Hello Autism Empowerment Friends!
Today's blog is an interview with Brian Tashima, author of the newly released book, Secret of the Songshell. We also had the pleasure of interviewing Brian via Autism Empowerment Radio on June 30th. If you haven't yet heard that interview you can do so at the following link!
Brian is quite interesting, articulate and charity-oriented. In fact, he has generously offered to donate a portion of the proceeds from Secret of the Songshell to Autism Empowerment. We are thrilled and honored to be working with this amazing Vancouver author and Asperparent!
Here is a brief description of Brian's book.
Joel Suzuki gets a huge surprise when he bumps into his favorite rock star while walking down the street. You see, this particular rock star – multiplatinum bandleader Marshall Byle – is supposed to be dead. Joel gets an even bigger surprise when Marshall makes him the offer of a lifetime: the chance to become a rock star himself. There's a catch, of course, but this one is a little different. To unlock the shortcut to success, Joel must travel to an alternate world where his unique brain waves can be combined with the sound waves of music to create magical effects. If he can learn to harness these powers, he will be able to write songs that capture the hearts of millions. As a sensitive sixteen-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome living in a single-parent home, Joel leads a stressful life full of bullies, bad grades and money woes. Figuring that stardom will solve all of his problems, he accepts Marshall’s offer. But once Joel arrives in the new world, he finds himself faced with an unexpected audition that is unlike anything he has ever imagined. . . .
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a musician, author, and dad to two wonderful kids. I was born and raised in Hawaii and moved to Vancouver, Washington in 2000.
Where did you get the idea for this book?
A couple of years ago, my son asked me to write him a book. At the time, he was into Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and he wanted something along those lines. I’m a huge fan of those kinds of stories myself, so I figured, okay, why not?
When I was searching for ideas about the main character, I thought about how my son – who has Asperger’s Syndrome – can do a lot of amazing things that almost seem like superpowers to me. For example, he can notice and memorize large amounts of tiny details that just fly over my head. So, I combined that idea with what I know best (music), and that was how it all started.
Tell us a little about the protagonist, Joel Suzuki and some of the other main characters in the book.
Joel is a gifted sixteen-year-old guitarist with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). He’s dealing with the usual teenage issues as well as the challenges that his AS presents, and he thinks that if he can just become a rich and famous rock star, that all of his problems will be solved and he’ll be happy.
Marshall Byle is a rock star and Joel’s musical idol. He shows up one day and tells Joel that the secret to success lies in an alternate world called Spectraland, where Joel’s unique brain waves can be combined with the sound waves of music to create magical effects. Of course, once Joel arrives in Spectraland, things don’t turn out quite as he expected them to.
Felicity Smith is an eighteen-year-old girl who is also a talented musician on the autism spectrum. She has an abrasive personality and uses sarcasm as sort of a defense mechanism. Marshall also brings her over to Spectraland.
Greenseed is a local resident of Spectraland who ends up accompanying Joel, Marshall and Felicity on their adventure.
What is the primary conflict of the story?
Basically, Joel gets trapped in Spectraland and has to use his special abilities to defeat an evil warlord who is threatening to take over both Spectraland as well as the Earth. I know that sounds pretty stock, but there’s a twist near the end that shakes things up and ties in with the whole theme of the book, which is that happiness is a state of mind, not something that results from material possessions or other external sources.
How do you think your son and your protagonist would get along?
That’s a great question! I think they would get along pretty well, actually. Joel is a bit more into his music and such, but they have some mutual interests that they could bond over. My son would have Joel play some of the video games that he makes and Joel would love them.
Who is the target audience?
The book is aimed at a young adult audience, so around 12-18 would be the age range. Also, I think that anyone with some kind of connection to the autism spectrum would find things in the book that they can relate to. Musicians as well. And really, anybody who is a fan of the whole sci-fi/fantasy “hero’s journey” type of story (Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc.) would hopefully enjoy it.
What are your goals for this book?
Well, it started out just as a fun project for me and my son. But after I finished writing it, I realized that I had created a fictional hero for kids on the spectrum — someone who saves the day with his special qualities, not despite them. So my primary goal evolved into being able to provide these kids with a character that they can relate to and gain a sense of coolness and empowerment from. And for people without any connection to the autism spectrum, there would be an awareness element to it that they would pick up while just enjoying a fun adventure story.
Along with that, I’ll be donating a portion of profits from the book to Autism Empowerment. I would love to be in a position where I could help provide financial support to autism programs on a large scale. Just as one example, my son benefitted from a program at his school, and I think it would be great if something like that could be implemented everywhere.
How did you come up with the title?
When I was developing the story, I came up with the idea for an object or artifact that stores and amplifies the characters’ powers. Since Spectraland is a tropical island, I decided that a shell would be appropriate. And since it basically stores and magnifies sound waves, it would be a shell that holds songs — hence, “songshell”.
Is anything in your book based on real life experience or is it purely all imagination?
A lot of what Joel feels and thinks internally is based on my experience with my son and my own life, but most of the scenery and action is pure imagination.
Where do you get the ideas for your book?
I’m a big sci-fi/fantasy fan myself, so I draw a lot of inspiration from those sources. Also, some of the ideas just come about naturally as the characters try to follow the story outline that I’ve built for them — at times, they take on minds of their own. I think it’s cool because what you end up with is something a bit more natural, like, what a real person would do in some of the situations I place them in.
How long did it take for you to complete this book and what was your writing process?
The first draft took four months. I set a goal that no matter what, I would write four hundred words a day, regardless of how they turned out. I figured that I would “get it out there” and then revise and rewrite later. Sure enough, I then spent over a year editing, revising and rewriting.
How would you describe your writing style?
Having been a songwriter most of my life, I like to pay extra attention to the rhythm and pacing of sentences and paragraphs. Also, I try to keep things visual, fast-paced, and fun to read.
What was your favorite part of the book to write and why?
Probably the final climax scene. I actually wrote a draft of that scene before any other part of the book.
I understand that your book launches on July 17th (available early online!!!). Where will readers be able to go to pick up a copy?
Initially, readers can buy a copy from Amazon.com (both print and e-book versions will be available), or they can attend one of the launch parties. The cost is $9.99 for the hard copy version and $4.99 for the Kindle / downloadable version.
You are hosting two launch parties in July. Please tell us about each one.
The first one is on Saturday, July 21st from 3-5pm at Thatcher’s Coffee, 104 Grand Blvd, Vancouver WA. No cover, all ages, and free cupcakes while they last. Bring the kids!
The second one is on Wednesday, July 25th from 8pm-12am at Ash Street Saloon, 225 SW Ash Street, Portland OR. $5 cover, 21 and over, and live music by all three of my bands: Second Player Score, Happy Pocket, and Bellwether. I’ll be jumping around, abusing my guitar and yelling into the microphone, so it’ll definitely be a good time.
Autism Empowerment is also quite excited to be at both Launch Parties and will be bringing literature and information about our organization to each event. Please stop in and say hi!
I understand that your book is first in The Spectraland Saga. How many books do you anticipate in the series?
I’m planning seven books in all — one for each color on Newton’s spectrum. He believed that there was a connection between the colors and musical notes, which ties in nicely with the music motif in the series. So, the next book will be orange, and so on.
When I read your book, I immediately envisioned it as a movie. Any plans to adapt to the big screen?
That would be great – I would love to see it on a movie screen myself. Because of all the imagery, though, it would almost have to be a big-budget production, unless there’s some super-talented CGI/film school student out there that would want to produce it as their finals project (hint).
Is there anything else you would like to say or share with your readers and fans?
I’ll be devoting a section of the book’s website to fan art, so if you read the book and feel inspired to create something based on it, please send it in! Here’s all our contact info:
Thank you so much, Brian! We hope Autism Empowerment visitors read and enjoy the book as much as we did! You can purchase Brian's book online and support Autism Empowerment by going to the following link: Secret of the Songshell by Brian Tashima