Interview with Lyra Shanti, author of “Shiva XIV”

Can you tell us about your current projects?

I have books one and two of my Shiva XIV series out on Kindle and paperback on Amazon. I also have book three coming out later this year. It will probably be a five book series with book five being a prequel. I’ve written almost all of book four, so it feels like a giant baby I’ve given birth to, and it’s exhilarating and exhausting all at once. I also have a novella out called The Rainbow Serpent, which is a re-telling of the garden of Eden.

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

I was about seven years old when I wrote my first song and about nine when I wrote my first play. I had always come up with stories, but I didn’t really realize my potential as a novelist until my 30s. I think I needed to build up the confidence first before being able to really let go.

What inspires you to write?

Everything! From everyday conversations to dreams to a good movie, I’m constantly taking in story ideas, even if I’m not fully aware of it.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I don’t wait around for the perfect writing mood. If I did that, I’d be waiting quite a long time. Most often, whether I’m in the mood or not, I force myself to write, even if it’s just a sentence or two. It’s that kind of will power and drive that can make an author not just start a book, but actually finish it.

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

When I first had the vision in my head for the prologue of Shiva XIV, the rest followed pretty easily. After a few chapters, however, I needed to focus on the entire plot. I did a lot of notes and story-boarding in order to understand where I was going with it all.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I usually do a mix of both. I try to let my instincts and feelings open a door in my mind, allowing characters and words to freely flow, and then I make sense of it all afterward as best as I can. Strangely enough, that process seems to really work for me. It’s like being half-asleep, yet I’m still very much in control.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

Sometimes, especially when writing a big battle scene, it takes all my brain’s capacity to keep every aspect of the story together and flowing. Flow is very important, to both the reader and the writer. Without it feeling natural, the whole scene can get clunky and awkward. It’s extremely important to have the events of the story unfold as if they couldn’t have happened any other way.

Is writing book series more challenging?

Yes and no. I think it’s extremely challenging to think in the epic terms required for a series, especially for a sci-fi/fantasy series – all the planning and notes and whatnot. But at the same time, even just writing one book can be challenging. It just depends on how big of a story it is and how much work it takes.

What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?

I think it’s very important to have a cover that is eye-catching and captures the feel of the book’s story. Personally, I tend to go against the current fashion of using digital art. I don’t mind a little but used for art editing, but I like art that feels real and organic, which is why I’ve used talented artist friends of mine who are extremely organic in their art. Julia Takagi did the cover for the first book in Shiva XIV and Jennifer Juniper Varon did the cover for the second book in the series (The Veil of Truth,) as well as for my novella, The Rainbow Serpent.

Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?

I tend to write very instinctively. Not that I don’t plan out the story, I definitely do. But I’m a firm believer in letting the subconscious mind go first before thinking too hard. I use the conscious part afterward, but I always allow room for freedom. I’m also very emotive, and my characters are very passionate, even the ones who try to be stoic and proud. I like seeing the humanity unfold in people and watching them reveal their true selves.

Do your novels carry a message?

Absolutely. In my Shiva series, there is a constant theme of balance versus extremism, both in religion and science, as well as within the environment and the universe itself. There is also a very big theme of believing in one’s inner strength, even when you don’t think it’s there.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

I put my entire soul into them. I don’t think it’s possible for me to distance from my writing. What I write is who I am and vice versa.

What books have influenced your life the most?

Siddhartha and Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse opened me up when I was a teen, and I was forever changed by all his books. Other books that have branded themselves into my psyche are Illusions, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, His Dark Materials, Lord of the Rings, and of course, Harry Potter.

Writers are often believed to have a Muse, your thoughts on that?

Of course we do, though each of us see him/her/it differently. My muse is very much the mythical Terpsichore type version with long, flowing blonde hair and a magical, devious smile.

Is it true that anyone can be a writer?

I think everyone has the potential to imagine and dream. It’s the putting it on “paper” that’s the trick. It takes belief, planning, and guts – lots of it!

Do you like traveling or do you prefer staying indoors?

I am a homebody, but I’d love to travel the world, especially Europe and the Mediterranean!

They say books die every time they are turned into a movie; what do you think?

I think books and films are very different mediums and shouldn’t be seen as enemies, but companions. A film sometimes brings out images of a book in a way one never thought possible, and if done right, the spirit of the book remains intact. Yes, the details tend to be lost when a book is adapted for the screen, but that’s a given since they only have roughly three hours to tell a story. If one goes into a film understanding its limitations, one can enjoy it for what it is.

Do you believe it is more challenging to write about beliefs that conflict with the ones you hold yourself?

In my Shiva series, I write a lot about various religious views and differing ideas from each race and culture, and sometimes it goes against my own beliefs. For example, the “bad guy” can be quite extreme about his ideas, but I enjoy writing from a point of view that isn’t typically my own. I find that there is a part of myself in everyone I write, even if they believe things I normally wouldn’t. That’s what makes a story feel genuine and diverse.

What do you do in your free time?

Free time? What’s that? Seriously though, I love to watch movies and cuddle with my silly cats and soul-mate, Timothy.

What advice would you like to give writers who are struggling with their first novels?

Don’t give up. Ever! Keep going until your story feels over, and don’t let fear or doubt stop you until you’re done. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to keep going.

Do you pen down revelations and ideas as you get them, right then and there?

Yes, that’s absolutely necessary. I often write down ideas into the notes app on my phone. If I didn’t, I’d forget the awesome idea I had, and I’d mentally flog myself for it later.

Have you ever written a character based on the real you in some part?

All my characters have some part of my personality within them, but I’d have to say that my main character, Ayn, is the most like who I am. He’s strong, but never feels like he is, and he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. I tend to put too much pressure on myself as well. Ayn and I are very much bonded… just like he is with Axis, a character very close to my heart as well.

How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”?

Music plays a huge part in my writing. The ideal for me is to have on a piece of music that goes along with the scene I’m writing and helps me to let it flow. I often listen to Loreena McKennitt or Tori Amos.

Do you need to be in a specific place or room to write, or you can just sit in the middle of a café full of people and write?

I prefer to be alone and able to fully concentrate, but life doesn’t always allow for that. I’ve learned the ability to block out everything else so that I can focus on the story, even if I’m in a crowded room. It’s my super power!

Have you ever written a character with an actor in mind?

I love movies so I have the tendency to imagine actors as my characters all the time. I’ve always pictured Ken Watanabe as Meddhi-Lan, Ayn’s beloved teacher and high priest.

How possessive are you about your work?

I’m extremely possessive and protective about my stories. I can’t help it. They’re my children.

Do you have specific culture you like to write about?

I like to incorporate a lot of different cultures into my writing. For Shiva, there are hints of Ancient Egypt and Rome, as well as many Asian cultures and a variety of myths. I love blending a wide range of wonderful cultures into my stories.

What’s your favorite movie which was based on a book?

The Lord of the Rings was brilliantly directed, acted, written, etc… even without Tom Bombadil.

What weather inspires you the most, in terms of bringing out your literary best?

I love rainy weather. If I could listen to the rain and write, I’d be a happy camper.

Who’s your childhood literary superhero?

I was most influenced by the poetic, Jungian inspired writing of Hermann Hesse, but I was also heavily influenced as a child by Lewis Carroll.

Do you enjoy discussing upcoming ideas with your partner? If yes, how much do you value their inputs?

Without the input of my other half, I don’t think I could have written, well, anything! I’m constantly inspired and enlightened by my partner and spouse, Timothy, who is also a great writer and musical composer.

Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?

I use my dream images in my stories all the time. Dreams can sometimes even turn into plot ideas, and become bigger than I had originally imagined.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

I’m finishing up the Shiva XIV series with book three on its way by the end of the year and a fourth book almost ready to go soon after that. There may be a fifth book, but it would be more of a prequel. I also have a dramatic work to finish about an artist and his true love. After that, I plan on doing another series entirely – a young adult fantasy about a boy with dragon abilities.

What is that dream goal you want to achieve before you die?

Write the stories in my head, share them with the world, and then pass on some bit of inspiration or knowledge to as many dreamers as possible.