From a law drop out to a Management Degree to writing successful Legal Thrillers, Vish Dhamija is back with another Bestseller – “The Heist Artist” to tell the readers that every crime thriller is not a whodunit in an exclusive interview.
1. Being a crime writer and stimulating the legal fiction genre in India which was practically nonexistent, how has been the journey been so far?
It’s had its fair share of ups and downs, but it’s been fantastic, so I can’t really complain. And as you rightly mention in the question, it is a journey so it’s a continuing process. It feels good to have come this far and to be recognized.
2. A drop out of Law College and a degree holder in Management. What made you do so?
I dropped out of law due to practical reasons. Law is a noble profession, but it takes a long time before one can establish oneself as a lawyer of some credibility especially for someone like me, who didn’t come from a well-known legal pedigree. Remember, I went to study law at the time when the corporate lawyer role in India was unheard of, so I’d have to set up practice and take it from there. MBA, on the other hand, was known to help people secure management positions in the private sector, and that sealed the deal. However, my love for the law persisted, and I ended up writing legal thrillers.
3. You have written legal thrillers, crime fiction, and crime capers—what inspires you as a writer in this genre? Any real-life influence that led you to write in this genre?
While I have been a victim of crime myself, that isn’t what inspired me to write crime fiction. From the very beginning crime fiction is all I read—be it Tintin or Phantom comics, or Enid Blyton or Sherlock Homes, so when I started writing, it was quite natural for me to start with crime fiction since I had no knowledge of any other genre or what already existed in the other genres. However, that does not mean I will never write in another genre… just maybe not now.
4. What is the role of politics in framing up a crime story/novel in your opinion? Do you see yourself writing a political in the future?
None. I don’t write political thrillers. Not because they are not interesting—House of Cards must be one of the biggest grossing television shows in recent years—but I have no understanding of politics, and it would be a steep curve for me to write in that sub-genre simply because I have no interest in the subject at the moment.
5. What kind of research have you been doing while authoring your latest book The Heist Artist?
Lots. To begin with, I did quite a lot of research on the art world, and since I am quite fond of art I got carried away. I was in two minds about using a lost painting or making up a fictitious one. In the end, I thought Van Gogh’s Poppy Flowers suited the script well. That was just the beginning. As the book is about the heist and the getaway, I had to plan the entire escape route from Delhi into UP and Uttarakhand, like looking for tiny townships for characters to halt and hide, charting back-roads for their escape… I also had to draw up a map of the route for the readers to follow the characters’ journey, so it was quite a lot of detailed research and work.
6. Do you think a few people may differ with you regarding some stories that you have written? How do you deal with such situations?
Critics to be specific. Someone once explained to me that even if you put up a piece of art by Pablo Picasso up for discussion, there would be some people who’d dislike it. And to be fair, all creative work is open to interpretation, likes, dislikes, opinions, critique. So, even though I appreciate critical feedback, it does not necessarily change my opinion. For example, I’m frequently told that “romance” sells more so I should switch to writing romance, but the argument doesn’t sway me at all.
7. The genre like crime/thriller has picked up the pace in India compared to other genres. In your opinion, what has led to this increased interest?
Worldwide, crime fiction is the second largest selling genre (behind the romance, which includes erotica and Mills & Boons and what have you), but the story is very different in India. Mythology might be in second place. However, crime fiction has always sold well in India—it’s a big enough market—which was, up until now, largely dominated by international writers. We all grew up reading Jeffery Archer and Mario Puzo, but it’s only now that that the Indian authors are getting their due. So, it’s not an increased interest in crime fiction per se; it’s the interest in Indian fiction that’s growing because readers can appreciate that Indian authors can write as good, if not better. And when the story is based in India, it brings the story so much closer and consequently, a lot more relatable. I strongly believe that in the near future, Indian crime will be recognized around the world just like Nordic noir has been discovered in recent years.
8. Which genres do you enjoy reading the most? Which you don’t enjoy at all?
I enjoy reading crime fiction in most sub-genres. From noir to Nordic noir to legal thrillers to crime capers to police procedurals to psychological thrillers, you name it. I read a novel a week—give or take—so I read just about everything in crime. Sometimes even true crime—though I prefer screen adaptions when it comes to true crime. I don’t pick up books in other genres so mythology, romance, science fiction, period dramas don’t appeal to me.
9. What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
Writing is quite a lonely exercise—days and days or clacking keys on the computer without anyone appreciating the hard work that goes into a manuscript. So, it feels good to know that readers value what you bring to them as a final product. Recently, I was in Bengaluru for a Literary Festival and some fans that appreciate my writing, brought me flowers and gifts—to my amazement they had even figured out (from my FB page and interviews) what I liked and they made an effort. It was a surprise, and that moment will stay with me forever.
10. Anything you would like to say to your readers?
Not all crime fiction is a whodunit, which readers have somehow come to expect; it’s also about the story, the narrative, the language, the pace, the plot, the twists, the thrill… so merely because you think you’ve guessed the culprit, it changes nothing. In some of my books like the recent one—The Heist Artist—there is no ambiguity about who steals the painting. But, most readers expect a last-minute twist like old detective fiction and then expect to be surprised. Same with legal thrillers—it’s not always about who it’s about how…
11. What are some ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?
I use a lot of social media—FB, Instagram, Twitter—sometimes unabashedly. A lot of books are released in India in a month, so how else would you stand out if you don’t talk about your work? And no, it doesn’t take away time from my writing, since no one that I know of writes 24/7; there’s always time for other activities, isn’t it?
12. Elaborate on your DCP Rita Ferreira Series books. Is the character inspired by any real-life person?
This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this question. But, Rita Ferreira is a totally fictional character. While building her character. I put a lot of work into it, which makes her real when you read the books in which she’s the protagonist. Once I got an email from a reader in Dubai claiming he’d seen her at the airport. I’ve always maintained that characters are vital in telling the story, in convincing the readers that what’s happening is realistic (not real, of course).
13. What projects are you working on at the present? When can we expect a new thriller from you?
My next book is in the DCP Rita Ferreira series. It’s titled: Lipstick and It’s dark like the previous ones (Bhendi Bazaar and Doosra) and it is slated to release sometime later in the year.
14. What do your plans for future projects include? Any plans for a motion picture/web series based on your book(s)?
Adaptation plans are being discussed as we speak and hence, I cannot reveal any more at the moment. But watch this space.
15. How do you feel about eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
eBooks are a great convenience—you can download a book in a second and not order on the web and wait for delivery, or walk down the high street to buy one. However, I love hardbacks and paperbacks—there’s something about the feel of a book in my hands that Kindle cannot replace—at least for now. Regarding publishing, I’d stick to a conventional publisher because with alternative and vanity publishing (or even self-publishing) the book doesn’t get the required distribution or marketing, and consequently, even some very good work might never find the readers.
16. Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
The favorite crime authors’ list is simply endless… James Ellroy, Lawrence Sanders, Michael Connelly, Greg Iles, Richard North Patterson, John Grisham, Jeffery Archer, Jeffery Deaver—just to name a few. None of them, individually, has shaped my writing, but collectively, yes; it would be impossible to deny the impact they’ve had because one gets influenced subconsciously. When you read as much as I do, you inadvertently learn, and I hope it has worked towards improving my writing.
17. In your opinion, what is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, which they need to know?
Oh, readers are more aware these days than one would like to believe, which makes authors of today work a lot harder. There was a time where authors could get away with murder—metaphorically speaking—and readers wouldn’t know, but in today’s world, any reader can log on to the web and check everything you’ve written. Authors of today need to do their research well.
18. What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
I don’t set goals for my books. I want readers to enjoy my work since the purpose of my writing is to entertain. Early feedback suggests people likeThe Heist Artist so that is good to know.
19. What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was the least useful or most destructive?
There is no straightforward formula in anything creative. If there was one why would so many books and films flop? Why would anyone create a music album if they knew wouldn’t sell a million copies? Even one of India’s greatest directors, Yash Chopra managed a few flops so there is no template that you can follow that can guarantee a hit. Writing is no different—you experiment with plots, characters, and narration. I, for one, like to experiment with the narrative; once I decide on the plot, I challenge myself by using different voices: first and third person, I break chronology to keep the reader engrossed in a non-linear account, I spend a lot of time in building the lead characters—but they are all the tricks every author already knows about. Some readers appreciate it, others don’t but that’s their take on my work and they have every right to like it or not like it. What I don’t like is criticism for the sake of it. I personally believe there is no bad art—if you don’t like it maybe you weren’t the intended audience.
One-liner/One word based answer questions
Please respond to these questions in one line or one word wherever possible –
1. Your all-time favorite author/writer?
Hergé (The creator of Tintin)
2. Do you believe in writer’s block? Did you have it anytime or not?
Nope. Writer’s block is a term coined by lazy authors.
3. Your favorite place to write your book(s)?
We have an entertainment room in our home; I usually write with music in the background.
4. Research and then write or research while writing? Which one do you prefer?
Both. You research before writing but there is always the time you have to go back and dig more.
5. What do you do in your free time?
Music, golf, watch films, cooking, enjoy single malts. (My wife insists I should cycle more)
6. How many hours a day do you write?
Sometimes 3-4, sometimes a few minutes—there’s no rule. I don’t force myself to write, ever.
7. Do you Google yourself?
Not regularly, but yes I have.
8. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
That’s a good idea for next time. Thank you.
9. If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I’d be a musician or a theatre artist or a lawyer or just continue working in the corporate world like I was until last December.