Fantasy Based on 1920s History- Kelsey Lee Connors’ Surge

The definition of “historical fiction” is blurry at best, and never more so than when people introduce a fantasy element to a specific time and place (see the interview I did with Lavinia Collins for an Arthurian example.) Heck, even Star Trek did an episode with Al Capone.

And why wouldn’t they? 1920s Chicago was an amazing period. In fact, it serves as part of the backdrop for my own book, The Count of the Sahara. Why tart it up? Because it’s fun. Kelsey Lee Connors has written a dystopian fantasy for young adults that is set in a time recognizable as Chicago in the ’20s, but with a twist.

Kelsey Lee Connors, author of Surge
Kelsey Lee Connors, author of Surge

First, give us the Kelsey Lee Connors story…

I was born in Chicago, Illinois, and I’ve been writing since I was 14 years old. At University I studied Classical Studies, with a minor in Anthropology, and after two years work experience I decided to move to Rome, Italy to pursue my career in Roman history and an MA in Arts Management. Now I’m 25, teaching English as a foreign language while I finish my masters’ at The American University in Rome, and excited to finish the second novel in my series. Some fun facts about me: I’m an artist, a crazy cat lady, I love fantasy of all sorts, and I cosplay Ygritte from Game of Thrones every year at C2E2, Chicago’s Comic Con.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that you and I share a publisher, “The Book Folks” out of London. Between you, me, and Lou Holly, Erik must be tempted to open a Chicago office.

 In a nutshell, what’s the book about?

The book is about Chicago in the 1920’s, which is ruled by a faceless, high-tech Corporation slowly sucking the life from its citizens. The story is told through the perspective of 16-year-old Evelyn O’Donnell, whose father dies of a sudden car-accident near their home. Or so they think. After his death, the now dry Pub he worked day and night to keep running for their neighborhood, is about to go under. Evelyn teams up with her brother’s mysterious new friend (Dante Malachi), despite completely despising him, in order to get the funds to save it. The unlikely pair take to the speakeasies to gamble it back by playing Black Jack.

But Chicago is changing, and so is Evelyn. Each day a strange power she can’t seem to control sends sparks of electricity flying from her fingertips. News of her father’s life before his death grows darker with each turn around the grapevine. And there are rumors of the Corporation’s electrical plants turning the alive…into the undead.

When you’re writing fantasy based on history….. where do you decide how much of each….. how much does real history impact that balance? I mean, the mob was tough but they weren’t creating electricity out of bodies!

I tried to incorporate as much historical accuracy as I could when I wrote SURGE. I like to think of The Corporation as a tick on the skin- Chicago is more or less in the same historical period as it was in the true version of history, but it has a sort of infestation of technology feeding off it.

I was woefully ignorant about the 20’s as a period before I started research, which is why I went in this direction. I think most people have an idea very different from what it actually was like. Interestingly, the biggest delusions about the era are pertaining to women, crime and, of course, fashion. I could go on for hours about the actual length of a flapper’s dress (much longer than we see in modern costumes) or the modern fad of wearing suspenders (back then were considered undergarments, not for show). But, at the end of the day, I hugely enjoyed the research aspect of writing!

What is it about that time period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?

Back in college, I did an internship in the Collections Department at the Hellenic Museum in Chicago where I was handling a huge amount of artifacts from Greek immigrants in the Prohibition era. I’ve always loved the period, but this really planted the seed of inspiration. I really wanted to write another book about electric control, and one particularly cold and rainy day I was coming up from

Surge is a fantasy set in 1920s Chicago...
Surge is a fantasy set in 1920s Chicago…

the L train off UIC/Halsted to the museum and the ideas collided.

Of course, Evelyn came along because I imagined what it would be like to be in the shoes of those immigrants. She and her brother are second generation Irish immigrants, a salute to my own heritage. In Paris, there was a similar, one would argue better, period of art and exploration and that’s in part what inspired Dante’s origins. I like to think of him wandering Parisian streets heckling Fitzgerald and Hemingway, scotch glass in hand.

Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?

Without a doubt, when Evelyn enters a speakeasy for the first time. I had imagined the scene so many times in my head that when I came to write it down, I got the worst writer’s block of my life. It ended up being the last scene I wrote!

It’s an actual real, historical place called the Green Mill in Chicago, which I’ve visited many times. It’s famous for being Al Capone’s (or Capuzzi, in SURGE) hangout and there are still the original tunnels below it that they used for importing liquor and escaping from the fuzz!
Living in Chicago, I know the Green Mill well. It’s easy to get sucked into the past there. Where can people learn more about you and your work?

Website: https://kelseylconnors.wordpress.com/

SURGE on Facebook: www.facebook.com/kelseyleeconnors

Amazon Author: http://www.amazon.com/Kelsey-Connors/e/B01FWPE2MY

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/kelseyleeconnors

Also, you can reach me on my Instagram to see what life in Rome is like, and to see special instagram only book updates! https://www.instagram.com/kelseyleeconnors/

The Roaring 20s With Johann Laesecke

There are some fun comparisons between author Johann Laescke and myself. Both of us have written a ton of non-fiction and business stuff before tackling our first novels, both our debut novels take place in the 1920s and have a passing (or more than passing) connection to Hollywood. We tackled the novels partly because our spouses were tired of us talking about it. Also, there is  a high level of smart-ass in what we write. If you enjoyed The Count of the Sahara, you’ll probably dig his work. Figured it was high time to introduce you to him…..

So what’s the Johann Laesecke story?

Writing novels came late in life for me. For a very long time I thought that I could

Author Johann Laesecke wearing a hat frighteningly similar to mine
Author Johann Laesecke wearing a hat frighteningly similar to mine

write a book and must have said it too many times because the love of my life felt she had to tell me to “Stop talking about writing a book and start writing it!” She added a couple more descriptive words that I have left out of the quote, but I immediately recognized her wisdom and her exasperation that was vented at me in the directive. A few years later, after writing or partially writing five novels that I regarded at the time as hopeless failures, my inner muse (named Laure) began relating The Roaring Road storyline to me. Previous writings included business books and research papers, software design process books, training manuals, project proposals and other exciting dustbin trivia. Today, I am writing the third book in The Roaring Road series, and have found that all of those first five hopeless failure novels might yet come to life with a careful application of lessons learned.

Well, having a name for the voice in your head is certainly a start. What’s the series about?

Dan Lindner, a young sheba-chaser and fan of the late film star Wallace Reid is grabbed by thugs and taken to the local mob chief, who threatens him with dire consequences if he doesn’t undertake an unusual mission. Seeing no way out he reluctantly decides to go but his new flapper girlfriend Laure leaves him, thinking he is joining the mob. With his German Shepherd Dog named Raider (aka The Road Trip Dog) Dan begins his journey on the roaring road from his home village of Long Grove Illinois, driving a prototype Duesenberg Model X to the Wine Country of Napa and Sonoma.

Book 1 The Road West is the story of Dan, Laure and Raider’s adventures on their way to California and up to the time they begin their return to Long Grove. The young couple must contend with road bums, prison escapee bank robbers, a corrupt sheriff, Laure’s father who catches up with them, and a gang hired to take Laure back to the Chicago crime boss’s son who has become both enraptured and enraged with her. Dan undertakes to rescue Laure from a rustbucket ship on the rough San Francisco waterfront. Seeking a few days of fun before their return journey from Napa to Chicago, Dan and Laure take a trip to Hollywood, meeting silent era film stars like Douglas Fairbanks, W.C. Fields, Buster Collier, Alice White and Billie Dove. They also make friends with sexy Louise Brooks, who devises a prank that succeeds and delivers major unintended consequences reverberating through the series. Spiced with speakeasy visits and served with Napa wine to make a thrilling road trip tale. “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

OOOOOH, extra points for use of “sheba-chaser.” I know why I enjoy reading about the 20s, but what is it about this time period that you find so fascinating? 

The nation was still recovering from World War I when the Eighteenth Amendment made Prohibition the law of the land and the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. Young women who had been trapped in the strict social mores of the early 1900s seized their new freedoms and ran with them. Lois Long, flapper and reporter for The New Yorker magazine in 1925 wrote “All we were saying was ‘Tomorrow we may die, so let’s get drunk and make love”. Many of the citizens who publicly wanted Prohibition found that gangsters had stepped in to provide them with the booze they secretly sought. Other factors included the explosion of automobile ownership and road travel in the 1920s, stories from writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the burgeoning popularity of the movies (aka ‘flickers’). Law enforcement struggled to catch up with the wildly profitable organized crime mobs. It was wild times for everyone and I weaved each of these catalysts into the story.

Volume 1 of the Roaring Road Series: The Road West
Volume 1 of the Roaring Road Series: The Road West

I admit to have fallen in love with Dan and Laure. They are young and initially naive but thrown into situations where they learn to respect, trust and rely on each other while becoming best friends and falling in love. But this is not a romance book. It is a hard-edged sexy historical fiction thriller, spiced with mayhem and humor influenced by my exposure to W.C. Fields, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Gary Larson’s The Far Side comics.

Without spoilers, what’s your favorite scene in the book?

The event that really begins the adventure and mayhem is when Dan meets Laure. I had a lot of fun writing that scene. Reading it still makes me laugh. There’s another scene related to that, but sorry, no spoilers!

Where can we learn more?

The Roaring Road website: www.theroaringroad.com includes the Road Trip Dog Blog.

Twitter: @johannlaesecke

Facebook: Johann C M Laesecke

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/RoadTripDog

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0155AE5XW