Mason Cooley said, “Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.”
A Center Stage Moment shines a spotlight on writers who give us great places to visit with the characters we love and want to call friends.
Today, I have the pleasure of introducing to you Kayla Shown-Dean!
Kayla Shown-Dean published her first novel, Muted, and a collection of poetry, Autumn Leaflets in June and November 2014. She is also a blogger, full-time tutor, adjunct English instructor, volunteer youth leader, freelance writer, wife, and busy mom. Her son, Lukas, is the often a muse for her posts as he has taught her a new way of looking at the world. During her summers off, you can find Kayla and her son playing outside in the garden, roaming local parks, or walking their dog, Oliver.
Without further ado, here’s her interview.
I love reading the author bios. Many of them did not start out as writers. Sometimes people stumble upon the craft. Did you always want to be a writer? Oh my, yes! I remember sitting at the dining room table as a young child—I was probably about four or five—and drawing pictures. I would fill pages of pictures and put them all in order of a story that was running through my head. Then, I would take the pictures to my mom and tell her the story, and she would write it down for me below each picture. I think we still have some of those!
Why did you choose to write your genre? I have actually written in three genres. My first book, Muted, was a work of literary fiction. My second published work was Autumn Leaflets: a Collection of Poetry, and I am currently working on The Ferocity Series, a young adult dystopian series. To be honest, I think it just took me a while to find my voice as a writer. I began writing poetry which I had done since I was about twelve or thirteen. I actually wrote my poetry collection first, before I wrote either of my novels. I wrote the collection as my graduate thesis in college, but I hung on to it for a few years before I published it. I always wanted to be a novelist, but I didn’t think I had much talent—or much patience, believe me, you DON’T want to take me fishing. But I was inspired at a writer’s retreat to start working on some prose, and my first novel, Muted, was a product of that retreat. When I wrote Muted, I was fresh out of graduate school, so I wrote what I had read—a lot of literary fiction. However, I think I’ve found my home in YA. It is what I have always loved to read, and I love writing for young people; I work with teenagers and college students as well. Though it took me a while to develop my voice, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Poetry taught me conciseness and description, and Muted gave me the confidence to release my stories to the world. [That’s awesome.]
What is the strangest story you’ve ever written? That would have to a poem entitled “Jesus Loves Us”. That poem has received so much criticism—its wild! And the reason for this boils down to one line: “Jesus Christ has come to rape us.” As a Christian myself, I had a hard time penning that line, but I did it to make a point. The poem is about false religion—cult worship, etc. The line in question is supposed to function as a metaphor for people thrusting their own personal beliefs onto others in the name of religion. But—eh—people don’t seem to get that. [That’s a deep metaphor.]
What are you currently working on? Right now, I am working on book two in the Ferocity Series. I am about a third of the way finished with it and I hope to release it early next year. Though I don’t want to spoil anything for the readers of Ferocity, book one, I will say that it picks up right where the first book left off and takes off running, packed with action. I really can’t wait to get it out there to my readers.
What motivated the plot of your latest book? Ferocity was actually the brainchild of my husband. He came to me with this idea for this story nearly seven years ago, and we have spent countless hours brainstorming it since. [That’s cool.] He was inspired by The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Because of all the battles with animals, he was curious about human physical conditions—what all could we handle? How strong are we? How talented are we? What would it be like to push us to our limits? I, however, added the elements of light and dark. I ask questions like: if evil can taint good, can good cure evil? So Ferocity, though it’s a YA novel, will have many of these themes and motifs. [Adding it to my TBR!]
What was the hardest story for you to write? Probably Ferocity. Though it was technically my third published work, Ferocity was only my second novel; it was also my first attempt at a series, AND it was my first coauthored work. As I mentioned it was my husband’s story, and like he says, “Kayla just wrote it.”
What process do you use to plan your novels? I usually brainstorm first, and I’ll make a mood board using photos and clipping that I get from magazines or off the internet. I am a visual learner, so these mood boards help me to visualize my characters and my settings and really get my excited and inspired to write. Then, I work on my characters. I make a character sheet, taking time to answer questions like: What is this character’s name? Hair and eye color? What personality traits do they have? And most importantly, I ask the BOOM questions: what do they want and what is stopping them from getting what they want? [I like that.] By answering the BOOM questions, I get my character’s motivation and a bit of conflict. Then, I make a list of plot points which slowly turns into an outline by chapter—so yeah…it’s quite a process.
Who has been your favorite character to write and why? Oh goodness! That’s a tough question. If I had to pick one, I think I’d choose Ferocity’s Feronica. Feronica is a young biologist in the novel who has quite a story. She was raised in Arkansas, an only child in a rural, poverty-stricken area. But she was able to rise above this and earn her college degree. Still, life hasn’t been too kind to her. After college, she followed a love interest to Alabama who ends up leaving her for someone else. But Feronica is tough. She is not only intelligent, but she is cunning and street-smart. She’s a little spunky, and if you met her on the street, you wouldn’t peg her for a college graduate. She speaks with a strong southern drawl but she can handle herself in a knife fight. She’s just an all-around cool chick to me. [I like her already.]
Do any of your characters reflect facets of your personality? I think every single one of them do. They are either a part of me that I hide from the rest of the world or a part of me that I strive to become. We’ve all heard the phrase “write what you know” and to create authentic characters you must bare pieces of your soul. You wouldn’t ever want to base a character on a stereotype—it would be inauthentic.
Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Writer’s block is terrible, but you really just have to push through it. That is why writing is a discipline; you have to be disciplined enough to make yourself do it. It’s terrible and cliché, but really, I just have to grit my teeth and write through it. Many of my students tell me, “But my writing’s crap!” And I just tell them, “Well, we can work with crap, but we can’t work with a blank page.” You really just have to put thoughts to paper.
If you were to choose another genre to write in, what would it be? I don’t think I’ll ever tire of YA, to be honest. I just really feel like I’ve found my niche. I may try my hand at literary fiction again though—that was a fun first go at it.
Which authors inspire you? Oh…so many. I love J.F. Penn. She just has such a great attention to detail, and she is so genuine about helping other writers. She is truly a sweet soul! I also like Ian Smith, author of the Infinity series and Dead and Alive. Not only is he a terrific writer, but I actually met him on Facebook and he’s just an all-around great guy!
What novel would you read multiple times? I have only read four novels more than once, and those would be The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. Lord of the Flies is actually my favorite book of all times, and if you read my novels carefully, they all have some sort of reference to LOTF.
If you could meet anyone in the world, alive or deceased, who would it be and why? Oh goodness. Another hard one. I think…I’d want to meet Phil Collins. I know that’s such an off the wall answer, but let me explain. I listen to Phil Collins every time I write. That is all I listen to. I just think it would be really cool to meet him and thank him for producing such amazing, inspiring music. [I have no problem with that. Love some Phil Collins.]
What is your favorite quote?
This is actually something I came up with in the sixth or seventh grade. At the time, I was talking about generosity, but I have found that this is true with all areas in life. If you want something in life, anything, it takes sacrifice. You will have to give of yourself, of your time, and of your money in order to make things happen for you, especially as an author. So my advice would be, make sure that you really want something before you go after it, because it WILL take all you can give and more.
What is your favorite animal, real or imaginary? This is bad…but I’m not big on animals. I have a dog, and he is pretty cool. But…I don’t know…maybe a rabbit.
What is your favorite color? Green. Green all day long everyday. Green is the color of inspiration, nature, greed, and magic.
Kayla is a part-time writer and a full-time professional English composition and literature tutor. She can write on her lunch break, and help others ‘make their writing better, which only makes the world a better place’.
Catch up with Kayla online at:
I’ve enjoyed meeting you, Kayla. I look forward to reading your novel. Join me next week as we feature, Karina Kantes.