Superheroes are a common occurrence in children’s and YA stories. So Karma Tandin could be just another Batman or Spiderman next door. However, hold on! Evan Purcell, author of the Karma Tandin Monster Hunter series, planned this little superhero differently.
So here’s Evan in conversation with Shruti Kohli, Managing Editor, Kunzum, talking about Karma not being just another superhero, and about Dawa, the female lead, the almost superhero…and more.
Shruti: What’s the symbolism behind naming the protagonist Karma? Or is there any?
Evan: Karma is one of the most common names in Bhutan, and like all first names here, it’s gender-neutral. I think it’s a beautiful name (honestly, most names in Bhutan are beautiful), but I also like the parallels with the concept of karma, where good intentions lead to good effects and bad intentions lead to bad ones.
For anyone who hasn’t read these books, Karma is a normal boy who has monster magnetism, so creatures are constantly drawn to him, but because the monsters in my books are never 100% good or 100% evil, Karma is never sure how he should act. There are lots of interesting themes to work with, and they all circle back to the idea of karma.
Shruti: Dawa is introduced as a monster fighter somewhere in the third book of the series and yet as a subordinate of Karma. Don’t you think it could have been the other way around – a girl named Karma, the superhero, and her friends, both boys, helping her?
Evan: That’s an interesting point. For me, Dawa and Karma are experiencing opposite character changes. Karma is slowly learning about the darkness within himself and trying to become a less reckless, more sympathetic person. For Dawa, she’s the smart one in the group, so she started as the voice of reason in the first book, faced some challenges to her worldview in the second, and eventually joined the fray with Karma in the third. She’s become more active in the fight scenes, but I don’t think her character changes are all that positive.
This whole monster-hunting thing has some moral gray areas, and the more she joins Karma’s world in future books, the more likely she’ll lose bits of herself in the process. I think when people talk about strong characters, they focus too much on physical strength, but for Dawa, she was always Karma’s moral compass, so I’m excited to see how her changing role in the books will affect both her and the other characters in the future.
Shruti: The protagonist in your Karma Tandin series is a superhero who is more human than otherworldly. How did you decide where to draw the line?
Evan: I always planned for Karma to be a normal kid whose only superpower was that monsters were naturally drawn to him. (Which, if you think about it, is a terrible power to have.) When I outlined the first book, I knew that I wanted to reveal the secret to his power in a later installment, and that information naturally entered into the story once I decided to bring in the evil twin character. I guess my big idea for Karma is that he’s not super-strong or super-fast or even super-smart. He’s just the kind of kid who never gives up, even when he should.
Shruti: You stayed in Bhutan for a couple of years. Did you write the Karma series while you were still staying there? How did the people of Bhutan receive your book/s? Do the children there know about the Karma series? What do they think about Karma Tandin’s character and about Dawa and Chimmi…and about the monsters? (My personal favourite is the ice cream cone monster).
Evan: I lived in Bumthang, which is right in the center of the country. While I was teaching there, I noticed that many of my students were avid readers. They gobbled up mostly American and Indian books, but there weren’t very many that took place in their own culture. That’s when I decided to create a funny, crazy monster series about a boy in Bhutan. I started writing the first Karma book while I was still in Bhutan, but I got a bit distracted by a different publishing project at the time. I collected and edited short stories written by my students, we published them in two books, and we traveled throughout the country selling them to tourists and locals. It was an awesome experience, and I’m proud to say that I helped over 100 Bhutanese teens become published authors. Once that project was over, though, I was able to spend more time on the Karma series. Now, I have some fans back in Bhutan, but I’d say most of my biggest fans are actually in India. I still do online writers’ workshops with the kids there. (Hey, principals! I’m always available to make a school visit if your kids like monsters!)
And that ice cream monster was actually invented by one of our readers, a ten-year-old named Melanie. We had a design-your-own-monster contest and received hundreds of really cool ideas. That was one of my favorites, too.
Shruti: You have written both for children and for adults. Between the two which one makes you feel more at home? And why?
Evan: As a writer, I love variety. I like to bounce back and forth between middle grade (which can be goofier and more openly emotional) and adult (which can go darker and deal with different themes). I’m in a happier mood when I’m writing for children, but I can’t pick a favorite because I like changing. The same goes with genres. I love bouncing between funny and scary and sad. (You can see from my 2022 reading list that I have a wild combination of genres, styles, and ages.)
Shruti: When did you decide that you wanted to be an author of children’s stories?
Evan: As a kid, I always wanted to write for adults. I wanted to grow up too fast. In fifth grade, I read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, even though I misunderstood most of what I was reading. I found more enjoyment with the popular kid-lit of the time (Goosebumps, especially), but I always saw myself as an adult writer. As I grew older, though, I never put down those Goosebumps books. When I started publishing, my first books were for adults, but over time, I just naturally gravitated toward middle grade adventures. I guess it wasn’t until my late-20s that I realized how much fun children’s books were to write.
Shruti: Are you working on another book? What is it about? If not, do you plan to write another book?
Evan: I would love to work on more Karma books. I have several outlines ready to go and I can’t wait to continue the adventures of Karma and his evil twin. Right now, though, I’m working on my first movie, which has taken up a lot of my time. It’s a horror film called “Remember” and we’re filming in America in June. I am so excited! I also write for a podcast with new episodes coming out soon. Lots of cool things are happening in 2022!
I guess my big idea for Karma is that he’s not super-strong or super-fast or even super-smart. He’s just the kind of kid who never gives up, even when he should.