Feature Interviews

Interview: Ashok K. Banker – Lightspeed Magazine

Ashok Okay. Banker is the writer of greater than sixty books, including the internationally acclaimed Ramayana Collection. His works have all been bestsellers in India and have bought around the globe. He’s additionally the writer of many brief tales, together with the Legends of the Burnt Empire collection (revealed in Lightspeed), which takes place in the same world as Upon a Burning Throne. He lives in Los Angeles and Mumbai.

Upon a Burning Throne is the first ebook of your epic Burnt Empire collection. It follows the story of two younger princes who’re in line to rule the dominion of Hastinaga after passing the Check of Hearth. A conflict is vowed towards Hastinaga because a cousin of the princes from an outlying kingdom passed the identical check but is denied her claim. Tell us concerning the inspiration behind the collection.

The Burnt Empire Saga started initially as an exhaustive retelling of the Mahabharata, the good Sanskrit poem which is arguably the longest literary work ever written. That was virtually twenty-five years ago, even before I wrote and revealed my Ramayana collection. I quickly realized that I used to be not able to take on such a mammoth story and set it apart, reluctantly. A number of years later, in 2004, once I was kind of completed with the Ramayana collection, I took it up again, and continued it. It took a hell of much more work and a fair amount of time, but I started releasing it in book-length installments from around 2012 onwards. By 2015, I knew that when once more I had hit a roadblock. The original epic was too complicated, vast, labyrinthine, and impressive for any trendy retelling. By this time, I had moved from India to the US and was determined to build a career as an writer. It then dawned on me that I used to be trying to do one thing that was completely pointless. Why retell an epic that was already so wealthy, so filled with marvel and awe and nice characters and plot? As an alternative, why not write my own unique epic fantasy, stealing and borrowing liberally from the Mahabharata as well as my own multi-cultural upbringing!

By 2017, I had the majority of what’s now Upon a Burning Throne, and the Burnt Empire saga was off and operating. I have to say, though, that my editor and writer John Joseph Adams’s enter was invaluable in shaping the work it’s finally turn out to be. John has been unimaginable on this epic path to publication, allowing me the freedom to rewrite whole sections, insert an entire new starting, and literally create a world from the bottom up as he edited. It took two arduous years of edits, rewrites, revisions, and a deep rethinking of the story forward (which John isn’t even aware about at this level) before the guide that now exists was ready to exit into the world. And boy, has it come a great distance.

You’ve completed a retelling of the Mahabharata together with your earlier ebook, The Forest of Stories. What drew you again to it? What attracted you to the thought of writing an epic impressed by the Mahabharata versus retelling it?

While UABT still has the genetic DNA of the Mahabharata, it’s most undoubtedly not a retelling. For one thing, this ebook covers barely two % of the unique Sanskrit epic’s plot. The Mahabharata itself is very large: Even a word-by-word translation would take up no less than six million phrases in English. And that might be dense, inscrutable poetry, needing one other ten or twenty million phrases of footnotes to know. It’s actually unimaginable to learn and comprehend the complete Mahabharata (unabridged) utterly. Even tasks just like the Clay Sanskrit Library translation took dozens of students many years of labor, and even they couldn’t finish it. It’s sufficient work to employ a whole college for generations. All I’ve finished is taken the bones of the original epic, the primary characters, and important by means of line, after which made up my very own epic fantasy universe, tradition, world, and so on. In addition to the fact that that is extra sensible, it’s additionally way more enjoyable! I get to play in my own universe whereas retaining several of probably the most memorable mythic characters and storylines ever written down by human arms!

In your expertise of retelling the Mahabharata and writing the Burning Throne collection, why do you assume readers are hooked on sprawling tales about dynastic struggles and all-consuming wars? Have you ever observed any patterns in readership about this when talking together with your readers?

Because it’s like studying a historical past of the world with new characters, tales, battles, and all types of magical parts! It’s fun. I feel one of the causes for the rise of epic fantasy after the two world wars is as a result of these terrible conflicts left us all with a deep sense of shame and guilt. We massacred tens of hundreds of thousands each occasions in probably the most wide-scale wars of human history. Epic fantasy is our approach of working by means of those horrible wars, but by way of the once-removed snug distancing of fantasy fiction. We will venture our guilt, shame, anger, grief, every little thing onto these fictional characters, and find a catharsis and determination that we did not receive from the actual world wars. At the very least, that’s my two cents.

