Author Interview: Kelly Zekas + Tarun Shanker
Hey guys! I was lucky enough to snag the authors of ‘These Vicious Masks’ and ‘These Ruthless Deeds’ for a fun interview! Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas are two of the most hilarious people I’ve ever interacted with, and I can’t wait to share what they had to say! After finishing ‘These Ruthless Deeds’, I was a giant ball of emotion and feels, and I can’t recommend this series enough! I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.
My favorite thing about Tarun and Kelly is that they literally have a battle between them on which of their love interest’s should win the heroine’s heart. Personally, I am pretty much reduced to mush when Mr. Kent enters the room, but I mean… Mr. Braddock is the best thing since Mr. Darcy. So my choice? I’d have to say both, and that I require parallel dimensions so that both happen. Not sorry 😉
If you haven’t yet heard of the books, be sure to add them to your TBR on Goodreads! Also check out my reviews for ‘These Vicious Masks’ and ‘These Ruthless Deeds’ and don’t forget to follow them on twitter!
Without further ado, here’s the interview!
1. What really shines in your books are the characters and their hysterical and vibrant personalities. I’m pretty much in love with everyone. On that note, if you were stranded on an island with one of your characters, which would it be and why?
Thank you so much! We are thrilled you like them. We are pretty fond of them ourselves.
This is a hard question! Perhaps we should cheat and say Mr. Hale, who could teleport us back off the island?
But cheating powers aside, probably Mr. Kent. Not only would he keep our spirits up with fun banter, but he’s pretty clever and could probably be useful in keeping us alive till we were rescued!
2. Ok, be honest. Which of you is most like Evelyn and which is most like Mr. Kent?
We really both aspire to be more like Mr. Kent. Tarun is most like Evelyn between the two of us, and Kelly is probably a bit more like Laura to be completely honest. Evelyn definitely is a good mix of us, people we know and love, and someone we really want to meet. But Kelly is a lot more romantic than Evelyn would ever admit to being and much more likely to play by the rules. She’s working on adding a little more Evelyn spirit every day!
3. If you two were to be recruited in the Society of Aberrations, what would your superpowers be?
Kelly: I think I used to say “matchmaking” and it might still be true … I like pairing people up!
Tarun: Telekinesis, partly because it’s so versatile a power, but mostly because I’m lazy.
4. What is the best part about co-authoring?
Always having someone to bounce your ideas off of! It helps us filter out our weird, bad ideas a lot faster and it’s always exciting and motivating to pitch an idea and have someone give the thumbs up. Writing can be super lonely and exhausting, so having someone equally invested along for every step of the way helps comfortably balance the highs and lows.
5. It’s obvious you both are terrific writers. But let’s say (in a fictional world that will never exist…) one of you writes something and the other thinks “Bloody hell, this is a load of crap!” What do you do then?
Ha! Well… that’s actually happened, multiple times. Kelly has cut entire chapters that Tarun wrote because they contained a lot of unnecessary dialogue or fights. And Tarun has completely rewritten some of Kelly’s chapters because they weren’t the right tone. It’s never been about whether something is crap or not, it’s just both of us being honest with each other about what fits. And if we can’t agree on something, we just have to find another way to solve the problem. We know these arguments never mean we think the other person is a horrible writer, so it takes a certain degree of trust in the other person and confidence in yourself to keep the process smooth.
6. Which scene in the series was the most fun to write?
Tarun: Ack, this is hard because a lot of my favorite scenes were miserable to write and rewrite to get every piece right! I probably have to go with the India scene in These Ruthless Deeds because that somehow came together without much of a problem. I think I was just itching to put all those elements on the page– the fun stuff like the X-men style team mission and Mr. Kent finally getting his kiss, as well as the darker imperialist side of England. And now because I’ve chosen a Kent scene, I’m sure I know what scene Kelly is going to pick.
Kelly: Yeah … the bedroom scene with Sebastian in These Ruthless Deeds.
Tarun: Called it.
Kelly: I KNOW YOU DID NOW SHUSH: That scene was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever written. We didn’t outline it too heavily so I just got to have fun with that first draft. It was so nice to just let Sebastian and Evelyn play off each other for a bit, with the added tension of a scandalous meeting. I love Evelyn’s tendency to talk first and think later, which pairs so nicely with Sebastian’s fumbling when he’s embarrassed. Playing with characters is always my favorite part of writing.
7. The historical fiction meets magic is such a cool genre. What inspired you to choose a historical setting?
Kelly loves historicals and has since she was very young. When she and Tarun first talked about writing something together, he knew he wanted something with superpowers and she wanted that historical setting. And thus it was born, about eight years ago. After we settled on the concept it was on to deciding our world rules and such – we weren’t quite going for a steampunk or alternate history and we did want to be sure we explored what it might be like for someone to suddenly gain these powers in such a rigid society. We love grinding the supernatural world up against the London ton’s to see what happens next for Evelyn.
8. What authors would you say inspire you the most?
Usually the dry, witty ones. The ones who break and make our hearts in such matter-of-fact ways. Ones who make you fall in love with their characters within one chapter. For Tarun it’s Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, Philip Pullman and Sarah Waters. For Kelly it’s Rainbow Rowell, Jude Morgan, Leigh Bardugo, and Libba Bray.
9. If you could create a soundtrack for this series, what are a few songs that would be on it?
We both listened to period piece soundtracks to get in the mood while writing, so there’d have to be some of Dario Marianelli’s score from the Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, but also the dark electronica from Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack for The Knick. We also just had our own playlists of songs that got us in certain moods. Whenever Evelyn needed to be bad-ass, Tarun listened to fast punky songs like War Paint by Ex Hex, Is This How You Feel? by The Preatures and Please Be My Third Eye by La Sera. Kelly likes to listen to songs about how horrible love is when she’s writing more emotional scenes.
10. What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while writing these books?
Trusting our instincts. Most authors seem to have the experience of writing a few books before getting published, but we stubbornly stuck with writing These Vicious Masks on and off over six years. It was the only book we’d ever written, so having to do the second one with a deadline was a bit terrifying because we had no other reference point for the process. Our first couple drafts had so many holes and issues with them and we were panicking about the time we had left. But as we dealt with the problems one by one and managed to keep the book on schedule, we slowly came to realize that those years of working on book one did give us subtle skills and techniques that paid off. Even if you aren’t seeing obvious and consistent signs that you’re improving as a writer, be assured, if you put in the time and work, they will be there.
11. What can we look forward to in the next book? (Non spoilery, of course.)
A different side of London, a new perspective on the powers and, of course, revenge.
12. Any random tips on how to be awesome? (Mostly in terms of those seeking to be an author one day! But generally works too.)
Well, we’re still trying to figure that out ourselves! Reading is always the best advice and we’re sure everyone reading this is already doing that. But more specifically, reading critically. Figuring out why certain tropes or plot elements work or don’t work. Discussing that with other writers/readers. Reading reviews from people you disagree with and trying to understand their perspective. The two of us often go on tangents during our brainstorming sessions, arguing about the last movie we saw or book we read. Yes, it’s usually just us stalling so we don’t have to write, but sometimes we stumble upon something relevant that helps us understand why an element of our book isn’t quite working. And of course, we highly recommend submitting to Swoon Reads if you’ve got a manuscript. You may just find a community where you can do all those things there!
Thank you both so much for taking the time to answer all my goofy questions! I loved the answers so much, as I’m sure everyone else does too! My last request would be a time portal to the third book, if you ever happen to figure that out 😉
Best of luck to you both!