Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Epbot Exemplars: "My First Con" Edition!

I thought this would be a good follow-up to my last post: I get so many convention "success stories" from you readers that I started compiling a few of my favorites. These are all from people who attended a convention for the very first time, many of whom struggle with anxiety and/or just didn't know what to expect. Once you've read their stories, I think you'll see why I just HAD to share. Enjoy!

Note: If anything seems a little stilted, it's because I've edited these for brevity. Apologies. :)

From Marsi in Vancouver:
"Just wanted to let you know that I went to my first con yesterday.  It was amazing!!!!  I couldn't believe how fun it was and all we did was walk around and look at / photograph costumes (and maybe do a bit of shopping).  The best part was having little girls come up and ask to have their picture taken with me (I was Cruella de Vil).  My heart melted each time it happened and I might have teared up.  I think I need to quit my job and work at Disney as a character actor."


 "I felt like a bit of a celebrity w/ all the people who would yell out 'Cruella!' as I walked by them, and in one case I heard the Cruella theme song being sung."

(Hee! She really does have one of the best theme songs.)

From Ula K. in Poland:

"Greetings from Poland!

"I know how you appreciate it when readers tell you that you've encouraged them to go to a convention or try cosplaying for the first time, so I'm proud to tell you that this is my story, too. I've always been too shy, especially around crowds, to go to a con. However, reading the 'success stories' on Epbot, and seeing the gorgeous photos that your readers shared, made me gradually build up some courage. Then I saw your amazing Lady Vadore costume, and it set off something in me. 

 "It gave me an idea: to appear as a SW character... with a Disney twist. And that's how the 'Darth Vader taken over by Ursula from the Little Mermaid' idea came to life."

"...it's still far from final; I want to add more details and reinvent some of them altogether, based on the great tips the 'professionals' gave me (they approached me on their own, saying they wanted pictures for their website, which was a HUGE ego boost!).

"P.S. After the convention, I was so encouraged by the kind words I heard that I'm already planning my next costume, so I'll be sure to update you when I finish it!"

From Carina in Germany:

"Hi Jen,

"I’m a 27 year old geek girl from Germany. I’ve been following your blog for quite some time now, and I wanted to say thank you for all the awesome stuff that you write.

"I don’t want to bother you with all the details of my mental illnesses – for now it’s enough to say that I’m very introverted and really shy, and I sometimes get panic attacks when I’m surrounded by lots of people. Even going to the supermarket can be a bit of a challenge to me.

"So, going to a fair or convention is not easy for me, although I love to look at all the stuff. But this weekend, I managed to go to a con (Role Play Convention in Cologne) in costume! Your posts about cons, costumes and your anxiety attacks have been an inspiration.

"At first, I couldn’t decide if I should really go in costume, because it was supposed to become a steampunk costume (and all the steampunky details have yet to be added), and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle the attention – or if anybody would even like it at all. Plus the costume is green and I usually only wear black."
 (Carina made this all herself, too!)

"You know what? It was great! I got asked for pictures so many times that I lost count. People approached me, asked me if I made the costume myself and I got lots of compliments! I did not have to say much, only pose for the cameras and smile."

"Such an awesome experience and a real boost for my confidence.

"To all shy persons, I can really recommend going in costume. You don’t have to go out of your comfort zone too much, because people will come to you. It is so much easier to talk to people if you don’t have to make the first step."

From Alyssa (also in Vancouver):

"I wanted to thank you for telling your readers about your anxiety, and sharing your stories about it. It made me feel like maybe I could go to a con. (One of my biggest dreams is to go to San Diego Comic-Con one day. One little problem with that: I get anxious in crowds.)

"Enter my boyfriend. He's a HUUUUGE Marvel/Disney fan (we met at the Disney store where I work) and when he heard that Stan Lee was coming to the Vancouver Fan Expo he begged to go. I was nervous at first because I didn't think I could handle a super crowded room for that long. Then I re-read some of your entries and it made me feel like I should just go. And so I did!

 Alyssa chillin' with a Witch King at the con

"My boyfriend definitely helped me out, he made sure he walked in front of me to part the crowd (he's over 6 feet tall, it works) and was always making sure I felt comfortable or if I needed to leave the main room to go into the adjoining - much emptier - hallway. I did feel anxious a couple times (it was wall to wall people) but I didn't feel overwhelmed. And I got to meet some awesome people! James Marsters, Stan Lee, David Proust, and Elvira were all there. We got pictures with the 501st as well.

 "It was a really awesome two days that I don't know if I could have handled without knowing that others can as well. So thank you."

From Alice G. in San Diego:

"I just went to my first ever convention this weekend (May 3-5) and, happily enough, it was a steampunk one right in the area I live! I couldn't go all three days, but I was able to go to the Steam Powered Giraffe concert on Friday and I spent most of Saturday wandering the merchant hall.

"I've been to quite a few of Steam Powered Giraffe's shows and they're always such a blast. But I started actually dressing up to go to them, and this weekend I went as my fanbot, Cricket, who is a music box doll robot-thingy."
Alice with Hatchworth of SPG

"I had a lot of people comment on the makeup and my dress and a few took pictures! I wasn't expecting or prepared for that, but it was fun!

"Anyway, I just wanted to tell you a little about my awesome experience this weekend and to thank you for sharing your stories and encouraging us readers to try to push out of our insecurities and comfort zones. I'm extremely introverted and suffer from crowd anxiety and I don't think I would have gone to Gaslight Gathering if I hadn't been following your blog and read your stories. So thank you for all of that!"

A blurry shot of Alice with her friends and SPG. (Srsly, Alice, we need to talk about getting you a better camera! ;))

And finally, this one from Melaine in California legitimately made me cry. Dang it all.

"Hi Jen. Thanks in large part to you and the community you've fostered, I went to the Nova Albion Steampunk Convention this year.

"I've always been unashamedly out and proud about my nerdiness, so that was never an issue. But I have pretty bad anxiety, and I struggle with depression and also some super fun chronic pain problems, so going to a three-day long social event where there's also a lot of standing was...intimidating. But the pictures you post of cons make it seem so fun, and if you can do it...

"So I bought a ticket and a hotel room as a graduation present to myself, and dragged a friend along, and worked for months on my outfits, and you know what?

"I had the most fun I've ever had in my whole life. I had three whole days of uninterrupted fun and silliness. I made friends with some of the most entertaining and creative people I have ever met, and learned how to waltz and polka and then danced with strangers and it was fine. I was fine. I even have plans to go dancing with a few of them now. And I'm definitely going to Albion again next year.

"Attached is a picture of me, in the outfit of which I am proudest, grinning like I don't have a care in the world. I'm a steampunk librarian, complete with tool belt for catching and cataloging feral books (I just got accepted into a library science program in real life).

"Thank you for showing me that anxiety doesn't have to rule my life."

(Anyone else reminded of Garth Nix's Lirael? Badass steampunky librarians UNITE!)

Thanks so much to all of these fabulous, brave ladies for letting me share their stories, and to all the rest of you out there who take the time to e-mail me. I firmly believe that the more we share the things we love, the more good we can do in this world, and you are all perfect examples of that. Exemplary, even. ;)

Now I better get out of here before I get all weepy again. Thanks again, everyone, and as always, feel free to share your own photos and links in the comments or over on the Epbot Facebook page!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mailbag: How Do I Manage Crowd Anxiety At A Con?

 Jessica D. writes,

"Jen (and other Epbot readers) - I am thinking about attending the Minneapolis MetaCon in August- mostly because I see that Steam Powered Giraffe will be performing and I really really want to see them.
I, however, have Asperger's syndrome. And extreme anxiety about large crowds. Are there any hints and tips on what to do while at a con to control anxiety?"

As someone who LOVES sci-fi and comic conventions, and who also struggles with anxiety, I get asked this question a lot. Now, admittedly, I don't suffer from crowd anxiety so much as no-way-out anxiety (technical term) - but the two have a lot of overlaps. So, here are my best tips, based on what works for me:

1) Bring a friend or SO who's willing to stick by you the whole time. Moral support is key! 


2) I met a reader at the last MegaCon who told me when things got too much for her in the crowd, she'd just grab on to her husband's backpack and look at the floor, allowing him to lead her through. I do the same thing with John all the time, although for me it's more because I'm lazy and he's bigger. :) See if your convention buddy is willing to do the same - a designated crowd-parter, if you will.

3) Take lots of breaks, so you don't get too over-stimulated. Most convention facilities have smaller halls branching off with lots of empty rooms, so you should be able to find a quiet alcove to chill for a while. (If not, try heading outside.) Remember, it's better to enjoy just a few activities than be miserable with a tight schedule.

4) Bring emergency supplies: anxiety meds (if you have/need them), a full water bottle (so you don't have to hunt for a water fountain), earplugs, & sunglasses if those work for you. I really like earplugs - especially for concerts, but they also help with crowd noise and extra loud sound systems.

  General convention mayhem. Gotta love it!

