Every so often, you see a writer who restores your belief in the power of storytelling. That pushes the boundaries of the art form. Storytelling, after all, is the rawest form of self-expression.
We are talking about our phenomenal author, the mastermind behind The Ahriman Legacy, revolutionizing the intersection between espionage and thriller.
A great writer in the making. Presenting – Puja Guha!
If you are a literature geek, you must learn from the likes of her. While she continues to unravel the untold chronicles of her characters, such as Petra Shirazi and Kasem, what is her story?
Puja’s story takes us to, well, many places. Where a writer usually has a single place to draw inspiration, Puja was exposed to various cultures, adding to her craft as an author. To devise immersive world-building, you need multifold inspiration. We see her versatility evident in the various settings she chooses for her books, from the landscape of Iran to post-conflict Burundi.
Growing up in an Indian family, Puja did a back-and-forth between Toronto and Kuwait. She is also Canadian and American. Her perspective, however, is not limited to any one place. This is because she spent her time in grad school in Paris and London while frequently traveling through Europe and Africa. Puja describes herself as an amalgamation of all these places.
Being a person of color in America who grew up all over, Puja expresses how she sometimes felt left out and that she didn’t belong to any particular group. But now, she finds herself more comfortable with her complex identity. Her diversity is a part of who she is, and she can’t imagine a life without it.
Currently, Puja resides in Colorado, working on multiple projects, including an upcoming installment of the Ahriman Legacy and a much-teased spin-off featuring Carlos, one of her readers’ favorite characters in the series.
But what got her into writing?
Genesis of writing
Puja had always been an avid reader throughout her childhood. Her favorite picks from her parents’ bookshelf were Jurassic Park, John Grisham, and A Tale of Two Cities. Fun fact – Puja read The Godfather when she was only ten!
Puja was definitely the “cool kid,” developing her taste in reading and writing alike from the get-go!
The inspiration a writer gathers and the material they consume makes them great. What’s ironic is that becoming a writer was never part of Puja’s plan! The idea first occurred when she was twenty-three years old, working her first real job in New York. She was home, visiting her parents in Kuwait when she reread one of her favorite books, Frederick Forsyth’s Icon.
Kuwait’s nuanced political system became the catalyst for The Ahriman Legacy. Puja was fascinated by how the Kuwaiti monarch (the Emir) was more progressive than the democratically elected Parliament. Whereas usually, it is the other way around. She thought, “Why wouldn’t a member of the Islamist faction in Parliament hire an assassin to take the Emir out?
Thus, came to life Ahriman: The Spirit of Destruction, and so did Puja’s passion for writing.
At times, the beginning is the easy part. The actual test of an endeavor is consistency. Getting up every day and thinking about how many chapters you’re going to write can sometimes get a little too overwhelming for writers. For Puja, it really depends on the day. Some days are more complex than others, and she has to lean on discipline to continue to work. But the driving force for her passion is always the characters and storylines that keep her going. She also uses her travels as inspiration. Burundi, a country in East Africa where she spent time as part of a freelance project, became the setting for the fourth installment in The Ahriman Legacy, Reckoning from the Shadows.
Puja promises a lot of story in the sequel to Reckoning from the Shadows. Most of the book will be set in Tehran and will be largely character driven.
Questions such as, what would make an Iranian source provide information to the CIA? What biases are they currently grappling with? In a place where most people are actually liberal, how do they make sense of their lives under an oppressive regime? All will be answered!
Puja has the tendency to indulge in her wanderlust self. In pursuit of giving her readers the answers they seek, she loses herself in her work.
And it does wonders.
Exposure to espionage
Espionage is a genre at the precipice of decline. Where many are into thriller, horror, and coming-of-age genres, it is books like The Ahriman Legacy series that bring espionage back to life. The series is set to become a cult classic amongst readers, what with its to-die-for characters.
Puja’s fascination with espionage books stemmed from the material her dad read growing up.
She believes that the genre allows her to look at the greater good and what it means to see the world through the eyes of others. She uses her pen like an artist, brushing upon ethical questions and concepts, conveying her message and life lessons through her characters.
Often, when you’re developing a series, there comes a point where the characters begin to write themselves and become real people. Puja’s books do a brilliant job of manifesting larger-than-life characters that stick with you even after you turn the last page.
Two of Puja’s favorite characters are Tim and Gaston, both supporting characters in Reckoning from the Shadows, who bring light-heartedness to an otherwise intense read. Gaston routinely spouts old French proverbs to guide the main characters. In contrast, Tim has had a fair share of experience running ops around the world and, much like Puja, is a fantastic storyteller. Another fun fact! Tim’s character is based on an actual person in Puja’s circle, who ran a crisis prep training that she attended for people traveling to post-conflict countries as agents of change.
But when we’re talking about who her absolute favorite character is it has to be Kasem. Without giving away too many spoilers about the nuanced character, he is easily the most conflicted yet compelling person of the bunch.
But Puja, quite frankly, relates most to protagonist Petra Shirazi mainly because she shares a similar background to the author.
For the future
The mark of a great leader is the willingness to impart wisdom to newer generations. Puja has told upcoming writers that the most critical part of becoming a writer is to write rather than thinking or talking about writing itself. We often think about pursuing our endeavors but lose the will to pursue them. She expresses how many writers get stuck at this point when starting out.
So many writers strive for perfection and forget the most fundamental thing they must do to make their work successful. Like the quote from the famous TV series, Once Upon a Time – sometimes, the story doesn’t have to be perfect… it just has to start.
Begin writing, spend the time, do the work, and move the story forward. When sometimes a plot is daunting, it’s easier to focus on modifying and remodifying it than obsessing over the entire manuscript. Getting caught up in minute details is human, but don’t let them overtake you. Quite the takeaway for writers, is this not?
Puja shares her take on how to rid yourself of the dreaded “writer’s block.” Unlike how TV depicts it, writing a book differs from merely staring at a page. Some days you will be inspired to write down four to five chapters; on others, you might want to write a couple of anecdotes and call it a day – or night. It is essential to distinguish between a “hard day” and “writer’s block.” But you’ll figure it out.
Put in the hard work, and you will find the flow.
As for Puja, she continues to find hers as she works on her upcoming addition to The Ahriman Legacy. Until then, grab Ahriman IV: Reckoning from the Shadows and unleash your inner spy.
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