inKonversation: Nagendra Murti on Debuting With A Mind Thriller and More…

Born in Bengaluru, India and a Master of Software Engineering from Brandeis University, Waltham, USA, Nagendra Murti is a technologist and a customer advocate by profession. He is also an avid bird-watcher, photographer and wildlife enthusiast. His constant gripe is the disappearing lakes of Bengaluru due to chaotic urbanization and is looking for avenues to help with that cause. When time permits, he teaches on weekends at a government primary school as a volunteer for the NGO, Aashayein Foundation.

Nagen_MurtiBeing a voracious reader of fiction and non-fiction himself, I have always had a creative itch. My favorite authors are Ruskin Bond, Ernest Hemingway and Preston- Child and in the non-fiction aisle he usually picks up books on history, adventurous expeditions and stories of survival. After living in Boston, USA for a decade and traveling extensively across the world, he returned home to Bengaluru with his family in the summer of 2008.

Congratulations on the stupendous debut Nagendra. Thar Express is garnering some very good reviews. The blurb hints at a very exciting tale, tell us about the book.

Thank you – the reviews from readers are certainly encouraging.

Thar Express tells the story of a man who is rescued from the aftermath of a landslide near the India-Pakistan Line of Control. He is barely alive and appears to have no memory of his identity, his past or the circumstances that led him to a remote and sensitive part of the country that he was rescued from. After initially being cared for in an army hospital, he is sent to a doctor who specializes in treating those afflicted by memory loss. Diagnosed with Focal Retrograde Amnesia and under the unconventional but effective care of this doctor, he begins to remember tiny fragments of his past and sets off on a journey of re-discovering himself that leads him across seven different states and brings him in contact with people who wittingly or unwittingly help him along in this journey. The army intelligence, initially suspicious of his antecedents and intent but with no hard facts to act on, stumbles across information that pushes them beyond suspicion. They launch a relentless manhunt to re-capture what they now consider to be a dangerous insurgent. Will our protagonist eventually find out the truth about his past? Will the authorities’ worst fears come true or are they just chasing an illusion? The story takes the reader through twists and turns, introduces characters who represent the eccentric mixture of mirth and cynicism that is twenty-first century India and unfolds the unexpected truth about our protagonist.

What kind of research has gone into Thar Express?

It took me 3 years to write the book and needed fairly significant research. Some important parts certainly came from my own experience from meeting people, travelling and overall being a bit long in the tooth J. But there were other aspects that I had to learn about – starting with the realistic possibility of memory loss and what can cause it and on to things like places that I have never been to and knew precious little about. But, the Internet and the world-wide-web are wonderful things and I could complete much of my research sitting at my desk.

Makes one wonder, how authors from a few decades back would do their research!

A good protagonist is one who captures the minds of the readers and generally when you create something that strong you get pulled into the magic maze yourself. How much did Mano take you over in his journey of self discovery?

Mano, the protagonist in Thar Express, is a simple man – one who could be any among the hundreds of people you can run into any given day in India. To have readers empathize with Mano, I had to put into words his every thought, his every emotion and his state of mind. So, that I had to step into his shoes, is putting it mildly. Mano became a very real being to me and still is.

Do share with us your adventure (or misadventure) in the run-up to be on a book cover. How did the publishing journey go?

As I was getting closer to completing my book, I read many blogs and articles from other new writers to explore the options for publishing. Most of their experiences seemed to point to self-publishing as the best option. There were even a few whose book had been accepted by a publishing house but found it better to self-publish. So, I should say I was almost convinced that I should self-publish too. However, once the writing was done, I was very keen to see the reaction I would get from agents and publishing houses. So, I did give that a shot until I realized that I didn’t want to wait any longer. I did hire a professional editor and a professional designer for the book cover. Once that was done, there was no looking back!

Traditional publishing or self published, what is your take and why?

Not to sit on the fence on this, but I do honestly believe that both have their own set of advantages and disadvantages that have to be weighed carefully. With self-publishing, you have to pay for services like editing, cover design and so on and once you have published, marketing your book is a hard mountain to climb.  With a traditional publisher, all that is taken care of (though, marketing is still something you will have to do on top of whatever the publisher does). On the other hand, self-publishing gives you complete freedom on what you want to publish, how and when.

If I have to lean towards one, I can say this – for a first-time author, self-publishing is probably an easier route to take unless you are the kind who strikes gold with your first swing.

What do you think will change the tide in favour of ebooks in the Indian market?

I think eBooks will never completely replace the paperbound ones, they will just learn to co-exist in a way that each caters to different situations. But, I do foresee eBooks gaining far more popularity in India than they currently enjoy. A number of factors will make that possible – the biggest being choice of devices and selection of books available. With the advent of the tablet computer, installing eBook reader software and building a virtual library is the simplest thing to do.  Also, Indians are traveling like never before and carrying eBooks is a far easier thing to do.

As an author what role has social media played in easing the journey?

Reaching out to readers, deciphering their likes and dislikes and getting instant feedback have all become extremely simple things to do, thanks to Social media platforms. I love interacting with the book-reading community and am a regular on facebook and twitter.

Tell us what keeps you busy apart from telling stories.

I am a technologist and amateur photographer. I do care very deeply about the environment and am constantly looking for avenues to save Bengaluru’s vanishing lakes.

Everyone who writes, writes for a reason; and to write a novel needs a very real reason. What’s yours?

Very simple reason – I absolutely enjoy writing.  Putting together a premise and a plot, sketching the characters, arriving at twists that sometimes surprise me too – that’s what I live for.

What is your biggest aspiration as a writer?

To tell a very interesting story – one that leaves the reader captivated. As an avid reader myself, I know the feeling one gets when we complete a very satisfying, deeply engrossing, intelligently written book. That is what I aspire for as a writer.

So your final pitch to our readers, what does That Express offer to the reader that they have not been offered by the books in the same genre, before?Thar_Express_final_Small

Thar Express weaves a tale of intrigue around a common man who finds himself in an extraordinary circumstance. As the protagonist sets about on a journey of rediscovering himself, the twists and turns he rides through, the setbacks and triumphs he faces, all leading to an unexpected ending – these are what most readers have liked about it. Viewing India with all its glorious twenty-first century eccentricities through Mano’s eyes, makes Thar Express a unique reading experience.

What is next on the literary front from you?

I am working on a compilation of short stories while also dreaming up my next novel that falls into the realm of historical-fiction.

Your words of wisdom for newbie writers.

Enjoy the process of writing – don’t worry about whether the book will be successful or what kind of readers it will appeal to.  Your best work will happen if you have enjoyed writing it.  Once the book is complete, the hardest and the most important part is to transform yourself from being a writer to a marketer. Some things I believe are important: get your cover professionally done; hire a professional editor; don’t hesitate talking / writing about your book in any and every forum – no publicity is too small.  And finally remember – patience is the key! Keep the ink flowing.

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