A Q&A with Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas (Authors of These Vicious Masks)

One of this month’s most hotly anticipated new releases is These Vicious Masks and I’m lucky enough to have interviewed the authors, Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, to celebrate the book’s publication date – which is tomorrow! If you haven’t heard about this fantastic book then head over to the These Vicious Masks Goodreads page to find out more. All I’m going to say is…Victorian superheroes!

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1. Hi guys, and welcome to Writing from the Tub! In case any readers haven’t heard about These Vicious Masks, can you tell me a little bit about it?

First off, we love your name! Writing in the bath is dangerous but delicious. Moving on: Sure! These Vicious Masks is our version of Jane Austen writing X-Men. So you can expect balls, romance and wit, but also superhuman powers and exciting fights as our heroine, Evelyn, searches for her abducted sister in Victorian London.

2. Co-writing a novel must be an interesting process! Talk me through the creative process behind These Vicious Masks.

It’s definitely different than a lot of writers’ process! In the outline phase, we have a lot of conversations and bounce ideas off of each other until we end up with something that we’re both excited about. Then for the first draft, we each will kinda call dibs on the chapters that we’re eager to write, which helps to keep us motivated enough to get something rough down. Next, we will switch and very heavily edit the other person’s chapters. All the while, we’ll be having conversations about what works and what doesn’t and keep going back and forth on edits until we lose track of who has written what! Since These Vicious Masks was the first novel we both ever wrote, it was a much messier process, but we’re working on the sequel at the moment and we think (and hope) we’ve gotten it a bit more streamlined this time around.

3. What was the most interesting thing you had to research for These Vicious Masks?
Illnesses! Evelyn’s missing sister is famous for her nursing expertise, so we had to come up with various tricky diseases with the help of our friend in med school, search for them in Victorian medical journals, and learn how they would have been diagnosed and treated in that era.

4. Some writers take great inspiration from music while they’re writing whereas some see it as a distraction. Do either of you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, which artists/bands do you like to listen to for inspiration? 

We love music! We even have a shared playlist called “What are Tarun and Kelly listening to.” It’s a pretty diverse, but we love soundtracks for writing. Kelly has listened to the 2005 Pride and Prejudice soundtrack about a billion times and Tarun is obsessed with The Knick soundtrack.

5. Can you tell me a bit about your journey with These Vicious Masks? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

It’s actually been in the works for over 7 years! We first began writing it during our third year of college. Tarun was looking to write a young adult novel and Kelly was an avid young adult reader. It began mostly with Kelly as a heavy editor and gradually evolved into us writing together. We queried for ages and had many, many rewrites before finding Swoon Reads, our publishers. They crowdsource YA manuscripts and take input from online readers to find new novels to publish. We were chosen in November of 2014 and spent a few months editing before turning in the final version.

6. How important do you think social media is for today’s writer? Do you think it can be a hindrance as well as a help?

Oof! We are kinda terrible about it. Kelly forgets to go on twitter and Tarun is generally exhausted by social media. It can be dangerously tempting to write something on Twitter or Tumblr for an instant response, rather than working in solitude on your manuscript. But at the same time, it’s absolutely crucial to have some kind of presence. It can be an incredible tool to reach people and connect with other readers and writers – We mainly just wish we had more hours to spend really getting to know people!

7. Is naming characters important to you both? Did one of you take the lead when naming the characters or was it more of a joint decision?

We love naming characters. Almost all of ours have an etymology meaning behind them and we devoted hours to making sure they were just right. Definitely a joint decision. We changed one name late in the game, and there was a period of randomly texting each other names until we hit on the right one. Names are so important! They can change and shape a whole view of your character.

8. What did you hope to accomplish by writing These Vicious Masks? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?

It sort of started out as a fun experiment. Kelly grew up loving period piece romances, while Tarun spent way too much money on superhero comics, and we wanted to see if we could combine the two genres into a unique and cohesive world. When we started playing with the tropes and themes of both genres, we found that they fit together really well to create something familiar, but with an interesting twist. The world expanded from there and we’ve since found that there’s so much more we want to explore in the rest of the trilogy.

Also, we simply wanted to write the dream book the two of us would have wanted as readers. And it seems that neither of us are sick of These Vicious Masks yet, despite reading it over thousands of times, so at the very least, we’ve accomplished that!

9. Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as writers? If so, how?

What a good question! Absolutely. Our teen years aren’t THAT far away, after all :-).
Tarun has wanted to be a writer since he was a teen, but he didn’t really read YA. Kelly never knew she wanted to be a writer but loved YA. So it was an interesting mix we brought to writing this, and we both have learned a lot – like Tarun has discovered great YA titles that he loves and Kelly is 100% sure that writing is what she was always meant to do. As far as our experiences as teens, we should probably answer separately.

Kelly: I was an actor in high school so I loved stories. I think acting and writing have a lot in common, actually. I was always creating my character’s world, fleshing it out as much as possible and living in a different world. I just discovered that I love coming up with the story, too.

Tarun: I started out wanting to be a film critic, so I spent most of high school dragging my friends to tons of classic and obscure movies or watching them by myself at 2AM on school nights. Eventually, that led me to write screenplays and then prose, but I still kept writing and thinking about stories in an analytical and critical way. If I ever get stuck, I look at movies I loved and movies I hated, break down the reasons why I felt a certain way, and apply those lessons directly to my own work.

10. Which books do you think we should be looking out for in 2016?

All the new Swoon Reads and Sweet 16 titles! Support awesome debut authors! We will pick 5 we love: Kelly has championed Love, Lies & Spies, a Swoon Reads title, since it was first up on the site. It’s charming, sweet, and cheek-splittingly fun. We are also deeply excited for Danika Stone’s All The Feels! How can you not wanna read about cons and fangirling? Heidi Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere is unbelievably amazing and is whole new take on time travel. We also think My 7th Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin sounds like the funniest, sweetest middle grade novel and can’t wait to get our grabby hands on it. Kathryn Purdie’s Burning Glass was absolutely magical and you should definitely count down the minutes till it releases!

11. Aside from writing, how do you both like to spend your free time?

Reading, of course! But Kelly also loves running around NYC eating all the best food she can find. She is also still acting, at times, and loves seeing and supporting theater. Tarun still tries to get to the movie theatre a few times a month. He also plays video games, goes to comedy shows and gets very competitive over bar trivia.

12. Thank you so much for your time! Before you go, could you tell me about any joint or solo projects you have in the pipeline that we can look out for?

Well we are hard at work on the sequel for These Vicious Masks. And then the sequel to that!

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