Meet Lisa Falloya, an aspiring half-Japanese, half-Italian American manga artist who follows her bliss by moving to Tokyo to draw the Japanese-style comics she’s been reading for years. Leaving behind the comforts of a humdrum desk job and her workaholic fiancée, Lisa has everything planned– right down to a room with a nice Japanese family– but hasn’t taken into account that being half-Asian and enthusiastic isn’t going to cut it.
Faced with an exacting boss and a conniving “big fish” manga author, Lisa risks her wedding, her friends, and her fears for a shot at making it big.
“Hot enough for you?”
I had been minding my own business as I waited at the crosswalk, but this made me look over. The person – sort of – that asked the question was easily six foot two. His bald head was an ominous medley of red and black, with small horns scattered about. His eyes were blazing yellow. He had to weigh in at three hundred plus pounds, and his robes were thick, some rough weave, in a solid black. He was sweating profusely.
“Sure is,” I finally said, before getting jostled by a group of hobbits, with pointy ears and curly hair, who were apparently complaining about their hotel room. The big guy was still staring at me expectantly, and I found myself adding, “But back home in New York, it’s hot and humid. Like they say, at least this is a dry heat.”
“Oh? You’re from New York?” His yellow eyes lit up, and I immediately regretted leaving him the opening. He had successfully initiated a conversation. I should’ve known better. “The city? I love the city! I was there for a different convention, a few years ago…”
“No. Groverton.” I watched him stare at me blankly, then I laughed. “It’s a tiny town, upstate.”
“So, you’re just in San Diego for the Comic-con?”
“Um, yup,” I said.
“I’m Chad Pennington,” he said. “I’m local. Oh, and I’m also Darth Maul.”
“I’m Lisa Falloya,” I answered politely, before gesturing to my non-costume clothes. “And… I’m not anything else.”
Just then, the crosswalk sign lit up, and I started walking, lemming-like, with the rest of the convention goers. I darted ahead, because the friendly guy who’d started the conversation was a Star Wars guy, and I knew from experience that most Star Wars guys could talk for hours. I just wanted to get to the convention and find her friends Stacy and Perry, and maybe convince them to go home a day early.
It wasn’t that the convention was too weird, even though I was surrounded by people dressed as everything from comic book and video game characters to monsters and, in one funny incident, a human Three Musketeers bar. Actually, I liked the atmosphere. I even liked the people… Darth Maul, my cross-walk buddy, was probably a very nice guy, if possibly over-talkative.
It wasn’t the city. As far as cities went, San Diego was really as lovely as everyone said. It was eighty-nine degrees, and locals were acting like it was the apocalypse. If this were Groverton, people would be commenting on how unseasonably balmy the day was. The sky was an impossible blue, and the air was bone dry. It was as close to heaven as you could come, after Groverton’s sweltering heat.
And it wasn’t that I missed my boyfriend, Ethan… although I did, terribly, because I always did when I was traveling. Of course, it wasn’t like I traveled extensively, either. In fact, my annual trek (no pun intended, for those Star Trek fans I felt sure were crawling around) to the Comic Book Convention every August was the only traveling I did. Which was why I was now feeling the after effects.
“There you are!”
I finally saw Stacy and Perry, my two best friends, walking toward me. Stacy was a short, somewhat stocky redhead, with a matronly disposition. She looked like a cross between a fairy godmother and a linebacker. Perry, on the other hand, was very tall, almost six-five, with corn silk blonde hair. He was whipcord thin and lanky. Even at twenty-eight, he looked like he was maybe nineteen. Fortunately, neither of them were wearing costumes, although Perry was wearing a Green Lantern icon t-shirt.
“You missed so much,” Stacy said, sounding out of breath.
“It’s only ten-thirty,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but they were showing movies this morning. I got to see Steamboy,” Stacy gushed.
“You’ve seen that like thirty times,” Perry pointed out. “I met a few cool artists and got my Camelot 3000 copy signed. Finally.”
“Cool,” I grinned. We were all friends in geek, as Stacy used to say. It was nice to have best friends like this, the same since junior high. Apparently, it was really rare. “I was tired, though.”
“Staying out too late, huh?” Perry said.
“Yeah. You guys both know I don’t get out much at home,” I said, with a sheepish grin. “Ethan usually stays in and studies, and since I started seeing him I only go out for our anime club.” I decided to lay the groundwork for her next request. “Besides, you know I don’t really get along with traveling…”
“It’s a nice change for me,” Stacy said, her voice positively perky despite only getting a few hours of sleep. “Between Roger needing to get up early to go to work, and Thomas only being two and a half… that whole first year, I was getting no sleep. I wasn’t even getting a shower every other day, much less going out!”
“Well, at least you’re back at the Con,” I said. “You’ve had a great visit, and I’m sure you miss Roger and Thomas anyway…”
Stacy sighed as the three of them entered the throng of crowds crushing into the convention center. “Yeah, but I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep coming here. Roger’s been talking about having another kid. Maybe trying for a girl, this time. So this could be my last Comic Convention for a while.” She sounded strained, as if perkiness were warring with the grimness of that announcement.
“Yeah, but Thomas was totally worth it,” I reminded her. He was my godson, after all, and he was an amazing kid. I was starting to feel a bit badly at what I was about to ask. “The thing is…”
Perry rolled his eyes. “No, Lisa, you can’t go home early.”
I blinked at him. “How’d you know?”
Even Stacy shook her head. “Because you do this every year. You’re fine the first day or two, but by day three you’re dragging, and by the fourth day you’re begging to catch an earlier flight.”
“And you’d realize that, every year, we tell you no,” Perry added. “Besides, if you leave now, you’ll miss the announcement!”
I quavered internally. That was a big part of why I was so gung-ho on leaving early, I had to admit.
This year, I’d actually entered one of her hand-drawn comics in a competition. The company was a big Japanese publisher, one that I’d been reading for years, and when I saw that they were asking for entries from the United States, I’d allowed myself a glimmer of hope.
Of course, I’d probably have left it a glimmer, if it hadn’t been for my meddling friends. Once they’d found out, I’d fought Stacy and Perry, who had browbeaten me for another month to enter one of my amateur comics in the thing. So I’d closed my eyes, held the proverbial gun to my head, and pulled the trigger by mailing that sucker in. Today, I’d find out if I made it.
“I have almost no chance,” I said, both to argue my case for leaving early and to try and quell my own hopes. Why get worked up? I probably had a better chance of winning the lottery. “You guys both know that. I mean, how many people here probably entered?”
“It’s a great story, and your drawings were cute,” Stacy argued. “Come on! It’ll be another half an hour. We need to get to that pavilion.”
“I should get something to eat,” I said, trying to postpone the inevitable.
The thing was, I’d had the dream for the past few months. This probably sounds totally pathetic, but once I heard the winner announced, and if it wasn’t me… well, I would lose that delicious feeling of possibility.
Of course, the counter argument would be, but what if I won?
It was a traitorous internal voice, the same one that had prompted me to start drawing the comic in the first place. As usual, I tried to ignore it. Nothing broke your heart like that little voice, I swear to God.
“I’ll meet you guys at the Sansoro Publisher booth,” I said, and they nodded, although Perry made a menacing gesture – you’d better be there, he seemed to say.
I headed for the hideously over-priced concession stand, intent on grabbing a hamburger, fries and Coke. The breakfast of conventioneers, I thought with a grin. Before I could get on line, my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. I glanced at it, then smiled.
“Hi, Ethan,” I answered, ducking into a corridor and covering my other ear with my hand. “It’s so good to hear from you. I miss you!”
“How are things at Nerd Central?” he asked, then laughed. “Been picked up by any more Star Trek guys?”
“Star Wars,” I corrected. “And Darth Maul tried to get me into a conversation at the cross walk, but I escaped.”
He chuckled again. “How’s it going? Homesick yet?”
We’d been going together for three years now, and he knew me probably better than anybody. “Terribly homesick,” I admitted, without shame. If you couldn’t be puny and miserable with your boyfriend, then he wasn’t much of a boyfriend, right? “But it’s just another day and a half.”
“That’s my girl,” Ethan said. “It’s good for you to get out, though.”
He was always saying stuff like that. The only non-Con travel I’d done was with him: a vacation to Florida, a trip to Toronto, even a trip to meet his parents near San Francisco. Being with him did ease the traveling malaise, just like being with Stacy and Perry helped. Usually because they wouldn’t let me wallow in it, I thought with a grin. “So how are things going for you? Working hard?”
“I’m just getting stuff closed out and ready for when the semester starts up again in September,” Ethan said.
“I thought you could coast this year, relatively speaking,” I said, finally getting on line behind a couple dressed as Superman and what I had to assume was Lois Lane, circa 1940. “I mean, it’s your last year.”
“Yeah, but I’m going to try to get a different job, maybe in the city, remember?”
Of course I remembered. I’d known about The Plan, as he called it, since the day I met him. I think he’d somehow worked it into his pickup line. We’d introduced ourselves, said what we did. He’d said,
“I’m Ethan Lonnel, and I’m getting my MBA before getting a job in the city. Probably a director of Operations.”
I’d been impressed, since I just said I worked at the Philson semiconductor plant in Groverton. Everybody I knew, practically, worked at the plant, as they called it – it being so huge and overpowering that it needed no further clarification. I had a job, and that was as far as it went. He, on the other hand, had A Plan. Or rather, The Plan.
“That’s awfully together of you,” I’d said, impressed. “You sound like you like what you do.”
“I love what I do,” he’d answered, and his grin had been amazing.
“I like a man who loves what he does,” I’d found myself saying, even though I suddenly realized I had rarely met anyone, man or woman, who fit that description. We’d been together ever since.
“So I need to ace this year, especially the outside projects,” he said. “I’m going to be busier this year than ever.”
I sighed silently. I barely saw Ethan these days as it was. I knew better than to complain, though. Not that he’d reprimand me, or anything. It would just make him feel guilty, which would make me feel badly since I know how important The Plan was to him. It was better to just avoid discussing anything but details.
“Don’t worry. After June, it’ll all get better,” he promised, and I knew that, too. “But… yeah, until June, it’s going to be rough. I won’t get to see you that much.”
I made a little noise of acceptance, a sort of yuh-huh, even as I felt loneliness curl around the edges of my consciousness. “Well, it’s just a year,” I said, with forced perkiness.
“Then… everything we promised,” he said, and I warmed at the tone of his voice. “Hell, you probably won’t be a single girl for very much longer. You should take advantage of it. Go out and raise hell with your friends. See the world. Stuff like that.”
“Oh, you know me,” I said, motioning to what food I wanted and paying the cashier for it. “World-traveling hell-raiser.”
“I just feel badly, having to leave you alone all the time,” Ethan said.
“No problem.” I grabbed my tray of food and juggled the phone. “You’re worth it.”
“That’s definitely my girl,” he said. “Listen, I gotta go… need to buy books and stuff. I’ll call you tonight.”
“Love you,” I said, reluctant to lose contact.
“Love you, too.” He hung up.
I made my way to the Sansoro booth. Then I tucked the phone in my pocket and found Stacy and Perry. There was a good-sized crowd, all of whom were undoubtedly anime and manga buffs… that is, all fans of the Japanese cartoons and comics that we, meaning me and all my friends, were wild about. They were talking in low, excited murmurs. There were a delegation of people from the publisher up on the stand, and the podium was empty but spotlighted… obviously waiting for the grand announcement.
“Did I miss anything?” I asked, before taking a bite of burger. I grimaced at Perry when he stole a fry.
“Not a thing. But any minute now,” Stacy said, unable to keep still in her seat.
I plowed through my food, as if eating would somehow force my jittery stomach to focus on something other than the impending announcement. I finished, and they still hadn’t said anything, so I got up to throw out my trash, making my way over other people’s feet, since Stacy & Perry had grabbed seats in the middle of the room. I was at the trash can when a man stepped up to the podium.
“We at Sansoro were very pleased at the number of entries that came in for our very first American manga contest,” he said. He was Japanese, but his accent was very slight, considering. “The entries themselves were very impressive, and we had a very difficult time picking out only one final winner. The judging process went as follows…”
The pleasantries went on for a while, and I was seriously considering just hovering along the edges of the crowd, and then bailing before Stacy and Perry could see me Just for a little while, just to get my bearings. Don’t get your hopes up, don’t get your hopes up, I mentally muttered to myself, pressing my hands against my stomach.
The burger was probably a bad choice.
I would find out in a second. Then, after the letdown (which I’d felt so many other times, in other contests), I’d just hang out and watch a movie or check out the other booths… then I’d get to pack and go home, back to the routine. Not that thrilling, admittedly, but…
“And the winner is… sertgh burglethetir!”
I stared. The microphone had burbled, or something. That had made no sense.
The crowd were applauding, and I had the vague impression that Stacy and Perry were screaming. Yes, screaming.
The Japanese man at the podium scanned the crowd. “Is she here today? We were told she’d registered.”
I stared at Stacy and Perry, who were gesturing to me wildly. What the hell had just happened? Did I have an aneurysm and miss it, or something?
The man cleared his throat. “I repeat… the winner of the grand prize of a one-year internship at Sansoro Publishing is… Lisa Falloya!”