Please welcome Indra Das to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Devourers was published on July 12th by Del Rey.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Indra: I started writing 'officially' (that is, outside of school creative writing classes) when I was around sixteen or seventeen years old. Ever since I was much younger than that, I'd been 'writing' novels in my head, often 'novelizing' scenes from my favourite movies or comic books into mental prose using language and turns of phrase cobbled from my favourite books. Soon enough, that turned into telling my own stories in my head. When I told my brother about this, he asked me why I didn't just try actually writing those stories down. We had a computer. We had MS Word. So I sat down one day and started writing what I thought would be the Indian version of The Lord of the Rings. I haven't stopped since (well, I stopped writing that novel; finished it, in fact. I haven't stopped writing, since)
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Indra: A bit of both, but definitely a pantser by majority. I rarely know where a story's going to go--in fact, I usually start with just an image or a scene, and see what happens from there.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Indra: Any answer to this might sound trite, but: sitting down and putting down words. That really is the hardest part. There are broader anguishes to writing--the eternal Schrodinger's pain of waiting for acceptance/rejections, dealing with eternal rejections, the financial limitations of having a writing career, writer's envy at other people's success, writer's envy at other people's skill, cursed tax paperwork for freelance work/artists, etc. and on to infinity. But actually putting your butt down on a chair (or bed, or floor, or whatever) and starting to type out (or write, I tend to use computers) words to translate the astonishing beauty in your head into something that will inevitably not be as beautiful on a page; that takes tremendous will. It'll always be the most challenging part, for me. Starting on something new. It tears me apart every time.
TQ: What has influenced/influences your writing?
Indra: Pretty much everything I've ever watched, read, seen, experienced, everyone I've met. This sounds dismissive of the question, but it's the truth. Even narrowing it down to art: I just love reading and watching and listening to stuff, and I could fill pages with my influences. But it was probably reading Roald Dahl as a child that led to me first thinking, ooh this is pure delight, I wish I could tell stories using words. Then as a pre-teen, I read Stephen King (my first 'adult' author, as far as I can remember, along with Terry Brooks and Michael Crichton) and I think that's when I thought: I want to be like this dude when I grow up. I remember looking at those old Stephen King covers with the simple line under the title; "Words are his power." The first time I saw that line on a cover, I thought the book it was on had some kind of superhero that used words to control people. I was quite young, after all. But when I understood it referred to King himself, I got chills. Yes, boy-me agreed. Words are his power. I wanted them to be my power too.
The Devourers doesn't have Too much Stephen King DNA in it, since a billion things have influenced me since, and different stories of mine have different cocktails of influences. But it's worth mentioning that the first King book I ever read (and owned) was the beautifully (and gorily) illustrated werewolf novella, Cycle of the Werewolf. Clearly that had some kind of impact, since my first published novel ended up having werewolves (of a sort) in it.
TQ: Describe The Devourers in 140 characters or less.
Indra: Immortal shapeshifters migrate from Europe to the Mughal Empire for new human prey, leaving echoes that resound into present-day India.
TQ: Tell us something about The Devourers that is not found in the book description.
Indra: The Devourers is also a love story. Not a healthy love story, by any means, but it does have a love story in it. Two, in fact; one romantic, one platonic. Both are highly dysfunctional. Neither refers to Fenrir's pursuit of Cyrah, which is not a love story at all, but predation.
A little extra nugget: about 30% into the original draft, the shapeshifters in the novel were meant to be ambiguously supernatural. That is, they wouldn't show any real evidence of being able to actually shapeshift--they might have been an entirely delusional subculture. I changed that when I realized I wanted to write a novel that was actually fantastical, but that would have been another entirely different, and interesting, novel.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Devourers? What appeals to you about writing dark fantasy?
Indra: The Devourers can be traced back to various inspirational points, but the first chapter, which started out as a short story I wrote in college, was inspired by me being stoned at a baul mela (a music festival for a rural sect of bards in West Bengal called bauls) at night, protecting a kitten from encroaching stray dogs. I imagined what that might feel like if the dogs were monsters, like, say, werewolves. But then, this is India, so why werewolves, a European myth? Novel partially born, right there. The whole thing of a normal chap meeting an immortal person came out of my l fascination with immortal characters-- Gaiman's The Sandman with its immortal werewolves and various other never-dying characters, the MacLeods in Highlander, Woolf's Orlando, Dracula, etc.
I'm not particularly drawn to dark fantasy more than any other genre or sub-genre. In fact, I don't see The Devourers as being dark fantasy, more than it is mythic fantasy, or historical fantasy, or literary fantasy. I don't care much about genres in a creative sense--they're marketing tools. A good story is a good story. I love writing everything, and tend to mix up genres. I even write realist litfic, though none has been published so far (perhaps for the best?). Most of my published short fiction would normally be categorized as science-fiction.
I love writing non-realist fiction, though, because there are no limits to the ideas and worlds and notions and images and characters you can explore in it. As simple as that. You can write literally anything.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Devourers?
Indra: A lot. It mostly involved borrowing and reading various books from the library, and googling a lot, and reading a lot of websites, and digging up academic historical essays. It would be quite boring to look at in a montage.
TQ: In The Devourers who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Indra: Cyrah was the easiest to write, in a way, because she had such a determined voice, and I sympathized so much with her, unlike Fenrir, who is a monstrous shapeshifter equivalent of a Nice Guy (tm) and an MRA, and Alok, who is kind of a passive listener for most of the novel. Cyrah was refreshing to write, though I was wary of being ignorant and misrepresenting the experiences of those who've experienced sexual violence. Fenrir was the most difficult to push through, because he's a monster (uncommonly supernatural, but very commonly human), and staying in his head gets--skin-crawly. His over-rich style of prose can be fun to write, but with his dour and self-pitying outlook, it became like having a heavy meal every time I wrote a passage of his.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Devourers?
Indra: I feel like any fiction is going to include social issues, because everything about humanity is structured around social issues, since we live in societies. Even a book that's consciously apolitical is being political in that choice (Does it centre around a white family of straight people that is seen as a perceived 'normal'? That's a political choice, for example). The Devourers deals with (among other things) violence, both sexual and otherwise, and how it relates to the way we construct gender and think about sex, as a species. It deals with these things not because I chose to write about them when I started out, but because that's where the story went.
TQ: Which question about The Devourers do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Indra: Please state for the record: does writing a novel with some werewolves in it make you a werewolf, as suggested by multiple people making the hilarious joke that I am a werewolf because I wrote a novel with some werewolves in it?
No. I see what you're doing there, but no. I am not a werewolf.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Devourers.
Indra: Oh no, I hate flipping through my own book, I had to do it so many times while writing and editing it!
I'm going to cheat and give you the first two lines, which I now know by heart: "My part in this story began the winter before winters started getting warmer, on a full-moon night so bright you could see your own shadow on an unlit rooftop. It was under that moon--slightly smudged by December mist clinging to the streets of Kolkata--that I met a man who told me was a half werewolf. He said this to me as if it were no different from being half Bengali, half Punjabi, half Parsi."
Okay, that was three lines. I know the third pretty much by heart too. Just had to check the order of the ethnicities.
TQ: What's next?
Indra: A second book, I would hope (I'm on it, I'm on it). Many short stories. More books. I don't like to delineate specific plans because I usually have multiple projects going that mutate and die and stagnate live and are unpredictable. I have a sci-fi story called 'The Worldless,' that I'm quite proud of, that will be published by Lightspeed Magazine sometime this year too.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Indra: You're welcome! Thanks for asking me to join you!
Del Rey, July 12, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 360 pages
For readers of Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, and David Mitchell comes a striking debut novel by a storyteller of keen insight and captivating imagination.
On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.
From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.
Shifting dreamlike between present and past withintoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel.
INDRA DAS is an Octavia E. Butler Scholar and graduate of the 2012 Clarion West Writers Workshop. He completed his MFA at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he wore many hats, including freelance editor, writing tutor, occasional illustrator, environmental newswriter, and dog-hotel night-shift attendant. His short fiction has been published in many fiction magazines and anthologies. The Devourers is his first published novel. He divides his time between India and North America and is hard at work on his next novel.