The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

Inspiration, Writing, and Passion: An M&T Alumna on Writing her First Novel

by Puja G., M&T Class of 2007

by Puja G., M&T Class of 2007

Writing my first book, AHRIMAN: THE SPIRIT OF DESTRUCTION, has been a journey for me. The inspiration for this story is what led me to writing in the first place, and now that I have discovered it, my life has changed completely.

I spent much of my childhood and teenage years with my nose buried in books off of my father’s bookshelf. I read everything that I could get my hands on – from classics, thrillers, science fiction, and literary dramas, all the way to fantasy. Amongst all of these genres, I developed a special fondness for thrillers. I remember that I procrastinated studying for my exams in high school by reading thrillers such as Frederick Forsyth’s ICON and John Grisham’s THE PELICAN BRIEF.

I first thought of the idea for AHRIMAN when I was visiting my parents in Kuwait in late 2008. Kuwait has some interesting nuances in its political systems and I was in the midst of rereading one of my old favorite novels, when an idea occurred to me. One of the strangest features of the Kuwaiti government is the fact that democracy often stands at odds with civil liberties and women’s rights – what we generally consider to be progress. The monarch, or Emir, is generally far more progressive than the National Assembly which has a strong conservative and Islamist faction. I observed this clash firsthand as the royal family fought for women’s voting rights while Parliament stood against it for many years until the law finally passed in 2005. Recalling this standoff gave me the central idea for AHRIMAN – an assassination plot against the Kuwaiti monarchy, originating from within the government itself.

The idea for AHRIMAN came to me at a moment’s notice, without much effort. The process for writing the story required far more time and discipline. I wrote some thoughts down from time to time, but I kept putting it off. I don’t have time for it right now. I’m supposed to do XYZ. I had all kinds of excuses back then. Things started to change when a friend of mine suggested that I enroll in the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), an organization that supports writers as they aim to write fifty thousand words of their story in thirty days during the month of November. By that time I was in graduate school in London. I looked into the organization and I thought, there is no way that I can do this. How could I possibly write that much in one month? I decided to enroll anyway. I figured that even an attempt at reaching that goal would be a valiant effort. My story was still very much unfinished and I hoped to at least move it forward a bit. So I began writing again, this time with much more discipline.

Once I enrolled in Nanowrimo, I decided to commit to the process. I wasn’t sure how I would manage to write that much, but I gave it an honest try. I wrote while traveling on the train from London to Paris. I wrote more of my story at all times of the day. I even spent time writing in many of my classes, while I hid out in the back to make sure that the professor didn’t call on me those days. At the end of the month, I had reached my goal of fifty thousand words and I was a little over half way through my story. I kept going with it, albeit at a slower pace. A few months later, I had a few weeks off of school to work on my master’s thesis and I finally finished the first draft.

After the first draft I went through a number of edits, with comments from friends, family, and anonymous beta readers, until AHRIMAN: THE SPIRIT OF DESTRUCTION was finally published in June of this year. It still seems pretty surreal. I can’t believe that my work is out there – available for anyone to find. I am slowly learning about the marketing process and have started doing occasional events. One of the most exciting things now is how I’ve found readers and fellow writers in the strangest places. At a taxi stand in Cincinnati, I struck up a conversation with the staff person and discovered a voracious reader in the process of writing her own novel. Another day I sold a book at the Fedex office when I went to send a copy to a reviewer in Ireland. Each of these moments is a little reminder of how lucky I am to have gotten this far. I have so many ideas for stories and am committed to a disciplined process, as I put in time for my writing every day. At the moment, I am hard at work on the sequel to AHRIMAN and hope to have the first draft completed by the end of this month. I’ve also written another book – a family drama – and am going through the editing process now. Both books should be out by the end of next summer. In spite of the time I am now spending on marketing, I want to make sure that writing remains the focus. I was lucky enough to discover my calling during a chance vacation and shirking on that commitment would be the same as relinquishing part of my identity. So each day, I set time aside and write.

Puja is a member of the M&T Class of 2007. She studied Bioengineering, Health Care Management, and Entrepreneurship and began writing in 2010 by participating in the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). The idea for THE AHRIMAN LEGACY struck her during a family vacation shortly before that. She has lived in Kuwait, Toronto, Paris, London, and several American cities including New York, Washington DC, and San Francisco. After completing a master’s degree in public policy from the London School of Economics and Sciences Po, she is now working as an independent consultant on international development programs, primarily in Africa and South Asia. AHRIMAN: THE SPIRIT OF DESTRUCTION is her first novel.

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