This episode’s guest is Alechia Dow, author of The Sound of Stars. Find out more about her at https://www.alechiadow.com/
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Spoonie Authors Podcast! The Spoonie Authors Podcast is part of the Spoonie Authors Network, a community initiative devoted to sharing the stories of disabled authors and educating abled people about what life is like for disabled creatives.
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(This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Dianna Gunn: Hello, and welcome to the Spoonie Authors Podcast, a podcast where we explore the life and stories of a different disabled author every other Friday. I’m your host Dianna Gunn, and joining us today is Alechia Dow. Alechia Dow is a former pastry chef, food critic, culinary teacher, and Youth Services Librarian. When not writing YA sci-fi featuring determined Black girls like herself, you can find her having epic dance parties with her daughter, baking, or mentoring. Hello, Alechia.
Alechia Dow: Hi! (soft laugh)
Dianna Gunn: I’m very excited to have you on and to talk about your book, The Sound of Stars, that’s out. Tell us about this magical book.
Alechia Dow: Okay, so, The Sound of Stars is about a rebel teen librarian—after aliens have invaded and made books, stories, music, everything that’s human expression…illegal—and a music-loving alien boy. And their unlikely friendship on a roadtrip to possibly save humanity. It’s a road trip, and it’s a love letter to stories and songs and it’s really really, realy, really fun.
Dianna Gunn: So, but let’s start with this world that you established here. You have made, well, these aliens have made storytelling and all forms of creative expression legal, which is absolutely terrifying. Where did this idea come from? What gave you this idea for a world?
Alechia Dow: I think I just, um, I had this idea of a girl hiding books in her locker. And I just kind of thought this thought over and over and over again, and like this visual. And I thought: Okay, I really want to write a story about a—like a rebel librarian, and why she would want to be hiding her books and like, but still want to give them out. And then it kind of snowballed into this idea because I also love aliens and I love science fiction a lot. So, it kind of snowballed into this great idea and then I thought it is fascinating how humans express themselves, and how that might be dangerous to an outsider and outside creatures who would not understand how humans express themselves through these different creative arts. So, I thought it would be really fun to see how, you know, aliens would respond to that and to kind of make it illegal but also needing to help other people and to give them the escape they desire, even if they can’t physically escape, because they’re all trapped in a building.
(Alechia and Dianna laugh)
Dianna Gunn: I know a thing or three about being trapped in a building. (laughter) So, tell us a bit about these aliens. So, is it that they feel threatened by creativity? This is why they’ve outlawed it?
Alechia Dow: There are two different types of aliens in the story. The true Ilori, who are kind of bodiless. They are like masses of energy, and then they’ve created another type called lab-made Iloris, who were modeled after humans to kind of go into Earth, and take over Earth from the humans, and make it a vacation destination for aliens.
Dianna Gunn: Ahhh!
Alechia Dow: It’s really what it is.
Dianna Gunn: Space tourism!
Alechia Dow: (laughs) Yeah, it’s like space tourism! Yeah, it’s like space tourism. The problem is that they want to upload their consciousness into human husks. So they want to take-get rid of all of all of humans’ insides, their brains and their memories and everything, and use their bodies as an absolute vacation destination where they can live like the locals. Because they are bodiless, and they’re just masses, so that’s the thought that went into them being like this. And at the same time, they don’t want emotion because they’ve modeled these lab-made Ilori after the humans, and they feel just like the humans do. And that kind of division between the true lab made and the…the true Ilori and the lab-made Ilori could be very bad for them going forward, so they want to make sure that the lab-made Iloris, the creatures they’ve created, stay on their side.
Dianna Gun: And aren’t too influenced by human creativity.
Alechia Dow: Yes.
Dianna Gunn: I see.
Alechia Dow: They don’t want them to be influenced, they don’t want them to feel bad. They want them to do as they’re told. And so they have outlawed human expression and anything that can make them feel.
Dianna Gunn: This is a fascinating setup. I can’t wait—I have actually, I have not read this book yet but I have ordered it, and I cannot wait for it to arrive.
Alechia Dow: (laughs) I hope you like it.
Dianna Gunn: So, tell me a little bit more about this secret library. You already sort of touched on, you know, why this was an idea that spoke to you. But why was it so important for you to create this space in this world? Why do you think it’s important in general to create space for creativity?
Alechia Dow: I think for me, as a former librarian, the idea of not being able to give people books is just, it’s, it’s unbelieve—like I just can’t function. I would, I really need to be able to tell people, hey, you need to read this story and hey look at this book, let’s talk about this book. So for me, that’s like, that’s a really big change for humanity, to not be able to express their joys and escape from their reality with stories and songs, and I wanted to really kind of show how an invading force could take that away from them, and why they would rebel against that, in the small ways they can rebel against that. Personally, I think that I’m always open to escapism, always. And I think because I’ve had the life I’ve had, and I’ve experienced the things I’ve had, I find that books, movies, music—these things help me live my life the best way I can. And if those things were taken away from me, would I also rebel? Yes! [laughter] So, I wanted to create a character that would also rebel, but also have this kind of mentality of: “Do I want to save Earth based on how it’s treated—based on how humans have treated me over the years, based on the issues we already have? And, or do I want to quietly rebel, even if it means my life, just so that I can provide escapism for other people who are trapped here with me?” And that’s really the kind of moral dilemma that Ellie, the main character, faces throughout the story—”Do I want to save this? Can I change this? What have I learned from stories that makes me a better person for it? And how can I be inspired by these stories to change the world that I am living in and experiencing right now?”
Dianna Gunn: I love that. I think that really resonates with me. I feel like that’s a big part of, you know, that’s something we all have to deal with when we are doing our own creative work, you know. It’s not quite the same, it’s not illegal, but when we do tackle subjects, especially, you know ,as disabled writers of varying marginalized identities, there’s going to be a political rebellious act aspect to our work. And, you know, we have to be aware of that and comfortable with it and know how much we want to lean into it and how much we’re, you know, willing to put ourselves out there like that.
Alechia Dow: It’s exactly like that, I think, because Ellie is-has the same identities as me. And the marginalization that I do. I think there’s…it was very interesting to tell her story in a way that where it’s the future and it’s aliens, but it’s also very contemporary and another way of “Okay, so the aliens have taken over your earth.” And you no longer have access to your medicine to feel good. What are you gonna do? You no longer have access to all the things that comfort you and when you need it. What are you going to do, how are you going to get through this? And I think that her way of dealing with it is to make sure that she’s able to give people books, because she knows she needs them. And that’s how she copes in her own way. But at no point is there kind of a magical solution for all of her issues. She really has to kind of make do with what she has and find a way to embrace those stories and then kind of live her own adventure. And it’s really difficult but it was inspiring to write.
Dianna Gunn: Sounds lovely and that note actually leads us really beautifully into my next question, which is not so much about the joys of it, but did you find the writing of this book… did it help you process some of your own fears and issues with, you know, being a creative in the world we live in?
Alechia Dow: I don’t know if it helped or if I just was able to look at it a little bit, clear by kind of articulating it throughout the book. But at no point does anything. Did the big big issues that we’re facing now, that teens are facing now, do they get resolved because there isn’t necessarily a simple solution, but it’s good to talk about these things. I thought it was important to write about. I think it’s with when it comes to writing and science fiction. especially contemporary science fiction, there’s only so much you can do without the scope of social issues that are currently plaguing our society now.
So, I have to address those things, and as a Black writer, I have to address those things as a marginalized, as a mental health advocate, and somebody who suffers from mental illness. I have to talk about these things in a way that’s coherent and also can make readers feel seen and represented and feel like, “Yeah, okay, I’ve never seen a, a big Black girl who suffers from all these different things.” Who gets to be the main character and go on an adventure and get a love interest. I never saw that before, so it was good to write about that, and to talk about the social issues and to talk about the little things that, and microaggressions that she would experience that makes her kind of embittered to the world she’s in, and because of that, it was good for me to, it was not so much helpful but it was healthy. It was a nice healthy way to talk about things that have been bothering me, but every book I write I try to be very clear with what I’m trying to express and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I know that I’m writing for an audience that wants to be direct and wants to be like: “Yeah okay, why should she want to save the world?” There’s not always the Chosen One who wants to just be like, “I’m gonna save the day.” It has to be, there’s got to be a lot of reasons behind this and there has to be that kind of thought process: “Oh, I’ve experienced a lot of bad things, how do I find a way to want to make the world good?”
And can I be that person? And I think don’t those questions don’t get asked a lot in some of these books. And I wanted to write a story where that was asked, and maybe there isn’t a very clear-cut solution to it.
Diann Gunn: So, a question for fun.
Alechia Dow: Okay.
Dianna Gunn: If you had to create a secret library, and you had a very limited space, what are the top three books that you would have to include in your secret library?
Alechia Dow: That’s very mean, that’s a very mean question. (laughter) And it would be a really hard one because—
Dianna Gunn: You can name three series, for the record, I will accept that, that is not cheating in my mind. (laughs)
Alechia: It’s really hard because I have so many books that I absolutely love. And my, my favorite books kind of change every few weeks because I’m like, “Oh, this is my new favourite!” (Dianna laughs) I’m just that person who, like, loves so much… so many books. Um, but for this year, I would say that Crown Chasers by Rebecca Coffindaffer was amazing. Rebel Wing by Andrea Tang, and Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson, were all amazing. And really, really beautiful, but then at the same time, it would be very difficult to not include Legendborn by Tracy Deonn and Glitch Kingdom by Sheena Boekweg, and A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow and it’s really… I can’t, I have to stop so it was, I don’t know, I guess I would just take the three that are closest to me at that point because—
Dianna Gunn: (laughs) Just grab three books and run.
Alechia Dow: Yeah.
Dianna Gunn: They’re off your shelf, so you know you’ll like them so.
Alechia Dow: Yeah, exactly.
Alechia Dow: Thank you for that question. I’m gonna be up all night thinking, “Did I answer that right because I know so many books!” Oh, but there are so many amazing books and I don’t know, I would struggle, I will struggle to pick three. I mean, Ellie has like 62, so I feel like she’s doing all right. (laughs)
Dianna Gunn: And I assume as a librarian you’ve got her whole list. You know exactly what books she has.
Alechia Dow: Yeah I know what she’s got, I know what she has hidden in the mattress in her basement. I know what’s in there.
Alechia Dow: And some of them are books that I’ve read and I love, and some of them are books that I think she would have learned at school, which I didn’t. And that’s just how it is, like, I wanted to look at books that are more modern that would let a 16 year- or 17 year old be like, “Yeah, that’s awesome.” But me as an adult would be like, “That’s good.” (laughs) “But is it my favorite? I don’t know.”
So it’s really different. We have different tastes, but at the same time very similar tastes.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah, I think that’s important when establishing a character, especially when you’re, you know, an adult writing YA. Like, what the kids are doing these days is different. It’s TikTok apparently or something? I don’t know. I’m old now. (laughter)
All right, so let’s reel things in a bit. But one question that I really like to tie together all of these interviews with is how would you like to see representation of disability and, in your case specifically, I would love for you to speak to representation of mental illness, change in our media in the next few years?
Alechia Dow: I really would love to see authors, who share that marginalization, get the opportunities to, one, write these book and publish these books, and not have to go against authors who do not have that marginalization and don’t understand the nuance of these characters or the mental illness they’re struggling with or the disability they’re struggling with. And they could do well.
I don’t understand this for a lot of reasons. I do not understand why abled authors are writing disabled authors—disabled characters, and they’re missing or they’re stereotyping, or they’re just not representing it the best they could. Because they don’t understand it. And it’s, I can’t say that you can’t write it—I will never say that somebody shouldn’t write something, but I will say I will, I will not recommend and I will not read a book about a disabled character by a non, non-disabled author. I just won’t do it. And there’s a reason for it because I think they’re, especially for teens, it can be very harmful to read these things. And you know, in one way I remember when I was a teenager and I was always overweight, always overweight, plus size my entire life. And it wasn’t until I was older that I understood that I have a very rare disease. And that’s just how it is. But when I was reading these books about fat characters, they were all slovenly, they’re all slobs, they ate too much, they did all of these things. And it made me feel like that’s what I was doing. And it would get to a point where I didn’t want to read. And I felt horrible about myself.
Now that’s just an example. When you’re doing that for other disabilities, it’s, can you—you know, it’s like, it’s just so harmful for readers. And I don’t feel comfortable writing something that I don’t experience. Unless…unless it’s something that I, I know very very well, and it’s still within my lane. And I think staying within your lane is really important when it comes to writing stories about characters that are dealing with things you’ve never dealt with, or that haven’t been represented well in media for a long time or at all. And they’re amazing authors who are doing that now, are getting the chance, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be, and I want to see more, more of all of these. I want to see everybody more represented. And I want them to be represented by authors who have traditionally not had the opportunity to do that. So that’s where I’m coming from on it. I really want to see just so much more.
Dianna Gunn: Absolutely. And I think it would be nice to, you know, see that happening in the traditional publishing, like, that that’s the place where you see it really lacking. You know, most of the authors I’ve interviewed here have—on this podcast—have been published by one of the handful of small presses.
Alechia Dow: Yeah.
Dianna Gunn: And I think it’s—it’s time for big publishing to stop and pay attention. Not that they’re good at that.
Alechia Dow: No, it’s a very slow process. I mean, I have bipolar disorder. And I know that there are a lot of books about people with bipolar disorder and movies about it, written by people who have not suffered bipolar disorder. And for a lot of reasons, these people always end up one the villain, or they always end up as the person who is just completely chaotic. And you can’t understand them, and in traditional publishing they don’t get their due or they don’t get published. So, and I’ve met other bipolar authors who write amazing books that totally speak to me, and I get them, and I love them. And then Publishing is like, “No, we don’t understand this character, so no,” and you’re like, “WHAT?! But a person who has this will totally understand that!”
And I think we should be able to do this, where we’re publishing these books because people who don’t understand can actually finally get a glimpse of how we operate… without judgment. And just understanding, and that’s what I really want to have happen, and it just it boggles my mind that this is what we’re up against that people are happy to push people out there and to give a big push for books written by non-marginalized authors and non-disabled and non-mentally ill authors, featuring characters with all these things, mind you, but they don’t allow authors who have these things to publish these books or, you know, push them out there. So it’s, it’s very confusing to me, and it displeases me a lot and I’m, I’m really hoping that that changes within the industry.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah, absolutely. I know so many very skilled writers with disabilities, and actually, I know quite a few sales writers specifically with bipolar, and it’s like, if you just let these people write the stories, the stories that you have about people with bipolar would be a lot better.
Alechia Dow: It’s not always just so black and white it’s…there’s a lot within the experience, and it’s different for everyone, but there’s so much within that experience that isn’t just mania or depression. There’s so much in there. And it just it… it’s very, you know, displeasing and really disappointing that Publishing hasn’t caught up with that yet.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah. On the other hand, there is one difficulty with this and something that I’ve seen, and I’m sure you’ve seen on the internet in the last few months, which is authors being forced to come forward as disabled or mentally ill or traumatized in some way in order to, you know, be seen as representing their characters correctly and to not get shade. Can you speak a bit to that? How you navigate that as both a reader and a writer?
Alechia Dow: It’s really weird (laughter). It’s like, I don’t know, like… Can you imagine that you’re not able to write a certain thing without disclosing that you are this one thing and it’s… there’s two sides to this. One, because if you are disabled, you know, and you can be like, “Yeah I’m disabled, so why do I need to disclose that to you? Why does it have to be labeled as Own Voices?” But these are things that in Library Science, we call this invisible patrons, right? An invisible patron is somebody who comes into the library wanting a book about a subject that would represent them, but we aren’t able to know what that book is, or what that subject is, but we need to make sure that we have all of these books on those subjects, so that they are able to find that and have that for themselves. We always want to cater to invisible patrons, as much as we cater to the visible ones. So, saying that, it’s hard, because I don’t have to disclose that I’m bipolar to write a bipolar book. And nobody would know that about me unless I said, “Yeah, I’m bipolar.”
