Today I have the lovely Akemi Dawn Bowman on the blog today with an interview with Katie over at QueenOfTeenFiction and Zoe from Ourfirstyearhere.
Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish. She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. Starfish will be published later this year (9/26/17, Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster), with a second YA contemporary to follow in Fall 2018. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.
Photo by Rory Lewis Photography.
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Kiko is half-Japanese, which is awesome! What lead to you writing her with this heritage?
When I started writing Starfish, I knew I wanted to write the book I needed most as a teenager. I’m half-Japanese myself, and when I was growing up there just weren’t books that reflected a biracial experience like mine. And I knew in my heart when I decided to write a contemporary that this was the book I needed to write. I wrote Kiko to reflect my heritage, so that in turn she’d be able to reflect someone else’s—someone who’s still searching the bookshelves for the story I could never find.
What sort of research did you have to do before writing Starfish?
Starfish is very much the book of my heart. And I guess in a lot of ways, I’d already done the research simply by living through the experiences that I have. Starfish is about identity and family and healing, and how all three can sometimes be tangled together. I want to preface this next part by saying that not everybody has the same experience, and biracial people are not a monolith. But my experience was very similar to Kiko’s; I grew up with a feeling of not belonging—of being both not Asian enough and not white enough—and it really affected the way I saw myself. I’ve also lived with social anxiety for most of my life, which Kiko also has. So I think this book was less about research and more about taking pieces of my own experiences and reshaping them into a story that felt both organic and important. I didn’t write a biography, but I wrote the book I think would have helped me immeasurably if I’d only had the chance to read it in high school.
Is there a character that you found the most challenging to write about?
I think Kiko’s mother was the most challenging in some ways, because I created a character who doesn’t treat her children very kindly, but doesn’t necessarily have a big, eye-opening backstory as to why. She is incredibly narcissistic, but also has no idea how much she’s hurting people—Kiko specifically—because she has an inability to look past her own feelings and needs.
I think anyone who has experience with a parent similar to Kiko’s will see something familiar on the page. But on the flipside, those who don’t might be looking for an explanation as to why she is the way she is. They’ll want redemption or closure or a reason. But sometimes the people with parents like Kiko’s don’t get to have this. They don’t get an explanation in real life. And I think that might be tough for some people to understand, and so the challenge for me as a writer was to decide who I’m writing this story for—the majority who might not understand, or the minority who will?
And ultimately, I wanted to write a book for the people who don’t often see themselves represented, and that includes those who have grown up with trauma from an emotionally abusive parent. And I hope it helps some people, and that it resonates with those who really need it. I’ve had some wonderful readers already reach out to say that Starfish, for them, was like finally being “seen”—and that honestly means everything to me.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
That healing doesn’t happen overnight. That beauty isn’t just one thing. That sometimes you can be both okay and not okay, and that I see you—I understand you. And I want readers to feel a sense of hope, and to embrace who they are and believe that they absolutely belong in this world just as much as anybody else.
What inspired you to write Starfish?
I think I already tapped into this a bit in my earlier answers, but I wanted Starfish to be a mirror for readers who don’t often get to see themselves in books.
Were you a childhood bookworm? And if so, what were your favourite books?
Yes, absolutely! When I was really young I used to devour Nancy Drew and Baby-sitters Little Sister books like they were candy. I was also really into the Goosebumps series, and I’m pretty sure I read Night of the Living Dummy at least fifty times. As I got older, I discovered His Dark Materials and the Harry Potter series, and they basically changed my life forever.
Would you say Kiko is like you at all?
I’m sitting here laughing, because if anyone I knew was standing over my shoulder right now they’d be screaming “YES!” so loudly. When I was drafting Starfish, I was never consciously trying to make Kiko and I similar. But I think because of the nature of the story and the shared experiences of identity and social anxiety, there are definitely similarities there. That being said, I think it’s a lot more fair to say that Kiko starts off similar to how I was in high school. But Kiko is so much stronger than I was, and her journey and growth is what I wish I’d had years ago. Also, Kiko doesn’t like Batman, which is so not like me at all. And okay, I might have put that in the book on purpose so I could point it out to my family and say, “SEE, WE’RE NOT THE SAME PERSON AT ALL,” but still. I love Batman! So we’re not exactly alike!
Do you have any writing or editing rituals?
I like to have a chai latte or a sugary snack (Milk Duds, preferably!) to sit down with, but I don’t know if that’s a ritual so much as just me having a sweet tooth. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old, so when I get a window of time to write, I’m in full-force light-speed mode trying to get every single word on the page in one sitting. I kind of write in bulk at odd hours, and I’m exhausted literally all the time, but it’s the only way I can get anything done. I’m so disappointed in myself for not having a cooler answer for this. Other authors have epic playlists and the most gorgeous sticker charts and post-it setups for edits, and I basically eat chocolate and write until my face feels like it’s going to fall off or one of my kids starts crying—whichever comes first.
Did you visit any of the art schools for research? And if so, did you have a favourite? –
All of the art schools are fictional, so there wasn’t any research there. That being said, the architecture and style was loosely based off of various campuses I’ve seen over the years. Brightwood was definitely my favorite—I love trees and flowers and nature. Being surrounded by so much green helps with my creativity, so I thought it was a perfect setting for an art school!
A gorgeous and emotionally resonant debut novel about a half-Japanese teen who grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school.
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.