In Heir to Malla, you meet Queen Charu, stepmother of Meera and Jay. Is she an evil queen? Not quite. I featured her in a blog post.
Tears welled in my eyes anyway for the mother I lost, and my stepmother who got her wish to wear the crown but knew no real happiness.
Grandmothers and the tales they spin can be magical. Meera’s grandmother plants seeds in her mind of what her life will be like as a queen. I wrote about how my grandmother inspired my writing journey.
The wonderful sibling relationship between Meera and Jay features prominently in my trilogy.
“The one our mother taught us?”
“I don’t remember her, let alone her voice. I only remember you singing to me.”
Of course, many aunts act as mother figures in the story.
He cried out for his mother last night. I watched as Aranya comforted him tenderly and calmed his demons.
A mother’s love is complex, and I enjoyed exploring the different layers of it in my story.
What is your favorite portrayal of mother in fiction?
This book concludes the story of Meera and Jay and is a culmination of my eight years writing journey.
We first meet 19-year-old Meera and her 16-year-old brother, Jay, in Heir to Malla. In the first chapter, our protagonist dreams about marriage and love. The chapter ends with her learning that her brother has gone missing in enemy land.
What follows is a tale of love, adventure, and royal intrigue set in medieval India. From the gods worshipped to the food served at the feast, the book offers a taste of 9th to 11th century India. I enjoyed writing this coming-of-age story, especially Meera’s. At the start of the book, Meera is a traditional princess, content to let her father and brother manage the affairs of the court. Then things change for the worse, and she is forced to take charge of her destiny.
Meera and Jay return to face the consequences of their actions in War of the Three Kings, set a decade after book one. This book starts with another Meera chapter, showcasing her domestic bliss, with a peek at her heart in conflict, and plunges into chaos with a death of a beloved monarch. I loved the many storylines in this book, some happy, others tragic. One, in particular, tore my heart. My characters are not playing with blunt swords anymore. So the outcomes are unpredictable.
Burden of the Crown will wrap up Meera and Jay’s tales. This series has been a magical ride for me. Some of the arcs started in book one conclude in this book. It has been an absolute joy writing about this land, where I could let my imagination run wild. I will share an excerpt soon.
I love books with happy endings. They are like a warm blanket on a cold rainy day. But, in real life, our emotions come in waves. We are sad, happy, angry, jealous, all on the same day.
Even with my writing, I finished the final book in my trilogy with mixed emotions—glad to have completed the story to my satisfaction—at the same time, saddened to say goodbye to these characters.
My stories reflect that. I hope they bring you joy. Also, I hope they move you to tears. Read my books and fall in love with the characters.
Reading a story can allow us to find ourselves when we see our emotions reflected on the pages. A character’s journey can help you find courage for overcoming adversities in your life. Let my tales tug your heart.
Nivedita is a marketing consultant turned full-time mom who dreams up a lot more stories than she writes. She is currently trying to keep it all together – a house that cannot run itself, a toddler that runs everywhere by herself, and fragments of an erstwhile life. She lives in Bangalore. You can read her blog here.
Here is my conversation with her:
Hi Anna, it was so inspiring to go through your blog and read about your books! You have shown that it is possible to make something about the stories that are constantly jumping around in my head. I have so many questions for you! Here are some:
Q1. Why did you choose the self-publishing route?
I had many stories bubbling inside me, and I wanted to share them. Self-publishing gives me a lot of freedom with what stories I can tell. I write historical fiction loosely based on medieval India. If I had gone the traditional publishing route, these stories might have never seen the light of day.
Depending on your goals, you have to decide whether traditional publishing or self-publishing is the best option for you. Self-publishing is like a small business. The author is responsible for editing, cover, marketing, and more. This work might be daunting for some.
Some authors are interested in awards and recognition. For them, traditional publishing might be worth the wait.
Q2. How do you balance a career / paid work / full-time job with writing? As a related question, how do you manage your daily life – parenting, housekeeping, time to relax and unwind, and writing?
