I’m delighted to spotlight young adult/new adult crossover author, Kayla Howarth today. I met Kayla on Goodreads when we were both looking for critique partners for our young adult dystopian series. What started out as a critique swap has turned into a nearly year-long friendship, online of course since she lives “down under”. Recently she agreed to let me pick her brain in a fun little interview. I hope you enjoy learning a little bit more about this talented author.
Q: When did you get the first spark of an idea behind The Institute and what fanned those flames?
A: I used to be one of THOSE people. I’d read a book, roll my eyes, and say “I could so write a book.” So, on my 29th birthday, my friend encouraged me to make a 30 before 30 list; 30 things to do in the year before I turn 30. Write a book was #1 on that list. I’ll be the first to admit that I had NO clue how much work went into a book, and it was a little overwhelming. I had a newfound respect for authors and suddenly felt bad about ripping apart books in my reviews on Goodreads.
The idea behind the story of The Institute came about from working as a courier. Being on the road a lot, my mind would always wander. The story changed numerous times and there were about a billion drafts. From Shilah being a lot younger, to Allira wielding lightning, there were many ideas that didn’t make it to the final product.
Q: Did you always set out to write a trilogy?
A: When I first had the idea for The Institute, it was meant to be a single book with the possibility of a sequel. I got about halfway through book #1 when I realised it would definitely have to be two parts. I finished writing them both with no intention of making it into a trilogy until my best friend (who encouraged me to start writing in the first place) told me there is no way I could wrap the story up in an epilogue after the events of Resistance (book #2). So that’s when book #3 started to come into fruition.
Q: Did you know how the last book was going to end before you wrote the first?
A: I didn’t even know there was going to be a third, so it’s pretty safe to say I had no idea how it would end. A recent review of Defective (#3) said they loved how the third book was basically an epilogue to the whole series. I hadn’t actually looked at it that way before, but I think it sums it up perfectly. The main conflict is settled by the end of book #2, and rarely do books go into the “Well, what happens now?” portion of stories or how solving their problem affects the characters’ lives many months/years later.
Q: Your characters are deep, nuanced, and far from perfect, but incredibly relatable. How do you go about character development?
A: When I started writing about Allira’s story, I wanted her as real as possible (even if she lived in a world with supernatural abilities). I tried to remember back to when I was a teenager and all those emotions I felt. A lot of these emotions ended up being deleted during editing because it felt like I was trying to make Allira like me, when she was her own person – someone I wished I could’ve been as a teen. I was shy, awkward (okay, some of that made it into Allira’s story), and never stood up for myself, let alone someone I cared about.
Most of my characters write themselves, I just have to give them a little push and provide a bit of back story, but sometimes they have a mind of their own. In a current WIP (the Litmus Series – a spin off to The Institute Series), there was a character who was meant to stay in the background and not play a major part. He ended up pushing his way to the front and stealing the show, becoming a main character.
Q: Your story is set in Australia, but it could really be set anywhere. How did you go about your world building for The Institute series?
A: I thought about what the world would be like if the majority of the population was wiped out by disease. TV and movies would suggest the government would fall, chaos would ensue, and everything would go to hell. Which may have happened in Allira’s world in the beginning, but her story is set 60 years after the pandemic. The government is functioning as it would in today’s society, there’s structure and rules, but not run by a dictatorship.
Being set in Australia, I wondered what it would be like to be cut off from the rest of the world – something that could very well happen being an island far away from anywhere. As a country, we may be advanced in medical innovation, but we rely on others for things like technological advances. So I assumed technology would suffer, perhaps taking a step back. I kind of focused on advancing the essentials for surviving, like food and medicine, leaving out luxuries like TV and Internet, cell phones and cars. The city and surrounding areas featured in The Institute Series were loosely based on the area I live in in South East QLD, just so I had a reference of how long it would take to travel between Allira’s home/the city/the Institute.
Q: What other genres do you see yourself dabbling in beyond young adult/new adult dystopian/scifi? Any contemporary in your future?
A: I do have plans for a contemporary YA book that addresses bullying in high school. The story revolves around a nineteen-year-old girl trying to make it in the music industry, but has a lot of setbacks and self-esteem issues about her weight, stemming from years of teasing in high school – which she never finished, having left before her senior year because of the bullying. I also have plans for a husband/wife thriller where the wife is convinced her husband is trying to kill her. The idea may or may not have stemmed from a running joke I have with my husband that he is trying to kill me.
Q: Can you send me a snapshot of your writing space? What is the one thing in your space (beyond the laptop) you’d have to have if you went on a writing retreat?
A: The only thing I need to write is my laptop and access to coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
Q: If you went on a worldwide book tour, which five cities would you HAVE to hit?
A: San Francisco because it’s my favourite city in the world (editor’s note – mine too!) – I’ll always find an excuse to go back there. New York because the only time I’ve ever been there was during a snow storm (and not the exciting snow, but the type that just basically creates black ice on the pathways and roads) so it wasn’t exactly fun for me the first time. Budapest, because of random reasons – I’ve just always wanted to go there. (And okay, singing George Ezra’s song repeatedly has some appeal.) Copenhagen, because it’s on my list of places I want to go (and I’ve actually sold a whole of six books there. Lol). And Paris, because I loved Paris.
Q: Who is your biggest writing influence?
A: When I started writing, I aspired to be like Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games is one of those books that I’d read and wished I could write like that (unlike those other books where I thought I could do better). I can’t even tell you why I love The Hunger Games so much, or why I haven’t found another book or series I love just as much. Perhaps it’s because THG was the first time I really got into reading since high school, so it will always be my first love.
Q: Pretend you’re writing fan fiction — pick two characters by two different authors in two wildly different genres and give us a brief overview of your setting and plot.
A: Janine from Divergent meets Amy from Gone girl for a cup of coffee to brainstorm how to be successful in their manipulative ways. Janine suggests Amy use mind control to make her husband obey her, and Amy tells Janine she really has to let the mind control thing go. They have words and end up turning on each other. That’d be a pretty cool showdown to see. Janine has minions, but Amy is psycho. I wonder who would win …
Allira Daniels will do anything to keep her family safe from the Institute.
They claim to protect the Defectives, but really the Defectives are trapped and segregated.
Allira’s brother Shilah is not dangerous like everyone assumes all Defectives are.
He just sees things before they happen, and Allira knows that if anyone finds out, they will turn on the entire Daniels family. So they live by one simple rule: be invisible.
They try to blend in at school, try not to draw unnecessary attention to themselves.
But when Allira witnesses a car accident that critically injures two of her classmates, her family’s rule and her dad’s warnings are tossed aside.
Allira is quick to discover that saving Drew’s life could just be the best and worst thing she’s ever done.
It’s what every Defective person wants – freedom, liberation from the Institute.
Allira had her chance. Then why is she still working for them?
It has been three months since she first started working as an agent for the Institute.
She’s good at her job. She has to be. There’s too much at stake.
After an arrest goes awry, she’s faced with the possibility of escaping again, and an offer too good to refuse.
Things are meant to be different at the Resistance, everything is meant to be better.
But when life is about survival, sacrifices must be made. What will Allira sacrifice for her freedom?
Eighteen months has passed since the Institute was liberated.
For Allira Daniels, she’s still trying to live with the consequences of her actions.
The Defective are free, but are their lives truly any better?
Attacks on Defectives are on the rise, and Allira has to wonder if she’s directly responsible.
Keeping busy to escape her guilt, Allira is trying to move on, but how can she when her past is always haunting her?
About the Author
Kayla was born and raised on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. She still resides there with her husband and son, working part time for a medical pathology lab while working on her writing.
Her love of reading and movies inspired her to start something she never dreamed possible: Writing her first novel.
When she’s not working, looking after her son, or writing, you’ll most likely find her hosting her own dance party in the kitchen while she does the dishes. (Where her husband will argue that more dancing is achieved than clean plates.)