Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Oh, Brilliant" Indeed!

Normally, unless I'm doing a live rewatch with Felicity, I don't talk about individual episodes of a TV show in this blog. There are lots of other places on the Internet for stuff like that. In this case, however, I need to make an exception. Note: contains spoilers for "Twice Upon a Time." Although, if you're into Doctor Who, you already know everything by now.
If you've been following this blog for a while, then you're aware that I'm a Doctor Who fan. As far as a particular Doctor goes, though, I don't really have a favorite (Whovians, as fans of the show are called, are generally fond of picking favorites). All the Doctors are pretty awesome to me, but I suppose if you go by the amount of merchandise one owns, then Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor would have the edge, since I have his coat, sonic screwdriver, sonic shades, and I dressed up like him on more than one occasion (it doesn't hurt that he plays the guitar).

So it was a little bittersweet to see his last episode on Monday. It really does feel like he just took over the role a few days ago, which I suppose might be the closest we non-companions can get to time travel. I enjoyed the fact that his Doctor had a really defined character arc; he started out all dark and grouchy and a wee bit misanthropic, but by the end of his run he had evolved into a warm, caring, and - okay, I'll say it - kind person who didn't mind hugs at all.

I'll miss him. But! Notice that I said "bittersweet." The "sweet" part comes from the fact that we now have an interesting new incarnation to look forward to when the show resumes later next year. I had been attempting to predict a number of different milestones when it came to the Thirteenth Doctor, such as who would play the role, what her introduction would be like, and what her first line would be. I sort of got the first one (Jodie Whittaker was among four candidates that I guessed), but I totally whiffed on the second and third. I was a little disappointed that my second prediction was wrong (I still think my idea would've been pretty epic), but I'm glad I missed the third.

While "Well, it's about time" might've been in character for Twelve (he seemed to have been fond of puns), it was, I admit, probably a bit too on-the-nose. Also, in any case, it wouldn't have made sense given the context of the story, which was that - in my opinion, anyway - Twelve was consciously trying to regenerate into a woman. According to the show's lore, the Doctor has never been very good at regenerating (others of his kind have shown the ability to exert more control over what their new forms will be), but I think that this time, he really wanted to "afford the upgrade," as his arch-frenemy the Master/Missy once said. Then, when she saw that it actually worked, her reaction was one of a person who got exactly what they wanted for Christmas.

My only question now is, how is she going to survive what looks to be an extremely long fall? My guess - here we go with the predictions again - is that, having just freshly regenerated, she'll still have enough of that energy left to heal whatever injuries she'll sustain when she hits the ground. There are precedents for something like that to happen, like in "Let's Kill Hitler" when River Song was shot by German soldiers but was unharmed ("Word of advice, boys - never shoot a girl while she's regenerating!")

Anyway, what do you think? I guess we won't be able to find out until next year...unless one of you has access to actual time travel? If you do, please contact me immediately, because I can't wait for the next season of the show to start.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Video Game Roundup

There are times when my daughter and I struggle to find video games that really capture our interest. This is not one of those times. Here's a rundown of what we've been up to:

Skyrim (for Switch)
The first thing I should point out is that my daughter is now at an age where we're both more-or-less comfortable playing MA-rated games together, depending on the actual content. I originally played Skyrim on the Xbox at a friend's house a while ago, and while I didn't have time to get too far, I enjoyed what little gameplay I did get to experience. Then, when we were on a family trip earlier this year (so that my daughter could meet her favorite YouTube animators in person), we had some time to kill in a local mall so she played Skyrim at PLAYlive Nation. She had fun - sort of - so when the game came out for the Switch, and we learned that you could get Link's clothes from Breath of the Wild and a Hylian shield, we were sold. I haven't found that stuff yet, but I have managed to kill a few dragons and complete a decent amount of quests. Depending on how the rest of the game goes, it might end up finding its way into my all-time favorites.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Speaking of Breath of the Wild, when I (pretty much accidentally) finished the main quest back in June, that was on the Wii U. We also had the game for the Switch, so we were doing a replay on that system while still mopping up loose ends (e.g., finding Korok seeds) and doing the DLC stuff (Trial of the Sword, etc.) on the other system. This game is so good that it easily absorbed most of our time, especially since I was having trouble really gaining traction in Stardew Valley. Of course, now that there are a bunch of other games to play, it's been temporarily put on the backburner, but I'm sure that we'll come back to it eventually once we hit another dry patch.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2
I had been waiting so long for this game. But now, thanks to Skyrim and some other stuff (see below), it's been sitting unopened in our stack of Switch games, like an item on your to-do list that you just haven't had the time for. Pretty positive we'll get to it during the winter break.

Fire Emblem Warriors
When you combine all the hack-and-slash gameplay that you love about the Dynasty Warriors franchise with the strategy and storylines of the Fire Emblem franchise, you end up with a great...oh, who am I kidding, I mostly just play this for the hack-and-slash. Sometimes, there's nothing more therapeutic than some good old-fashioned button mashing.

Doki Doki Literature Club!
This blog is family-friendly, but believe me when I say that this game is definitely NOT. Family-friendly, that is. It looks innocuous enough on the surface, but their warning of "this game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed" should be taken very, very seriously. The only reason I was okay with my daughter playing it is that she found it and played it first before I even knew what it was. One day I was walking around and heard the cutesy game music coming out of her computer and thought "well that sounds pleasant." She's mature enough now that I'm cool with it after the fact, and when I played it we discussed it during and after, but for you parents out there, try to be more responsible than I was and make sure you know what your kids are getting themselves into.

Okay, with all of that out of the way, I have to say that this is a pretty mind-blowing game, especially if you're a fan of subversive psychological horror. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, it's kind of like if you took that Gravity Falls episode with Giffany and mutated it into something that would be shown on, say, HBO instead of Disney XD. It's been practically all I can think about since I played it, and although the Joel Suzuki series won't be morphing into adult horror fiction any time soon, I have to say that this game has had a profound influence on my creative muse and will probably show up somehow in my future works (maybe Second Player Score's fourth album will feature a song titled "Just Monika.")

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Autistic Characters In Fiction

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Spectrums Magazine.

Fictional characters with autism-like traits have been around for quite a while. Some of the more prominent examples include Ray Babbitt (RainMan, 1988), Tommy Westphall (St.Elsewhere, 1983-1988), and Christopher Boone (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, 2003).

But recently, not only have these kinds of characters become more commonplace, they’ve also begun to explicitly identify themselves as being on the autism spectrum. One of the first was Max Braverman (Parenthood, 2010-2015). He was followed, just within the past year alone, by Christian Wolff (The Accountant), the latest incarnation of Billy Cranston aka the Blue Ranger (PowerRangers), Julia (Sesame Street), Theo (Thomas the Tank Engine), Sam Gardner (Atypical), and Shaun Murphy (The Good Doctor).

Personally, I think that this trend is terrific. “Representation” is kind of a buzzword these days, but that doesn’t make it any less important. People – kids, especially – need to see reflections of themselves portrayed in a positive, respectful, and accurate manner in the media they consume. It helps encourage self-acceptance, self-esteem, and a belief that they, too, can become the heroes of their own stories.

It also encourages acceptance from others. When people see fictional characters with autism, or from any group of society that is underrepresented in popular culture, it becomes more “normal” to see them in real life, especially when those characters are three-dimensional and not just there as a token or plot device. Life influences art, but it works the other way too.

The fact that these characters are actually identified as autistic is important as well. The aforementioned examples of those who were not - along with others like Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory), Spencer Reid (Criminal Minds), and Gil Grissom (CSI) - were good starts, but letting the audience know that your character is on the spectrum (without beating them over the head with it) helps to get the message across in an even stronger fashion. For those who haven’t had any prior connection to the autism community, they can now make the mental associations that, hopefully, will lead to an increase in understanding and acceptance. And for those who are themselves on the spectrum, they can take a little more pride in knowing - rather than guessing - that yes, this character may share similar characteristics with them.

Now, are these portrayals perfect? Of course not. I’ve seen a lot of divided opinions in the autism community about these shows and movies, with some lauding the inclusion and praising the performances while others take exception to what they feel are unrealistic stereotypes, e.g., the characters’ savant-like natures or their robotic mannerisms. In general, a lot of the positive reactions seem to come from those who aren’t on the spectrum themselves, while those that are on the spectrum appear to be a bit more critical. This is certainly a cause for concern.

There also remains a disproportionate amount of female characters on the spectrum, with only Julia – a Muppet – as the prime example (there was Sonya Cross from The Bridge, but, like with the example of Sheldon Cooper, the show never explicitly stated that she had autism). Books have a few more characters, like Caitlin Smith (Mockingbird) and Ginny Selvaggio (The Kitchen Daughter), but there is still a way to go. I’ve read that the male-to-female ratio of people diagnosed with autism is somewhere around 3-to-1 or 4-to-1, so we really should be seeing more autistic female characters.

Improvement can also be made with regards to casting actors who are on the spectrum in real life in roles that are specifically written as autistic. I understand the challenges inherent in finding the right people for the right parts as well as the pressure to make sure your movie or television show is profitable (Paddy Considine, an English actor on the spectrum, would probably have made a terrific Christian Wolff in The Accountant, but, as of this writing, Ben Affleck is the bigger box office name). Still, though, it would be nice to see some more advancement made on this front. Autistic actor Mickey Rowe was cast as Christopher Boone in the stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, so that’s a good step.

Despite all of these issues, I feel that, overall, things are definitely moving in the right direction. It’s hard – impossible, even - to please everyone, but the fact that we are even having these discussions in the first place is what leads to progress. My hope is that writers and creators will learn from the feedback they receive and use that to make improvements going forward.

I urge everyone reading this to check out some of the recent examples of autistic characters if you haven’t done so already. Not only to see how they are portrayed – I feel that most of them are well-done, although you may form your own opinion – but also because your support will help show the producers of these shows and movies that there is an audience for what they are doing, and in turn, they’ll keep going and make more. And more representation with input from the autistic community can only be a positive thing.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Felicity And Fireflower Watch The Avengers: Infinity War Trailer

'Sup. It's me again - Felicity Smith. Brian just finished something he calls "the first draft of Volume Four" (no idea what that is) so he decided to take the week off from writing stuff. Which is why I'm here. Anyhoo, since I now have complete creative control over my guest posts - mwuahaha! - I decided to invite my friend Fireflower over to watch (okay, rewatch, I've already seen it like a hundred times) the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War. Let the good times roll.
Felicity: Okay, you're gonna love this.
Fireflower: Is this more of the "television" phenomenon you showed me a few Earth months ago?
Felicity: No, this is more like the Star Wars thing we were talking about back in May. Except that it's not the whole movie, it's just a trailer.
Fireflower: What, exactly, is a "trailer"?
Felicity: It's like a preview of the movie. Here, we'll watch it and you'll see what I'm talking about. (presses play)
Fireflower: So who are these individuals?
Felicity: They're the Avengers. A group of super-powered people, kinda like the Wavemaker Order.
Fireflower: What do they avenge?
Felicity: You know, that's actually a good question. They're not so much "Avengers" as they are..."Protectors," I guess. Or maybe "Defenders," but there's another group with that name. I dunno, I think "Avengers" probably just sounds cooler.
Fireflower: I see. Why does that one particular Avenger have a light in his forehead?
Felicity: That's Vision. The light in his head is the Mind Stone. It's one of the Infinity Gems.
Fireflower: Is it like the Songshell?
Felicity: Sort of. Just keep watching.
Fireflower: Are all of these people Avengers?
Felicity: Most of them. The long-haired dude holding the blue cube and the bald purple guy with the big chin aren't.
Fireflower: They are the adversaries, then?
Felicity: The purple guy, definitely. Longhair used to be, but now we're not completely sure. He's kind of like Darkeye, in a way.
Fireflower: Oh my. It appears as if Vision is having his Mind Stone extracted in a very painful manner. I assume the purple man wants to use it for some evil purpose?
Felicity: You're catching on. That's basically the whole plot of this story - Thanos, the purple dude, is trying to collect all the Infinity Gems so he can become omnipotent.
Fireflower: How many of these gems are there?
Felicity: Six. The blue cube is actually another one of them.
Fireflower: And the Avengers are trying to stop him from collecting them all?
Felicity: Yup. Pretty straightforward.
Fireflower: Since this is a story, I assume they will be successful?
Felicity: Well, maybe not. There's gonna be another movie after this one, so there's a chance that Thanos will get all the gems first, just to make things more interesting.
Fireflower: Oh - so you do not know what, exactly, is going to transpire.
Felicity: I don't. I mean, he gets them all in the original comic version, but sometimes they change stuff up for the movies. We'll just have to wait 'til it comes out next May.
Fireflower: I am looking forward to it.
Felicity: Right? I can't wait.
Fireflower: Well, thank you, Felicity, for -
Felicity: Hold on, it's not done yet.
Fireflower: Oh?
Felicity: There's one more scene.
Fireflower: Wait - those of them looks like she is from Spectraland!
Felicity: I know! That's Gamora.
Fireflower: And the one standing next to her resembles a Six States citizen!
Felicity: That's Mantis.
Fireflower: Are they...?
Felicity: No. That would've been really cool, though.
Fireflower: Perhaps one day someone could create some stories based on all of the adventures that we, ourselves, have had.
Felicity: Yeah, maybe.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Volume Four Status Update: Draft One Is Done

Yup, you heard right. The first draft of Joel Suzuki, Volume Four is officially complete. At the moment it's clocking in at a robust 77,000+ words, which - based on past experience - should grow to be around 80,000 (i.e., about 320 pages) by the time it's finalized. Woohoo!
May or may not be the actual ending of Volume Four
So right now I'm just going to let it bake for a little while before I come back to it in a few days. After that I'll do some more revisions and cleanups, and then once I have a "Draft 1-A" prepared (probably in a couple of months or so) I'll send that off to my editor for her to savagely rip apart - um, I mean, offer some gentle feedback after lots of careful and sensitive deliberation (Hi Susan!).

Once that part of the process is complete, I'll settle into full-on rewriting mode, which should take somewhere around 6-8 months. Or maybe less. Or maybe more! Either way, the target launch date for Volume Four is April 2019, so I'm still right on schedule.

And what, exactly, is Volume Four about, you ask? Well, let me tell you. Or not! Suffice it to say that there is a time travel element to it (which I previously disclosed) and that the storyline will also be getting progressively darker, a development that was promised here and here. If the first three books in the series were borderline PG/PG-13 (maybe sort of a PG-11 1/2), then this one definitely falls on the PG-13 side of things. There's still no swearing, mind you (Joel hates swearing), but it's sort of like what Goblet of Fire was to the first three Harry Potter books. Uh huh, yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, I'll be disclosing more details in the weeks and months to come, so keep tuning in to this space for the latest updates. And if you haven't starting reading the Joel Suzuki series yet (gasp!), you can catch up right here:

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, November 23, 2017

Mahalo! Plus, Small Business Saturday

Today I would like to give thanks to all of you who have supported the Joel Suzuki series, Second Player Score, and, most of all, Autism Empowerment. Whether you're a newcomer to the cause or have been with us since day one, believe me when I say that your efforts, contributions, purchases, and fandom have been and will continue to be greatly and sincerely appreciated.
Anyway, regardless of what you're doing today (eating turkey? watching football? both?) and tomorrow (waking up early to buy socks?), come on down to Vintage Books this Saturday to do some of your holiday shopping. It's all part of Small Business Saturday, and there's a great slate of local authors lined up for the day, including yours truly along with To Catch a Killer author Sheryl Scarborough from 1:30-3:00pm. There will also be giveaways, drawings, swag, cookies, and cats, so hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Movie Roundup: Special MCU Edition

Don't tell anyone, but I spent a portion of last week in a secret Avengers facility located somewhere in southern Nevada. I underwent a rigorous training program that tested the limits of my endurance and skill. It was intense, but when it was over, I emerged with my official Avengers Agent certification.
As part of my initial duties, I have been directed to rank the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies in order, going from my least to most favorite, and to disclose that information to you. Bear in mind that these are just my personal opinions and that they may not match up with yours (in fact, I'm pretty sure they won't). So here we go, and remember: there may be spoilers.

#17 - The Incredible Hulk

I actually haven't seen this one in a while. Maybe I should give it another chance. The thing with MCU movies, though, is that they're all decent at the very least, so the ones at the bottom of my list are still better than a lot of other stuff. I do wish they had some kind of in-universe explanation for why Ed Norton turned into Mark Ruffalo.

#16 - Thor

I found this one to be rather slow and dull, but it's actually better when viewed retrospectively through the lenses of its sequels (see below).

#15 - Iron Man 2

I didn't think this one was as bad as some people say, but hey, I had to fill this slot with something. The final battle scene was kind of anticlimactic, I'll give you that.

#14 - Doctor Strange

Awesome visual effects make up for some uneven pacing and the occasional flat joke. The climax battle was cool.