It is a struggle on some days 😂. I began writing only when my kids were older and more independent. At each stage in our life, we have to ask ourselves what is important to us right now. And find time to do it. It also means saying no to things that are not important. Time is a great equalizer. Every day, we all get the same 24 hours, nothing more or less. I write almost daily, even if only for a few minutes. It allows me to unwind from the stress of my everyday life.
Q3. Why did you choose to write historical fiction? What was your inspiration behind choosing medieval time?
I loved the stories I read about ancient Indian kingdoms, especially Chola and Pallava kingdoms in the south. A Tamil Author, Kalki’s books were a significant inspiration. I found it fascinating to think of someone born to rule. What their struggles and challenges would be. I also find it easier to explore themes like duty vs. self or women’s rights in this setting, far removed from today’s world.
Q4. What are the resources that were helpful for you while researching your novels?
I read several books on the craft of writing. I also read several historical fiction books. I studied the culture, food, and laws of the medieval period. Since my protagonists are royal siblings, I created a fictional land rather than set my story in a real kingdom. Though this is a work of fiction, I researched weapons, clothing, and spices to make sure they were in use during that time. For flowers and trees, I used old Tamil literature. For medicine, I used Ayurvedic text and several published articles for guidelines. Museum websites are a great place to research jewels and weapons. Internet is a treasure trove of information. From battle wounds to poisons, I have searched for some weird details.
Q5. Can you take me through your writing journey? Did the story pan out as three books from the start? Did you make an outline and flesh out the characters before writing the novel?
I wanted to write a series from the start. In my first story, I started writing without an outline. I stumbled and made a few mistakes along the way. For my next novels, I created a rough chapter by chapter outline. Though I deviated from the storyline in my final story, having this synopsis helped me.
Q6. This question is very specific to novel writing, mostly because of its length. How do you edit it? I struggle to remember details and edit a 2000 word short story.
I wish I had a photographic memory. I keep a glossary of all the characters and their physical features, relationships, etc. Plus, I have an outline of the book where I tracked how many days have passed, seasons, moon phases, etc. I have two beta readers who read my chapters and provided valuable feedback. All of this helps, plus I re-read the book a few times before sending it to my editor.
Q7. Having successfully self-published three books (and with more on the way, undoubtedly), what pointers would you offer unpublished authors like me who have novel-length stories that they want to publish? What are the things to look out for while self-publishing?
Writing, like any art form, is not an easy way to make a living. So first make sure there is a passion to write. Then determine what stories you want to tell. Pick one of them and write a two-page summary of this. Read a craft book on fiction writing. I have a few in my Goodreads profile. These help with creating engaging characters. Become friends with fellow writers to form a support group.
Then write consistently, whether it is every day or every week.
For publishing, I recommend finding an editor to edit the novel. And getting a good cover for the book. There are many Facebook groups (SPF Community, 20booksto50K) dedicated to self-published authors where you can ask for advice or just read past posts. I highly recommend joining a couple of these. Most important of all, every author’s journey is going to be unique. Set your goals and march towards them.
I am writing the conclusion to my Land of Magadha trilogy. Though it is hard to say goodbye to these beloved characters, the story is approaching the ending I had envisioned from the beginning.
This is when I have the most fun. Writing my story. Making my characters fall in love, despair, or rage. I have a rough outline for the tale, but I have already taken some detours. Sometimes, my characters surprise me with their fear, jealousy, or tenderness.
How many books do you write a year? That is a question many authors get. Or a variation of it, like, when is your next book coming out?
It took me five years to write my first book, Heir to Malla. I had stories running in my head. But it took time to take the images in my head and translate them to words on a page. I stumbled, made mistakes, changed my beginning.
My second book, War of the Three Kings, took a year to write and publish. I have learned how to plot a book chapter by chapter. With an outline, my task became easier. Words flowed naturally, and there were fewer revisions.
Along the way, I found my pace. One book a year is one I can consistently meet without sacrificing my family time or other commitments.
Some authors publish one book a month. Hats off to them. Others take three years to write their masterpiece. There is no right or wrong answer here.
