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

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,, 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 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 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.
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