Interview with author Usha Narayanan about her latest mythological fiction 'The Secret of God's Son'
Meet the author who writes across genres, and does it with panache! Here she talks about writing, her love for it and unveils many other 'secrets' about her latest book which is a mythological fiction.
Sanchita: Was it a conscious choice to write in multiple genres or did it just happen?
Usha: Conventional wisdom dictates that you stick to one genre, as it is more difficult for the publisher and you to reach a new audience with every book. It is said that when you jump genres, you could end up building multiple smaller audiences rather than a larger, more committed reader base. However, on the flip side, writing just one kind of book may cramp your imagination, preventing you from following an exciting idea. As you can see, I have not made the conventional choice! In fact, I did not even plan any specific course of action. I think that being inspired by an idea is more important than worrying about which genre is in the news or whether readers who liked my thriller will read my myth. I believe that I can keep my story going for some 80,000 words only if I am passionate about my subject. And it is this zest that I need to convey to my readers. I am happy to have escaped being stereotyped and hope that my readers will continue to follow my writing adventures.
Sanchita: ‘Mythological fiction’ is the recent fad and it has caught on like wild fire amongst readers. I personally love this genre. As one of the prominent authors of this genre what do you think could be the reason behind the new found interest in this genre that dabbles in the ancient?
Usha: There was a time not too long ago when people believed that science had the answers to all questions and that it represented the absolute truth. We were told that there was nothing beyond the reality perceived by the senses and nothing greater than material success. Soon however, this approach was seen to be too simplistic to explain the complexities of the world. People then began to focus on philosophy and metaphysics in order to understand the larger issues of the meaning of life, the cause of suffering, etc. They looked to the ancient scriptures and epics to shine some light on these questions. The original myths and their retellings began to garner attention. Then followed more creative interpretations of the old tales, transforming them to suit modern sensibilities and needs. And the fever caught on.
In ‘The Secret of God’s Son’, for instance, Pradyumna arrives at an active philosophy of life that will help us tackle the present world when the corrupt prevail and virtue is losing ground rapidly. He addresses many distressing issues of today ― the wrongs meted out to women, the weak and the elderly; the tyranny of the rich and the powerful and the apparent victory of the wicked. The gods in my book may exhibit human traits, but I have tried to elevate our thoughts to their realm rather than bring them down to our base level. And of course, this subtext is interwoven into a story that is spectacular, thrusting you headlong into terrifying worlds and stunning adventures.
Sanchita: Give us an insight into your main characters. What makes them so special?
Usha: Pradyumna is the son of Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu. Krishna’s son is human like us, struggling against temptations in order to transform himself into an ideal husband, son and leader of his people. His story is fascinating, his exploits are spectacular and his past lives provide enough colour and excitement to fill up many tomes! And finally, he is almost all mine as no one else has written in such depth about this forgotten hero. His beloved Mayavati is the beauteous Rati reborn, waiting to be reunited with her Kama who had been burned to ashes by Shiva’s wrath. She is Pradyumna’s inspiration and his battle flag. Her unflinching devotion to her people inspires us to hope that love can vanquish darkest evil and transform the world. Finally, the loftiest and most lovable character in all the puranas ― blue-hued Krishna, born on earth to restore dharma and to impart the Gita to guide humanity through Kali Yuga. He straddles two yugas and my two books ― goading and guiding his two sons and mankind to make the right choices and to write their own destiny.
Sanchita: Is there a message in your novels that you hope readers will grasp?
Usha: I think that authors must spin a good yarn and leave the message embedded in the story to be discovered by the reader if he is so inclined. Novels are like portals that let you escape your everyday life into an enchanted world. Here you encounter powerful passions, stirring adventures and dark enemies whom you must battle and defeat. You bring back new skills, new weapons and new ideas that can transform your real life. And that is a wonderful thing. So my message to readers is to enjoy the book, the characters and the journey they undertake. Beyond that, if you wish to look deeper, you will find thoughts that will help you better understand your culture, your world and yourself and achieve your full potential. This underlying meaning is what makes a book hard to write and difficult to forget.
Sanchita: What inspires you to write?
Usha: Writing a novel is a humongous task. It is not just the intense effort that goes into each word,
sentence and chapter and in crafting the overall structure. It is also the struggle you face in catching the eye of a good publisher, then ensuring that your book is not lost in the clamour of the marketplace. So you need to be truly motivated to even begin writing a book. I have always had a penchant for creative expression and for challenges. These inclinations led to a successful career in advertising, radio and corporate communications, until one day I realized I had grown tired of writing to suit a client’s brief. I then decided to write for myself and came up with books in three different genres: a thriller, a romcom and two myth-based fantasies. My journey still excites me, though at times when I hit a rough patch I need enormous will power to keep going. But the travails are all forgotten when I read reviews that appreciate my final creation. For instance, here is what author Devika Fernando says about ‘The Secret of God’s Son’: ‘Indian mythology at its fiercest and finest’! What more can I ask for?
Sanchita: When you are not reading or writing, what do you love doing?
Usha: “Travelling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller,” said Ibn Battuta, medieval
Moroccan scholar. I have traveled widely, sometimes on cruise ships, and seen many beautiful places across the five continents. I love meeting people from other lands and watching how they too reciprocate, reaching out to capture the memory and the moment in a snapshot. Cobblestone streets, cathedrals, iconic bridges, palaces, monasteries perched on hills, the ancient Colosseum or Angkor Wat…I have enjoyed them all. I have a particular fondness for lakes, rivers and seas with all their beautiful flora and fauna. These journeys free my imagination to travel beyond the mundane and the routine. They leave me with a sense of wonder and an understanding of how trivial we are in the overall scheme of things.
Sanchita: Sneak peek into your next project.
Usha: My imagination flits at high speed like a hummingbird, sometimes hovering over one idea, only to be distracted by a more colourful one. Again, like a hummingbird, the only kind of bird that can fly backwards, my mind returns to the earlier thought and delves in, looking to see if it is worthwhile. At the moment, I have ideas for a romance, a myth and even some that would make for interesting inspirational books!
Sanchita: Your word of advice to upcoming authors.
Usha: Read more. Write more. Suffer more. Aspire more. Even if you get knocked down by rejection or
criticism, come up swinging!
Rapid fire- first thought that comes to mind on hearing these words
a. God – Peace
b. Ancient - Wisdom
c. Karma - Inevitable
d. Ideal - Dream
e. Justice – Voiceless
About the interviewer Sanchita Sen
Sanchita Sen is a journalist who has worked with several leading national dailies in India. Currently, based in Phoenix, Arizona she is finding her space in the world of authors and has co-authored two anthologies named 'Crossed & Knotted' and 'Rudraksha'.