Karan Bajaj is a bestselling novelist. His books KEEP OFF THE GRASS and JOHNNY GONE DOWN has received great response. His book THE SEEKER, is Karan’s first international novel. It is already available in India and will be soon available worldwide in early 2016. Karan is a certified Yoga teacher and working his day job as the Chief Marketing Officer of the cult mom brand, Aden and Anais.
Both his novels were optioned into films, the latter just entering pre-production and slotted for a 2016 international release. He was selected as one of the “Top 35 Under 35 Indians” by India Today and was nominated for all of India’s top literary awards—the Crossword Book of the Year, Indiaplaza Golden Quill and Teacher’s Indian Achievers Awards(Arts). Let us know more about his writing.
What inspired you to start writing?
For me, writing is an expression of my deepest ideas, thoughts I can’t even articulate verbally to myself. Six years after leaving India for the first time and living a nomadic existence in Philippines, Singapore, Europe, and the US, I felt a deep stirring within me that I had stories to share and my own unique insight into the messy, glorious human condition. The need to express these ideas got me interested in writing. Over the last eight years, it’s been satisfying to see my writing evolve as my ideas have deepened—and there is so much more ground to cover.
What did you like to read when you were a boy?
The one book that impacted me a lot as a teenager was Forrest Gump. I ran into it by chance as my aunt who was visiting from the US left a copy at home (this was way before the movie was made). Forrest with no sense of limitation and always saying yes to everything planted the seeds of what would become a wandering life for me.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
Getting a publishing deal was the hardest part of writing The Seeker! I had beginner’s luck of getting an immediate publishing deal for Keep off the Grass and a subsequent deal for Johnny Gone Down with HarperCollins. Things got more challenging with The Seeker, because my ambition was to get a US/ international publishing deal, so all of the sudden I was pitching my book as a debut novelist to the best publishing houses in New York City, which is needless to say, extremely competitive.
I was rejected sixty one times before signing up with an agent. Shortly after though, I got multiple publishing offers and chose Riverhead, a terrific imprint within the Penguin Random House. So net, I had to pay the dues, not in the first novel but in my third novel.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
The bedrock of great writing is one’s ability to create a fictive dream so that a reader is transported to the world the author is creating with his or her words. A very rich sense of detail is needed to create this fictive dream. The moment a detail rings false, the fictive dream breaks and the author loses the reader’s attention. For such meticulous detail, you have to research very, very thoroughly and then keep re-writing until you become just a medium for the story to tell itself. In order to make the beginning of my new novel authentic, for instance, I read more than fifty books on growing up in the housing projects in the US and visited the Bronx again and again until I could see, feel, and smell the danger in the streets. Only then did Max, my protagonist’s, thoughts, feelings, words and actions become his own. This is for just the first thirty pages of the book—you can imagine how much research the whole three hundred page novel took!
During the research phase of the book, I also personally did a yoga teacher training course in the south of India, I meditated in silence for weeks, I hiked through storms in the Himalayas and even crossed a glacier barefoot, just as Max did in the story. Every character in the book has the name of a real person I met at some point in the journey. Every place mentioned is a place I physically visited. This “real-life” research is in addition to the hundreds of books that I read about yoga philosophy, meditation, wilderness survival, living in a cave in the Himalayas, growing up Greek-American, and so on.
What motivated you to write the book “The Seeker”?
The Bhagavad Gita says that each man’s soul cries for the infinite in the finite world, hence that indescribable feeling of something missing from our grasp even in moments of deep achievement. We all experience that call. I embarked on a quest to answer it after my mother’s young, untimely death unsettled me quite a bit. As a result, I took a year-long sabbatical which led me from a Buddhist monastery in Scotland, to learning yoga and meditation in the Himalayas. The external journey of travelling to various places to learn yoga and meditation, happened in parallel to the internal journey of writing The Seeker. Through both, I was grappling with my questions about suffering and the meaning of life.
Can you tell us more about your latest book “The Seeker”?
The Seeker is a pulsating, contemporary take on man’s classic quest for transcendence. At its core, the book is a page-turning adventure of a Manhattan based investment banker who goes from the dark underbelly of New York to a world of hidden ashrams and remote caves in India. That makes it readable but what I think people will truly relate to is the protagonist’s quest for answers to questions that have bothered all of us at some point or the other—why is there so much pain and suffering in the world, what would a modern day version of the Buddha’s classic quest for enlightenment look like and the end of it all, what makes for a meaningful life?
How did you came up with the idea of writing adventure fiction genre book?
My main goal with my writing is to combine entertainment and meaning. So I start with a broad theme that is of great meaning in my life, then wrap it in a pulsating, page-turning story. So I don’t think of myself as a writer in a particular genre. I’m just a fast-paced storyteller who’s trying to use the stories to communicate an idea that matters in the world.
Who are your favourite authors?
B.K.S Iyengar, for his lucid writings on yoga. Hermen Hesse, for his masterpiece Siddhartha, which was a big inspiration for The Seeker. Recently I’m enjoying reading Tim Ferriss for his innovative ideas about lifestyle design.
How much time do you dedicate for writing on a daily basis?
Once I have my broad theme and outline, it’s a matter of discipline. I write an hour a day when I’m working full-time in a corporate job and four to six hours when I’m not working—and just keep plugging away. For The Seeker, I was able to have several months of dedicated full-time writing in isolated spots like the Himalayas and a forest in South India with no Internet. Many readers have told me that they’ve experienced a deep sense of calm while reading the book, and I believe that’s related to my state of mind while writing. I was meditating for two hours a day, practicing yoga for an hour a day and writing with no contact with the noisy, chaotic world.
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
My only advice is to live a big, interesting life, unfettered by the dictates of convention. Ultimately, a great life isn’t dissimilar from a great story—the hero reaches for a lofty, unattainable goal and gives all of himself to achieve it. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t but at least he lives a life of meaning because he’s in pursuit of that big goal. The more you do so in real life, the better your stories. So travel, hike, backpack, quit your job, find another, always keep learning, reading, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
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