Thursday, April 30, 2020

Volume Five Status Update: Good News, Everyone!

Yes, the latest draft of Volume Five - a version that incorporates most of the revisions suggested by my editor - is now complete.
It took about 3 1/2 months since I had received her notes, and as usual, it involved many, many hours of work, but whew! Here we are. At one point during the rewriting process, I actually veered pretty far off course and ended up writing thousands of words before realizing that the direction I was heading in just would not work. The details of what happened will make for a funny story one day, after the book is released.

Anyway, the draft now clocks in at a little over 80,000 words (320 pages), which is about where I expected it to be last July when the first draft was completed. Of course, the original launch date of early-to-mid 2020 will not happen, but that's okay.

What happens next? Well, I will soon be asking for some beta reader feedback (while giving the draft yet another once- or twice-over myself), after which I will then ship the draft back to my editor for a line edit. During that time, I'll also start thinking about cover art! Then depending on how things go from there, I would say that we're now looking at a late 2020 or possibly early 2021 release. Better late than never, right? Either way, I'm really looking forward to sharing the latest installment of Joel's story with all of you. Hope you're all being safe and staying healthy!

P.S. While you're at home, why not catch up with the Joel Suzuki series if you haven't done so already?

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

Thursday, April 23, 2020

April 23rd: The Day That Joel First Went To Spectraland


A young man is here, sitting on the couch and fiddling on a guitar. This is JOEL. A young woman is also here, sitting on the ground and playing a video game. This is FELICITY. After a few moments, an older man enters the room, carrying a small cake with a lit candle on it. This is BRIAN.
B: Hey, guys.
J: Hello.
F (not looking away from her game): Whose birthday is it?
B: What? Oh - the cake. No, it's no one's birthday. It's for an anniversary.
F: Anniversary of what?
B: April 23rd, 2012 is the day that Joel first went to Spectraland.
F (to Joel): Is that right?
J: Yes. I thought you knew that.
F: Maybe I did. I probably forgot.
B: So, yeah, I figured that since the day falls on a blog post day this year, that we would have a little celebration.
F: What kind of cake is it?
B: Chocolate.
F: Okay, I'm down.

Brian puts the cake on a table and cuts it into three pieces.

J: Did you know that April 23rd is also World Book Day?
B: That's right!
F: Man, they have a day for everything now, don't they?
J: It started back in 1995, as a way to honor several famous authors who died on that date.
B: Including Shakespeare, right?
J: That's correct. He might have been born on April 23rd, as well.

Brian serves the cake to Joel and Felicity.

B (to Felicity): Are you gonna pause your game?
F: Hold on, I'm in the middle of a boss fight.
J: Also, the number 23 has a lot of interesting facts about it. It's the smallest odd prime number that isn't a twin prime. The Earth's axis is tilted at about 23 degrees. And human reproductive cells have 23 chromosomes.
F: There's also that Jim Carrey movie. And Michael' Jordan's jersey number. And the first half of the emergency code in Monsters, Inc.
J: True.
F: I think every number has interesting stuff about it, if you look hard enough.
B: Well, at any rate, happy Spectraland anniversary, Joel.
J: Thanks.
F: Wait, what about MY anniversary? I went to Spectraland a few days before Joel did and we didn't celebrate that.
B: Well, because it didn't fall on a blog post day. And also, that day wasn't chronicled in a book.
F: But Joel's was?
B:, just kidding. Anyway, I'll go get some diet soda. You finish your boss fight.
F: Whatever.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Magic Number Four

If you've been reading this blog for a while (or, at least, for the last year or so), then you know that I and the other guys in Second Player Score are nerdy fans of numerology and thus have decided to name our fourth album Four-D and have it contain nothing but four-chord songs. In celebration of today's date - 4/16/20, all multiples of four! - I will go into more detail about why we think four is such an interesting number.
First of all, there's the power of the four-chord song. Many of you are probably already aware of "4 Chord Song" by the Axis of Awesome, which is a medley of a bunch of hits that all use the same four chords. If you've never heard it before, check it out (warning: there be swear words) and come back. We'll wait.

Okay, so besides that, what is the most common time signature in music? 4/4, where each measure contains four beats, and each beat is a quarter note. If you're not a musician, trust me on this one - most of the songs that you hear, especially in pop music, are in 4/4.

Another musical example is in phrasing. One of the secrets to writing a catchy tune is to have it follow a four-phrase pattern that goes like this: intro - rising action - climax - resolution (kind of like story structure!) For example, think of the "Happy Birthday" song, and you'll know what I mean.

