Interviewed by Rachel Dehning
What characters in the book are most similar to you or people you know? Is there anything in the story that you included based on your personal experiences?
Some of the minor characters in the story, like Cassie and Xuan’s friends, Roxy, Amanda, Sky, Beom, and Nick, were inspired by people I know. Nevertheless, these characters were created to serve the story, and I made sure to give them unique personalities and traits that would make them stand out as individuals. That being said, I did incorporate certain traits and quirks into the characters that reminded me of people I’ve met in my life. For example, Zhang Xuan’s gentlemanly demeanor and impressive salsa dancing skills were inspired by my husband, who is the epitome of chivalry and always puts others before himself. I also drew inspiration from the people I’ve met from China, Taiwan, and Korea to create Zhang Xuan’s character. I wanted to capture the nuances of their cultures and blend them with his personality to create a unique and relatable character.
I want to make it absolutely clear that the parents I imagined (Richard and Stella) were completely fictitious and bore no resemblance to anyone in my life. They were the product of pure imagination, created with no other inspiration. To put it bluntly, they’re the complete antithesis of my own parents. My father is the quintessential 1970’s California beach boy and hippie. He’s always been the epitome of coolness, exuding an effortless charm that could make even the most jaded person crack a smile. His presence lights up a room, and his charisma is infectious. He has a way of making people feel at ease around him, like he’s an old friend you’ve known your whole life. And his intellect is just as impressive as his coolness, shining like a beacon of hope in a dark sky. My dad has always worked hard and made sacrifices to provide for our family, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. Honestly, everybody needs a dad like mine.
Unfortunately, the narrow-minded, hateful personalities of Ashley and Brett were based on real people I’ve met, unlike the character of Raylan, who is entirely fictional. I drew on my own experiences and relationships to create authentic and relatable characters and infused my travels to different parts of the world into the story to create a vivid and immersive setting.
I did not write Cassandra, the protagonist, to be a thinly veiled version of my own life, but I’ve infused her with some similar interests and traits, such as my passion for volunteering and love of basketball. Growing up, I dreamed of being an ethnobiologist and studying cures for cancer and other diseases in the Amazon Rainforest, inspired by the movie Medicine Man, as Cassie states in the story. By drawing on my own experiences and passions, I aimed to create a character that readers could connect with on a personal level.
When it comes to the characters in my book, each one is an original creation. As for the places in the books, the locations in Colombia, and California — the hospitals, the restaurants, the beaches and other locations, actually exist.
What brought about the decision or inspiration to write “Fated to Love”?
The decision to write “Fated to Love” was inspired by a deeply personal experience that touched my heart and soul. As a teacher and basketball coach, I had the honor of hosting six boys from Asian countries who quickly became like brothers to me. Growing up as an only child, their presence meant a great deal to me. My parents welcomed them into our family, and we celebrated holidays, birthdays, and special events together. Some of them are still attending college in the United States, while others have returned to their home countries. I have had the privilege of visiting a few of them in China and Taiwan, and our bond has only grown stronger with time. One of the boys, Jimmy, from China, lived with me for over six years. He completed his degree at an American university and has since returned to China, where he is now married and has a beautiful daughter.
The rise in Asian racism during the pandemic years deeply affected me. I saw firsthand the horrific things that were said to my “brothers” because of their nationality. I felt ashamed and guilty for not doing enough to promote change. I realized that I had a responsibility to use my voice and platform to bring attention to this issue. That’s when I decided to write “Fated to Love,” a novel that not only explores the intricacies of contemporary romance but also delves into deeper themes such as cultural identity, family dynamics, and overcoming adversity. I wanted to take readers on a journey through different countries and cultures, providing a window into the diversity of our world. Through my writing, I hope to honor and celebrate the beauty of these diverse cultures and to share the story of Cassie and Xuan with the world.
So what brought about my inspiration to write this story? There is a great quote in the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson. The quote was, “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42, that way they won’t tell us apart.” Growing up in a baseball-loving household, today I want to wear the #42. I do so with ink. My pen is the most powerful tool God has given me, and it’s time to use it to make a difference. This series is my form of advocacy, and I believe in writing for change #writeforchange. I hope that my dedication to authenticity and accuracy shines through on every page of “Fated to Love” and “Threads of Fate.”
Did publishing it now have a meaning versus waiting for a future date?
I’ve always dreamed of publishing a book, and my mother has been a huge supporter of that dream. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease around the time COVID first hit the United States. As her disease has progressed to the mid-late stages, I began to realize that my time was running out to publish a story traditionally. Ultimately, my decision to publish “Fated to Love” You was driven by a sense of urgency. I knew that if I waited too long, it might be too late for her to see me accomplish my dream. I gave myself a deadline to secure a publishing deal with a traditional publisher, knowing that if that didn’t happen in time, I would turn to self-publishing. It was a risk, but I couldn’t bear the thought of my mother missing out on this milestone in my life.
I wanted to publish my first novel while she can still remember. To me, it was crucial that my mother could physically hold my book in her hands, even if she can no longer read or write. The joy and pride I would feel seeing her hold it, knowing that I accomplished my dream, is something that cannot be expressed in words.
Overall, publishing my book now was not just about achieving my own goals – it was about sharing that achievement with my mother and giving her a tangible reminder of my love and appreciation for all she has done for me. I just hope I’m not too late.
How many books will be in the “Chasing the Comet” series?
The “Chasing the Comet” series will consist of three books. “Fated to Love” serves as the first book in the trilogy, and I’m delighted to announce that I have already finished writing Books II and III. The second book is titled “Threads of Fate,” while the third book is titled “The Invisible Thread.” The second and third novels will be combined into a special 2-in-1 edition, scheduled for release in 2024. I am eagerly looking forward to sharing the remaining chapters of the story with my readers as the characters delve deeper into the intricacies of fate and the profound strength of love.
Can you share anything about the upcoming second installment?
Oh, I am so excited to share some details about the upcoming second book! Get ready to buckle up for an emotional rollercoaster ride as readers are taken on a heart-wrenching journey through the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world changes around our characters, they must navigate new challenges that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.
Just like the first book, “Threads of Fate” is a contemporary romance full of unexpected twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end. Despite the odds against them, Cassie and Xuan remain steadfast in their epic love story, willing to do whatever it takes to find their way back to each other – even if it means braving the very forces of the universe that conspire to keep them apart.
How long did it take you to complete “Fated to Love”? Did the story change much from the first draft to what we have now?
“Fated to Love” was born out of a tumultuous time in our world’s history. When the pandemic swept across the globe, and schools closed their doors, I found myself teaching from home and working on my YA fantasy novel, “Storm Breaker.” However, with everything happening in the world, I needed a break from fantasy. It was during this time that I stumbled upon an old journal from my high school creative writing class and rediscovered a nineteen-page short story I had written as a junior called “Broken Dreams.” The story was about a college-aged male who found out he had cancer.
As someone in my thirties, I was fascinated to come across a handwritten story that was twenty years old. It was a window to the past, a reminder of simpler times before the pandemic had upended our world. My aunt was battling cancer at the time, and as I read the handwritten story from my high school journal, I reflected on the struggles that people like my aunt had to endure during the pandemic. It was truly heart-wrenching to imagine the added challenges they faced, including the sudden requirement of masks, restrictions on visitations, and constantly changing mandates in hospitals, treatment centers, and doctors’ offices. The thought of battling cancer during such unprecedented times was unimaginable, and yet so many people had to do just that. This novel is a testament to the power of love and resilience, as it follows the journey of a relatable and complex character who faces her own challenges and triumphs in the midst of real-life events.
From the very first word to the final page, “Fated to Love You” became more than a love story between a biracial couple. It’s the journey of Cassandra “Cassie” Temperance Steel, a multifaceted character who escapes to Colombia to mend a broken heart. The novel’s setting is interwoven with real-life events that occurred between 2016-2019 (Book 1) and 2020-2023 (Book 2-3), crossing borders and cultures and showcasing the diversity of our world. The first book, “Fated to Love You,” is set before the pandemic, while the second book, “Threads of Fate,” chronicles the main characters navigating through the pandemic and other significant events, much like Forest Gump.
I never imagined that my old high school story would evolve into a trilogy, but as I wrote, the events of the time profoundly impacted the characters’ lives, ultimately shaping the novel’s direction.
“Fated to Love” is a story about overcoming adversity and racism to find true love. It explores themes of grief, loss, hope, and healing. My sincerest wish is for readers to be transported by the characters’ journey and encouraged to embrace diversity and love in their own lives.
What part of this book was the most fun for you to write? what about the hardest?
Oh, boy, the most challenging parts of writing this novel were definitely the sex scenes. I’m still blushing just thinking about them! I never expected to write a romance novel, especially one with some steamy bits. To be honest, I hope my family just skips over those parts. Can you imagine the awkwardness if they brought it up over our next big family gathering or during Thanksgiving dinner as we are passing around the turkey?
Another challenge was creating authentic characters from a culture that’s not my own. Crafting a story around Cassandra Steel and Zhang Xuan presented a unique set of challenges because I wanted to represent them and their experiences in a way that readers could genuinely connect with. I realized that Asians have been underrepresented in literature and media for decades, and it was important to me to create characters that broke that trend.
I had the most fun writing when I was researching and immersing myself in the Mandarin Chinese and Latin cultures. It was important for me to ensure that every detail was accurate and authentic, which is why I spent two years traveling to the locations mentioned in the novel. I indulged myself in foreign television, read folklore, and listened to music and comedy shows featuring artists from the region. It was honestly a blast to explore different neighborhoods and try locally inspired recipes where my characters exist in the setting of this novel. Through this experience, I felt more connected to my characters and the story, and I hope that my love for their culture shines through in the pages of the novel.
What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book/this book?
Despite my hectic and challenging schedule, I remained determined to make time for writing my book. As a full-time teacher during the day, with multiple other jobs to make ends meet, finding a few moments to write was a constant struggle. However, I knew that this story deserved my time and attention, so I would stay up late into the night, often past midnight, to work on the book.
