These Vicious Masks (These Vicious Masks #1)
By: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Publisher: Swoon Romance
Publication Date: February 9th, 2016
Jane Austen meets X-Men in this gripping and adventure-filled paranormal romance set in Victorian London.
England, 1882. Evelyn is bored with society and its expectations. So when her beloved sister, Rose, mysteriously vanishes, she ignores her parents and travels to London to find her, accompanied by the dashing Mr. Kent. But they’re not the only ones looking for Rose. The reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock is also searching for her, claiming that both sisters have special healing powers. Evelyn is convinced that Sebastian must be mad, until she discovers that his strange tales of extraordinary people are true—and that her sister is in graver danger than she feared.
1) What is your writing process? Are you a plotters or a pansters?
Kelly is a panster by nature, but Tarun is a very firm plotter, so that means our process involves heavy outlining, with Kelly whining her way through it and getting very distracted by tangents. However, she fully agrees that it’s necessary. Once we have outlined, that doesn’t mean things can’t change. Sometimes we’ll realize something in the story doesn’t quite fit and we’ll try both our approaches to fix the problem. Tarun goes back to the outline and spends a lot of time trying to logic his way out of the situation, while Kelly dives into the writing to see what feels right.
2) To write a book together from opposite sides of the country is impressive. How did you manage such a thing?
We actually started writing when we were at NYU together, so most of our early drafts were completed in the same time zone with many, many hours spent in coffee shops, hunched over our computers. But when we began revisions with our publisher, Swoon Reads, Tarun had moved to LA, so we basically spent most of our days chatting and texting to work out any story issues that came up. We sent chapter drafts back and forth and made heavy use of Google docs.
For book 2, we started with bi-weekly brainstorm sessions over Google hangouts to figure out an outline. For the actual writing, we each take different chapters (depending on what we characters/events we are excited about), put together a rough draft and send them over to the other person for very intense editing. We then read the other’s edits, talk about the changes and fight till we find something that we both love.
3) Describe your co-author in five words or less:
Tarun is a: determined yet collaborative genius.
Kelly is an: infectiously passionate, queen of feels
4) How does the title, These Vicious Masks, relate to the story?
Oh so many ways! We don’t want to give away too much, but to be very broad, we wanted something that captured the thematic link between the superhero genre and the Victorian setting. While superheroes wear masks to protect their secret identities, high-society Victorians, finding appearance to be everything, would mask their idiosyncrasies and follow strict social etiquette to protect their reputations. A lot of These Vicious Masks is about Evelyn dealing with her own identity and trying to figure out the truth about the secretive people around her.
5) What are some fun facts you can share about the characters from your book or the world you created for it that may or may not have made it to the final draft of the book?
1. Evelyn was originally a very sweet, biddable damsel-in-distress in the early drafts and she bored us to tears. But when we 180’d her personality, into the angry, frustrated girl that she is now, we fell in love with her.
2. Our favorite cut scene: You know that great part in Sense & Sensibility when Willoughby, appearing heroically and handsomely, picks up the injured Marianne and whisks her off to her home, cradled in his arms? We wrote the antithesis to that scene. Sebastian Braddock sees that Rose is injured, so he stutters a lot, gives her his horse, then runs off. Through a field. Awkwardly. Rose and Evelyn just stare after him, in total shock and confusion.
3. We had a very interesting (and now super secret) chapter at the end of These Vicious Masks that our editor preferred for us to move to Book 2. There’s a whole lot more going on with these powers beyond London and we can’t wait to reveal more of this world.
5) Do you have a special story behind your inspiration for the book?
Our publishers suggested the “Jane Austen meets X-Men” pitch and while we didn’t use those exact words, that is almost exactly how it happened. Tarun was a long-time comic book reader, who was intrigued by YA books because he’d missed that particular boat as a kid. Kelly was a rabid YA fan but also devoured all the historicals and classics she could get into her grabby hands. She introduced Tarun to the greatness of Austen and period piece romances, while Tarun handed Kelly comics books. It wasn’t long before we decided we should smush these two together with teen characters who were just figuring out who they are …. and what their powers might mean. From there it was a matter of deciding who our heroes would be, and how the time period would affect their discoveries and decisions.
In These Vicious Masks we have a fast paced, teens with super powers period piece that, when put so succinctly, makes it sound trivial. With some sneakery mixed with the upper crust Victorian society that Evelyn despises, this read was a delightfully quick jaunt that is delightfully funny but with a heartbreaking ending.
Desperate to save her sister Rose, Evelyn departs, on her own, for London to save her from what turns out to be a much more horrific fate than it first appears. Along the way, she learns more about her sister’s special talent for healing, meets others with similar but still strange powers, and manages to embarrass herself in front of the best London society has to offer. Oops.
Not that Evelyn strictly minds that setback, other than it puts a kink in her plans.
As for any love interests, there are two, but I never felt that the love subplot dominated the plot, or Evelyn’s good sense. Also, its resolution is up in the air by the end of book, and not because Evelyn is indecisive, but because she couldn’t possibly be any less interested in romantic relationships, well maybe just a little, and out of her two prospective love interests, one is separated through societal means and the other simply disappeared.
The rest of the cast, from the snarky ladies who play with society politics to the villain with his air of a creepy mad scientist, were rounded out with valid motives and uncaricatured personalities. Personally, I can’t wait for the next book. Evelyn has a lot to deal with and daunting tasks ahead and I can’t wait to see how Tarun and Kelly’s headstrong but still level headed heroine takes on the world.
Tarun and Kelly met in a freshman year writing class at NYU and started writing These Vicious Masks a few years later.
Tarun is a writer living in Los Angeles whose idea of paradise consists of kung-fu movies, David Bowie and chai tea. Since completing his first horrible screenplay in high school, he’s written everything from one-act plays and film criticism to humor pieces and strongly-worded emails. He’s also magnetized, crushed and burned the hard drive where that first screenplay can be found.
Kelly is a writer and actor living in NYC. YA is her absolute favorite thing on earth other than cupcakes and she has spent many hours crying over fictional deaths. She also started reading Harlequin romances at a possibly too early age (12?), and still loves a good paperback romance.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.