Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Shatrujeet's Journey Through Vikramaditya Veergatha

Our blog's regular readers must know that we are big time fan of mythological action thriller. Last week we reviewed "the Guardians of the Halahala" by Shatrujeet Nath. Those who missed can check there review here. I had many questions while I was reading the book. I straightly sent questions to author. He happily answered those questions. You can read our conversation below.

Can you tell us about your journey through the Vikramaditya Veergatha series?
Having finished writing The Karachi Deception (my first book), I was scouting for ideas for my next novel. This was sometime in early 2012. Of the many ideas I was exploring, one happened to be on the Halahala, the all-destroying poison that emerged from the sea during the samudramanthan episode. Even readers mildly familiar with Hindu mythology will recall that this poison started destroying all creation, forcing the devas and asuras to unite and take the Halahala to Lord Shiva. According to the Puranas, Shiva drank the poison and saved the universe from destruction. Now my idea was a classic what-if premise where a small portion of the Halahala still exists, a portion that can still pose grave danger to the world if it finds its way into the wrong hands. The idea excited me and I tried moulding it into a modern-day thriller. But once I wrote out the three-page concept note, I wasn’t happy. The idea was way too inspired by Dan Brown and Robert Ludlum, and moreover, it just didn’t ring true.
Around the same time, I was also toying with the idea of creating a novel around the legendary Indian king Vikramaditya and his navratnas as a band of superheroes. The problem here was that while I had some very cool characters in Vikramaditya and his navratnas, they had no purpose or story to back them – after all, superheroes have to exist to save the world from something big, and I couldn’t see what that ‘something big’ could be. So, for nearly four-five months, both these ideas sat side-by-side in my mind, and I struggled to take either idea forward.
Then, one day, it miraculously dawned on me that I could club these two ideas together and make them one. The Halahala premise would get legs in terms of a clear story, and Vikramaditya and his navratnas would find a clear purpose for existing. Within 15-20 minutes, I had the broad storyline for the Vikramaditya Veergatha series in place, and in the next two days, I had the concept note and character sketches ready for my literary agent, so he could pitch the idea to publishers.
In the last 7 years, we have seen a gigantic wave of books on mythological history. Do you consider yourself as a creator of this wave or were you inspired by it?
The funny bit is that while my Vikramaditya Veergatha series is labelled as ‘mythology’ or ‘mytho-fiction’, in reality, only 10-15% of the plotline actually involves Hindu mythology – the rest is entirely fantasy. Yes, the premise of my book (the poison Halahala) is rooted in Hindu mythology, and there are lots of characters and incidents from Hindu mythology that I have borrowed and integrated into the books, but the series itself isn’t classic mythology. So, in a way, Vikramaditya Veergatha is inspired by the recent wave of mythology-based books, while at the same time, by being different from the rest of the fare, it creates a category of its own that you might call mytho-fantasy.
Mythology written in Indian English owes its popularity to the works of Ashok Banker, who really laid the genre’s foundations with his Ramayana series. The works of writers like Amish, Devdutt Pattanaik and Anand Neelakantan made the genre popular among readers, so there is no way I can take credit for having popularised the genre. Yes, I do think that writers like Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Kavita Kane, Krishna Udayasankar, Anuja Chandramouli and I have given the genre new facets, helping it reach out to newer audiences.
Did this wave help you to get your book selected by your publisher? How was the initial response from publishers for this series?
I am certain the overall popularity of mythology-based fiction weighed heavily on publishers’ minds when my idea for Vikramaditya Veergatha was pitched way back in 2012. As I said, all my literary agent had was a concept note and character sketches – remember, I hadn’t even started on the manuscript – but there were four publishers who were keen to take this up. I won’t take names, but the commissioning editor at one publishing house called me from Delhi three times to discuss how the story would evolve. Invariably, the conversation would go to Amish’s Shiva trilogy, and I would be asked if something like what happened in his books would happen in mine. Amish’s work was the reference point, and it almost seemed as if they wanted me to be as faithful to his work as possible without being accused of plagiarism. The Shiva trilogy was the template they wanted filled, and I said no. Mine was a different story, and I wouldn’t let market forces hijack it. My point in saying all this is that the Amish-inspired ‘wave’ was high in publishers’ minds.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I finally picked Jaico as my publisher for Vikramaditya Veergatha as I liked the passion and commitment that Akash Shah (the publisher at Jaico) showed for the idea. Even now, four years and two books later, he is still excited about the series, and that is very reassuring to me.
