Thursday, July 12, 2018

Movie Roundup: They Are Coming Out Faster Than I Can Watch Them! Edition

Talking about the subject of movies last week reminded me that we are way overdue for another Movie Roundup post!
Is it just me, or does it seem like there are so many need-to-watch movies coming out these days? And on top of that, time goes by so fast that before you know it, a movie that was on your to-see list is - whether you actually did get around to seeing it or not - already available on DVD/Blu-Ray, Netflix, or even cable TV (Deadpool from 2016, I'm looking at you).

In the last Movie Roundup post from back in January (again, how does time go by so fast?), I said that I would probably offer thoughts on six different upcoming films. Because of scheduling issues, I actually haven't gotten around to seeing two of them. One of them is already out on home video. The other is still hanging on in theaters but just may end up eluding me this time around.

Anyway, on to it! And as always, remember that these are not really reviews, these are just my random thoughts, and those thoughts could and probably will include big-time spoilers (although I'm sure you've probably seen some of these movies a bunch of times already by now).

Black Panther
I really, really, really want to go to Wakanda. With their amazing advanced technology, can you imagine the kinds of video game consoles that place could produce? Or maybe they already do produce them, and I just missed it. Wait, what? Wakanda is a fictional country? How dare you even suggest that!

Ready Player One
Read the book, loved it. Saw the movie, also loved it. Yes, I know a bunch of things were changed, but I think the changes were both necessary and well-executed. Totally worth seeing in IMAX 3-D. Unbelievably, this is one of those that are already out on home video.

Avengers: Infinity War
This movie was everything I wanted it to be. Beyond that, I'm not sure what else I can say that hasn't already been said in this previous post.

Deadpool 2
The "Deadpool Kills Deadpool" and "You're Welcome, Canada" post-credits scenes were just THE BEST. Also very cool: the X-Men full cast cameo and the Thanos joke. I'm such a sucker for meta humor.

Incredibles 2
Jack-Jack is awesome. Hoping he gets his own solo feature someday. Maybe he can be like the Wolverine of the Incredibles franchise. Who's with me here?

Okay, well, that's it for this edition of Movie Roundup. I know, I know, the comments were kind of short and spoiler-free, but that's what happens when you have to save time for watching even more movies (as well as writing your own). Tune in next time when I might possibly talk about Ant-Man and the Wasp, Solo: A Star Wars Story (yes, this is one of the movies that was on the previous list), I Kill Giants (an adaptation of one of my all-time favorite graphic novels, out on Amazon), Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (seriously!), Venom, and Aquaman.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

My Surreal Screenplay-Writing Experience

A couple of weeks ago in my latest Status Update post, you may have seen (or you may have quickly glossed over it, that's entirely possible) that one of the writing projects I listed as being in progress was a screenplay adaptation of Nobody's Hero, the concept album by my band Second Player Score.
The honest truth is that it wasn't so much a work-in-progress as it was an item on my to-do list, which had been sitting there for a Very. Long. Time. Now, in my defense, there was already a rough synopsis for the story that had even been turned into an audiobook-style piece of flash fiction, narrated by the awesome Tryston Blyth of Neue Regel Radio. So some work had already been done on it. All I needed to do was sit down, pour some tea (or beer, depending on the time of day), and flesh it out.

So, since the fourth volume of the Joel Suzuki series had been safely shipped off to my editor and the script for the first issue of Glorified (another item on the to-do list) had just been completed, I figured that the time had come to finally tackle this particular project. My assumption was that I would get started on it, make some decent progress, and then when the draft of Volume Four came back from my editor in a month or so, I would put it away and return my attention to Joel and company.

But then something totally unexpected happened. Using the existing synopsis, I sketched out an outline for the screenplay and started to fill it in. I quickly ran into a problem, though - there just didn't seem to be enough there to really create an entire movie that would be engaging and fun to watch all the way through. Sure, there were some cool parts here and there, but there were also large gaps where I just had no idea what was going to be happening. So at that point, I shifted gears. I kept the fundamental story line intact, but I also made some pretty dramatic changes to the characters and the setting, among other things. And that's when the unexpected occurred.

The next day, Friday, June 22nd, I sat down to write. And guess what - I couldn't stop writing. I got so much into the flow that I almost forgot I had a studio session booked later that day to record tracks for Second Player Score's third album. After the session was done, I came home and wrote some more. And over the ensuing days, I kept writing and writing and writing, stopping only to do things like eat (which I did less of than usual), sleep (which I did MUCH less of than usual), and care for dependents (you can ask them what they thought of my parenting skills during that time). Even basic personal hygiene activities were delayed or sometimes forgotten altogether.

As the days went by, I was beginning to think that this project was going to be completed much, much sooner than I had originally expected. And sure enough, on Friday, June 29th, I typed the words "THE END," and it was done. I had written the first draft of an entire 102-page screenplay in just one week. And really, if I hadn't had to do those other things I mentioned (eating, sleeping), it probably would have been done even sooner.

Now, I know some of you battle-scarred NaNoWriMo veterans out there may be scoffing right now, thinking "Hah! 102 pages in seven days? Dude, I can double that output in a single weekend." And yes, I know that you can. But please understand, something like this is not normal for me. I don't usually work at this kind of pace. Until now, my benchmark for fast writing was the first draft of Joel Suzuki, Volume One, which I was able to complete in a little over four months.

But there was something about this that was different. It honestly felt like someone had already written the screenplay in invisible ink, and all I was doing was rubbing grape juice on the computer monitor to make the words appear. Sure, some of it may be because I employed a few well-worn cinematic tropes, but I don't think that that explains everything. Plot points that I had been a little concerned about simply resolved themselves like magic when I got to that stage of the story. Seeds of foreshadowing that I planted near the beginning blossomed at exactly all the right moments. The entire experience was, in a word, surreal.

Anyway, I'm not really sure where it's going to go from here. I have some experience in the realm of novel-publishing, but when it comes to getting a screenplay out into the world, I'm a complete novice. Fortunately, I have friends I can consult for advice, and there is, of course, tons of available reference material about this particular subject that I can peruse (really, mostly all the skills I've learned in my life, I've learned from reading books).

Even if it never progresses anywhere beyond my desk drawer, though, I have to say: I am happy. The feeling that one gets from being in The Flow like that is simply indescribable. Nearly a week has passed since I finished the draft, and the afterglow is still there, strong as ever. While doing mundane activities, I've been amusing myself by reciting lines of dialogue from the script in my head (or sometimes out loud, which scares my cats). Regardless of what happens from here, whether this ever gets made into an actual movie or not, it doesn't matter. At the risk of sounding corny, I feel like I've just had the experience of a lifetime, and - inasmuch as writing a screenplay can do something like this for someone -  I've become a better person for it.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Favorite Franchises

