Thursday, August 24, 2017

Practice is paramount - Says Kartik Sharma - Author of The Quest of the Sparrows

The Quest of the Sparrows was one of the best spiritual fiction I have read in this quarter. Today we have author Kartik Sharma with us, he would like to discuss his experience as a writer. 

So Kartik, can you tell us about your college life?
I am IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad alumni. Talking about school-college life, I was very mischievous – a constant eye sore for my teachers / professors and in a love-hate relationship with most of them. I loved skating and was quite good at it. I have loved reading from ever since I can remember.
What are some day jobs you have held?
Investment Banking with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Strategy Consulting with Accenture Management Consulting, Public Health with Clinton Health Access Initiative
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors? Which author inspire you the most?
I love reading and am constantly worried that I would die before finishing the novels in my bookshelves! This, however, does not stop me from buying more books all the time. I love the works of Milan Kundera, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie (before Joseph Anton) and Amitav Ghosh.
When did you start writing?
2005. I started with science fiction short stories and my first story won the ‘Best Entry’ award in the competition organized by Science Reporter magazine.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I was always passionate about writing. When my short story was critically reviewed and appreciated in my Indian Writing in English class at IIT Delhi in 2005 I realized that I write well too. That’s when I decided to try and write a novel.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
That’s two fold, I suppose. A. The reward of knowing that someone, somewhere – a stranger who you would probably never meet – read something that you wrote and loved it or was moved by it. And B. For my ‘self’. My motivation is to create something beautiful and of real value. I see too many cynical people around and it’s so easy to be destructive and mock everything. To create something is challenging but at least it lets us be constructive. For me, it’s a beautiful, and a very powerful feeling to create a world and characters. Telling stories that people would read, enjoy and be moved by is a very motivating thought. I would go as far as saying that the only true joy I have felt is when I am writing. It’s the one thing that lets me forget everything, even eating and sleeping, and takes me into this zone which others have described as ‘The Flow’. For me writing is an essential part of self-actualization – something that helps me ascend from the mundane that’s everyday life of going to work, coming back home, watching TV, taking a few trips with loved ones, filing taxes, worrying about promotions and increments, buying a house or a car. It gives me a sense of purpose.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?
This is one thing I don’t do well. I have tried to get into a writing routine – writing or editing 1000 words every day – but failed miserably. It still happens in creative bursts for me. I end up using my leaves locked-up in a room, writing for days together when I am in The Flow.
Is this your debut work? What have you written?
It’s a debut novel, but I have written a few science fiction short stories which are available on my website: Our second book, Daredreamers – A Startup of Superheroes has found a publisher and will hit the market shortly.
What genre are your books?
The genre is varied – philosophy, action, adventure, science fiction, slice of life, etc. but the underlying theme in most of my writing is self-discovery and following your heart.

