Tuesday 9 July 2019

An Interview With Akemi Dawn Bowman

Hi friends! Last month, I had the pleasure of attending Cymera Festival, Scotland's first Sci-fi/Fantasy festival and the lovely organisers were kind enough to gift me a press pass and allow me to interview some of their lovely authors. And you can imagine my excitement when Akemi agreed to meet with me! I loved her sophmore novel Summer Bird Blue and I've been looking forward to reading her debut Starfish.
I've been saving up these interviews over the last few weeks, but I just couldn't resist releasing this one now.... but first, here's a little about Akemi and her books.

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of William C. Morris Award Finalist Starfish, Summer Bird Blue, and Harley in the Sky. Her upcoming sci-fi series, The Infinity Courts, is set to release in 2021, followed by her middle-grade debut, Generation Misfits. A proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, she has a BA in social sciences from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She currently lives in Scotland with her husband and two children.


40611543. sy475 A half-Japanese teen grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school in this debut novel.

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

A William C. Morris Award Finalist; A New York Public Library Best Book for Teens of 2017; A Junior Library Guild Selection



35716237Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.



38326343. sy475 Harley Milano has dreamed of being a trapeze artist for as long as she can remember. With parents who run a famous circus in Las Vegas, she spends almost every night in the big top watching their lead aerialist perform, wishing with all her soul that she could be up there herself one day.

After a huge fight with her parents, who continue to insist she go to school instead, Harley leaves home, betrays her family and joins the rival traveling circus Maison du Mystère. There, she is thrust into a world that is both brutal and beautiful, where she learns the value of hard work, passion and collaboration. But at the same time, Harley must come to terms with the truth of her family and her past—and reckon with the sacrifices she made and the people she hurt in order to follow her dreams



Hi Akemi. It's so lovely to have you here on the blog. So to start off with, could you tell us a little bit about you and your books? 

I have three books that people know about so far. I think the most well known is probably Starfish - my first book. I write a lot about mental health and people finding their families, and all my characters are always multiracial because I'm multiracial. So I've kind of just put that in the story just because it's familiar to me.

And your new book, Harley in the Sky is coming out soon I believe? The cover has just been revealed and it's so gorgeous! Could you tell us about your writing process for it?

Harley is about a girl who runs away to join the circus, which was kind of a complete fantasy for me. My first two books are about mental health, and they were kind of heavy to write. After writing them I was just drained - it's amazing to have a book out, but there's a lot of stuff that I think comes with it that you're not prepared for. So I just wanted the third book to be something that was a little bit lighter, a little bit more indulgent. I think there's still going to be some emotional things in there, but I think it's a lot lighter for sure. It's more about somebody following their dreams and the hard work that it takes to get there.

You mentioned that a lot of the themes in your books are difficult topics such as mental health and grief. Why did you decide you wanted to write about topics for young people that were maybe slightly more challenging? 

The easiest answer is that when I was growing up, there was a lot going on in my head, but I didn't have language for it. I just knew that it just felt chaotic all the time mentally. When I was in my early twenties, I ended up seeing a therapist and I went for about a year and a half, and I learned the language and it was important having those labels. I know for some people labels aren't important, but for me it was, it wasn't just that I needed to label it. And that was life changing for me, to know that "This is actually a thing. It's not just me feeling chaotic. It's actually something that people go through." And I think that experience as I got older and older, that kind of just carried on and I just felt like I want to tell stories about what it felt like. You know, not to teach a lesson, not to say this is how you should feel or that this is what you should be thinking or doing. But just to say this is what it felt like. So that when people are in that space they know they can have some hope and healing at the end of it and to show that it does get better. Sometimes I think it's just important to not feel alone. That's really why I write this stuff, so that even if just one person in the world can say, that's my life, and I'm not the only one. That makes it worth it, you know?

And the mental health representation in your books feels so real and authentic! It's not at all glamorised or demonised... it just is.

Any issue with mental health representation in books, tends to be where mental illness is written as a cute quirk, and it's not. There's actually a lot of serious stuff that goes behind it. When you make it a quirk, people think it's funny and that's not how it really is.

There's also a big focus in your books on family. Why did you decide to write about the difficulties teenagers might experience in families?

For me, I think one of the things that made such a difference in growing up was when you met people that did feel like "real families". For people who don't have the perfect family, or don't have a parent or a sibling or a grandparent who cares; to have that hope, to know that just because you don't have a blood family doesn't mean that you can't find family in your friendships and even distant relatives - I think that's really important. It can be so lonely for people growing up feeling like they don't have anybody there for them. So I want people to know that there's other relationships in this world that are just as important. And it doesn't matter if you don't have the perfect mom, or the perfect Dad. You can find that family kind of love elsewhere.

That's such a great message. Talking about that theme of not feeling alone, in Summer Bird Blue you explore one of the characters discovering she is on the asexual spectrum. What inspired you to write about this?

When I was growing up, I had crushes on guys and I would look at girls and it wasn't any different, but I didn't realize that that was an option. My crushes weren't the way other people's crushes were - everybody else would say "He's so hot" and that just made me so uncomfortable. When I had a crush on someone, it was more that I wanted us to be best friends. And then people would say to me "That's not a crush"! And so for me, like I had that experience that I knew what that was or how it felt. And then as I got older and realized that there were terms for this feeling and that was life-changing, like "Wait a second, like this is a thing. This is a real thing that people are feeling and it's not just me, it's not weird." And so when I was writing this, it was very much like how I felt when I was younger and what I was thinking; but with the lessons that I didn't learn for another 10 years after I was that age. So I put it in there just to normalize it.In Summer Bird Blue, Rumi doesn't actually really want to use labels and that's a big thing for her. It's discussed and she knows there are labels but it's clear you don't have to use them you don't want to. Because the labels exist for you if they make you feel comfortable, and not for anybody else to box you into something. So that was the reasoning behind why I wrote that, so that people would read it and it reflects their own experience but also makes them feel like they don't have to choose labels if they don't want to.

Thank you for sharing that, I think that's great. We talked a little about Harley in the Sky and I was wondering if you could recommend any books that you think readers of your books enjoy, whilst they are waiting for Harley in the Sky. 

I just read The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, and before that I read The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King. As for contemporary books, Sarah Barnard wrote A Quiet Kind of Thunder, which also has a main character who has social anxiety - I could definitely see a lot of similarities with Starfish and I think that if you like Starfish, I could definitely see you relating to the to that one as well. And some others are Kelly Loy Gilbert's Picture Us in the Light and Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. As for fantasy, Priory of the Orange Tree, I will definitely hands-down recommend. I know it looks daunting when you look at the size of the book, but it's just such a fast read. I just burned through those pages and it was just so, so good. Children of Blood and Bone I really enjoyed as well. Also, Six of Crows is an all time favorite, but I feel like everybody has read it now, so at some point I will just have to stop recommending it!

One last question - would you be able to tell us a little bit about your recently announced book, The Infinity Courts? *I did a little excited shuffle at this point in the interview because I am SO. EXCITED. for this book*

Well, ever since I've been a writer, I've always wanted to write fantasy and scifi. I never even thought about contemporary, to be honest, and my contemporary books kind of happened by accident! I was on submission for a sci-fi book, and I decided to work on something else. And I thought; "Well, what's something that's so different from sci-fi, that's not going to distract me?" And that was contemporary. And then the contemporary happened to be the one that told first! So I'm so happy to have this sci-fi story out there. The concept is that when we die, our physical body dies, but our consciousness actually goes to another place, like what we think of as heaven, but it's called Infinity. And this girl, the main character (this isn't a spoiler, it's in the blurb), she dies. Then when she wakes up in Infinity, she finds out that it's been taken over by artificial intelligence. So, there's a resistance and all this court intrigue. It's basically a blend of fantasy and sci-fi, which is where my heart is, and I'm just so happy they're letting me do it. So it's very fun and I'm super excited for it releasing in early 2021.

I can't wait! Thank you so much for chatting to me Akemi, it was such a pleasure having you on the blog!
Thank you so much for joining me on the blog Akemi, I had the best time. What about you guys? Have you read anything by Akemi before? What are your favourite books by her? What makes you love her books? I'd love to hear your thoughts.