There is a balance between being stubborn and being reasonable. Every writer has to be stubborn to some extent to see their story come to fruition, but at the same time, try to be open minded to other suggestions from people you trust. I learned this one from the entire editing process of The Solar System’s Prophecies. It’s fine to want some of your story the way you “always envisioned it,” but at the same time, you’re writing a massive document. You’re bound to make mistakes. Be okay with that and be ready to work with your editor when the time comes.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Varak Kaloustian.
Varak Kaloustian is 21 years old in his junior year of college. He is the published author of The Legend of V sci-fi fantasy trilogy. During his spare time, he likes to play basketball, travel, cook, play video games and trading card games, and spend time with his friends and family.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I was born in November 1999 in Los Angeles, CA, where I’ve lived my whole life. I began school very young (around the age of 3, perhaps even younger), and I did not have the best experience. I was harassed and bullied rather severely, up to the point where to this day, I cannot feel some of the hairs on my head. One of the ways I coped during this terrible time was writing. I have always loved living in my imagination. I began writing comics books at the wee age of seven. Eventually, after writing about 100 of those tiny, terribly illustrated comics (I’m no artist, trust me), I tried to write a novel at the age of nine. After four attempts in two years, I could never get passed page five. So, I stopped and returned to comics.
Fast forward to the sixth grade. I’ve transferred schools and am no longer being bullied. I had a yearlong school project where I had to write for 30 minutes every week about any topic I desired. So, I chose to try and write a cohesive story for my teacher.
This turned out to be the very first draft of my first novel, The Solar System’s Prophecies.
After four years of re-drafting, editing, learning, growing, and maturing, I published The Solar System’s Prophecies as a freshman in high school at the age of 15. Since then, every two years, I’ve published another novel in The Legend of V series, and I’m currently working on the fourth novel. Although, due to COVID-19, I have to delay that book’s publishing for at least a year.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I’m an independent publisher, going by the name of TLOV Publishing. I’m an independent organization with a rather broad goal in mind: change the world.
As of now, my goal manifests through focusing on the individual. Throughout my life, especially school, I have seen the creativity and brilliant minds of the peers around me unravel at the seams and reduce to nothing. This was especially apparent in my high school years, but to an extent, I’ve seen it in daily life throughout my entire life. It is my firm belief that identity in every individual starts with themselves, not what others expect from them. Ultimately, each person is special, branding their own breed of unique traits and talents to bring about a soul and spirit never seen before on this Earth.
That is a message I wish to spread with each and every book I publish. Through the story, the writing, the characters, and everything in between, my imagination oozes with my soul and spirit, and I wish the reader realizes that something special is waiting inside themselves as well.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I alluded to this in the previous answer, but my first high school felt like a calculated effort to conform the creative spirit and murder the individual mind.
A lot of my friends from middle school ended up in the high school I attended for my freshman and sophomore year: Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, CA. I mentioned how I published my first book in freshman year, but that was truly the only highlight of both freshman and sophomore year.
I was a part of the basketball team at Notre Dame as well during my freshman year, but I’ve never experienced such selfishness in my own team before that. Everyone felt out to get each other. It became less about succeeding as a team by combining our individual strengths and more about showing off to one another instead. That made freshman year a horrible experience, and by the end of it, I chose the path of an author instead. My basketball dreams laid to rest there, and my freshman year basketball traumas made that decision exceedingly easy.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
By sophomore year, it got much worse. All the friends that I made in middle school faded away. I didn’t see a single one of them that year, nor could I make any new friends.
I showed my sophomore year English teacher my newly published book, and she never expressed any interest in it at all (yeah, my ENGLISH teacher). Here’s the worst one: I tried starting a creative writing club. Not only did no one show up to the first meeting, but the teacher proctor (the AP literature teacher, one of the highest English authorities in the school) proceeded to sit me down and lecture me for an hour about how creative writing is a dying art at Notre Dame.
The proverbial slaps in my face never stopped, so I decided to transfer at the end of my sophomore year. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. It wouldn’t shock me if I developed a mild depression while at Notre Dame. There were zero opportunities to nurture what I wanted, and when I tried, I ended up more wounded.
And this is a prestigious private high school. I can’t imagine what the public school system is like.
Based on my experience, many students are taught, by academia, to not be themselves and conform to “greater” societal concepts. This may not be true across the entire US school system, as I am no authority on that, but even the brief experience I had at Notre Dame was enough to tell me that my instinctual beliefs were worth it.
And to this day, I still hold those beliefs near and dear.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
There was never one. I think that’s a misconception that many people have about success. It’s not about one single moment in time that make you think, “Oh, I can succeed now.” Almost every successful person believes they can succeed from the get-go. What the successful person does is keep hammering away, until eventually they succeed.
One must be willing to fail a thousand times before succeeding even once.
The most successful people in the world have also failed more than anyone else in the world. That’s what makes them successful. They learn through failure. They embrace it and analyze it, rather than run from it.
I think that’s the main reason many people don’t get up to try and succeed: the fear of failure. But that’s just the point: there is no success without failure. They are two sides of the same golden coin.
Take me for example. Even after I completed my first draft of The Solar System’s Prophecies back in 2012, I still had three more years of work to do. There was a lot of failure involved there, especially for a bratty teen who thought his story is perfect (it so wasn’t).
