Usha Narayanan is one of my most favorite mythology writers. And I am super excited to host her on my blog with this lovely and deeply insightful interview that she did with me. The level of details that she delves into in her answers is key enough to show how thorough and in love she is with her craft.
The questions herein are aimed to understand things that aspiring mythology writers should keep in mind. I’ve also asked her the one question that made me buy her new book, Prem Purana, by Penguin India.
Read on, and I hope you are as inspired to get your copy of the book as I was.
Here we go…
Nikita: Five tips you wish to give authors who want to venture into writing mythology.
- It’s hard work to first research and then write an interesting mythological tale that will hook readers and keep them turning the pages. So make sure that you are ready to be consumed heart and soul by the project before venturing into this territory!
- Do you love reading stories of gods and goddesses, rakshasas and pishachas, curses and heroic quests? You need to enjoy this fabulous world, rich with magic and mysticism if you want to write about it. After all, it is your zest for this magical universe that you will be conveying to your readers. When writing ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna,’ I travelled vicariously to heaven and the netherworld, wielded the trident and the chakra and fought with Yama himself!
- Always look for little-known stories that will capture reader interest, for not many would like to read a straight retelling of the Mahabharata, when so many versions already exist. What is that something extra, something special you bring to your storytelling? That is the key to success. In ‘Prem Purana,’ I shed light on Ganesha’s wives who are often just mentioned by name, and sometimes in different combinations! Similarly, who thinks of Pradyumna, Krishna’s son or knows anything about him? I discovered enough to inspire me to write not one, but two books with him as my hero, delving into his exciting past lives and those of his wife Maya!
- Choose a character that calls out to you – one that you fall in love with – for you will be spending many hours with him or her! Let it be someone who is not perfect, but one who evolves as you read the story. That way, your readers too will be able to relate to him or her. There’s no suspense in depicting a great god who is so powerful that no one can challenge him or bring him down. You need a powerful anti-god and thrilling battles of the mind and body to keep the interest alive! And do not forget that a satisfying mythological tale requires a heroic quest and a canvas that is much larger than life.
- Do not be afraid to add fiction to make your story more appealing and delineate your characters better. Keep in mind that these fictionalised elements should blend seamlessly with the puranic stories to provide a smooth tale. Remember that your language needs to be consistent and pay particular attention to language and settings that are true to the age in which your story takes place. Good luck!
Nikita: What is the most difficult part about writing mythology?
Usha: To mix it up, to keep it lively, to make it sound fresh in each book. In how many different ways can you portray evil? It’s easy to fall into a rut, when all that the asuras are doing is to kill people, regularly and monotonously! Instead, look at your villain’s motivations, the character flaw that makes him do what he does and the people who have moulded him to act in this way. The hero too must work for what he gets, though gods and divine weapons may help him. Even though ‘Prem Purana’ is a romance, you will find the battles engrossing too! The interest lies in the hero having to struggle to survive and to succeed. It is these factors that help me take my reader on a roller coaster ride of thrills and spills!
Nikita: What is the easiest part about writing mythology?
Usha: You do not have to look for a conflict, for there is one on every page of the puranas! By this I do not mean just the battles, though there are many magnificent wars between the asuras and the gods. It is also the clash between good and evil, in ideas and ideals, in choosing the easy path or the tough one. Often, as in Ganesha’s story in ‘Prem Purana’, it is the conflict between love and duty.
Nikita: Ravana and Mandodri are not a couple one would immediately think of when it comes to love stories. What sparked this idea?
Usha: When reading several puranas and epics, I came across this pair and realized that they had a fascinating back story that not many would have heard about. It’s quirky, intriguing and so unexpected that I had to make their story one of the three in ‘Prem Purana’. I was also interested in fleshing out the character of Mandodari who is mentioned only in passing in most narratives. How would a wife and a queen react when her husband is willing to sacrifice his kingdom, his people, his family and his own life in order to win another woman, that too a god’s wife? My heroine Mandodari is no doormat. She is loving, fierce, wise and occupies centre stage. I think discerning readers, male and female, will appreciate her strength.
Nikita: How do you deal with writer’s block?
Usha: However many books I may write, there are days when I do not write a single word. Deadlines loom, each passing day is like the knell of doom! I fret, I fume, I worry, I rant. But now I have realized that the block is not because I am running dry or becoming lazy. It’s because I am not clear about the way forward. I cannot ‘see’ the scene with all its colour and action. I must work on it, keep thinking, devise a plot point that is surprising, absorbing and moves the story forward in a delightful way. To me, it’s not the number of words I write each day, but the quality of what I have written that keeps me going. I know that I have overcome this block before and am confident that I can do it again. So I spend time on research, read books totally unconnected to mythology, and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to start writing like one possessed!
Thank you, Nikita for coming up with these lovely questions and featuring my interview on your blog!
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