Alice In My Story Was Perhaps Subconsciously Modeled On David Headley : Prem Rao

As we remember 26/11 on its fourth anniversary today, at The Tales Pensieve we get inKonversation with an author who brings us a thriller built around the terrorist carnage in Mumbai and a lot of other thrills. Bangalore based Blogger, Corporate Executive, Entrepreneur, Executive Coach and Thriller Writer Prem Rao after a psychological thrilling ride in It Can’t Be you is back this year with another exciting tale. As he gears up to launch his second novel, he talks about number 13 and writing inspirations, as an aftereffect inspiring us to never give up on our dreams. Read on:

Lucky For Some 13 – a second thriller in as many years Prem. Tell us what is the thrill about this time?
The wars of yesteryears were easier to fight because you knew who the enemy was, where he was and you fought face to face. Wars inevitably lasted for specific durations. Those days are over. The good guys and the bad guys are no longer so clearly demarcated. Today, the enemy is unknown. He could well be an ordinary citizen, like you or me. He could be one among the thousands you see and interact with everyday. He could be highly motivated and well trained to create at-most damage. He couldn’t care less about giving up his own life, because for him, that’s the ultimate achievement. These wars go on…and on…and on. Scary, isn’t it?

The story seems inspired from 26/11 as well as the Kandahar hijacking; what role does everyday news play in inspiring the storyteller in you?
The every day news plays a huge role in my story telling. I wrote most of LFS13 in November 2010 and some part of 2011, so it was inevitable that in some part I was influenced by the awful events of 26/11. I was terribly disappointed that the terrorists found it so easy to do what they did. The Kandahar hijacking too is mentioned more from the dynamics of taking hostages. This gives rise to several questions: what do you do with terrorists who are captured? Don’t they result in more attacks to rescue them or negotiate their release? Does that mean that the only good terrorist is a dead one? I was fascinated by the story of Daood Syed Gilani now better known to us as David Coleman Headley with the heterochromic eyes. Alice Hatchman in my story was perhaps subconsciously modeled on him.

How much do you personally believe in the general perception surrounding number 13?
That 13 is unlucky is a concept popular in Western lore. In fact the ancient Greek called the fear of 13, triskaidekaphobia, from “tris” meaning “three’; “deka” meaning “ten”; and “kai” meaning “and.” For us in India, 13 has always been considered an exceptionally lucky number.  I liked the name “Lucky For Some, 13” because this is how the number is traditionally called out when you play Housie. ” A good title should be like a good metaphor. It should intrigue without being too baffling or too obvious” – Walker Percy.

How did storytelling happen to you after so many years of corporate dealings? Did it steam out of the blog or was storytelling always on the cards?
I was always a storyteller. Friends who have known me for the past 50 years or more would vouch for that! I was always a voracious reader and that helped me appreciate the nuances of character and plot and develop a very healthy respect for the craft of writing a novel. It is a craft which has to be developed though practice. There is no end to learning and mastering your trade. My corporate experience over 35 years helped me understand more about people and hone my skills in listening and observation which are very useful, in my view, to be a good writer of fiction.

Aren’t first times always special? Which was the first piece that got published credited to you?
Oh, yes, really special! My first publication was my debut novel, a psychological thriller called, It Can’t Be You, which was very well received.  Writing would have remained a dream for me, had it not been for a catalyst in the form of NaNoWriMo, The National Novel Writing Month. In this you need to write 50,000 words of a novel in the calendar month of November. In November 2009, I successfully did this for the first time. Later, I became arguably the first author from out of India to have a debut novel published from a debut effort in NaNoWriMo. There has been no looking back since then. I might add that LFS13 comes out of my NaNo effort of November 2010.

Tell us about the books and authors whose books have been un-putdown-able for you.
From early childhood I have been fascinated by mystery and have developed a liking for thrillers and suspense novels. My major interests are in psychology and the military. You would notice that both my novels have strong doses of these. There have been too many good books to list but the authors I admire most include James Hadley Chase, Ian Fleming, Alistair MacLean, and Robert Ludlum but by far my favourite is not a thriller writer, he is P. G. Wodehouse!

You started penning stories at a much later stage in your life. What has been the most astonished comment/ compliment you have ever received?
That’s true! It is said that the average age for a debut novelist writing fiction to be published is 47. This figure is from the West. I was past 59 when my debut novel was published. Since I was an HR/Talent Management professional for 35 years many expected me to write a management treatise. They were astonished that (a) I had written fiction and (b) a thriller to boot! It Can’t Be You just about summed it up!

The biggest compliment came from my readers. Imagine my pride when on March 20, 2011, I found ICBY was ranked #33 out of 17,400 titles listed under “Suspense” in Flipkart. What was most gratifying was that the authors whose titles figured in Ranks 21 to 40 included:- Ruskin Bond, David Baldacci, Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Robin Cook, Lee Child, Dean Koontz, James Patterson, John Le Carre, Prem Rao, Harlen Coben, Greg Isles, Mario Puzo and Daniel Silva.

Do we have a character in Lucky For Some 13 whom we would immediately associate with, based on our memories about 26/11?
Let me emphasize that LFS13 is not about 26/11. To some extent, if you remember the events of 26/11, you might recall the valiant feats of the NSG personnel and therefore relate to Major Mohini Nair. In this yarn, she plays a prominent part on capturing two terrorists alive in January 2010 and finds herself in the thick of things once again in September 2010. But I leave it to you to decide after you have read the book.

How did you go about the research for the book, considering that there are events in there that have an uncanny resemblance to events that have rocked India in the recent past?
I do a lot of reading and attempt to give meticulous attention to detail in all my writing. I would like to think that the events described in the book are very different from what we have seen in India so far. Mention has been made of the 26/11 strikes and the IC 814 incident but only in passing. The terror plot in LFS13, however diabolical it might be, is brilliant in its conception and execution, mainly because of its inherent simplicity. It underscores the danger that modern terror strikes taking newer and newer forms of ingenuity. It’s entirely up to us to be ever vigilant because as the old adage goes, prevention is better then cure.

One reason why every thriller fan out there should read Lucky For Some 13.
The book’s by line says it all, “You can smell the fear.” I believe aficionados of plot construction will specially enjoy the way the story is woven around multiple incidents featuring different people in different places all leading to a climax.

Your words of wisdom to newbie writers.
Have confidence in your writing. Reading a lot improves your writing. I maintain that correct grammar and the right vocabulary do much to enhance the readability and hence the quality of your story. I’ll sign off on an encouraging note. Remember the golden words of William Somerset Maugham, “There are three ways to write a story. No one knows what they are.”

Thank you Mr. Rao. It was an honor having you here and all the best for Lucky For Some 13, the timing couldn’t have been better!

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Book Launch: December 1, 2012, Reliance TimeOut, Mantri Square, Malleswaram, Bangalore. 06:00 p.m. onwards