17 January, 2015

#Interview with Shweta Taneja, #Author of Cult of Chaos

About the Author:

Shweta Taneja is an author and graphic novelist based in Bangalore. She loves to prod and pry into peculiar and odd creatures with her books. Her latest Cult of Chaos is a tantrik thriller based in Delhi. Other books include The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong (Hachette India) and graphic novels Krishna: Defender of Dharma which is part of CBSE Schools Reading List and The Skull Rosary which won a nomination in the Best Writer and Cover category at the Comic Con Awards. Her latest book Cult of Chaos is a tantrik detective fantasy based in Delhi. Find more of her at www.shwetawrites.com

An Interview with the Author:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
After a few years of chasing stories as a journalist and editor, I realized that I wanted to tell stories instead. But from that realization it took me five years of wanting to write fiction, a Master’s degree, one failed novel and millions of procrastinating moments to finally do something that all blogs, all writers keep suggesting: write. After a year of stalling, I started to write fiction and once I did, I couldn’t stop. In the last five years, I’ve written six books, four of which are published and two lie at various edit levels. The longest of this, my latest Cult of Chaos, touched 1,20,000 words at manuscript stage. 

What inspires you to write?
Stories. Of all kinds. Factual stories that come out in newspapers, oral stories which I collect while travelling and speaking to people, experienced in architect, history, dance, culture and things. Stories written in novels, plays, played out in dramas, in serials, in movies, and in dance forms. Everything about life inspires me, gives me a character’s expression, a dialogue, a sigh full of meaning. 

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
Anantya’s name came from my first attempt of a failed novel, a revenge epic saga where a woman is abused and seeks vengeance. Rest of the stuff just cropped up one day as I was sitting in my husband’s office reading a book. The ideas were coming so fast that I couldn’t even find a paper pen to jot them down and instead used a whiteboard at his office to scribble with markers, take photographs of the idea, rub everything off and scribble again. Before I knew it, I had eleven photographs of scribbled whiteboards and the beginnings of Cult of Chaos.

Is there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
Yes. I just mentioned one above, the failed one which managed to give me the name of my current book. Another one died thanks to the fact that I edited each chapter that I wrote too many times. 

Tell us about your writing process.
Let me get some tea first. Once I get an initial idea, it’s all hard work. I plan the plot on little chits of paper, fine tuning it, till I have something that I can feel is a fun book. Then I write down the plot in a document and divide it into scenes or chapters. After this is done, I start writing the book. My deadline usually is one chapter per week. If I am on leave in that week, I write two chapters in the next week. If I can’t finish a chapter because my writing for that week was blocked, I know I have extra work on the weekends. All the time, I sip on lots of tea.

Why did you choose to write in Fantasy Genre. Is it also your favourite genre to read?
I love the speculative genre, to read as well as to write in. I remain fascinated by how authors explore our own quirks, attitudes, ethics and moralities through the concept of ‘others’—be it alien, supernatural or paranormal. Through these alternative worlds, we try and look critically into our world. And that’s what fascinates me about fantasy the most. That and of course we’re living lives of other creatures, which is just so much fun!  

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
It’s a powerful scene that comes almost at the climax of the book. In it Anantya’s performing Shava sadhana, a fascinating ritual in tantrism where a living person meditates on a corpse. I was scared of writing the scene at first. I mean it’s a bordering on disgust ritual for me. It is violent, mystical and goes beyond the description to grip your heart. It helped me purge my fears and insecurities as a writer and so changed me too. That was its power. It still can affect me as a reader. 

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
Of course. The two I can remember immediately are: Shukra, Anantya’s friend loves green tea and has a who cha-bar in his home, something that I share with him. Anantya loves wearing chappals, or any comfortable footwear, which is so me. 

What is your most interesting writing quirk?
I have to get up and take a walk around the house after every two lines that I’ve written down. Otherwise, I won’t know what I have to write next.

Do you read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?
Yes, I love to read all kinds of fantasy and science fiction. Some of my ever favourite authors include Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Ursula Le Guin. Currently I am exploring a sub genre of science fiction called feminist science fiction. Each book you read influences your story in certain ways. I’ve learnt mysterious style from Gaiman, humour from Pratchett, and a way mere words can touch your soul from Le Guin.

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
Keep writing. You’re a writer only if you keep putting one word after another.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
Don’t worry about what would happen to a book after you write it. Write the book, enjoy the journey of seeing how different or same it is from the way you first imagined it. 

What would be the Dream Cast for you book if it was to be turned into a movie?
Haven’t given this a thought till now. I would rather that Anantya’s imagined by the reader. 

If you were to be stranded on the famous deserted island, what three things would you carry?
Lots of paper and a pen because I get bored if I’m not scribbling. And maybe a copter so that I can travel around. 

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
I love going out on walks, to a park nearby and just lying there. My favourite place as many of my friends will tell you is NGMA in Bangalore. They have a lovely space, get some fabulous art exhibits and have a café that serves really good filter coffee. And did I mentioned an extensive reference library. I am there almost once every week. 

Can you share with us something off your bucket list?
I usually don’t have a list. The only thing I can think of is this desire to stay in different cities in the country and the world, short stays longer than travels which let you know the city better. That’s what I want to do.

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
- I am slightly schizophrenic and can have a conversation with Anantya on Twitter, using two separate devices. 
- I am a movie junkie and can watch five to six movies in a row
- I love making up stories about facts and confusing children. Nephews and nieces have many times been left with a frown on their forehead.

What do you have in store next for your readers?
I have a young adult book that I’m almost finished with. It’s a paranormal investigators group based in Manipal. Post that, I would be working on finishing the second book of Anantya Tantrist’s series.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
Yes. Keep reading books. It’s because of you that so many of us writers are getting a chance to put our stories out there. Explore new authors and new books, for you never know what kind of marvelous stories you find.

About the Book:
The tantriks are now overground. They have their own council, police and justice systems. The Kaula Ashram of the white tantriks have emerged as the most powerful; their men are recognized tantriks, women intimate collaborators.
Then there is Anantya Tantrik, who has rejected the Kaula path. She is powerful and lives life by her own strict moral code. Who needs offical seals anyway? When the world goes to hell in a handcart, badges and honours aren’t going to save the day.
Incidentally, hell and chaos is exactly where the world is headed. In Delhi, little girls are being sacrificed in a tantrik ritual. A desperate daeva is trying to blackmail Anantya. Someone is trying to call up the God of Chaos. A three-headed giant cobra turns up in old Delhi. The White and Red tantriks are facing off, and there is one or more Black tantric brewing some dangerous shakti. As Anantya struggles to stop the madness, the supernatural underworld – peopled with creatures humanoid, barely human and inhuman – comes alive in all its bloody, gory glory. 

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