An academician by profession and associated with various Universities both in India and abroad, Gautam has an unflinching thirst for knowledge and is interested in eclectic topics such as Science, Psychology, Philosophy, and International Geopolitics. Let’s get to know him more-
- Tell us something about your recently published book Strangers With Known Faces.
‘Strangers With Known Faces’ is a story of five friends in the University, who split up after a bad fight. They are reunited two decades later when one of them is murdered, and the other four happen to be suspects. During interrogation, they tell their story- how they met, why they fought and separated, and why they were involved in the same case all over again, despite not knowing each other for more than twenty years. Now they have to find the real murderer to prove themselves innocent. And for that, they have to trust each other, which is easier said than done given their past history and the present set of circumstances, where evidence is heavily loaded against one of them. During investigation, they realize the hidden aspects of the human personality that is latent in everyone (including themselves). This hidden self can manifest in unpleasant ways.
- When did you start writing?
I had the story idea back in 2012. But I started writing only in 2015, during a period of unemployment.
- Interesting! What is the purpose of your writing?
To express myself. People need a creative outlet. Different people find it in different activities- painting, sculpture, photography, music, culinary arts, etc. I have an active imagination, and like to think ‘If that had happened, what would be the scenario’. That makes me a writer!
- What inspired you to bring forth this idea as a book?
Two things. One, this book is a symbolic confession. I had a message to convey to a few people, saying that I am sorry. I also wanted to tell someone that I have moved on, I am happy without you, I do not miss you anymore, and that you should move on as well. I could not do that directly. To relieve myself from the misplaced sense of guilt, I wrote a story where the characters face the same dilemmas that I did.
Second, it was an attempt to cross two distinct genres of fiction — conspiracy thriller and romantic drama. A visit to a bookstore revealed that the fiction section primarily comprises of two kinds of books- those that are about life in college, life after college, friendship, romance, etc (a genre made popular by Chetan Bhagat and the likes); or books about spies, terrorists, and government conspiracies (Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, etc). I decided to write a story that would fall under both these categories.
- Do you see a movie based on “Strangers With Known Faces” being made?
Yes, a lot of them. If you ask me, this book is a hybrid of Dil Chahta Hai, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, and Mission Impossible. A character narrating his backstory during an investigation has been done before as well- in Slumdog Millionaire and Kabir Khan’s New York. I had the story idea in my mind since 2012, but I wasn’t able to pen it down. The movie that actually prompted me to write is the Ranbir Kapoor starrer Roy. In that movie, a filmmaker with writer’s block takes inspiration from real life for his next project, and weaves his own story into that of notorious thief. After watching the movie, I adopted the same approach. I mixed real-life incidents with newspaper headlines (like the Augusta Westland Scam) and plots of the above-mentioned movies. It is something akin to hybridized orbitals in Organic Chemistry. And the result of that is ‘Strangers With Known Faces’.
- What is your idea of love, family, and relationships on the whole?
This is a rather complicated topic to speak on. We all look for relationships in the hope of fulfilling something incomplete in our lives. That should not be the case. We are all complete and perfect by our own selves. The purpose of a relationship should be to find someone with who we can share that ‘completeness’. Real love is not something that binds; it is something that sets you free. And no love for others is possible unless we give love to our own self. If you find your own company boring, how can you expect others to enjoy it?
- That’s a very different thought and intriguing indeed! So moving on, which of your works have been published so far?
‘Strangers With Known Faces’ is the only novel of mine to get published. Besides this, non-fiction articles written by me have appeared in certain journals.
- So how was this journey of becoming a published author?
Once the manuscript was ready, I came across certain publishers who publish books written by debut authors. I phoned the office of the Gurgaon based Invincible Publishers. At that time, it was quite new in business. The founder, Mr. Ajay Setia was very much interested in my book’s plot. After my book was selected for publication, I paid a small amount to cover for the printing cost. I already had the front and back cover-design in place. The entire process did not take much time. Within a month, the Kindle Edition of my book was ready. Two weeks later, the hard copy got printed.
- Have you self-published your book or followed the traditional approach?
The word ‘self-publication’ has more than on meaning. I certainly did not publish the book myself. As mentioned before, my book has been published by Invincible Publishers, Gurgaon. But I did pay a small sum for the printing cost.
- Which approach is better according to you: traditional or self-publishing, and why?
This depends on an individual basis. Self-publishing is a boon for debut authors who have no credentials beforehand. The other option is to contact multiple publishing houses either on your own or to outsource the publisher hunt to a literary agent. This latter generally is a time-consuming process. But it is easy for people like established journalists. The publishing circles take a good notice of both fiction and non-fiction works by that community. In this case, self-publishing is a redundant option. One advantage of the traditional publisher is the in-house editor who corrects typos and grammatical mistakes at no extra cost. But then these editors are also known to interfere in the story’s plot. Sometimes that is a good thing. A constructive suggestion should always be adhered to. But it many cases, this may go against the author’s vision.
- What should the beginners do today?
The beginners should get a good story first. For that to happen, one has to read a lot. Thanks to the encouragement to newcomers by various publishing houses, there is a glut of fiction in the market these days. Without taking names, I can safely say that the only stuff that these people have read are novels with mushy 6/7 word titles. If you are a serious reader, please stay away from those books. If you cannot read non-fiction books on psychology and philosophy, at least start with classic literature. And by classic, I do not necessarily mean Charles Dickens or Leo Tolstoy. Closer home, both in distance and time, there are authors like Ruskin Bond and Anita Desai. Once a good story has been envisioned, the next step is to put it into words. The Queen’s English is not a necessity these days, but blatant grammatical errors do take away the charm of the reading process. Thankfully, we have software like Grammarly that give suggestions for the more grammatically appropriate alternative in case of an error. And most important: all literature may not be in English. An author should writein a language he/she is most comfortable in. Literature, like music, should not be bound by language.
- What is your take on book publishing as you see the current scenario?
Like all other industries, the book publishing sector is going through a transitory phase. The rapids strides in Information Technology and the prevalence of the ubiquitous social media have given people a lot to choose from. The Kindle reader and concepts like self- publishing have made the game more interesting. The changing social, cultural, economic, political, and technological scenario throughout the world has given birth to a lot of new ideas. There are so many topics to write about, and so much for the readers to choose from. Publishing houses need a different marketing strategy to cater to the current market. What worked two decades back will certainly not work now.
- What are your forthcoming writings?
The title of my next novel is ‘21st Century Breakdown’. It is inspired by the eponymous Green Day album. Without revealing much, I will say that it is also a coming-of- age story where that spans two decades. It is about characters that suck at maintaining personal relationships. And the general collapse in social structure that comes as a result of it. It will be a tearjerker with certain humorous parts. And no novel of mine is complete without action scenes. The reader can expect shootouts, vehicle chases, one-on- one street fights. But the focus is on the action; it is on the characters. I promise to give you characters that you cannot easily forget!
- What are the four top most things you take care of while writing a book?
The first thing is a good story. The blurb should make the reader interested in knowing more about the book. I take a lot of time to come up with an appropriate name for my book- one that justifies the content inside while being catchy enough to command attention. An important thing is to make sure that there aren’t plot-holes in the story. This is especially important when writing the thriller genre. Don’t include stuff for which there is no explanation- even if that does not matter in the long-run. And do not include stuff that goes against the human nature. That is why I have stressed about reading non-fiction books on psychology. I try to get in the mind-set of the character while writing a story. I try to analyze the character’s fears and motivations. And finally I check for typos and grammatical errors. This is not a perfect process. But as I am reliant on self-publishing, I have to do that on my own.
- What is your favorite genre and why?
In non-fiction, I like reading books on psychology and spirituality. The former offers a good insight into the workings of the human mind, while the latter gives clues on how to transcend the human mind! In fiction, there is the thriller/mystery genre that has been a perpetual favourite. As far as mystery stories are concerned, I prefer reading short-stories than full length novels so that I can read more of it at the same time!
- What / Who is your biggest source of inspiration in life?
A lot of people have inspired me in different ways. But if I have to name one person, let me tell a personal story. It was the first semester at my Engineering College. Two mid-terms tests had taken place, and the finals were just fifteen days away. We were all apprehensive as we were writing a University level exam for the first time in our lives. As a lot of people already know, the subjects in the first year of Engineering is common for all students, irrespective of the stream. One subject in the first-semester was ‘Electrical Science’, which is the basic subject of Electrical Engineering. The instructor in that subject told us to be confident and not to worry. The only people who should be concerned are those who scored a zero in both the first and second midterm. There was only one student in my section who had a zero in both midterms- Parikshit Yadav. Cut to the present day, there is only one person from my entire batch who has a PhD in Electrical Engineering. That is Pariskhit Yadav! That too from the National University of Singapore.
- What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge in my life has been to let go of my hard-held beliefs in light of new knowledge or information. We all have secrets- some that we keep and some that are kept from us (Quote Courtesy: Spiderman!). What one does when faced with the truth is more difficult than you think (Quote Courtesy: Wonder Woman!). It has been difficult for me. I am still trying to overcome. One of the things I did was to write my book ‘Strangers With Known Faces’. As mentioned before, it was a good release for all the pent-up emotions.
- If you had to live a day of your life as one of the living or dead personality, who would it be and why?
I cannot think of any one personality. But if it was possible, I would like to live one day as a common man in different places and time-periods. For example, I would like to spend a day in WW2 London, post-independence India, the Samurai-dominated 16th century Japan, so-on- and-so- forth. This would give an interesting insight into the progress we made as a human civilization.
- And finally, any message for the readers?
This was a long interview. Thank you for reading!
So that was Gautam for you, author of “Strangers With Known Faces“.
You can get in touch with Gautam directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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