Amelia Kahaney: “More Of A Villain Than A Hero.”

Amelia Kahaney: “More Of A Villain Than A Hero.”


The Brokenhearted book coverWhen writing The Brokenhearted, Amelia Kahaney found inspiration in the dark realism of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and the elegance of ballet dancing. Not quite as light on her feet as protagonist Anthem, Kahaney tells Zola that she relates more with one of the Dark Knight’s fiercest foes.

Zola:The Brokenhearted follows Anthem, a wealthy teenager who gains superpowers from a mechanical heart she receives after an accident. You’ve even compared Anthem’s vigilante justice to The Dark Knight trilogy. Did the films help to inspire this book?

Amelia Kahaney: The Dark Knight films were absolutely a huge inspiration for me, not so much in their plots or in terms of vigilante justice, but in the way they blend dark realism with the classic comic book narrative.

Zola: Where else did you draw inspiration from?

AK: When I was working on the first draft of The Brokenhearted, the Occupy movement was gaining traction in New York City, where I live. Suddenly the conversation in the news matched what I was trying to do in creating the setting of Bedlam City, where rich and poor are sharply divided. All I needed to do in creating Bedlam was to heighten what I was already seeing in the news and on the streets of downtown Manhattan. I spent hours looking at pictures of a decaying Detroit and at the We Are The 99 Percent Tumblr, and I tried to imagine what a city would be like where the rich were even richer than they are in New York, and the poor even poorer. I concluded that in order to keep the status quo, police crackdowns in Bedlam would have to be severe and regular, far worse than what was happening in Oakland or at UC Davis in 2011.

Yves Marchand Romain Meffre-1

In developing Anthem as a character, I drew inspiration from a phenomenal ballet documentary called First Position. The discipline and drive of top ballet dancers made sense to me as useful traits for my vigilante superhero, who just won’t quit even when all hope seems lost.

Zola: Both before and after Anthem’s transformation she is an avid ballet dancer. Was dancing a passion of yours as well?

AK: I wanted Anthem to be very graceful and light so she could make full use of the abilities she gets from her new heart. And though I am the opposite of graceful and light, I love going to see dance performances of all kinds and have had close friends who were serious about ballet. Dancers’ postures and the way they move always struck me as extraordinary—they even make taking out the garbage or loading the dishwasher look downright beautiful.

Zola: The book takes place in Bedlam, a fictional city filled with corruption and crime. Did you base this city on any real life location?

AK: I based much of the South Side on images of Detroit, as I mentioned above, as well as images of post-Katrina New Orleans. Anywhere I could find urban neglect and decay was useful to me in figuring out what the South Side might look like. The North Side is a mix of Tribeca, Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and certain blocks of Brownstone Brooklyn, where I live. I’d say the city as a whole, with its river running through it, is closest to Paris and Portland, Oregon. I love the bridges in those cities, and had a lot of fun imagining them transported to Bedlam City.

Zola: Anthem very much becomes a superhero by using her powers for the good of the people of Bedlam. Did you have a favorite superhero growing up? 

AK: My first love was Wonder Woman, for sure. And even though she’s more of a villain than a hero, I loved Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance of Catwoman in Batman Returns. I saw it in my early teens, and I loved the idea that under every frazzled and insecure woman might lurk a confident, competent alter ego in a mask who’s not afraid to take down her boss, make out with a superhero, and kick the ass of anyone who gets in her way. Of course, as a kid I didn’t notice how objectified Catwoman was, or how one-note and commonplace the sexy/crazy character was for women in superhero movies generally. I’m looking forward to seeing what Joss Whedon does with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in the next Avengers movie and beyond (I’m hoping for a Black Widow-led movie down the line). In the right hands, she might mark a turning point for female superheroes on film and move far past the reductive combination of sexy and strong.

Zola: What super powers would you like to have?

AK: I’d like to be able to translate my ideas to the page and have them turn out perfectly. Ideally, this process would be super-easy and fast. I think this might be something all writers wish for.

Zola: You have written many short stories. How did writing a full-length book change your writing process?

AK: The writing process for my short stories and novels could not be more different. With short stories, I tend to write many pages before I find the story, all of which get tossed or edited away. For me, short story writing requires winnowing down the material until the story emerges as a crystallized whole with nothing but the essentials on the page. Novel writing is the opposite. I start with an idea, then turn it into an outline, and then I have to keep bulking up, adding more and more to the initial skeleton until the story starts to make sense.

Zola: What made you decide to write a novel?

AK: I came to writing YA novels through ghostwriting, so I had some practice before The Brokenhearted, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go into writing a novel without a lot of fear. So much of writing generally, at least for me, is about facing all that fear and just writing anyway. Some of what Anthem goes through in her most fearful moments isn’t too far from how I feel when I’m writing the first draft of a book. If only I had some hummingbird DNA to help me power through it!

Zola: You are currently writing a sequel to The Brokenhearted. Is that all you have planned for Anthem? Would you consider writing a story that focuses on any of the other character’s origins or adventures?

AK: Now that I’m nearly done with book two in The Brokenhearted series, I have been thinking about writing a short story from another character’s point of view. I might want to set it in the period before Anthem was born, so we get to see how Bedlam got to be the way it is. There are a few characters whose voices I’d love to try out, each of whom knows certain facts about Anthem that might shock readers. I think I’d better keep the details under my hat for now, though.

This article originally appeared on Zola Books.