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Author Highlight: Deepak Thomas Discusses his New Book ‘The Epic of Kautilya’ and Stories from his Life

We are back with another author interview. Today, with us, we have Deepak Thomas – the author of ‘The Epic of Kautilya’. In this interview, Deepak talks about his writing aspirations, the route to getting his book published, and his inclination towards fantasy genre. Stay on...while we chat with him.

What inspired you to write this book? Any tales to tell?

I have always wanted to write a story that had the scale of Lord of the Rings and colourful characters like anime.  Many ideas had come and gone but it was Kautilya and her story which pushed me past the tipping point.

The setting came first. The world takes its inspiration from Indian mythology but at the same time, it is steeped in its own lore. Here the magic is real and small actions can have huge consequences and there is so much yet to be discovered.  

The idea of the young general Kautilya occurred to me later. This was while I was at IIM Calcutta. I was watching the movie Red Cliff when I realized not a lot of war stories are from the commander’s point of view. So I began brainstorming a hero who was a strategist. In fact, originally the character was a boy, hence the name. It was only after the first draft that I realized the protagonist would be more interesting if she was a girl. But I loved the name too much so I kept it.

Then I came up with the cast. Each one has a unique perspective, they are relatable but they have a tendency to surprise you. And I chose them from the different fictional races so that you know that this story is part of something much bigger. The interaction between Kautilya and the other characters is the beating heart of the book.

At its core, the story is about becoming a leader, hence the title: Born To Be King. The message I wanted to convey through the book was that anyone can lead, all you need is the ability to learn, the will to fight and the strength to put the needs of others before your own. 

What motivates you to write?

As far back as I can remember I have been writing stories. It started with small comic books which I would draw when I was five. I cook up stories all the time. Some are bad, some are good but most of them are forgettable.

However, Kautilya’s story was really compelling. The world of Kautilya gave me so much room to build a mosaic of fantasy lore. And the characters in the book came alive in my head. So writing every day wasn’t hard because picking up the pen gave me a chance to go on new adventures with them.

That said, there were parts of the book where I hit a wall. Some sections did not excite me but needed to be written to complete the story. With other projects, I would give up on the story when I reached this stage. However, this time around I had a hack.

Breaking down big tasks into small manageable chunks helps a lot.  I set up a fixed schedule and a daily target. I started waking up early and would type out a thousand words before I left for office. And I always had a medium-term target that I was working towards. For example, if I had a big trip coming up my aim would be to finish 20,000 words before then. I wrote every day, whether I felt like it or not.

Now, it has become such a staple of my morning routine that if I do not write, I feel like something is off.

How do you handle the response to this book, especially from your friends and colleagues?

My loved ones were always sweet and encouraging. They saw my work with rose-tinted glasses. So they gave me more positive feedback than I deserved. 

This is where I had to take their feedback with a tablespoon of salt. When I prodded them further and asked how I could improve my work, they gave me a lot of insightful feedback.

My first draft needed a lot of work. It was feedback from my close friends and colleagues that made the final book so special.

Sometimes they can be harsh as well. It is because they care so much about you and your work. So I try to focus on what they are saying rather than how they are saying it. 

What kind of research did you do to pen down this novel?

First of all, I would like to make clear that my book is not a mythological novel. It is an epic fantasy series inspired by Indian mythology, kind of like Lord of The Rings is inspired by Norse and Celtic myths.

So researching our land’s myths and epics helped me envision the world of Kautilya. There a lot of good books on the subject but I used Devdutt Patnaik’s books as a starting point. He is really good at summarizing complex ideas and stories.

However, Indian philosophies and myths are thousands of years old and my research has hardly scratched its surface. So the research goes on.

I also researched the war strategy. 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene and the audiobook Masters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers are my recommendations if you want a taste of the subject.

History is just as fascinating and gruesome as fiction. So I read about and take a lot of inspiration from real life.

Can you name some of your favourite authors and novels?

Indian mythology is a treasure trove. I would definitely urge everyone to read The Mahabharata and The Ramayana. Not just once, but all the adaptations and retellings. There is so much wisdom, so much beauty in these texts that no matter how many times you read them you will learn something new.

When I began writing as a kid, I would only write comics. It is after reading the first Harry Potter that I understood that the novel can be a medium just as entertaining and imaginative as comics or movies. So I owe a lot to J K Rowling.

Brandon Sanderson is like the Drona to my Eklavya. I learnt a lot about writing by watching his YouTube lectures and by reading the Mistborn series.  I would highly recommend all his books.

Do you think writing a book from the comfort of a bedroom is possible?

It is definitely possible. It is the perk as well as the curse of being a writer. When I started I wrote alone in my room, cut off from the rest of the world.

I read books on writing and took cues from other books in the genre. But I ended up with the same clichéd ideas as everyone else.

That’s when I started to go out and meet other writers. I joined a writing group. Everyone taught me something new and awesome. It is still ongoing.

I traveled, had amazing conversations, listened to people and generally stepped out of my comfort zone. These helped me get a fresh take on things and come up with a unique voice of my own. 

Do you have a favourite place to write? Such as a beach or the hills?

If I had to fantasize, I would love to have a small cottage on the edge of a cliff with a beautiful view of the ocean. I would want it to have high glass windows with a lot of natural light and walls lined with books. There would be a desk with adjustable height and an expensive, ergonomic chair to keep me comfortable. 

The cottage should also have a porch with a recliner for me to lie on.

Every morning I would wake up and come here. I’d draw the curtains and open the windows to let the sunlight and ocean breeze in. Then I would write to my heart’s content.

In the evenings I would come down to the porch, get comfy on the recliner and read. The doors would always be open so that my wife, kids or pets can come in and disturb me whenever they wish to. But no smartphones allowed.

Till I get that space I will just continue writing in the bedroom of whichever apartment I happen to be renting.

What was your biggest learning during the publishing process?

Marketing your book is as important as writing it. You may have written the most amazing book in the world but unless you can convince people that it is worth reading, no one is going to invest hours of their life to your story.

I am really bad at self-promotion. I have a lot of insecurities. Every book I read seems better than the one I wrote and every other writer more talented.

But then a friend had a piece of advice. “Maybe there are a lot of better writers than you. But remember, they are not you.  And thus your voice is unique. If there is at least one person who gets joy from it then you should make sure the book reaches him or her.”

So I promote my book. I am not very good at it but I hope I will become better.

Any advice for budding writers?

Finish what you start. 
No matter how crappy the idea may seem. Finish the work.
Share what you write.

Unless you allow your precious baby to bear the scrutiny of others then your work will never become good and you will never reach your full potential.
Take feedback graciously

When someone criticizes your work, don’t take it personally. Try to discern what they are saying and apply it to your work. But don’t let them change your unique voice or make your story formulaic. It is a fine balance.

Promote, promote, promote.
Social media, reviews, emailing friends, do what you have to do to get your book into readers’ hands.
Get back to work now…like right now.

Once you have written a book it is easy to become complacent. Your first book is a milestone. But that is exactly what it is…a milestone. Keep writing and continue on your journey. Because at the end of the day the reward is not winning awards or earning millions, the reward is the work. You are creating something beautiful no matter what the world thinks. So don’t stop.

Something personal, readers don’t know about you?

I have a huge crush on Deepika Padukone. I honestly had dreams of becoming a famous writer and then courting her and getting married to her. But my arch-nemesis Ranveer Singh beat me to the chase.

In any case, no matter. "Kehte hain agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaho , to puri kainaat usse tumse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai"

Any books in the pipeline?

The rest of The Epic of Kautilya series is on the way. I have already started writing the second book. You see the first book explores one part of the vast world that Kautilya and her friends inhabit. There are more kingdoms, stories and characters yet to be discovered.  And the current cast of characters has so much more to discover about themselves.

I am very excited to be on this odyssey with the readers. The feedback for the first book has been very positive and I am very grateful. The fact that there are others who are sharing this adventure with me motivates me to write more every day. 

Connect with Deepak Thomas:

Facebook Page:@dthomaswrites (https://www.facebook.com/dthomaswrites)
Twitter: @dthomaswrites (https://twitter.com/dthomaswrites)
Instagram: @dthomaswrites (https://www.instagram.com/dthomaswrites)

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