Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Interview with Brian Tashima Author of Secret of the Songshell

Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?

I’ve been a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction my whole life. As a kid, I loved all of the books by Tolkein, Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Katherine Kurtz, and so on.

What inspired you to write this book?

My son approached me a few years ago and 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. When I was thinking about ideas for 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. So that was where the original idea and inspiration came from.

Please tell us about your latest release.

Secret of the Songshell is about a teenage guitarist with Asperger’s Syndrome who travels to another world where his unique brain waves can be combined with the sound waves of music to create magical effects.

In the beginning of the story, the protagonist, Joel Suzuki, struggles with the usual sources of teen angst as well as the challenges that his Asperger’s presents. Being a gifted musician and songwriter, he thinks that if he can become a rock star, all of his problems will be solved and he’ll be happy. He gets what seems like his big chance when his rock star idol shows up one day and tells Joel that the secret to success lies in an alternate world called Spectraland. But once Joel arrives there, he finds himself trapped by an evil warlord who threatens to take over both Spectraland as well as the Earth. So Joel has to embark on a journey to find the Songshell, an artifact that will help him defeat the warlord, and in the process he discovers the true meaning of happiness.

With this book, I wanted to provide kids on the autism spectrum with a literary hero that could serve as a positive and empowering role model — someone that saved the day with his special qualities, not despite them. I’m donating a portion of proceeds from the book to Autism Empowerment, a non-profit organization based in my town that works to promote autism awareness and education.

Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?

My main characters have “regular” names (Joel, Felicity, Marshall), but the locals of Spectraland have names that start with a descriptive word and end with a part of the body or a plant — for example: Greenseed, Suntooth, Fourfoot. There were two reasons behind this: one, Spectraland’s natives are kind of a combination of human and plant, and two, they name everything very literally, which is kind of how some people with Asperger’s approach the idea of naming things — when my son was young, he won a fish at a county fair. He named it “Fish.”

Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?

Felicity Smith, another “earthling” brought over to Spectraland to learn the secrets of stardom, was challenging to write in that she’s a girl with Asperger’s. Autism spectrum disorders like Asperger’s tend to manifest differently in females, and while I could model Joel after my son, I had no real-life example to use for Felicity. So her character required a bit more research. Fortunately, I was able to get feedback from Karen Krejcha, the executive director of Autism Empowerment, who herself is a woman with Asperger’s.

Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?

Even though she required more research, Felicity was very fun to write. She uses sarcasm as a defense mechanism, which made for some pretty entertaining dialogue.

Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?

I did create sketches for all of my characters beforehand. For the most part I stuck to them, but as the book progressed, at times the characters developed minds of their own and digressed a bit from the original sketch. It actually turned out for the better that way, as their actions seemed more natural and consistent.

What is your favorite scene from the book? Could you share a little bit of it, without spoilers of course?

My favorite scene is probably the climax. I had written a draft of that scene before I even finished my outline — it just played out in my head like a movie. It’s the scene where Joel confronts the bad guy (you probably could have guessed that) and discovers the true meaning of happiness.

Can you tell readers a little bit about the world building in the book/series? How does this world differ from our normal world?

Spectraland is an island with a tropical climate where electrical particles in the air are visible to the naked eye. Certain individuals are able to manipulate those particles through the use of a guitar-like musical instrument called a wavebow. Basically, they channel their brain waves through the instrument, and when combined with the sound waves of the wavebow, magic-like effects are achieved — levitation, healing, and so forth.

With the book being part of a series, are there any character or story arcs, that readers jumping in somewhere other than the first book, need to be aware of? Can these books be read as stand alones?

Secret of the Songshell is the first book of a planned seven-book series called The Spectraland Saga, and it can be read as a stand-alone. The future books will probably function fine as stand-alone stories, although the reader will be a little less confused if they had read the previous books in the series.

Do any of your characters have similar characteristics of yourself in them and what are they?

Joel is a combination of me and my son — the rock guitarist part is me. Also, the fact that Joel can’t swim, even though he’s from Hawaii, is also me.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you deal with it?

The hardest thing for me is getting started. So what I’ll do is I’ll read what I’ve written up until that point, and that usually gets me going. Or sometimes I’ll read someone else’s book, and derive inspiration from that. Once I get into the flow I normally don’t have any trouble with writer’s block.

 What are your guilty pleasures in life?

Good beer and the Star Wars prequels.

Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life?

Music is the big one — I’ve been a guitarist and songwriter since high school. I also like to get in a round of golf whenever I can, which is about once a year.

What was the last amazing book you read?

My favorite books are the ones that force you to postpone real life while you read just one more chapter. The most recent books to have that effect on me were the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy and Room by Emma Donoghue.

Where is your favorite place to read? Do you have a cozy corner or special reading spot?

Recently, I’ve been doing most of my reading in the car — parked, of course, while I wait to pick up my daughter from school.

What can readers expect next from you?

I’m currently hard at work on the follow-up to Secret of the Songshell. My goal is to have it out by the fall of 2013, but we’ll see how that turns out. People are already asking me “where’s the second book?” so the pressure is on.

Where can readers find you on the web?

Twitter: @SpectralandSaga

Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?

Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter 2:

Joel winced as the weird sound blared painfully in his ears once again. “Um, did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Art asked as he tried to piece together two sections of Joel’s broken guitar.
“Uh — nothing,” Joel said. That was the fourth time today, and Joel was getting worried. He started a search for “hearing loss symptoms” on the computer when suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw movement on the far wall of the store. He looked around. His eyes gravitated towards an old Biledriver poster that showed all of the band members in full scowl. He blinked several times. Did Marshall just . . . smile?
Two minutes passed. Joel took another bite out of his sandwich as he continued staring at the poster. He could have sworn that he saw Marshall smile for a fraction of a second. But that’s crazy, right? It’s just a poster. . . .

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Secret of the Songshell was just named a finalist in the 2012 USA Best Book Awards for fantasy fiction

Secret of the Songshell
The Spectraland Saga, Book One
Brian Tashima

Genre: YA sci-fi/fantasy

Publisher: Prism Valley Press

ISBN: 978-0615648156
ASIN: 0615648150

Number of pages: 318
Word Count: 79000

Cover Artist: Purnima Prasad

Book Description:

Joel Suzuki is a gifted teenage guitarist with Asperger's Syndrome who gets transported to a world where his unique brain waves can be combined with the sound waves of music to create magical effects. Once there, he must use his newfound abilities to locate the Songshell, a powerful artifact that will help him stop a mysterious evil entity from destroying the alternate world as well as the Earth.

About the Author:

Brian Tashima was born and raised in Hawaii and has been a resident of Vancouver, Washington since 2000. In addition to being an author, he is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who has won a Hoku award (Hawaii’s version of the Grammys) and has had his music featured in short films, international compilations, and numerous other forms of media. He is currently a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), Willamette Writers, Northwest Independent Writers Association, and three Vancouver/Portland-based rock bands.

Twitter: @SpectralandSaga

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bn100 said...

Great inspiration for the book.

Roxanne Rhoads said...

thank you for creating a book with purpose and meaning, something Autistic kids can relate to and have a hero to look up to.