NAW Interview with Mainak Dhar

Mainak DharMainak Dhar’s first `published’ work was a stapled collection of Maths solutions and poems. Mainak is a bestselling author in India with titles published by major houses like Penguin and Random House and with one of his novels (Herogiri) being made into a major motion picture. Mainak is one of the top selling horror authors on Amazon worldwide and in March 2013, became the #1 bestselling Horror author on Amazon, momentarily unseating Stephen King. His Alice in Deadland books are being made into a TV series in the US. Connect with him here.

NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. My journey, as it were, perhaps took a more determined and concrete shape when I was about eleven years old. I had read an interview by Stephen King where he said something to the effect that the moment someone paid you a cent for your writing, you were a published writer. So I stapled some of my poems together with solutions to the next term’s Maths textbook and sold them to my classmates at 50 cents a pop. I made $12.50- my first `royalties’ and came home and proclaimed to my bemused Mom that I was now a professional author.

NAW- Tell us about your books? Am not going to ask you about a specific book because you have so many published works; so tell us about your personal favourite out of all the books that you have published?

I tend to write about things that inspire me or about topics where I feel I can make a difference. I’ve always loved fantasy and the ability to create new worlds and characters (like Tolkein)- that perhaps feeds my body of work in the dystopian fiction/horror genre like the Alice in Deadland series; I really resonate to some of the things that are wrong with our society today and how each individual can make a difference if he or she shakes off apathy- that has led to contemporary thrillers like Herogiri and A Little Mayhem; and finally with my day job in the corporate sector, I’ve tried to give back with books like The Cubicle Manifesto and Brand Management 101. It’s hard to pick one that is my favourite, but perhaps I’d pick The Funda of Mix-ology, both because it was my first published novel and because the themes it conveys (trying to find balance in a manic world) are very close to my heart.

NAW- How do you do the research for your books?

Depends on the genre and the book- a lot of it is background research by reading, but I am also a pretty `hands on’ person and (do) both, (i.e.) write about things I’ve seen and done and conversely, try out things I want to write about. So I’ve gone down the stretches of roads and barren land described as the Deadland in my books; the locations of almost all my novels are real places I’ve been to; and the action derives a lot from my personal experience of learning the martial arts for many years when I was younger. You know the cliche- write what you know, and that’s what I believe in- it makes it all (the) more authentic and also fun.

NAW- What do you do when you are not writing?

Spend as much time as possible with my family- my wife Puja and our six year old son, Aaditya. Besides, I have a full time job in the corporate world, so I have my hands more than full juggling these three roles as a corporate leader, a writer, and most importantly for me, a family man.

NAW- Did you face any trouble in finding publishers for your first book?

Lots! I went through the school of hard knocks, earning more than fifty rejection slips for The Funda of Mix-ology. At some point, I was pretty sure publishers were rejecting me without me even sending in a submission- as if the whole publishing industry were conspiring to keep my little story out of bounds. As it were, it got picked up by a small press, and ended up being a national bestseller in India. That whole process taught me a lot- but most of all, the importance of having a thick skin if you want to be a writer.

NAW- Writing is not looked upon as a full time vocation in many countries, were you aware that making a living solely out of writing is difficult when you first started out?

I had read about it, and had very realistic goals. I write because I love to write- even if I weren’t paid to do it, I would still do it. As I said, I have a full time job- writing for now is a passion, an important part of who I am and what makes me tick, but not something I’m looking to make a living out of on its own- at least for now.

NAW-What made you delve into this genre? How is the readership for your books? Any humorous episode you encountered like some angry parent complaining against your works?

My first entry into dystopian horror was Zombiestan, and it was born out of my desire to try my hand at fantasy, a genre I love, mixed with contemporary affairs, again something I love following. Once I was in, I was hooked, and that has led me to the Alice in Deadland series (seven books and counting) and Chronicler of the Undead. No parent has complained yet, in part because I am personally not a fan of gore and excess violence, and so while my books have a lot of action, (but) nothing that I wouldn’t trust any teenager with. One incident that does come to mind as hilarious is when a blogger in Delhi, inspired by Zombiestan, went to a blogger’s meet dressed as a zombie. He has since then picked up the nickname zombie and says the reputation (with the face blood and gore on his face!) and name is preventing him from attracting girls. I told him that I can do many things for my loyal readers, but fixing their love lives is beyond my capability!

NAW- Tell us about the marketing process for your books? Did you hire somebody or did it by yourself?

The best marketing a writer can do is write the very best book he can, and then write the next one. With a full time job and a family to take care of, I really don’t have the time, energy or inclination to do a lot of self-promotion. What I do, and I don’t really consider it marketing, is to interact with readers. I love hearing from them, respond promptly, and have a little Facebook group where I interact with them. To me, that’s not marketing, but it’s the real magic of books- connecting people who would otherwise never have met. Many of them have become friends, and that is the best reward I’ve got from my books so far.

NAW- Which writers would you name as literary influences?

J.R.R Tolkein for his imagination and ability to create worlds and characters, Roald Dahl for his twists in the tale and humor and Stephen King for inspiring an eleven year old to dream of being a writer.


NAW- Which of your books have been adapted into films?

The motion picture rights for Herogiri were bought by Anil Kapoor Films in Mumbai and a Bollywood movie should be in the works, and the Alice in Deadland series is being turned into a TV series in the US.

NAW- Please name your 5 favourite books (apart from your own works).

Lord of the Rings by Tolkein

Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

The Stand by Stephen King

Poetry by Vikram Seth- my all time favourite being `All you who sleep tonight’

Any book by Carl Sagan- but definitely Broca’s Brain and Cosmos among them

NAW- What are your upcoming projects?

For now, taking a break from writing and focusing on the other parts of my life. We just moved to Mumbai where I’ve started a new job, and settling into the new job, and settling in our new home with family are what I’m focused on. Soon enough, I’ll be back to my keyboard, and I have a couple of ideas (that) I want to explore.

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