We usually learn about storytellers when they become famous. There are a lot of emotions between checkpoints, including disbelief, confusion, fear and anxiety.
Dealing with it all is the most difficult challenge of all. It is about how one’s power of belief responds to emotions. Khyati is one such believer.
Khyati Agrawal Gupta is a bestselling author of the ongoing fantasy fiction Kalith Series and Bhama Duology. She’s also a professional doodle artist and the founder of dOOdle BARF (est. 2015).
She is a double graduate in animation and business administration, with a diploma in psychological counseling. She recently came out with Irresistible India, her first adult coloring book of hand-drawn soulful mandalas and Indian doodles.
Khyati’s books hold records with the India Book of Records and Asia Book of Records, and have ranked at the top consistently in the Amazon India bestseller listing.
She has been featured in newspapers like The Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle, DTNext, Telangana Today and on covers of magazines like Torch Head and Literary Voice.
I first met Gupta in May 2019 at her book signing event, a first time for me. Meeting storytellers is a different kind of happiness and my encounter with her was definitely out of this world. She was thoughtful and inspiring. Her motivations were spot on and she knew exactly what she was doing.
I’ve always known her to be very social. I read her books and came across small details that I find amusing, which I tell her about, and she is always eager to discuss.
Her enthusiasm for her stories speaks volumes. Maybe that’s what draws me so deeply into her world.
Her story has a life of its own, which is not something I often say. Everything has a place in the grand scheme of things, from the intriguing character arcs to the world building to the motives and plot.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with her again for this spring issue, and I couldn’t be happier.
What do you do for a living Khyati?
Up until recently, I was a full-time novelist. Currently, I have been working as the head of content with a sales and marketing firm apart from being a part-time fantasy fiction writer. I also work as a freelance doodle artist.
I’ve heard you like Superheroes. When did you first start getting into their lore?
Ever since I was three or four years old, I was a big-time book geek. I especially loved reading about magical worlds, humans with supernatural abilities, and old myths and legends. And as it is in most cases, my reading preferences have shaped my writing.
Do you read comics?
Yes, of course. And that doesn’t go just for superhero comics from the Marvel and DC universe (I loved Flash, Justice League, X-Men and Captain America). As a child, I was reading comics ranging from TinTin and Asterix to Ghostbusters and Archies. I have always loved the visually creative way in which the story was drawn out and depicted, in storyboarding style.
When did you first think about Kalith?
Back in 2016, I had zoned out in a mall food court and was thinking about what kind of physics would be involved if a person was to phase from one place to another, especially if they were to accidentally transport themselves back in time. And that was how Kalith was born.
What were your ideologies with the world you were trying to create when you first started writing?
I have always believed that you don’t need to be the most intelligent or the most courageous person in the room to do what is right. And that’s my first book is about the origin story of nine warriors, all of them- quirky, average or messed up in their own ways, and how they work hard to bring out the best version of themselves and each other, and ended up being the heroes that their world needed.
How have you progressed with them now that you’ve written 3 books spanning over 2 different storylines?
With my first two books, I was more careful about appealing to a wider audience and played it safe when it came to the main characters and the world they interacted with.
But with my third book, Centaurs of Kabecka: Mahika, I started addressing things that I question, worry about and want to change in my reality, and started depicting and talking
through the characters about issues that were uncomfortable and yet need to be discussed- like societal bias, mental health issues, representation of the LGBTQ community, women empowerment, domestic violence, etc.
How was it like when you first started writing?
It felt like a release. There is no other feeling like it. I could create, travel, and write about all these magical lands and creatures. The possibilities were endless. I immediately knew it was my calling for this life.
What’s your writing kryptonite?
I always seem to struggle with the big climax at the end of my book. Up until the moment that I have cracked it, I feel restless. I keep looking around through blank spaces, trying to pull out theories from thin air.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes, definitely. It can happen to anyone. Sometimes a writer can get stuck in the middle of a plotline. Other times they can just run out of motivation, or even creativity.
The best thing to do is to not let it bother you and to direct your energy into another section of your story.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
There is a lot that a writer can learn from publishing their first book. I learned about the importance of optimizing the book-length, whether it was to keep the reader engaged or to reduce the cost of publishing.
I also learned that some sections (like romantic angles, in my case) need to be woven into the story even if they don’t appeal to the writer, so as to cater to a wider audience.
During the creative process, how much influence do you think external proof reading had on your writing? Does it change the tonality of your work in any capacity?
So far, I’ve been very lucky as none of my books have undergone any kind of changes when it comes to the story, dialogue or tone.
Even for things like grammar and punctuation, I’ve always been very thorough with my manuscripts and therefore I haven’t ever needed too much input from any editor for my fantasy fiction books.
What was your parents’ reaction? Were they supportive or did they want you to be on a safer side?
My entire family- parents, sister, and even my grandparents- were extremely supportive of my decision to leave two lucrative job opportunities to pursue writing.
They had witnessed my love for books, comics, and films all their life, and especially after reading the first draft of my manuscript, they were very optimistic about my wanting to set out to become a fantasy fiction writer in India.
How impactful do you think your writing has been to you in your personal life?
I live through my books. I put everything into the worlds that I fabricate and love experiencing alternate realities through them.
My books have helped me find my voice and unleash my creativity. And the response to my books has really helped get through me my lowest moments.
Where do you plan on taking your writing next?
There are many books in the pipeline, including Kalith Book 3 and Bhama Book 2. I have also been working on three separate standalone fiction books that should come out over the next few years.
How has art impacted your life?
Art is everywhere. It gives a voice to the soul. It suffocates me to imagine a world where I would not be able to design these worlds.
Do you reference other literary works in your writing?
Not really. Most of my work this fantasy fiction. And therefore the only research I have to do is regarding the already established rules around certain laws of science, existing creatures and time periods, and studying different places around the globe.
What is your favorite childhood book?
The Harry Potter series.
What are your favorite books now?
The Alchemist has been one of my favorite books. I had recently started reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and have been liking them.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
I had started reading up on some of Neil Gaiman’s work and it was definitely very intriguing.
Do films inspire your writings?
No, not really. My writing is mostly inspired by the books I read while growing up.
What are some of your favorite films?
Silver Linings Playbook, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the Marvel and DC movies, and The Bucket List are a few of my favorite films.
How many hours a day do you write?
It really depends. Some days are easier when I am at the peak of my vision and intuition, and the words just flow. I can write for up to 8 hours on such days. On worse days, I can write for about 2 hours.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
My entire process of researching, developing the story and characters, and actually writing can take from around 7 to 9 months.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It always energizes.
Do you Storyboard scenes while writing them? How does that help you?
I usually have to storyboard the action sequences that I am writing. It helps me better envision the scenes and the response of the characters.
What’s the one thing you don’t like about the creative process?
Writing the book itself is not as much of a problem for an author, as much as publishing, promoting, and selling the book is.
The process of editing the manuscript is what I find to be especially tiresome.
What does literary success look like to you?
Success can mean different things for different people.
For me, success is not about becoming a rich and celebrated writer.
For me, it is about sharing the experience of the worlds I manufacture and the characters in them with more and more readers, and for my stories to live through them forever.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
The primary reason I write is for the love of fantasy fiction and superhuman stories.
The second reason is that I love connecting with people who have read my stories and can resonate with them.
And therefore I can never imagine writing under a pseudonym. It beats the whole purpose of writing for me.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book? Like Marvel building up to the Avengers or DC building up to the Justice League?
Currently, both my ongoing series are set in different time zones, and so there has been no such connection by far.
But yes, I plan on building connections with different characters and places through my future works.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
To start believing sooner that I could write!
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
To tell you the truth, David Rose’s character from Schitt’s Creek is like my spirit person or whatever.
If not fiction, what genre would you be writing in?
Mystery and thrillers.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Oh, I read ALL of them. I love finding out what resonated with my readers, what they felt about the book, and if they enjoyed experiencing the world I fabricated.
In fact, whenever I am feeling low or doubting my capabilities, I like to go through some of the good reviews that my books have received.
As for the bad ones, I have been very lucky because I have hardly had any.
Reading a bad review only bothers me for a few hours, after which I can go back and go through them more objectively to understand what I can probably change and improve.
How do you feel when you meet readers at a library or a book store or at book signings?
It is the best feeling to be able to discuss the worlds and characters that I create with other people who have experienced them through my writing.
I love discussing what my readers thought about the incidents, villains, plotlines, superpowers, and characters of my books and how, if at all, my books have impacted their life.
How many unpublished and half- finished books do you have?
I have two unpublished books which I wrote before Kalith.
As for unfinished novels, there are five that I had started, left at some point and keep going back to, time and again.
What are you focusing on writing currently?
I am currently focusing on writing a stand-alone book that would have a string of short stories.
When can we expect your next book?
Hopefully by the end of this year.