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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

SPFBO Semifinalist Interview with Geetha Krishnan (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
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Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, could you tell us a little about yourself, your background & your interests?

GK: Thank you for having me. I’m Geetha, and I’m from India, more specifically Kerala, the southernmost state of the country. I love to cook, read and write, mostly with music in the background. I love old Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil songs. Writing and reading fan fiction is how I relax most of the time.

Though I used to read almost everything at one time, nowadays, I find it hard to read anything other than fantasy which is the genre I prefer to write in as well.

Q] What inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finishing your book, & why you chose to go the self-publishing route?

GK: Well, I can’t say what led me down this path, but I remember writing poems as early as when I was 7 or 8. I used to scribble short stories in notebooks while in school. I was and still am quite the introvert, so I never showed my writings to anyone, except my sister and a few cousins. When I was younger, I was the storyteller in our group. I used to narrate everything I’d read to my sister and cousins and we also used to make up stories with our favourite sportspersons and actors as characters and I was the one who again wrote those things down. I think this path was set from those days, it was not like I decided one day that I wanted to be a writer, because I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t writing or making up stories.

Choosing self publishing now was a bit more complicated. Basically, I had no patience to wait and query and even when I tried, I got disheartened very easily. I also love the freedom that self publishing brings, and that I have full rights over my content at all times.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

GK: I wouldn’t say I have a muse as such unless you call my characters that. I’m a pantster, so my main motivation is to know what’s going to happen in the end. Also, I’ve had some major life experiences that weren’t easy, and writing is how I cope with my depression. It keeps me grounded and helps distract me from my own thoughts. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that reading and writing have literally saved my life.

Q] Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

GK: I entered this competition last year because a friend told me she got some good feedback on one of her books the previous year. At the time, I had no idea how big this was or how much exposure it brings one. I just wanted some feedback, lol. My book made it into the semifinals last year, and so, it seemed just natural to enter again this year.

(Karna vs Ghatotkacha artwork by Mukesh Singh)

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of the Jaya trilogy occurred. How long have you been working on it? Why did you decide to write it as a trilogy?

GK: The Mahabharata has always been a passion with me, especially the character of Karna. Most of my Mahabharata based works are centered on him. I had this idea of writing a book with him as the central character for long. I’m part of a group of people who are passionate about Mahabharata and we used to have long long discussions on the epic and I learned to question everything as a result. It was hard, let me tell you! But once I opened my mind to the possibility that everything I had so far considered inviolate may indeed be false, it all started making sense.

Around this time, I read an interview where Bibek Debroy who had translated the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata said that he once had a theory that in the original epic, there were only Yudhistira and Bheema and that the other three were later additions. That sparked something in me, and I was trying to figure out how the epic would have played out in such a scenario, and finally I decided to write it, but with Karna as the central character.

I’d never planned on a trilogy, but when I started writing, I knew this was bigger than one book, or even two books. My brain sort of starts to panic when a book goes beyond a certain length, and so, I knew that this will have to be done as more than one book. All my books are short because that’s all my brain can handle while writing. Even now, I’m not sure if this will be three books or more, but I’m hoping three. (knock on wood)

Q] Pradyutita is the first volume in the Jaya trilogy. Could you tell us about your work on the second book, offer any blurb details about it and maybe tell us what awaits in the trilogy ending?

GK: I wrote a few pages of the second book, before abandoning it, but now it’s very much a work I’m planning to revisit. No blurb at the moment, lol. All I can say is that it will start where Pradyutita leaves off and I’m hoping to end it with the Rajasuya at least, but let me see what this weird pantster brain of mine has to say, lol. In spite of the many changes, I won’t be changing the basic storyline with regards to Karna, so it will end as it ends in the epic, except it is planned out differently.

Q] Your book is a retelling of the Mahabharata. What’s your elevator pitch for non-desi folks who might not know of the world’s biggest epic?

GK: Okay, that’s a tough one. I mean how do you condense all that complexity into a few sentences? Hmm…

The existence of a child, who was supposed to be dead, is a threat to the established order. A cog in a machine he doesn’t even know exists, how long can Vasushena protect his secret when his very blood impels him into a path of collision with forces beyond his comprehension?

That’s basically my whole series, lol. That’s the angle it will take, that in the end what happens to him is a result of a concerted, deliberate action. He was always a threat to Yudhistira, and even in the epic, he was the one Yudhistira wanted dead more than anyone from the day of the Rangbhoomi.

Q] Let’s talk about your book’s genre. Technically its low fantasy as there’s almost no magic. Would you call it secondary fantasy or mytho-epic fantasy?

GK: I would just call it low fantasy, lol.

Q] Can you tell us more about the world that the story is set in, the nations and the peculiarities of the world?

GK: The world is basically ancient India. The main nations in my series will be Kuru, Panchala, Madra, Gandhara, Matsya and Anga.

Many of the customs in ancient India will be there:

Swayamvara where a princess gets to choose her husband from an assembly of kings and princes, which is how Kunti marries Pandu in Pradyutita and how Draupadi will choose her husband later in the series.

Niyoga, the practice where a childless widow is impregnated by her husband’s brother. It is the practice Pandu forces on Kunti in Pradyutita, the practice by which he himself was born.

Sati, the practice where a widow is burnt in her husband’s pyre, is not common in those times. In the original epic too, Madri is the only one who commits it, which seemed odd to me and which has led to my own interpretation of it.

The Gurukula system, the boarding schools of ancient India will also come later in the series.

Q] Writing your own version of such an important epic much have been daunting. Could you tell us about the research which you undertook before attempting to write this story? What were the things which you focused upon and any fascinating things that you found amidst your research?

GK: Daunting is right. It still is. My research included reading the original epic in full, not an easy task, god it is so long and many parts are just boring! Still, it had to be done. Can’t depend solely on my memory. I have a six book Malayalam translation with me and the KMG version that’s in the public domain. In addition, I read every scholarly article and the relevant parts of Debroy’s translation of CE as well as his preface to it where he again reiterates he believes Arjuna to have been a later interpolation.

Q] You have also taken massive liberties with character motivations and situations. I thought it was brilliant as it completely twisted the story while sticking to the major landing points. Can you explain your thinking process for going this route?

GK: As I said, it all started when I began questioning everything I had once accepted blindly. A few things stood out to me.

Vidura and the way he always seemed to be extremely prejudiced in the Pandavas’ favour. He wanted Suyodhana killed as soon as he was born. Why? Because some donkeys brayed. How does that even make sense?

Krishna, and about how he was determined to bring about Karna’s death. I mean, why should he have been so adamant?

The DyutSabha and everything that happened there. Draupadi herself later tells Krishna that Karna’s laughter pained her, and that she was upset that she was made a slave. Nothing about the disrobing, or about Karna calling her a whore. Shouldn’t that have stood out more if it happened? But if it didn’t happen, then her words make perfect sense.

The war, which was the core of Vyasa’s original epic Jaya. In the war, it is the Pandavas who cheat, who break rules. Yet, we are expected to believe they are the good guys? Also, the Pandavas’ label of Good hinges only on the fact that Krishna was on their side. But if you strip Krishna of his divinity and look at him as a man, the whole thing collapses.

Okay, so I didn’t mean to go into a monologue, lol, but basically these are the things that sort of prompted all of the characterizations.

Q] Will Krishna be introduced in the sequels considering his importance and actions in the original epic?

GK: Oh yes!! I can’t wait to write him as the manipulative politician that he was!! He’s going to be completely different from the loving God of Dharmasamsthapanarthaya!

Q] You have also scaled back on the characters and more importantly there’s no Arjun in your story. How do you plan to showcase the great archer battle that’s the cornerstone of the Great War?

GK: If there was no Arjuna as Debroy theorised, then it seems obvious to me that Yudhistira must have been the archer. That would explain why Krishna is so devoted to his interests, and why Arjuna was needed to be invented. All the good parts they made into another character. No wonder Yudhistira is such a weakling in the epic!

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

GK: The authors who have made an impression on me are not actually fantasy authors. I grew up reading classics, and my heart is forever captured by Dostoevsky, Steinbeck and Tagore. My greatest ambition is to write at least one line worthy of Tagore. Just one line. I’d be happy with that.

Among current authors, there’s J.E. Mueller who writes such engaging and fun books. I love Naomi Novik, especially her characterization. I also love the world building and prose of Katherine Arden’s books.

There are also a couple of authors whose works I’ve beta read, and who I’m so certain will become famous as soon as they’re published. Nico and Danni, I’m talking about you two!!

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

GK: Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Thank you all for all the support and love. Keep supporting indie authors. We need all the love we can get.



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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE