Mainak Dhar’s latest book Vimana is a fantasy-cum-coming of age story of young adults. A quick and thrilling read, it is the twelfth book from this author, who is “a cubicle dweller by day and writer by night”. He tells us how he first started writing. Inspired by a quote of Stephen King that the moment anyone pays you a cent for your writing, you’re a professional writer, at the age of 11, he sold his first book—a bunch of poems stapled together—for 50 cents a copy. He was in Canada then. Just in case his poems weren’t lure enough, he had attached solutions to the next term’s maths textbook and his classmates were glad to buy them. Excerpts from an email interview:
Your latest young adult fiction, Vimana, is a coming-of-age story. Tell us how the idea came to you.
Part of the inspiration came from subjects that have fascinated me for many years—ancient mythology and history and how so many cultures around the world have common myths of Gods who flew in from the skies and who waged war on Earth. There is a whole body of literature postulating that these ‘Gods’ could have been extraterrestrials, who had visited us in the ancient past. That fascinating theory was part of the inspiration for Vimana.
Vimana is also a fantasy novel. What kind of homework did you do for it?
The biggest piece of homework was to learn the myths and mysteries underlying the story. That was fun and also hard work. My homework included an eclectic mix of Sumerian myths, the Mahabharata, the New Testament, studies on the Bermuda Triangle and books by writers like Erich Von Daniken and Graham Hancock, who have really led the way in postulating the ‘ancient alien’ theory. This research was not only invaluable in creating the story, but the most fun part was building in real incidents and mysteries in the story. As an example, in the story I talk about the persistent reports of a UFO sightings after the tsunami of 2004.
How was the process of writing it like?
For me, writing a novel typically goes through three phases. The first is one of research or education, where I immerse myself in existing literature and data. For Vimana, that took the form of reading many ancient myths and books and studies on them, which was a really fun exercise as it helped me blend real-life mysteries and fictional storytelling. The second phase is one of getting a ‘big picture’ where I craft the major characters, the big milestones in the story and so on. That, of course, is an iterative process, since once I start writing, I do sometimes come back and modify things, but it serves as a starting point. The final phase is the actual writing.
What are the thumb rules of young adult fiction?
There are some fundamentals—a compelling story, strong character development, a pacing of storytelling that keeps the reader engaged. Young adult fiction is no exception to these fundamentals. If a writer wants to really connect with young adults, he or she has to ensure that the story can be relatable to the life of younger readers today. As someone trying to create relatable stories for young adults, I try and ensure I can build on these themes.
Who or what are your literary influences?
Three writers have really inspired me. Tolkien was the first and perhaps the biggest influence. I read the entire Lord of the Rings collection when I was 11 and was wonderstruck by the rich worlds and characters he created. Next up is Roald Dahl. I don’t know any writer who is as good at creating a twist in the tale as Dahl and on my bookshelf near my bed, I still have all the Lord of the Rings books and a half dozen collections of Roald Dahl’s work.
Finally Stephen King, not just because of his books but because of a quote of his that the moment anyone pays you a cent for your writing, you’re a professional writer. Inspired by that, at the age of 11. I stapled together my poems with solutions to the next
term’s maths textbook and sold my first ‘book’ to my classmates at 50 cents a copy (I was in Canada at that time). My first ‘royalty’ was $12.50, which I spent on comics and ice cream. I came home and announced to my mother that I was now a professional author. There’s been no looking back since then.
Books for young adults that you would recommend.
If you read nothing else, read the Lord of the Rings.
Mainak Dhar is a cubicle dweller by day and writer by night. An IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus, he has worked in the corporate world for more than 16 years. He has been a prolific writer with 13 books to his credit. Highlights of his writing career include a national bestseller, The Funda of Mix-ology, Herogiri, which is being made into a Bollywood film, and Alice in Deadland, an Amazon bestseller. His latest young adult novel Zombiestan, will release in India next month.