Kayla Olson is the author of the new young adult novel The Sandcastle Empire, a sci-fi thriller. She lives in Texas.
Q: How did you create the world you describe in The Sandcastle Empire?
A: I created The Sandcastle Empire’s world by doing a lot of research, and by asking a lot of what if?
As far as the research goes, I stumbled upon an article similar to this one about how U.S. communities will face chronic flooding as sea levels rise, and started following the idea down a path of, well, how would those environmental changes affect the people who live in those areas? How would the ripples of those changes then spread into the rest of the country—and beyond?
It was the first time I’d thought about environmental change through the lens of what could happen in our world when sea level rise hits a tipping point, from a social standpoint, as opposed to simply how do we reverse environmental change, or prevent it from happening at all?
Aside from questions of those sorts, I watched numerous TEDtalks while shaping the futuristic world in the book, and then I again asked what if—for every new piece of technology I introduced in the book’s world, I wanted to make sure it had been of substantial benefit to society, but also contributed to conflict and risk when put in the wrong hands.
Q: How would you describe the dynamics among the four young women in the book?
A: One of my favorite things about the girl dynamics at play here are that they all want the same thing—freedom, safety, peace—but they have opposing views about the best way to achieve their goals. They’re people who need each other, but don’t always like each other.
To each of the girls, it feels like the entire world is at stake, and it also feels like a big risk to trust anyone after all they’ve been through. Though this makes their search for survival significantly more challenging, they’re crucial in helping each other overcome their emotional hurdles, not only their physical ones.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: When writing, I love to put the ending I first come up with at a slightly earlier place in the book, then twist the foregone conclusion into something that surprises even myself. This is one of my favorite parts of the process—I structure and plot the book up to a point, but definitely allow room for discovery along the way!
Q: Which authors do you particularly admire?
A: J.K. Rowling, for sure! Suzanne Collins, Laini Taylor, Jandy Nelson, Beth Revis, Sara Zarr. So many more, for so many reasons, honestly.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m about to dive back in to revising my novel that’s currently planned for Fall 2018—it’s another YA survival story with a tight cast of characters and a distinct setting, but that’s about all I can say about it for now. Can’t wait to share more details about it!
I’ll share more on social media as soon as I can. (Instagram: @authorkaylaolson / Twitter: @olsonkayla)
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Such an open-ended question! If you’d like to know more about my writing process or my path to publication, I did a pretty comprehensive interview with Sarah Enni on her excellent podcast, First Draft with Sarah Enni—I’m episode #108!
Sarah’s podcast is fantastic, whether you’re a reader, writer, or both. I highly recommend the Courtney Stevens, Sara Zarr, and Jennifer E. Smith episodes if you’re looking for a great place to start!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb