From Bestselling Book To Netflix Series With Vikram Chandra, Author Of Sacred Games

    Categories: Creativity

Most authors would love a film or TV deal but the route to success can often take years. In today's show, Vikram Chandra explains how his book, Sacred Games, made it to Netflix after many years of failed development, and how his cross-cultural writing enabled a truly multi-cultural experience.

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Vikram Chandra is the multi-award-winning author of Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book as well as Sacred Games, which has been adapted into a successful Netflix series set in Mumbai. Vikram teaches creative writing at the University of California and is also the CEO of Granthika, a software startup that is reinventing writing and reading for the digital age.

You can listen above or your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • How a bicultural life affects creativity and writing
  • On the growing English book market in India
  • Cultural differences in storytelling
  • The long journey from book to Netflix series
  • Getting readers in India interested in our books
  • How Vikram’s software Granthika helps writers keep track of timelines, plot details and more

You can find Vikram Chandra at VikramChandra.com.

Transcript of interview with Vikram Chandra

Joanna Penn: Vikram Chandra is the multi-award-winning author of Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book as well as Sacred Games, which has been adapted into a successful Netflix series set in Mumbai. Vikram teaches creative writing at the University of California and is also the CEO of Granthika, a software startup that is reinventing writing and reading for the digital age.

Welcome to the show Vikram.

Vikram Chandra: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Joanna Penn: It's so great to have you on the show.

First up tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.

Vikram Chandra: I was a spectacularly nerdy little kid. I had a life inside my head that was very active. I used to make up these stories and some of them were quite epic that would go on for weeks and months.

And then of course once I could read I started I became an obsessive reader. I was always trying to get money from my mother and father to buy books. I should say also that my mother is a writer and so some of my earliest memories are of seeing her at the kitchen table writing plays for radio and television and then later films. She's had a very successful career in the film industry in India.

So writing stuff stories down was something that seemed just ordinary. I got my first story published when I was 12 in the student-run school magazine, and that was the thing that really put the bug in place because I suddenly had a larger audience than my friends and family and people seem to like what I was doing.

But it was also very clear to me, because I'd seen the paychecks that my mother got for her work, that making a living from writing was next to impossible. Quite often now I wake up and I think it's miraculous that I have actually done this and managed to still keep doing it.

Joanna Penn: Now obviously you're teaching creative writing and you've got these award-winning novels.

Give us an update from your childhood stories to winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, which is an incredible achievement.

Vikram Chandra: Thank you. I kept writing and I finally became the editor of my school magazine and my college magazine and the same time especially during my teens I really found this love for American literature. So everything from Melville to Edith Wharton, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, and it had this far away glamour also of being a place where I wanted to go.

So I finally made it over to the States as an undergrad and I majored in English with a minor in creative writing in fiction. And then after I got my BA I suddenly realized more than ever that I had to make a living. I had a moment of panic. Am I going to get by? And so since my mother was already involved in the film industry and I was like, I love movies. I incessantly watch films and television. I thought well, here's an industry where I can at least get a job as an assistant to an assistant director or something, so I went to film school at Columbia.

And there were two things I discovered there. One is that I'm not exactly built well for hugely collaborative work.

Joanna Penn: I know the feeling!

Vikram Chandra: And also in the library there just by chance, I happened upon this the autobiography of an the British-Indian soldier named Colonel James Skinner – Sikander Skinner he was called in India – who was part of that first clash of cultures in the 18th and 19th centuries in India, and I started to get obsessed with his life.

I knew I couldn't make a movie out of it. What I had in my head was way too big and epic. So I dropped out of film school and went off to the university to a couple of writing programs and got my MFA and an MA. And wrote my novel there, which I was very grateful for, especially for a couple of amazing teachers.

I had John Barth and Donnell Barthelemy were incredibly generous to me. And so that's how I managed to get my first book written and then incredibly enough it found an agent and the publisher and that was it.

