Monday, March 10, 2014

An Interview with author, Khalid Muhammad!




Introducing author, Khalid Muhammad!

Where are you from?

That’s an interesting answer… I was born in Pakistan, moved to the United States when I was 2 (with my parents), moved back to Pakistan about 16 years ago, when I was 27. So I am from both countries, having lived in the US for about 27 years and Pakistan for 19.



What inspired you to write your first book? What genre is it?

I first got the idea for the book about 6 years ago. I tried many different flavors of how the story should come together in terms of flow and structure, but it never really worked for me until I switched gears and let more of myself into the writing. I am extremely pro-Army and pro-Pakistan – it will always be home to me.

Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office takes you behind the headlines into the events that created today’s Pakistan. It is a tough look at a nation in conflict from the eyes of a young man, Kamal Khan, who is looking for his own identity and place in society. Kamal is raised in privilege, but leaves it all behind as a man to serve his nation. Once in that environment, finds himself embroiled in a complex narrative that shifts with the fiery speeches of their anointed political and religious leaders.

There are a number of motivations behind my story. First, and probably the most important motivation, was to share the Pakistan that I know with the world. The narrative that has become commonplace about my country is that it is a failed state with many players in the power corridor, but that is not all that Pakistan is. My Pakistan is a country that struggles with inept governments more interested in themselves rather than the people who elected them. It is a country whose people are extremely talented and patriotic but unable to take advantage of any opportunities because the country is run like a fiefdom rather than a nation. It is a country in search of its identity, much like Kamal, that is trapped amidst power plays from internal and external forces.

The backdrop of terrorism does make telling the story easier, but to paint the mosaic of the complexities I had to move backwards to the 1990s so that the reader could understand what happened to create the image of the country as it is today. It’s also a little bit of what I wish had happened rather than what really has happened. In my story, as in real life in fact, the people of Pakistan are the underdog against so many powerful forces, it’s a miracle we still exist. That we do is testament to our resilience as a nation, no matter what you read in the international press.

I hope that, as a reader, you will experience that Pakistan that I fell in love with when I moved home from the United States after 25 years. You will feel your heart wrench with Kamal’s when he is stationed in Karachi, Peshawar and buried deep inside the terrorist camps. And, hopefully, you will cheer him on, because he is the Pakistani that you don’t see in the media – smart, driven and motivated to do good for his family, fellow citizens and country.


Do you write full-time or part-time? How do you balance your writing life with your family/work life?

It’s like a 2nd job for me. I work during the day running a marketing and brand management company and at night, I write for hours and hours.

The balance is difficult when I am writing, because I never know when an idea is going to take shape and I will need to write it down somewhere so I don’t forget it. I find myself turning on the digital recorder on my iPhone over and over throughout the day, adding thoughts and sentences that I don’t want to forget before I sit down to write. Once the process is done and the book is complete, then I go back to family and reading for fun and knowledge.

How did you come up with the title?

When you talk about intelligence agencies around the world, they are either referred to as “the service” or “the agency,” with the exception of the CIA, who like the moniker “the company.”

Agency Rules, the series title, came from that thought process. I wanted a title that would automatically identify the book series in reader’s minds, but not be so spy or espionage related that it would turn off readers from other genres. The Never an Easy Day at the Office came about half way through writing the book. I was storyboarding the next few chapters and the more I looked at how the progression was mapped, the more I saw the difficulties and struggles for my main character.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I hope that, as a reader, you will experience that Pakistan that I fell in love with when I moved home from the United States after 25 years. You will feel your heart wrench with Kamal’s when he is stationed in Karachi, Peshawar and buried deep inside the terrorist camps. And, hopefully, you will cheer him on, because he is the Pakistani that you don’t see in the media – smart, driven and motivated to do good for his family, fellow citizens and country.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

When I tried to write my first novel years back, I found myself creating situations and scenarios that I couldn’t identify with. The story was disconnected for me as the author, so there was no way that the reader would be able to connect with it. With this novel, I stayed true to what I know, have experienced, seen or heard first hand. I tried to capture the emotions and dreams of the people in different social classes. I hope that I have been able to do all of that with my writing.





What books have most influenced your life most?

The greatest influencers on my life have been Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck. I can still pick up any of the books written by these two writers and find something new, something that impacts me differently.

My favorites are Fredrick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, Helen MacInnes, Alistair McLean and John le Carre. These are the bricks that laid the foundations of today’s modern spy thriller and they teach authors from their books and writing.

I do have to be honest and admit that I watched a lot, and I mean a lot, of spy movies and TV shows. It helps to understand how a story plays out on screen to know the level of realism and environment that has to be brought to a story on paper. When you don’t have the visual to count on, the author has to paint the picture in the reader’s mind. I hope that I have been able to achieve that with my debut novel.

What book are you reading now?

Right now, I am wrapped up in research for the second installment of Agency Rules. I have 4 or 5 books on my bedside table right now. Jason Burke’s The 9/11 Wars, Imperial Hubris, Terry McDermott’s Perfect Soldiers and Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars. For pleasure, I am reading Tom Clancy’s final novel, Command Authority.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

I have really liked Tom Rob Smith’s books, Child 44, The Secret Speech and Agent 6. I’ve also been reading Matthew Reilly’s Scarecrow series. There are just too many great books out to try to keep up with them all.

What are your current projects?

Next? We’ll we had the global launch for Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office on the 16th of January. That’s when Amazon will get the e-book. Paperbacks will be available in bookstores and on Amazon in February from what I understand. I’ll probably spend a few months supporting and promoting the book.

At the same time, I have already started to craft the characters for the 2nd installment of Agency Rules. I know the story line but I need to create the characters and scenes that will play out on the pages of the next book. You can keep up with Agency Rules and Kamal Khan on the website at http://agencyrules.com.

I also write for a few marketing blogs that cater specifically to authors and book marketing. Being a marketer by profession, I have learned how to translate the commercial aspects of marketing, brand building and buzz generation into the publishing world and hopefully, gotten it right.

As I said, I am doing the background research for the second installment of Agency Rules, which will take up the better part of the next 6-8 months. I have started to jot notes and bullet points, but I won’t start writing until I have a clear picture on where the story goes from here.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Not a thing. I am extremely happy with the story and the characters. It’s a wonderful read!

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Getting the realism. It’s very easy to create a story and fill in details from your imagination. With Agency Rules, I have taken the history of a country as a canvas and painted my own story on top of it. As I said previously, I worked very hard to get the voice right with what people are saying, thinking and feeling both inside and outside Pakistan. I don’t want people to come away from the book thinking that it was a nice story but it just wasn’t believable. Everything that you read on the pages of Agency Rules has actually happened in Pakistan in the 1990s, minus one thing, which I won’t reveal.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Not writing 200,000 words. I had so much that I wanted to put in the story, but I sat with my wife on the storyboards and outlines and she really helped me to weed out the things that would not add value to the story. Some things were pushed to the next book, some things may appear on my author website as general writing between books. There was just so much that I initially thought of including.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Oh my God, yes. Having done it myself now, I have a different appreciation of what goes into writing a book. It’s not easy. Taking a taunting blank sheet of paper and filling it with an engaging story is a challenge for anyone, doing it over and over for almost 200 pages… it’s a different respect for the craft.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

So my advice to aspiring authors is simple - Never give up. There are so many reasons that you may stop writing, there are hundreds of people that will demotivate you when you are writing, but you have to take them with a grain of salt. You can’t achieve something when you are worried about what the naysayers think.



Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Well, other than the genre and being a book about Pakistan and terrorism, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office is a fast-paced, action packed story that will keep you guessing all the way to the end. I hope that, as a reader, you will experience that Pakistan that I fell in love with when I moved home from the United States after 25 years. You will feel your heart wrench with Kamal’s when he is stationed in Karachi, Peshawar and buried deep inside the terrorist camps. And, hopefully, you will cheer him on, because he is the Pakistani that you don’t see in the media – smart, driven and motivated to do good for his family, fellow citizens and country.

Do you have an agent or publisher? How did you go about finding one?

No. I am talking to some different people now about representation, but I was not interested in the traditional route to publishing with my debut novel. I wanted to make sure that I got to tell the story that I wanted to tell.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Right here in Pakistan. This will always be home for me, with all the troubles and challenges, but I don’t want to be one of those Pakistanis that run away from their home country and complain about what’s wrong with it. I’ll stay here and be part of the solution, not another voice in the world condemning my country.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

I have had a great deal of bad luck and bad people in my life that have done some serious damage to me in the past. It took me a long time to put that behind me and repair myself so that I could move forward to live the life that I knew I could have. If I could have one super power, I would want to be able to heal people’s scars, because everyone has the potential of being superb and no one, and I mean no one, should be allowed to stop them from achieving that.

Microbio:

Born in Pakistan's troubled Swat Valley, educated and raised in the United States, Khalid returned to Pakistan almost 17 years ago and fell in love with his country. His debut novel, Agency Rules - Never an Easy Day at the Office, is a journey behind the headlines about Pakistan, the world's most dangerous place, to deliver an intense story that will challenge the reader to question what they have been told.


Author Website – http://agencyrules.com
Amazon – http://getbook.at/amazon-ar