29 May 2016

Japan Update: I'm Moving to 熊本!

View from Kumamoto Castle Keep Tower / 熊本市風景
Photo by 663highland, CC BY 2.5 
Since my last Japan-related post, with bated breath I waited to hear of my location placement with the JET Program, and huzzah! It's been a little over a week and I've learned I'm going to Kumamoto Prefecture! 

Kumamoto Prefecture is located on Japan's southern-most island of Kyūshū, and it is is going to be my home for at least one year, but I'm hoping to have a good enough experience that I can stay longer (JET participants can work anywhere from one to five years in the program, depending on performance and contract renewals). 

I'm coming into the JET program with very little knowledge of Japan--despite taking some edX courses to learn more of the history and culture, I still only know a smidgen of information, so as soon as I learned my placement, the Googling began. 

Map of Japan with highlight 
Kumamoto prefecture
Actually, it started out like this, before the Googling happened. My brain went, "Kumamoto, Kumamoto -- why do I feel like I've heard of Kumamoto before?" 

Kumamoto was in the news in April, and it's because of the devastating earthquakes that hit the area. Kumamoto is still in the process of recovery and the Kumamoto JET blog posted this enouraging letter to the incoming JETs to address this, which you can read here

Anyway, for about five seconds I felt a twinge of worry when I realized I'd be heading to an area still recovering from a major disaster, but I got over it immediately, and this was before I even found the Kumamoto JET website. 

It's because no matter what, Kumamoto has a history and culture older than these earthquakes, and there are so many wonderful things it has to offer -- and these things of course popped up in my Google search and dwarfed the news on the earthquakes. As the KumaJET website states, 
"there are some things about Kumamoto that will never change. We are still a prefecture full of delicious food, beautiful sights, and amazing people"
which every article and video I've found online about Kumamoto confirms. I can't wait to experience this for myself at the end of July. 

As I continued researching, I was super excited to learn about Kumamon! I knew from quite a few years ago that Japan's prefectures had their own mascots, and in 2013 I remembered reading the Jezebel article "Japanese Mascots Set World Record; Also Haunt Our Dreams" and this video particularly:

Back in 2013, I didn't know who the mascots were, but that fabulous black bear in the front caught my eye, and honestly, I thought he was definitely boogeying down a lot more than the other mascots and was my favorite by far. Turns out, this is Kumamon, the mascot for Kumamoto Prefecture! 

Omote-Sando of Izumi Shrine and Kumamon
by そらみみ, CC BY 4.0

At this point, when it comes to placement, my only knowledge that's certain is my prefecture. Since my placement was listed as "Kumamoto-ken, Kumamoto-ken," ("ken" meaning prefecture), I won't know my exact location within Kumamoto for a while (but soon, I hope!). It's likely that I'll be working with high schools, but also specialty schools, according to my initial placement email. However, until the prefectural board contacts me with more information, none of this is 100% confirmed, so I have to sit tight and be content with what I've got thus far. It's great news all around, to be sure! 

In the meantime, let me leave you with Kumamoto-shi's "Happy" (Pharrell Williams) video, because it makes me smile -- and, yes, to be cheesy, I'm totally happy that I was chosen to go to Kumamoto!

24 May 2016

Book Promo: "Keeper of My Soul" by Rebecca N. Caudill

Now available!

Olivia Donnelly never meant to fall in love with a hot, sexy vampire. But she did and, against all reason, now she’s been turned herself and is fast learning there’s more to William Macauley’s world than meets the eye. As Olivia struggles to adapt to her new life, an old madness – long dormant in their bloodline – re-emerges, bringing with it an unexplained power that courses through her veins unchecked. Faced with danger from old enemies, William and Olivia are forced to battle not only her internal demons, but other vampires that threaten their very lives. Can their immortal love conquer all, or will it lead to their destruction?

Buy on Amazon | Check out Goodreads 

Title: Keeper of my Soul: Book Two of the Macauley Vampire Series
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Page Count: 229 (per print version)
Release Date: May 18, 2016


Rebecca read her first novel when she was just four years old and has been hooked on books ever since. When she wasn't writing her own stories, she was sneaking copies of her mom's paperbacks to read late into the night. Fast forward a few years later, she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Journalism. After a stint working in radio, she embarked on a career in technology public relations in Silicon Valley, representing some of the country's hottest start-ups and publicly traded companies. After more than a decade in the business, she began writing full time, and has now published both contemporary and paranormal romance novels. When not creating fictional worlds inhabited by strong women and dashing heroes, she is reading about them, planning her next vacation, trying out new recipes, or drinking a dram of whiskey. Rebecca lives with her husband in Dublin, Ireland.

