Today on 'On Writing', the author interview series where authors talks about their writing process, we have Usha Narayanan.
Starting off with a gold medal in English from the University of Madras, and two Masters degrees – Usha Narayanan took off like a magpie, collecting more bling. She was creative director in advertising agencies like RK Swamy/BBDO, one of India’s top ten, and in Radio City 91.1 FM. She managed corporate communications and CSR activities in Scope International, Standard Chartered Bank. Usha has lived for the most part in Chennai (Madras), and in Honolulu, Hawaii where she did a writing course. She loves reading, travel and animals and has two opinionated cats.
The Madras Mangler, a suspense thriller, received excellent reviews (read here).
Her second novel, a fantasy thriller, Pradyumna: Son of Krishna is available in leading bookstores and online at Amazon, Infibeam and Flipkart (also as eBook).
Her next is Love, Lies and Layoffs, a romcom published by Harlequin – HarperCollins (Sep 2015).
Welcome to ‘On Writing’ Usha Narayanan.
Mythology is a very popular genre in India right now but it is also the most difficult genre to write in. Do you agree with this statement?
Yes, that is right. There are already so many books out there, so you must be careful and choose an untold story or take a new angle on an old story. You must immerse yourself in the times and the milieu you are writing about and make sure that every detail is true to that context. This means setting, clothes, living conditions, language, even names that you invent. And when you are imagining some parts of the story to fill in gaps, you must ensure that these are integrated with the rest, so that the reader cannot discern which is which.
Finally, as the richness of our myths springs from the wisdom of our ancients, you must make sure that you embed a deeper layer of meaning, an inspiring philosophy distilled from our scriptures and our unique heritage.
What kind of a writer are you? Do you plot the entire story or write it the way the story takes you?
Sometimes I start off with the characters, hearing them speak, fight, love and dream. My protagonists are usually youngsters setting out on their own, individual quest. This mission could be as simple as being happy and successful in life, or as huge as Pradyumna’s where he takes on his inner demons as well as monstrous beings in order to save the world. Where does life take these brave heroes and heroines? What are the challenges they must face? The answers to these questions determine my plotline.
With ‘The Madras Mangler’, I journeyed alongside my five pretty girls; I laughed and cried and grew with them. With ‘Pradyumna’ it was a gigantic canvas peopled by gods and demons, animated by magic and mystery. Hence, I put down a complex outline to ensure that the action, adventure, romance and divinity were perfectly blended and that the climax would be a wake-up call to humanity. I then filled it up with colour and action so that it evolved into a spine-tingling, yet transformative narrative.
What makes ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna,’ different when compared to other mythological books currently in the market?
One, he is one of our unsung heroes, lost in the shadow of his great father. So, everyone is eager to find out about him. Two, the book is chock-a-block with fascinating stories that enthrall people aged ten to eighty. Three, it offers the reader a thrilling ride, with captivating characters and a fast-paced plot, with an underlying thread of heroism, spirituality and wisdom. Four, it inspires us with a message that is ancient yet contemporary, something that we can use in our own lives.
Your book has already entered the Nielsen’s list of best sellers. Congratulations on that. How important do you think marketing is to make a book popular?
When there are so many avenues of entertainment, so much noise and clutter that surrounds you every day, you must make sure that your brainchild is not lost in the deluge. You need to take your book to interested readers who will not know otherwise that it is out there. Of course, no amount of marketing can sell a bad book or any bad product. Hence, the first and foremost step is to ensure that your book has a fresh appeal, that every word is perfectly polished and leaves the reader craving more. As Paul Sweeney said, ‘You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.’
I know that Pradyumna has been mentioned in mythology as Krishna’s son. Krishna’s stories are very popular and most of us adore Krishna. But like most of the readers, I know very little about Pradyumna. How did you create a character like that and succeed in doing that?
I didn’t know anything of him either; neither did elders in the family who are familiar with our lore. That challenged me to look for even a passing mention of Pradyumna online and in books in different languages. Then I blended mythology with imagination to come up with my own hero ―someone who is very much like us, battling his own weaknesses, trying to take on a world that is increasingly cruel and corrupt. And judging by reader reviews and the way ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ is climbing the bestseller charts, I think my hero has inspired others just as much as he inspired me!
What made you decide to become a full time writer? What other works are you currently working on?
Boredom with the job I was doing, weariness with the long commute, a desire to do something where I was answerable only to myself. Plus a yen to take a perhaps suicidal leap into unknown territory to do something I am passionate about! Slowly my book consumed me. I started turning down even freelance assignments until one day I found myself – voila! – a full-time author.
My next is a romcom, coming out soon – ‘Love, Lies and Layoffs’ – published by Harlequin-HarperCollins. It’s a wickedly funny yet heartwarming tale of love and life, and about finding love in the midst of office power play and politics.
After that comes the thrilling sequel to ‘Pradyumna: Son of God’, where you will encounter Vishnu’s chakra and Shiva’s trident, and journey with our hero to Yamaloka and Kailasa!
Did you approach the publisher directly or through agents? Penguin is your publisher. How long was the entire publishing time for ‘Pradyumna’ right from the querying stage?
I do not have an agent and submit my query to publishers online through their submission id.
Surprisingly, the publishing process with Penguin took less than a year! Executive Editor Vaishali Mathur, who has been an amazing partner in the whole process, is warm, totally involved and unflagging in her support.
What are the three tips you have for readers of this interview who are aspiring writers?
1) Be prepared to pour out your soul onto paper and know that this enterprise will consume a huge amount of your time and energy.
2) Polish and perfect what you have written till it’s the best you can make it. Take the help of good writers and readers to edit it. Remember that nothing puts off an editor as much as poor English and a lazy plot riddled with inaccuracies.
3) Persevere. Don’t let rejections kill your spirit. Remember the success that followed rejection of even bestselling authors like Amish and J K Rowling.
Thank you so much Usha for the interesting answers. It was an honor having you on ‘On Writing’. Wishing you all success for all your future endeavors!
Please share your comments with her by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. She would love to hear from you.
Buy ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ at a bookstore near you
or on Amazon
You can buy her book ‘The Madras Mangler’ HERE: