I read that your son, who has Aspergers Syndrome, was your inspiration for writing young adult sci-fi/fantasy books with an Aspie on the hero’s journey. But you are a musician, so how are you able to take on the challenge of writing The Spectraland Saga, a series of seven books?
As an avid reader, writing a novel was something that I’ve always wanted to do. I took a creative writing class in college and made a few attempts in the past, but when my son came up to me a few years ago and asked me to write him a book, that was the impetus I needed to really get going. So at that point, I read a few books on how to write books, and that was how it all got started.
Writing a novel is sort of similar to songwriting—in both cases, you’re basically telling a story. The difference is that with songwriting, you have to be a lot more economical with your words. With the novel, it was fun to be able to stretch out a bit.
You’ve written and published the first book, Secret of the Songshell…how is the “indie author and publisher” experience been?
Overall, it’s been a very fun ride so far. Most of my life had been spent in and around the music industry, so it felt fresh and exciting to move into this “new realm,” so to speak. Funny thing is, that same music industry experience also prepared me pretty well for some of the challenges that have come up along the way. The crazy world of rock ‘n’ roll is like a master-level course in Murphy’s Law, so by comparison, the publishing business has actually been rather smooth sailing.
Have you experienced some unexpected surprises?
One specific surprise that I ran into came in the early stages when I was preparing the e-book version of Songshell. I didn’t know that the source file for an e-book had to be in a special format—I thought I could just upload my raw Word file. Wrong! At that point, I didn’t have time to learn how to format it myself, but I found out that there are a lot of people who do that as a service for a small fee. So everything turned out fine, but it took a bit of last-minute scrambling.
Can you highlight how Secret of the Songshell is similar to other books in its genre?
I’ve always been a huge fan of the “Hero’s Journey” story archetype, especially in the science fiction and fantasy genres—Star Wars, Harry Potter, and so on. I wanted to have my own entry into that pantheon, so I followed that basic story structure when I was writing Secret of the Songshell.
And how is it unique?
While the underlying framework is similar—we all use the same chocolate cake, I like to say—I think the difference is in the details, or the “frosting.” I think Songshell’s combination of the autism spectrum and musical elements are what set it apart from those other works.
What age are you targeting?
Officially it’s a young adult series, so around 12-18, but I did try to make it something that younger kids and older kids (like me) could also get into.
And are you finding that it’s being universally enjoyed—by kids on the spectrum and those who are not?
I’ve received positive reviews from people both on and off the spectrum. That was one of my objectives—to craft a story that was just plain fun to read, regardless of whether you had any connection to the spectrum or not.
My other objective was to provide kids on the spectrum with a literary hero that they could relate to and gain a sense of coolness and empowerment from, and some of the most gratifying feedback I’ve received has been from people who say that the book has done just that.
Did your son help you with the story?
My son actually helped me out quite a bit when the book was still in an early stage. I asked him to read the first several chapters, and when I asked him what he thought, his response was: “It was good, but…I got a little bored.” So then I read them back myself, and realized that he was right—the story took too long to develop. I ended up basically eliminating one whole early chapter and rewriting the others, and the book turned out much better as a result.
What does he think about the book?
Both my kids (I also have a daughter) and I like to quote lines from books and movies to each other for fun, and I think the biggest compliment I got was when they started quoting lines from Secret of the Songshell. That was when I knew I had made it.
What kind of impact has it made on him?
One of my son’s classes ended up reading part of the book in school. I’m hoping that it was a neat experience for him—like, “Your Dad wrote this book? Cool!”—and not too embarrassing.
What about you? What impact has writing and publishing a YA sci-fi/fantasy book made on you?
It’s consumed whatever free time I used to have, that’s for sure! Seriously, though, it’s been a very fulfilling and rewarding experience, especially when I hear that the book has made a positive difference in people’s lives. I’ve made a lot of new friends along the way as well.
What’s next on the horizon?
I’ve been hard at work on Book 2, which will be called Mystery of the Moonfire, and I have to admit, it’s been a fairly grueling process so far. I basically ended up tossing out my first attempt at it, which was about sixty pages worth, and then I got up to about a hundred pages on the second attempt before I realized that I had over-plotted it and had to streamline the story dramatically. So now I’m up to about sixty pages again, and hopefully this time I’m on the right track. I’ve heard of bands who record an entire album and then throw it away and start over again, so I don’t feel too bad…it’s all part of the process of getting the best possible end result.
Any other news you’d care to share about The Spectraland Saga?
In addition to that, I’m still promoting the first book, and one exciting thing that I have coming up is the audiobook version of Secret of the Songshell! It’s still in the early stages of production, but I’m happy to say that it will be narrated by a very talented actor—who happens to be an Aspie himself—named Jonathan Murphy. You may have heard of him. He does excellent work, so I’m really excited.
(Wow that IS great news!)
Inspired by your son, you came up with a “novel” idea, took a risk and have gone on an epic creative adventure…what would you like to say to others about going on their own creative quests?
That the process really is like a real-life hero’s journey. There will be days when you feel like you’re wandering through an endless desert, searching for some lost artifact that may not even exist, and you’ll ask yourself “what am I doing?” But then, with the help of others—mentors, friends—you make it past the obstacles and you remember the real reasons why you started this quest in the first place: to share a story with the world, to follow your creative passion, or in my case, to create something for a loved one that you can share for the rest of your lives.
Find out more about Brian, The Spectraland Saga and Secret of the Songshell on: