Today I am bringing you a Q and A with one of my favourite authors, Akemi Dawn Bowman. Join me in a coffee and a chat?
This week I’m drinking a lovely fruity coffee Peru, roasted by the lovelies over at Dear Green. It’s called Rutas Del Inka and has tasting notes of toffee and toasted almonds.
Akemi Dawn Bowman is one of my favourite authors of ever. If you read my blog at all, you’ll know how much her book Starfish meant to me, because it pops up all over the place (I’ve mentioned it in 13 posts since the blog tour). I fangirled all over Akemi at YALC this year and, quite frankly, I’m amazed at this point she hasn’t taken out some kind of digital restraining order. Akemi will be attending the Northern YA Lit Fest on 16th March 2019 where she will be speaking on the mental health panel. Tickets are free, so I suggest you get on with that now, because the NYA line up is AMAZING. I’ll be posting more about that shortly, but let’s get on with today’s questions.
1. Your latest book Summer Bird Blue came out towards the end of 2018 (I think, I pre-ordered the US edition as I have zero patience). Can you tell us a little bit about it for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet?
Thank you so much for pre-ordering! SUMMER BIRD BLUE is about a teen named Rumi who dreams of becoming a singer-songwriter with her sister. But then her sister dies in an accident, and their mom—who is struggling with her own grief—decides to send Rumi to Hawaii for the summer to stay with an aunt. At its core, this is a book about abandonment, and the many different ways that can look and feel to an individual. It’s a sad book, definitely, but hopeful too!
An aside from me – if you’ve not read Summer Bird Blue, definitely do. It’s amazing.
2. What inspired you to write SBB?
I feel like grief is something just about everyone in this world will experience at some point in time, but it’s also something that isn’t a “one size fits all.” And I wanted to explore how we all grieve differently, and how it’s okay to be sad or angry or hurt. It’s okay to react—because grief is messy. I also knew I wanted to set this book in Hawaii, because it’s where most of my family is from. There was something poetic to me about Rumi feeling so alone in a place that will always remind me of family. I think it serves as a reminder that we can have all the right things and be surrounded by all the right people, but we still need time to heal.
3. You’ve talked a little before about how your books, Starfish particularly, had a huge emotional effect on you whilst writing (as a reader, Starfish completely drained me, so I went into Summer Bird Blue knowing the content wouldn’t affect me as strongly, but certainly more mindful of taking care of myself and not bingeing it in one big ,sobbing session).
Did this alter your writing process for Summer Bird Blue? Are there things that you had to do differently to take care of yourself whilst writing Summer Bird Blue?
Yes, definitely! I was a lot more aware of how draining writing heavy stories can be. I think with STARFISH, I wrote it very quickly and then kind of hit a mental health spiral for a while. With SUMMER BIRD BLUE, I made sure to take more breaks. I was also a lot more conscious of boundaries and creating a safe-space where I could write the book and then completely step away from it. And I think for writers, that can sometimes be a tricky thing to do, because we put our hearts into our stories, and forget to take them back out again. Sometimes the content can be personal, so when the book goes out into the world, it can feel like everyone has a magnifying glass and is dissecting every bit of that heart. And art of course should be critiqued, interpreted, etc., because that’s the beautiful thing about art—it’s different for everybody. It means different things to different people. And I love that, but also as a creator it was important for me to find a way to separate myself from the noise. I think what I do differently now is that I try to remember to shed the emotions and attachments I have to my own work. Now when I finish writing a book, I close that door and move on to the next project. That book isn’t for me anymore—it’s for readers. And I think this has really helped me grow a lot as a writer, because it keeps me focused on the work and moving forward.
4. Which character was your favourite to write and why?
Mr. Watanabe, 100%. I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but he is totally my favorite. He’s grouchy and no-nonsense and I just really, really love him.
I absolutely ADORE Mr Wantanabe.
5. Summer Bird Blue focuses quite heavily on music as the way Rumi begins to heal. Did you have a particular soundtrack or type of music you listened to whilst writing? Do you play any musical instruments or are there any you wish you did?
There’s a song that’s referenced in the book that I think really suits the vibe of the story, which is “The Call” by Regina Spektor. But I don’t tend to listen to a lot of music while I write, because I need total silence to concentrate. I did, however, watch a lot of ukulele covers on YouTube when I was trying to figure out what Rumi’s sound/style would be. I can play the flute and piano, and I’ve been teaching myself the ukulele but I’m still pretty terrible.
“The Call” is such a lovely song. Little S and I are trying to learn the ukulele too. We’ve been going months and we still can’t do much.
6. Both Starfish and Summer Bird Blue have a heavy focus on mental health. Why do you think this is an important issue for YA to explore?
I really feel strongly about normalizing discussions about mental health in all their different forms. We need a wider representation of mental illness in books because mental illness does not look the same for everyone. We are affected by different things. We are shaped by different experiences. Two people can have social anxiety and have totally different understandings as to what that looks like. And that’s okay! I think the more YA books explore the different nuances of mental health, the more people will get to see themselves in books and realize that they’re not alone in how they’re feeling. There’s still shame and stigmas attached to mental illness, and they can vary between cultures and within society. And I honestly feel like books can help so much with this, because books are a way to reach the people who maybe don’t have the safe space to openly discuss these things. It gives them a mirror. It makes them feel valid. And it starts a conversation, which is what we really need right now.
7. What would you like your readers to take away from reading your books?
You’re not alone, found family is family, and I promise things do get better.
I LOVE THIS SO MUCH.
8. Are there any writers or books that have particularly inspired you?
There are so many incredible writers out there who are doing amazing work: Samira Ahmed, Ashley Herring Blake, Heidi Heilig, S.K. Ali, Cindy Pon, Angie Thomas, Dhonielle Clayton, Zoraida Córdova, and so many more I’m probably forgetting at the moment. And of course, Leigh Bardugo is a world-building master.
9. Any 2019 releases you’re especially excited for?
SO MANY oh my goodness. INTERNMENT by Samira Ahmed, A PLACE FOR WOLVES by Kosoko Jackson, THE WEIGHT OF OUR SKY by Hanna Alkaf, CROWN OF FEATHERS by Nicki Pau Preto. I’ve just finished THE WICKED KING by Holly Black, which I devoured in one sitting, and of course KING OF SCARS by Leigh Bardugo comes out soon. It’s a good year for books!
Just topped up my TBR there, how about you?
10. Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on at the moment?
I’ve just turned in copyedits for HARLEY IN THE SKY, which releases in the US in spring 2020. It’s about a teen who dreams of becoming a trapeze artist in her parents’ Las Vegas circus, against their wishes, and she decides to run away and join a rival company. There’s a bit of a romance going on in this one, which was fun to write. I’m also going back to my roots and working on a super-secret sci-fi project I’m very excited about. Hopefully I’ll be able to share more soon!
Thank you so much Akemi! I hope you all enjoyed this Q and A as much as I did. Let me know if we’ll be seeing you at NYA Lit Fest.