I have a vague story outline in my head. This comes to me through extensive, focused daydreaming. I follow this up with lots of research on lore and urban myths. I go back and daydream some more.
Arpan Panicker – 21 August 2014
The Back Flap
Wordscapist (n): A legendary wordsmith, usually assumed to be male, who is rumoured to be able to shape reality to his words. Limitless in his powers, and not aligned with the Guild or the Free Word. No proof or evidence of his existence has ever been found. First known usage circa 16th century.
Everything you say is true… somewhere. But for Slick the notion of what is true is becoming very blurred indeed. He always knew the world was one of constant change. He just didn’t expect that change to include witnessing a demon tearing off the head of a stranger. That’s the kind of change that could lead to hearing voices in your head. Which is also happening rather too frequently for Slick’s liking.
But that’s what happens when you’re thrown headlong into the world of wordsmiths, where simple words can shape and reshape reality, and the legend of the Wordscapist becomes more than just an urban myth. Slick must discover the Way of the Word if he is to shape a new reality and discover his true destiny……Buckle up. Hang on. And yes, careful what you say. Everything you say is true…becomes true…somewhere.
Wordscapist: The Myth is the first groundbreaking volume in the Way of the Word series, and Urbane Publication’s launch title for a thrilling new digital only frontlist – open your mind and your e-reading device to a new voice in fantasy fiction.
About the book
What is the book about?
Wordscapist – The Myth is the first in a planned contemporary fantasy tetralogy and is set in our world today. It is based on the simple concept that words can shape reality.
There is a secret community of wordsmiths with the power to shape reality by weaving wordscapes. However, weaving wordscapes has limits and comes with lots of risks. But the wordsmiths weave anyway, as a battle for power rages for the ultimate power, the power of the Wordscapist.
Amongst the wordsmiths, there is the legend of the Wordscapist… the ultimate wordsmith who can weave freely. As the quest for the legend heats up, into the fray stumbles a clueless cipher (an undiscovered, untrained wordsmith) who is linked to the legend more closely than anyone could suspect.
What follows is sheer chaos wordsmith-style as the setting jumps and skips across Goa, the Andaman Islands, the island of Skye, Glasgow and ending in Venice. The story is told through the eyes of four narrators who are key characters and represent completely different perspectives of what unfolds.
When did you start writing the book?
I started planning the book in 2006 and wrote one of the key verses in the book back then, but the actual writing process started in 2008.
How long did it take you to write it?
The first draft was pounded out in one long burst during a three-month writing sabbatical in Goa, India. It also helped that Goa is one of the main settings in the book. It was a crazy way to go about it, but now that I think of it, it was the best way to do it. I was cut off from life and everyone else and it gave me the focus I needed to get the book out. And given where I was in my life and career, I really could not afford to take more than three months off back then!
Where did you get the idea from?
I have always believed in the power of words. I have seen how words can change situations and how words can flip around your perspective as well as affect those in your circle of influence. I wanted to write a tale that features words as the hero and talk about how words could indeed change reality in the most fantastic ways possible. Once I settled on the contemporary fantasy genre (inspired by my literary gods, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), the story pretty much wrote itself.
I developed the core idea after researching mythology and lore from all over the world, including tales of the Fey, concepts from the Vedas and legends like the Aboriginal Songlines.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
I had trouble containing the story as it was a sprawling epic that stretched over time and space. I tried to do too much and wrote myself into a corner. After almost a week of writer inertia (a week’s block is massive when your entire first draft timeline is three months!) I had to come up with something radical.
I then decided to fast-forward four months of book-time (skipping through the difficult parts) and continued writing. I found it much easier to go on and complete the story. I came back later to the missing chunk and boiled the four months down to four days. It’s difficult to explain, but it worked beautifully. Writing those missing four days took just about two weeks (of real time that is) and it fit in very well with the rest of the book.