Special Promotional Giveaway!
They drove past several men loitering in doorways or smoking outside of a pub, but nothing in their demeanor gave him pause. He didn’t approve of these types of men, but he wouldn’t condemn them either for the lives they had been born into but had failed to leave behind. 

He maneuvered the car off the main street to roam darker, more secluded alleyways in search of the perfect opportunity. After driving in silence for several minutes, he turned them toward the deserted docklands area. Crawling stealthily up and down the relatively peaceful streets for a good hour, William considered moving their hunt elsewhere when he heard a faint scream off in the distance, one that wouldn’t have been discernible to the human ear. 

The adrenaline rushed through Olivia’s alert body as William pulled the car over and stopped the engine.

“You heard that, yes?”

She swallowed, her venom flowing in anticipation of what her body knew was to come. “Yes.”

“I can’t tell how many. Three, maybe four. I wanted your first hunt to have as few distractions as possible. Fewer men would certainly be easier, but it won’t be difficult by any means. I could easily take on more, and wouldn’t be surprised to see you able to as well. That said, I leave the decision entirely up to you.”

While Olivia searched her mind for answer to his unspoken question – could she handle it? – 
they heard the scream again. Somewhere, maybe a thousand yards away, a group of thugs joyful in their violence. Olivia pictured the scene, focused her senses on the more muted sounds, listened for anything that would give her a reason to act – or not. There was definitely the sound of fists hitting exposed flesh. Cries of pain. Then laughter. 

An older man was being beaten, she was sure, but she didn’t know anything about him. Maybe he deserved his violent punishment, but then again, maybe he didn’t. If he was blameless – innocent – she couldn’t let the assault continue unabated. In a split second, she decided the man needed her to intercede on his behalf, and then something deep inside of her quieted, the unsettled feeling in the pit of her stomach going silent. 

William watched Olivia zero in on the sounds ahead. She closed her eyes, took two deep breaths, and went completely still. Moments later she cocked her head to the right and twitched her eyebrows ever so slightly, a scowl crossing her face. He could see she had picked up on both the verbal confrontation as well as the inner monologues of the ruffians, was searching their private thoughts for vindication for what he already knew was to come. Three, maybe four seconds later she heard what she was looking for. Olivia opened her eyes, exited the car soundlessly, and silently prowled the street, all lithe feline grace. 

Olivia hadn’t spoken a word to William before taking her leave. She was sure he knew her intentions and that he’d be by her side in seconds should she require him. She was gratified to see her intuition hadn’t been wrong. This was her hunt and he wouldn’t interfere unless she needed him to, but he wouldn’t let her experience it for the first time alone. Nearing the group of men, William receded into the shadows, on watch, his senses alert should Olivia need his assistance. 

As she moved closer to the group she could hear the old man begging for his life, his cries becoming weaker and feebler with each menacing kick that was landed to his body. The situation was as she feared – it was a senseless act of violence, the old man having done nothing to deserve the pain he was being forced to endure. The realization made her angry and a deathly calm descended. This was the justification she needed to spill their blood. 

She approached the group soundlessly. “Hello, gentleman.”

The scumbag closest to her jumped in surprise at the interruption. Had he spared her more than a momentary glance he would have seen more than a harmless red-haired woman standing behind him. Instead, he barely looked her way before turning his back on her to cheer his friends on in their mistreatment of the man who now lay prone on the cold asphalt, his body unmoving.

“Please stop kicking that poor man,” she requested in vain, knowing that even as she spoke her words fell on deaf ears. There would be no stopping their assault now that they had experienced their own version of blood lust. 

“Whaya looking at brasser?” hollered another, stopping his attack long enough to look her body up and down lecherously. 

I’ll give the feckin cunt a ride. Olivia heard the words pass through his mind as clearly as if he had spoken them aloud. He would never get close enough to try. She’d given them their one chance to comply with her directive. Hell, she had even been polite! Now she could drain them dry and not feel a second of remorse. 

When she didn’t respond, he screamed louder, “Feck off ye geebag!” as he kicked the dying man again, harder, while staring straight at her. It was then that Olivia realized she had arrived too late to save their victim as he was no longer moving or reacting to the assault being wrought on his body. She listened for his heartbeat but knew it had already died. The assholes assaulting him hadn’t even noticed. That made her even angrier. 

So be it. 

Olivia closed her eyes, took a deep breath to settle her mind, let her power unfurl, and then she struck.

William had never seen anything like it. Olivia appeared for all the world a lethal killing machine and yet she was also full of grace and beauty, her body moving in perfect harmony with her mind as she glided from one action to the next. When she stopped moving, the man closest to her lay where he had stood, his neck broken, spinal cord severed, the bloody stump attached to his body by a single ligament. His cohort’s form was strewn next to him, heart ripped out of his chest, blood splattered over the front of his white polyester tracksuit. 

Meanwhile, the third thug – the one who had dealt the blow that had killed the old man – pulled out a large knife to defend himself against her deadly onslaught, but she was too quick, too determined to see the act through to the end. Unlike his friends, he had seen her coming, had witnessed her monstrosity unleashed, and as he stared at her bared fangs, Olivia’s eyes came alive with excitement over his paltry effort to defend himself. In less than a second she had him in her arms, neck stretched taut to the point of breaking. He had been unable to even attempt to use the blade against her. The man whined and begged Olivia to spare his life as he blathered on about his mum and sister and a whole host of nonsense she hadn’t cared to hear. 

William watched her close her eyes against the noise and he knew it was her attempt to block out the sound of his obsequious sniveling. Briefly, he remembered back to a time when he’d had to consciously do the same.

“You left me no choice,” she said, bracing herself for a wave of shame and disgust that never came. She captured the man’s gaze to ensure that in those few seconds before death he knew exactly who – what – had delivered retribution for his many crimes. By then he had ceased his whimpering and his eyes had gone vacant in fear. 

She smiled cynically down at him and he pissed himself in response. “Oh god,” he whined as Olivia plunged her fangs into his neck, brutally ripping into the sweat soaked skin surrounding the arterial vein. The blood rushed into her mouth, a sloppy stream of hot, warm liquid that coated her throat as it worked its way into her body. She closed her mind to the force of his thoughts, twenty years of memories, as she drank him in. While she needed his blood flowing inside of her she did not need the knowledge of his life. She knew everything she needed to: he was a murderer and she was there to put an end to him. When his heart stopped beating and his blood ceased to flow, she threw his body to the side of the road like the garbage he had been. 

Olivia’s eyes dispassionately moved over the men she had killed. She had left the castle tonight resolved to feed – yes, to kill even – but she hadn’t intended to leave a slew of maimed and mutilated bodies in her wake. Clearly the power thrumming inside her veins had had other ideas.

Olivia couldn’t recall specifically what had been going through her head while she had been bloodily plowing her way through the men. Her mind had made its decision and then her body had followed suit, reacting almost of its own accord to the blatant disregard the men had shown both their victim and her presence. 

She remembered asking them to stop hurting him but they had refused. That hadn’t been surprising. In fact, it had been expected. What had surprised her, however, was hearing the man in the red hoodie consider forcing himself on her once they finished roughing up the old man. They had had some beef with him but she was just a random woman who’d crossed their path. That his thoughts would immediately go to rape said enough about him and the company he kept to let her know they couldn’t continue living. It was then that the monster that dwelled within her had taken over and she unleased her rage on them. 

Olivia heard a subtle shift behind her and instinctively turned to attack. A human eye would never have been able to see her body make its move, but the man who stood before her was no human. 

Olivia’s body was primed for a fight, her mind filled with the thrill of the kill, but at seeing her maker – the man who was her eternal lover – standing immobile before her she dropped her hands to her side and relaxed her posture. Despite the overwhelming energy coursing through her and the fight or flight response that firmly held her in its thrall, somewhere in the back of her mind Olivia knew he would not hurt her, that William was not her foe. 


Likewise, she knew she could not hurt him.

William reached his hand out for Olivia to take. He was in awe of the speed with which she had moved and her deadly poise, but he didn’t want to risk her turning that lethal grace on him. He could see from the unholy light that filled her eyes she remained in the grips of something quite beyond a blood fever. He knew the symptoms well as he had often enough been a slave to it himself, but what he saw now went far beyond anything he had ever experienced.


She stared at him for several long seconds, her body deathly still, and then the pulsing brilliance of her eyes began to fade to their normal emerald green. She blinked once and tilted her head, a slight shift to the right, and he saw from the recognition that crossed her face she had regained control of her faculties. Olivia turned in a wide circle, her hands hanging limp at her sides, as she took in her surroundings. 

“Oh my god, I’m a monster.” The admission was spoken on a stifled sob.

“Yes, you are,” William agreed, a sad smile shaping his lips. “We both are.”


02 May 2016

Big Change Coming: Japan!

Photo by Galen Crout, via Unsplash
One of the most difficult things about being an educator has been maintaining a work-life balance. Long-time readers of this blog will note that this has been a pretty consistent refrain for the past couple of years, and that I've never accomplished this balance at any point since becoming an adjunct professor. Hence the lack of blog posts, updates, and good news.

Anyway, I've reached the time where I feel safe enough to admit that I'm burnt out from adjuncting and am walking away from it. I don't want to chuck the teaching profession altogether yet, but I can wholeheartedly say that after almost 2.5 years of adjuncting (working part-time for a college on a semester contractual basis), it's time for a change.

On my one-year anniversary I realized that adjuncting was not a sustainable way to make a living (see the article, "Adjuncting Ruins Lives" and my blog post here about my MFA and adjuncting). Since last January, I looked for other work. Long story short, I could only secure a second education-related part-time job (and seasonal at that) on top of adjuncting, so when I'm not grading my students' writing or working on lesson plans and handouts, I'm scoring standardized tests for the state of California through ETS.

I've been struggling these past few years, and while I had some bright spots here and there while adjuncting, I couldn't shake the dead-end feeling of stagnation in poverty. The job pickings and economy where I'm at now are pretty grim. I typed in my zip for the the Washington Post housing map  and the Slate economic recovery map  and my current city's bottom-ranked in both: housing values are down over $15,000 since 2004 and 20% live in poverty with 52% of adults in the area not working. I realized that if I wanted to live better, I had to get to a better place. And that meant doing something a little crazy and adventurous to get there. 

I applied Fall of 2015 to JET (the Japan Exchange and Teaching program), one of the longest-running cultural exchange programs out there, in the hopes of teaching English as a Second Language in Japan. I interviewed February 1st, and I've known since March that I'll be heading to Japan to teach in the summer for a minimum of one year. I don't know which age group or which location I'm assigned to yet, but I'm hoping that my experience with JET will help me come to terms with what I can do in education, or determine if, despite teaching being a lifelong dream, I'm even cut out for it.

I know now, after giving it two years to try it out, that adjuncting is rough and that I can't live comfortably doing it. I don't want to invest any more money in schooling until I find out more about what I can do, and enjoy doing. Maybe ESL will be that for me, or maybe the solution is with switching the age groups I teach; who knows. But I don't want to consider licensing or teaching K-12 at all until I've had some practice in the classroom through JET.

What I do know is that it'll be my first full-time job since 2009, and I'm excited and nervous.  I could run into the same issue where I have no work-life balance and everything I do in my spare time will be used on teaching, but with JET, I know that at least my compensation for the work that I put in constitutes a living wage. 

My take-home from both of my education jobs for all of 2015 was under $12,000. JET pays ¥3,360,000 the first year alone (over $31,000 with today's exchange rate). The last time I was paid a wage like that was ten years ago, as a 22-year old with a bachelor's just out of college. I never imagined at 32 I'd have an MFA, essentially be a college professor, and make almost 3.5 times less than what I made ten years ago with just a bachelor's. Whew. Anyway, I don't want to go back to adjuncting wages again, ever, unless the only other option is no income at all

In the meantime, I hope to be smart with my experience in Japan. It's a huge dream come true to be able to even go over there, and I loved living abroad when I lived in Wales in 2004, so it feels like a bittersweet return to an age when I felt way more adventurous and excited about living. I want to get healthier before I leave (and while I'm over there) and reacquaint myself with adult independence, and learn more things about the world and my place in it. 

In the meantime, Monday (tomorrow!) is finals week at the college, so I'll be grading like a madwoman during that time. July is when I leave for Japan and I'm picking up as many scoring shifts as possible with my second job before I leave the US.

I want to try to update the website with a Matsuricon 2015 review and my Ohayocon 2016 review, as those are reaaaaaallly overdue, but I don't have much else lined up for the site because I'll be frantically running around trying to wrap things up before I go.

I'll try to keep everyone posted with details as they come. Back to work!