Storizen interviews Usha Narayanan, author of Kartikeya and His Battle with the Soul Stealer
1. How did your interest shift from working in the corporate field to writing? Was it already a passion?
Passion for the English language led me to do my post-graduation in English Literature. From there, it was a natural progression to a long and flourishing career as a writer and creative director in advertising, radio and corporate communications. Finally, I took the ultimate step of writing for myself, instead of writing for clients. Therefore, my core interest remained the same and there was no shift as such. Fortunately, readers seem to like my books and I continued on that path. And now, I have a tally of eight books in five years, published by leaders in the field.
2. Most of your books are based on mythology. Does it fascinate you?
I think the spectacular canvas that mythology provides is the most fascinating. I’m fortunate that I discovered this genre. My characters are gods and demons, fabulous birds and beasts. Boons and curses, magical weapons, travel through time—there’s so much room for the imagination, to fly to heaven and the netherworld along with my heroes and villains.
3. Are you influenced by all the mythological stories that you heard during your childhood?
Actually, I studied in a convent and had no exposure to these stories! It was only after I wrote a thriller and a romance that I began reading the Puranas. To read was to fall in love. And from there, it was a short journey to writing about these marvelous characters and their lives. I focused on little-known heroes and gods, which is why I have written ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’, its sequel, ‘The Secret of God’s Son’ and my latest, ‘Kartikeya and His Battle with the Soul Stealer’.
4. Did your native place also have an influence in adding to your interest in mythology?
I was born in Tamil Nadu and have lived here most of my life. The State is rich in tradition and boasts of over 33,000 temples, many of which are more than 1000 years old. It is definitely inspiring to see the temple carvings portraying stories from mythology and the stunning images of Vishnu, Nataraja, Kartikeya, Ganesha and the Devis in their various forms.
5. What kind of research have you been doing while authoring books like ‘Kartikeya’ and ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’?
For ‘Pradyumna’, I pored over tomes in libraries and research institutes and visited Pancha Dwaraka, the five sacred places associated with Krishna. I read and reread the Puranas that are many thousand pages long and often give varying accounts of the same event. For ‘Kartikeya’, I looked into northern and southern narrations of Kartikeya and Muruga and delved into his story as it was told in Sri Lanka where also he is worshipped. It was a labor of love that consumed me for many months!
6. Do you think a few people may differ from you regarding some events or subplots that you have written? How do you deal with such situations?
I look for unusual stories, as you will find in my latest book ‘Awaken the Durga Within’, where I seek to motivate women to unleash their inner shakti, so that they may claim their rightful place at home and work. The Sita you see in the book is definitely not the weeping wife waiting for her husband to rescue her! In my novel ‘Prem Purana: Mythological Love Stories’, I have fleshed out the characters of Ganesha’s wives Riddhi, Buddhi and Siddhi, and Ravana’s wife Mandodari, who are merely mentioned in passing in the Puranas.
As for hostility or opposition to the way I have portrayed events, I have not had to face this. I treat our deities with love and respect, and our readers are intelligent enough to understand this. I hope that this will continue in the future as well.
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7. Many of today’s youth seem to be atheists or agnostics. Will these mythological books written in simpler language make them understand our history?
I certainly hope so. I discovered our ancient lore very late and fear that the next generation and future ones will have even less knowledge about our Puranas. They will be deprived of the wisdom that our sages embedded in their colorful tales of gods and goddesses. I am hopeful that when they know more, they will return to a faith that has stayed alive for so many thousands of years.
8. Which genres other than mythology are you interested in writing?
I have written a thriller, two romances, and four mythological stories. ‘Awaken the Durga Within’ is a unique combination of self-help and mythology. Who knows what the future holds? To me, the excitement lies in exploring the unknown!
9. What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
The love that readers exhibit in various forums is so generous and gratifying. They message me on social media, comment and review my books, give me suggestions, and embrace my eclectic range of books, though they may have their own preferences in the genre! This love is what keeps me traveling on the long, often lonely path before each novel enters the bookstore.
10. Anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I treasure your feedback and look forward to each comment, good or bad, as it helps me fine-tune my writing and broaden my thinking. Keep writing to me and I promise to respond. Contact me through my website www.ushanarayanan.com or www.facebook.com/writerusha. My handle is @writerusha on Twitter and Instagram.
