L.A. Kennedy

Beyond the story

By: Robert Lee Brewer

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of William C. Morris Award Finalist StarfishSummer Bird Blue, and the recently released 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. She is represented by Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management.

Learn more at akemidawnbowman.com.

In this post, Bowman shares her experience of recharging after writing a couple emotionally draining novels, writing a novel on deadline, committing to an outline, and so much more.

Name: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Literary agent: Penny Moore at Aevitas Creative Management
Book title: Harley in the Sky
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: March 10, 2020
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
Previous titles: Starfish and Summer Bird Blue

Elevator pitch for the book: The Greatest Showman meets This is Us, Harley in the Sky is about a teen who dreams of being a trapeze artist against her parents’ wishes. After a huge fight with her family, she decides to run away and join a rival traveling circus.

What prompted you to write this book?

My first two novels dealt pretty heavily with topics like abuse and grief, and I really needed a chance to recharge. Emotionally, I was feeling pretty drained, but creatively, I felt like I had a hundred more stories I wanted to tell. So I decided to write something a little lighter; something that felt magical, while still being fully grounded in the real world.

And the circus has always been such a big source of joy for me. There are still the familiar themes of mental health and complicated family dynamics, which were present in my other books, but I think Harley in the Sky is more about growing up, and what it feels like to become independent for the first time.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

I’ve wanted to write about the circus for as long as I can remember. But because of timing and other projects, I didn’t start drafting Harley’s story until sometime in 2018, after I’d finished my second novel, Summer Bird Blue. My wonderful agent was able to sell it on partial, which was a first for me.

At that point, I had a very clear understanding of where the story was going and how it was going to end, but it obviously still needed a lot of fine-tuning. And that’s where my incredible editor, Jennifer Ung, came in. She has this amazing ability to sense out the heart of the story I’m trying to tell, and knows exactly how to help bring it into the light.

Harley in the Sky went from being a story about a girl running away to join the circus, to a story about mending relationships and balancing the realities of growing up and chasing our dreams.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I think I’m always learning new things about the publishing process. There are so many moving parts, and it’s a business at the end of the day. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of writers set out to create, and maybe don’t have a lot of knowledge about the way things work behind the scenes. And for me, every book has been a different experience. I learned to be flexible.

Most of the publishing process is out of a writer’s control, and I’ve found the best way to combat that is to focus on what I can control, which has always been the words—the next story. Because even if everything goes topsy-turvy, I’ll still have a fresh, new project to focus on. It feels a little like leaving a light on; something to help guide me even when it gets dark.

And I like staying hopeful. It keeps me in a good place, mentally, emotionally, and creatively.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Because Harley in the Sky was sold on partial, it was the first time I’d been on deadline for a book that wasn’t anywhere close to being finished. It was also the first time I’d committed to a chapter-by-chapter outline.

I’m not someone who typically works with a plan in mind, at least when it comes to writing. I prefer to edit as I write, which can really slow down the drafting process. So I had to adapt, and get the words written down without thinking too much about them. I learned to fast-draft, which has been invaluable with more recent projects, and I’ve been reminding myself that the first draft does not have to be anything close to perfect.

As long as I get the words down, I have something to fix.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope they feel seen, and less alone. Harley in the Sky has quite a few discussions about mental health, and what it feels like to struggle with the highs and lows of a mood disorder while not having a formal diagnosis.

There are so many people in the world who don’t have access to medical care, specifically when it comes to mental health. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling, or finding their own ways to cope. And I hope this book helps readers feel like they’re doing okay—that mental health isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and that their experiences, regardless of whether they’ve had the privilege of therapy, are equally valid.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

To focus on your own journey, and try not to worry about what’s going on in the lane next to you. I know it’s hard, because it feels natural to compare. And sometimes it’s important, to know what barriers exist and how they impact marginalized writers. But from a productivity standpoint, the comparisons tend to do more harm than good. Because everyone’s publishing journey is different.

Everyone has ups and downs at different moments, and paying too much attention to what other people are getting is only going to slow you down. Focus on the page, and the words, and do what you do best—write.

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