Today I'll be sitting down with Joel Suzuki and Felicity Smith to discuss our favorite multimedia franchises. As you may know, a multimedia franchise is defined as "a collection of related media in which several derivative works have been produced from an original creative work, such as a film, a work of literature, a television program or a video game." (Wikipedia)
B: Hey guys, thanks for being here today.
F: You mean we had a choice?
B: So I just wanted to take a few minutes to talk about our favorite media franchises, and maybe go over, like, a list of our top five or top ten or something.
J: Oh, I have a list.
F: Of course you do.
B: All right, Joel, let's hear it.
J: Are we doing top five or top ten?
B: Since there are so many to choose from, let's go with ten.
J: And this is just as of this moment, right? Because, you know, it can change sometimes, depending on what I'm currently into. I mean, like, my list from last year is totally different from my list now.
B: Right. As of this very moment.
J: Okay. So, um, mine would be...wait, are we starting from ten or one? One being most favorite?
B: Whatever you're comfortable with.
J: All right, I'll start from ten, then.
F: Any day now, dude.
J: Ahem. Okay, number ten for me would be - hold on, should somebody do a drum roll?
F: Actually, you know what, this is going to take FAR too long. Why don't you just rattle them off in order, one after the other, starting from one and stopping at five instead of ten.
J: One being most favorite?
F: Yes. Go.
J: Pokemon, Minecraft, Pac-Man, The Legend of Zelda, and Mario.
B: Wow, all video games, huh?
J: Yup. I've been playing a lot of games recently.
F: All right, I'll go.
B: Cool.
F: Hello Kitty, Sailor Moon, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, and My Little Pony.
F: Ha! The look on your guys' faces just then. Priceless.
B: Very funny. For real, this time.
F: Geez, so demanding. All right - The Matrix, James Bond, Middle-earth, Warcraft, and Hello Kitty.
J: Are you still joking?
F: No, I'm serious. Hello Kitty rocks. Or, at least, Kuromi does.
B: Fair enough.
F: Now you go. So we can get this over with.
B: Okay. Star Wars, Star Trek, Wizarding World, Doctor Who, and Marvel.
F: Wow. What a completely original and unexpected list.
J: You're being sarcastic, right?
F: Dude.
B: Hey, c'mon, be nice. I can't help it if those are the things I like.
F (rolling eyes): Fine, whatever. Can we go now?
B: I do have to say, though, that Spectraland would be on top of that list, if it ever does develop into a franchise.
F: Wait, did you say "Spectraland"?
B: I did.
F: How do you know what...Joel, did you tell him?
J: Tell him what?
F: About, you know...
B: Oh, I know where you guys go when you disappear from time to time. We even talked about it last October. Remember?
F: Oh yeah...
J: So if you know about Spectraland, and you know that it's real, then how can it be a multimedia franchise?
B: Because, well...because I'm writing about it.
J: You're writing about it?
F: That's what he just said.
B: I'm documenting your adventures, basically.
J: But how do you know what we're doing in Spectraland? Are you able to perform some kind of far-vision cast, like Fireflower or Blackspore?
B: Not exactly. Let's just say that I can...well, see things.
F: Whoa, okay, now that is just WAY creepy.
B: It's not, though, you see, because -
F: I'm outta here.
J: Yeah, um, me too.
B: No, wait, it's not like that, I promise! Let me explain!
F (grabbing car keys): Whatever, creep. C'mon, Joel, let's go.
J: Where to?
F: Anywhere. Far away from this guy.
B: You'll thank me later when people put Spectraland in their top five list!
(Door slams shut)
B: Ungrateful kids.

~ FIN ~

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Quickie Status Updates

Here's what I've been up to...

Rules by Cynthia Lord
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Joel Suzuki, Volume Five
The script for Glorified (the manga/graphic novel)
Screenplay adaptation of Joel Suzuki, Volume One
Screenplay adaptation of Nobody's Hero
Secret Project, Name Withheld
Sword Art Online II
Recording (today!):
Three more songs for Glorified (the album)

Listening to:
Death Magnetic by Metallica
Xenoblade Chronicles II
Cold cut sandwiches
Angel hair pasta with Spam
Green tea
Founders All Day IPA
An additional twenty minutes a day

The Seattle Mariners (the last three games notwithstanding)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Autism And Disability In Literature

This article has just appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Spectrum Life Magazine.
Author, musician, and Autism Empowerment board member Brian Tashima recently had the good fortune to attend a writer’s conference in sunny Florida, where he was not only an attendee, but also a panelist speaking about a very important subject. Spectrum Life Magazine sat down with him to find out more.

You recently left the Northwest! What was the purpose of your travel?

This past March 7th-10th, 2018, I went to Tampa, Florida to attend the 18th annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)conference. I had been invited to participate in a panel on disability in children’s literature.

How many people attended the conference?

I believe around 12,000 or so.

Wow, that's a pretty large conference. Why does it attract so many people?

AWP is an organization of writers, teachers, students, and other professionals in the literary community. The conference, which is now the largest of its kind in North America, brings its members together for four days of panels, presentations, and networking. It was really energizing and inspirational. I met a lot of great people and had a fantastic time.

That's terrific. Please tell us more about the panel you were on.

It was called “Disability in Children’s Literature: Not an Anomaly, an Imperative.” The official description went as follows: “Children and young adult readers deserve realistic characters reflective of themselves and the people around them. Yet, too often, kids with physical or intellectual disabilities are absent from literature for young readers—or, if present, the disability is the focus of the book. We’ll discuss how authors can responsibly integrate characters with varying abilities into their work so that the disability isn’t the story, but merely a challenge that a particular character faces within the narrative.”

Great topic choice and certainly an important one for our community! Do you know the process for how this panel topic was chosen?

Melissa Hart, the author of several great books including Avenging the Owl, had submitted a proposal for the panel to AWP. Avenging the Owl features a character with Down syndrome, so Melissa is quite familiar with the topic. I heard that less than half of all proposals get accepted, so she did a great job in presenting it for consideration—she wrote the description I gave you in the previous answer. And besides, I think that it’s an important topic that needs to be discussed, especially given the current cultural climate.

Who was on the panel with you?

Melissa was unable to attend, but I was joined by Naseem Jamnia and Rachel DeWoskin. Naseem is a nonbinary Muslim writer who is working toward their MFA and has written articles for numerous publications. Rachel is the author of Blind, a story about a girl who loses her eyesight in a terrible accident, and Big Girl Small, about a teenage little person who wants to be Judy Garland.

What kind of questions did you answer? Was it moderated or did the questions come from the audience?

Melissa and Naseem had come up with a great list of questions beforehand, and the panel—moderated by Naseem—took turns asking each other the questions and providing their individual answers. Afterwards, we opened it up to the audience. Most of the questions revolved around how to write characters with disabilities in a realistic and responsible manner. A couple of the questions were about Autism Empowerment, which I was more than happy to talk about!

Did anyone on the panel identify with a disability? If so, what type?

No one had a disability that I was aware of, but I think that's okay. To paraphrase one of Rachel’s answers, writing—and reading—is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, trying to experience life and the world from their perspective.

What steps can authors take to make sure that their writing is respectful to people and not ableist?

First of all, do your research. If you yourself do not have the particular disability that you plan on writing about, reach out to people who do. Immerse yourself in their lives. Find out what they think, how they feel, what their challenges and their accomplishments are. In my case, my son is on the spectrum and I’ve been active in the autism community for many years, dating back to before the time I even starting writing my series. Rachel spent a year studying Braille and hanging out with blind teens at their school. She also became involved with Little People of America, a nonprofit organization that provides support to people of short stature and their families.

Employing sensitivity readers is also a good idea. Sensitivity readers are people who will read drafts of your manuscript and provide you with specific feedback regarding how your disabled characters are being presented. In one of their articles, Naseem had said that “sensitivity readers aren’t for the writer, but for the readers of an essay or a book.” I think they had a great point, as the final reader of any piece of writing is ultimately the person who will be the most affected by it. Using a sensitivity reader beforehand can help ensure that your book’s audience will have a positive experience.

I love the idea of sensitivity readers and think that is a strategy that would work well for both fiction and nonfiction. Do you get a sense that most writers who feature characters with disabilities in their books were influenced in real-life by someone with that disability?

I believe so. Most writers I’ve met that feature disabled characters are either disabled themselves or have a close friend or family member who is. Melissa’s brother has Down syndrome. Naseem, who is working on a manuscript featuring an autistic character, has a brother on the spectrum. Rachel was originally influenced by The Black Book of Colors, a children’s book that contains images you feel rather than see, but as I mentioned, she proceeded to deeply engage with the blind community and, I’m sure, gained a lot of inspiration from the real-life people that she met.

What do you think is the future of disability in literature?

That’s a great question. My hope is that the portrayal of disabilities in literature continues to expand and improve, and that writers of all abilities feel encouraged and inspired to share their own stories and experiences in a positive, respectful manner. As I mentioned in a previous Spectrums Life article about fictional autistic characters, I feel that representation is very important—especially for kids, who are looking to see themselves in the books that they read. I think that even imperfect portrayals—and, granted, there are a few of those—are a step in the right direction, because at least they invite discussion, which, hopefully, will lead to continued progress.

Thank you for sharing your experience! All of us at Autism Empowerment and Spectrum Life are glad that you were able to represent our organization and the autism community at such a prestigious event.

My pleasure! It was a terrific honor to be on the panel. I’d like to thank Melissa for inviting me to be part of it, and Naseem and Rachel for being such incredible panel-mates. I hope I get a chance to do something similar again in the near future.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

It Takes A Village

This coming Saturday, Washington Autism Alliance & Advocacy is putting on their annual It Takes a Village Conference from 9am - 3pm at Clark College in Vancouver, WA!
There will be a large, diverse group of service providers, panelists, and speakers there, including Autism Empowerment and yours truly. If you're in the area, please come by and check it out. Clark College is located at 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver, WA 98663.

Oh, and speaking of Autism Empowerment - happy 7th birthday!
Looking forward to many, many more years to come.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Anime Roundup

I guess you can say I've been a fan of anime for a long time, although maybe not to the extent that some other people are. I've been watching Pokemon on and off since it started in the U.S. back in 1998, and I've been a casual viewer of various other series like Beyblade and Yo-kai Watch (I was - and still am - a HUGE fan of tokusatsu series like Kikaida and Kamen Rider, but those are live-action, so they don't count here).
Recently, however, because of a newfangled streaming service that shall remain nameless (hint: rhymes with "Getflix"), my interest in anime has leveled up dramatically. Thus, I decided that it was time to do an Anime Roundup post. Like my Movie Roundup posts, these are not really reviews, they're just my random thoughts about various shows that I've been watching. Unlike the Movie Roundup posts, however, these thoughts will be broken out into categories (with appropriate Japanese-style rankings), as you shall see below.

Category S: Loved Them So Much That Once I Got Going I Couldn't Stop Watching

Death Note
As I mentioned back in January, this is a show I had heard a lot about, so once I finally had access to it I decided to give it a shot. And boy, I was not disappointed. There was a little saggy part in the middle when I wondered where, exactly, the show was going, but then it got back on course pretty quickly and revved up to an amazing ending. I still rewatch the final episode every now and then because it's just that awesome.

Normally the little descriptive log lines for these shows don't really pique my interest all that much; I have to actually start watching the show itself before I can decide whether I'm into it or not. The log line for this show, however, hooked me right away: "Frustrated with her thankless office job, Retsuko the Red Panda copes with her daily struggles by belting out death metal karaoke after work." I mean, c'mon, how can anybody resist that? After breezing through Season 1 (I could barely tear myself away), this became not only my favorite anime of the moment, but one of my all-time favorite shows, period. I cannot wait for Season 2.

Category A: Didn't Love Them, But Liked Them Enough That I Managed To Finish Whatever Was Available

Devilman Crybaby
Like Death Note, this was another one I had heard a lot about. It had an interesting art style that took a little getting used to, and the raps were kind of weird, but it managed to hold my attention until the (mild spoiler alert) poignantly tragic ending. And boy, let me tell you, the whole series is definitely NOT kid-friendly.

Category B: Tried, Tried, Tried, To Get Into Them But Just Couldn't For Whatever Reason; Maybe Will Try Again Someday

Attack On Titan
Gasp, I know. I actually tried watching this one before I got Netflix, and I managed to make it through about ten episodes before the momentum just kind of petered out. I think maybe it had just a little too much unrelenting bleakness for my taste, kind of like The Walking Dead (another show that I had tried and failed to get into). Although I loved The Handmaid's Tale, so hmm.

Category C: Not Ranked Low Because I Don't Like Them, It's Just That I Haven't Finished Watching Enough Of Them Yet To Assign Them To A Firm Category

Fullmetal Alchemist
Highly recommended by Dan the Second Player Score bassist, this one was a little intimidating at first because of its extensive history and reputation. You take one look at its sprawling body of work and wonder, where do I even start? But like with Doctor Who or learning how to swim, you just have to plunge in and do it. The biggest upfront question for me was, do I watch "Fullmetal Alchemist" or "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood"? Dan suggested the first one, so that's what I did, and so far I'm through eleven episodes and enjoying it well enough. My guess is that this one will eventually end up in Category A.

One Punch Man
Just started this one but am already through the first five episodes. Lots of action, quirky humor, and post-credits scenes - kind of like the MCU! On a fast track to Category S.

Violet Evergarden, Gurren Lagann, Sword Art Online, Kill La Kill
Finished the first episode of each. Not bad so far. Too early to tell which category they'll eventually migrate to. Find out in future installments of Anime Roundup!