11. What are some ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?
I promote my work through interviews with media and bloggers. I meet readers and writers at events and share their reviews of my books on social media, interacting regularly with friends and followers. My books and my posts reflect my thinking and interests—women’s rights, animal welfare, positivity, and humor. I have a good network of friends on Facebook and Linkedin. Twitter helps me engage with people across nations. For instance, a professor of Indian mythology in a US university regularly reads and appreciates my books.
Of course, it is time to consume to do all this. I cannot really concentrate on my writing when I am launching a book or sometimes two in quick succession! But it is necessary to reach out to more people and introduce my work to a wider audience. Their feedback is vital to my growth as a writer.
12. What projects are you working on at present?
Not just one, but two of my books have just been released. So I’m currently busy promoting them, sharing interviews and reviews, connecting with people on platforms like Facebook Live or conveying festive greetings! Knowing that what is posted online is there forever, I try to ensure that each communication is fresh, interesting and carefully edited. So this takes up a lot of time. There is not much time left to work on a new project at present. But I am looking forward to doing that in the near future.
13. What are your plans for future projects?
I have an exciting idea for not one but two books! I have already done quite a bit of research on this. But it is a very complex proposition and I need to have some uninterrupted time to outline it and present it to publishers. I can hardly wait to start the process!
14. How do you feel about eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
Ebooks are quite an amazing proposition and self-publishing on platforms like Amazon gives you total control over every stage of your publishing and promotion. However, I am happy at the moment with conventional publishing, having worked with leading publishers such as Penguin, HarperCollins, and Rupa. Their professionalism, their distribution, etc are excellent and this allows me to focus more on my writing. I have published four books with my editor Vaishali Mathur and one with Rudra Sharma and will always be grateful for their wonderful support.
15. For those interested in exploring the various books you have written, where should they start?
Please visit my website www.ushanarayanan.com. You can click on various tabs and find out everything about me and my books. Read my bio, the blurbs, excerpts, reviews, and interviews in the media, and blogger reviews on my blog. You can write to me through the Contact page. I’m always happy to interact with readers, reviewers, and the media.
16. Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
I read widely and voraciously and my favorites keep changing. At the moment, I am reading bestselling author Diane Capri’s thrillers. Lee Child says her work is “Full of thrills and tension, but smart and human, too.” Reading great authors inspires me to make my work the best it can be, to have readers turning the pages eagerly, impatient to find out what will happen next!
17. What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, which they need to know?
Talking of mythology, readers sometimes fail to realize that the stories are not to be taken literally. Our ancient bards deftly packaged the lessons of life in vivid stories, portraying gods and goddesses as exhibiting human emotions and vices like greed, lust, and arrogance. This serves to highlight the truths about karma and dharma in an easily understandable fashion. Therefore, it is unwise, for example, to question a god with two or three wives, when the wives are merely representations of his own qualities such as wisdom or compassion. Readers need to unravel the deeper meanings that underlie these stories.
18. How does your current book ‘Kartikeya and His Battle with the Soul Stealer’ as well as others you have written relate to your spiritual practice or life path?
I believe in the essential goodness of humankind, in compassion and a positive attitude. I actively advocate equal rights and opportunities for women. And as we find ourselves inundated by stories of crime and abuse, my hero Pradyumna speaks for me when he says: ‘We too can lift Mount Govardhana with the power of our minds and win the war that we face every day. This is the time to raise our voices…and our fists if need be.’
19. What were your goals and intentions in writing ‘Kartikeya’, and how well do you feel you have achieved them?
Early reviewers say that they knew very little about Kartikeya until they read my book! I set out to write the definitive book on Shiva’s son, exploring his past lives, his mission to save the three realms and his love for Devasena and Valli, the maidens from heaven and earth. As for how well I have succeeded, here’s what a veteran reviewer says: ‘Though I have always had a soft spot for Ganesha, I totally tumbled into love with Kartikeya, helped by the fact that Usha Narayanan’s style of writing makes the characters alive and vibrant.’
20. What do you think is most useful in learning to write? What is least useful or most destructive?
Reading good authors with a powerful command over language is the most vital prerequisite to writing well. The most destructive practice would be to blindly imitate bestselling authors or choosing the most popular genre. A good book must resonate with your soul and your vision. Remember that no one will read a copy of some book they like when the original is available! Good luck to all aspiring authors.
Thank you so much for these interesting questions. I thank Storizen for this opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers.
The interview appeared in Storizen Magazine December 2018.