5) Often times the convention staff will let you stand in the back of the room for panels and performances, which I always prefer, so don't be afraid to ask. If it's a really large convention, ask at the ticket desk about medical/guest assistance passes, which can streamline the process and save you some stress. (Sometimes I'm afraid to ask because I'm embarrassed, but believe me, it's worth it in the long run. Plus most convention staff are super accommodating if you explain you just need to be near an exit.)

6) And finally, and hardest of all: don't put too much pressure on yourself. Take the day at your own pace, and tell yourself that you'll leave if you have to, because there will always be more conventions. If you force yourself through a miserable experience, then odds are you won't try again - and that would be robbing yourself of some truly amazing adventures! So go at your own pace, and concentrate on sopping up what fun you can. When your Fun Tank is full, take a break and/or get out of there!

We feel ya, Beaker.

Other than that, don't forget the common sense stuff like getting enough sleep and eating right/enough. Oh, and keep in mind that Saturday is always the most crowded day of a multi-day convention, with Sunday being a close second. So if the convention is open on Friday, go Friday.

Along the same lines, try to go to a smaller local convention for your first one, if you can, before jumping in to the really huge events. Little cons are much more relaxed, and are a wonderful way to test the crowd-anxiety waters.

Ok, guys: what'd I miss? Share you own tips for managing anxiety at a convention in the comments!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saturday Steam 6/15/13

You'll think this minute-long vid is a fine art project, it's so beautiful -  plus the music feels right out of the Lord of the Rings! - but it turns out it's actually a commercial for Omega watches. Well played, Omega.

(Thanks for the link, Kathleen L.!)

Gina H. found this adorable goggled and winged bunny brooch:

There are lots of "bunnyfly" variations at the Rustwoods etsy shop, too, with all different colors and metal tones and accessories. (Plus the pink bunnies totally look like steampunk Peeps. Which is kind of awesome.)

They're only about an inch high, too, which makes 'em EXTRA cute.

- Amanda of The Steampunk Ledger combined a dollar store water pistol with a blue "finger light" (a small LED, I believe) to make this stunning garter pistol:

She also made a garter belt holster for it from leather and lace. Lovely!

- You guys already know I am not versed in the wizardly art of sewing, but for those of you who are, these embroidery design patterns over at Urban Threads are pretty dang sweet:


For $9 you get all six designs included in the "Mechanica Aquatica" machine embroidery pack, or for $3 you can get the hand-embroidery patterns, which I'm guessing would take just a few days short of forever to do. ;)

- And finally, here's a fun little number by The Spine of Steam Powered Giraffe that I can't seem to stop re-playing. (Um, if you're not familiar with SPG, then this is going to be pretty bizarre - so I'd suggest checking out their original songs, which are a lot more steampunky. This Rihanna cover is oddly mesmerizing, though - plus the giraffe cracked me up.)

Oh, and 1:35 is when the magic happens. Gotta love The Spine's range!

Have a great weekend, everyone! And as always, please share your steamy finds in the comments or over on the Epbot Facebook page!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Week's Best 6/14/13

Rachel and her boyfriend Trevor cosplayed as Hermione and Ron going to the Yule ball... for their own prom!

BRILLIANT! Haha! (And thanks for the link, Heather N.!)

- Do you like historical conspiracy theories? Then read this. It's fascinating. (I can't wait to see Hollywood's version hit theaters - because you know it will.) via SuperPunch

- It's been pouring pretty much all week here, but we headed out to Epcot on Tuesday anyway to meet up with some readers, and....

We found it!!
(Not sure what I'm talking about? Click here.)

Took a fair amount of searching, too, since it's hidden behind/inside a partition pretty much backstage, though just barely. If you go looking for it yourself, follow the path between the Imagination Pavilion and The Land, and hope the wooden gate is open!

- In other news, Patrick Stewart continues to be a delight on Twitter:

Oh captain, our captain! ALWAYS. :)

- And speaking of Twitter, this happened on Wednesday:

Now, Felicia Day is a personal hero of mine, and probably the one person I most aspire to be like (with a healthy dollop of Jenny Lawson, of course). This was the first time she's ever directly mentioned me, but I think I handled it pretty well:


If you caught the fact that I unconsciously made both a Phineas and Ferb AND a Grinch reference, then you may now award yourself ten thousand Geek Points.

I'll be sure to let you guys know when Felicia invites me over for a girls' night out, or, more likely, admits she mixed me up with someone else. ;)

Moving along...

- Jessica Angus is a costume designer and supplier who's created the most jaw-dropping, uber-realistic Toothless (from How To Train Your Dragon) quad costume I've ever seen:

You're really got to watch the video of her in motion to get the full effect, though:

Jessica's site DreamVision Creations sells all kinds of supplies for creating your own creature and furry suits, but it looks like she stopped taking costume commissions in 2011. Oh, and if you check out Jessica's DevianArt gallery, you'll find several of her adorable Toothless plushies - including one that's five-feet tall! This two-foot version is my favorite, though:

D'awwww.  DO WANT.

Jessica stresses that these are not for sale, though, and she also doesn't sell any patterns. I can understand why with the copyright concerns, of course, but that doesn't stop me wanting one!

- Here's some adorable geeky goodness we CAN buy, though: 3D Marvel phone cases from Disney:

 photo by TouringPlans

Not the most practical, sure, but now you can turn your phone into an action figure!

These are being sold at the Disney parks, but when I went hunting for a place to buy them online I also found these designs, and oh. my. CUTE:


I found all of them over on Amazon for about $30 apiece. Now you just have to decide between Batgirl, Joker, Wonder Woman, and Harley. And maybe Superman. Ok, basically I want them all except Batman. Because he looks grumpy. Which is totally in character, but still.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

There And Back Again: A Hobbit's Party

Epbot reader and crafty mom extraordinaire Nikki recently gave her four-year-old daughter Niamh the birthday party to end all birthday parties, and I just about flipped when she sent me all the photos and details. Seriously, prepare to be very, very jealous of a four-year-old.

Here, let's start with the invitations:

What better way to kick off an epic Hobbit party than with Bilbo's famous round door?

(Funnily enough, little Niamh actually wanted a Gollum-themed party, but her mom was afraid of terrifying all the other kids. Ha! Good call, Nikki!)

The kids got to wear flip-flop Hobbit feet:

And they were given bubble wand "Sting" swords and bubble pipes to blow on:

The party was held in a back yard decorated with pennants, maps of Middle Earth, and hanging lanterns:

Check out the cake: Smaug sitting on a pile of gold!

And thanks to a sparkler, Smaug even breathed fire!

Also on the dessert table: branches hung with the captured Dwarves of Mirkwood Forest (remember the giant spiders?):

Of course, THIS spider silk was actually cotton candy.
(Admit it: you wish you were at this party as much as I do.)

Dinner was served in the Green Dragon, of course, where the kids drank (Ginger) Ale and (Root) Beer and feasted on a whole smorgasbord of Hobbit-themed treats - each carefully prepared and labeled by Nikki herself.

Then for activities, Nikki handed out kid-friendly replicas of Thror's map:

Each location had special "moon rune" instructions that only showed under a black light(!!):

In this case, it was "Defeat Smaug" - the pinata, that is!

The birthday girl wore a sweet rhinestone-edged Hobbit door on her birthday dress - also handcrafted by her mom Nikki:
(She's holding one of the bubble wand swords.)

Believe it or not, I've only scratched the surface on this party, though: there were also glowing "Light of Earendil" necklaces to find and giant spider webs made of tape to conquer and One Ring napkin rings and Ring Pops and lots and LOTS more food and... phew! You really should just head over to Nikki's blog, tikkido, to check it all out. (That link goes to part one, so don't miss part two!)

Oooh, PLUS, Nikki has been busy posting tutorials for just about everything she did and made for the party, from the Smaug pinata to the Hobbit door ice cream sandwiches. So basically her blog is a DIY dream right now. (And I think I need an excuse to make some of those invitations!)

Thanks so much for sharing the fun, Nikki! Oh, and be sure to let us know what you do for Niamh's FIFTH birthday, k? (May I suggest...The Fifth Element? PRETTY PLEASE?!)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: Bitten, But Not Smitten

Sometimes I like picking up reader-recommended books without reading the synopsis, so I go in to the story blind. It adds a little more suspense, and hopefully makes me approach the book without any preconceived opinions on the genre.

That was the case with Bitten, which - since I got the Kindle copy from my library and so didn't see the cover art - I assumed was a vampire story. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find a story about the only female werewolf in the world, Elena, trying to make a life for herself away from her kind in modern society.

That doesn't last long, though, as Elena is soon called away from her devoted live-in boyfriend and city life to return to her Pack's home and help hunt down another werewolf-turned-murderer.

Elena's pack has plenty of obvious parallels to Twilight's Cullen family: a supernatural "family" living together in a remote-yet-lavish backwoods estate, a benevolent Alpha father figure who is obeyed without question, and their self-imposed obligation to police others of their kind, "mutts" who have less compunction about killing humans.

It was at this point, though - roughly 50 pages in - that the story started to fall apart for me. Up 'til then Elena seemed like a pretty relatable main character, but by the second night she's hopping into bed with two of her fellow pack mates, without so much as a passing thought to her boyfriend back home. It was really bizarre, with no lead-up, and seemed drastically out of character for her.

Anyway, before much happens, the three play a game of poker to determine which guy gets to sleep with her. (To be fair, Elena seems pretty on board with this.) When one wins, Elena obediently follows him out to the woods, but then starts to have second thoughts. So the guy overpowers her, ties her up, and forces her. (Again, this whole section was like the Twilight Zone invading - I couldn't believe it was the same story!) We're supposed to believe it's not quite rape, though, because after a while the guy says he'll stop if she really, really wants him to, and Elena finds she just can't say no anymore. So hey, SCORE ONE FOR ROMANCE.

I can't decide if the author was trying to emphasize the animalistic nature of werewolves, or if she was honestly trying to write a hot sex scene. I will say that it was so awkwardly written that I was still trying to figure out the mechanics - "wait, wasn't she hanging from her arms a second ago? So how is she lying on the ground now?" - by the time I realized it was over. In fact, it was so rushed and robotic in nature that I think the author just wanted the whole sordid ordeal over with as quickly as I did.

Anyway, I put the book down at this point to look it up, and learned that not only is Bitten primarily a romance (?!?), it also has five stars across the board from the vast majority of readers. 

  (From Amazon's review page. Clay is the-not-quite-rapist. How's that for terrifying?)

So, thoroughly confused, I decided to keep going and see if it got any better - or at least made any more sense.

Having finished all 540 pages now (yep, I WORKED for this review, guys), I can say that the "romance" angle does get better - if only because it couldn't possibly have gotten worse, and also because Elena doesn't get tied up and not-quite-raped again. In fact, Bitten is a pretty decent werewolf story that could have been quite good, if only it wasn't afflicted with lots of awkward rushed sex and a protagonist more self-absorbed than your average three-year-old.

It goes like this: Elena has sex with Clay, the-not-quite-rapist. Then Elena spends the next day(s) sulking and hating Clay for being so gosh-darned irresistible. They fight a lot. Then they have sex again - and it's always the super-rushed, mindless, literally-ripping-clothing-off kind of sex. About halfway through the book I started wondering how they had any clothes left, and if maybe Clay wouldn't benefit from some kind of performance aid. (WHAT.) Oh, and then Elena goes back to hating him again - all while rationalizing that her cheating isn't really her fault, it's Clay's for being so gosh-darned irresistible, and ooooh, does she hate him for it. And so on.

If you're starting to think that maybe Elena is a terrible person, then you'll understand why I had a hard time rooting for her. She IS a terrible person, only rarely realizes it, and never does anything to try and change her inherent terribleness.

However, like I said, things get a little better as the story goes on. And it does go on. And on. Let's call it the literary equivalent of a leisurely stroll - with occasional showers of dangling intestines. The more tedious sections are the ones where everyone's just running through the woods as wolves: killing rabbits, licking blood off each other's fur - you know, werewolfy things - but doing absolutely nothing to move the story along. I found myself skimming some of those.

Then, for no other reason than because it would be really, REALLY awkward, the author makes Elena live with her two guys in the same tiny apartment for a while. Elena ramps up the annoyance factor as she continues to waffle between the two men, lashing out at Clay all day while going to bed each night with her clueless-yet-saintly boyfriend. I may have started hoping for a few more dangling intestines at that point.

It would be one thing if Elena knew her own mind and was intentionally playing both men - not something I'd approve of, but at least she'd be acting from a place of strength and independence, as opposed to just being a fickle child with daddy issues (which get SUPER creepy, btw) and a bad case of narcissism. In the end she doesn't so much make a choice as have it made for her, which was, again, kind of disappointing. But at least it finally broke the snipe/sex/sulk cycle, so let's call that a win. (Heck, by that point anything that stopped her whining would have counted as a happy ending in my book.)

There are more books in The Otherworld Series, but since the next one, Stolen, also features Elena, I think it's safe to say I won't be reading it.

So, in conclusion, if you're looking for an edgy shape-shifters' romance filled with adventure, fascinating animal-based cultures, and gripping suspense, then I highly recommend Hawksong, by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.

In fact, the whole Kiesha'ra series is pretty flippin' fantastic. Enjoy!

For more of my reviews, check out this handy-dandy list. I've even starred some of my favorites there, in case you're just looking for other titles I'd recommend!