Varun Sayal, author of two incredible science fiction books, was born in New Delhi. He graduated with a bachelors in technology from the Indian Institute of Technology in 2007 followed by his MBA at the Indian School of Business. Currently, he is an engineer residing in Hyderabad, South India.
I try my best to apply my knowledge of Physics and Mathematics in creating the science fiction stories…
During his college years, Sayal made several movies for fun, some of which can still be found on his Youtube channel, such as Game ( a serious short film ) (check it out!). He’s participated in theater plays as an actor, playwright and even director, though unfortunately they were not recorded.
But plot twists, they are eternal, if woven well, everyone loves them.
Whenever he has free time, Sayal spends it reading or writing. Currently, he is reading his way through Alchemy by Rory Sutherland. He always wants to make his science fiction as accurate as possible, therefore spends quite a bit of his time researching. Black holes are his current favorite topic, along with human behavior and psychology.
The threshold of time is something which reader does not think about during the whole story but it’s right there staring at your face towards the end.
I’ve had the pleasure and honor to read and review both of Sayal’s books – Time Crawlers and Demons of Time: Race to the 7th Sunset – AND I just got my eager hands on his latest book, Devourers from Suryaksh. I was so incredibly excited to have the opportunity to interview the mastermind – so without further ado, here’s Seven Questions on a Saturday with Varun Sayal.
1) What does a typical day of writing look for you?
Early morning at 8 AM, after my gym and breakfast. I sit down with a cup of piping hot masala tea and start weaving those characters, universes and story arcs. I am a morning writer, though on weekends I do write late in the day. I rarely write new stuff in the evening. I do edit my existing words and finish off other non-writing related book-work at night.
2) Both of your books (Time Crawlers and Demons of Time) are heavily steeped in mythology. Could you talk a little about where you drew inspiration for your mythology? In addition, why did you decide to make that a central aspect to your books?
I have been brought up on a heavy dose of Hindu mythology in the form of epics such as Ramayan and Mahabharat. These are fantastical tales of gods, demons, human warriors, sages, mythical creatures, super-powerful weapons, time travel, parallel universes, interstellar travel and time dilation. Some of the concepts in these old works of literature are full of scientific concepts which intrigued me since I was a kid.
I draw inspiration from these great books which many consider to be a myth. But my strong conviction is that they are real stories. The reason for trickling mythology in my Sci-Fi stories is that I don’t see mythology and science as very different concepts. Mythological fantasy I believe is just another flavor of science fiction. If the concepts behind those fantastical events could be put in layman terms, it would be hard not to see it that way.
I will share a couple of examples. In Mahabharat, it is often mentioned that warriors could invoke a weapon by chanting a mantra. I don’t see it as very different from issuing a voice command and activating a machine. In one of the stories in Mahabharat, a King talks about visiting another world. He spent just half an hour in that world and when he came back to earth a few thousand years had passed. Isn’t that the concept of time dilation? I find strong inspiration from the scientific concepts embedded in these stories which come across as some sort of divine magic to a lot of us.
3) Rumor has it that you are writing a sequel to the Demons of Time. Could you shed some light on that? What made you decide to write a sequel? Do you have any more writing projects in the works?
That’s correct. In fact, I have finished the sequel to Demons of Time and currently working with an American editor to iron out the manuscript. The sequel is Devourers from Suryaksh. Story continues in this Book # 2 in the Time Travelers Series where the protagonist faces a much harder antagonist, a female supervillain. The book is available on pre-order here: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, Other Territories. And a special reveal for this interview, I am also working on a prequel novella for this series which I am hoping to release by mid-September. More on that later.
The reason behind writing a sequel is my observation of the current reading and entertainment consumption space. If you look around the concept of series is getting popular in Television as well as Fiction reading space. Readers and viewers are not satisfied with one rendering of the story. They have connected themselves so well to the characters, their situations, and their peculiarities that they want more of them. Which propelled me to continue this book as the Time Travelers Series. This series will see one prequel and then a Book # 3 before I move onto another significant undertaking.
4) When you write your books, do you generally have everything planned out or does the direction (of the book) surprise you? Follow up question, if it applies: Could you give an example of something you had planned but ended up in a (completely) different direction once you began to write?
I started out as what they call a pantser. Someone who just sits with an open blank document and starts to type in. That works very well for short stories which I earlier wrote. But it’s not the best technique for writing a novel north of fifty thousand words. Not doing a basic plot outline can severely impact one’s story and one may end up discarding it completely or spend countless hours cleaning it up to re-structure the story.
