Author Spotlight: Akemi Dawn Bowman talks Starfish
I'm beyond thrilled to welcome author, Akemi Dawn Bowman, to the blog today! Her debut novel, Starfish, was released this week and it's already been named A Junior Library Guild Selection, one of Bustle’s New YA Novels from First Time Authors You Need to Read in the Second Half of 2017, one of B&N Teen Blog’s Most Anticipated Debut Novels of the Second Half of 2017, and Paste Magazine's 10 of the Best New Young Adult Books In September 2017!
And check out what Publisher's Weekly had to say in a starred review: "In an empowering novel that will speak to many mixed-race teens, debut author Bowman has created a cast of realistically complex and conflicted characters. . . . Through art, Kiko gains a voice and finally understands that she is worthy, desirable, and talented.” And now, here's my chat with Akemi. :)
Hi, Akemi! Welcome and congrats on your debut. Can you tell us a little about Starfish and what inspired it?
Thank you so much! Starfish is a story about a teen artist named Kiko Himura, who struggles with social anxiety, a narcissistic mother, and a half-Japanese half-white heritage that often makes her feel like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. When her dreams of going to Prism Art School in New York are shattered, she sets out on a different path with the help of her childhood best friend, Jamie.
The inspiration behind this story is pretty simple: I wanted to write the book I needed most as a teen. My hope is that it will find the people who need it most now, and that it will help them to feel understood and seen, which is something I desperately wanted when I was younger.
Booklist gave Starfish a starred review, saying “The story will resonate deeply with readers who have experienced abuse of any kind, or who have been held back by social anxiety. Starfish is a stunningly beautiful, highly nuanced debut.” What’s the lasting message you hope readers will take away from Kiko’s story?
That they’re not alone, and that healing takes time. I want them to feel hopeful and brave, and I hope after reading Kiko’s journey, that they’ll either have a mirror that represents their own story or a window that can teach them about someone else’s.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
The initial drafting stage—but more the second half than the first. It’s so easy for me to lose momentum and love for a story if I don’t get all the words on the page as soon as possible. I’m a bit like a flame that burns bright but fast. So it takes a lot of willpower to sit down and force myself to keep going with a project. But I try to remind myself that one finished draft is a million times better than fifty half-finished ones. Also, chocolate and chai lattes help, because at least I feel like I get some kind of reward for sitting down at the desk!
Art plays a prominent role in Starfish. Without giving anything away, can you talk a little about the importance of creativity and what this form of expression means to Kiko?
Kiko’s art is everything to her. It’s not just her passion and chance to escape her home life by going to art school, but it’s also her way of expressing her feelings. She has social anxiety and often struggles to say exactly what she’s thinking. But with art, she reveals pieces of her soul by drawing them in her sketchbook or painting them on a canvas. It’s so important that she has this outlet, because it’s the source of Kiko’s hope.
What makes a character feel ‘real’ to you? What are your tips for crafting authentic characters that feel real to your readers?
For me, characters are most believable when they have layers. For example, a villain who has a sibling they want to protect, or a superhero who just wants to take a vacation. Because people in real life are rarely just “one thing,” and I think giving characters multiple aspects to their personalities really helps bring them to life. Something I try to remember when crafting new voices is to keep their main motivation at the forefront of a story, but to add in smaller motivations as well. Give them a hobby—and then give them another one. And don’t be afraid to get to know your characters as you write. People don’t typically reveal everything about themselves within the first hour of knowing them, and I think that counts with fictional characters too!
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author so far?
Hearing from readers, definitely. It means the absolute world to hear that people are connecting with Starfish. I’ve had a few readers write to tell me what this book has meant to them, and how they feel seen for the first time in their lives, and I get really emotional just thinking about it. I didn’t get to have this as a teen, but I wanted it so badly for other people. And to see that become a reality is just the BEST.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
I’ve recently been introduced to graphic novels and they are quite literally taking over my bookshelf. I’m obsessed! At the moment, I’m still making my way through the Saga series, which was recommended to me multiple times on Twitter. And Ms. Marvel is an absolute delight. I’ve also just started Monstress, which I need to read quickly because volume two was recently released and I don’t want to fall behind!
And finally, what’s one steadfast piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Keep writing. Every word you write is an accomplishment, and eventually all of them put together will make a book. So don’t give up, and stay focused on your story. Also, patience is key! You will have to be patient a lot throughout your writing journey. Instead of worrying about things you can’t control, put your efforts into the next manuscript. Because your words are the one thing you can control!
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Akemi as much as I did! Starfish sounds powerful on so many levels, and I can't wait to read it! Also, I love Akemi's message of persistence when it comes to writing, and her tips for crafting characters that feel real. Be sure to add this stunner of a debut to your Goodreads list, or order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie.
Follow Akemi on Twitter at @akemidawn. And for more information, check out her gorgeous author website at akemidawnbowman.com.
And, as always,