As writers, it is vital to find a schedule that works for us without impacting our mental or physical health. And still, produce great books that bring joy or excitement or passion to our reader’s hearts.
Evil stepmothers abound in fairy tales and mythology. Most of us grew up with stories about Cinderella’s stepmother who jeopardized Cinderalla’s chance for happiness. A common trope has been to pit a stepmother against her stepdaughter. When viewed through a modern lens, we realize that these stories depict the lack of female power and how their livelihood depends on the men in their lives. It is no wonder these women are typically battling for a man’s attention.
In Indian mythology, Queen Kaikeyi in Ramayana is the catalyst for the epic. She banishes her stepson, Rama, to the forest for fourteen years and sets in motion the quest for Sita. Her crime is wanting the throne for her birth son. Her desire paints her in a dark light compared to the sacrifice of noble Rama.
For a good stepmother, you need to turn to Mrs.Dashwood in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Here, the stepson wrongs the stepmother by his greed.
Coming to my books, you catch a glimpse of Queen Charu in the prequel Novella. She is not an evil stepmother. Nor is she a saint. She is misguided, complex, and human.
Her chapter Queen of Malla in Heir to Malla is one of my favorite. It is a quiet chapter of a mother sharing her story with her daughter. Her words reveal so much about the place and agency of women in those times.
Most of us have heard the saying: Practice makes perfect. In the case of authors, writing does make us better. But what if we are practicing something wrong. Then we carry those bad habits from book to book. How do we improve our craft without relying on our editors to come and save the day?
Luckily there are several different ways.
We can read novels by other authors. This is my favorite option because I love to read. I have read 24 books so far this year. Reading helps us see how other authors structure their stories. Sometimes, I am too caught up in the narration to pause and observe the style. Which is not a bad thing.
You can also attend writer’s conferences or take courses. I have attended a local writer’s conference in the past and hope to take part in one next year when the world returns to normal.
In the meantime, I have been reading a few books on writing. While there is no magic wand, each book I have read has expanded my horizon. You can check out the writing books I have read here.
My most recent book is Characters & Viewpoints. This book is written in an easy-to-read style while imparting a lot of knowledge. I enjoyed the writing samples sprinkled throughout the book that conveyed information more readily. For my Land of Magadha series, I choose first-person POV because a few fantasies I had read used it. This book discussed all the different POV options and its merits. I might use third-person limited POV for my next series based on what I learned here. I recommend this book for aspiring writers and current writers.
This past week, I celebrated a book birthday. I published my debut novel Heir to Malla a year ago. Just two months into the pandemic and new life of masks and lockdowns, I shared the story I had been working on for over five years.
A year later, I have realized how many mistakes I made. I had no marketing plan, no newsletter, and no beta readers. I launched the book into the wild with no clue. Since then, I have joined writing groups on Facebook and learned many things from experienced authors.
I have found a beta reader or two among my avid readers. I will be releasing Prince in Shadow, an Heir to Malla prequel novella, exclusively to my Newsletter subscribers.
For my second book, War of the Three Kings, I have a simple marketing plan, mainly focused on building my newsletter subscription, sales promo for Heir to Malla, and one or two third-party newsletter promotions. I will share more details after the launch.
This journey is a marathon, and I am grateful to my readers for letting me share the stories in my head.
Readers want original content. They want something new, unique, and never before told story.
As writers, one might feel like there is nothing new under the sun. Fantasy and Science Fiction genres offer some room for novel ideas. A story set in a galaxy far, far away captures our imagination. Or a complex magical system piques our senses.
What shall a historical fiction author do? Conflict of the heart is what I like to explore. In this society, plenty of ways to put my characters in situations where they have to choose between love and duty, the eternal conflict.
I use distinct metaphors to set the stage for the period (a pumpkin flower that wilted on its stalk). My female characters dress in vivid color saris (ripe mango).
Like your favorite bowl of comfort food, familiarity is also soothing. A romance reader craves a happily ever after ending. My books offer hope amidst the chaos.
A good book touches the human heart, and if mine stirred yours, I have achieved my goal.