Our guest on the blog today is author Mainak Dhar, who talks about writing, zombies and being forever young.
In a couple of weeks, hordes of zombies will descend onto the street of New Delhi, wreaking bloody havoc and laying waste to the world as we know it. At any rate, Zombiestan’s Indian edition will hit bookshelves courtesy the fine folks at Duckbill. It’s always fun to be part of something new, and I am very excited to be the first author on Duckbill’s list, and the hordes of zombies, and my partnership with Duckbill, will further grow in the months to come.
This blog is not about zombies per se (though I do spend more time thinking about them than is perhaps good for any sane person) but about some thoughts this launch triggered. I remember well a conversation with Sayoni at Duckbill when I was first approached for Zombiestan rights about how Duckbill was looking at it as part of their ‘Young Adult’ list. To be honest, I never thought about Zombiestan as a YA novel. I wrote it the way it made sense to me, and in a way that I thought was fun, but I clearly saw how it could appeal to younger readers. And to readers with an appetite for suspension of disbelief, larger than life adventure, and a healthy dose of mayhem. Readers like me.
When I was asked to write this guest blog, I thought back to what I was doing when I was myself a ‘Young Adult’. To be clear, I still am and will always be young till I kick the bucket, it’s the ‘adult’ part that’s occasionally called into question. Rewind the tape to the summer of 1985. I’m an eleven-year old living at the time in Ottawa, Canada, juggling soccer practice, homework, mowing the lawn and a crush on a pair of twin sisters (pretty complex, as you may imagine). As I think back to those days, what stands out is how much of who I have become was influenced by what I read. Two major influences acted upon me that summer: an epic written by a master storyteller of the past, and a sentence in an interview by a modern master storyteller. That was the summer I read the entire Lord of the Rings series over the holidays and read an interview by Stephen King in which he said that the moment someone paid you even a cent for your writing, you were a professional writer.
The dream was born (perhaps it had always been there, but now it got a concrete shape and direction) of being a writer. I wanted to create worlds, characters and adventures like Tolkien. I wanted to throw a motley group of adventurers into a fantastic quest and decide their fate. I wanted to hold readers in thrall of what came next the way I had been. Tolkien showed me the dream, and King showed me how to act on it.
I had a bunch of poems written that I had hidden away in my room. I took those poems, stapled them together with solutions to the next term’s Maths textbook (having guessed correctly that few people would pay me to read my poems alone), got my older brother to make me a cover on his computer and sold my first ever ‘book’ to my classmates at 50 cents a copy. My first ‘royalty’ was $12.50, which I spent on ice creams and comics, and when I came home, I remember telling my mother that I had become a professional writer. She told me that I indeed had, and that she looked forward to the day we would walk into a bookstore together and see my book there. Tolkien and King gave my dream a start, my mother took it to the next level. When, seven years later, we did walk into a Delhi bookshop and my mother proudly told the shopkeeper that I was the author of the book he had on his shelves, she reminded me of my antics in the summer of ’85 (you see, I lived my dream of ‘publishing’ my first book, but my mother had to deal with the aftermath- no pun intended- of the Maths teacher complaining about how the kids all had ready made solutions to the next term’s work), and told me something I will always remember. She said never stop dreaming, and never stop thinking of making your dreams bigger. She’s no longer here, but every time I publish a new book, I imagine her up there, pointing proudly down to what her son is up to next.
So, if you’re one of the YA readers who happens to pick up Zombiestan, never underestimate where a bit of inspiration can take you. Never underestimate how powerful books and words can be in shaping what you become. That’s one big reason I am such a fan of Duckbill- because they are committed to get young readers to see new dreams, to experience new worlds, and to once again, discover joy and inspiration in the written word. And if you’re the parent of a young reader, please help them discover the love of books. Let them see new dreams, inspire them to act on them, and who knows, their dreams, like mine, may remain forever young.