Get to know ‘Escape the War’ author Priyanka Nambiar
High school student Priyanka Nambiar’s future as a writer is fast unfolding as her science fiction book Escape The War has been picked up for publishing after winning the International Writing Contest “For Teens, Written by Teens” sponsored by Stone Soup Magazine and MacKenzie Press.
Priyanka won the book deal through entering a short-story contest while still a student at Hershey Middle School. Her book, Escape the War tells the story of a teen who finds herself literally drawn into the action of her favorite online video game and how she attempts to escape back to reality.
When asked about her writing, Nambiar has high ambitions and more worlds yet to share. “I have been writing ever since I was five or six years old. My writing has always been a way to escape, a way to vanish into the lush and fantastical worlds I’ve crafted. Now, though, it is wonderful to see activism on current matters being broadcasted via literature.
When asked about her convictions for writing, Nambiar has fellow leading lights at the top of her list of inspirations. “Writing can make a difference, inspire others, and help take steps in bettering our society. I hope to be able to inspire others with activism through my writing like Amanda Gorman does, who I so admire.”
As Escape The War finds its way onto bookshelves far and wide, we were lucky enough to sit down with Nambiar to discuss her path leading to and beyond this moment.
Was there a moment that you decided you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing ever since I was really little, so there really never was a specific “aha” moment. What I do remember is the moment when I knew I wanted to write Escape the War. I’ve always been a writer, but finding really good ideas that I can wholeheartedly commit to has been a struggle; with Escape the War, however, I knew from nearly the beginning that I had found something extraordinarily special.
I was in a creative writing class, and I was sort of dabbling with the idea of writing a story that loosely was Escape the War for a project. However, when I finally sat down, focused, and wrote those first few pages, it just felt right. I had a moment where I was like “wow, this could actually go somewhere,” and I knew I had found a story idea that I was ready to follow through with till the end.
What kind of stories capture your attention?
As most can probably tell from the genre of my novel, science fiction and dystopian novels have always stolen my heart since the very beginning, with fantasy novels not far behind. I grew up poring over famous novels and series’ like The Hunger Games, The Selection, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Stories that have captivating plots always capture my attention, but I’m the type of person who loves books where you get to know the characters really well. Having that attachment to those characters makes them seem as if they were your friends, and this heavily contributes to the overall enthrallment of a novel.
I tried to craft Escape the War as a mesh of all my favorite parts about my favorite books: a thrilling, action-filled plot with characters that you grow to love.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
There have been so many authors who have influenced me and my writing style; I’ve always looked up to the authors of my favorite novels such as Kiera Cass and Suzanne Collins. Most of my favorite books are usually along the lines of dystopian, science fiction, or fantasy, and Leigh Bardugo has recently become one of my favorite writers in the fantasy genre.
Her use of characterization is something that is so unique to her writing style, and the focus on character development (especially in Six of Crows) is something that I would love to take inspiration from for future writing endeavors.
Outside of my bubble of fiction books, Amanda Gorman is one of my favorite writers/poets. Amanda puts an insane amount of thought and insight into every one of her pieces, and I always find myself captivated when reading them. No matter what she is addressing, I always feel as if I am learning something new, whether it be about broadening my perspective or general knowledge.
Especially given the fact that I have mainly written fictional pieces or creative writing, Amanda’s style has inspired me to utilize my writing for addressing real life issues and step outside of my comfort zone.
Can you tell us where the concept for Escape the War came from?
Sure! The real origin story actually started when I was very young. As a child, I had a habit of creating these handcrafted books for my family to read; the writing usually consisted of a few sentences with lots of spelling errors. I had completely forgotten about them until just under two years ago. I was reminiscing about old childhood memories with my sister when the memory of those miniature novels resurfaced.
There was one that I remembered writing about more than any of the others: a story about a girl getting trapped in an app called Temple Run, and I had written that story because of how much I loved playing it.
This sparked an idea in my head. I began to think: what if I made a revamped version of this story? The original concept could be used but modernized with new plot ideas and characters. Instantly, a lightbulb went off, and I was inspired to begin writing.
Walk us through your writing process. What’s a day-in-the-life look like?
I’m a very busy person, so my writing process tends to stray away from a set schedule and closer towards a loose, more flexible one. For the days when I do have a lot of time to write, I try to get myself “in the zone” so I can make as much progress as possible. Lighting a candle and grabbing something to drink always helps when I need to focus. However, those days are few and far between.
My more realistic schedule consists of whipping out my laptop and writing pretty much whenever I have time. Whether it be for a few minutes before school in the morning or late at night after I’ve finished all my homework, I try to fit in writing wherever and whenever I can.
As for my writing process, I like to think out loud, so I work well when I’m bouncing ideas off of friends or family members (even if sometimes it seems like a one-sided conversation.) I’m more of a go-with-the-flow type of writer rather than one who plans out every aspect before even starting, so constant improvisation is a huge part of my writing process.
What was your biggest challenge while working on the novel?
Writing block was my enemy when editing Escape the War, especially towards the end of the process. At that point, I had been working on Escape the War for months on end, and I was losing motivation to write it with each passing day. Anything I did manage to write never really felt right; it was as if my creative juices had just tapped out.
My solution to this was getting myself reinspired. I took a little break and stopped writing for a few days, taking that time to relax rather than pour more stress onto my schedule. Then, when I returned to working on it, I changed things up. I started writing outside sometimes or inviting a friend over to write together. Sometimes, even just the ambience of a local café was enough to get me inspired again.
Running into roadblocks when writing a novel is almost inevitable, but taking those simple steps helped me out so much and got me past that bad bout of writing block.
What was your favorite part of writing it?
My favorite part was probably seeing how it developed into the final manuscript. Escape the War started out as a mere thirty paged novel with a few characters and a general outline of the plot.
Then, I had the opportunity to turn it from a short story into a full on novel, and that whole transformation process was absolutely insane. Seeing how the characters developed into their personalities, adding new characters, deepening the plot, improving my writing skills- all of it, I loved.
Now looking back at the original draft of Escape the War, it’s crazy to think how far I’ve come as a writer and how far Escape the War has come as a story.
Did you listen to any particular music to get yourself inspired to write?
I’m a big lover of music- anyone who knows me well will tell you that. When I’m having trouble getting inspired to write, like I previously talked about, playing music can be one of those aspects that helps get my creative juices flowing.
I like to specialize the music to the type of the scene I’m writing. For example, playing some thrilling action music for a chase scene or sad music for an emotional scene can be really helpful for aiding me in getting “in the zone.”
However, my love for music can have positives and negatives. Although it can revamp my inspiration, it can also cause issues with distraction. Sometimes if it’s a really good song, I’ll get preoccupied with mouthing the lyrics to the music and forget to actually write.
My solution was using more instrumental music- not classical music, but instrumental versions of my favorite songs that help inspire me. That way, I don’t get distracted singing the lyrics, but I’m able to reap the benefits of creativity.
If you could go back in time to when you first started and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
My advice to myself would be that everything isn’t going to go as planned; you need to be able to be flexible. Starting out/after the first draft, I was really set on a lot of aspects of Escape the War that I didn’t want to change.
However, with editing, I had to modify huge parts of the story that I originally wouldn’t have been comfortable with doing. But as the process went on, I knew that I was going to have to be flexible and embrace change rather than be rigid and fixed on having the novel exactly the way I wanted it . After all, the suggestions were only there to benefit me.
Throughout the process, I began to embrace constructive criticism and advice because it made me a better writer and turned Escape the War into a more cohesive story. If I would’ve been aware of this beforehand, it might have made me a little bit more prepared for what it was going to be like being thrust into the editing process.
What was the process of getting the novel published like for you?
If I could describe the process with two words, they would be “new experiences.” I went into the publishing process with little to no knowledge of how everything worked; I was about as naïve as you could get, especially given the fact that I was in middle school at the time.
Looking back, almost everything I learned about the publishing industry, the editing process, and how my book was published in general came as a complete surprise. Luckily, I welcomed the experiences and tried to learn as much as I could from each one. There were times when I was scared because I didn’t know what I was doing (a lot of times) but I always pushed through and ended up with a little more knowledge.
My favorite part of the whole process was near the very beginning, actually. Attending the Frankfurt Book Fair was like one of those defining moments: it was my introduction to how enormous, vast, and beautiful the world of publishing really was. The thousands of publishers and talented authors from all over the world in the same place was an unreal experience for me.
