Crime fiction writer Vish Dhamija speaks to Kitaab on the sidelines of the recently concluded Kumaon Literary Festival, where his latest book Nothing Else Matters was launched.
What are your early memories of writing, how did your interest grow?
My earliest memories are from school days. I used to pen small articles for the school bulletin, like everyone else. Then I took to blogging for some time, but the interest waned over time since it took a lot of my time. Nevertheless, it taught me how to write once again and rekindled my interest.
How did you narrow down to writing under the crime genre?
It wasn’t something I sat down and contemplated or made a conscious choice. I had never read anything else except crime fiction— so when the first story idea came to my mind, it had an element of crime. To date, I honestly do not plot a story planning which genre it will fall under; I plot a story and often it is cross-genre: Déjà Karma was part legal, part psychological, Bhendi Bazaar was noir, and both Nothing Lasts Forever and Nothing Else Matters have elements of romance in them.
Tell us about how your first book – Nothing Lasts Forever. How did it take shape?
The story idea had been in the back of my mind since the early nineties but the usual grind of life took priority and I eventually wrote the first draft in 2008. I have to admit that while the basic premise of the story remained true to the original idea, the final story didn’t have much resemblance to what I had carried in my mind for decades.
What are the challenges crime novelists face?
The first thing any writer needs to learn is discipline and that’s irrespective of the genre. I’ve come across so many people who say they want to write a book but they never get down to writing the first chapter.
Crime writing needs a tight plot: what is the crime? How is it going to occur? How will the story unfold, and how will the protagonist catch the criminal? Or if the protagonist is the doer how will she/he get away with it? The story should be believable — the author should keep the narrative real but interesting.
Most writers of this genre eventually seek sequels to their books, will you consider walking that path?
Not most but you’re right, some do. I did write a Rita Ferreira series (Bhendi Bazaar and Doosra) but Doosra wasn’t a sequel as such and at the moment, I have no plans to write a sequel or a trilogy but I never say never!
You’ve just released Nothing Else Matters, tell us about the novel?
Nothing Else Matters is a riveting tale set alternately in the criminal underworld and Zoya and Luv’s college lives and about making choices that impact lives forever. It is crime fiction, but it is also a heart-breaking romance of a love that never dies. The protagonist, Luv Singh, is a hired gunman; he carries out assassinations for an underworld don. The clients are anonymous, as are the targets. Out one night on a job, he awaits his target to climb out of a car that’s just arrived at the scene. As he looks through the scope of his rifle, his finger on the trigger, he sees his target accompanied by one of the most gorgeous women Luv has ever seen – Zoya.
It took me three months to write it. My journey writing any book is similar — I immerse myself in the characters and the plot, and this single minded focus helps me complete a first draft in a few months.
Please share your view on the thriller & crime genre in the Indian and other South Asian markets?
It’s a growing market — both in terms of number of writers and readers. For years (maybe generations), it was the American and British writers who patronised the genre, leaving readers in Asia with limited choice. The landscape is changing now: there is a lot of Japanese and Scandinavian crime fiction along with Indian in the market today. I think the market has space for more, though the newer generation may be more digital than paper.
Are crime novels limited to the English language or do they find wider acceptance in other regional Indian languages too?
There is a huge untapped market for Hindi crime fiction. I recently met Mr SM Pathak who’s written close to 300 books in Hindi. When I asked him if he reads English or Hindi fiction he responded: “Who writes in Hindi except me?” That alone summed up the fact that there isn’t enough supply to meet the demand.
I wouldn’t know about other regional languages, but if I were to take a guess, I’d say there is potentially an untapped market out there.
Will you consider having your earlier novels translated in any of the Indian languages?
Of course, I just don’t know how to go about it.
Who are the writers in the genre that you enjoy reading?
James Ellroy, Lawrence Sanders (they don’t write now) but in the current: Michael Connelly, Jo Nesbo, John Grisham, Scott Turow, to name a few, but quite frankly, the list is endless. I browse bookstores and if I like the rear jacket blurb, I pick up the book.
Where do you seek your inspiration from to write thrillers/crime stories?
A little bit of everything helps, to be honest. When I meet people, I wonder how some particular trait in them could be in one of my characters. When I read about true crime in newspapers/magazines, I wonder how some of the investigation procedures followed could be twisted to fit into my writing. When I watch television or films, I think how I could make a particular scene vivid enough for my readers to imagine. Of course, the story needs to be plotted well for everything else to come together, and the story idea keeps running twenty-four/seven in my mind.
What next can we expect from your writing table?
I have two legal thrillers in the pipeline. One is being edited as we speak, with a tentative release date of May 2017, and the next one in April 2018. Unfortunately, I cannot share much about them till closer to the date. I am currently writing a crime caper that involves a multi-million dollar heist…