in the industry.  They revolutionized the way manga was published in America by choosing to format their translated works from right to left and were such a presence on my bookshelves. Because of that little white and red fish on the spine of every book, you could spot the Tokyopop collections from across the room. (Admittedly, I sometimes felt this presence could also be a bit of an eyesore.)

Truthfully, this news isn't a total surprise and if I hadn’t had my rose tinted glasses on then I might not be feeling so crappy about right now.  There is a darker side of Tokyopop’s reputation that left a bitter taste with many manga readers and I do believe it hurt them in the long run. Tokyopop has gotten a lot of flak over the years for several poor and seemingly rushed translations.  But leaving all that aside, the North American anime and manga industries have shrunk drastically in recent years.  It’s been hard on every company to make ends meet.  People aren’t buying in the volume that they used to, or they are turning to scanalations and fansubs.

I stopped in at a bookstore on my way home from work because I was really bothered by all this.  In part I’m feeling a little guilty.  I shouldn’t; I did not single-handedly put Tokyopop out of business. It’s stupid and I know that, but I can’t help it.  As a consumer, my buying slowed to a trickle since graduating from undergrad because my financial obligations have changed.  Before I had rent to pay, I would drop $30-40 dollars on anime and manga every week.  I felt like I needed to absolve myself in some manner.  So instead of confession I needed to buy a couple volumes or so.  While shopping I started noticing a couple of things.  One observation made me more depressed.  The other, gave me some hope.

Observation 1:  The amount of shoujo on the shelves is staggering.  Again, it’s a development in the industry that’s understandable, but I don’t think it ever sunk in.  Girls buy the most manga, so that’s what the shelves are being stuffed with. It has been a long time since I got a good look at the manga section at any book store because my buying habits have changed since I was a teen.  I buy a lot of titles online from either Amazon or indie comic book stores so I don’t get browse through the big picture as often.  Shojo Beat dominates the bookshelves now.  It feels very much the same as the YA section where it sometimes becomes difficult to find stories that don’t have romance driving the plot.  And I can’t help but feel partially responsible.  Most of what I buy and read now are shoujo romances.  Chalk it up to singledom, but my current favorites are: Ouran High School Host Club, Vampire Knight, and Library War.  Don't get me wrong, I still love the boys stuff.  And today I was really in the mood to start something new. Only, I don’t want to start Naruto or Bleach.  The length of those two series is exhausting.  Full Metal Alchemist has kind of run its course with me.  So…what else is there?  Answer: not a lot, but I did end up buying volume one of 20th Century Boys.

Observation 2: There are still interesting and different things being produced in manga that are keeping the genre and format fresh and exciting.  Basically almost everything that Yen Press publishes looks great, and 7 Billion Needles by Nobuaki Tadano from Vertical is packaged really nicely to call out a few. The volumes are so tiny and kinda cute.  Yeah, I'm talking about that book to the right.  Yes, the one with the skeleton on it and yes, I know I'm weird.  You have to see it for yourself and hold it in your hands to understand what I'm talking about. Anyway in conclusion, there are still things to be hopeful for,  life and new unique product in the US manga market. 

So with a heavy heart, I bid farewell to Tokyopop and thank them for some of my very favorite series: Mars, Girl Got Game, Chronicles of the Cursed Sword - just to name a few.

[Marketing] Your New Facebook Fan Page

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

You may have noticed by now that some of the brands and fanpages that you follow on Facebook look a little different.Well that's because the inevitable has finally happened, Facebook is insisting that the product pages reflect the new layout changes that were applied to user profiles.   So if you as an author manage a fan page for your property or community or if you are thinking about starting one, you should take a peek at the new Facebook Fan Pages and get acquainted with the new bells and whistles. The layout is almost identical to the new profile pages so it won't be too jarring of a transition.  Come March everyone will get switched over so I would start playing around with it now and get comfortable.

[Anime] Angel Beats: Death is War

Monday, February 14, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

I finally got the chance to see the second epilogue of Angel Beats and the special bonus episode last week. It's been a couple months now since I've seen the bulk of the episodes, but I'll try to review the show from memory as best I can.

Summary: High school student Yuzuru Otonashi wakes up in a strange new school with no memories of his recent past.  The school turns out to be a purgatory for the souls of teens who have died but are unable to pass on to be reincarnated on Earth.  At the school the students are expected to fulfill their youthful dreams and come to terms with their deaths; however, there is a group of students called the Shinda Sekai Sensen (The Afterlife Warfront or SSS) who rebel against these expectations.  Afraid that when they are reincarnated they'll loose their personality and thus truly die, the SSS create havoc on the campus on an almost daily basis.  The theory is that by resorting to delinquency and by spurning all the rules they'll never have to face their unfulfilled dreams.  There is a single student with the ability to transform her body into a weapon that is trying to restore peace at the school.  It is believed by the other students that she is an Angel sent by God to force them to cross over, and they want none of that.


My Thoughts: Angel Beats is an exceedingly high-energy show, almost annoyingly so at times; however, the high-energy hi-jinks work most of the time. The cast is purposefully stocked with various anime cliches, but the creators are aware of this and frequently poke fun at these tropes which I always like to see.

The soundtrack of Angel Beats is also pretty awesome. The opening and closing endings are appropriately haunting, but the real stars of the show are the songs released by in-story band, Girls Dead Monster.  They are so much fun!  My favorite song from the soundtrack was the one called Alchemy (in-story) or Crow Song  in the real world which is sung by Marina.



You get the picture.  It's pretty catchy.

I know I make this sound like a light-hearted comedy, but there are two things that I would like to point out.  The first of which is the sheer amount of blood and cartoony violence that each episode brings.  This is a world in which you can be hurt, maimed, killed and you will always wake up in the nurse's office completely uninjured. Despite this obvious fact (that everyone is perfectly aware of) every death is treated as dramatically as possible.  The show gets points for creativity too.  I think the only thing that I didn't see was someone getting thrown into a wood chipper.  There's not a lot of gore so the faint of heart and stomach need not worry; however, expect to see some comical blood fountains and nosebleeds.

And secondly, over the course of the thirteen episodes and one special, Angel Beats takes on a level of depth that I wouldn't have expected from the show based on the first three episodes.  The students are forced to grapple with some pretty big issues.  What does it mean to be alive?  Do we exist as merely the sum of our experience or is there a more permanent quality to the human soul that endures? Are our dreams worth everything?  What is God?  What does it mean to rebel against him?  They have to deal with death on multiple levels: their own and the grief they feel after the disappearances of their close friends whenever one of them accidentally finds peace.  There are typical teenage struggles but many darker problems too.  Some of these children remember exactly how they died, and it isn't usually pretty.  There is so much going on beneath the surface of Angel Beats, and yet amazingly it never loses the fun factor. 

I'm shocked by how long this review has gotten.  As I said it has been months since I've seen all thirteen episodes, but it's the kind of show that does stick with you for a little while at least.  I don't believe the show has been licensed yet, but it was rumored that Aniplex was expected to bring out the North American release.