Should I have to do that? No.
Therein lies the problem, very difficult to go, “Okay. Where do I have to disclose it and is it my job to disclose it?” And sometimes it’s yes but there’s sometimes it’s, it’s just I don’t know it’s very complicated to me and I haven’t, I don’t know if there’s a solution to this. For the most part, I think when we are writing books, representing a certain thing that we have experienced and we identify with, we are usually more outgoing about why we should be the ones to write this anyway. When I’m writing a book for a fat Black girl, I’m gonna be like, “’Cause I’m a fat Black girl.” And that’s how it is. And I don’t really want to have any more conversation about that.
But not everybody should have to do that. And I don’t know where the line will be, or where it’s going to be drawn. I feel people should be able to be comfortable sharing what they want to share, or you know, that’s just how it should be in publishing, but I just don’t know if publishing is ready for that kind of: “Okay. I don’t need to label this as Own Voices, but I also don’t want to have to argue later on with anybody about why this author wrote this book or why I chose this book.” And it’s very difficult, but we’ve seen the flip side of it right where somebody is like, “I’m gonna write this book about, you know, Hawaiian culture, and I’m not Hawaiian at all.”
And you’re like, “Then why did you do it?”
So, I think it’s going to be like an honor system at some point. But I don’t know if we can ever trust anybody…some people to be honorable, it’s very strange. So, I don’t know, that’s the long and short of it I have no idea.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah. Fair enough. It is uncharted territory, we are figuring our shit out. (Alechia laughs) I completely understand. That’s sort of where I fall on it, too, you know, it’s a very complex issue. I certainly think bullying an author into disclosing things about their identity is really gross, but like there’s also definitely—a book does become much more appealing to me if I know that you’re writing it out of your experience.
Alechia Dow: It’s so hard to be like… why like I just I don’t understand how we make that distinction, but it is also true that I would prefer things to be from somebody who understands that representation and why it’s important for it to be valid in its own way, but it is not my job to police the representation at all. So, it’s very—it’s a very confusing kind of situation, and I’m not sure wherein the solution will come from. But I hope that people will be careful when they are writing, and representing people who are not within their lane. That’s all I can really hope for. And I just have to hope that everybody who feels comfortable will feel comfortable, representing and doing what they want to do within the book community.
Dianna Gunn: Well said. All right, so we are running out of time.
Alechia Dow: Oh no!
Dianna Gunn: What is next for you and where can people go to find out more about you?
Alechia Dow: So next, for me, I am coming out with a book called The Kindred in 2022, so I think around, I don’t know, early 2022, February, March. And it is Ben Solo, me, plus Rey, mental connection, best Friends falling and crashing to Earth, running away from where they’re from. And it’s very… it’s a love story, and it’s about humanity, as always, and that will be out. Then I am going to have a short story featured in Out There, which is done by Saundra Mitchell, and hopefully that will also come out in May or June of 2022. So, 2022 is my year, I think.
Dianna Gunna: Sounds like it.
Alechia Dow: Yeah and you can find me online at alechiadow.com, that’s my website, which is a-l-e-c-h-i-a-d-o-w dot com, and you can find me on Twitter at AlechiaWrites. And I’m also on Instagram as alechiadow. So that’s where I’m at. Come find me. Love to say hi.
Dianna Gunn: Awesome, thank you so much for joining us. It has been a delight chatting with you and I’m very excited to receive my copy of The Sound of Stars.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of the Spoonie Authors Podcast. The Spoonie Authors Podcast is part of the Spoonie Authors Network, a community initiative devoted to sharing the stories of disabled authors and educating abled people about what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts of this podcast are also available on the Spoonie Authors Network. To learn more or become a contributor visit spoonieauthorsnetwork.blog [or dot com]. And of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, make sure to leave a five-star review on your favorite podcast streaming platform.