To keep up with my writing schedule, I dedicated five to seven days a week to working on the book. I would spend a few hours writing each night or reviewing what I had written the night before. Some nights, I would even fall asleep with my laptop open on my chest, or I would have to fix my mistakes from the previous night when my drowsiness caused my sentences to lose their coherence. My husband and parents have been saints in allowing me to work during dinner, and they helped cook and do the dishes so I could focus on my writing.
My passion for writing and my desire to share this story with the world kept me going. I poured my heart and soul into this project, and even though my schedule wasn’t ideal, in the end, all of the hard work and sleepless nights were worth it.
Did you write your characters based on your beliefs and ideals?
As I embarked on the journey of writing my novel, I was deeply aware of the cultural and religious experiences that had shaped me. I knew that it was important to stay true to these influences and incorporate them into my writing. Growing up in Santa Cruz, California, attending Twin Lakes Baptist Church in Aptos was an essential part of my childhood. The church’s Fall Festival and candlelit Christmas Eve service were cherished memories that I wanted to reflect on in my story. I felt a strong connection to Baptist beliefs, which is why Cassandra’s character shares similar beliefs.
In contrast, Xuan’s character is based on my experiences with my host kids from China, who were Buddhist. Traveling to Taiwan and China and visiting Buddhist temples also influenced my writing. I wanted to incorporate cultural and religious elements into my story to showcase the beauty and diversity of our world. As a history teacher, I’ve always loved studying civilizations and learning about people and cultures, so it was important for me to incorporate cultural and religious elements into my writing in order to pay tribute to the beauty and diversity of our world.
In my opinion, it is okay to be in a relationship where two people have opposite religions, and I wanted to portray this through Cassandra and Xuan’s love story. With love, all things are possible, and my character’s relationship is based on acceptance of their differences and respect. They do not try to change each other. This aspect of their relationship is my favorite, as I have seen many relationships where people try to change their partners, which is not right. When you love someone, you love them for who they are. All of them. That includes their religious beliefs.
If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?
If I could have the chance to meet the characters I created in person, I would be overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to bring them to life on the pages of my book. I would apologize for the hardships and obstacles I made them endure throughout their journey, but I would also express my admiration for their strength and resilience. Their love story and struggles touched my heart deeply (as I hope it does others), and I would want them to know that despite everything they faced, their love was beautiful, and their story mattered.
Lastly, I would thank them for entrusting me with their tale and for allowing me to share it with the world.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
When I was brainstorming title ideas for my novel, I pondered on the themes that were prominent in the story. As a romance novel, the book highlights the story of two people from distinct backgrounds who, despite the obstacles that lay ahead, were irresistibly drawn to one another. The concept of destiny and fate was a crucial factor in their love story, where the power of love was depicted as an unyielding force that unites people. The book’s subtitle, “Chasing the Comet,” alludes to a comet that appears in all three novels and is meant to be a symbolic representation of the characters’ journey toward each other.
How do you celebrate when you finish your book?
After investing so much passion and effort into writing this book, there is no better way for me to celebrate its completion and publication than by revisiting the places that inspired my writing. Santa Cruz, my beloved hometown, holds a special place in my heart. I am thrilled to announce that I will be participating in an Author Event on July 29th at 11:00 AM at the Capitola Branch Library in Santa Cruz, CA (2005 Wharf Rd, Capitola, CA 95010). You can stay updated about the event by visiting my website: https://kaylacunninghamauthor.com/
To mark this special occasion, I have planned a trip. I am excited to take my husband, who has never been to Santa Cruz before, on this enchanting adventure.
During our trip, we will explore the locations featured in my book, such as Rivas Fish House and the Boardwalk, where Cassandra and Xuan had their unforgettable date. Additionally, we will indulge in a few days of tranquility in the Redwood forest and visit the mesmerizing Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Before heading back, we will make our way to Monterey to experience the wonders of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These places hold immense significance in my novel “Fated to Love You” and the “Chasing the Comet” series, and revisiting them will provide a unique opportunity for me to reconnect with the story I have crafted. Moreover, it will allow me to relive cherished childhood memories while sharing them with my husband.
Celebrating this achievement with my husband and revisiting my home is truly a dream come true.
Kayla Cunningham holds two education degrees, and she teaches history at the high school level and adult ESL, while also volunteering as a Hostage Crisis Negotiator. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in Teaching English as a Second Language, and enjoys taking flying lessons with her husband. Kayla has a passion for traveling and meeting people from different cultures around the world. She hosted six boys from China and has traveled to Asia many times. She was born in San Luis Obispo and raised outside the city of Santa Cruz, California. She is an advocate of exploring issues of racism and current events, including the rise in Asian hate crimes caused by the pandemic. Fated to Love You is Cunningham’s first contemporary romance novel. She just completed the second installment of the Chasing the Comet series, and is currently working on a YA fantasy trilogy called The Lost Daughter of Starfall.