So off lately I have started to plot my stories to precision. I was earlier afraid doing so because I was worried that once I plot, everything will be deterministic, and it will take the fun away from writing when I finally sit down to write. But I was wrong. Writing the actual words is more enjoyable and free of unnecessary tension because you know at the back of your mind that your structure is sound. It’s almost like someone else did the structure for you (another version of you). For example, for my book Devourers from Suryaksh, I had originally plotted a character as a side-kick for the hero, but it ended up so differently, that hero is now in for a big surprise. I loved writing this character. So although plotting helps you structure it still leaves a lot to final execution where you planned something in a particular way but it turned out differently.
5) Many self-published authors struggle to promote their books and to get them into the hands of readers. On Goodreads alone, you have over 300 reviews! Could you talk a little about what you do to get your book out there?
I have a lot of respect for the reviewer community. I see reviewers reading books, making notes, critically evaluating them, writing such amazing, honest, unbiased reviews. And I salute them for that. Which is why I stay in touch with several reviewers and keep them updated about my upcoming works. This requires time and effort on my end, but I believe it’s worth every second I spend on it. This is the reason you see so many reviews for my books out there on Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub and Library Thing. I believe my books need to go out in the world and they need to be read and critiqued. Which is why I read every review and try to learn from the comments wherever possible. I would love to have a review which says “Yeah, good book.” but I would cherish a review which says, “Loved XYZ, but ABC could have been better.”
As an advice to the new authors I can share when I did when I published my first book. I started contacting Book Reviewers via their blogs. I made sure I carefully read a tab on their blogs called “Review Policy” or simply “Policy”. This is critical for an author to do because A) You will get to know which genre a reviewer reads in. You won’t want to send your Hard Sci-fi to a reviewer who loves PNR with a HEA or vice versa. B) Even if your genre matches your reviewer may not be into e-books at all. Yes, some reviewers specify this on their blogs that they prefer only paperbacks. Will you be willing to ship a paperback to them? If so, go ahead and contact. C) A reviewer may match all your criteria but they may not be accepting reviews at that particular moment, or for next six months. Everybody’s lives have some ups or downs, or there are times when they just want to take a break. As an author one should respect that. Beyond this, please do not email them if they have specifically asked that “For review requests please use this form on this page.” Respect that. Not everybody wants to receive unsolicited emails. Forms are a good way to communicate. If they want to read you they will get back via email. I got most of my reviewers from blogs. It was a very tedious process, but as I said earlier, it was worth the investment. Another small review avenue for me were few Goodreads groups where one could go and request for honest reviews. One could post their book description on pre-designated threads and reviewers responded. Again the key is not to spam the group by posting in multiple irrelevant threads. That’s sure-shot way of getting booted out of the group and losing access forever. There are no short-cuts here and being professional is the basic thing to do.
6) Your first book, Time Crawlers, was a collection of short stories while your second one, Demons of Time, is a full-length novel. What prompted you to make the leap from short stories to a full novel? Have you noticed any differences after making the literary leap?
Maintaining the rhythm of the story is very critical in a full-length novel. There are tons of concepts I have learned over the past year or so but maintaining character arcs, arc resolution, story resolution, crisis resolution all these are key requirements for a full-length novel. With full-length novels, one does not have a luxury of not doing a world-building and leaving a sharp cliff-hanger, which is something you can easily do in a short story. Short stories have their own space and charm, but more I write, I find it’s tougher to pen-down impactful short stories. I recently wrote a thousand-word gamelit story. My first venture into the genre of gamelit. And it was hard packing a punch within those thousand words. But that’s the challenge, that’s the adrenaline rush which I write for.
7) According to your blog, you graduated from top schools in India with degrees that focus heavily on math and physics. Could you talk a little about why you made the leap from such a math-heavy field to the literary one?
Writing has been my long-time passion. I used to write blogs and short stories as far back as fifteen years ago. And have been writing something or the other since past few years. But many of those powerful stories were just sitting in some obscure folder on my hard drive. It was only in 2018 when I decided to put that work out in the world. When I published Time Crawlers in the summer of 2018, I got a ton of amazing reviews praising my work, as well as some, well-deserved flak for the weak parts. But I am so glad I published Time Crawlers. It opened doors for me which I did not know existed. Coming to the present day, I continue my day job and try to excel in my work. My day job provides me with money and material. I derive a different kind of satisfaction from the analytical work I do. But writing for me is an artistic passion I want to follow alongside. For me, the question is not this versus that, but the question is to strike that fine balance between the two.
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