Can you describe your current book in few lines? What’s it about?
The book is a work of fiction that chronicles Guru Partibhan’s search for the true meaning of life and the role of spirituality in it. It’s through his 600 km journey on-foot without material belongings with a group of followers that the readers find the right questions that they should be asking and also, hopefully, some answers.
The key message from the journey is that spirituality, unlike religion, does not end outside a church or temple. The book tries to show that spirituality is not an impractical, make believe concept. Rather, it is the thread that binds everything we do by helping us discover who we really are. It teaches the path of balance and seeking joy with what you have rather than constantly being joyless in search of something that you don’t yet have. It addresses the worries and insecurities that limit human potential and make us mere survivors – instead of evolutionary beings who can contribute with their unique talents and gifts.
Give us an insight into your main character.
When we meet Partibhan, he is like a raw, open wound. He is given a chance by his father, a famed Guru, to lead a motely crowd of seekers on a 600 km long journey on foot without any material belongings. In the group, there’s Nikhil who is disillusioned with life because of the havoc his ambition and success have wrecked in his personal life. He is trying to explore the meaning of life and seek redemption. There’s Sanjeev who is an atheist scarred in his childhood by his overly religious father and who is assigned to expose this young Guru as a fraud.
Where did you get idea for this book?
Watching a sparrow eat a few grains at the window sill outside my room on a warm winter day made me realize how content it seemed, despite it being frail. It ate to its heart content and flew away, leaving the grains behind. It did not take them for tomorrow. It made me think of our powerful life and the way we sometimes live. Hoarding more than necessary for the future. And the result is a sea of mediocrity in humans whereas the opposite of it should have been the result.
All the characters in the book exist in all of us and raise their heads at some or another during our life. We become mentors to some people and inspire them even while we doubt our own abilities. We toggle between extremities and realizing their futility, wonder what life really is about. We are the doubters who question the existence of God, the values of spirituality. And sometimes we become embittered when life doesn’t play out fair and square and decide to have our revenge against the inequality by adopting paths and outcomes that are questionable. We have tried to view spirituality from every angle that we find ourselves in, at some point of life.
What do you consider the most difficult part about writing latest book?
Our new book titled ‘Daredreamers-Startup of Superheroes,’ will appear shortly.  The hardest thing for us was to live up to the love and warmth we received from the readers of The Quest of the Sparrows.
We wanted to break from the serious mode and bring out humor and fun, explore our versatility as writers. But a book based only on fun would have created a splash, some ripples, then sink. It had to have relevance to what most people face in their life. A relatability with the challenges faced by young people who work in corporates. In other words, despite being anchored in fun it had to be meaningful and have an intrinsic value. Balancing these two aspects took us 6 years because we could not bring out a half-hearted attempt. We hope that this new book will be appreciated too.
The research for the incidents that happen in the book was also especially hard. We are prohibited by our publisher to say more at this point, but hopefully it will be evident when people read the book!
Can you provide trailer of your book?

Your book was released in 2011. If you don't mind, can you share us the response you received from readers and critics in last 6-7 years.
We have sold more than 7,000 copies in India as well as globally. The book regularly keeps hitting the No. 1 rank in spiritual best sellers on Amazon India. Reviewers and readers from the world over have liked our book and reached us out through mails, blogs, Goodreads, etc. with praise and how it affected them. Some have even compared it with Siddhartha!
What are you working on at the minute?
An action adventure novel called Daredreamers, which is expected to be released in early 2018! I am super excited about it.
What are your thoughts on writing a book series?
I am working on a science fiction trilogy – which could potentially be my next novel series. I think some stories are grand and demand a canvas that cannot be done justice to in one book. Like Mistorn by Brandon Sanderson and the Discworld by Terry Prachett. But writing a series for the sake of writing one is crass. For example, the Mockingjay trilogy. It would have been a wonderful single-novel story. But the trilogy was so full of repetition and unnecessary pages that you can actually just read book one and the last 50 pages of the third book as a complete story.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
  • Practice is paramount. Malcolm Gladwell will even go as far as saying that you should put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to be really good - the kind that separates you from the tens of thousands of writers. But 10,000 hours isn’t easy by any yardstick. That’s 4–5 hours of writing everyday for 5 years. At a slightly slower than average writing pace of 500 words/hour, that’s 5 million words. Assuming an average word count of 60–70K words per book, that’s more than 70 books!
  • So, for the first few books, you’ll need to learn how to survive. You need to take your wins, getting published for example is a big deal. A few people writing good reviews on your book - or better still coming up to you to say that you’ve done a good job with your book - is definitely the most amazing feelingThat helps you get better. Then comes a chance to thrive.
  • Another important thing is to read a lot. It helps you understand how to develop your arcs in a manner that would excite the readers. In writing, fortunately, it’s easy to learn from the best - so capitalize on that.
  • Write blogs when you are not working on your novel since that allows for a little more instant gratification (immediate reactions, feedback, etc.) compared to writing novels which have a cycle of at least 2 years from start to getting into the hands of readers. Blogging would also help you get to the Gladwell standard quicker - because those hours spent writing blogs also count.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
Yes, we would like to include a note for our readers. Authors are nothing without their readers and this success is because of them. We can’t forget the reader, who took out time to review the book from a train journey because the book uplifted her spirit on a particularly blue Monday morning. Another wrote that the author was the most underrated writer in India. People who enjoyed the book made it a point to gift it to their friends and relatives, in bulk quantities. All we can do is express our deepest gratitude to such people. Their love, encouragement and support sustains the writer in us and makes our journey worthwhile.
Links for your book readers


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