Joanna Penn: It's a brilliant start. We're going to come to Sacred Games soon, but I did want to ask you and it's so funny because you said America had this far away glamour and I think certainly when many people think of India and Mumbai, Bollywood, I mean talk about faraway glamour. Most people think that is more glamorous.

It's always the other side of the fence, isn't it? ‘Oh, that's more glamorous than my country.'

Vikram Chandra: Right? Absolutely and I also had the arrogance of the young person that I thought I actually knew the United States before I got here. And when you get to this place that we've always dreamed of, you find that it's more unknown and complex than you could have ever imagined.

Joanna Penn: The same is true of India for sure. I've been a couple of times and it's like just dipping a toe in but this is interesting to me because you do seem truly bicultural, in that you live between the US and India and you see your families across both countries.

How has this bicultural life impacted your writing and what do you see as some of the differences between the two markets particularly?

Vikram Chandra: I talked about Colonel Skinner whose father was a British soldier. His mother was an Indian princess who was captured during a war apparently and so I think right from the beginning I've been in really interested in these coming together of cultures and nations and people and both the creativity and also the destruction that comes out of all of that.

And then I think in relation to India, particularly what fascinates me also is language and how language travels across worlds and changes. India right now, by most estimates, has a hundred and twenty and five million people who speak English and that number is expected to quadruple over the next decade, which means that that at some point fairly soon India will have the largest number of English speakers in the world.

And the English we speak there is not American English or the Queen's English, it’s Indian English. Or actually many Indian Englishes is because there are local variations. So there's a Mumbai English and there's a Tamil English and so forth. So one of the efforts while writing Sacred Games was to use a language that I would use in Bombay if I were telling a story to a friend of mine. Which means that I would be switching in and out of three languages maybe at the same time.

So to replicate that on the page while you're trying to tell a story about cultural seepage, if you want to call it that, globalization, is one of the things that I've tried really hard to get close to and have had a lot of fun doing over the course of all the books.

Joanna Penn: That's very interesting and I want to come back on that English-speaking idea because I've said this many times on the podcast but the English speakers, many of them will be educated and potentially middle class and book buyers.

I've always been impressed by how Indians love books. There's a flourishing pirate book market with print books on the streets, you'll find lots of people selling books on the street. It's lovely because people want to buy books.

Would it be true about the English-speaking market that it is more the middle-class with some money to spend?

Vikram Chandra: Yes. I should also note that it is depending on which year you look at it, it is the fastest-growing economy in the world, which is why publishers from all over the world have set up offices in Delhi over the last couple of decades.

And so I think though that as the middle class grows as more and more people move into the living class, English is moving in all directions and down the social ladder, as it were, so that everyone, even at the very bottom of the economic scale, everyone understands that this language is what gives you leverage and moving yourself up.

I've been to some of the most remote parts of the country where there are hardly any roads. There's no electricity and yet every four or five miles you'd see a little classroom or school that says, ‘Learn English here’ in the local language.

So there's a great impetus for the language to spread. And also, as you said, the pirate industry is enormous I've had kids at traffic lights sell me my own books.

Joanna Penn: Which I love. You’ve got to encourage that kind of thing.

Vikram Chandra: Absolutely. Not to encourage piracy, I should take that back, but right it's at least a sign, like you said, that people want to read and there's a demand for these things.

Joanna Penn: Exactly, which is what I meant as well. You can't stop it. It's good that it's your book.

But let's come to Sacred Games now because I haven't read the book although it's on my list, but I've been watching the series on Netflix.

We started watching it in English but then found that I just didn't want to watch it in English. So we watched it in Hindi with English subtitles, which I think a lot of people are now doing with Netflix. It worked well that way.

I just found it very interesting that you have a protagonist who is a Sikh policeman and I wanted to ask you about that.

Is it unusual to have a Sikh as the main character? You might have to explain the religious melting pot of India.

Vikram Chandra: I should say about the subtitle issue. Yes, I would encourage anyone who does watch the show to is to watch it with subtitles and the original soundtrack. You'll get much more of the actors’ performance also that way and on some people's machines for reasons that remain too mysterious to me it defaults to the English dub, which I would not recommend.

Joanna Penn: That's what we got. And I was like, I'm not listening to this. It’s weird.

Vikram Chandra: Exactly. And as you'll see in the original soundtrack, you'll see people speaking different languages. Sometimes even one sentence will have words from three different languages in it.

And as for the issue of Sartaj Singh, the lead, being a part of the Sikh religion, Bombay in the police force, that would be very much a minority. If you went up to Punjab or the North that would not be the case at all. So in retrospect I can say that in making one of the protagonists of the book of this religion served me very usefully because he was an outsider in this police force for those reasons.

Having a protagonist who is in some ways an outsider is fictively often very useful and you can see this technique deployed over a large bunch of fictions. But I can say this one being the kind of post-game analysis because when I started writing the character just came to me as he or she often does. He first showed up in a book of short stories called Love and Longing in Bombay, which was the book before Sacred Games in which I thought I would try to write a police procedural because I love them so much.

And as soon as I started thinking that, I had this policeman in my head who had a turban and I have no idea why but once that happens, once you get that initial spark of inspiration, you can find ways to use whatever you start with.

And again I can say that looking back I could try and unravel this a bit and think of all the friends that I had growing up who were Sikh. The name of this character came comes from a boy who was I think three or four more years senior to me in school. Especially in that short story he's very handsome and he's a bit of a dandy and I can think of characters in my life who were like that. I guess that's the fun and mysterious thing about writing is that all you experience is mixed together in this strange chemistry and then it suddenly pops up.

Joanna Penn: I think we all have that same thing. Of course, they're never recognizable completely. We just weave them together.

You started off by talking about when you were a child and you have these epic stories in your head and I think this is something that is very characteristic of Indian stories is that there are some very famous, very long epics that are in the religious literature but also in modern fiction.

I've heard people are writing serialized fiction that can go on for a long time and so Sacred Games, I think also has this aspect of obviously the policeman and then the big criminal, their past lives weave together into the story into the present, which again feels quite epic to me.

I wonder if you would comment on the differences in storytelling between the cultures.

Vikram Chandra: I think you're absolutely right. We’ve always had this love for length. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which are the two epics at the core of the culture and have been immensely influential across all of South and Southeast Asia over the centuries, are immensely long and I don't know if I can work up a good analysis of why that is.

But it's always been there and those of you who have seen movies or any movies and other languages from India, some of them are three hours long by default. Although they've started to become a little shorter over the last decade or so.

When I first started writing my first book, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, that turned out to be 600 pages. So I think it's always been my natural lens and I'm immensely jealous of people who can construct little miracles of storytelling. And what poets do is completely crazy to me. I read a lot of very short fiction and poetry but I can't do it.

And so one of the other significant markers of fiction in the subcontinent is this circular shape to them. The Mahabharat starts with somebody sitting down and starting to tell a story to another person and then the entire immensity of it happens and then you end up in exactly the same place. There's actually quite a bit of scholarship devoted to this obsession of circular shapes, circles within circles, and that's something that I found particularly useful in writing Sacred Games.

A few hundred pages into the writing of the book and I was despairing of finding a structure for it and then suddenly one morning I had this idea that this is a mandala. So you might have seen the mandala. It's a in Buddhist and Hindu and other iconographies of the subcontinent and the Far East. The life of the Buddha is represented in several panels that fit together to make a kind of circle often with the central panel at the core showing you the most important bit of that story.

Once I knew that, then I could construct the entire novel in that way. It winds its way around to the beginning. The things that seem mysterious at the beginning also then make sense at the end.

And I should say that in the Netflix series, the writers and the showrunners have done an incredible job of replicating or recreating that structure.

The other major part, which certainly has had an influence on me, is stories within stories, so you can have a character start to tell a story like in the Mahabharata and then a character within that story that he's telling will start to tell another story and then you can keep sliding down with stories within stories within stories and it's dizzying and great fun.

So after Red Earth and Pouring Rain was published, a Spanish scholar who was doing some work on the book told me that at the deepest I had gone down 16 levels. I did not remember doing that. And if I tried to do that consciously, I would have gone crazy.

So these two features, I think the entire culture is permeated by these structures. One really interesting thing about the Mahabharata is this belief about it that you can start reading it anywhere and then wind your way around to where you started and it will have the same effect. The circular nature of it is kind of built into its reception.

Joanna Penn: That’s fascinating stuff. I think every writer out there now wants a Netflix series. It used to be, “Get the Hollywood film deal.” But now I feel like people almost would rather have a TV series on Netflix or Amazon Prime or soon to be Disney or Apple or many of these new places.

Tell us a bit about how Sacred Games became a Netflix series and any tips, although of course, no one can replicate anyone else's journey. But anything that really helped.

Vikram Chandra: The book was published in India in 2006 and came out in the United States in 2007 and even before it was published there was interest in getting an option on the book. Option meaning that whoever gets an option has the ability to then try and get it produced within a certain length of time.

One of the parties that wanted to option the book was a renowned film production company from Los Angeles. I was in LA and I had a meeting with one of their principles and he was really eager to do a movie.

I wondered how are you going to make movie out of a 900-page book, especially this one because it has at least dual timelines with many other narratives running between so unless you're going to make three films, I don't understand how you're going to do this. But I really admired the work they were doing and so I signed on the dotted line.

They hired this very prominent screenwriter in England who then worked on it for a couple of years and finally gave up because there's no way to reduce this into even a three-hour film and I felt for him. He had been set up for this craziness.

And so then I stopped thinking about it and then in one of these sort of happy moments, there was a producer in my agent’s office in New York and she was talking to him about some other books. And then she said well, I'm not that interested in any one of these what else you got? So then he said how about Sacred Games? So he went off and read it and he wanted to do it. So then that person and I and a writer worked together on the project and then we did the rounds of the studios in Los Angeles and we spent two years in development hell with AMC.

For those of you don't know what development hell is, it is where you end this sort of limbo state where you haven't gone gotten a green light for a production and you get notes from executives and you keep doing versions of episodes and sending them back.

So finally anyway that didn't work out and then it by that time it became clear to me that trying to do this particular project with an American base wouldn't actually work. The impetus had to come out of India and the people who were going to do it needed to be Indian and familiar with the culture and the landscapes that the story was actually set in. So then I split up with my former partners.

And during all this, these tours of LA, I had met with some people at Netflix and then they came back and through a triangular discussion with them and a company in Bombay the final agreement was made. That turned out to be an extremely happy event.

It’s obvious but I should say that this happened for me because I already had two books behind me, and because Sacred Games got a fairly prominent publication in India, in the UK, and in the United States, so there were people who are already interested. I didn't have to do too much to actually make it happen until we started doing the LA journey.

I think for somebody who's not in that position the problem as always and even in publishing is one of how are you going to get your story, your novel, or your screenplay on the desk of somebody who can actually make a decision about it. And like in publishing studios get hundreds, I wouldn't be surprised if it's thousands, of pitches a month, things being directed at them.

So in terms of access, the way to do it is of course the old fashioned network of contacts and nepotism. If you have a cousin who knows somebody in LA, who knows an executive in the studio or in Bombay, that's one way to get your work in the door, at least. And then if you have an agent, usually that's the most useful and most productive, because the agent will know people who are in this network, who are the right readers for your work.

In publishing, this happens all the time. If you send in a manuscript, part of the agent's job and value is to know who's the right reader for this. Which editor has taken books like this over the last 10 years and made big successes out of them? That's the person I should send this to with a recommendation and they will be likely to read it.

As always, it's much harder if you're on the outside. You’ve got to engineer your way in somehow and a lot of that depends on happenstance and luck as well and being in the right place at the right time with the right book. And suddenly the finger of the Goddess reaches down and touches you on the head and you're in and that's what it has felt like to me at times.

Joanna Penn: Certainly an emotional roller coaster because of course you thought it was going to happen but it didn't happen and then you did all this work and then it didn't happen. And you mentioned timing. You got Netflix at a point when they were looking outside America. They knew that their subscribers were starting to slow down in the US and they were looking to grow the market around the world.

Now there are a lot more foreign language films set outside the US but probably five years ago there were very few.

Vikram Chandra: Absolutely. That's so true and just that the presence of this golden age of series television is amazing because you get the time now over one or two or three or four seasons to really expand a story out into the land that it deserves.

The other thing I should say about Netflix and their incredible model is that they don't care what language you make a story in. I won't name them but I had meetings with people in LA where it was clear that the idea of a story not just set in another part of the world peopled by mostly brown people, but also the idea of making a series, and expensive series, in a language other than English, was really frightening for them. The brilliant thing about Netflix for us is that they let us reproduce the multilingual landscape of India in all its glory.

If you're not an Indian, you probably won't experience this but there are entire scenes between two characters who were speaking a language other than Hindi or English also, so it's multilingual also in the Indian sets. And so then some Indian viewers have to switch to subtitles just for the scenes, but that's the way we exist and it's been such a great experience being able to do that.

Joanna Penn: That is great for creative purposes. And that's funny because we noticed, “Oh, look, there's suddenly saying English words.” I know that in some languages English words are used because there aren't other words for those words. They might be a new technological word or something, but that's very cool.

I'm glad you explained that because I didn't realize that they were these multiple languages.

One question: you keep saying Bombay, which I thought we now should say Mumbai. For people who don't understand the difference or why, can you explain that?

Vikram Chandra: Bombay was the old English name. When I was growing up, depending on which language you are using, you would use different terms. So in English, you would say Bombay, in Hindi you would say Bombay, in the local language, Marathi, you would say Mumbai. There's always been a kind of controversy about what the “original” name of the place was.

One historical argument goes that there was a goddess named Mumba Devi who was worshipped by the fisher people who lived there from time immemorial and that's why it's called Mumbai.

The other story is that the Portuguese came and saw this huge, very good natural harbor and they called it Bom Bhai, Good Harbor, and that's where the name comes from.

So the name, as is often the case in India, has been returned, as it were, to its origins in an effort to get rid of colonial-era names. And so what happens now again, especially for people like me who grew up in the pre official Mumbai phase that when we are talking in English Bombay sort of springs automatically from the lips. If I'm speaking in Hindi I say Bombay and if I'm talking to a local Marathi person, I might say Mumbai.

So it's again this great richness of language and layers of history right over each other.

Joanna Penn: I love it. And you know, I make no secret on the show, I'm such a fan of India and in fact, I've always said to my husband I would move there in a flash. Because I think as an English person obviously, there's some cultural difficulties with our history because of the British Raj. But I think also there's a lot of positive aspects that Indian people feel about Britain as well. I've always felt very welcomed. I've never felt that there's an issue.

So you saw on that a lot of people would love to sell more books in India. I have a book, Destroyer of Worlds, which is set almost entirely in India, based on my travels. I did actually work with an agent at one point to do potentially a film, which didn't happen.

Obviously, we can publish on Amazon.in but I think ebooks are still quite small. So what would you recommend?

What do you think are the best ways for people to reach readers in India?

Vikram Chandra: It's that age-old access question. I think the best way is to get an Indian publisher interested so that they actually republish it in India.

I think the publishing and self-publishing is always an option but even self-publishing within the United States, for instance, the trouble is how do you get the word out there that you've got this book?

The trick would be to get an Indian publisher committing to actually putting out the book locally and then sending out review copies. Do the newspaper and magazine approach, that kind of thing. But the Indian publishers like every other publisher, all of the publishers in the world, have this overwhelming flood of submissions coming their way. So again, it's the gatekeepers who make the difference.

So again, the agents come into play again if you have a sideways connection to somebody in the business there you can use that. I know this sounds depressing and extremely cynical to say but it's just the way things are structured right and not just in publishing or movies, but I think in other Industries as well.

Finding your way to people who can make decisions, I've realized as I get older, is half the struggle in life.

Joanna Penn: Which is why I love self-publishing so much. Because you basically waited 13 years from publication in India to having Sacred Games out there. A lot of people think I'll publish a book, get a movie deal and it will be out next year but it takes years. Lee Child had 20 years for Jack Reacher. These things take time.

Maybe the tip is, if you decide you want to do something, then you have to work out who to get to know, and it might take a long time.

Vikram Chandra: Indeed. I should say, I haven't done it myself but I'm fascinated by the difference that self-publishing is making just in terms of the numbers that one can squeeze out of Amazon on how many self-published books they sell and so forth is amazing. But I guess the other half of that story is, how do you get then get an audience to actually notice that you're doing this.

And then for the writer at least and for the reclusive writer like me is you have to maintain a public presence through social media and all of this stuff that you have to do to maintain a dialogue and get people to know who you are, which traditionally has been done by through other means by the traditional Publishers.

So I'm fascinated by that, but I think also that. It also requires an enormous amount of hard work and really strategic thinking.

Joanna Penn: Yes, you basically have to run a business to be successful in self-publishing. You have to be a writer and a publisher and the marketer: all of the above.

Let’s get into the writing because you have this background in software engineering when you were, you know, get it working so that you could fund your writing habit, and now you've actually founded a start-up designing writing software, which is Granthika.

Tell us about Granthika. Why did you decide to do this? And why might authors consider it?

Vikram Chandra: This actually began when I was just starting to write Sacred Games. That was my third work of fiction and I knew fairly early on that it was going to be my largest book. It has a 60-year timeline, many speaking characters, and many narrative threads.

I'd already experienced in those other two books the amazing amount of work and cognitive effort it takes to keep all your facts straight. Who was born when, how old would they be in a scene in 1984 and then in 1993, when did that person travel from this place to the other?

So it's this enormous amount of detail and then your background notes. Maybe you keep your notes in note-taking program. You have a timeline to manage all that other stuff and it just feels like manual double-entry bookkeeping right every time you make a change in your manuscript. I've got to go and change that in my timeline, but then what other scenes depend on that change all the way through the next 400 pages?

If you're using a traditional word processor, the only way you have figuring this out is by doing a search and that doesn't always find the references. It used to drive me crazy and I kept thinking I'm spending all this time on this detail chasing, when I should be worrying about my story and my language that's what I want to do.

I thought surely somebody has written software to manage all this. I looked around and nobody had and then I got absorbed in the writing of the book but it kept annoying me. So after the book was finished in that downtime, I started to think about how could you do this in a better way than having four programs and five fat notebooks in which you're keeping notes and the hand-drawn timeline on the wall.

It turns out to be a really hard problem attaching knowledge to text, as I discovered. Much harder than one would think it is. And I have, as you can probably tell already from what I've said, an obsessive nature and usually that's turned out to be a blessing. So I obsessed and research this problem for I think the next 10 years more.

Then one night just before I fell asleep I thought I think I might know how to do this and then woke up in the morning and it didn't seem crazy. So I actually started. I wrote it down and I was encouraged by a friend to write down a software proposal, but I had the idea at a sort of 30,000-foot level. And my software programming skills are pretty workman-like and this was way above my pay grade.

But through a happy coincidence I ended up meeting my co-founder Boris Jordana, who's one of these tech geniuses. And so then we founded this company to try and create this program where it's obviously an editor you write your manuscript in. But your character notes, for instance, are one keystroke away. If you put your cursor within the character's name you press one key it jumps to all your notes about him or her and then you press one more keystroke to come right back to where you're writing and the same applies to things like events and locations and so forth.

The entire structure of your fictional world is contained in a way that you can actually understand it. And for things like if you are looking at an event, you can see every place in your manuscript where you refer to that event so that if you're trying to look for dependencies between things you can easily find them.

And then the really exciting part of it for us is that we built it from the ground up to be amenable to reasoning. What that means is that you can say that the inquest must follow the murder by eight days and that you can also apply the concept constraint that the inquest must follow the murder, so that if in some later stage of you know tiredness, you try and move the inquest up before the murder it will warn you. Do you really want to do this?

Joanna Penn: That’s amazing.

Vikram Chandra: Right now the intelligent part of it is mainly confined to two events, but we're going to extend it further in a future version. If you say Pamela marries Tom the system will be able to work out that now John is Pamela’s brother-in-law.

It will be able to show you relationships and then reason along these branches of deductions. So it's very very ambitious. But I shouldn't make it sound complex. That's been my worry right from the start is that I don't want to struggle with a tool while I'm trying to concentrate on the story and the language.

We've spent a lot of effort in trying to make it supple and easy to use and immediately make sense, without putting an additional burden on the part of the writer as she tries to write her story.

Joanna Penn: One question because I'm always doing this: if I write that my character has blue eyes will it warn me if I try and make them have brown eyes at another point?

Vikram Chandra: Yes. That's not quite yet, but that's something that we really thinking about hard and we are going to implement it shortly.

Joanna Penn: That's great. Because that always happens or I've got a character with a scar on the left arm and then later on it ends up being on the right arm.

Vikram Chandra: Indeed. Tolstoy did it to Anna Karenina if I'm remembering correctly.

Joanna Penn: There we go. All the greats do it.

Vikram Chandra: The thing that we're trying to do is think in intelligent ways about problems like this because if you're in a Sci-Fi Universe, the person get can get new eyes, which go to gold or silver even.

My favorite sci-fi writer is Iain M Banks. He's amazing and in his books people can change species. Some current story writing programs have this ability, you can say the character is 6 feet tall and he has blue eyes, but I was thinking wait, he hasn't been six feet tall since he was two years old. What if you write a childhood flashback scene, how am I going to manage that?

So what we're trying to do is make it make the system flexible enough to accommodate changing characteristics as well.

Joanna Penn: I've been writing in Scrivener for 10 years and I love Scrivener, but it definitely doesn't have that timeline aspect and it doesn't have those dependencies or any kind of intelligence level that you're adding.

The other software I’m thinking of is StoryShop, which I know is still in a developmental process. But again that doesn't have those aspects so it's really interesting where you've taken it and it sounds like you've come to that because you write such epic books.

I struggle. I write a lot shorter than you, but I struggle to hold a 70,000-word story in my head at once. And long-running series also very important.

If listeners want to have a look at Granthika where do they go?

Vikram Chandra: The details are at Granthika.co.

Joanna Penn: Maybe just explain the name because it's quite an unusual name.

Vikram Chandra: Grantha in Sanskrit means narrator, one who holds and understands the knots of time. And it's got an interesting etymological base in that grunt is book which comes from another root, which means knot or tie. So the idea is that what narrators do is that they set up these narratives through time which are tied together by events.

Joanna Penn: I love that. So beautiful. I'm glad you explained it.

Where can people find you and your books online?

Vikram Chandra: My personal website is just my name VikramChandra.com and it's got a bunch of stuff up there.

Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time Vikram. That was great.

Vikram Chandra: Thank you so much. It was wonderful. Thanks.

Joanna Penn:
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