Introduction to the Author:
Mark Stephen Levy is an author based in the USA. An ardent traveller, he found the base of his story for the second novel, American Maharajah, in India and Nepal during his various tours. His first novel is OVERLAND and was published in India in 2011. Originally from Los Angeles, Mark currently lives in Denver, Colorado.
Alok Mishra: Mark, what inspired you at first place to write this novel – American Maharajah?
Mark Stephen Levy: My first book, Overland, took place in Afghanistan and Kathmandu, Nepal. I knew for my second book I wanted to focus on India, who I describe as my ‘spiritual homeland’. Arriving into India the first time in 1985, I was spellbound and transfixed and hypnotized by the life and its people of which I had never experienced before. I had visited 3 other times since through the years. On my second visit in 2011, I was in invited to speak at a small university in Jharkhand. My host, a professor took me on a half day journey to a village. Along the way he pointed out as we drove by, an old Maharajah palace. He told me it is a sad story as the Maharajah is old and dying and has no heirs to pass the palace and title on to. That was it. Immediately I thought, that is a story! I sat on this idea for five years until the ARC of the story developed on my third visit in 2016. When I came home from the 2016, I sat down and for nine months wrote feverishly, and the story was finished.
Alok Mishra: How did you create the characters of Ravi and Aishani? These two are the ones who stand out in your novel. Did you study Indian fiction? Or these are based on your experiences in India as a traveller?
Mark Stephen Levy: I never studied Indian fiction, and probably should. Ravi and Aishani is loosely based on real events in my travels, but mostly a steady dose of creativity that at times, my fingers on the keyboard could not keep up.
Alok Mishra: Are you interested in Indian mythology? The prologue part deals with one. Have you heard about it from others or read about it and others in some book?
Mark Stephen Levy: I do like Indian mythology but only have a four-year olds perception of it. I did quite a bit of research for the prologue, and again, that creative spark that drove the prologue forward.
Alok Mishra: What I feel is that the character named Melissa can be seen as a delusion or the distractor which prohibits, to an extent, Ravi from meeting his destiny. This is my hypothesis. What was in your mind when you created Melissa?
Mark Stephen Levy: Good question. At one point after the story was complete, I thought about eliminating Melissa as a character, and she still can be viewed as a distractor. But at the end of chapter two, the first turning point in Ravi’s journey takes place, and that turning point gives enough relevance to her character to justify keeping her in there. Plus, I also wanted to show Ravi’s embeddedness in Western culture to have a Western girlfriend.
Alok Mishra: If a reader asks you, “why should I read American Maharajah?” What will you tell such a reader? What is the USP of your novel in your own words? What makes it different from the lots in the market?
Mark Stephen Levy: I would tell the reader, particularly Indian & Nepal people, that in this day and age of smartphones and people burying their faces in them, to take a break, put the phone down, at least for a chapter a day, and do something old school – read a novel that you will enjoy and see the pleasure in reading a good book. And maybe you might learn something or reinforce the magic that is India.
Alok Mishra: I have read many novels in the past which are written by authors not from India. However, these novels were different – for example, A Passage to India is entirely different. You seem more and Indian through your fiction. What’s your frank opinion on this observation, Mark?
Mark Stephen Levy: We all feel sometimes that maybe we should have been born in another country or another era. Since I refer to India as my spiritual homeland, I feel I would have enjoyed being raised in India, in a smaller town, a simpler life, enjoying the spiritual fruits India has to offer. All my visits seemed to enhance these feelings.
Alok Mishra: You were also in touch with people to possibly make a feature film on your book. What’s the progress there, Mark? The story is nice and it can surely be rendered into a movie or tv serial.
Mark Stephen Levy: I was in touch prior to leaving the US with people in Mumbai and connected to Bollywood. I met most of these people, separately, each gave them a copy of the book and have promised to get back with me. As of this writing, it has been three weeks since these meetings and have not heard anything conclusive, I patiently wait to let nature take its course. I am eternally optimistic that something good will happen. And yes, as I wrote the book, I felt this would make a great film, full of sweeping views, and wonderful characters…and lots of twists and drama leaving the reader/viewer with a real feel good story.
Alok Mishra: I will not give away the story, but towards the ending of the novel, faith seems working rather forcibly. Was it the demand of the story or do you also have faith in the divine kingdom? Most of the authors keep these things away from their book but you have described that wonderfully in your book. I am curious to know more from you.
Mark Stephen Levy: Also, a good question. I struggled with the ending as it had to be real enough to be believable. It was a ‘tidy’ way for Ravi to ingratiate himself into the village. Faith was key, and I had already used the ‘mysticism card’ once in the story.
Alok Mishra: And what are your plans from here, Mark? Overland, American Maharajah and now what’s next? Have you thought on some stories already or just enjoying the response you are getting from the readers?
Mark Stephen Levy: Oh yes! A true writer always has a story or two percolating inside that writer’s brain. In fact, on this last trip just completed to Mumbai and Nepal, I came up with a new story, and just now taking shape deep inside.
Alok Mishra: And a personal question, Mark, how do you like India? Do you think India can offer you another plot for your fiction?
Mark Stephen Levy: I do love India for many reasons, mainly for the spirituality, how people dress, the food, their curiosity, the beauty, all of it, and huge a bonus, English is widely spoken…helps a lot when you want to immerse into a culture. And yes, this next story will take place in India, Nepal and Bhutan and of course, will require still another trip back there. Writers will tell you that they can only write what they know, and this is what I know!
Alok Mishra: All the best, Mark! Thanks for the answers and wish you success with your writing career.