Having recently published SURGE, a cyberpunk fantasy fiction thriller in a re-imagined 1920s Chicago, we spoke to author Kelsey Lee Connors about writing her first novel, her influences and sources of motivation.
TBF: What started your passion for writing fiction?
KLC: I tell the same thing to everyone: there is no writing without reading. My mother read me The Hobbit when I was 8 years old, Harry Potter by the age I was 10. I read the Lord of the Rings when I was just 13, and at this time I was struggling to fit in both at school and at home. By the time I was 14 I was an all-out fantasy nut, completely addicted to the genre. These writers made me feel like I had something to call mine. So I wanted to give back to the genre that made me who I am today.
TBF: What are the main challenges you have found in your creative writing process?
KLC: Inspiration. It comes at the completely wrong moments. But I think the difference between a novelist and other writers is the dedication to work past writer’s block even when the entire universe is against you putting pen to paper. When I started, I only wrote when I was inspired, and I now I find this really hinders production of content. I sit down and I make myself write something – ANYTHING, even if it isn’t in chronological order.
In addition to this, naivety was a big challenge to overcome. Sometimes, as writers, we want to keep things in the text just because they are important to us. We become attached to characters and scenes. Now, I’ve gotten in the habit of being ruthless, deleting sections before I get the urge to leave it in the text. But I always save some bits in another file in case I need help developing a character later on down the road.
TBF: What have you found the easiest?
KLC: At times, everything about writing is easy, other times nothing is. But I can honestly say that writing my character Dante was the easiest part of SURGE. I got the inspiration for Dante’s character while watching a film-marathon of the Japanese film director Miyazaki. The idea of the classic Japanese animation gentleman got stuck in my mind: tall, dark, mysterious, and often magic.
TBF: What challenges did you face writing SURGE, given the dystopian and cyberpunk elements?
KLC: The dystopian elements were completely imagined by me, and it was very challenging at times. I was living in Chicago, so all the inspiration from the history of the city was at my fingertips, but I wanted SURGE to be more than historical fiction. I’ve always really loved the idea of Prohibition, crime and rebellion, so I tried to push myself to take the simple selling of bootleg liquor to the next level. That’s when I started toying with the idea of dystopia and cyberpunk. What would Prohibition be like if it included more than just the selling of alcohol? What would the people of 1920s Chicago do with an overlord who was scientifically far more advanced than their culture?
To help this, I discovered a whole genre of music dedicated to electronic ragtime, and I was sold.
TBF: What appeals to you about the 1920s culture and style in the US during the Prohibition?
KLC: Oh everything! The fashion, the music, the lifestyle. However, mainly speaking, the rights of women. Women were wearing clothing that de-accentuated their feminine features, were doing jobs that society wouldn’t have ever imagined for them at the time. They were speaking up. Evelyn, as you may have gathered, is the dystopian version of the first suffragette. I felt it was important to spread her message: a woman who accepts both traditional ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ roles simply according to what she thinks is morally right. She isn’t perfect, but like the women fighting for a vote in America at that time, she refuses to take no for an answer. She’s a lot like a modern woman, as well, in many ways.
Additionally, I have a fascination with crime drama. I’ve spent a huge amount of time now in both Italy and Chicago studying The Chicago Outfit and various mafias. I am always surprised at how much respect public citizens have for what our government calls criminals. In the 20s, Al Capone and his team were fashionable, slick and well loved by the populace. They gave the freedom to, well, party, back to the city. And, despite all the bad we hear now, they did a lot of good for the city. If you consider this, it makes for very dynamic characters in writing!
TBF: If you could choose, which writer would you consider as a mentor?
KLC: J.K. Rowling. There hasn’t been a time where I wasn’t moved to tears by her writing, shaken completely by the humanity and authenticity of her characters, or floored by the incredible acts of kindness she has done with her wealth and fame. SURGE is dedicated to her for this reason.
TBF: What did you learn from writing SURGE?
KLC: Endless, endless things. A huge amount of research went into studying the crime syndicates in the 1920s, and to the dress, language, and mentality of the characters. But it is also a huge landmark for me as a young writer – it can be very difficult to get people to take you seriously when you are a young, small, professional. Writing Evelyn’s character helped me conquer some of those problems in my own life.
TBF: What do you have in store for readers to look forward to in your next book?
KLC: ZOMBIES! Of course! A huge surprise in regards to Dante and Evelyn’s powers, some new characters that help Evelyn sort out her family’s secret past, and the biggest, rowdiest speakeasy Chicago has ever seen!