7 Questions With Author Dhesan Neil Pillay
Dhesan Neil Pillay is a writer and doctor from South Africa currently doing his residency in pediatrics. Born in Durban and now working in Bloemfontein.
In his spare time he loves writing, with a preference for fantasy. He is the author of the Anmorian Legends series, a fantasy/sci-fi work that blends the elements of sword and sorcery with space opera to deliver a different coming of age tale. Driven by the desire to share the surreal, cinematic conjuring of his imagination, Dhesan has already set his sights on the third instalment of the Anmorian Legends series (Lords of Torementhias).
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Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I would consider myself a plotter, but not like Iago from Othello!
Having a good outline at the beginning makes getting to the end destination of the story that much easier. Careful planning helps to maintain a clear roadmap of where you are going with the story. In addition, it allows you to create intentional gaps that may be addressed in follow up stories if you wish to write a series.
Another benefit is that plotting helps to deconstruct the story so that you can view it from each character’s perspective so that as the story progresses the readers see the journey as a unifying experience of several characters points of view coming to a more satisfying conclusion. I believe that without a well plotted story it is difficult for the reader to keep interested because it may feel that they are wandering in the dark.
When plotting my stories I start by deciding what themes I want the story to address. Then I draw up a large overview using the characters that I feel are core to pushing the story forward. As a fantasy writer, I feel that I achieve this by first deciding what does the villain want to achieve, because the antagonist is the conflict driver who spurs the hero to action resulting in the story.
I then look at which characters will be the key players (the secondary heroes and villains) in advancing the direction of the story within the framework of the themes I would like to address. At this point I also consider giving an approximate timeframe by which all events of this story should be concluded. Each selected character needs to develop over the course of this timeframe so their growth would need to be reasonably believable as does the impetus for that character growth.
To achieve that growth each character needs a call to action and an obstacle that challenges them fundamentally by forcing them to confront their flaws or paradigms with some form of resolution. For better or worse. Often in this process their paths and growth trajectories will coalesce or clash with the other characters.
The next step is to then draft a detailed mind map of each chapter. Often I go back to the big overview and see which themes each character is marked to represent as a reminder of their role in the story. In drafting the detailed mind map I look at each chapter in the broad overview of the setting, time frame, characters involved and major events then further detail the events that occur as well as annotate on the side what loops and link ups to further chapters or prior stories exist as a consequence of the events in that chapter. I find that this method affords me the flexibility to adjust the course of events before I start writing out the chapters in full.
When I wrote my first book this was something that I did not do very well before I wrote the first draft. I guess I was a pantser then. However, when I put the manuscript on a shelf and came back to it a while later I realized there were gaping holes throughout the story that needed to be addressed.
At that point I stripped the story down to a bare skeleton and started working on the overview then the detailed chapter drafts. It was painful to excise that much of the story, however, it provided me with the invaluable lesson of the importance of careful planning and since then I have preferred to be a plotter.
How does a day in your author life look?
I am not a full time author but work as a pediatric resident. My author time is marked off for the few hours at the end of the day before I head to bed, however, this is a flexible time slot that I sacrifice when I have work commitments. Otherwise this time is geared towards something in my author life whether it is spent doing some social media work, networking, research or proceeding with my writing process on the piece that I am busy with.
Sometimes during the course of the day (most often during my morning commute to work) I have a brain spark about something that has been niggling me in my story or an interesting idea. I usually shelve these moments into a mental box and set it aside for the day.
I will then use my author time slot to unpack the idea, jot them down into a journal kept for writing ideas and see where the ideas run as well as how could I fit this in best into the story I am working with at the moment. Usually there is a lot of coffee and chocolate involved as a catalyst for this process!
What’s your definition of the first draft?
This question is deceptively tricky! I consider my first draft the grand scheme overview I write out as a mind map. Usually this takes several A3 pages to complete. However, I consider this my first draft as it is the first solid vision of where the story aims to go, how each of the characters will get there and if they will arrive in one piece or worse for wear. Thereafter I start writing but without that grand scheme overview I would not be able to make a dent with the writing.
Just how much research is there behind a novel? Tell us how it looks behind the scenes.
There is a fair amount of research involved every step of the way. I usually create my fictional universe in much the same way we would zoom into our city from a galactic scale.
I started out with using our galaxy as a the main landscape because I knew I wanted to utilize earth as a setting for my characters but also to convey some messages about the state of our present world and the trajectory that may take us on. However, using our mostly unexplored universe gives me an enormous blank canvas to paint my worlds onto.
Most of the worlds are then designed as alien worlds where the terrain has a bearing on the goals the characters have to achieve for that chapter. Once the world is designed I decide how civilized the planet is and what is the culture of that civilization. This part is usually fun because I read up on several earthly cultures (ancient through to modern) and draw inspiration from their traditions to craft a more authentic culture for my fictional worlds.
However, in some worlds to achieve the fantastic I still need to keep my world grounded in some semblance of reality. Many of the physics principles I try to maintain and this requires quite a bit of extensive reading. However, I do try to stretch this a bit and have some fun with certain ideas since the genre is not hard sci-fi but rather a fantasy sci-fi. Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This serves as my spring board and I usually read quite a bit of scientific theories looking for blurry areas that serve as inspiration for magical ideas in my story.
In my second novel, The Anmorian Legends: Legacy of the Sentinels, Rezaaran (the hero) travels to the planet Halsyn (adapted from the English word halcyon meaning a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful). There is also the ancient Greek legend of Alcyone that was related to the word. This led to me imagining a world of winds and cities in clouds.
But I did not want it to seem like Cloud City from Star Wars. I decided to use this world to experiment with gravitational fluctuations because very few sci-fi books that I have read looked at the idea of gravity being a force to consider when on alien worlds. Star Wars books are a good example of this. This idea then led me to create gravitational wells that offered highs and lows similar to how thermals work to allow birds to soar. Which in turn led to researching time dilation and wormholes existing in gravitational wells.
The net effect of this was the development of the time pools on Halsyn and how the locals incorporated these mystical waypoints into their culture as a rite of passage for acolytes in their religious order.
The gravitational wells also meant that in areas of weaker gravity large creatures akin to whales could float in the sky with giant habitats built on their back as a living place for the locals. The locals favouring a life of peace, take it as their duty to care for the creatures and thus create a symbiosis that is the heart of their culture.
I also decided to adapt the culture for the Halsynians very loosely on ancient Japanese culture and incorporated some of what I had learned as a karate student into the ethos of their main magical Order using the five maxims of karate as a starting point for their tenets.
Much of this does not get exposed in the story but as a writer it helps me to create a more lived in world knowing more details of the world and the inner workings of the people. The trick is revealing only that which drives the reader onward lest you bore the reader with your exhaustive research.
How do you manage to juggle life and writing?
With a lot of patience, understanding and support from my amazing wife! I try to split my day into segments and reserve the end segments of my day for my writing time as I detailed above. However, I am very flexible with that time and sometimes there are periods of time where I am not in the right headspace to write. So instead of forcing it I use that time to recharge instead.
If any ideas come up during the course of the day, I set them aside to be dealt with later in that specific time slot. I also have to make time for studying as well! However, I take my writing time as a reward and have fun through the process. It’s a creative release and any time I spend working on my story I consider me time and liken it to time spent painting.
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your journey?
However, more importantly that this work hard to build a network of colleagues and friends that you can trust and who can rely on you in return. Always strive for a win-win relationship with those in your network. A lot of noise is made about self-promotion for indie authors and a lot of self-promotion in turn is simply noise.
I have found that you get better reach by engaging with other members of the writing community in an honest and sincere manner. Whatever relationships you do build along the way, ensure that you work hard to honour the trust and to help one another however you can. Most of all ensure loyalty is a cornerstone of that networking experience.
Two key people in this regard stand out for me. The first is a fellow indie author Marc Secchia. Marc reached out to me on a random Goodreads post when I had just published my first book. At the time I was completely new and had no connections to anyone in the writing world.
However, Marc was friendly and ever willing to offer advice about how to improve my writing craft after reviewing my story as well offering me insights he had gleaned from becoming an experienced indie author. This is something that I sought to pay forward.
When I released the first book, The Anmorian Legends: Wrath of the Exiled, I designed the cover myself. However, for my sequel I had a more ambitious idea in mind but knew that I would need the assistance of a designer. Something that I had learned by this point that I wish I knew early on was that to be an indie author means you have to also be good at the business side of things.
In my pursuit I came across several conmen trying to scam desperate clients by overcharging on their quotes and then backing down to the general fees when you said you could not afford the initial price. I was once quoted $1000 for a cover design that after two emails dropped to $300!
However, I then encountered Larry Wilson who was not only an amazing artist that helped bring my vision to life for the cover of my second book, but was also honest, upfront and very easy to work with. He is truly an outstanding professional with his incredible work. Since then Larry has been my preferred artist even for the promotional and auxiliary pieces I have used as prizes for giveaways.
The key message that I would pass on to my younger self is that being an indie author is a business. Always strive to do good business. Build good relations early and with a win-win mind set.
What should readers expect from your next novel?
I am currently working on The Anmorian Legends: Lords of Torementhias which examines themes relating to burnout, choices and consequence, destiny and becoming the hero of our own story.
This book continues after an eight year time jump from the end of the second book and looks at where our heroes find themselves. Having expanded my Anmorian universe in book two, I decided to explore that expansion further by diving more into a mystical avenue. It is still in the detailed chapter development stages but I am enjoying the paths it is taking. Lords of Torementhias is shaping up to be quite an interesting adventure and one I hope the readers will enjoy!
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And check out Lost in Amber: An Out Of This World Paranormal Romance if enjoy girl power, adventure & a toe-curling love story.
She just wanted to mope over her breakup but the universe had other plans for Zoey Mills.
Read the full blurb here.