#13 - Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

I can hear you all gasping from here. "How dare you rank this movie so low!" Again, it's like when you have a really awesome professional sports team whose backups are better than other team's starters.

#12 - Thor: The Dark World

Like Iron Man 2, I actually liked this one more than most people. I often find myself watching it all the way through when it comes on TV.

#11 - Iron Man

Like The Incredible Hulk, I haven't seen this one in a while either, but I do recall liking it a lot.

#10 - Avengers: Age of Ultron

A bit cluttered, this one actually gets better upon repeated viewings as I started to understand more and more about what the heck was going on (during my first viewing, I thought the Hulk's rampage was a Scarlet Witch-induced vision).

#9 - Guardians of the Galaxy

I can hear you all gasping from here. "How dare you rank this movie so low!" Again, it's like the Legend of Zelda games, where even their fifth-best iteration is still better than most other games out there.

#8 - Captain America: The First Avenger

I can do this all day.

#7 - Captain America: Civil War

This one was kind of cluttered (just like Age of Ultron), but the airport fight scene makes up for everything.

#6 - Iron Man 3

My favorite of the three Iron Men (obviously) and the only MCU theme song that I can consistently hum from memory even after not having heard it for a while.

#5 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Like The Dark World, I often watch this one all the way through when it comes on TV, even if I've already seen it not too long ago.

#4 - Thor: Ragnarok

Hilarious and colorful, this one puts an awesome bow on the Thor trilogy and actually elevates its predecessors. I'll have more thoughts on it in the next official Movie Roundup post in January.

#3 - Spider-Man: Homecoming

The best Spider-Man movie to date. Yes, even better than Spider-Man 2.

#2 - Ant-Man

Surprise! I bet you had forgotten about this one as you were reading through this list. I love this movie - it's the only MCU film that makes me tear up (as in watery eyes, not rip-tear-Hulk smash). I think I have some personal bias, though, being a single dad with a daughter.

#1 - Avengers

A pitch-perfect ensemble film, chock-full of memorable one-liners ("It seems to run on some form of electricity!" "Puny god." "Then shawarma after." And so on.)

Can't wait to see where Black Panther, Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and the fourth Avengers film end up in this list.

What does your list look like?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Band Names: A Public Service Announcement

'Ello, Marshall Byle here. I'm the lead singer and guitarist of the Grammy Award-winning rock band Biledriver. I'm sure you've heard of us. If not, go on and read these books, they'll tell you all about us. 
I'm here today to talk about band names. Names are important. Especially the name of your band. Your band's name can be the difference between stadium-level rock stardom and never getting out of your bloody basement.

The best band names:

1. Are unique combinations of short and simple words
2. Communicate your sound and/or identity
3. Have some personal meaning for the band members, so it doesn't sound like you all sat down at the corner pub and spent the night coming up with a contrived but unique combination of short and simple words

Here are some examples of band names that I consider to be among the best in all of rock 'n' roll:

- Soundgarden. A unique combination of short and simple words that reflects the band's straightforward, no-frills approach. Also, the name was inspired by a sculpture in Seattle. Perfect.

- Mudhoney. The name alone just sounds like grunge, don't it? It also has that cool assonance thing going on as well. And as the crowning touch, it actually came from a Russ Meyer film.

- Guns N' Roses. Such a rock 'n' roll name. And it was just a combination of two previous bands, L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose, so it's free of pretension. Mostly.

- Radiohead. Again, two short and simple words, taken from a Talking Heads song.

- Nine Inch Nails. I don't care much for the three separate words deal, but at least each word is short, not like "Second Player Score" or whatever. And it really conveys the image of the band.

- Biledriver. Of course, the absolute best name in rock, hands down.

There are others, of course, but I think you get my meaning by now. I could also list examples of terrible band names, but I have to see most of those blokes at concert festivals and award ceremonies, so I won't go there. Not today, anyway.

So if you're starting up a new band, keep my advice in mind, and maybe one day I'll see you in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

NaNoWriMo, or How The Sight Was Born

It's November, which means that it's NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month! For those of you who aren't familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is an annual event where people attempt to write an entire 50,000-word manuscript between November 1st and November 30th.
Now, for me, just the thought of writing 50,000 words in thirty days makes me want to tear what's left of my hair out and hide in my room until January, but every year, more and more hardy souls attempt to perform this incredible feat. Some well-known books have even emerged out of it, like Wool by Hugh Howey and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

I will admit that while I was still in the plotting stages for Volume One, I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to write it during the 2010 NaNoWriMo, so I picked up a book called Book in a Month: the Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Dr. Victoria Lynn Schmidt. It was packed full of good ideas and systems, but because of my personal idiosyncrasies, I wasn't quite able to apply it to my own project (I ended up writing the initial draft of Volume One in a little over four months, starting from Christmas Day 2010 and ending on April 30, 2011).

There was one great thing that resulted from my purchase of Dr. Schmidt's book, however. When my son first took a look at its cover, he immediately - like, within one second of glancing at the book - noticed an error that I (and the book's cover designer, apparently?) had completely glossed over. Even after he pointed it out to me, it took a few moments before it actually registered in my brain. That event was the inspiration for the Sight, which, as readers of the Joel Suzuki series know, is Joel's ability to recognize tiny details that most other people seem to miss. On Earth, it's good for things like video games, Easter egg hunts, and Where's Waldo books, but on Spectraland, it's one of the special powers that allows Joel to save the day.

Take a look at the picture above. Can you spot what I'm talking about?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lifepod Recipe

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to share my recipe for an alternative kind of treat that you might want to consider handing out in lieu of candy this year: lifepods.
As readers of the Joel Suzuki series know, lifepods are a type of fruit that is indigenous to Spectraland. Introduced in chapter five of Volume One, it's described as "a small, round blue fruit...[that has] a chewy texture and taste[s] like banana and watermelon, with a very slight minty aftertaste." Sounds delicious, right? It's also very filling - after one lifepod, you won't have to eat for the rest of the day. Felicity, in particular, seems rather fond of them.

Lifepods don't grow on Earth, and for whatever reason, Felicity and Joel have been unsuccessful at bringing one or more of them back here from Spectraland (I suspect that they eat them all before they're able to make the trip, but who knows). So, a while back I decided to use Earth-based ingredients in an effort to replicate a lifepod as closely as possible. My initial efforts were met with some skepticism, but over time I've tweaked the recipe until I arrived at what I feel is the ideal formula:

- Honeydew melon, cubed, 1/2 lb.
- Watermelon, cubed, 1/2 lb.
- Blue food coloring
- Banana flavoring
- Mint extract
- Tupperware or other covered, sealed container

1. Using the flat side of a spoon or similar utensil, crush the watermelon cubes, extracting as much of the juice as possible. I've tried other watermelon juice substitutes, but the real thing provides the most accurate flavor.

2. Place the honeydew melons in the Tupperware (or similar) container. The reasons I use honeydew as the base fruit rather than the watermelon itself are that it has the right texture, and it can take on the blue coloring easily (see step #5 below).

3. Add the watermelon juice to the honeydew melons. Be sure no seeds or watermelon pieces slip through.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of banana flavoring to the mixture. You can get banana flavoring from the spice department at your local grocery store - the same place where you would find the food coloring and the mint extract.

5. Add 6-7 drops of blue food coloring, sprinkling them over the melon cubes.

6. Add one drop of mint extract to the mixture. Trust me, this will be enough.

7. Close the container and shake up the mixture for 20-30 seconds or until the blue coloring has been spread out evenly to all the melon cubes.

8. Drain the liquid and transfer the cubes to a new container or dish.

9. Voila!

Felicity and Joel will now provide their testimonies as to just how close this comes to the real deal.

F: Ugh. Are you doing this lifepod recipe thing again?
B: Yup. For Halloween.
F: Well, it's certainly scary, all right.
B: Just try it and tell the readers what you think.
J: Um, will it be any better than last time?
B: Now I'm using real watermelon juice and I substituted mint extract for the mint sprinkles, so yeah.
J: I dunno...
B: Just try it. Please.
(Joel and Felicity take small, tentative bites. After chewing for a few seconds, Felicity grimaces and Joel wrinkles his nose.)
J: I guess it's...all right?
F: (to Joel) You're so polite. (to Brian) Dude. This tastes nothing like a real lifepod.
B: What? What are you talking about? Of course it does.
J: Well, it does have banana, watermelon, and mint flavors in it, should I put tastes...what are the words I'm looking for...
F (spitting out her bite): Terrible. Horrible. Awful.
J: I was going to say "not quite right," but those work too.
B: Aw man, are you serious? I thought I really had it this time. I was even going to hand these out on Halloween.
F: Do you want this house to get TP'd? If not, I strongly suggest you reconsider.
J: Let's go pick up some candy.
F: Good idea. I'll drive.
B: Wait! Don't you want to try my recipe for replicated stripeclaw steak?
(Car zooms off)
B: Hmm. Guess not.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Statii Update

Wow, it's been over four months since the last Statii Update! Let's get right to it.
Book Update:
Had a great time at both the Barnes and Noble B-Fest as well as the Fall 2017 Portland Home and Garden Show. Thanks again to Bjorn Sorenson for setting up the former and Roslyn McFarland for arranging the latter!
Volume Four is at 62,000 words and counting. It's kind of at that tricky stage now where the whole thing is like one of those puzzles where you have to make sure all the pieces interlock at the same time. But it is coming along nicely, and I'm still on track for having the initial draft done before the end of the year.

Band Update:
Lots happening on this front. We finished recording three songs for our upcoming third album and are now boot-camping the next three. We just wrapped up filming a video for one of those songs. We found an artist for the graphic novel/comic book that will accompany the aforementioned third album. We also wrote a story outline for the second album that will be narrated by the amazing Tryston Blyth from Neue Regel Radio and released as bonus content. Whew!

TV Update:
I am loving TV right now. The Handmaid's Tale? Excellent. The new Tick? Even better than the old one (I know, how could they find a replacement for Patrick Warburton? But they did it). The Good Doctor? Apparently a hit, and deservedly so. The Orville? Lots of fun and way better than I - and a lot of other people, apparently - thought it would be. Still need to catch up with Rick and Morty, though. And where is the new Miraculous Ladybug??

Video Game Update:
Now that Breath of the Wild is basically over, I've started on Stardew Valley, which just came out for the Switch and was reviewed on this very blog by our special guest blogger Connie Jasperson a couple of months ago.

I have to admit, I'm not very good at these "lifestyle" kind of games where the gameplay is really open-ended and there isn't a single defined goal like defeating Ganon or whatever. The first few times I tried it, I ended up working myself to exhaustion and passing out in my farm. I thought I finally got the hang of it, but then my daughter saw the plots I had dug to plant my seeds in and she laughed and said "why does that look so weird?" And so far, my meal choices have eerily resembled my real-life dietary habits (spaghetti and beer six days a week). But really, I think most of my problems come from the controls, which for some reason are so confusing to me that I had to take a picture of the screen where they show you which button does what.

At any rate, I have been having fun playing this game so far, if only for the fact that it gives my daughter enjoyment when she sees how terrible I am at it. And anyway, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is coming out soon...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Indie Author Day

This Saturday is the second annual Indie Author Day! But really, for us here in the beautiful Vancouver/Portland area, it's more like Indie Author Extended Weekend, because the Fall 2017 Portland Home & Garden Show is taking place Thursday (that's today!) through Sunday at the Portland Expo Center.
As always, the Northwest Independent Writers Association will be there in full force, thanks to my good friend and fellow local author Roslyn McFarland (seriously, check out her books. You won't be disappointed.) I will be there in person tonight from 6-8pm, Friday night from 6-8pm, and Saturday from 11am-2pm to sign books and possibly give away inside info about Volume Four to anyone who's interested (which is everyone, amirite?)

But if you can't make it during those times, come on down anyway, because Joel Suzuki will be there the whole time (in book form) as will lots of other great local authors who write awesome books in a wide variety of genres, so there'll be something for everyone. And while you're at it you might even find some cool stuff for your house or garden!

Portland Expo Center
2060 N Marine Drive
Portland, OR 97217
Thursday 11am-8pm
Friday 11am-8pm
Saturday 11am-8pm
Sunday 11am-6pm

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

You Guys Age Funny

The 21-and-over nature of last week's post - because of the beer talk - prompted Joel and Felicity to finally sign up for Facebook accounts, mainly so that they could comment on my announcement of said post where I essentially told them that they were too young to read it. Felicity offered up her usual snark ("whatever") while Joel pointed out that technically, they're both over 21 depending on what timeline you used. This caused a bit of confusion in the household known as my brain, so I decided to call the two of them in for a little family meeting.
Brian: Thanks for being here today.
Joel: Um, you're welcome.
Felicity: This better be quick. I'm teaching a karate class at four-thirty.
B: All right, so Joel - you said that you and Felicity are more than twenty-one years old?
J: Well, yes. You see, in April of 2012, I was sixteen, while Felicity was eighteen. And since my birthday is July 17, and hers is July 21, then technically, since it's now October of 2017, that would make me twenty-two years old, and her, twenty-four.
B: I guess I understand that logic,'re actually now only seventeen, and she's nineteen.
J: I know.
B: You know?
J: Yeah. We're seventeen and nineteen, but we're also twenty-two and twenty-four. Kind of at the same time.
B: Huh? I don't get it.
F: Does it really matter?
B: I'm just trying to understand.
J: It's a timeline issue. This is what happens when you get involved with things like alternate dimensions, multiple realities, quantum mechanics, and so forth. Time moves a lot slower on Earth than it does on Spectraland, relatively speaking. And then when you throw in time travel, it makes it even more complicated.
F (with terrible faux-English accent): "It's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff."
J (with similarly terrible faux-English accent): "Timey-wimey? Do you have to talk like children?"
(Joel and Felicity laugh, exchange high-fives)
B: Okay, as much as I appreciate the Doctor Who references, I'm still not sure I'm getting it.
F (sighing): All right, I really have to run, so I'll try to make this simple for you. You know the comics you like to read, in that thing called a...a...
B: Newspaper?
F: Yeah, that. And you know how the characters in, like, say, "Sally Forth" or "Luann" seem to sort of get older, but really slowly?
B: I guess.
F: C'mon, you know what I'm talking about.
B: Well, yeah, okay, sure. Like how Luann went from being thirteen in 1999 to being eighteen in 2014.
F: Exactly.
B: But those are cartoon characters. You guys are...
F: Are what?
B: People. With actual Facebook accounts.
F (looking at Joel): We are, aren't we?
J (shrugs): I'm pretty sure we are.
B: So are you trying to tell me that two-dimensional cartoon characters have access to time travel?
F: Sure, yeah, why not. Can I go now?
J: I don't think that's really her point. She was just trying to give you an example of how some people can age slower than others.
B: Oh, like how Kyle keeps getting carded when he tries to order a beer.
J: Um...
F: Yeah, no. It's nothing like that at all. Look, can we continue this some other time? My students get really antsy when I'm late. They start breaking all the boards and stuff.
B: All right, fine. Joel, can you stick around?
J (glancing at Felicity): Well...
F: He's coming with me. He has to...iron the black belts.
B: Do people really do that?
F: Of course they do. Later!
J (waving): Bye.
B: Grrr

Will Brian ever learn the secret behind Joel and Felicity's aging process? Will Felicity make it to her karate class before her students start breaking things? Do cartoon characters really have access to time travel? Tune in next week when we present the shocking conclusion to..."You Guys Age Funny"!*

* or not

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Blasphemous Collaboration (Guest Post By Kyle Gilbert)

Today's guest post is by Kyle Gilbert, a person who - unlike some of our other recent guest bloggers - may or may not be from an alternate plane of existence. No one really knows for sure. What we are sure of, though, as most of you who read this blog already know, is that Kyle is the drummer for Second Player Score, the band that I play guitar for. What you may not know is that Kyle is also an avid and talented homebrewer (of beer. Just thought I should make that clear.)
In this post, Kyle will not only tell us the story about how he got into homebrewing in the first place, but also about a very special show that Second Player Score will be performing in November. Because this post talks about beer, I first want to stress that we here at the Brian Tashima blog strongly encourage all of our readers to make responsible life decisions, do everything in moderation, and listen to your parents and teachers. And second, before you can read the post, you will have to swear that you are twenty-one years of age or over. So, sorry Joel and Felicity, you guys are gonna have to wait until next week. (Felicity's note: who cares)

Did you swear? Okay, good. So now, Kyle will take it away...after the jump!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Give More 24! And B-Fest!

Today is Give More 24! What is that, you ask? Why, it's 24 hours in which you can make a positive difference in the world by donating to one of 125 nonprofit organizations based in the Southwest Washington area. "Sounds great," you say, "but which organization should I donate to?" Well, each organization is definitely worthy of your support, but allow me to make a suggestion: Autism Empowerment.
Why, you ask? Well, because not only are we dedicated to improving the quality of life for people and families in the autism community both locally and worldwide via our various programs, support groups, events, resources, and more, but also because we promote a global culture of acceptance for people of all abilities.
If that sounds good to you, then simply go this link and make a donation. Even just the minimum of $10 will be greatly appreciated. All donations are 100% tax-deductible, and best of all, giving feels good! I know this first-hand, because not only will I be donating today, but I also donate to Autism Empowerment (on an ongoing basis) one dollar for every Joel Suzuki book that is sold.
Speaking of Joel Suzuki, this Saturday afternoon I will be at the Barnes & Noble in Vancouver as the featured fiction author for the annual B-Fest Teen Book Festival! The event - which is family-friendly and free to attend - will not only include Joel Suzuki, but also writing workshops, trivia, games, prizes, and local poet Shaindel Beers. The fun starts at 1pm and lasts until 6:30 or so (I'll be leaving at around 3 or 4, so get there early). The store is located at 7700 NE Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver WA in the Vancouver Plaza. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Casting Call

In this Spectrums Magazine interview from last winter, I was asked "Why is it important to you that autistic actors be cast in some of the leading roles (of a possible Joel Suzuki movie adaptation)?" Part of my answer included me saying "I'd like to give people in the autism community the opportunity to show off their skills and break into an industry in which people with disabilities in general have been sorely underrepresented." I also said "It would be really cool if Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hannah, both of whom are on the spectrum, would play roles in the film versions of my books. They're not quite the right fit for Joel and Felicity, of course, but we'd find roles for them for sure!"
So this morning, while thinking in the shower, I asked myself, "Well, what roles would those be? And who else would make a really cool addition to the cast?" Here's what I came up with.

Dan Aykroyd: Chief Raintree
Chief Raintree is the amiable leader of Spearwind village in Spectraland. He appears in all three books so far, and supports the Wavemakers during their conflict with the Silencers. He's not comic relief, but he does have a humorous nature that I think Mr. Aykroyd would be able to portray quite nicely.

Daryl Hannah: Guider of the Worthy
Guider of the Worthy (or just "Guider") is the leader of the Redivision movement in Volume Three. She's strong, fair, and authoritative - qualities that I think Ms. Hannah would have no problem bringing to the role.

Jonathan Cormur: Whitenose
Formerly known as Jonathan Murphy, this is the brilliant young man who narrated the audiobook version of Volume One. Check out his website here. I'm sure he would have no trouble playing a number of different characters from the Joel Suzuki series, but the one that I picture him as most for some reason is Whitenose, the Silencer guard who has a pretty major role in Volume Two and also makes a cameo appearance in Volume Three.

Mickey Rowe: Windblade
The first actor on the spectrum to be cast as Christopher in the stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mickey Rowe seems like he would be a good fit for Windblade, one of the members of the Wavemaker Order. As a bonus, he's from Seattle, which is where Joel Suzuki and his family currently reside.

Paddy Considine: Thinker of Deep Thoughts
An English actor - and a musician - who was diagnosed as being on the spectrum at age 36, he has a long list of credits that includes The Bourne Ultimatum and Hot Fuzz. His Wikipedia entry says that "he has played a number of dark, troubled, and morally or mentally ambiguous characters." So let's turn that around and cast him as Thinker of Deep Thoughts from Volume Three!

That's what I have so far. If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments or email me at!

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, September 7, 2017

Volume Four Update: Over The Hump Edition

Four is a pretty important number in music - the 4/4 time signature, the Four Chords of Awesome, the Fab Four. There are also a lot of famous foursomes in fiction: the four houses of Hogwarts, the Fantastic Four, the four quadrants of the galaxy in Star Trek, the four main villages of Spectraland, the four...oh, but wait, this isn't an essay about the number four. This is a Volume Four status update!
At the time of the last update three months ago, I was at 28,000 words and said that "I stand an outside chance of finishing the first draft sometime before the holidays." Now, I don't really believe in jinxes anymore (except when it comes to watching professional sports - speaking of which, holy pigskin, Batman, it's football season again), but soon after I said that, some changes in my life occurred which made finding time to write a bit more challenging. Nothing bad or major, mind you, but nevertheless, it did throw a wrench into my normal schedule.

So at first, I'll admit, I was flailing a little. Volume Four went untouched for a while as I tried to adjust. I knew that somehow I needed to find a way to get back to it. I found myself wishing I had a Time-Turner or a TARDIS or a DeLorean or a Power Glove, which was funny because - sneak preview alert! - there's a time-travel element to the plot of Volume Four.

But since I couldn't find any of those things, I had to resort to more down-to-earth techniques. I used one that I had previously employed called "writing in my head." I made adjustments to my attitude and my personal routines. I brought in special guests, from this plane of existence as well as others, to fill in on this blog. I sacrificed a few personal enjoyment activities that were basically just self-indulgent time-wasters, like watching the last episode of Doctor Who's season 10 over and over and over again (although I still managed to binge-watch the new Tick, which is hilarious and amazing - the show, that is, not the fact that I binge-watched it). And really, I just kind of doubled down on the self-discipline.

As a result, I was able to mostly get back on track, and so now the first draft of Volume Four stands at - insert drum roll here - a healthy 44,444 words (kidding - it's actually 45,275). I passed the halfway mark in the story outline, which officially puts me over the hump. Finishing the draft before the holidays as I had previously hoped will be a stretch, but the main thing is that it hasn't been derailed altogether. With any luck, I'll be able to finish it before the end of the year, which still puts me comfortably ahead of schedule. That said, though, I would like a time machine anyway, mainly so I can watch "The Doctor Falls" a few more times (I've only memorized about 85% of the dialogue). Can someone help me out with that?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Felicity Tries To Explain Television To Fireflower

Hey, Felicity here, filling in once again while Brian is off doing who-knows-what. Anyway, my friend Fireflower happened to be visiting this week, and she asked me if I could introduce her to some popular Earth-style recreational activities. So I figured, what's more popular than watching TV? And besides, she already gets enough outdoor exercise back in Spectraland running away from elephant-sharks and other assorted beasties.
Felicity: All right, so this is how we do it. We plop ourselves on this thing called a "couch," turn the TV on, and bam. Away we go. Super easy.
Fireflower: And...what did you say this beverage is called, again?
Felicity: Diet cola. Delicious, right?
Fireflower: Um...if you say so.
Felicity: Okay, so this is one of my favorites. Joel likes it too. It's called "Doctor Who."
Fireflower: Remind me again, please, what "it" is.
Felicity: Oh, right. By "it," I mean a show. A program. Which is like a story, but with pictures.
Fireflower: Moving pictures. With actual people.
Felicity: Right. But they're not actually doing whatever it is they're doing.
Fireflower: It seems to me as if they are doing things. Are you trying to tell me that that man is not running away from those...whatever those are?
Felicity: Daleks. And no, yeah, he's really running, but he's not actually in real danger or anything like that. He's acting.
Fireflower: Acting?
Felicity: Pretending. Don't you guys have story time in Spectraland? Like, when someone pretends to be a slimeback or something?
Fireflower: We do, but this looks so...real.
Felicity: I know, right? That's what's awesome about TV. They have, like, props and special effects and makeup and stuff.
Fireflower: I see.
Felicity: Okay, here's another good one. This is the new version of "DuckTales."
Fireflower: Those...those are not real people.
Felicity: Yeah, I know. This is a cartoon.
Fireflower: A cartoon?
Felicity: Animation. It's like when you draw lots of pictures and then show them all in a row, it looks like they're moving.
Fireflower: But the pictures are speaking. And rather oddly, I must say.
Felicity: Only Donald talks like that. Anyway, actual people do the speaking. Someone records them and then they play the recording along with the pictures.
Fireflower: And they are able to match up the words with the movements of the pictures?
Felicity: Yeah.
Fireflower: That is impressive.
Felicity: I guess it is. Oh, here's something else I wanted you to see.
Fireflower: What show is this?
Felicity: It's not really a show. It's a baseball game.
Fireflower: And are those people pretending?
Felicity: No, this is for real. It's a sporting event. Like, you know how you have those wavebow duels back in Spectraland? It's kind of like that, but someone is broadcasting it, showing it to everyone who wants to watch it.
Fireflower: Ah, I see. Quite amazing. So these are two teams competing against each other?
Felicity: You got it.
Fireflower: And based on what I have learned of your written language, it appears as if the team called the "Mariners" is currently losing?
Felicity: Um, yeah. Don't get me started.
Fireflower: Well, Miss Felicity, I thank you for this introduction to your "television" device. Based on what I have seen, I can certainly understand how your people are able to spend many hours watching it.
Felicity: No problem. And hey, if you think that's cool, wait 'til I show you this next thing.
Fireflower: Oh?
Felicity: Yeah, it's called video games.
Fireflower: How exciting. And I think I will have another one of these "diet colas," after all.
Felicity: Now you're really catching on.

Editor's note: we here at the Brian Tashima blog do not endorse prolonged physical inactivity and would recommend a regular exercise routine as part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle

Felicity's note: yeah, whatever

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Summer of Joel: A Recap

Anyone familiar with the episode of Seinfeld titled "The Summer of George"? Well, this summer has been kind of like that for Joel Suzuki and company, except that we've been super busy while George Costanza basically just sat around in his pajamas the whole time. So I guess the two summers really aren't similar at all. Anyway, on to the recap!

On July 15th, I took part in the inaugural Words and Pictures Festival at Cascade Park Community Library. I did a presentation and a reading and got to meet some really cool fellow authors as well as the fine folks from Vintage Books.
The following week, Joel, Torin and I traveled down to Eugene, Oregon for Family Literacy Night at the Eugene Barnes and Noble. While I was there, I learned that Timothy Zahn, the author of the Thrawn books for the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now called Star Wars Legends), lives in the area and even did a local author visit to the store!

Besides geeking out, I also had a great time hanging with my good friend and fellow author Roslyn McFarland, her daughter (also an author!) Gwendalyn Belle, and Ben Brock (also an author!) from Barnes and Noble. Be sure to check out their books when you get a chance.
Then on August 1st, I got the great news that I'll be a panelist at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs' annual conference in Tampa, FL next year! I'll be joined by three other terrific authors (Naseem Jamnia, Beth Vrabel, and Melissa Hart) and we'll be talking about disability in children's literature. Can't wait!

A couple of weeks later, we headed out to Camp Odakoda, a summer camp for children on the autism spectrum. I did a little introduction and then we were off to the races, because everyone had so many questions! The campers were all so smart and inquisitive, it was really awesome.
A few days after that I took a trek over to Lewiston, Idaho, where I was a featured speaker for The Green Apple Project's Speaker Series at the Lewiston City Library. The Green Apple Project is a wonderful non-profit organization that, similar to Autism Empowerment, strives to promote autism awareness and acceptance through support groups, education, special events, and more.
I really can't say enough about how fantastic everyone I met over there was. Their kindness and generous hospitality really made me feel welcome, and they shared the same passion that I have for creating a culture of acceptance for people of all abilities.

And it's not over yet! This weekend I will be at the US Autism and Asperger Association's annual conference, which this year is taking place right here in Portland, Oregon. The conference is open to all, so come on down and check out Autism Empowerment's exhibitor booth.

So as George Costanza might say, "I'm busting, Jerry, I'm busting!"*

* Which, if you're not familiar with the show, is what he would say when he was happy or excited

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
- 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.


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

This post originally appeared at on July 7, 2017.

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