Mainak Dhar has written eight books in the Alice in Deadland series–Duckbill has published the first two in print and all eight are available as ebooks.
LIVING NEXT DOOR TO ALICE
There are two things every writer yearns to do. First, to connect with readers through his or her work in a way that books cease being simply the product of the writer’s imagination, but something that readers help shape and create through their feedback and interest. Second, to work on books which seem to write themselves, where coming up with ideas and writing, far from being a drudgery, is such a delight that it feels like the book is writing itself- and the writer merely provides a means to do so.
I count myself fortunate to have experienced both through my Alice in Deadland series. Sometime in mid 2011, I began writing Alice in Deadland, set in a post-apocalyptic Delhi known simply as the Deadland, where human survivors struggle for survival against hordes of undead creatures called Biters and mercenaries unleashed by a tyrannical Central Committee seeking to enslave all remaining humans. I tried to weave a tale about a young girl coping with the discovery of her destiny in a post-apocalyptic land and through her adventures, understand the true nature of the evil that threatens our freedom. In a nod to a favourite author of mine, I tried to build in some elements of Lewis Carroll’s work. So Alice follows a bunny-eared Biter down a hole in the ground, triggering off her epic adventure and her quest to discover what really brought about The Rising, the catastrophic events that destroyed human civilisation as we know it.
When I uploaded the Kindle version of Alice in Deadland to Amazon, I was blown away by the reception. Alice in Deadland went on to become the #1 Horror and Sci-Fi bestseller on Amazon. More than the sales, what was amazing was the extent to which it connected with readers. In those first few months, I received more than two hundred reader emails, appreciating my work, describing how it struck a chord given the times we live in, and finally, telling me to continue the story.
I had never planned to make a series of it, but as more and more readers wrote in, asking what happened next to Alice, asking what the back story of some of the key characters was, I got to work on the series. Through The Killing Glass (Book II) and Off With Their Heads (a prequel) were next, and before I knew it, I was on my way to writing a series. This was to a large extent due to the encouragement I got from readers to continue the series, but the role readers played in it goes much deeper.
Some six months after uploading Alice in Deadland, I started a Facebook group, and I loved the direct interaction with readers this group enabled. Through this group, I got readers to help me on names (the title Off With their Heads came from a reader), suggest what they would like to happen next and also take that interaction into the ‘real’ world (one reader baked ‘Biter biscuits’ for a book club reading where she shared Alice in Deadland). I haven’t met most of these readers in the ‘real’ world, but they grew to feel not like distant readers who are statistics on a sales or royalty report, but individuals I know, who are friends and partners in my writing process, and our relationship goes beyond just the books I write. When my father feel ill and passed away in May 2012, many of the readers kindly wrote in to give me strength and to share in my grief.
As a small tribute to my readers, most of the key characters who join Alice on her quests are modeled on readers from this Facebook group. These readers helped give me the strength and encouragement to breathe life into a girl called Alice, and now they got a chance to join her on her latest adventures.
This is what writing should be–a writer creating his work not in a vacuum, but with the constant interaction, interplay and feedback from readers in real time. Where readers and writers interact on a one on one basis to create work that delights both of them, and writing, far from being a drudgery, is something one wakes up each morning charged up to do. When I got back to the world of Alice after more than a year to write the last book in the series (I, Neil, book 8 in the series), it was like meeting an old friend whom you meet after years and seamlessly continue the conversation you were having back then. I realised then that Alice is more than a character in a book I once created–she feels like a real friend, someone I have a long history with, and someone who has introduced me to some amazing people (my readers).
I consider myself privileged to have experienced this, and no matter what I go on to write in the future, or what lies in store for my writing career, Alice in Deadland will always have a very special place in my heart for enabling this. What’s exciting is that Alice’s story is far from fully told, even after I finished writing the last book in the series in 2013. She continues to help me connect with new readers and friends with foreign language editions continuing to release across the world–with editions so far in Turkish, German, Portuguese and French. So even if I’ve stopped writing the series, it continues to have a life of its own, and I continue to live next door to Alice.