By Karen Billing
In her first novel, 12-year-old Sahana Kumar has created a fantasy world inhabited by shape-shifting sphinxes, orbs, enchanted candy and encounters with many things both monstrous and magical. Sahana, an imaginative incoming eighth grader at Francis Parker School just published her first novel, “The Champions of Zairon: Cave of Mystic Dreams” about three teenagers with special powers.
To help launch her book, Sahana had a book signing at Warwick’s in La Jolla on June 15 and has one scheduled in Mendocino at the Gallery Bookshop on Aug. 23 and a couple more in San Francisco in late summer.
The book is available for purchase on Amazon.com and download on iTunes, Nook and Kindle. Fifty percent of the proceeds from her book sales will also go to the Association for India’s Development (AID), a non-profit that supports grassroots efforts such as setting up schools in impoverished areas.
“I always really liked making up stories in my head and telling stories to my little sister Sanjana,” said Sahana, who lives in Carmel Valley. “When I was 9 I started writing novels. Some I stopped after a few pages, some after 50 pages but with this one I felt like I could keep the plot going, there weren’t any holes and it was fun to write.”
The book tells the story of teenagers Claire, Jason and Zac who get pulled into the world of Zairon and have to go on a quest, fighting off evil to find the mystic cave. Pages are filled by monsters and magic, potions and poignant moral dilemmas, said Dr. Holly J. Bauer, a literature professor at UC San Diego, one of the book’s reviewers.
“Kumar’s first novel will impress you in its own right and even more so when you discover the author is a 12-year-old middle school student,” Bauer said. “Kumar is a natural storyteller and her richly drawn characters and intriguing setting will delight all who enter her mystical world.”
Gretchen Taylor, Sahana's English teacher, said the book is adventurous, funny, dark and creative.
“Kumar’s work is exciting and engaging, one relevant to the interests of middle grades readers. It also serves as the foundation for a complex and thrilling series of books to come,” Taylor said in her review.
Sahana has always loved to read and likes to write “anywhere and everywhere,” clicking away on her laptop lounging in the family room, killing time in the car on road trips and even on the beach.
“She reads a lot,” her father Prem said. “To try and make sure she was reading the right books we would read them too and try to keep up with her, but we couldn’t keep up with her.”
Sahana’s parents, both engineers, knew that Sahana had been writing throughout the summer of 2013 but had no idea that she’d created a 228-page novel.
“We were very impressed when we read it,” Prem said. “For her to suddenly write a book was phenomenal.”
Prem immediately started researching book publishers to find the best way to get Sahana’s story before more readers. He selected Telemachus Press, a company with a lot of experience helping small authors get books published in a professional manner.
The book went through six rounds of the editing process, taking about four to five months.
“They didn’t take away the 12-year-old charm of the book,” said her mother, Vanitha, of the copy editors. “They preserved the way kids talk and took care to make sure to not alter the style.”
“It was really hard,” Sahana said of the edits, which she would tackle after finishing her homework in the evenings. The straight “A” student spent the entire year working on completing the book, crammed into a busy schedule that included Science Olympiad, taking Indian classical music lessons, and playing the violin in the New Youth Orchestra. She also maintains her blog, SPKumarBooks.com, which includes posts of short stories and poems.
While Sahana said the extensive editing was not as fun as the writing part, she was happy with the finished product.
“I was really excited,” Sahana said of first seeing the published, bound copy. “It’s really different seeing it on an e-reader than actually holding it.”
Sahana believes that “Cave” is just the beginning of the Zarion series and she is already pretty far along on the next book.
“I want to keep writing but not as a career because ever since I was little I’ve wanted to be a doctor,” Sahana said. “I will keep writing as a hobby.”
To learn more about “Cave of Mystical Dreams” or purchase the book, visit SPKumarBooks.com.