Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reader Feedback

Enough of me talking. Today it's your turn!

If you've been following this blog for a while, then you know that I tend to write about a wide variety of subjects, including music, writing, parenthood, and more. So my question to you is this: is there anything in particular you want me to write about more often? Less often? Should this blog be all about one topic, or is it fine just the way it is?

In case it helps, here are the all-time top five posts in terms of number of views:

5. Happy 5th Birthday, Autism Empowerment!

4. Secret of the Songshell: Celeb Comps

3. Rockin' With Ian

2. Status Update!

1. Status Report!

Based on this, it would seem as if posts that update you on things I've been doing are the most popular...or maybe people just like Star Trek pictures?

Anyway, let me know what you think. There are three ways you can do that:

- Leave a comment on this post
- Email me at joelsuzukiseries@gmail.com
- Contact Joel via Twitter at @joel_suzuki (he'll pass the messages on to me)

We'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Stardew Valley (Guest Post By Connie Jasperson)

We continue our series of guest bloggers who are from this particular plane of existence - and not the parallel one inhabited by Joel Suzuki and company - with a post by Connie Jasperson. Connie lives in Olympia, Washington and is the author of the Tower of Bones series, Mountains of the Moon, Huw the Bard, and much more. Be sure to check those books out! Today Connie will be talking about the game Stardew Valley, which just so happens to be one of my daughter's favorites. Take it away, Connie!
#amgaming: Stardew Valley, by Chucklefish Games
by Connie Jasperson


I've mentioned before that I spend a certain amount of time playing computer games, especially when I am trying to avoid doing any serious writing. Just like the books I read when dodging work, I love to talk about whatever game I'm playing.

Today I am reviewing Stardew Valley, an open-ended country-life RPG which was built by indie programmer, Eric Barone under the alias Concerned Ape, and published by Chucklefish Games. It was released for Microsoft Windows in February 2016, with ports for OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One appearing later that same year.

I love old-school, indie-built RPGs, and Stardew Valley is one of the more absorbing games I've played lately.

But first, the Blurb:
You've inherited your grandfather's old farm plot in Stardew Valley. Armed with hand-me-down tools and a few coins, you set out to begin your new life. Can you learn to live off the land and turn these overgrown fields into a thriving home? It won't be easy. Ever since Joja Corporation came to town, the old ways of life have all but disappeared. The community center, once the town's most vibrant hub of activity, now lies in shambles. But the valley seems full of opportunity. With a little dedication, you might just be the one to restore Stardew Valley to greatness!

My Review:
The art and graphics are excellent and colorful. Each setting is fun to roam around in. If I have any complaint, it's the amount of walking back and forth over the same ground that one has to do to complete the many tasks, and the game clock keeps ticking while you struggle to get your farm up and running. Fortunately, from day one of the game there are many places to forage from, and what you find can be sold to buy more supplies.

In this game, I always play a female character, but you can create a male character just as easily. You can choose one of five farm maps, each with different pros and cons. I prefer the one with extra foraging opportunities, but there is one with more mining resources and another with a fishing river.

In all the scenarios, the farm plot is initially overrun with boulders, trees, stumps, and weeds, and the player must work to clear them to rebuild the farm: you will be tending to crops and livestock to generate revenue so you can further expand the farm's buildings and facilities.

I started over with different characters, once I figured out what I didn't know when setting up the first character. That's how I discovered the joy of having 4 completely different games going at once. (I laugh, but really I'm cringing.) Because I like each of the different storylines, I play whichever game I'm in the mood for, as none of the storylines are finished. I have married each of my characters off to different bachelors, which generates a different storyline and completely different cutscenes every time.

There are ten marriageable characters, and each generates a different storyline. You can marry anyone you choose, male or female. If you marry a member of your own sex, you will be offered the option of adopting children.

Friendships are important, and you can gain a lot of friends by doing odd jobs which will be posted on the community bulletin board. Romance happens slowly because figuring out what the character you are wooing likes can be difficult.

The mines are difficult, with some tough monsters. The creatures are fun, and some are hard to beat, but you do gain strength, and the wise miner brings food, so nothing is impossible. Fishing takes a bit of work, and it's not easy to learn, and figuring out how things work is challenging.

You will spend game time walking from place to place. A day on the farm typically takes 15 minutes of real time. Every task eats time - for instance, a walk to town consumes half an hour of the character's game-day. Added to the challenge is the 3 hours (6-to-9:00 am or longer in game time, not real time) you will devote to trying to get your chores done each morning so you can get going on cutting wood, fishing, or mining. All those tasks are important if you want to improve your farm.

This game contains many adult situations and isn't really for young children. This game also teaches budgeting and planning, real-life skills many adults don't have a great grip on. You do have to be careful with your gold. I suggest you add chickens and cows as soon as possible because, in Stardew Valley, mayonnaise is money - it's the first reliable source of daily income, producing revenue even in the winter.

During recent weeks here at la Casa del Jasperson, the road of real life has been too rocky for me to write. Hence, I've found this game to be quite the enjoyable time-sink. As of this post, I have not completed all the side quests, but since May 13th I have put well over 100 hours into it.

I purchased Stardew Valley on Steam for my PC and play with an X-Box controller, but the game is available for the Sony PS4.

I give Stardew Valley 5 out of 5 stars, as it is an excellent example of indie produced RPG games.

Attributions:

Stardew Valley Screenshot, (c) 2016 Eric Barone, via Wikipedia

This post originally appeared at conniejjasperson.com on July 7, 2017.

