Love A Short Sci-Fi Story? Varun Sayal Has Many!
I have recently finished reading Time Crawlers. A collection of short sci-fi stories written from a fresh perspective. I’m not a super Sci-Fi fan, yet I enjoyed these stories that put a fresh new take on Genies and takes the reader into the Fourth Dimension. I had an opportunity to chat with the author of Time Crawlers Varun Sayal, to find out where this writer gets his inspiration and how he has got to grips with the world of self-publishing.
Time Crawlers is full of quirky and thought-provoking ideas about the future and sci-fi. Where do all these ideas come from? Do you plan research time? Or, do you note them down as they come to you?
I usually start building a story in my mind when certain peculiar characters, their varying shades and their supernatural yet scientifically explainable behaviours, start appealing to me. I literally write the lines inside my brain and remember them. Only when I am sure that I can write 15 to 20% of the story on WordPad, then I go ahead and start clacking my keyboard. Ideas for the stories are all around us, in myths, in reality, in random thoughts emanating from various parts of our eternally complex brain.
Your stories, however fantastical, do seem to have an underlying moral message about the way we humans treat each other today, is that intentional? Do you worry about where we are heading?
Honestly speaking, I do not intend to build a moral message within my story but, but my stories are not a hundred per cent fantastical, they do have an element of realism in them which reflects certain underlying behaviour patterns of our society which have not changed since ages. Hunger, greed, and kindness are all here to stay, regardless of how advanced we become.
Who is your author inspiration and which books do you read when you aren’t writing?
I have both positive and negative inspirations. The positive one is Isaac Asimov, as he brings so much realism into science fiction where describing convoluted sci-fi theories is not his primary aim, but to narrate a story is his major goal. Negative inspirations are some badly written stories or films or TV series, which propel me to think that if people who have access to millions of dollars can make such juvenile mistakes, then this world truly needs more powerful writers who can give stories which will make people, laugh and cry and at the same time wonder if there are worlds beyond ours. My recent inspiration is a novel “Sacred Games” written by an Indian writer, which has been converted into a top-rated Indian TV series, the likes of which have never been made before. Many years back one of the short stories I wrote was used by a Bangalore based drama-group to conduct 50 one-act play shows, out of a mini-van, that was a very powerful motivation for me. One day I would like to see one of my stories converted into a play, or a film or a TV series. Perhaps a far-fetched thought, but you never know.
What tips would you give to any aspiring writers looking to self-publish?
Two pieces of advice I would like to share with aspiring writers. Aspirants, please don’t think of these as condescending rants, but heartfelt thoughts I want to share with you:
Just get to writing, but don’t stop until your work is perfect: This is going to be a long advice so please bear with me, because this is a major cause I believe which prevents writers from writing. I would like to start with Nike Slogan here “Just Do it”. Don’t wait for a perfect idea or a eureka thought, at times a mere inkling of a situation or a gesture by someone can spark a story within you. Somewhere within us, there is a writing muscle, more you write, more you exercise it and stronger and sharper it becomes. Similarly, famous psychology writer Mr Malcolm Gladwell gave a ten thousand hours rule, which means for an individual to attain significant expertise in any field she or he needs around ten thousand hours of practice; well that applies to ‘writing’ as well, so you get the hint. While I understand that there are cases where many writers don’t write for long spans of their lives and one day they just pen down their magnum opus. But for some others such as me, the twentieth version of my story is very different from and much better than the first one. Eminent writer Mr Stephen King has also emphasized on revising your stories again and again. Lessons from product management, especially from celebrities such as Guy Kawasaki, also tell us that the first product built by a company can be a minimum viable product an MVP, it’s allowed a certain level of crappiness. All these examples point in just one direction: “Just Write”. Don’t worry about your initial story and your first draft, some crappiness is allowed there, you can improve it later. But you know what you can never improve? A story which has not yet been penned down.
Build strong connections in the writing ecosystem: While you might be an introvert as a person, do understand that your story or your novel is like your new-born baby. In this highly competitive world where half a million books are being published every year around the world, it’s your sole responsibility to make sure your baby gains recognition. Slowly build connections with readers, reviewers, folks in your friend circle and extended acquaintance-circle who are avid readers. I will be quoting an example from my limited but recent experience. When I politely reached out to hundreds of reviewers, I did get back polite rejections as well as not-so-polite straight NOs. But what was very surprising and beyond my expectations was that many reviewers from United States, India, and Europe responded with warm congratulations and told me that they would definitely review my book and post it on multiple locations. There is a huge reader-writer ecosystem out there of which you can become a small part of, by building these relations. Don’t just upload a manuscript online and wait for people to organically find it. Go sell, because your hard-work deserves to be read by thousands.
Where in the Universe are you off to next? Are more short stories on the way, or a novel?
I am tempted to write more short stories, but with an aim challenge myself, I am aiming to pen down a full novel. My next book would be Science Fiction Technology novel based on Hindu Mythology with a sprinkle of paranormal. In this book, I will be combining elements from the near future and the deep-past together to pack a solid punch across multiple timelines. Stay tuned.
Thanks so much, Varun for an insight into the world of self-publishing Sci-Fi!
Intrigued? If you’re looking for a collection of short Sci-Fi stories to get you thinking, bag yourself a Kindle copy for just over a dollar here!
Thanks a lot Duffy for this awesome interview. Enjoyed answering your questions.