Author Suraj Laxminarayanan is a Bangalorean software engineer who spends his free time reading and watching movies across languages. He started off writing book and movie reviews on sites like Goodreads and Letterboxd respectively. A big fan of crime and mystery thrillers, Suraj says that movies in these genres inspired him to take up writing on similar subjects. In this interview with WritersMelon, Suraj talks about his book, Elephants in the Room.
Elephants in the Room – The Inception:
Every book starts off from a seed, a little idea that blooms with the right nourishment. Suraj Laxminarayanan narrates to us how his book Elephants in the Room came into existence.
“It was in 2011 during a lonely trip from Bangalore to Chennai that this idea suddenly popped up in my mind. (I was travelling to my grandmother’s house for the festival of Pongal, a customary trip that we make every year without fail.) And I loved it! I spent the whole six hours of the trip thinking about it. From there on, I worked on that idea for the next six years.
The city of Chennai has 400 years of history behind it. It provides ample opportunity to trigger one’s imagination and for creation of characters across the human spectrum of behaviour. This prompted me to choose Chennai even though I live in Bangalore.”
What ‘Elephants in the Room’ Is All About:
Elephants in the Room is set in Chennai and is about a group of friends planning a bank robbery. They make meticulous plans, but nothing goes according to plan. Whatever could go wrong, goes wrong. Suraj Laxminarayanan takes us through the action in the book.
“Much of the action in the book takes place inside a confined space i.e. the bank. The setting of the bank is perceived through the eyes of myriad characters present inside where each character has different stakes involved in the situation and a lot to lose, enabling to increase the tension, suspense and thrill. Even the simplest of things that take place in the story is filled with tension and humour at the same time in the given situation.
Trying to outmaneuver each other, this requires a lot of quick thinking and some luck. What ensues is a battle of wits as the stage is set for unlikely bonds among criminals.”
‘Elephants in the Room’ – The Research:
There were, according to the author Suraj Laxminarayanan, six areas of research while writing this book. While authors do research a fair bit, this level of research takes the cake.
Area no. 1:
“The first area of research involved scouting the locations. For this, I traveled to all the places of Chennai mentioned in the book myself. I spent time at each of the sites, making observations about the people who frequent the place and the activities they engage in. This allowed me to present an authentic image of all the places. It also allowed me to modify the description of certain sites to suit the scene in the story.”
Area no. 2:
“The second area of research was around the tradition of gaana songs. Gaana songs stand out for their simple yet meaningful lyrics composed in Chennai Bashai (local dialect of Tamil) which is unique and different in its own way. For this, I interacted with the locals of Chennai and friends to collect the vocabulary of Chennai Bashai which in turn enabled me to compose the lyrics myself. The subsequent translation of the songs into English also helped me delve into poetry after a long time and appreciate its beauty.”
Area no. 3:
“The third area of research involved collecting information around the functioning of the police department and government intelligence agencies. I interacted with police officials to collect authentic information on the protocols followed by the department, the hierarchy in which they work, vehicles and weapons used, negotiation tactics, criminal profiling, cooperation with other agencies and assault operations. Most importantly, the research provided insights into nuances of their lives which allowed me to make their portrayal in the story all the more authentic.”
Area no. 4:
“The fourth area of research involved the study of human nature, the evolution and development of crime and the character traits of intelligence and adaptability. Fear is the recurring emotion in the book. And I studied its anatomy to understand its origin and trace its development to peak state. The research helped me in portraying the emotions the best way possible and in turn provide an immersive and cinematic experience for the reader within the realms of a book.”
Area no. 5:
“The fifth area of research involved study of leadership, teamwork, relationship building, and business strategy. This enabled me to develop these traits into the characters and portray their transformation in the most authentic and natural way possible. The undercurrent in the book reflects these themes in subtle ways. This helps readers to make their inferences and form their own opinions.”
Area no. 6:
“The sixth area of research which was generic to writing and the most important, was around the development of the story and the book itself. My research involved going through various books on writing techniques and character development. I studied the tips and suggestions provided by various writers and filmmakers on the craft of storytelling, scene construction, and character design. I have tried to implement them to the best of my ability.”
Suraj Laxminarayanan – The Publishing Journey:
“My publishing journey has been a learning experience. As part of the process, I understood the limitations that publishers face as they work hard to keep the practice of reading books alive. I also understood the challenges faced by any author and more so by a debutant author.”
The First Pitch:
“My first experience of pitching the idea to a publisher came in 2014. It was when I participated in the Litmart event of the Bangalore Literature Festival. Litmart is a platform for debutant authors to submit the story idea for review. They can then present the same to a jury of members from reputed publishing houses for selection. This platform allows new writers like me to experience pitching the idea to publishers and know where they stand amongst all the new writers who also submit their work for selection. It is also beneficial to the publishing houses as it gives them the opportunity to scout for new voices from the writing community and nurture the aspiring writers.”
Selection and Encouragement:
My story idea was selected among the top 15 entries from hundreds of applications. I went on to pitch my idea to a jury of six members from different publishing houses. At the end, I received interest in the manuscript from three publishers.
This encouraged me to conduct more research as I already stated earlier. I was not satisfied with the effort. So, I focused more on refining the book, improving the reading experience, establishing great characters that readers would love and building a great story. I searched for writers who could help me develop my writing skills. In the process, I was fortunate to make friends with Aditya Magal, a published author from Penguin Random House. He was kind enough to be my mentor and guide me in the publishing process.
With time as the book acquired better shape and refinements like ageing wine, I found The Write Place and submitted my manuscript. They expressed interest and the book went on floors in late 2016.”
Suraj Laxminarayanan – The Writing Process/Schedule:
“After my day job of writing code, I write for an hour every day. However, Saturday and Sunday are the two days where I manage to write the most. This has come at the cost of missing many friend meets, but my buddies always understood my dream. “