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BookChums interviews Mainak Dhar

Post by: Kabita Sonowal























Mainak Dhar is a novelist and short-story writer who has written stories across versatile genres from sci-fi and apocalyptic to world peace. He has written The Martyr (short story from Labyrinth Short Stories) which was inspired by  the child soldiers of the Iran-Iraq war. Set against the backdrop of today's chaos-ridden Afghanistan, he unfolds a story that illustrates the urgent need for universal peace and the futility of ravage and destruction. Some of his other works include Alice in Deadland, Zombiestan, Vimana, Heroes are us, and The Cubicle Manifesto. In this exclusive interview with BookChums, he discusses The Martyr, other story lines and themes, his passion for story writing, and advice for aspiring authors.


Thank you for doing the interview with BookChums. The Martyr is a story set in contemporary Afghanistan in the midst of chaos. How did the idea & theme come into being?

Actually the idea for the Martyr is an old one dating back to the late 1980s. I was in school and remember reading about how child soldiers were being used in the Iran-Iraq war, fighting and dying in a war they perhaps scarcely comprehended. That level of brutality that humans are capable of to their young is one of the unfortunate things unique to our species and the idea stuck in my mind. Later, when I saw the same reality unfold in Afghanistan, I was inspired to write this story.



How long did you take to write this story?

One afternoon of writing and then several hours of fine-tuning and polishing.


What according to you is more challenging to write: a short story or a novel?

They both have their challenges. A short story requires one to exercise great economy of prose to bring out the idea in a few words yet not leave the reader dissatisfied and wanting more. A novel has its own challenges - character development, keeping the various threads of the storyline cogent and finally, the discipline it takes to keep at it, day after day, and finish a novel. The last factor alone in my mind makes a novel more challenging than a short story.



Your writings have been set against settings of the apocalyptic (Alice in Deadland), the devastation & futility of war (The Martyr), adventure and hope (Zombiestan), sci-fi (Vimana) and corruption (Heroes are us) among many others. What has triggered such versatile writings?

There’s no one answer or formula. Inspiration comes in many ways, and sometimes when you least expect it. However, the core source of my ideas as with most authors stems from my experiences and what I enjoy reading and learning about. I have always loved reading sci-fi and fantasy, so that theme shows in my writing. I love reading speculative fiction as well, which is a theme that permeates in a lot of my books, alternate histories, possible futures and so on.



How many hours do you devote to writing every day? Do you have any quirky writing habits?

I try and write at least 30-45 minutes every day. That doesn’t sound like much, but that means writing about 750 words a day. Take an average novel length of 70000 words, and you can get a first draft done in just 3 months. The trick, as with most things in life, is to be at it, day after day. I also travel a fair bit in my day job, and I write a lot in flights and hotels. I was on a 12 hour flight to Switzerland last week, and I wrote for five hours and slept the rest. There is no instant formula to writing a novel; you need the idea and inspiration for sure. But you need that level of commitment- that you’re willing to spend what others would consider ‘spare time’ to devote to your writing. When I’m in the middle of a novel, I keep a spreadsheet where I track the number of words I write every day. Sounds crazy, but just writing it down keeps me honest and forces me to write every day. The discipline you need to be a novelist is in many ways no different from that needed to be a professional in any field - a painter, an athlete etc. You get better the more you practice, and doing a little bit every day adds up. Everyone thinks it’s the right thing to do, but until you discipline yourself and sit your backside down and write - you won’t get anywhere.



Who are your favorite authors and which books have been your all-time favorite reads?

Three all time favorite writers - Tolkien for the fantastic worlds and characters, Roald Dahl for the humor and the twists in the tale, and Stephen King for being my personal inspiration. I remember a quote by King saying that the moment someone paid you a penny for your writing, you were a professional writer. So in Class 7, inspired by that quote, I stapled together some of my poems and solutions to the next term’s Maths textbook (I figured nobody would pay me for my poems alone) - and sold them to my classmates. I earned $12.50 (I was in Canada at that time) and came home and announced I had become a professional writer. There’s been no looking back since then.


Are you writing any book at the moment?

Just finished the first draft of a post-apocalyptic novel and am polishing that off before it goes to the editor. Also, I have a couple of releases coming up in September that are keeping me busy - Zombiestan’s India launch by Duckbill and the world release of The Cubicle Manifesto by Random House.



Any tips for aspiring authors.
Don’t believe all the crap you hear about writer’s block or complain about not having enough time. If you are truly passionate about writing, make the time. Carve out some time in your day when you will only think about writing or actually write, and then get into the discipline or writing every day. Also, keep your mind fresh, the more you read and the more diverse interests you have, the more the chances that you’ll get fresh ideas and not get stuck in a rut.


1 Comment

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A Thank You to both BookChums and Mr.Dhar for a truly refreshing and inspiring interview.
Thu,Sep 20th 2012 8:41 AM