As you may have noticed from my reviews of the Earl of Brass and the Winter Garden, I’m a fan of Kara Jorgensen’s work. She was gracious enough to talk to me about her books, and I managed to reign in my fangirling. We talked about lots of topics from strong women to inspiration and research. This is a great interview, read more below.
N: I’m gonna dive right in, as you know I’m in love with your characters. Was there any real life inspiration for your characters, if not what is your character creating process?
K: For a lot of my characters, there is a “real life” inspiration for that character even if it’s only physically. Eilian, for example, is a combination of a lot of characters. He was inspired by Indiana Jones, Lawrence of Arabia, Edward from Full Metal Alchemist, and a little Nathan Fillion thrown in for good measure. Adam physically is modeled after Errol Flynn if he was a Victorian dandy. Other characters, like Hadley or Immanuel gelled as I wrote. I had a vague understanding of who they are (usually beginning with their occupation and a bit of back story), and from there, they begin to grow as I write. I typically don’t know my characters inside and out when I start writing but feel them out as new situations bring out different aspects of their characters.
N: So I have to say, I love your strong female characters. All of your women characters are smart, and passionate and just plain badass. Do you have any strong female characters in fiction that you look up to?
K: I must admit that strong women in fiction has been lacking in my reading. Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, and Mrs. Weasley will always be leading my pack of strong women, especially from my early reading, but thinking on it now, I’m pretty surprised to find that I don’t remember reading about many strong women. Medea from Euripides’ play is another badass woman I definitely love from literature, but I think most of my inspiration actually comes from real women. Often my characters come from independent, rebellious women from the past like Mary Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, cross-dressing women who went to war, subversive women, suffragettes who threw bricks through windows and fought police during protests. I think we’ve come a long way in fiction, but there’s more work to do in terms of the representation of strong characters who are women, different ethnicities and cultures, and different sexualities and genders.
N: I have to commend you on your realistic portrayal of falling in love in your novels. From Hadley to Eilian and Immanuel and Adam your characters fall in love in such a realistic way. Have you written a lot of romance or are you just naturally talented?
K: I have to say thank you for thinking my romances are realistic! That is one aspect of my writing that I am always worried about. Most of my stories have a romance element as part of a subplot, but I have never written a strictly romance story. I have been in a relationship with the same person for ten years, so my romances tend to be less fire and burning passion and more of a slow-burn with a bit of build-up, though every relationship is different. I don’t know if being in a long-term relationship helps with writing characters who end up in stable relationships, but it’s where I draw my experience from.
N: I love how you tackle LGBT issues in your books. For those that are new to the genre, do you have any recommendations? (Other than your books of course)
K: Oh yes. My current reading list has a lot of LGBT fiction in it. For readers who like historical or literary fiction, I would recommend Sarah Waters’s Tipping the Velvet or Fingersmith, E. M. Forester’s Maurice, The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice. Most of Anne Rice’s works contain LGBT characters, and they were probably my first exposure to the genre. Some modern fantasy authors I’m currently enjoying are: Laura Lam (Pantomime and Shadow Play), Jordan L. Hawk (Widdershins), K. J. Charles (The Magpie Lord), and Sam Farren (Dragonoak, which I admit I haven’t gotten to yet)
N: So what made you decide to write steampunk? Have you always been a fan of the genre?
K: I have always been a fan of Victorian fiction and historical fantasy, so steampunk seemed to be a natural progression. As I began reading more steampunk fiction (primarily anthologies and short stories), I found that, while I enjoyed the stories, what I wanted to read wasn’t there. I loved the combination of the Victorian aesthetic with lace and corsets and the complex contraptions that featured in the stories. The genre is wide-open to interpretation, which I love and is probably why I chose to write in it.
N: In addition to above, the detail in your books is amazing from the way Eilian’s bionic arm works to the way society runs. Was there a lot of research involved for your novels?
K: Yes, lots and lots of research. It’s one of the best and worst parts of writing historical-fantasy. I tend to lean toward historical realism, so I have quite a few websites and books that I use to look up details about the late-Victorian era that I don’t know off the top of my head. Both of my books also have quite a bit of science in them. Eilian’s bionic arm took A LOT of research and is actually pretty sound scientifically. One of the odd perks of research is knowing way too much about weird subjects, like seals or Christmas crackers.
N: I have to ask, have you seen Full Metal Alchemist? Because I almost swooned when I realized Eilian had a metal arm that moved! (You don’t have to include this in the interview, I’m just curious.)
K: Yes! Edward’s mechanical arm was definitely part of the inspiration behind Eilian’s arm. It was that arm combined with modern bionic prostheses and Victorian ones that were operated with springs and looked more like torture devices than limbs.
N: What was the inspiration for the Earl of Brass?
K: The original idea for the story began with a daydream I had where I imagined a dirigible crash and what it would be like to go through it, and what if you were injured during it? This led to the opening scenes of The Earl of Brass, but as I started fleshing out the idea, I thought it would be interesting if he lost a limb or some important organ that had to be replaced with a mechanical one. I wanted to stay on the side of realism, and after a bit of research, I eliminated the organ idea and instead came up with the missing arm. This would be how he would become entangled with Hadley, who was a craftswoman and the love-interest. Halfway through writing the story, I really had no idea where it was going. Then, I started reading The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the lost civilization of Billawra formed.
N: The Winter Garden was amazing, the tone is brooding and it kept me on the edge of my seat. Do you have any particular writing method to keep up the tension and danger? Like do you listen to scary music while you write?
K: The Winter Garden was my first real attempt at creating a horror-esque work, and one of the things that I think helped a lot was knowing what I covered already and what everyone knew. I had charts and outlines delineating the aforementioned issues, and it helped a lot to figure out where the slack was and where to tighten it. For the mood, I had a Pinterest board filled with dark images that I referenced a lot while writing. I’m a very visual person, so seeing the darkness and using it to build my own visuals helped immensely. I don’t know if it added to the atmosphere, but I also have a Youtube video of thunder and rain, which got me into that dark and stormy night mood.
N: What was the inspiration for your current work in progress?
K: My current project, The Earl and the Artificer, which should be out late 2015 or early 2016 was partially inspired by Downton Abbey in the sense that the story revolves around an old manor, but unlike Downton, it’s not your typical Georgian manor. The house has a huge greenhouse attached to it and a mysterious and rather combative uninvited house guest who likes to pop in unannounced and cause chaos. Some of the major themes in the story are: inheritance and what comes with being part of a lineage, freedom, individuality and how to reconcile that with responsibility, and rebirth. Another major piece of inspiration was Ancient Rome’s influence on Britain. There are a lot of Roman tidbits thrown into this book.
N: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
K: Hopefully lots more stories with Adam, Immanuel, and Emmeline, so more paranormal stories that will probably be filled with libraries, museums, ghosts, revived villains, cults, and mythical creatures. There may be more Eilian and Hadley stories in the future, but for now, I see more with my little trio. Book four, which should be out sometime in 2016, will feature the three of them fighting the forces of darkness again. In between projects, I also hope to post more short stories set in this universe.
Kara Jorgensen is an author of fiction and professional student from New Jersey who will probably die slumped over a Victorian novel. An anachronistic oddball from birth, she has always had an obsession with the Victorian era, especially the 1890s. Midway through a dissection in a college anatomy class, Kara realized her true passion was writing and decided to marry her love of literature and science through science fiction or, more specifically, steampunk. When she is not writing, she is watching period dramas, going to museums, or babying her beloved dogs. Her poems have been featured in Selfish and Literary Orphans.
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