Mainak Dhar wears many hats. He considers his most important job to be the best possible father and husband he can be. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, his ‘day job’ is with a major multinational firm, leading its businesses for the Asia, Middle East & Africa region. A self-described ‘cubicle dweller by day and writer by night’, when he’s not with his family or at work, he loves creating and sharing stories.
He is the author of over a dozen books, some of which have been bestsellers in India and abroad including the bestselling Alice in Deadland series, 03:02 and Sniper’s Eye. His books have been translated into Turkish, Vietnamese, Japanese, French, German and Portuguese, reaching millions of readers worldwide. He is also a passionate student of Karate, and holds a Black Belt. Learn more about him and contact him at www.mainakdhar.com.
TBE: Tell us about you, your family and your work
Mainak Dhar: I’m just another guy, trying to be the best I can for those who count on me. The most important people in my life are my wife, Puja, and our ten-year old son, Aaditya. I try and spend as much time with them as possible.
Next come those at work who count on me. I’ve been working in the corporate sector for well over twenty years, and currently head up the Asia, Middle East & Africa region for a multinational firm. Doing the best I can to help the thousands of employees in my team succeed and creating a great place to work for them is something that’s really important to me.
Beyond family and work, I do try and keep space for my health and passions. Writing is obviously one of them. I’ve also been learning Karate for many years, and recently was awarded my Black Belt. A lot of the values Karate teaches- calmness, discipline and respect, are things I value a lot. My ten-year old son is also learning Karate, and should appear for his Black Belt later in 2019.
Storytelling has been a passion of mine since I was a child, when I loved making up stories, had an imaginary friend who would sit next to me in class, and wrote a diary about how the world ended and buried it in our front yard, hoping to mess with the minds of future historians. I just feel lucky that along with my career and my family, I have been able to keep my passion alive, and share those stories with so many people through my writing.
TBE: Can you share with us something about the book Sniper’s Eye that isn’t in the blurb?
Mainak Dhar: Sniper’s Eye is a thriller about an Army Major who has been trying to put the demons of his past behind him and live an ordinary life in Mumbai. On a date with his girlfriend in a mall, the man in front of them is shot, and he is thrust into the middle of a terror attack, which brings to the open his past, puts him on a terror kill list, and puts him and his loved ones in danger.
As he is sucked in deeper, he has to become the man he once was and confront his past. He also learns that things aren’t quite as they seem, and that there is a deeper conspiracy at play which he must unravel if he is to save himself and those he cares about. To do so, he has to learn to work with the sniper – a man who has sworn to kill him!
TBE: How did you get the idea of this book? What is the key theme and/or message in the book?
Mainak Dhar: The inspiration for Sniper’s Eye came from the world around us, where we see conflicts in many parts of the world, where mostly young people are fighting and killing themselves in the name of religion or patriotism, without really thinking of whose purposes they are serving.
Sniper’s Eye tries to put two individuals together, who on the face of it are enemies, and get them to discover that perhaps they need to work together to fight those who are actually creating the conflicts in which they and their loved ones are mere pawns. As I write in the book, we live in a world where the young and poor fight and die in wars started by the old and rich.
TBE: Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Mainak Dhar: The characters are all imaginary, though I do try and infuse characteristics of people I know to make characters more relatable and real to readers. It’s the small touches that make us remember people, and it’s the same with characters in books. The one exception in Sniper’s Eye is my late father, Maloy Krishna Dhar, who plays his ‘real’ self, in a cameo role!
TBE: How did you research on the subject?
Mainak Dhar: When I’m writing a novel, I am in a way creating a whole new world, inhabited by characters who have their own stories and lives. So, every novel requires its own research to enable me to bring to life that world and those characters in a way that would ring true for readers.
In Sniper’s Eye, for example, my protagonist is an ex-Special Forces soldier caught up in a terror plot, so I had to research a lot about tactics used in Special Forces and about all kinds of interesting things like how to make an improvised bomb out of a lighter or what would happen if you put AK-47 shells on a frying pan. Also as they say, write what you know, and some parts of my novels come from personal experience and observation.
Both 03:02 and Sniper’s Eye are based in the neighborhood where I live, allowing me to bring in more realism. Also most of my thrillers have a lot of unarmed combat that I’ve been told by readers comes across as very realistic. That’s because that’s one aspect I don’t need to do secondary research on. I’ve been learning Karate for years and have a Black Belt.
TBE: How long does it take you to write this book?
Mainak Dhar: It took about a year.
TBE: How did you celebrate the publishing of your first book?
Mainak Dhar: My first book was published when I was in college, and I celebrated by having some pastries with my mother. She was the one who really recognised and nurtured the desire to write I had and was in many ways, my first agent before I knew such a thing existed. She would go with me to publishers, make sure bookstores had copies of my book and then follow up with publishers to ensure they were paying my royalties and not ripping off a young college student!
TBE: Do you read much and if so, who are your favorite authors?
Mainak Dhar: I love reading. All time favourites would be J.R.R Tolkien, Roald Dahl and Stephen King. Among contemporary authors, I really enjoy Lee Child and Bernard Cornwell.
TBE: Did you ever have a rough patch in writing, where nothing in the story seemed to fit or make sense?
Mainak Dhar: My first novel, The Funda of Mix-ology was both a humbling and inspiring experience. I got more than fifty rejection slips and that experience taught me just how hard it is for a new writer to break in. However, it was then picked up and then went on to become a national bestseller. That experience taught me the importance of persevering and believing in myself.
TBE: What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Mainak Dhar: The most common trap is believing that there is a ‘formula’ for being a great writer, and trying to ape someone who has been successful. Anyone who claims there is one simple secret to becoming a successful author is lying or has never written a book.
Like all things in life, being good at writing requires a little bit of aptitude, a bit of inspiration, a lot of practice, and a ton of perseverance. Most of all, you have to love doing it- and be ready to commit yourself with the passion needed to bring a book to life and then take it to readers.
Finally, you need to have the humility to keep learning, and never let success get to your head. When you think of it, it’s not that different from being successful in a sport or a corporate career.
TBE: Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Mainak Dhar: I believe a writer shouldn’t jump onto bandwagons of what ‘will sell’. What will ultimately make the journey fulfilling is when a writer finds themes he or she is passionate about and bring that individuality and originality to their work.
TBE: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Mainak Dhar: Ever since I was a child, I loved storytelling- I had an imaginary friend who sat next to me in class and wrote a diary about how the world ended and buried it in the garden so that future historians would find it!
The immediate spark for me taking the first real step towards the dream of being a writer was an interview of Stephen King which I read when I was eleven years old, and living in Canada at that time. He had said something to the effect that anytime anyone paid you a penny for your work, you were a published author.
I took some poems I had written, stapled them together with solutions to the next term’s Maths textbook (figuring nobody would want to pay for my poems alone) and sold them to my classmates at fifty cents a copy. The $12.50 I earned was my first ‘royalty’ payment! I published my first ‘real’ book in college, a book on Economic History of India, and the thrill of seeing my name in print is something I still feel.
TBE: Do you have any suggestions to help me (any one) become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Mainak Dhar: Read– the best way a writer can grow is to read widely, get a sense of how other writers being their craft to bear, and to stimulate thinking on ideas or themes that may be of interest.
Be original– don’t jump into bandwagons of what ‘will sell’. Find what you are passionate about and write about it.
Be patient– being a published author isn’t something that will happen overnight. My first novel, The Funda of Mix-ology, gathered dozens of rejection slips before it was published and became a national bestseller. So even if you encounter setbacks, hang in there.
Keep writing– writing one book is hard work; but once you have your first book out, don’t sit back if you’re serious about becoming a writer. Keep that curiosity and hunger alive and keep writing a little bit every day- even if you’re not working on a novel, write a blog, or articles or a diary- but keep writing.
TBE: A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, and they are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
Mainak Dhar: I think that like most stereotypes, that one is too simplistic. I know all kinds of people who are great storytellers and writers, and they are hardly all loners. If anything, being an author and putting yourself ‘out there’, where your work can be seen, enjoyed and indeed criticized by strangers, takes a certain kind of social courage.
TBE: Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
Mainak Dhar: With a demanding, full-time corporate job and the time I want to spend with family, the only way I can fit my writing in is to be disciplined and deliberate about it. I try and write a little bit every day- usually no more than 500 words, but that all adds up if you do it regularly!
How I fit it into my lifestyle is that I run every morning, and typically that’s when I’m thinking of ideas. Before getting ready for work, I normally write for fifteen to twenty minutes each day. That way, my writing is ‘done’ for the day even before my office day has begun! I travel a fair bit on work and I get a lot of writing done in planes, airport lounges and hotels when I’m on business trips.
TBE: What does literary success look like to you?
Mainak Dhar: Connecting with people through my words and ideas. Every time I hear from a reader who has enjoyed my work or who empathizes with the themes I’ve tried to convey, I feel successful as a writer.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Mainak Dhar: The sequel to Sniper’s Eye. It should be available to readers later in 2019.
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