You still read that?

Bullet points are taken from Samantha Craft’s website and post on Females with Asperger’s Syndrome, which can be found here. 

Section C: Escape and Friendship

  • Escapes regularly through fixations, obsessions, and over-interest in subjects

When I get interested in something, you can bet I devote 100% of my attention to it. I always have been like this. Some interests last for a few weeks, some a few months, others for years. Books have always been an obsession of mine, as they were one of my escapes, but other things have managed to work their way into that slot as well. Most of my obsessions, however, did revolve around books or series.

For example, when I was in sixth grade, my school, St. Matthew’s School, had a Scholastic book fair. There I discovered the Animorphs series. I was obsessed with it for years. I stuck with it until the very end. I would spend my allowance money on the book every month. When it first came out, it was $3.99, or $4.23 with tax. After a few years, however, the price of the book went up one month to $4.99, or $5.25 after tax. I was devastated because I always brought the exact right amount of money with me to the store. I was lucky because the cashiers knew me and let me bring the extra money back with me next time I visited, which was frequently.

I loved that series. I loved the short-lived TV series, too. I was convinced the characters were real and lived in my area. Every time I saw a red-tailed hawk in my area, I was convinced it was Tobias. I thought that I, too, could turn into an animal if I concentrated hard enough. In fact, I spent a good deal of time in the garage focusing on changing into my cat. I would stare at my arms and will myself to change.

The series ended in 2001. I was finishing up my sophomore year. When I was still in eighth grade, I had a friend, also named Jen, who was reading the series. We briefly remained friend in high school, and when I talked about the series and what had happened to Tobias—my favorite character—she stared at me in shock.

“You still read that?”

“Yes. Why?”

“We’re a little old for that,” she laughed.

I was horrified. Yeah, the series may have started when we were younger, but the characters were aging as well, and more mature themes had been introduced. And didn’t she want to know what was going to happen with the Yeerk invasion? Didn’t she want to know if Tobias ever gave up his hawk form?

Turns out admitting to reading Animorphs still was pretty much social suicide, and she stopped talking to me shortly after that.

I was obsessed with Sailor Moon, too. I recorded every single episode of the anime and watched it all the time. The one episode that never fails (still) to make me cry, is when Serena—in the dubs—finds out she is the Princess and Darien dies. I bawl every single time. It was the one episode that for whatever reason never recorded, and I was so upset because it meant weeks before I could watch it again.

That’s about the time I began writing fanfiction as well. I wrote about Sailor Moon and Animorphs. Sometimes I crossed them over. Sometimes I made my own characters. I did that a lot, inserting myself into the stories. I created my own Sailor Moon character, Sailor Sun, who was not based on me and I wrote fiction about her as well. Somewhere around here I still have drawings of her as well. I had the soundtrack for the English show as well, at every single night for two years I would put the CD on when I went to bed to help me fall asleep. It was half an hour long and I usually fell asleep towards the end, although sometimes I needed it twice. (This later changed to me putting on To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar every single night before I went to bed. This also went on for at least two years.)

  • Obsessively collects and organizes objects

My collection of books is ridiculous. I have several thousand. I’m not exaggerating either. If you take into account the books I had in my classroom library, there were two thousand there alone. I also own over 600 hundred volumes of manga. That’s only a portion of the books I own.

Categorizing books and organizing them brings me peace. I love putting them in alphabetical order. I think maybe that’s why I enjoyed working at the bookstore so much. My favorite thing to do was fix the shelves and make sure they were completely alphabetical. I found a sense of peace in it, and whenever a customer or staff member messed it up, I would get so angry. I felt it was disrespectful to the books. But seeing the books in the right order felt so calming. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.

When I had my own apartment, Dad liked to come over and sometimes tried to mess up my books without me knowing. He would switch a volume of the manga or two around so that they were out of order. It drove me crazy!

Sometimes I like to reorder my books, but for the most part I have found a system that works for me. What made my students laugh was how well I knew my classroom set up. They would ask if I had a book and I could tell them not only whether or not I had it, but exactly where on the shelf it was, without even looking.