And, of course, there are lots of examples outside of music: four elements, four seasons, four compass points, four mathematical operations, four blood types, four DNA components, etc. But don't just take my word for it, there are lots of places on the web (like this one) where you can read a long comprehensive list of number-four-related facts and trivia.

Interestingly enough, the number four has kind of a bad rap in East Asian countries, where the word for four ("shi") sounds similar to the word meaning death. So, in Japan, China, and other places you'll find buildings that skip over the fourth floor much like how some buildings in Western countries skip over the number 13. Still, though, that doesn't make it any less significant; in fact, it probably enhances its mystical nature.

Anyway, since we're on the subject, I should give you an Album Four status update. Boot camp has been put on temporary hold due to the current stay-at-home orders, but never fear, we are still writing songs and making plans to hit the studio as soon as conditions allow. Once we are able to record again, there's a chance we may begin releasing songs four at a time before the entire physical album comes out. Since the album is divided up into four seasonal suites (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring), it might be neat if we could get the timing of the releases to line up like that, but we shall see...

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Anime Roundup: Quarantine Edition

Yes, I know I just did an Anime Roundup post three weeks ago, but when yours truly complies with stay-at-home orders, anime gets watched. In large quantities. And then I have to talk about them before I move on to the next bunch. So here we go!

Akame ga Kill!
This is one of those shows that made me say out loud to my TV several times an episode, "THIS SHOW IS SO GOOD." I liked this one so much, it vaulted straight up to #4 on my all-time favorite list, which may not sound like much until you consider the vast amount of anime I've now seen (if you're curious, my top three are K-On!, Aggretsuko, and Madoka Magica). With its pitch-perfect blend of humor, action, emotion, video game-y tropes, shocking twists, and tons of extreme graphic violence on the level of John Wick or Kill Bill, it was right up my alley (but, despite its TV-14 rating, not very appropriate for younger audiences. Seriously, why shows like this get a TV-14 rating, but stuff like Hunter x Hunter gets TV-MA, I have no idea). Also, one of the many great things about it is the way it humanizes its villains to the extent where you almost sympathize with them, which is something you don't see very often. Anyway, if you're a mature viewer and decide you want to check this one out (it's basically about a band of assassins trying to overthrow a corrupt empire), do so but be warned: this show does not pull any punches, right up until the very end.

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
And now for something completely different! This is a light-hearted slice-of-life romantic comedy about two childhood friends who reconnect as adults and seem perfect for each other...except that they're otaku (basically, pop culture aficionados - or, simply, nerds). Is love hard for otaku? Yes, yes it is. I should know. Ahem. Anyway...

I'm not into gambling at all (during my first trip to Vegas, I lost $20 in 10 seconds to a slot machine and then declared myself done), but still, I found this show - which is basically about a high school where the pecking order isn't determined by academics or athleticism, but by gambling skills - to be pretty dang entertaining. While most of the exposition (explaining how the particular games work, how the winners pulled off their improbable victories, etc.) flew right over my head, I really enjoyed all the manic reactions given by the various characters as they played for increasingly high stakes, along with the accompanying dissonant jazz soundtrack. There's also a live-action adaptation that loosely follows the plot of the anime, which I more-or-less watched concurrently and found to be just as fun (and delightfully over-acted).

The Garden of Words
At 46 minutes long, this isn't exactly a short film, but it isn't a full-length feature, either. What it is, though, is a touching and emotional rom-dram about a 15-year old boy and a 27-year old woman (trust me - in the film, this is not as creepy as it sounds) who keep running into each other in a park during rainstorms. It apparently has won a bunch of awards, which I don't find surprising.

A full-length movie that is based on a video game and was directed by a Studio Ghibli animator, this one checks almost all the boxes on my I-Will-Enjoy-This List: Portal fantasy? Check. Parallel world where people in each world are linked to each other? Check. Action, humor, drama? Check. Love triangle, betrayal, plot twists? Check. Powers, magic, cute animal sidekicks? Check. In fact, about the only thing separating it from Joel Suzuki, Volume One is magical musical instruments.

And speaking of Joel case you didn't know, you can get free sample chapters of Volume One simply by going to this link here and entering your email address! Don't worry, we won't spam you. Although, actual Spam (with a capital S) is quite yummy.
Mmm, Spam...

Thursday, April 2, 2020

We Get Through It, Because We Get Through It Together

Originally posted on July 6, 2017, but seems especially relevant now

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."