Welcome back to the Musas blog! This week Musa Sara Faring (The Tenth Girl) sat down with K.K. Pérez to discuss inspiration, balancing multiple projects, and of course her sophomore novel: The Tesla Legacy.
THE TESLA LEGACY follows a precocious young scientist named Lucy Phelps whose fateful encounter in the Tesla Suite of the New Yorker Hotel unlocks her dormant electrical powers. As Lucy struggles to understand her new abilities through scientific experimentation, she is thrust into a centuries old battle between rival alchemical societies. One side wants her help and the other wants her dead, but both believe she is the next step in human evolution. Unfortunately, carriers of the genetic mutation―including Nikola Tesla―have a greatly reduced life expectancy. Even if Lucy can outrun her enemies, she can’t outrun herself.
How was The Tesla Legacy born—was there a special seed, planted long ago?
I’ve always been fascinated by the life of Nikola Tesla and David Bowie’s portrayal of him in The Prestige reignited my interest. Tesla’s life lends itself to steampunk fantasy because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to write kind of an homage to Penny from Inspector Gadget. Penny always saved the day (and her uncle, Gadget) and she had an awesome “computer book” that I drooled over as a kid. (Now I have an iPad!)
Did someone in your life inspire the super-sharp protagonist, Lucy?
I have several female scientist friends who Lucy is based on, but also I’ve always been drawn to geek girls or braniacs like Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Velma from Scooby Doo and Mac from Veronica Mars. I wanted to make the female brain the star rather than the sidekick.
You weave so much science and history into the book—what is your research process like?
I started with biographies and documentaries about Nikola Tesla himself. From there I began researching the key figures he worked with and had rivalries with such as his Current War with Thomas Edison, which led me to delve further into the history of science as a whole.
I also thought a lot about who my protagonist Lucy’s scientific idols would be and why, and started learning more about them. Once I discovered Newton’s interest in alchemy, I realized that I wanted to infuse my science fiction with a little bit of the mystical. I plunged myself into academic research surrounding the origins and history of alchemists and discovered that in the ancient world women were often alchemists and chemists.
As the alchemists say, Liber librum aperit: One book opens another.
You grew up in New York City—which parts of your experience seeped into the book?
The settings for Lucy’s adventures in Manhattan are a highlight reel of my favorite places in my hometown. There’s the High Line (although it was still disused when I was growing up), the murals at Grand Central Station, the Met, the Alice in Wonderland statue and Bow Bridge in Central Park. Like Lucy, I also hate the long crosstown blocks and think pigeons are judgmental rats with wings.
You are also in the midst of writing the final book in your gorgeous Sweet Black Waves trilogy (under the name Kristina Pérez). How do you make the mental transition from writing historical fantasy to sci-fi (with magic elements)?
The voice is quite different between the projects since SBW is epic fantasy and The Tesla Legacy is set in contemporary New York, but the research and planning for both is fairly similar. Without spoiling too much, for Tesla, I’ve decided which scientists throughout history would have joined which rival alchemist society and why. Even if that information doesn’t make it onto the page, I have it in my notes, and I approached the world building in the same way. For me, creating a convincing world is essential whether it’s high fantasy, historical fiction, or contemporary Manhattan. Each setting, society and culture is unique. In terms of switching between the voices, I have very different playlists for both projects that help me shift gears and I create mood boards on Pinterest.
Your work contains so many thrilling twists and turns—do you plan most of these in advance, or do they come to you as you write… as if by magic?
Totally a plotter. Sometimes a new idea will surprise me while I’m writing but I’m fairly dogmatic. I used to compete on my school chess team and I have a tendency to game things out pretty far in advance!
What’s next for you?
Wild Savage Stars, the sequel to Sweet Black Waves, releases on August 27th, 2019 and I’m hard at work on the conclusion to the trilogy.
Thank you so much Kristina and Sara!
You can buy a copy of The Tesla Legacy wherever books are sold or borrow it from your local library!