Satish Jayaraj is a man at the heart of the reading and writing scene in Cedar Rapids. He works at the Cedar Rapids Public Library and writes about books for the library’s website. He hosts themed literary events during which local writers share their work (I was pleased to write and perform one of my favorite pieces for one of these events). And he is an indie fantasy novelist. In 2018, he published The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons: A Tale of Adijari, an adventure story in which the dragons of the title are unfairly hated and attacked. Jayaraj answered questions about his writing endeavors via email.
Tell me about the origin of The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons. What was the first idea or character that inspired you to write this story?
So there is a fairly long history to this novel that did not even start with writing. I drew fantasy weapons in high school. Swords, shields, staffs, magic rings.
I drew a sword that I called “the dragon’s fiery edge” (again, this was high school). For the dragon-like scales of the sword, I used a sharpened pencil and drew hundreds of tiny circles. It was a laborious and meditative process. When I was finished with it, I just really wanted a story to go with it, and I wrote a 22-page short story. I fell in love with writing fiction then and there. I gave control of the story over to the main character, the one who would later be named Gradni. He took the story in a different direction. . . . I felt a rush from following his lead.
Years and years and many short stories later, I was accepted into Hamline University’s MFA program. This old story was reimagined into my thesis project, which was titled The Secret of the Naga Dragons. The bulk of the work for this novel and the development of my vision for my fantasy world happened in this time, and I am grateful to my mentors and colleagues for helping me with this achievement.
I went through a rough spot after graduate school. I’m an immigrant in the U.S., and while trying to figure out how to stay in the country that had become my home, I was desperate to publish my novel. The book simply wasn’t ready, but by putting it out there I was mentally and emotionally able to work on new stories. Years later, in 2018, I was in a position to give this story the level of production I felt it deserved. From working on other fantasy stories in between, I had a clearer vision of the world this story takes place in and revamped it into The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons.
How was your interest in dragons first sparked (as it were) and what challenges did you encounter as you shaped your own tale around them?
Between writing the high school version of this take . . . and the more complicated novel I completed in graduate school . . . I became fascinated with mythology. I was particularly interested in common themes between mythologies. For example, every major mythology has a flood story of some kind.
I studied the portrayal of snakes and other serpentine dragons in various mythologies. By and large, I found dragons to be the villains in these myths. With my desire to redo my high school story and my own phobia of snakes, the dragons became symbolic of the unfair hatred humanity has for the things it doesn’t understand, regardless of individual cultural backgrounds.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
I did send the book out to numerous agents, but it simply wasn’t for them, though I did receive some kind, heartwarming responses to not give up. In the end, with all the resources now available, I decided to go for it and invest more of myself to make it available. . . .
It certainly is not easy to do everything that needs to be done, and I am still learning how to go about it. Now that I’m getting into it, it is becoming exciting. I’ve found two websites, WorldAnvil.com and Inkarnate.com, which are other ways for me to bring my stories to the world, and I am finding other sources to streamline the business side of being a writer. I haven’t given up on the “traditional” route, but am dedicated to building my readership and platform in the meantime.
You’re active in the indie writing community in Iowa. Do you feel a sense of camaraderie with other indie writers?
Yes. . . . For the most part, all of us indie writers love the creativity part of the job and not the business side of it, but we all made the choice to go for it to feed that yearning. Knowing other people who are willingly on the same journey is empowering and healthy.
A note at the end of The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons suggests there are more stories to come. Is there another novel in the works?
Oh, there are many more stories to come. . . . I am working on a series right now with a crow goddess, a changeling, a city corrupted by magic, a martial arts heroine—a story that barely even mentions dragons, though it is set in the same world.
For me, the pleasure of writing is in the discovery, so I could not be more excited to explore the world of Adijari through a diverse array of new protagonists with different cultures. I am still a student of various mythologies and am currently invested in the Mahabharata (a Sanskrit epic of ancient India). Adijari for me is a way to process my understanding of mythology through my own individuality and creativity, while also feeding my need to tell my own stories.