More Than Dronas, There Are Krishnas In My Writing Journey: Mainak Dhar
A self-described cubicle dweller by the day and writer by night, our author in the hot seat, is the author of over a dozen books, some of which have been bestsellers in India and abroad. These books have also been translated into Turkish, Vietnamese, Japanese, French, German and Portuguese. He lives with a self-assigned target of writing a book a year and going by the titles bearing his name, he very well averages at more than 1 per year.
We get inKonversation with Mainak Dhar, after more than 3 years, as his latest release – 03:02 hits online and offline stores. The marathon spirited writer talks to us about his latest literary baby, making of the gripping book trailer, why a book-a-year is a promise and dispenses some writing tips. Read on:
Congratulations on the new literary baby – 03:02, Mainak. What is it bringing, that we haven’t had before?
Thanks! In 03:02, I attempt to build off something that we unfortunately see in the news every day – the seemingly ever-present threat of terror. However, what’s new to it are two things. First, the nature of the terror threat, not an isolated attack, but a cataclysmic strike that knocks out all electricity and communications, taking our society back hundreds of years technologically in one stroke. Second is the fact that ordinary Indians, people like you and me, are the ones who have to rise to the challenge of combating a terror threat that is invading our homeland.
Last time we spoke you said you are averaging about 2 books per year. You seem to be sticking to that with vengeance! 🙂 We all seen to have lost count of how many of your works we have read. Please overwhelm us by telling 03:02 is your which work?
My resolution is a book a year, and broadly I’m sticking to it. We moved back to India in 2014 after 15 years abroad, and with settling into a new job and home, I took a breather from writing. I soon made up for lost time, and in 2016, I have two books out – 03:02 and Brand Shastra. If I count the two books I had co-authored while in college, the total count is now seventeen.
The book trailer of 03:02 is amazingly gripping. Please tell us about the work & journey that went behind it.
I am a very visual writer, in the sense that when I write, I almost imagine scenes playing out in front of me like a movie. I thought it would be a great way to engage potential readers by giving them the same visual glimpse of what 03:02 has in store. My day job in the corporate world and the many years spent in marketing helped – as the process was remarkably like making a TV commercial. I wrote a brief, worked with a couple of very talented folks at Twist Studio in Mumbai, agreed storyboards and then shot and edited it. I was thrilled with the end result, and I’m glad viewers have responded so well. At last count, the video on my Facebook page has been viewed close to three lakh times.
What kind of research has gone into this book?
A lot, and at many levels. First the context setting of the terror attack that unfolded at 03:02 in the morning (hence the title) required a fair bit of research into the threat of EMP (Electro Magentic Pulse) weapons – something that has been discussed in the United States as a major cause of worry, but not really talked about much in India. Then came research into how a modern society would cope with the loss of all electricity, communications and most gadgets and conveniences we take for granted (cars, phones etc.) Even simple things like flushing toilets, piped water supply and medicines that require refrigerated storage would be things our protagonists would need to think about. Then came the aspect of our protagonists needing to wage what is essentially urban guerilla warfare against the terrorist invaders. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot in the process, and I hope it makes the story richer and more realistic for the readers.
Writing is such a systematic business. How does the planning-writing phase work out for you?
I think every writer has his or her own way of ideating and then bringing those ideas to life, so no easy tricks to offer. What I do is start with a what-if? and then once I find a question which piques my curiosity and provokes me, flesh it out into a broad storyline. In the case of 03:02, that simple premise was, What if what’s happening with ISIS in Syria and Iraq were to happen in my neighbourhood and there was no army or police to help. How would we react?. Once the writing begins, the plot does evolve and change course, but that broad outline is something that stays as a guide post.
I think the biggest difference the digital world has made to an author is the ability to connect in real time, and on a one on one basis, with readers. As a writer, that is something I love the most about writing – connecting with people I may otherwise never meet. I often jokingly say that books were the original social network – bringing together people across countries and languages. Ten years ago, that connection for me was the occasional email or a chance encounter. Today, it is on an everyday basis on Facebook or Twitter. I don’t actually see it as marketing, but as a genuine opportunity to get to know my readers better, connect with them, and give them the opportunity to know the person behind the book.
If writing was archery, you Eklavya; whom would you consider your Drona?
I don’t really have a single Drona – but I have been inspired by many writers – Tolkien, for his ability to create whole worlds with his imagination; Stephen King for his prolific body of work and never ceasing to surprise. To change the analogy a bit, if writing was archery, and I was Arjuna, I have had a few Krishnas in my life – my compass, inspiration and guiding light. First was my mother. She was the one who encouraged a little boy’s dream of being a writer, went with me to find publishers when I was in college and always told me that no dream was too big to dream. I had lost touch with my writing after starting work in the corporate sector and I lost my mother to Cancer in 2001. Before passing away, in one of our last conversations, she told me I could be anything I wanted, I would have big jobs and money, but she wanted me to have the same joy on my face she had seen when I had been a boy telling her I wanted to be a writer. I promised her I would write a book a year – and that’s the promise I’m still trying to honour. My second Krishna is my wife, Puja. She brings so much positivity into our life that it helps center me, focus me on the glass half-full at all times, and focus on the possibilities. What better inspiration can a writer ask for?
You are also a very popular eBooks author. Tell us, do you think has the tide turned with Indian readers? What’s your take on the paperbacks vs. eBooks preference conflict?
eBooks are perhaps still in their infancy as far as sales in India go, but from what I gather, growing rapidly. I think over time, there will not really be a conflict, but a co-existence. eBooks offer convenience, but a Kindle or smartphone can never convey the memories and emotions that come with remembering who had given you a special book, or seeing a book signed by your favourite author. I do most of my reading on the Kindle app, since I’m on the move a lot, and often read more than one book at a time, but most of my favourite books are still there in physical form by my bedside.
It’s still early days, as 03:02 got into bookstores only by mid July. However, the early response and feedback has been very encouraging. It’s already on the Crossword Bestseller list and the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list, but more than bestseller tags and sales, it has helped me meet and connect with lots of great readers.
What will we be seeing next from you? I am sure with your speed it’s half way through 🙂
03:02 is the first book (other than the ones I wrote in college) to be published when I’m living in India. So I’m having a lot of fun being able to meet readers in person, seeing it in bookstores and helping my publishers get the word out. At present, haven’t started on a new book but already some readers have asked me whether I’d write a sequel to 03:02. That has got me thinking…
Your words of wisdom for newbie writers.
I have very little wisdom to offer 🙂 However, if you want to be a writer, consider the following:
Read widely. The best way of understanding how to tell stories is to learn what kind of stories inspire you and how different writers bring their craft to life.
Write about what matters to you. Don’t try and write about something you think will sell. Write about themes you are passionate about. It will show in your writing.
Practice. Nobody writes a masterpiece off the cuff. Like anything else in life, your writing gets better as you practice. So don’t wait for the inspiration for the next great Indian novel to come into your mind. Write a blog, an article, a diary – anything that gets you writing.
Stick to it. Writing a novel is a long and often lonely process. So while inspiration may get you started, discipline is what will see you through.
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