Today is my stop on the Summer Bird Blue blog tour, and I’m thrilled to be able to share a Q&A with author, Akemi Dawn Bowman.
Akemi shares details on how her writing process has changed from her first book, Starfish, to Summer Bird Blue, the importance of talking about mental health, and what’s next for her with Harley in the Sky.
1. Summer Bird Blue is about the loss of a family member, as Rumi, our main character, grieves for her sister. What made you decide to write about loss and the different ways in which we react to it?
Grief is something almost every single person in this world will go through. I think it’s easy for people to assume it’s a universal experience, when in reality people grieve differently.
I wanted to show the angry side of grief, first and foremost, from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have everything figured out.
I think we’re all very familiar with the sadness of grief, which is what Rumi’s mom struggles with. I wanted to write a book that showed it’s okay to react differently. That being angry is just as valid, and that sometimes healing doesn’t follow a set path.
2. Hawaii is the main setting of Summer Bird Blue, and Hawaiian Pidgin features heavily in the narrative. What was your main inspiration for including the dialect, and how did you research it?
My dad, grandparents, great grandparents, and even some of my great-great grandparents were all born and raised in Hawaii. Half my family still live there, and all of them speak Pidgin. It’s what I grew up hearing.
So whenever these characters would speak, I’d picture my family members and write exactly the way they sounded. And my dad was a huge help too—he read three early drafts of the book to make sure everything was as authentic as possible.
3. Summer Bird Blue is your second published book. Do you think your writing process has changed at all since writing your first book, Starfish?
Oh, definitely. Mostly because now I have deadlines! I have entire manuscripts due within short time frames, so it’s no longer just me writing when I can find the time. I have to make the time.
I also outline way more than I ever used to, because I’ve learned that it helps me to have a plan before I start writing each day. And I’m also much less attached to my words than I used to be.
I know that might sound strange, but I think with the first book, everything I wrote felt important. It made editing a challenge, because I hated the thought of chopping sentences or paragraphs I loved. But now I write knowing things will get chopped and my editor will want changes, and it makes the drafting process a lot quicker.
4. One of the key themes in both your books is the importance of talking about and better understanding mental health. What steps do you think we need to take to be more open about mental health?
Right now, there are a lot of people in the world who don’t have access to mental health care, or live in places where the stigma surrounding mental health is so severe that it isn’t safe for them to be open.
So those of us who can speak about it should. Because the best way to normalize mental health discussions is by sharing our stories and speaking our truth.
We need to talk about all of it—the good, the bad, the messy, the confusing. And we need to stop shaming people for having different experiences.
5. Music is a big part of Rumi and Lea’s lives. Did you have a playlist that you listened to while writing Summer Bird Blue?
I had a few songs in mind while I was drafting, which are mentioned in the book (Regina Spektor’s “The Call,” for example!), but I don’t listen to music while I write. I find it too distracting. I need complete silence!
6. In SBB, you write about music with such care and passion. Do you play any musical instruments yourself or have favourite bands/musicians?
Thank you! I’ve been playing the flute and piano since I was about five years old, so it was a big part of my life for a long time.
I even went to a performing arts high school and majored in band. My taste in music varies wildly. I love Billie Holiday, anything and everything Joe Hisaishi, Broadway musicals, and I’ve probably listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989 album two thousand times.
7. Keeping spoilers to a minimum (where possible), what was your favourite scene to write in Summer Bird Blue?
All of the scenes with Mr. Watanabe! I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but he’s my favorite. He’s grouchy and no-nonsense, and writing all the banter between him and Rumi was just so much fun.
8. Rumi spends a lot of time questioning her sexuality and considering whether she wants to use aromantic/asexual labels. What made you want to discuss sexual fluidity and labels?
Again, I wanted to normalize these discussions. Sexuality and romantic orientation is such a personal thing, but there’s also a massive spectrum.
I think it’s important for teens to know they don’t have to choose a “box” if they don’t want to. They can change their mind, or not change their mind, and it doesn’t make their feelings and experiences any less valid.
On a more personal level, I tend to write characters that have pieces of me in them. Having a book like this, where labels are talked about and questioning is seen as a valid experience, would’ve meant the world to me as a teen.
9. And finally, we know you have an exciting new novel, Harley in the Sky, coming next year. Can you give us a hint as to what we can expect?
HARLEY IN THE SKY is about a girl who dreams of being a trapeze artist in her parents’ Las Vegas circus, against their wishes. After an argument takes place, Harley decides to run away and join a rival circus and has to deal with the consequences of her betrayal.
When I started writing it, all I wanted was to write something that made me happy. It has a lot of my favorite things—circuses, misfit friends, and a romance with a slight nod towards PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.
There’s still a lot of heart in it too, and as with my other two books it deals with messy family dynamics and discussions about mental health. But I don’t think it’s a crying book, which I’m sure some people will be relieved to hear!
Thank you so much to Akemi for answering these questions and Ink Road for organising the Q&A.
About the author
Akemi Dawn Bowman is the award-winning author of Starfish, Summer Bird Blue, Harley in the Sky (March 2020), The Infinity Courts series (Spring 2021), and Generation Misfits (Winter 2021). 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 the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She currently lives in Scotland with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix.
Summer Bird Blue is out 4th April in the UK. Check out the rest of the blog tour below!