Are you a perfectionist? Do you plan every character and their role in your story before you put them down? Do you write a story with perfect ending in mind?
I am a planner in the sense that I must have something concrete – a purpose or a direction – before I embark upon my writing. Yes, I like drawing up a concept / treatment note, I like to have a fair grip on my characters. I must know at least some of what will happen in my story, and some of what my characters will think and do. However, I am not one of those authors who want every little nut and bolt in place before the writing begins. I like to have a compass to know where I am going, but I am also willing to lose myself in the landscape of my story. Let me give you an example.
When I started writing The Guardians of the Halahala, I had most of my main characters drawn out fairly clearly. Now, fairly early in the book, there is a scene where the kings of Sindhuvarta hold counsel with Vikramaditya to discuss the threat from the barbarian Saka and Huna tribes. While writing this scene, I was struck by the monotony of what was happening – Vikramaditya would suggest something, the other kings would agree, Vikramaditya would suggest something else, the other kings would again agree. So, just to spice up the scene and provide a little friction and drama, I created a character who would disagree with Vikramaditya. The purpose of this character was only to make that scene more engaging, but the way this character stood up to Vikramaditya amazed me. I saw the potential for greater rivalry and friction between him and Vikramaditya, and today, that character is one of the significant antagonists in the series. Nothing is cast in stone for me, not even endings. You might be surprised to learn that I have four potential endings for the Vikramaditya series. Which one will I pick? I don’t know. I am still some distance away from the end, so I don’t have to decide right now. When the time comes, I will know. I will do what is right and good for the story. I will follow a map, but I will also take detours if there’s a promise of fun and adventure.  
Do you have a mentor? What is the best advice you have got from your mentor?
No, I don’t really have a mentor. Though I do wish I had Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, as a mentor. That man is amazing. But no, I don’t have a mentor, but there’s a piece of writing advice from Kurt Vonnegut that I hold close. He says, ‘Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.’ I use this as a bible for building character motivation in my stories.
If you are given a chance to be a character from Vikramaditya Veergatha, which one do you think will fit to you, and why?
Given a chance, I would be Acharya Vetala Bhatta, the raj-guru and royal councillor of Vikramaditya. The Acharya is a wise man who understands human motivations, and it is his guiding hand that helps Vikramaditya run his kingdom and maintain relations with all his allies. To top it, Vetala Bhatta can read minds, and that is one cool superpower that I would love to possess.
Can you tell something to our aspiring authors that will boost their confidence?
Remember that the story you want to tell has found you. It could have gone to anyone else, any other author, but it came to you. Because it thinks you are the one who can tell it best, like no other. Your story has picked you because it believes in you. So believe in yourself and tell the story.

Shatrujeet Nath – Bio
Door-to-door salesman, copywriter, business journalist & assistant editor at The Economic Times; Shatrujeet Nath was all this before he took to writing fiction full-time. He debuted with the Indo-Pak spy thriller The Karachi Deception in 2013, followed by The Guardians of the Halahala and The Conspiracy at Meru, the first two books in the Vikramaditya Veergatha series. At present, he is writing volume three of the series, and is also scripting an ambitious Bollywood movie project for a large, Mumbai-based production house. Shatrujeet lives in Mumbai, but spends much of his time in the fantasy worlds of his stories. He can also be found at https://www.facebook.com/ShatrujeetNath & https://twitter.com/shatrujeet

Author's First Book - The Karachi Deception
The Karachi Deception is about a deep ops mission where a select group of Indian commandos go into Pakistan to assassinate India’s most wanted underworld don. Set in the world of espionage and covert operations, the book is a gritty geo-political thriller that blows the cover on state secrets.

Book Links 
The Karachi Deception can be found at Amazon & Flipkart
Review from readers can be found at GoodReads 

The Guardians of the Halahala can be found at Amazon & Flipkart
Review from readers can be found at GoodReads 


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