There are a handful of horror fiction writers in India and Mainak Dhar is one of them. He surpassed Stephen King on Amazon rankings in Horror in 2013. Here he is talking to our very own PRB about his steps to success, writing process & inspiration to delve into this genre. His new book Chronicler of the undead is truly a piece of delight for all the readers of dystopian fiction.
Stephen King was one of the writers whose work I devoured as a child and who was, in many ways, the inspiration for me taking up writing. So that milestone was very special for me at many levels. My love for dystopian fiction (and that’s a distinction I’ll elaborate on shortly since I think what I write is not just ‘horror’) stems from two things – my natural love for the thriller genre (having a father and grandfather in uniform, and growing up among people in uniform and their tales perhaps does that to you) and my sense that ultimately what may undo us is not something supernatural or an asteroid from space, but our own greed and readiness to turn against each other on the basis of lines we draw ever so eagerly- religion, caste, the haves/have-nots and so on.
Most of my novels combine those themes – a dystopian world created by us in our quest for power and domination (a terror plot gone wrong in Zombiestan, bio-warfare experiments and a desire among the elites to create a ‘New World Order’ gone awry in the Alice in Deadland series and a virus run amuck in Chronicler of the Undead). Then I put in the elements of a thriller I’d enjoy reading – an unlikely hero realizing his or her destiny in the face of this world. So, the ‘horror’ aspect is not something supernatural (certainly not the ‘bhoots’ and ‘dayans’ of the prime time TV serials we sometime see), but the result of our own actions.
Hence, I don’t consider myself a horror writer, but someone who loves exploring how we humans could cope with the consequences of our own actions and what might be unleashed through our own greed and hatred. I can’t really speak to why others don’t tap into horror as a genre, but I think in our popular entertainment, horror has to some extent been either purely supernatural (ghosts, for example) or to some extent, a caricature (complete with bad special effects and shrieks). What has made it a much more mainstream genre in the west is that authors (and filmmakers) use it as a canvas to explore broader themes. Stephen King’s ‘Cell’ is in a way a commentary on how glued we are to our devices; The Walking Dead explores the true meaning of community and relationships. I try and do the same in my work- take the canvas of a dystopian world, populated by horrors and dangers, but then focus on how people might cope with it.
The big idea of writing :
I don’t know where the idea popped into my head, but ever since I’ve been a child, the idea of being a writer ensconced itself in my head. The immediate spark for me taking the first real step towards fulfilling that dream was an interview of Stephen King which I read when I was eleven years old, and living in Canada at that time. He had said something to the effect that anytime anyone paid you a penny for your work, you were a published author. So I took some poems I had written, stapled them together with solutions to the next term’s Maths textbook (figuring nobody would want to pay for my poems alone) and sold them to my classmates at fifty cents a copy. The $12.50 I earned was my first ‘royalty’ payment!
His favourite horror fiction ?
I don’t actually read much horror – and love to read across genres, basically authors who I think can really stretch my imagination and thinking with their ideas. My favourite world authors (in no particular order other than Tolkien being first) are Tolkien, Stephen King, Roald Dahl, Carl Sagan and Conn Iggulden. Among Indian authors, the ones whose work I have enjoyed the most are Vikram Seth and Shashi Tharoor.
The TV series in the making :
Alice in Deadland
series has been optioned for a TV movie by a US studio. Very exciting, as it would allow my work to reach a much broader audience. From what I gather, it is in pre-production and I do hope to see it get closer to reality in 2016. 2016 will also be a big year in terms of the Alice series reaching audiences in other countries as the Portuguese, French and German editions all get released over the next few months.
What next ?
So, Supernatural, Zombies, horror in general – what next? Would the author try any other genre? On which he says : I do want to explore the dystopian genre in more detail, and without zombies in it this time! I have an upcoming novel slated for release in mid 2016 which paints a pretty bleak dystopian world building off current events- a world which is pretty horrible in its own right, without needing zombies, and how ordinary people could cope with it.
The Balancing act :
Now even after this huge success, the author hasn’t quit his full time job for writing. Like countless other authors , he too balances & enjoys best of both world. The way they bring different aspects of his personality to bear & the people he feels bring a positive difference to his life. However, the two sides of his life do feed into each other. While his writing makes him appreciate the power of imagination and ideas, that also comes in his day job; while the aspects of leading people and thinking of how to run businesses helps him to be more commercially savvy when it comes to managing his writing career.
The author also shares some really interesting piece of advice for new authors. Up on our next post. And meanwhile , if you liked what you just read, grab a copy of this book.
Author: Mainak Dhar
Publisher: Westland Books
Buy on Flipkart | Amazon
Don’t forget to let us know how you liked the book after you’ve read it or send us your review links in comments here.