When Douglas W. Davis began to shop around his debut novel, Yoga: A Love Story, he found that publishers wanted to find a genre for him but couldn’t.
“They said, ‘Where do we put you?’ ” he recalls with a laugh. That’s because Yoga: A Love Story has several distinct sections cut from several distinct genres. It’s part coming-of-age tale, part crime saga, part love story, and, in the end, part mystical religious journey.
Oh, and you can throw in part autobiographical, too. But only part. “The novel is not totally autobiographical, but there are bits and pieces of what I saw growing up, the places I lived that shaped me,” Davis says.
The son of a career Air Force man, Davis traveled the world in his youth. His family lived in the Midwest—Indiana and Nebraska—for a bit before moving to England for four years. Later, they lived in Tacoma, Washington, and Chicago, where he spent his high school years. “I still consider myself a Chicagoan, although I have lived here in LA for 25 or 30 years,” says Davis.
Davis graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in English literature, and though he wasn’t writing then, Davis was introduced there to some of the authors who would shape his work later on—T.S. Eliot, Paulo Coelho, William Faulkner, James Baldwin among them, but especially Carlos Castaneda, who wrote about a shaman named Don Juan.
“I grew up Catholic, which is a traditional religion, and I started to broaden my horizons when I read those books by Castaneda,” Davis says. “It really affected me. I started studying world religions, and that became my hobby.”
Davis also studied law at Georgetown University, where he met his wife, and he practiced briefly before deciding it wasn’t for him. For the past 10 to 15 years, he says, he’s done mostly business consulting, but he’s continued to study religion once he and his wife moved to California and started a family.
“When I came here to LA, I was still pursuing that hobby, studying all sorts of world religions,” he says. “I’m really attracted to Buddhism and Hinduism. They are really interesting.”
About a decade ago, Davis began to write in earnest, mostly weekly essays on world religions called East Meets West. “If you boil most world religions down to their [fundamental] tenets, they’re basically the same,” he says. “I wanted to bridge that gap, show everyone we’re all in the same place. We don’t need to be fighting, especially about religion. I started doing that with my eyes on doing something bigger eventually.”
“Something bigger eventually” became Yoga: A Love Story, though the book started out as a short story. “Originally, there was a story arc where a young man went to Indiana and then to Chicago, had a drug problem and was rehabilitated, fell in love, and that was it,” Davis says. “But a lot of writers told me that the story just takes over, and that’s what happened. It just kept going. My wife, and the book, kept saying I wasn’t done.”
Where that led mostly was to India, where Davis’ protagonist eventually lands at an ashram in a quest not only for love, but also for inner peace.
“The title was the first thing that came to me,” the author says. “I was going to call it Yoga, not in the sense of all the stretches and positions everyone knows, but in the truest sense of the word, meaning union with God…I wanted to focus on yoga in its purest [form] in that we’re all seeking to be one with God, with all religions. I think we’re all searching for that oneness, however we describe it. When my character found it, everything unfolded before him, and he found what he was looking for.”
Davis sums that up near the end of Yoga: A Love Story:
I thought everything I had done had led me to this moment, of becoming one with the woman I loved. All those lonely nights in Indiana, the chicanery in Chicago and my bravery in Mumbai and Kaziranga, they suddenly all made sense. It was for her—Aanya was the reason I was brought here and tested.
Davis’ protagonist is a young Indian man, enough of an outsider that Davis, a Black man who grew up moving from city to city with his family, understood him.
“I wanted to kind of talk about some of my experiences being ‘the other,’ but I didn’t want to be on the nose so much,” he says. “The spirit just came to me and said, ‘This is who your character is.’ I also knew I wanted to have some sort of Eastern religion in the arc, and that worked.”
Davis does most of his writing between two and five in the morning, beginning each writing session with meditation. “It’s an invitation to the muse,” he explains. “I write in the early mornings or late at night, because those are the quiet times.”
Davis and his wife, their son, and two standard poodles live in Malibu. He’s working on his second novel now, “going in a different direction,” he says. “There is spirituality involved, but the first one was dealing with Earth. The second one is dealing with space.”
Like Yoga: A Love Story, Davis will rely on comments from his wife, whom he calls “an amazing attorney.” “I’ll hold off showing it to her until it’s close to being completed, but she’s a good editor, as well,” he says.
After all, she was one of the people who told Davis he wasn’t finished with Yoga when it was short story. He expanded it, and it became everything he wanted in a first novel. “My whole thing was to write something that showed we’re all one, no matter the source, that we’re all together,” he says. “Incorporating the love story aspect into it as well just makes it more enjoyable.”
Alec Harvey, former president of the Society for Features Journalism, is a freelance writer based in Alabama.