Lovely friends, one of my most anticipated reads of the year is almost here: The Infinity Courts by the always wonderful Akemi Dawn Bowman! I’m kicking off a week of fun, giveaways, and lots of extra treats for you all to get ready for this mind-boggling book’s release in April! Now, without further ado, let’s meet Akemi and her heroine Nami 😍
Q: Akemi, congratulations on your very first Sci-Fi book, The Infinity Courts! Now, this book is a little different from your previous (equally brilliant, lovely, wonderful) publications, Starfish, Summer Bird Blue, and Harley in the Sky. Can you tell us a bit about your new book?
A: Thank you so much! I’ve been calling The Infinity Courts the sci-fi/fantasy mash-up of my heart, because it combines my love of magic, robots, and Jane Austen, and merges a fantasy world with a sci-fi concept. It’s about a teen who is murdered on her way to a party, and when she wakes up, she discovers the afterlife has been taken over by an artificial intelligence posing as a queen. Very early on, I pitched it as Terminator meets Downton Abbey, but I’ve also heard it described as “Siri/Alexa gone rogue!”
Q: Our heroine, Nami, dies trying to save someone else (talk about a role model – not that anyone should try and get shot…) and finds herself in Infinity, where people spend their afterlife. Nami has such strong convictions and morals – did you base her on someone or something specific? Most importantly, what’s her favourite ice cream flavour?
A: I have a big soft spot for Nami, because she tries so hard to do the “right” thing, but sometimes that’s not always a black and white answer. Life is messy, and death doesn’t change that—it just means she now has an eternity to figure out the gray area of morality, and what it truly means to be good. (Unless the queen of Infinity finds a way to eradicate human consciousness from the afterlife, that is. Dun dun dun.) So yes, in that sense, Nami is based on many of the confusing, multi-layered questions that I think a lot of people will face at some point in their lives. And her favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chocolate chip, for sentimental reasons!
Q: Now, I don’t want to give anything away but there may be a love interest or two in this book. Can you tell us (no spoilers!) a little bit about the relationships we’ll see in The Infinity Courts?
A: To avoid spoilers, let’s just say Nami finds herself getting to know two people from very different worlds, with very different motivations. The humans in this world are hunted, and the artificially intelligent Residents are very much in charge. They’re deadly and beautiful, and as Nami discovers, much, much more than just a computer program. I think Nami’s relationships in this book definitely force her to grapple with her morality in a big way. (Did I get away with that? Avoiding spoilers is hard!)
Q: Having read (and loved) your other books, I am always struck by the honest and *real* way your characters speak about their emotions and circumstances. When you were working on The Infinity Courts, did you find it easy to discover Nami’s voice, even though it is set in a completely different world? How did you get on with writing for a different audience?
A: Ahh thank you! That means so much. I’ve always been drawn to character-driven stories. Plots are great and everything, but if a character doesn’t feel real to me, it’s hard for me to care about their story. And I hope that translates beyond my contemporaries and into this sci-fi/fantasy book, too. Even though it takes place in the afterlife, Nami is still a person with complicated emotions and unresolved feelings. She tries and fails and tries again. And I think that’s very human, and very universal regardless of what a person’s world looks like. I think that helped me craft her voice for sure, and it made it less daunting to think about how I was writing for a completely different audience. Because I just got back to my roots of writing not just a story, but someone’s story.
Q: The question that is always asked of Sci-Fi and fantasy authors – what is your worldbuilding advice? Which Sci-Fi writers do you think have shaped your own writing?
A: I grew up reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which will always have a special place in my heart. They were the books that really inspired me to imagine myself in different worlds. But more recently, I’ve been blown away by some incredible fantasy lately where the worldbuilding is just next level. Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree was a masterpiece. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi completely swept me away with its lush storytelling and gorgeous setting. And Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto was just so exquisitely crafted. I think the writers who inspire me the most are the ones who fuel me with creativity because reading their words feels like I’m a part of something magical. I want to create something that gives that kind of magic to readers, too. As far as worldbuilding advice, I think it’s the same advice I’d give for crafting characters too, which is “don’t be afraid to find your own voice.” I think every writer brings something unique to the page. When you’re crafting a world, don’t just think about what it looks like—think about how your characters interact with it. What makes them love it, or hate it, or never want to leave? Everyone looks at their world differently. Embracing it as something subjective and ever-changing helps it become more than just a stage or a backdrop.
Q: On your website, your books come with content warnings. What’s your opinion on content or trigger warnings in books?
A: I think content warnings are necessary for a lot of people, and that’s the part I focus on. Many of us have things we prefer to avoid in media because it’s upsetting. I know a lot of people who don’t like animal deaths, or films about cancer, or books where a parent dies. To me, content warnings are simply a way to help readers decide if a book is right for them or not. The last thing I’d ever want to do is cause someone harm, even accidentally. And I think it could be really helpful to just make it a standard, publishing thing to include them in the back of the book. It would allow people who didn’t want spoilers of any kind to read without accidentally seeing anything, but readers who did need to look through content warnings would always know where to find them. Obviously I’m not the person making any of these big decisions, but I think something like this could be helpful for sure!
Q: Now, The Infinity Courts has got a stunning cover (wow!) and a brilliant map that’s as beautiful as it is useful. Did you get to have your say about what needed to be included in both?The Infinity Courts cover
A: The cover was a total surprise, and I am so in love with it. The brilliant Casey Weldon did the art, and I literally gasped when I opened the email. And I did kind of nervously ask if there were any plans for a map early on, and sent in a very terrible, super embarrassing version I did in Microsoft paint, just to kind of show where everything should be located. A little while later, I found out my publisher had brought in the amazing Virginia Allyn, who does some of my most favorite book maps ever (honestly I’m still horrified she saw my paint version), and she ended up creating the most beautiful map in the world, with so much detail and thought and ahh, I just feel so, so lucky to have had such a powerhouse team behind all the design details.
Q: Not to give anything away (it’s so hard!!!) but that ending is WOW. I did not see it coming at all. Did you always plan to shock the readers like this (and, yes, I am definitely asking for personal reasons!)?
A: *insert evil villain laughter* I told my editor earlier on that if a reader ends up throwing the book across the room in protest, I will have done my job.
Q: What are you working on at the moment? Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming middle-grade debut, Generation Misfits?
A: Oh my goodness, that is a question. What am I working on? Is “everything and nothing” an answer? 2020 broke me, I’m not going to lie. I have so much work to do, and I have been juggling a million things behind the scenes. It’s been a really, really hard time to create anything, but I’m trying. I am currently on deadline for edits on The Infinity Courts sequel (!!!), and I’m also drafting my second middle-grade project which features a haunted house and an unsolved mystery. I also have three secret projects I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but two of them will probably be announced in the near future. Generation Misfits is the middle-grade novel that comes out before the ghost one—it’s a contemporary about kids who meet through a shared love of J-Pop and decide to start a band. It’s about found family, and the awkwardness of trying to make friends when you’re at a new school. I think out of all my books, this one feels the most like a hug (which you might be able to guess by the beautiful cover). It releases on June 29th, and I’m so looking forward to introducing Millie and Friends to readers!
Q: And, finally, what’s to come for The Infinity Courts and yourself up until publication in April (did I hear character art?!)?
A: Yes, character art is on the way! I am just going to be in a whirlwind of deadlines until April, trying to get as much writing done as I can. Hopefully it has the added benefit of keeping me distracted from pre-publication nerves! I am equal parts terrified and excited, but I can’t wait for readers to finally meet Nami and venture into the world of Infinity. This feels like a new chapter in my career for sure, and I am so ready for it.
Thank you so much, Akemi, for the insightful and exciting answers!