From Novelty To Novel

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This article first appeared in The Independent Newspaper. Read more about #EverythingEastEnd here

It’s an uplifting story of one man’s journey as he abandoned a life of security to pursue one of self-fulfillment. This true life narrative is that of Chris Babu, an MIT graduate and former Wall Street bond trader-turned-author of the young adult series, “The Initiation.” He currently resides in Southampton.

Like so many, Babu’s demanding career took precedent over creative interests and allowed little room for his long-standing love for reading. Upon turning 40, Babu realized the stressors of trading on Wall Street had outweighed his desire to continue in that career path. In a sort of “a-ha” moment where money can’t buy happiness, he realized there was more to life “than slinging bonds around,” and so he resolved to do what felt right. To challenge himself, Babu picked up writing and it in turn became an addiction. In 2015 he began fitting in his new hobby wherever he could; after work, the subway commute — he even traded in TV for reading and writing. Amid all of this effort, there was no intention to be an author.

“In the same way my interest in finance waned while my love for writing blossomed, the city I once found fun and exciting grew morose and tiresome,” Babu expressed. Logically, giving up one’s day job to pursue writing isn’t a financially sound decision. By going all in, he felt he had no excuse if he failed and thus focused on the minds of a profitable demographic, teens.

It’s impossible to dispute the bandwagon of successful young adult books-turned-Hollywood hits such as “Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and “Twilight.” These dystopias of 2008 to 2013 inspired Babu’s “The Initiation” series. “The teen years are the most exciting, most emotional, and most hopeful in everyone’s lives; full of first experiences, first loves, hopes, and dreams. A large chunk of the readership of YA is adults, because it often evokes powerful nostalgia for those thrilling albeit difficult years.” Babu acknowledged reading YA novels himself. “Writing a series is fairly common these days because it’s a great way to build a dedicated readership.”

Part of the demographic, that of social media and Netflix, is his 12-year-old daughter, Lily, who influenced the series. “Only a truly gripping story would hold their attention,” Babu noted of his audience, as he made a point of no inappropriate language or content is in his novels, minus some mild violence here or there. “I wanted her to know that her father wasn’t too scared to believe in himself. That you can accomplish anything if you want it badly enough and are willing to put in the work.” He hopes to set the example that a person is more than numbers on a paycheck.

There are three books in the series, that has, thus far, been dubbed “the nerd version of ‘The Hunger Games,’” substituting death puzzles and brainteasers for weapons and murder. However, Babu prefers the comparison to “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner. “The Initiation,” “The Expedition,” and coming out in fall, “The Insurrection” were carefully planned as a trilogy from the beginning. Babu outlined the entire series before a single word was written. In doing this, he allowed for a concise storyline without diminishing the quality of each individual novel.

Four teen heroes, called pledges (a reference to his fraternity days at MIT), set in the near future in a dystopian New York City, are trying to save mankind. They team up with a security team, the Guardians, to leave New America, which is stricken with poverty, hunger, and an unfair justice system, to venture beyond the walls and into the unknown in search for signs of life and windmill batteries to save its citizens. What’s particularly interesting is the leading character, 16-year-old Drayden, has many physical insecurities that serve as a motif, not often touched upon for males today. Boys reading the novels will find relatable situations without the fear of being mocked, an outlet of sorts. Drayden is on a literal journey, as well as one of self-discovery into the unknown.

Babu’s books are both art and science. It’s all an intricate wave of creation and deliberation to keep it a page-turner. But also, every book becomes its own business with marketing plan, branding, websites and SEO, social media, book signings. How does one make themselves known when their biggest selling point is words on a page?

Wall Street taught Babu how values and understanding outweigh inherent knowledge in the long run, for any career. It also shaped his view of delivering a product, a parallel to his writing career. “Nobody cares if you outperformed expectations. They only care about great books, and your competition is Harry Potter.” His experience at MIT also shaped him; the race to become better caused many to stumble and fall, it was only the ones who got back up again that true perseverance was displayed.

“I’m not sure there is a more humbling profession than writing,” Babu said, recalling the countless waves of rejection from the publishing industry on top of the occasional bad review. “It’s easy to wither into a catatonic shell of self-pity and self-doubt.”

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