Sunday, August 14, 2022

Q&A with Katelyn Monroe Howes



Katelyn Monroe Howes is the author of the new novel The Awoken. A documentarian, she is the cofounder of 1/27 Pictures. She is based in Los Angeles.


Q: What inspired you to write The Awoken, and how did you create your character Alabine Rivers?


A: I died in a car accident when I was 17 years old. Many minutes passed when I had no signs of life. Spoiler alert, I was eventually resuscitated, but the time I was without a heartbeat has haunted me to this day.


The main character of my novel, Alabine Rivers, a young woman who dies of cancer but cryogenically preserves her body and comes back to life a century later, was born directly out of that trauma and my need to process my experience with death. There’s a lot of myself in Alabine as she tries to understand how death has changed her. 


Over a decade after my accident, I made a documentary for MTV about at-risk and homeless transgender youth. That experience forced me to examine how easy it is for people to condemn those who are different. It made me examine myself, my understanding of who I am, and my relationship to both prejudice and allyship.


My death that became Alabine’s story served as the perfect allegory to do so. Alabine comes back to life in a world where it’s illegal to be a resurrected human. Her life is considered illegitimate and she is to be killed on sight. Someone who was once the perceived definition of normal is now the other.


Over the course of the book, she fights for the rights of people like her, people called The Awoken. In the tradition of speculative fiction, The Awoken allows for an exploration of very real modern-day social dilemmas we face surrounding medical autonomy, systemic bias, and the fears that tear us apart. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “Howes thoughtfully extrapolates from current events to create a chilling, all-too-plausible future.” How did you create the world you describe in the novel?


A: I wrote this future world to look very much like our own. There are no flying cars or Blade Runner-type dystopian elements that would allow readers to distance themselves from the story by thinking this is far removed from today.


I wanted to make it as close and believable as possible so that you have no option but to see how easily we can go from our world to the “dystopian” one Alabine wakes up in. 


To do this, I extrapolated the current fear-based discussions around scientific innovation. Recently it seems as if we’re going back to a time when science is vilified rather than celebrated, so the world in the novel is one that has rejected science and technology in exchange for peace and simplicity. In a way, it is sort of an anti-science fiction novel!


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Like most of my stories, the end was one of the first things I knew, right after the beginning. The story definitely morphed and changed as it was written and edited, but the beginning and the end were always certainties to me.


Most important of all, I wanted the story to end with hope. There’s a lot that’s dark and terrible in the novel, but I knew that ultimately this was a story of second chances and the hope that comes with it, even if it’s not quite the way you expect. That being said, there were certainly a few things that surprised me as I wrote it, but I won’t spoil those.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I wrote this novel to examine that human instinct to condemn those that we deem “different” from us. In the prologue, it says that “above all, this is a story about love.” Over the course of the book, I hope that people see it is a book about all kinds of love; and fostering love between our fellow humans, in spite of our differences, is paramount.


Also I want readers to see how easy it would be for our world to become something like the one in my novel and truly question what is worth sacrificing in the name of security and contentment. Sadly, it’s a world that already exists for too many today.


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I’m thrilled to be working on the TV adaptation of The Awoken with the fine folks over at Keshet Studios. In addition to that, I’m producing and directing a couple of documentary films. My next novel is a Southern Gothic Horror story that takes place along the Georgia coast, loosely based on some of my experiences making true crime documentaries.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If you’re interested in more about my work, please check out my website and follow me on Instagram or Facebook @katelynmhowes. Stay tuned for more about The Awoken screen adaptation and my upcoming books and films.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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