I guess the book would have been completely different if I had tried to soldier on through my writer’s block. But I have a strong feeling that this version turned out to be a lot more fun!
What came easily?
The easiest parts to write were the narratives featuring the two male narrators.. One of them is the protagonist, a cipher fashioned after a younger and borderline dysfunctional version of me, and the other is a timid yet strangely cheeky historian. Their perspectives just felt completely natural and telling the story through them was sometimes as easy as recounting a memory.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
All the characters are completely fictitious (with wordsmiths watching me, I don’t dare say anything else).
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
First and foremost, my Elder God, Terry Pratchett. He is the reason I fell in love with fantasy. He is also the reason why I learnt that fantasy need not be just about magic and dragons. It is about people. It is about the words. And the entire point of fantasy is that there are no limits, and not to worry if it’s too sci-fi or leaking into other fantasy sub-genres. The motto is always ‘Just write’!
The second person on the list is my Younger God, Neil Gaiman. He is the reason I finally decided to write that book. There was something about his craft and his stories that enthralled me and made me want to tell stories of my own.
I worship both these amazing men, and they actually feature in my book’s Acknowledgments.
Apart from them, there’s everyone else I’ve ever read (including the penny dreadfuls and the dime novels.) I believe that you absorb a bit of the author’s life with every book you read, and it’s this journey that allows you to become the person that you need to be to tell stories of your own. It’s a chain-spiritual-cannibalistic ritual. Now that I put it that way, it sounds horribly wrong, but that’s what it is and I’m sticking with that.
Do you have a target reader?
The book appeals to a whole bunch of readers, ranging from young adults to adult contemporary fantasy readers. But if I were to define that perfect target audience group, I’d sketch it as passionate fans who are ready to devour fresh, original fantasy and love the idea that today’s new and interesting concepts will be tomorrow’s clichés, and they got to be the ones who read it first!
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I have a vague story outline in my head. This comes to me through extensive, focused daydreaming. I follow this up with lots of research on lore and urban myths. I go back and daydream some more. Once I have some meat to add to the daydreams, I start scribbling out various conversations and narratives that map to some of the key incidents in the book (as per the plan in my head).
Once I’m out of scribbles, I go back to the beginning and start writing in a linear flow, incorporating each of the scribbles when I come to them. There are times when the scribbles don’t fit in at all and then later I realize that they were actually meant for a later chapter in a later book. It’s a strangely chaotic process (much like me), but it works out in the end, which is the important thing I guess.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I outline once my first draft is done. It helps me gauge the structure and helps with the editing and rewriting process. Before the first draft is written, I avoid outlines like the plague. I find them way too restrictive, especially given the way I write.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I read through individual passages and chapters after I’ve written them to absorb the story. I restrict my editing at this stage to pure language and grammar hygiene. I try not to second guess myself and rewrite. I leave the extensive editing for later when I’m doing my end-to-end edit.
Did you hire a professional editor?
My work involves a lot of language editing and this helped me generate a reasonably clean copy. My wife, Radhika, who is also my colleague, brings her own set of language quality skills to the table. Her reviews put my manuscripts through another strong review filter. Add to this my literary agent and my publisher (both of them do thorough hands-on edits for their authors’ manuscripts, god bless their sincere souls) and it gave the book as thorough a scrubbing as it could get. You’ll notice the occasional clean squeak as you flip pages on the ebook.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I listen to music when I’m working on intense parts of the book where I need to shut everything out. At such times, the last thing you want is for a doorbell, your cat or even family to interrupt what could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance of getting it right. The music is rhythmic and instrumental and is usually on a loop. I amp up the energy of the music depending on what I need to write.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Most publishers I approached refused to even consider my work till I found an agent. I was eventually accepted and represented by Priya Doraswamy at Lotus Lane Literary. Priya has been my friend, mentor and agent and has been infinitely encouraging and supportive through the long history of rejections and doubts that we shared before we finally found a publisher.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
My agent sent across the manuscript to several of the big fantasy imprints in North America and Europe. We saw many kind and appreciative responses but they were all rejections of one kind or another. There were some vague come-back-next-year responses as well. Through all of this, Priya kept talking about Matthew Smith, who was then leaving Kogan Page to start Urbane Publications, and how he was not only a wonderful guy but a great fit as a publisher. While catching our breath after a fresh slew of rejections, we spoke about Urbane yet again and decided that it was the best way to go. I’m extremely glad we took that step. I was heavily involved in everything from the editorial process to book cover design and final layout design than I would ever have been with a bigger publisher. Matthew has been a joy to work with and I’m proud to be represented by Urbane. What happens next is up to us, our networks and communities like IndieView!