Have been there some other sources of inspiration (literature, TV collection, music) that fed the development of your collection?

It’s been stated of the Mahabharata (inside the epic itself, which is self-aware and ceaselessly breaks the fourth wall via a collection of narrators telling the story inside the story inside the story ad infinitum) that “What cannot be found here will not be found anywhere else.” It’s believed to be probably the most full compendium of human expertise—the great, the dangerous, the ugly all rolled in collectively—and an schooling in itself. In some ways, it’s the mom of all stories, the ur-source of all genres, tropes, and even literary units. Having stated that, I did draw freely on other pan-Indian influences: Moghul history, Middle Japanese and Egyptian legends, even other Indian and Asian legends. And naturally, there’s lots of pure invention in the combine, too. In the long run, the primary characters and what they do, or why they do what they do, continues to be from the Mahabharata, but virtually every thing else is made up of entire material, woven on the loom of that great fantasy.

In a time when readers are still obsessed with A Track of Ice and Hearth and audiences are salivating for the final season of Recreation of Thrones, what was it like pitching a big epic like this to publishers, particularly an epic centered largely in South Asian mythology and never Eurocentric lore?

I by no means pitched it to anybody. I despatched an early draft of the manuscript, then titled Metropolis of Elephants, to John Joseph Adams. He learn it, appreciated it, and made me a suggestion. I signed the contract unagented and that was it. I had by no means been (and still haven’t been) to a style convention, had no literary agent at the time (I do now), and couldn’t get anyone within the US to read something by me. Until JJA. He modified every little thing for me. He’s probably the most open-minded style publisher and editor I’ve ever encountered in my life. Undoubtedly probably the most awesome SFF editor of all of them right now. He noticed it as what it really was, a fantastic epic fantasy story that was a massively pleasurable immersive experience for anybody who loves epic fantasy. The tradition, the range, the writer, none of that basically issues. The Burnt Empire is its own world, its personal mythos. Read it and luxuriate in. (Although in fact, the primary ebook goes down some very darkish paths, so maybe “enjoy” isn’t fairly the proper phrase, except in a literary sense.)

Speaking of darkish paths, there’s some putting imagery in the novel that would’ve come from a horror novel or even from John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’m considering of the scene where Prince Shvate, his wife Mayla, and his half-brother Vida go to the mountain metropolis of Reygar to defeat demonlord Jarsun, solely to find that the town is sentient and walks on legs manufactured from tens of hundreds of human bodies joined together with a whitish ichor. How much of this imagery was inspired by the Mahabharata and the way much of it comes out of your imagination?

Oh, that’s not from the Mahabharata in any respect. It’s utterly impressed by a story in Clive Barker’s basic assortment, The Books of Blood! I’ve all the time needed to use it one way or the other, and eventually discovered a spot. Though my model could be very totally different from Barker’s unique, the thought of a metropolis made up of people slammed together in Human Centipede trend is somewhat comparable. I confess to having paid homage to one in every of my favourite authors!

Hearth and water are recurring photographs throughout the e-book. At first, there’s the Burning Throne used to check Princes Shvate and Adri and their cousin Krushita. And there’s the River Jeel, who’s additionally the mom of Vrath, Prince Regent of the Burnt Empire. What significance do hearth/solar and water have within the historic Sanskrit and Indian literature that you simply’re working with?

Just about the same significance as in all historic cultures. On this case, although, the ruling race, referred to as the Krushan, have a really historic connection to fireside in the form of a component referred to as Stonefire. I don’t need to give an excessive amount of away, but let’s just say that Stonefire and its counterpart, Jeel, (embodied as the Mother Goddess Jeel who can also be a river on the earth) type the center of the mythology I invented for the collection. So it’s extra my invention than something from the unique Mahabharata. There isn’t a Burning Throne, Burnt Empire, Krushan, Stonefire, or any of those parts in Indian mythology or another mythology. That part is simply the product of my own thoughts and it has a direct bearing on a really apocalyptic occasion that occurs much later within the collection. That’s all I’m allowed to say now; another phrase, and the Stone Gods are more likely to strike me down!

The characters in Upon a Burning Throne really feel modern as much as they feel like they’re from a legendary bygone era. Was this the impact you have been striving for?

Are you fairly positive they really feel modern? They all do some horrible things, you realize! If they do appear modern, it’s definitely not modern American. The ancient Indian sense of morality, gender roles, caste, class, and so on., could be very totally different from the current US outlook. I doubt American characters would do any of the issues these individuals do in the ebook and get away with it. If something feels modern, it’s in all probability the truth that the writer is modern!

Vyasa, writer of the Mahabharata, makes himself a personality in the epic. Did you write your self in Upon a Burning Throne as certainly one of characters like he did? Perhaps as seer-mage Vessa?

No means! It’s a bloody harmful world. I wouldn’t need to be anyplace on the continent of Arthaloka (the place the story is about) or in the Burnt Empire itself! No thank you. I’m completely satisfied right here on the surface wanting in, apart from the occasions I teleport my avatar right down to the surface and report on the violent shenanigans down there. As for Vyasa himself, yes, he’s very a lot part of the collection too, and as you rightly guessed, he is indeed Vessa. Not a really likable character, like a lot of the major protagonists within the epic, however then once more, he’s not the hero of the epic nor is he meant to be. That distinction is reserved for Krushni, the actual hero of the collection, who arrives on the scene only in Guide Two, A Darkish Queen Rises.

Some chapters are written from the attitude of animals, resembling a crow and a vulture, that comment on a scene we’ve just read. What structural or narrative effect have been you going for with these POV shifts? They really enrich the feel of the e-book’s mythological tenor.

That’s easy: I’m just following the story the place it goes. To tell that part of the story, the only means was to make use of these animals’ points of view as bridges. Also, I really like animals and attempt to work them into my work wherever attainable. They are very much a part of the world too, in any case. It wouldn’t be truthful to go away them out!

In one chapter, Adran, Prince Adri’s charioteer, says, “Gods rarely cohabit with mortals without a purpose . . . Time and time again, as our puranas tell us, we become collateral damage in their great wars and missions.” I feel like this could possibly be read as a serious theme, as a result of all the narrative arcs contain demigods, demons, and mortals interacting. And the mortals pay a worth every time. Do you discover that epics like this are fatalistic and dramatize existential angst with gods and fantastical creatures as characters? (This query may be extra indicative of my Western approach of studying the e-book.)

Not likely. That isn’t really a serious aspect of the collection in any respect. However positive, that is one thing that does recur in lots of mythology-inspired epic fantasies. I assume it’s on the root of the genre of high fantasy itself, so it is inescapable. On this case, although, it’s actually all about an internecine conflict between two units of cousins and the 2 demigods who choose to aspect with one group or the opposite. The back half of the collection is nearly all centered on an enormous Mom of all Wars, and is predicted to take up about five of the nine books within the general epic.

What’s been your strategy to writing the collection? As a style writer, a mythologist, a fabulist, one thing utterly totally different? I’m curious since you stated in a previous interview that India didn’t really have a genre scene.

India’s genre scene is lastly coming of age, I’m glad to say now. There’s an entire slew of very gifted writers producing wonderful genre fiction. No main epic fantasy novelists yet, until there’s one simply out of sight on the horizon (during which case, I’ll want them completely happy writing!). I’ve been a lifelong SFFH fan, nicely over forty-five years now, since I started studying on the age of nine and am fifty-five this yr. I approached this collection and e-book as epic fantasy, pure and easy. Nothing kind of. I really like the style and am proud to be part of it.

When can we anticipate the subsequent ebook of the collection?

A Dark Queen Rises shall be revealed in 2020.

What other future writing tasks can you tell us about?

I’m at present working on a literary novel however can’t say anything about it until I finish it and send it out. And I all the time have several books and stories brewing always. I really like writing a number of tasks directly. There are graphic novels, function film scripts, net collection, and novels in other genres, together with an enormous area opera that rivals the Burnt Empire collection in scale and attraction.

Is there anything you’d like your readers to find out about Upon a Burning Throne?

Upon a Burning Throne goes on sale in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook on April 16, 2019 in the US, and in commerce paperback on Might 14 in India. Please pre-order! You’ll be able to read free excerpts on my web site at ashokkbanker.com!

Enjoyed this text? Think about supporting us by way of one of many following strategies: