(Editor’s note: NonDoc’s Author Umbrella interviews up-and-coming writers, particularly authors of color, authors of disability and LGBTQ authors. The interviews have been transcribed and lightly edited for length and clarity.)
For this week’s NonDoc Author Umbrella series, I interviewed Alechia Dow, author of The Sound of Stars. Her debut young adult novel will be released by Inkyard Press on Feb. 25, 2020. She is a former pastry chef, food critic, culinary teacher, and Youth Services librarian. When not writing about determined black girls (like herself), you can find her chasing her wild child, baking, or taking teeny adventures around Europe.
Before Dow’s interview, here is a synopsis of The Sound of Stars:
In a dystopian future where humanity’s creative expression is punishable by death, seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker builds a secret library in New York City that places her right in the crosshairs of the lab-born MORr1S (Morris), an alien raised to be emotionless. Though he knows he must deliver her to execution, MORr1S finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. Together, they embark on a road trip though the United States in attempt to overturn alien rule and save humanity.
1) The cover of THE SOUND OF STARS is gorgeous! The book is set in a dystopian New York City and addresses suppression of free speech. How do you think Ellie and MORr1S show that art, like books and music, is liberating?
It’s really a beautiful cover, isn’t it? Erin Craig was the art director, and Mary Luna was the cover designer, and I’m still in awe of their work. Inkyard Press gave me a cover that represents the quirky nature of this book, and I’m really happy!
Ellie and M0Rr1S share a love of art. Initially, that’s what draws them together. When THE SOUND OF STARS begins, you find Ellie lending out illegal books while being imprisoned in her apartment building, and M0Rr1S desperate to find more music while expected to be a dutiful, loyal soldier —who is not allowed to appreciate human expression. They understand that not only is art liberating them from their individual constraints, it allows them to escape their realities and gives them much-needed hope.
2) As a former pastry chef, you often share what you’re cooking on Twitter, and everything you make looks delicious and like it belongs in a magazine. In particular, I definitely salivated over the “should be famous” hot cocoa and homemade marshmallows and the marinated garlic, cheddar, and basil bread. When can we expect some recipes, and how does your passion for food filter into your writing?
Another food picture, but here’s my absolutely perfect and should-be famous hot cocoa with homemade marshmallows. I promise this account isn’t turning into food only account! pic.twitter.com/FqOKdY42OC
— Alechia Dow (PLEASE PREORDER MY BOOK) (@alechiawrites) August 12, 2019
Oh, thank you! When I started tweeting about what I was baking and making, I had no idea people would be interested. But, I constantly get asked for recipes and tips, and I usually share what I can.
In college, I had a side job writing as a food critic for the local newspaper. [E]very book I write has food in it, regardless of genre. We all have to eat, and it bothers me when food is not mentioned on the page — even if it’s just a can of green beans.
I’ve just finished a contemporary fantasy that takes place in a small town bakery, and that’s a story where I can let myself go full [on] food-writing. I’ve included all my favorite recipes: [the] “should be famous” hot cocoa, my family apple pie, cheddar pesto bread, my Oooo-Girl-You’re-In-Trouble cookies. It’s going to be such a joy to share that with the world.
3) In a tweet, you mentioned that you live in Bavaria, “across the street from a trail through the woods that leads up a hill to a 13th century castle… and a 5 minute walk of 3 gelaterias, 4 bakeries, and 2 pizzerias…” For a lot of us, that is like something out of a fairy tale. What is it like being an American in Bavaria, and have those experiences influenced your characters in any way?
— Alechia Dow (PLEASE PREORDER MY BOOK) (@alechiawrites) September 4, 2019
It is like out of a fairytale! I live in a small Bavarian village where the big to-do is the farmer’s market every Wednesday and Saturday mornings. People get to know your name, inquire about your life, and you feel a real sense of community.
On the other hand, there are moments where I feel like I’m always on display. I’m a black American, and while my German is serviceable, I have an accent and appearance that draws attention. In THE SOUND OF STARS, I wrote this experience into both M0Rr1S and Ellie’s point of views.
M0Rr1S is an alien in a human world, and Ellie is a black girl from Brooklyn on the Upper East Side. They both don’t feel like they necessarily belong or fit in, but form connections through their shared interest of art.
And that’s how I feel constantly. We speak different languages, grow up with different cultures, eat different traditional foods, but we may like the same Stevie Wonder song and The Neverending Story. Sometimes focusing on what connects us can make what separates us a little less important.
4) Your main character is a black teenage girl challenging white supremacy in a not-too-distant dystopian future. What do you think are Ellie’s top tools in conquering such an enemy? And how can those tools help other young people confront toxic ideologies in their own lives?
Ellie, like most teenagers today, is smart and sees a lot of the issues in the world as something that can be overcome by, not only being vocal, but being active in protest.
She stands up for what she believes in, even when all seems lost. It’s what keeps her lending out her books despite the risks. It’s what allows her to connect to M0Rr1S.
I think being thoughtful of the history that has shaped our country, for better or worse, and committing to forging a new future full of hope is one of the best ways teens [can] confront toxic ideologies in their lives.
Remember that your voice is as loud and as important as anyone else’s and that you will inherit the future, not those who cling to the past. Keep fighting for the world you want to live and grow up in and know that you are never alone.
5) Oklahoma makes a brief appearance in THE SOUNDS OF STARS, which makes me so excited. Can you describe a little more about that?
Ellie and M0Rr1S face a new, terrifying obstacle in Oklahoma. They stop at a hospital that is being used to house humans awaiting a vaccine that will end free will, and that’s where they meet a villain who shares a complicated relationship with M0Rr1S. All I can say is that this chapter is intense and seriously impacts the rest of the story!
6) What has been your favorite aspect of the writing process for your debut novel?
When I wrote THE SOUND OF STARS, I had just shelved two books and didn’t have any expectations of publishing. But I had such a great time writing this book that I thought there might be a spark of something magical in it.
I ended up pitching in a Twitter pitch contest, called Pitmad. Much to my surprise, I was offered representation shortly after. I revised it in depth for months, and the truly amazing agent, Dr. Uwe Stender, sold it nearly a year later. When I got my editor’s (Natashya Wilson) notes, I was grateful that someone else understood where I was coming from and where I wanted to go in this story.
Every time we approached a new revision, I felt lucky and beyond happy to work with Natashya. Having her (and Gabby Vicedomini) on my team was my absolute favorite part of the process. And seeing their reactions to every new addition made me more excited to share my story with the world.
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