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
Matthew was talking to professional designers for the book cover and we saw some sample images. However, I had a clear idea of what I wanted (I actually have a tattoo of the cover design that I got done on my back before I took off on my writing sabbatical in 2008!) and it wasn’t matching any of the samples we were seeing. I then went hunting through lots of stock library repositories (a lot of them specializing in fantasy and surreal imagery) till I came across this image that was just perfect. A quick usage rights purchase later, I sent the image across to Matthew, who passed it on to his designer. Two days later, we had the perfect book cover!
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
We do have a marketing plan for the book and because we are a relatively small and indie group, we are trying to leverage smart strategies rather than big ones. Phase 1 is all about leveraging our individual networks and using social media as much as possible (we are well into this phase.) Phase 2 involves garnering press mentions and publicity, combined with strategic events at small venues and engaging online reading communities (we are doing our pre-work for this phase.) Phase 3 will require a bigger push with some advertising spend combined with trying to acquire celebrity reviews and endorsements (already initiated dialogues to prep for this.) Based on the success of these phases, we’ll push for a print release and plan further steps after that (maybe even a graphic novel!)
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Go for it! There never has been a better time to get published! There are millions of ways of doing it and there are billions of people reading. The digital release platform has taken a huge chunk of the cost and risk out of publishing and it makes the indie market for books really attractive and viable. Just pour your heart out into whatever you want to write.
But yes, you’re going to need lots of hard work and patience. You’re also going to need a day job. Your day job can be about writing too (mine is, mostly) but you need it to pay the bills and be able to enjoy your writing without getting frantic, desperate or cynical. Writing and publishing don’t make you rich, not unless you’re very, very lucky. If you do get there and actually start making buckets of money, more power to you!
Where did you grow up?
Except for a year spent in Toronto, Canada and a lot of travel to different parts of the US, I’ve lived all my life in India. I grew up in an Indian city called Hyderabad, that’s known for its incredible food and quaint lingo (kind of like a Cockney version of Hindi).
Where do you live now?
I work out of Pune, a small city close to Mumbai. It’s quiet here and rather nice, and it’s also where I met my wife. I am prone to wanderlust though, so that’s likely to keep changing.
What would you like readers to know about you?
I’m a serial dabbler and I’m excited about a thousand different things. I love my work and my career. I’m a tech geek who is borderline obsessive about all things Google. I love cooking and eating, and am crazy experimental with both. I’m an avid motorbiker and am just waiting for an excuse to take off cross-country on my Honda. My professional writing debut involved working on a screenplay and I’ve always had a soft spot for theatre ever since. My wife and I fought the Indian government and legislation just so we could bring the cat we adopted in Toronto back home with us to India. We won and Folie is now a permanent member of our household, fulfilling the if-you-write-get-a-cat cliché. I’m also crazy about animals in general, but Folie doesn’t approve and that’s that.
What are you working on now?
Radhika and I run a learning design and strategy consultancy, The Learn Link. As a two-person team, we find it relatively easy to stay nimble enough so that we can balance work and life, and travel as well. It also gives me time to work on the second book of the Wordscapist series, which is due out early next year. I’m also flirting with the idea of starting work on a graphic novel collaboration once I’m done with the book 2 draft.
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