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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 21: Katelyn Monroe Howes

Katelyn Monroe Howes is a documentary filmmaker, and her first novel, The Awoken, has just been published.

Katelyn Monroe Howes is a documentary filmmaker, whose first novel, The Awoken, a dystopian science fiction thriller, has just been published.

“I honestly don’t think my process could have worked unless I had Scrivener.”

Show notes:

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Katelyn Monroe Howes is a documentary filmmaker, whose first novel, The Awoken, a dystopian science fiction thriller, has just been published.

The Awoken is about Abaline, a young woman who is cryogenically frozen, and who is awakened 100 years later in a dystopian world where people like her are considered to be dangerous.

Katelyn is a documentary filmmaker, and I asked why she wanted to switch from nonfiction film to fiction? She told me that “I don’t really see it as a switch. I think I will forever, as long as they let me, keep making documentaries. And as long as they’ll let me, I’ll keep writing fiction. My novel is dystopian sci-fi. I find documentaries and sci-fi have been to be very similar. I think, at their core, both mediums take some relevant social issue, something that we’re trying to grapple with as a society, and present it in an entertaining way for people to think about in a different light.”

The first line of The Awoken is gripping: “I was 23 years old when I died.” It turns out that this is based on a real experience that Katelyn had. “When I was 17, I had a horrific car accident, and I died. When the EMTs got to me on the scene, I had no heartbeat. Spoiler alert: they did bring me back to life! I came back, but there was about 10 minutes where I had no signs of life. That was obviously incredibly traumatic for me at 17 to die and have that experience. Everyone asked me what I saw after death and and it was very similar to my main character in my book: it was this very stark nothingness. And that’s haunted me my whole life.”

So Katelyn wove this experience into the novel, but didn’t realize what she was doing. “I used to, at parties, say that line, ‘Oh, I was 17 years old when I died.’ That’s where the inspiration for the first line came from. I didn’t realize that this was about my car accident until I read the first draft of my novel [in copy edit]. It was this eureka moment; I came bursting out of my bedroom, and I ran over to my husband, and I said, ‘this is about my death.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s about a young girl who dies, and then comes back to life.’ And I said, ‘Oh, thanks for telling me.’”

The novel is about cryogenics. A young woman named Alabine is frozen because she has cancer, who then wakes up 100 years later. “I started becoming obsessed with cryogenics after my car accident. It’s insane what people are doing right now. There are these billionaires in Silicon Valley, they’ve all promised that they’re going to live to at least 500 or 1,000. But those aren’t empty promises. We’re getting pretty far with life extension science.”

The germ of the novel was the science. “I started out knowing what I wanted to write this novel about, before I realized it was also about my car accident, that I wanted to explore the idea of who gets to decide what is a life and what life is worthy. I think this is a question we’re going to have to keep asking ourselves as we get further into life extension; we’re going to have to decide what determines a life.”

Katelyn originally wrote this as a screenplay for a film, then converted it to a novel, then sold the rights to a TV series, and she is now working on converting the novel into scripts for a TV series. “I honestly don’t think my process could have worked unless I had Scrivener. I don’t think my brain could have kept all the information.”

The novel started as a brief treatment for an initiative to promote for underrepresented writers. “I had this one-pager that I had just written on this idea. I submitted that, I ended up winning and getting selected. I had all this amazing mentorship, it was this really fascinating program. Through that it became a script: I wrote a short film that we then filmed in London. It pushed me to develop the idea more.”

Katelyn decided to convert the story to a novel, “always knowing that I wanted to take it back to the screen in some way. To take what I knew from writing screenplays into the book, then knowing that it was going to end up back as a screenplay at some point, was a really interesting experience. Scrivener was so helpful, because I was able to keep both documents in the same project. Scrivener allowed me to go back and forth so easily, because I had all of my research right next to all of my screenplay stuff, next to all of my novel stuff. It all coexisted together.”

Katelyn also discovered how different the film and publishing industries are. Aside from the fact that, “in LA, you go out to lunch, and people are ordering salads and kombucha, and then you go out to lunch in the middle of the day in New York, and people are ordering martinis and rare steaks,” she also appreciated having total creative control over her novel. “Publishing was a huge culture shock. I get to make the decisions. I get to be the one who decides the final words on this page.” But there are good elements of working in film. “The positive side is it is this collaborative process. You get these amazing people to work with. And it’s not just you alone in your room. I think there’s pros and cons to both worlds, but they are incredibly different.”

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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