And even before that, the first four attempts at a novel were hopelessly unsuccessful. I became so frustrated that I stopped trying to write books and stuck with comic books until I was ready to try again. There were many failures involved there as well. In addition, even when I went back to comics, there were many times where I threw the comic away because I thought it was bad.
So, let me state this once again: there is no “aha” moment. That’s not what success means. Success comes from your will to never give up and stay true to yourself and your mission, no matter the cost.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Honestly, just try whatever you’re curious about. That’s how I gained much, if not all, of the experience I did today.
Whatever tickles your fancy, try it and experience it for the sake of bettering yourself as an individual and businessperson. Leave no experience wasted, even the worst ones.
Another great tip: get to know the people in your industry and line of work. They can share their experiences, successes, and failures with you. Some of them might even become your friends!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Oh, here’s a good one.
Right before the pandemic hit in the USA, I had a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Studio City, CA. Toward the end of the signing, a small child with curly hair like me walks up to me and asks what I’m selling. I tell him what The Legend of V is about, a high-octane sci-fi fantasy action adventure, and he walks away to get his mom to buy the books. My cousin is staring at him with a curious look in her eye.
She tells me, “I think that was Carson White from The Kissing Booth.”
Turns out, she was right. It was Carson.
You would not believe how starstruck I was when he came back. I imagine it looked hilarious to an outsider. Imagine an author featured at Barnes and Noble being starstruck by his child customer.
P.S. — Carson, if you’re reading this, stay awesome! I can’t wait for Kissing Booth 3.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I think the most adorable mistake I made when I was first starting out was that I believed my first draft to be a perfect representation of what I wanted to write.
I would later learn that this was so not the case.
Writing a book is 33% writing and 66% editing, it turns out.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My two most important cheerleaders/mentors are my mom and Teresa Burrell. My mom helped me both as an editor, manager, and lifelong supporter, and Teresa helped me in the technical and business aspects of writing.
I met Teresa at one of the first writer’s conferences I ever attended. She had a panel on how anyone could make six figures by self-publishing (something she herself had done), and I aspired to be like her one day, so I asked her a bunch of questions after the panel was over.
Since then, we’ve traded contact information and I still keep in touch with her to this day. Much of what I do in terms of publishing is inspired by her, and I cannot thank her enough for that.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
This isn’t a particular individual, but rather, a particular group of individuals. After one of my summer camp presentations, one of the counselors asked if I could stay a little longer to talk to an aspiring group of students who wanted to write comic books, just like I did when I was younger. They asked me a series of questions, especially on the business side in relation to self-publishing, and we talked with each other about how much fun it is to write.
They told me about how seeing someone like me made them think it was possible for them to succeed with their own work. I was honored.
I hope they’re still going at it!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Be themselves, be open-minded, and tackle the challenges they face daily. Nothing too specific, really. To tackle exceedingly large problems that this world is burdened with, start with yourself. Then broaden your scope of problem-solving.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- There is a balance between being stubborn and being reasonable. Every writer has to be stubborn to some extent to see their story come to fruition, but at the same time, try to be open minded to other suggestions from people you trust. I learned this one from the entire editing process of The Solar System’s Prophecies. It’s fine to want some of your story the way you “always envisioned it,” but at the same time, you’re writing a massive document. You’re bound to make mistakes. Be okay with that and be ready to work with your editor when the time comes.
- Marketing matters, especially online marketing in this Information Age. Ignoring that would be foolish. I didn’t really take marketing seriously until 2018. Not marketing online early in my career especially hurts right now because of the pandemic, since most of my audiences and sales were physical, not digital.
- If you’re writing something with a comprehensive canon, especially a series, keep an equally comprehensive list of every aspect of every important piece of your series in a word file somewhere. You have no idea how useful this will be in writing the later installments in your series. It will save you a LOT of time. As I was writing my trilogy, I remember being annoyed by constantly going back into my old books to see a character’s description or emotional struggle, so I decided to consolidate that information into a 600+ page word document last summer. Best. Decision. Ever. Also, every time you write something new in your series, be sure to update that document as you go along.
- Authors understand that writing books is way more than just about writing. It’s also editing, marketing, publishing, networking, and more. These several different processes that go into novel production is what separates an author from a writer. I really began to realize this after the publishing of my second novel, Triangle Corruption, in 2017. I remember noting how the first draft took only six months to complete, but the rest of the work took a year and a half.
- Always stay true to yourself and never give up. Having a small team that you trust doesn’t hurt in this aspect either. No particular moment in life taught me this. I thought of this over careful consideration and reflection over my 21 years of living, and this is universal. It can apply to any field, not just authoring.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I cannot hammer this point home enough: staying true to yourself is the single most important thing you can do to make a difference. No matter how grand or small that change might be, if you know who you are and what you are about, then the change you want to enact will follow suit.
So, take a little time out of each day for yourself. Make sure you are at peace with your mind and conscious and do the things that you want to do above all else.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oh boy, I can only pick one? I’m torn… hmm… if it had to be one, I’d pick Andrew Rea, otherwise known as the man who started the Babish Culinary Universe on YouTube (previously known as Binging with Babish). He re-ignited my love for cooking, something I’d thought I’d lost when I was a little kid.
I actually also went to Andrew’s most recent book tour and gave a copy of my trilogy to his best friend, Sawyer. I hope they ended up in Andrew’s hands somehow.
How can our readers follow you online?
All my social information, as well as the books I’ve published, are available on https://thelegendofv.com.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
No, thank you! This was an amazing interview.