I also had quite a large collection of unicorns. I loved the creatures, and had many statues. I collected them in snow globes at every swap meet my dad went to. Eventually I got rid of those, however, when the water inside the globe became filthy and, although I was a hoarder, I realized they were beyond salvaging.

Barbie also made it onto my list. I collected them in boxes, especially the different nationalities and Christmas editions. I don’t remember what year I stopped collecting them, but it went on for a long time. When I let it slip to friends in middle school that I collected Barbie…well…that didn’t go over too well.

As an adult, I continue to collect books, some Sailor Moon figures, teapots, and for a while any Poe Dameron figure I could find. Oh, and we can’t forget Bumblebee! I have dozens of Bumblebee Transformer figures that I bought or were given to me by friends and family. Hey, what can I saw? They go with the car.

 

A Journey of Self-Discovery

I posted this on my Facebook page the other day, and I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to document my journey on my blog. It’s not my usual writing, to be sure, but I feel that it is important–at least to me–and if it helps at least one person, then great!

Over the course of several days, maybe weeks, maybe even months if I like how it’s going, I will be discussing my journey through anxiety and depression as well as my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. I am doing this to help end the stigma against mental illness as well as ASD. I want more people to be aware of what Asperger’s is like for a woman who is diagnosed later in life.

There are many wonderful resources already available about there, including the books Aspergirls by Rudy Simone and Everday Aspergers by Samantha Craft. If you are interested in women and Asperger’s I highly recommend you check out those books.


 

The other day I made a cryptic post on Facebook about myself and people sticking with me no matter what. I had wanted to say something about myself that I have learned in the last few months, however, I was unable to figure out how to say it. After speaking to my therapist and Andy, I decided I’m going to say it and share my experience so people can understand me better.

Yes, I have been seeing a therapist again for my anxiety and depression. Many of you are already probably aware of that, which is fine. That’s not the revelation. While going to my awesome new therapist, we started working through some things and I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which—if you don’t know—is part of the Autism spectrum.

Before you write or say anything, please let me say a few things.

There is no need to say you’re sorry. Don’t be! There is nothing wrong with having Asperger’s or being on the spectrum. It’s something that surprised me a bit at first, but now that I’ve had time to think about it, it makes complete sense to me and now I understand myself better than before. It’s been a wonderful revelation that has allowed me to understand how my brain works and why I do things differently from other people. I know can process why my teen years were so difficult, and why I felt like I never fit in with anyone.

Please do not also say “There’s no way! You must be mistaken!” or “But that doesn’t sound like you!” I assure you, this is not something that happened over night. I started this process many months ago, so it’s not something I decided in twenty-four hours.

For anyone who doesn’t know what it is, Asperger’s has a wide range of characteristics that may or may not all be present in a single person, and the degrees all very. Some of the characteristics include:

  • limited or inappropriate social skills,
  • tendency to discuss self rather than others,
  • lack of eye contact,
  • awkward movements,
  • and obsession with specific topics.

There are of course many more indicators, and these indicators are different for men and women. After reading the book Aspergirls by Rudy Simone, Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft along with other books, I discovered that my experiences are nearly identical to theirs.

Some examples of my experiences:

  • I have always had a hard time looking people in the eyes. It is actually physically painful for me to maintain eye contact, and during a conversation, my inner dialogue sounds something like this: “Look them in the eye. Hold it. Hold it. Okay, don’t stare! That’s creepy. Look around. Look back at them. At the eyes, not the nose, oh they have nice eyebrows why aren’t mine that nice, look away. Look back! Smile. Don’t smile too big, it seems fake.” I actually credit my cooperating teacher when I was student teaching in instructing me on how to maintain proper eye contact. She saw I struggled with it and gave me some tips. She called it acting class.
  • I struggle with conversations in social situations. I often say weird things, or interject at strange times. This has caused seriously uncomfortable situations where everyone will pause and stair at me, or they laugh awkwardly and ignore me for the remainder of the time. It hurts. A lot, actually. I’m trying to fit in and have friends, but it’s so difficult.
  • I also have to remind myself not to talk only about me, but to turn around and ask other people how they are. I might be an introvert, but when I get on a subject I’m passionate about, forget about it. I will steamroll over anyone. I have to consciously reign myself in and remind myself other people are present.

A great list of other attributes can be found on the Everyday Aspergers maintained by Samantha Craft here: https://everydayaspie.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/females-with-aspergers-syndrome-checklist-by-samantha-craft/

If you’re looking for books to understand, I highly recommend Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft and Aspergirls by Rudy Simone. They were wonderful books that helped me process my diagnosis.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them in the comments below or in a private message. And again, I’m not ashamed of my diagnosis, nor am I embarrassed by it. Rather, it’s been liberating for me. I now understand that my brain processes things differently from most people, and that’s why I do what I do. It has helped me cope with things that bother me and come up with strategies that actually work! I am no different from the Jennifer I was before, we just now have a name for why I’m a quirky, socially awkward person!

Questions #2

I love the questions you’re asking, so keep them coming! Today we have two questions from ‘Nathan, who asks:

Okay, I have a two-part question: Have you bumped into much negative feedback for writing LGBTQ characters? (and, the second part, to make it a less negative topic) What have been the best moments of having written LGBTQ characters?

Writing LGBTQ characters has been fantastic. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve honestly not had much negative feedback from the writing portion. I did have some issues with starting a GSA at the first school I worked at, but it was concerns on the part of an administration that wasn’t sure just how the GSA would benefit the school or students.

My biggest concern was with how my family–mostly my grandparents–would react. They come from a generation where being gay is just unheard of. Growing up, I found myself butting heads with my grandfather on many issues…a lot. It’s just who I am and it’s how he was raised. But even my grandfather has done me proud.

Book signing other viewWhen Andy Squared first came out, I had to explain what it was about. Of course my grandparents wanted to read it, but I did worry. I didn’t know how they would take it. I didn’t write it for them, obviously, but as my grandparents, I still wanted their approval. But I wasn’t sure if it would happen. When I had my book release party at the Bristol Public Library, they came. I couldn’t have been more nervous when I was standing at the podium reading from the book. At my feet I had my former students, and my grandfather sat right in front of me. When I opened the floor to questions and his hand went up, I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. But he surprised me. Rather than asking about Ryder and Andy’s sexuality and some, ahem, scenes, he commented on the style of writing and how he could picture being with the boys as they rode horses.

Book Singing with students at my feetAfterwards, he admitted he hadn’t finished the book yet, but that he was enjoying it. And when he finally did finish it, he told me how it had changed his mind on LGBT people.

I cried.

Then he surprised me again. He and my grandmother read the newspaper, and they enjoy columns like Ask Amy and such. In one, a mother had asked about her teenager being gay, and what books to read to help her understand, etc.

My grandfather wrote to the columnist and explained how his opinion had changed after reading Andy Squared, and how he realized how difficult LGBT teens have it when their family doesn’t accept them. I still have the email he sent me somewhere.

I cried again.

I guess you could say that was also one of the best moments of having written LGBTQ characters. Even though my books are primarily for teens, having a 70+ year old man read the book and change his opinion was pretty spectacular.

Readers have also contacted me from all over. My first ever reader email was from a young man in Costa Rica who had to order the book from the US and have it shipped to him. Another was from a young fan who reached out to me on Facebook, telling me he was going to come out to his family. I kept in touch with him for several months after that, checking in to see how he was doing. I also recently had a reader FROM upstate New York contact me, thrilled to see his part of the state represented with gay teens!

So the best moments are definitely when readers reach out to me to talk. I love that. I will always respond to readers, so please, don’t be afraid to reach out!

Boston Pride 2015

Until yesterday, I had never been to a Pride event. I had always wanted to go, but they were either too far away from me, or I forgot about it/didn’t know about it until it was too late. This year I had the opportunity not only to go to Boston Pride, but to help represent my publisher and sell copies of my YA titles.

WHAT A BLAST!

Boston is only about an hour and half from where I live right now, so it was really exciting to be able to make the trip for the day. I left early in the morning, had a heart attack navigating the tunnels into the city, but found a parking garage close to where I needed to be.

Just some of the books we had to offer. And me posing in the background.

Just some of the books we had to offer. And me posing in the background.

I was early. But it was still nice to see everything as it was being set up with so few people around. Because when eleven o’clock hit, it started to get busier. And when the parade reached us at around one, oh my GOD it was wall-to-wall bodies.

Since Boston is the home of my favorite drag queen, JuJubee, I had been hoping to meet her. She responded to my facebook post about being there, but sadly that wasn’t the case. However I sold out of all my YA titles, and fast! By an hour into the festival I was worried I wouldn’t have any left! With a little over three hours to go, I did sell out, but that just meant helping the other authors!

I was happy to have been able to bring Julie Blair and ‘Nathan Burgoine’s books as well. It was nice to have a good selection for festival goers!

I got to hang out with great authors from my group. I knew Cathy Frizzell from the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC, and Dena Hankins from the retreat last summer, but I also got to meet Jean Copeland and Holly Stratimore and their respective partners. Fun times!

Jennifer Lavoie, Jean Copeland, Holly Stratimore, CF Frizzell, and Dena Hankins

Jennifer Lavoie, Jean Copeland, Holly Stratimore, CF Frizzell, and Dena Hankins

But what was even better was the opportunity to connect with the readers. That was amazing. There were a lot of young adults there, and I had a blast talking with them. Some readers had no idea we existed and eagerly snatched up books. Some didn’t realize we were the authors until we asked if they wanted the books signed. Some readers were young – like one girl who bought Meeting Chance with her two dads and her little sister near – or older who had read a lost of LGBT fiction in their lives. Either way, I appreciated them all.

Dena looks on while Jean signs her novel and I...stare at something.

Dena looks on while Jean signs her novel and I…stare at something.

I can’t wait to do it again. I know all of us want to go back next year, and I hope I get to do more Pride events. I was originally going to do Providence Pride next weekend, but that had to be cancelled since no other authors were interested. And it’s a bit late for NYC Pride. But hey, maybe next year?

What do you think? Would you like to see Bold Strokes Books and NYC Pride next year? If you would, leave a message here! I’ll let my publisher know you want to see us! Any other Pride suggestions or events? Let me know! I’ll pass it along!

 

The Year In Review! Books – 2014 edition

Continuing the tradition from last year, I recount the books I’ve read over the course of 2014. While last year I read a ridiculous 141 books, this year I did not come that far. I did read quite a lot, though, and many of them due to graduate school. I mean seriously. The two courses I took this year were filled with books, and many of them I completely enjoyed. So let’s review, shall we?

Total books read: 128

Not bad considering my original goal was 110, but I fell behind so I dropped it back to 100!

First book of the year: Souvenir Boys by David-Matthew Barnes

I had forgotten about this one! This is why I love this process. This is a book of poetry by fellow Bold Strokes Books author David-Matthew Barnes who has some amazing YA novels that I’ve reviewed here before. I enjoyed this book of poetry as well. My favorite poem was “Dear Mr. Sanchez” from this collection. It even inspired me to write some of my own poems, one of which I submitted for publication but which was rejected. Sad face. You can read my review right here on this site!

Last book of the year: In His Arena #1: Slave Eternal by Nasia Maksima

What a great end to the year! I reviewed this book for The Novel Approach Reviews, which I was recently accepted to as a reviewer. This book was fantastic. As a fan of Spartacus I enjoy stories with gladiators, and since I love Agron and Nasir, I thought this would be perfect. While totally different because it has fantasy elements, I adored this book. At this moment the review isn’t posted for The Novel Approach Reviews, however you can read my review on Goodreads here.

Adult books read: 47 (I think. Mature graphic novels and classic fiction not included.)

Favorite: This is a tough call. I really enjoyed Valerie Bronwen’s Slash and Burn, but I ended the year on such a strong note with Slave Eternal. I guess I’ll stick with both of those!

Teen books read: 6 (not including manga, of which there was a lot).

Favorite: I feel like this number should be higher. Oh well. But my favorite was definitely I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora. It’s the book I wish I had written. Not only is it about students who are obsessed with To Kill a Mockingbird, but it takes place in Connecticut! And the author is also a Bristol native, like me!

Children’s books read: 6 (More were read to my younger students, however many of them are not listed online so I didn’t include them.)

Favorite: Definitely One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia. Having gotten into recycling plastic bags and turning them into useful products, this book was awesome. I did an environmental project for my school based on plastic bags, so this was fantastic.

Manga read: 42

Favorite: Attack on Titan series by Hajime Isayama

I completely blame my students on this one. They kept talking about this series and begging me to get it for them so I reluctantly agreed to buy the first one to preview for myself as I knew it was a violent series.

FOURTEEN VOLUMES LATER I’m all caught up. WHAT AN EMOTIONAL RIDE! Characters die left and write, it’s incredibly gruesome, but I love the characters! Jean and Levi have grown to be my favorites. Volume fourteen left on such a cliffhanger I freaked out because the next volume doesn’t come out until APRIL. My student who is reading it keeps bothering me about the book, even though there’s nothing I can do to make it come faster.

Graphic Novels read: 2

Favorite: I only read two and while both were good, they weren’t favorites I suppose. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier was cute and a graphic novel memoir. Soppy by Philippa Rice was cute and simple in it’s drawings, but enjoyable.

LGBT books read (adult and teen, not including manga): 48

Favorites: Why do I do this to myself? So many of the books I read over the year were great. I ended strong with Slave Eternal, and Sweetwater by Lisa Henry was pretty phenomenal as well. And really interesting and different was Pet to the Tentacle Monsters! by Lilia Ford. Really great year for LGBT books!

Nonfiction books read: 14

Favorite: More tough decisions as each of the books had something great to offer. I think maybe my favorite would be Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality by Jared Diamond. I read it for my Spring semester course and it was a fascinating look at how human sexuality has evolved since our earliest ancestors and what drives humans today. It really was fascinating.

Books read for Graduate school: 16

Favorite: Hard to choose as both of my courses offered fantastic books. I loved Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Not only was the edition amazing, but I was so obsessed with the book I read every single annotation and then watched the miniseries. I also adored Maurice by EM Forster which I had read and enjoyed before. For my Fall course I really enjoyed The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, and I renewed my love for The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I cannot wait for my next course!

 

It’s not too early to start thinking, right?

So New Year’s is coming upon us. Granted it’s still quite a bit away considering, I’ve already been thinking about what I’m going to do for a resolution. Let’s face it; I haven’t been the best with keeping them in, oh, EVER. But I do at least make the attempt.

Part of the problem I think is my making the resolution ON New Year’s. But why not think about them and start now to get in the habit? Maybe then I’ll be more successful.

In my advisory I had students write a resolution they truly want to keep on an index card. On the front they wrote what they want to do, and on the back they wrote a plan of action to achieve it. Once they were done I made up a pretty poster of a tree trunk and we added the green cards on to look like a tree. It’s our resolution tree!

The resolution I added was to be more organized. A lot of my girls followed my lead, and we agreed to encourage each other to stay organized. I hope it works out! It was fun activity that got them thinking about not just how they want to improve, but ways they can improve their own lives. It puts the responsibility on them.

  • Next year I’d like to blog more. At least twice a month. I resolve to do that.
  • I also want to lose weight. But I’m going for specific. I want to lose three pounds a month until I have lost twenty-five pounds. I think that’s pretty reasonable, right? I’m not asking for a lot. Just a little progress.
  • Write more. I’d like to expand my writing into new areas.
  • Study hard. I want to keep my 4.0 GPA for grad school. It’s been three semesters so far and I’ve somehow maintained it. I’m SO proud of myself because the program is rigorous, and it’s the first time in my life I’ve achieved this!
  • Read more, specifically in new years. This past year I added several nonfiction books to my reading schedule which I enjoyed. Next year I’d like to expand my horizons and read in genres or subjects I wouldn’t necessarily check out.

What about you? What are your resolutions for 2015?

Happy Holidays!

It’s certainly been awhile – too long in fact – but today was my last grad class of the semester and now I’m on break until my next class starts! At least for my own education. Still three days left until winter break for my teaching job!

This semester has been full of hard work but it was so rewarding. This class was on gender and modernism and we read so many great novels. I got my final exam back tonight and I’m so proud! I got an A! I turned in my research paper on The Sound and the Fury, so we’ll see how that does!

Next semester I’m taking a course on Victorian literature and I’m chomping at the bits to get started on the reading for it. Of course we don’t have the full list yet, but I spoke with the professor and heard Great Expectations and Jane Eyre are likely candidates.

Finally, I have some wonderful news! Most of you already know this if you follow me on Facebook, but my fourth book, The First Twenty, was picked up my Bold Strokes Books! It will be published in May 2015 and features my first female protagonists Peyton and Nixie. I’m editing the book as we speak!

And with that great news comes the cover! I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW MUCH I LOVE IT. It is STUNNING work! Check it out and let me know what you think!

The First Twenty cover

True Colors Open House

I should probably be in bed right now – okay I DEFINITELY should be in bed right now – but I can’t. I’m too excited! Tonight (as in yesterday) I went to an Open House for True Colors in Hartford, a group that works with LGBT youth. It was for those interested in volunteering, mentoring, and fostering.

I’ve been wanting to get involved for years now, but I never could manage to get around to it. I even filled out the application – twice – but never sent it in. Life got the best of me.

But last week at the retreat (post on that later) I thought about it again and was like yeah, YEAH I’m going to do it.

And then I got the email about the open house. Before I could chicken out, I sent Amber an email saying I’d be there.

AND I’M SO GLAD I WENT.

Everyone I met was amazing. I was nervous at first going in, but that faded so fast. I love the space. It’s so positive and welcoming I was completely at ease. What an amazing place for youth to go to! I donated copies of each of my books to their library. And then I saw the library. It’s nice, but they had it arranged by color. And it needs to be fixed. I volunteered.

Okay, more like literally FLAILED at the opportunity to fix it.

What can I say? I love books. And I love organizing them. And they have BOXES to be sorted and omg I want to go tomorrow and start! D:

Focus, Jen.

So I also might be doing something with a writer’s workshop and Paul mentioned a book club and I may have flailed a little at that, too. Also putting together something for the conference in March which I was supposed to do last year…but again life got in the way of that.

Really I can’t wait to get my volunteer application in. I’m so freaking excited to start. Why did I wait this long to do it? I’m so energized I can hardly sit still! And I should be in bed!

Sleep is for the weak.

For more information about True Colors, you can visit their website here. 

And because it’s important, if you’d like to volunteer or donate to True Colors, follow this link directly for more information! Every little bit helps!

#bookaday – Day 10: Reminds me of someone I love

So I know I stopped following the schedule, but things got busy for me and then things went downhill for a while, but I still like the idea and I’m going to finish this! Maybe I’ll post a few a day or something.

What book reminds me of someone I love?

I really don’t know. The first one that comes to mind is a Barbie collector’s book that my great grandma gave me the Christmas after she died. I guess they knew she might not make it, so my grandmother bought gifts for her to give. I collected Barbie dolls and the book meant a lot to me because it was the last gift from her and she was my favorite person in the world. Still is.

I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. Not sure why, but I suppose she’s around. 🙂

#bookaday: Day 8 – Have more than one copy

I first encountered Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams in Ocean State Job Lot many years ago while camping with my family. I wanted something to read, and I browsed the cheap paperback books. I found this book, and since it was Scifi, I figured I’d give it a try.

It took me a while to get started since I was also “writing.” It was a rainy day at the campground, I remember, and we had a pop up camper. I settled into my bunk, and got started.

And have never looked back.

Aristoi was the first book I ever read with a gay relationship. It was completely revolutionary to me, especially since it had not only a gay relationship, but a bisexual main character, and even male pregnancy. I found it utterly fascinating. I was intrigued. And hooked.

The elite characters of the book have multiple personalities known as daimons that, within the book, have side conversations while the action of the book goes on around them. I loved that.

I now own three copies of the book: my original paperback, and two hardcover books. One a first edition, the other a scifi bookclub book. All three are on my shelf right now in the apartment. And every time I go to the Book Barn and find a used copy, I buy it. Because hey. You never know when you might need another!

It’s also now available on the Kindle, and you can purchase the book here.