Is there anything in particular you hope your readers take away from the novel?
Escape the War has a lot of themes that readers could take away, but the main ones that I like to look at are the themes of friendship and finding yourself. Throughout Escape the War, Ivy develops as a person and as a friend, and, like most people, she changes as she matures.
I think it’s important for readers to see Ivy’s positive development and remember that things will get better, and even if you are at rock bottom, you will find a way out, even if it’s not how you originally expected.
What role do you think literature has to play in social activism?
Social activism and literature are incredibly intertwined. The variety in literature plays such a huge part in the world; it can be used as entertainment, for information purposes, to learn history and cultures, and much more. A huge function of literature is social activism because it allows us to express our thoughts and opinions on a more widespread platform.
It helps us share our opinions and be exposed to more diverse viewpoints along with making people aware of issues that normally aren’t talked about in an intriguing way. Whether it be an article, a poem, a story- it doesn’t matter. That’s why literature is so amazing: you can mesh social activism into pretty much any kind of literature, and it can be so impactful to thousands and thousands of people.
Educating others on important issues by using literature has always existed, but I’ve only recently become pretty involved with it. As I’ve previously mentioned, Amanda Gorman is a huge inspiration of mine, and she is a poet who uses her writing to promote social activism.
I’ve become more passionate about social justice issues in recent years, and I hope to share my thoughts on social activism topics more through my writing, especially about topics like environmental issues, racial problems, and politics.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a novel but doesn’t know if they can do it?
I honestly didn’t know if I could do it either, but here I am! My best advice is that no one really knows what they are capable of until they try it. Don’t underestimate your abilities and prevent yourself from even trying.
Even if you have no belief that writing a novel would ever be possible, just try it. The worst thing that could happen is you can’t do it, and that isn’t even a bad outcome; you can just try again later. But the best result that could ensue is that you can do it, and you actually write a full novel.
If a seventh grader can figure out how to write a novel, it can’t be that bad (I’m speaking from experience.) The task might seem daunting at first, but just trying it won’t harm anything! You might just end up surprising yourself.
Outside of writing, what are some of your greatest passions?
Art has been and always will be a huge part of my life, if not my biggest passion. I’m a portrait artist that mainly focuses on colored pencils, but I also dabble in other mediums such as charcoal and acrylic paint.
Additionally, theatre is one of my favorite hobbies. I love acting, singing, and being involved in many plays and musicals throughout the community.
This might be considered pretty close to writing, but reading is what inspired me to become a writer in the first place, and it is one of my favorite things to do.
Can you tell us about your work as an activist?
I’ve recently been getting into activism a lot more these past few months, especially getting involved in my local community and social media.
I’m a graphic designer for the teen-run organization, Asian Activists, which posts informational compositions on problems relating to Asia. The goal is to educate others on issues that Asian people are going through that may not be publicized much in the media. With our outreach of eighteen thousand followers, we are able to help educate people and spread awareness, which is the first step in creating change.
I’m also a part of the Young Democrats club at my school where we commonly get involved with our community with events such as voter drives and canvassing.
How important do you think it is for people to actually get involved in helping with a particular issue?
Getting educated and learning about issues is important. It always has been and always will be. However, being aware of an issue is only the first step to being an activist. The next step is what you do with that knowledge- how you contribute to the solution.
Some people might think that their contributions won’t make a difference, but a hundred people contributing to a cause in a small way will make a much bigger impact than a hundred people not helping at all. My advice for getting involved is to start small. Look for opportunities in your local community and devote some spare time. Later on, you can start to look into other, more serious contributions, but everyone has to start somewhere!
Will we be seeing another book release from you in the future?
I don’t want to reveal too much at this point, but yes, I am planning on expanding upon the world of Escape the War with a sequel.
What’s your five year plan?
I’m still a sophomore in high school, so I’m just trying to take things day by day. I do plan to attend college after graduating high school; I’m not exactly sure what I want to major in for undergrad yet, but I’ve expressed an interest in pursuing law later on.
I know that I want to keep writing. I don’t know what my future as an author will look like, but I hope to publish more novels in upcoming years!