P.S. "Mayonnaise is money" is my new mantra

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Movie Roundup: Summer of '17

Once again, it's time for another installment of Movie Roundup! If you've been here before, you know that (1) these are not really reviews, these are just my random thoughts about movies I've seen, and (2) there may be massive spoilers, even to the point where I give away twists and endings and stuff. Lots of ground to cover this time around, so let's begin!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
I'm pretty sure James Gunn got the idea of calling the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel "Volume 2" for the same reason I decided to subtitle the Joel Suzuki series with the word "volume." Because, you know, volume...music...okay, whatever. Anyway, it's nice to know that I may have the same twisted sense of wordplay as a popular and successful film director (he's also a musician). Speaking of which, have you seen Gunn's 2010 cult classic Super, starring Rainn Wilson in a story about a regular guy who tries to become a superhero? I loved it, but apparently it was a box office bomb. But despite that, Disney still asked Gunn to direct the first Guardians of the Galaxy! So I guess the lesson there is not to be discouraged by your failures...or something like that.

Power Rangers
I know that you know that I know that the new incarnation of Billy Cranston aka the Blue Ranger is a character on the autism spectrum. Which is a super cool thing in my opinion. And I think the writers and the actor did a good job with the portrayal, although of course it would've been nice to have an actor who was actually on the spectrum playing that part. But I suppose it's progress. The movie itself was okay, although at times it seemed like it was having a hard time deciding if it wanted to be fun and campy like the original (actually, the original-original was a Japanese tokusatsu series called Super Sentai) or dark and serious like the not-really-for-kids Power/Rangers short film.

Beauty and the Beast
We interrupt my random thoughts about movies I've seen during their initial theatrical run to talk about movies I've seen after they've hit the home video market. Can you believe that I have never actually seen the original animated version of this film in its entirety all the way through? Anyway, I enjoyed this version, not only for the great story and the incredible visuals, but also because I had fun near the end of the movie picking out all the actors I recognized from other stuff. Look, there's young Obi-Wan! And Magneto/Gandalf! And Professor Trelawney! And Caesar Flickerman! And isn't that Tish Jones?

Wonder Woman
Speaking of which, after this one was over I told my son "It seems like there are only about twenty or so genre film actors that Hollywood recycles, casting them in every single role." I mean, you have Chris Pine (the new Captain Kirk) playing Steve Trevor, Danny Huston (one of the Colonel Strykers) playing General Ludendorff, David Thewlis (Remus Lupin) playing Sir Patrick Morgan...oh, wait, right, did I like the movie itself? Yes. Yes, I did. DC, you got it right this time. Congrats. Now please, make sure that Justice League is just as good. Okay? Thanks.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
Speaking of good...wow. In my opinion, this was not only the best Spider-Man movie to date (yes, even better than Spider-Man 2), it was the best Marvel movie not called The Avengers (just the first one, not that Age of Ultron deal). Tonally, it was perfect - funny and light most of the way through, but serious at all the right times. It even had a dude from Hawaii playing someone who may or may not be Ned Leeds? And the casting of Michael Keaton (Birdman) as the Vulture was genius.

The Giver
Another one of my catch-up viewings. I decided to rent this after I read the book for my son's Autism Empowerment Book Club. Loved the book. Liked the beginning and ending parts of the movie (I didn't mind the aging-up of the characters, that's pretty standard practice, Percy Jackson did it as well), but I felt that the shoot-y action sequence in the late middle was a bit jarring. I mean, I get it, moviegoers want action, and I understand that the studio is trying to appeal not only to fans of the book but a general audience as well (e.g., the people who saw The Hunger Games and are now expecting ultra-violence in all of their YA adaptations), but...oh well, whatever.

The Big Sick
More proof that I don't just watch sci-fi/fantasy movies made for teenagers! I enjoyed this one a lot, largely because it seemed so...real, I guess. Not in a shlocky reality-show way, but it just felt like someone was following actual people around and filming them doing actual-people things (the part where Holly Hunter couldn't tell which way was up on her phone was spot on), albeit with steady, professional cameras (no Blair Witch Project-type shakiness here). It's now one of my all-time favorite rom-coms, along with The Lobster, Silver Linings Playbook, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle...whoa, wait, I actually watch quite a lot of those things, don't I?

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Man was this movie nice to look at.

And with that, we come to the end of Movie Roundup for the summer of '17. Join us next time when it'll be dark and cold outside and I'll probably be talking about the aforementioned Justice League, Thor: Ragnarok, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and some obscure indie flick called Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Until then!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Where Writing Ideas Come From (Guest Post By Jennifer Willis)

Today we welcome special guest blogger Jennifer Willis, who is not a character from the Joel Suzuki series, but a person from our very own plane of existence!
She lives in Portland, Oregon and is the author of the Valhalla series, the Mars Adventure Romance Series, and the standalone novel Rhythm. Be sure to check those out, as well as her own blog. Take it away, Jen!

Where Writing Ideas Come From
by Jennifer Willis

Earlier this morning, I received a "regrets" letter from the Jan Michalski Foundation, regarding my application for one of their "Swiss tree house" writer residencies for 2017. I hadn't realized how much I'd been looking forward to that opportunity until it was taken away, but that's how things work sometimes, right? I'd even gone so far as picking out the travel backpack I'd wanted to test out on the trip to Switzerland, and had spent a few minutes thinking about a possible weekend hop to Paris during the residency. I was also making copious mental and virtual notes on the project I intended to undertake. I was making real plans.

So, out of my disappointment this morning, I started brainstorming other possible retreats for the coming months that would allow me to tackle the same project. I thought about designing my own retreat - something that would no doubt involve a yurt. I also remembered the Amtrak writer residencies that stirred so much whimsy and controversy when they were first announced, and that got me to thinking about writing on a train.

Because who wouldn't be inspired to write on a train? That, of course, led me to consider all the reasons I would not want to write on a train, such as:

- I didn't get any sleep the night before from all the stopping and starting and clackety-clacking.
- My laptop keeps sliding off the sleeper cabin desk whenever we come around a bend.
- Kids are screaming in the narrow corridor outside my door.
- My muscles are cramping up and my body is screaming for real exercise because I've been cooped up on a freaking train for a whole week.

So, focusing on this last point, I tried to imagine ways to get decent exercise on a long-haul train journey, assuming you never get off the train. I have a nifty set of resistance bands, and those could help, but what about aerobic exercise? Short of doing calisthenics in a cramped sleeper cabin, what could I do? I didn't think running at full speed up and down the sleeper car corridor would be a good idea. I'd likely lose my footing if/when the train jostled, and I also figured there would be "train rules" about such behavior. So I'd be doing wind sprints and end up getting thrown in train jail for my troubles.

Train jail! That's what you write about. A contemporary, Hemingway-esque journey across the American heartland and into the soul, but with boxcars instead of bullfights.

And that's how story ideas are born, when you're standing at the sink brushing your teeth first thing on a Monday morning.

This post originally appeared at jennifer-willis.com on December 12, 2016.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Evidence That We Are Living In A Simulation?

As a big fan of The Matrix trilogy (yes, I even like Reloaded and Revolutions), I've always had a suspicion that one of its core premises - that we're living in some form of simulated reality - could very well be true.
Many words have been written on this subject, most of which are very well thought out and technical, so I'm not going to bother rehashing anything that's already been said. Instead, I'm going to present you with a few examples from my own life of possible evidence that the Matrix is, indeed, real.

1. Dead Chickens
I've always been amazed at the fact that on any given day, I can go to any one of dozens of different commercial establishments within a few miles of my house and purchase fresh pieces of dead chickens - and this is just in my little corner of the world. So my questions are: where do all these chickens come from? Are there really enough farms to produce this continuous stream of poultry? I've asked some people I know who work in food service about this, but their answers are usually some variant of either "I have no idea" or "sure, why not" or "stop asking me about this already." Now beef, I can sort of understand, because cows are huge, but chickens are these scrawny little birds with only two wings each as far as I can tell and I can buy a bucketful of those things any time of the day with no problem. I also get that some places "dilute" their chicken meat with other substances when creating things like nuggets or patties, but that seems to represent only a small fraction of the forms that dead chickens come in. So if you know the answer to this particular question, please let me know...or are all Tyson employees actually Agents??

2. The Relative Lack of New Music
There are two "rock" stations in the Portland market, both of which play either all "classic" (up to and including the '80s) or "classic" with some "modern" ('90s) thrown in. There's also an "alternative" station that plays some newer stuff, but hardly any of it is "rock." When I was in Boise, Idaho a few weeks ago, the piped-in music at the local mall was all pop hits from the '80s. My son's 2017 graduating class chose "Hey Ya!" by OutKast - released in 2003 - as their class song, and at their graduation ceremony, their class musicians performed "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper (released in 1983). And at Autism Empowerment's Tween and Teen Social Game Club Night this past weekend, one boy declared to me that his favorite music is from the '80s, while another said that his favorite songs are from the '90s. Could this be because music created within the last 10-15 years is just not that good? Or could it be because the Machines are being lazy and recycling ideas? You decide.

3. Fargo

This story comes courtesy of my friend and fellow Second Player Score member, Kyle Gilbert. Last week he and his wife were watching an episode of the second season of Fargo, which is set in 1979. At one point during the show, one of the characters said "I'll text you later." The following conversation ensued:

Kyle: Wait, what did he just say?
Wife: I don't know, but it sounded wrong.
Kyle: Yeah, I think he said "I'll text you later."
Wife: You're right, he did!
Kyle: There was no texting in 1979!
Wife: I know!
Kyle: I'm gonna call FX and complain. Their writers really messed that one up.
Wife: Let's listen to it again.

So they rewound the show and replayed that part of it. But this time, not only did the character not say "I'll text you later," he didn't say anything at all. So obviously the Machines caught their mistake and corrected it, but not until it was too late. Dun-dun-dun.

That's it for now, but I'll let you know when I have more examples. In the meantime, if you have some of your own, feel free to write them in the comments (which, hopefully, the Machines will not delete before I've had a chance to read them.)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The New Doctor

I cannot wait for tomorrow's announcement. It's all I've been thinking about. If you're a Doctor Who fan, you know the feeling.
Just for the record, here's my prediction-slash-wishful-thinking: after Wimbledon is over, the announcement comes on. It shows the TARDIS materializing in the middle of a large room full of Daleks. The door opens and, as a heroic theme song starts to play, Kris Marshall steps out.

He looks around at the Daleks surrounding him. They slowly close in, raising their guns. The camera cuts back and forth between them as the tension rises.

Then, finally, one of the Daleks says "Exterminate!" Kris responds by yelling "Doctor?!" And then Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Hayley Atwell or Olivia Colman or Jodie Whittaker jumps out of the TARDIS, waving a sonic screwdriver around and saying "Yes, yes, I'm here!"

Please, BBC.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Five Years!

Editor's note: we interrupt the ongoing series about courage in fiction and in real life to bring you this special announcement.

Hello! It's July 2017, the five-year anniversary of the Joel Suzuki Series. Can you believe it's been five years already? It feels like just yesterday that Volume One debuted as "Secret of the Songshell, Book One of the Spectraland Saga" with launch parties at Thatcher's Coffee and Ash Street Saloon.
Classic
It's also the five-year anniversary of this blog, which started with a post called "Discovering Bands." Ah, they grow up so quickly, don't they?

Anyway, as part of the anniversary celebration, I'll be doing a couple of public events this month. First up is the inaugural Words and Pictures Festival at Cascade Park Community Library this Saturday, July 15th from 11am-330pm.
I'll be there with a bunch of other awesome local authors and illustrators doing readings, talkings, signings, jugglings, and cool skateboard tricks. Okay, maybe not those last two. Oh, and we'll also have books for sale! The library is located at 600 NE 136th Avenue, Vancouver WA.

Then next on the schedule is Family Literacy Night at the Barnes & Noble in Eugene, Oregon on Thursday, July 20th from 6pm-8pm. I'll be joined by fellow local authors Roslyn McFarland and Gwendalyn Belle as well as super special guest Torin Tashima!
If you live in that area - or even if you don't - it'll be a great opportunity to meet the inspiration behind the Joel Suzuki Series (as well as that other guy who happens to be writing it.) The Eugene Barnes & Noble is at 1163 Valley River Drive, Eugene, OR.

So come on out and say happy birthday to Joel and Felicity!

In case you can't make it to these events or want to buy your copies ahead of time, Volumes One, Two and Three of the Joel Suzuki Series are available at these fine links:

Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell
Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire
Joel Suzuki, Volume Three: Legend of the Loudstone

Thursday, July 6, 2017

We Get Through It, Because We Get Through It Together

Part of an ongoing series about courage in fiction and in real life

In the season ten finale of Doctor Who, the Doctor willingly risks his life to save a small farming community from an advancing army of Cybermen.
Thing is though, with the Doctor, doing something like that isn't that much of a risk because - as fans of the show know - if the Doctor dies, he'll just regenerate into a new version of himself (herself?)

Most of us aren't quite as fortunate. If we die, we generally don't start giving off bursts of yellow energy before changing into someone else. Which makes it even more impressive, I think, when people who aren't the Doctor put themselves in harm's way to help others.

Here's an interview I did with James, a real-life Doctor - a firefighter paramedic, actually - from California who has been practicing his profession for almost two decades now. I hope you find his story as interesting, informative, and inspiring as I did.

(Editor's note: answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.)

Is your job something that you always wanted to do (and continue to want to do), despite knowing the risks? If so, why?

My first recollection of being interested in this job was when I was around 4 or 5. My grandfather was a fireman, and he would often tell me stories about what it was like. Also, one of the popular shows of the time was Emergency!, which made the whole job look like a series of adventures and good times - for a show about life and death there was very little death or downside depicted.

I don't really know that I had a real understanding of the risks involved even as I began taking some prerequisite classes. There were discussions of the dangers, but until I started working in the field it was all something of an abstract concept. As I've grown in the job, though, I've seen and experienced many of the risks first hand. I've lost colleagues and seen many of them injured at one point or another. I, myself, have been pretty fortunate over the course of my career to have only received cuts, bruises, and minor burns.

Despite that, I still believe that I have the best job in the world. I don't really know of anything else I would rather do. It makes me proud to be there when people need me, and to have the skills, knowledge, and experience to solve their issue or stabilize them long enough to facilitate transport to a higher level of care.

Do you feel fear and/or stress at any point, and if so, when? When you first get called to a situation, when you arrive at the scene, or at some other time?

Stress seems most often to be like background music to me at this point in my career. It's there, but it's almost always just below notice. For me, stress doesn't really start to play a role until something goes sideways during the call. We have treatment protocols for patients and standard operating guidelines for incidents that we start with, but occasionally things don't fit into those templates so we have to adjust on the fly.

If you do feel stress, how do you overcome it? Are you just naturally "wired" to deal with it, or does it take practice and experience?

I don't think anyone is naturally "wired" to deal with the stress that we endure at times. It takes practice and training to stay on course when things are going wrong.

Having relationships with your crew and coworkers helps. We drive each other. There is a collective confidence when I'm working with experienced and competent people that I've known a long time.

Is there a long-term stress factor? If so, how do you deal with that?

The short answer is "of course there is." Some of the things we see and deal with leave lasting impressions. I can still remember almost everything about my first pediatric CPR - the boy's name, the porch, his mother arriving on scene, her anguished wails as our efforts failed to bring her child back. Those things stick with me and occasionally I have dreams about it. It's all a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. My employer offers a counseling program, but therapy often begins once we get back on the engine. We talk out the situation on the way back to the station and that's pretty much the end of it most of the time.

How do you "psych yourself up" in dangerous situations? Is it the motivation of knowing you're doing a good deed? Is there a thrill or an adrenaline rush factor involved?

When I first got hired, it was easy to be wound up for every call. As I've gained experience, most of the time I'm more calculating than I used to be. There is an intrinsic reward for helping people, whether it be a small thing or truly making a difference. It's a validation of your training and your choices. My crew and I have saved people's lives, and that's an awesome feeling.

And yes, of course there's an adrenaline rush - any time you go crawling into a burning structure there's some sort of thrill involved. It's the feeling of going where almost no one else goes and getting the job done.

It really comes down to the fact that I work with good, experienced people who aren't going to let me do anything dangerous alone. My saying is "we get through it, because we get through it together."

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Katniss Everdeen Didn't HAVE To Volunteer As Tribute

The introduction to an ongoing series about courage in fiction and in real life

In the Harry Potter books, Severus Snape spends an awful lot of time being called a coward. But as I'm sure all of you know (in case you don't, spoiler alert), he was actually a triple agent with nerves of steel who basically could have gotten himself killed at any moment if he wasn't careful. As Harry himself said in the end, "One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."
I started thinking about bravery and courage a lot just prior to the release of Volume Three. In that book there's a scene where Joel risks his life to help his companions and someone says "that was very brave" followed by someone else saying "or foolish" (we'll compare the two in a future post).

Lots of fictional characters exhibit a high degree of courage. If they didn't, you probably wouldn't have a story, or at least not one quite as exciting. I mean, Katniss Everdeen didn't have to volunteer to take her sister's place as a tribute. Clara Oswald didn't have to keep traveling with the Doctor. Luke Skywalker didn't have to go with Obi-Wan to Alderaan, he could've just changed his name - finally - and moved to Mos Espa or something.
But are these actions realistic? Would actual people actually do things like that? Granted, you take a risk anytime you step outside your front door (or even when you don't), but for a lot of people, the idea of purposefully, willingly, knowingly placing yourself in harm's way is more than a little foreign. The instinct to avoid danger and survive is a pretty strong one.

After thinking about it some more, though, I quickly realized that the obvious answer is: yes. Most definitely yes. There really are people - actual, real-life people - who make the choice to put their lives on the line, sometimes on a regular, daily basis. I decided that I wanted to explore this phenomenon in more detail, so I began reaching out to some of these people and asking them about why they do what they do. This series will contain their stories.

While you wait for those stories, feel free to check out these:
Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell
Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire
Joel Suzuki, Volume Three, Legend of the Loudstone

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Letter To My Son

Dear Torin,

Congratulations on graduating from high school! I am super proud (pronounced "prood," according to Richard Watterson) of you.
As a newly-minted high school graduate, I'm sure you'll be receiving life advice from a number of different sources, myself included. In fact, if what I've done so far is any indication, you've probably already been inundated with all sorts of guidance and recommendations from teachers and parents and peers and so on and so forth. Why, it was just the other day when I said something along the lines of  "if you follow your feelings, you won't have any regrets, because you'll know that whatever you did was based on what you felt was right at the time." (I might need to work on that one a little.)

Life advice can also come from songs, books, movies, and other popular media. Like, for example, "Do or do not. There is no try" or "Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living" or "Oh well, whatever, never mind." And I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the Joel Suzuki books are no exception - they're practically bursting at the seams with little nuggets of wisdom that I implanted into the story, sometimes subtly, sometimes not. Here are a few of my favorites (imagine these being read over an ambient music track a la "Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen"):

"Happiness is a state of mind." - Art, Secret of the Songshell

"Oftentimes, the journey is just as important, if not more so, than the destination." - Fireflower, Mystery of the Moonfire

"Worrying is a waste of time." - Art, Secret of the Songshell

"Don't be afraid to say what's on your mind, or to say how you feel about stuff." - Felicity, Mystery of the Moonfire

"Even though events happen that are beyond our control, ultimately, we are still the ones who decide upon our own direction." - Keeper of the Light, Legend of the Loudstone

"Stay in the moment. Have faith." - Nineteen, Secret of the Songshell

And so on. The thing to remember, though - and this is me giving advice about taking advice - is to listen to all of these messages, digest them, and then decide in the end what is really right for you and your life. Because what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another, and sometimes learning through experience is the best way to go.

Anyway, congratulations again!

- Love, Dad

P.S. I know you already have your own copies of these, but in case anyone else out there wants their own, here's where to get them:

Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell
Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire
Joel Suzuki, Volume Three: Legend of the Loudstone

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Nerd's List of Reasons To Keep On Going

Hi, I'm Art. Some of you may know me as the owner of Art's Guitars, where my pal Joel Suzuki used to work. Some of you may know me as the drummer in Joel's band, or as the guy dating his mom (I know that might sound a little weird, but in case you weren't aware, Joel's mom and I are both 40-something-year-old divorcees). Here's a picture from the movie The Rocker, which sort of approximates Joel's band in that both feature a middle-aged drummer - they have Rainn Wilson, Joel has me - surrounded by incredibly talented teenagers.
Anyway, I'm apparently the guest blogger this week filling in for Mr. Brian Tashima, who said that he was busy working on something called "Volume Four" (no idea what that is). I was originally going to write a long post about philosophy, or about simulated realities, but then I realized that I'm not really a writer, so I'll just give you a list instead.

See, I believe that as a whole, life is good, despite the numerous hardships we all face from time to time, and that there's always something to look forward to, some reasons to keep on going, even if and when you don't feel like it. Now, the kids in the band and I are all heavily into what is called "nerd" or "geek" culture, so this list will contain some reasons specifically tailored for people just like us. And by the way, this list is by no means comprehensive - it's really just the tip of the iceberg. If you have anything you want to add to it, I'm sure Brian won't mind if you leave a comment or two. Enjoy.

A Nerd's List of Reasons to Keep On Going (as of June 15, 2017)

1. Loved ones
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
3. The Legend of Zelda concert, coming to a town near you
4. Helping others
5. The next Comic-Con
6. Xbox One X
7. Delicious burritos
8. Cat videos
9. Finding out who the 13th Doctor will be
10. The third album by Second Player Score (Brian asked me to include that)
11. The day the Seattle Mariners (or whoever your favorite team is) finally get back to the playoffs (or win another championship, if you're lucky enough to be a fan of a good team)
12. Star Wars Episode VIII
13. Star Wars Episode IX
14: All the Star Wars movies that Disney will undoubtedly continue to produce after that
15. The fact that you are awesome
16. The weekend
17. The sun, if you like the sun, or snow, if you like snow
18. Your next vacation
19. Chocolate (not too much, just enough to keep away the Dementors)
20. Xenoblade Chronicles 2

That's it for now. Thanks for reading!

-- Art

(Editor's Note: like what Art has to say? You can hear more of his philosophies on life by reading the first three installments of the Joel Suzuki series, listed below.)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Statii Update

What follows is a status update on a number of different things. So would that make this post a "statuses update?" or - as Starfire might say - an "update of the statuses?" or a "statii update"? Statii isn't a real word, but I like how it looks and sounds, so I'm going to go with that.
Starfire, not to be confused with Fireflower
Book Update:
On Tuesday Joel, Felicity and I continued our Epic School Tour '17 with a visit to the awesome and appropriately-named Woodland High School in Woodland, WA. That was the farthest out we've traveled so far for a school visit, if you don't count the ones that we've done via Skype (in which case Sweden is the farthest).
We were there all day and spoke to several different classes, all of whom were terrific. Big thanks go out to Aaron Blackwelder and all the students and staff for hosting us. Hope to be back next year!

Volume Four is progressing at a good clip. At the last update on May 11, I was at 22,000 words, and now I'm at 28,000. I think, if I can stick to my daily schedule, I stand an outside chance of finishing the first draft sometime before the holidays, which would be comfortably ahead of schedule. Wish me luck!

Band Update:
Continuing with the "tour" theme, Second Player Score played its first out-of-town show at the Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove, OR a couple of weeks ago, and it was super fun. Everyone there was really cool and welcoming, the crowd (and soundman!) was great, and the other band that we played with - Sojourner, from Eugene, OR - rocked the house. I love their music, you should check them out.
With that show concluded, we turned our attention to Boot Camp 2017 and started tracking demos for the first three songs of Glorified, our upcoming third album. The songs in question are entitled "Eye of the Needle," "Liberty's End," and "Desolation." We have studio time booked in July and can't wait to get these tunes recorded. We've also started some work on the Glorified graphic novel; a draft of the script for the first eight pages has been written. Is anyone out there a comic book/graphic novel artist that can do something along the lines of I Kill Giants? If so, contact us immediately, we want to give you money.

TV Update:
Doctor Who. Loving the new season so far (yes, even last week's fake-out regeneration). Peter Capaldi, why do you have to go? Actually, I'm pretty sure I know why, but it's still a bummer.
Really want to watch The Handmaid's Tale (I've read the book), but don't want to subscribe to Hulu just for that. Maybe I can hold out until the season is over and then just buy it on DVD or something. Maybe.

I don't want to subscribe to Hulu mainly because those budget dollars are already spoken for when I break down and finally subscribe to Netflix so that my daughter and I can watch the second season of Miraculous Ladybug. Which is starting...soon, I think?

Video Game Update (WARNING: SPOILERS FOR BREATH OF THE WILD ALONG WITH RAMBLING RUN-ON SENTENCES):
I defeated Ganon. Mostly by accident. I actually didn't mean to, honestly. The night it happened, I told my daughter "Okay, I'm tired of working so hard, tonight I'm just going to wander around Hyrule Castle and scope it out, you know, do some recon, see what's going on, and then tomorrow or whatever I'll go back and get serious." But then after wandering around for a bit, I somehow found myself in an area called the Sanctum and then Zelda started talking to me and a big swirly thing started to manifest in the middle of the space and I was like whoa am I actually at the final boss fight already how the heck did that happen?
So then I figured, okay, since I'm here I might as well just give it a shot, I'll fight Ganon without looking at the walkthrough and just sort of learn what I need to do the next time I'm back and am actually taking this seriously. I assumed I would just die a quick and frustrating death (or three) and then quit for the evening.

But then something weird happened. Despite not knowing what I was doing most of the time (turns out what I was doing was mostly wrong) I somehow managed to make it past the first stage. And then the second. And then I got thrust into the third stage and by that time I was like "Well all right since I'm here I might as well try and see this whole thing through." And you know what? Despite still continuing to do mostly all the wrong stuff I managed to fake my way through it well enough that I beat him and finished the game. I was not expecting that at all.

Anyway, as it turns out, once you beat Ganon the game gives you a star (woo!) and a completion percentage on the map screen telling you how much of the game you've actually finished. Seeing as how I had 116 of 120 shrines and a decent amount of side quests completed, I thought "Okay, my percentage will probably be somewhere around 60-70%." Right? Um, no. I was at a measly 24%. I guess all the billions of Korok seeds that I haven't yet found might have something to do with it (if there are so many of them, why are they so hard to find? Arrrgh). So the moral of this story is that I have a ways to go still, which thank goodness because I need a game to play until Xenoblade Chronicles 2 comes out "sometime in 2017" (oh Monolift Soft/Nintendo, why do you torture us so?) We finally have our Switch, so we're ready. Let's do this.

P.S. Please consider checking out the books in the Joel Suzuki series because they contain much less run-on sentences (trust me, my editor makes sure of that). Mahalo.

Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell
Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire
Joel Suzuki, Volume Three: Legend of the Loudstone

Thursday, June 1, 2017

How to Balance Your Life, Part Three

This three-part series entitled "How to Balance Your Life" talks about how I manage to get stuff done while juggling all the different aspects of my existence. If you haven't read parts one and two yet, either scroll down or go here for part one and here for part two.

So this week I'll be wrapping up this trilogy by going over the circle at the top left, which represents - for lack of a better word - "Work" (if you can come up with a better word after reading this post, please let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks!)

By "work" I mean not only a job but also your passions and interests, so this circle can include hobbies as well. In my case, my "work" circle is divided into three parts: book, band, and my day occupation as a cat herder UFO watcher financial analyst.

So really, this part is all pretty self-explanatory. My minimum daily "book" goals are (1) writing 500 words, (2) reading a chapter of someone else's book, and (3) doing at least one thing to spread the word about Joel Suzuki (which includes my support for Autism Empowerment). Once those are done, a section gets lit up.
Now, there are days in which unforeseen circumstances (e.g. "life") prevent me from reaching these goals. When that happens, I try to at least do something - write 100 words, read two pages, whatever. And then I make up for it the next day, or the day after that. As long as it all averages out over time.

The same goes for the other two sections. For the band, whatever we have going on at the time usually takes priority, so my daily goal could be changing my strings for an upcoming show, writing lyrics, working on a solo in preparation for recording, etc.
And finally, there's showing up for work (those UFOs aren't gonna watch themselves.)
So that's it! A successful day. I've taken care of self (physical/mental/spiritual), home (family/friends/household), and work (book/band/job), and I'll be ready to do it again tomorrow.

Another benefit of this system I want to mention is that it gives you an incentive to spend at least some time on all the aspects of your life over the course of any particular day. For example, if for whatever reason I skip my daily workout in the morning, then there'll be this glaring empty space in my bottom circle staring at me, and as I get other stuff done it'll still be there, looking lonely and unattended to. So then finally I'll be like, "oh, all right, I guess I've lit up these other sections so I might as well take care of you now."

Anyway, I hope you found this series of posts beneficial, or, at the very least, mildly entertaining and/or informative. I showed you how I apply this system to my own life, but of course it can be adapted to whatever your own individual circumstances are. If you have any questions about it or want to say something completely unrelated, feel free to leave a comment!

Oh, and please consider checking out the Joel Suzuki series if you haven't done so already. If you have, thank you! Now, if you could just leave a review on Amazon (a single sentence will suffice), that would be greatly appreciated as well. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.
(The fast-talking guy at the end of the commercial says: support for the Joel Suzuki series translates directly into support for Autism Empowerment as well as a general culture of acceptance for people of all abilities.)

Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell
Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire
Joel Suzuki, Volume Three: Legend of the Loudstone

Thursday, May 25, 2017

How to Balance Your Life, Part Two

This three-part series entitled "How to Balance Your Life" goes into detail about how I get stuff done while juggling all the different aspects of my existence. If you haven't read part one yet, either scroll down or go here.

Ready? Okay, here we go. This week, as promised, I'll go over the circle at the top right, which represents "Home." According to science-y articles and books that I've read, humans are social creatures and need to interact with other humans. We also need, for whatever reason, things like food, water, clothing, and shelter. Thus, this "Home" section is divided up into the following three sections: friends, family, and household.

Lighting up the "friends" section means basically what you would guess it means, which is having contact with people you get along with (unless you guessed that it meant binge-watching reruns of the TV series Friends, in which case you're only sort of correct). Writing is a solitary activity, so for me, there could be days in which I don't actually see any of my friends in person. So that's where social media comes in. Or texting. Or email. Or even an ancient activity known as "calling on the phone." This section can also encompass - gasp - dating-related activities, like swiping right, making awkward small talk with the barista, or chastising yourself for not having the courage to make small talk with the barista (only kidding about that last one. Mostly.)
Moving on! Whereas lighting up the "friends" section means having contact with people you get along with (or could theoretically get along with, if only they would give you their phone number), lighting up the "family" section means having contact with people you don't get along with. Again, I am kidding. Mostly. In my case, this includes taking care of and hanging out with my kids (who, by the way, I do get along with) and my cats (who I get along with 70-75% of the time). For other people, this can include having a date night with your spouse, or playing golf with your siblings.
Finally, lighting up the "household" section means doing all the little things you need to do to maintain your place of residence and everything associated with it, from taking out the rubbish to buying new socks. For me, most of the daily activities in this area (e.g. washing dishes, scooping out the litter box) are on auto-pilot, so I just have a list of the more sporadic tasks - grocery shopping, mowing the lawn - that I'll consult to see if any of them need doing on a particular day.
And there you have it! Two of the circles on the Life Compass have been lit up, so you're well on your way to having a balanced and productive day. Next week, I'll finish up this little trilogy by going over the top left circle, which represents, for lack of a better word, "Work."

Haven't started reading any of the books in the Joel Suzuki series yet? That's okay, I still consider you my friend since you're here, reading this blog. But still, you might want to check them out. Why? Because they're fun, and because for every Joel Suzuki book that is sold, I donate one dollar to Autism Empowerment.

Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell
Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire
Joel Suzuki, Volume Three: Legend of the Loudstone

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How to Balance Your Life, Part One

Sometimes I get asked how I manage to write books, record albums, play shows, serve on Autism Empowerment's Board of Directors, herd cats, be a single dad, etc., all with what is - most of the time, anyway - a decent amount of proficiency. My answer is usually something along the lines of "sleep is overrated" or "time machine" but the truth is actually a bit more down-to-earth: applied geekery.
Allow me to explain. The above illustration (and I use that term loosely) is what I call "The Life Compass." Inspired by things like the Legend of Zelda's Triforce and Harry Potter's Deathly Hallows symbol, it's what I use to organize and accomplish my tasks on a daily basis while making sure that I maintain a sense of balance between everything I do so that nothing gets neglected.

Here's how it works. Each circle - I like to call them spheres, actually, but I realize that the picture is two-dimensional - represents a facet of life and is divided up into three sections each. The basic idea is to "light up" or "fill in" each section as you go through your day, with the goal of lighting up all nine sections by the time you go to sleep at night. Kind of like a real-life video game, I feel that it's an effective method for those of us who enjoy checking off a list of the quests you need to finish to get to the next level.

This week, I'll go over the bottom circle, which represents "Self" and is divided into the following three sections: physical, mental, and spiritual. It's at the bottom because it represents the foundation of your life - you need to take care of yourself first before you move on to anything else. That may sound like common sense, but you'd be surprised as to how many people neglect this part of the compass while overemphasizing others; e.g. working fifteen-hour days while not eating right, etc.

Lighting up the physical section means doing whatever it is you do to maintain your standard of physical well-being. For me, it's doing a thirty-minute workout with free weights. For others, it might be a jog around the block. Whatever works for you in your own particular situation.
Next, lighting up the mental section involves what I call "getting your head on straight." Making sure you're facing the day with the best possible attitude. It's not always easy - in fact, for me, I find this part more challenging than the physical section - but I think it's important to do whatever you can even when circumstances make it difficult. It can be accomplished by listing everything you have to be thankful for, saying some mantras or affirmations, or even just taking a few deep breaths. I'm not a mental health expert, but my own personal experience has taught me that doing this really helps to set a proper tone for the day, enabling me to be much more productive than I would have been otherwise. (Note: if you're dealing with serious anxiety or depression issues - and I have loved ones who are - please seek professional assistance. I'm just a science fiction writer).
The last section of the Self circle is the spiritual part. That can mean religion, but it doesn't have to. This is just where you do whatever it is you do to understand your place and purpose in the world and achieve some form of comfort and contentment. Maybe it's by saying a prayer. Or meditating. Or performing a good deed.
Now your Self circle has been fully lit up, and you're ready to move on to the other, equally important aspects of your life. For me, I like to get this part done before breakfast, so my usual routine includes getting up (or being woken up by the cats) early, working out, and then doing my mental and spiritual exercises while I'm taking a shower and getting dressed (multitasking in a safe and responsible way is part of the key to getting a lot of things done).

Next week, I'll go over the circle at the top right, which represents "Home."

For more life advice (albeit cleverly hidden within a fun sci-fi/fantasy adventure), check out the Joel Suzuki series, which features a mentor-like character quoting both Thoreau and Axl Rose and a chapter entitled "How to Talk to Girls."

Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell
Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire
Joel Suzuki, Volume Three: Legend of the Loudstone

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Volume Four Status Update

Despite the flurry of recent activity surrounding the release of Volume Three, I've somehow managed to get some work done on Volume Four. I think it's important to keep writing on a regular basis no matter what, even if all you produce in a day is a single sentence.
No, not that Vol. 4
At the last status update a couple of months ago, I said that I was at 16,000 words. Now, I'm officially at 22,000. However, that doesn't include a bunch of stuff that I wrote, cut, put back in, and then cut again. If you included all of that, I would actually be somewhere around 27,000-28,000.

What happened was that I reached a point in the story where I thought, "Oh, wait a minute...I don't think I want to go in that direction after all. I want to go in this direction instead!" Which wasn't so much a complete shift as it was more of a "let's keep the plot the same but just with different characters in different settings" sort of change. Still, though, it required that I delete a bunch of stuff and rewrite some earlier passages just to get everything back on track. Trust me, even if you work from an outline, this kind of thing can and will occur. With frightening regularity.

The good news is that I'm still on schedule, possibly even a little ahead. After all, Volume Four isn't due out until 2019. In the meantime, please enjoy Volume Three (and One and Two if you haven't already done so), leave reviews of said volumes on Amazon and Goodreads, join the Wavemaker Order, and do all of the usual cool stuff that you always do. Joel, Felicity, Torin and I really appreciate everyone's support. As Ozzy always says, we love you all.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Star Wars Day Roundtable

Happy May the 4th! To celebrate this great holiday, I decided to get together with Joel and Felicity and have a little Star Wars roundtable discussion. Their friend from Spectraland, Fireflower, just so happened to be in town as well, so I invited her to join us. Without further ado!
Felicity: How long is this going to take?
Brian: I don't know. Do you need to be somewhere?
F: Not really, I'm just bored.
B: We haven't even started yet.
Fireflower: Excuse me, but...
B: Yes?
FF: What, exactly, is this "Star Wars" you talk about?
B: Joel, you wanna field that one?
Joel: Um, well...Star Wars is...it's a whole bunch of things, actually. I'm not really sure where to start.
F: Here, I got it. (tapping on phone) Wikipedia says that it's "an American epic space opera franchise, centered on a film series created by George Lucas."
FF: Thank you, but...I am still not sure what any of that means.
F: It's a story. You know, like that one about the most powerful Wavemaker who ever lived, that sort of thing.
FF: Ah, I see.
B: All right, so how about we start with everyone ranking their favorite episodes.
J: Like, from most to least favorite?
B: Yeah.
J: And are we including Episode VII?
B: Sure.
J: What about Rogue One?
B: Okay.
F: Why don't you go first, since this is your idea.
B: Fine. Four, Five, Seven, Rogue, Six, Three, Two, One. Now, you.
F: Joel, you go. I need to grab a soda.
J: Um, okay. Five, Four, Rogue, Seven, Three, Six, Two, One.
B: Three over Six, eh? Why?
J: The duels at the end of Three were pretty cool. Plus, Ewoks are kind of annoying.
F: (Coming back with soda in one hand, offers Joel a high-five with the other) Well said, dude.
J: (Returning the high-five) Thanks.
B: All right, Felicity, your turn.
F: Hmm...I like One the best. So awesome.
J: What?
F: Dude, I'm kidding. It's Five, Rogue, Three, Seven, Four, and then the rest just sort of blend together.
B: You seem to like all the ones with the least happy endings.
F: (Takes sip of soda) Of course.
FF: This is all truly fascinating, but I really should be returning to Spectraland. I think several months may have passed by over there during my time here...
F: That's a good point, I'll go with you.
J: Um, I probably should, too.
B: But we just got started!
F: And we covered a lot of ground. Later, man.
B: No, wait, I -
FF: (Plays transfer incantation on wavebow. Within seconds, she, Joel, and Felicity all vanish in a cloud of Aura energy.)

Ugh, why can't I ever get them to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time? Well, anyway, I guess that's it for the Star Wars roundtable. Have a great rest of the day, and tune in next week for a Volume Four status update!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

What A Weekend!

As the idiom goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. If that's true, does that mean I could just slap together eighty some odd pictures in place of actually writing Volume Four? I doubt it. But I think for the purposes of this blog post, some pictures will do nicely!

Author Visit, Thursday April 20th, Mountain View High School
Launch Party #2, Saturday April 22nd, Kazoodles Toy Store
Autism Empowerment's 2nd Annual Bowl-A-Thon, Sunday April 23rd, Husted's Hazel Dell Lanes
Be sure to tune in next week, when I will go back to writing some actual words!