Book Review: The Steradian Trail by M.N. Krish

In one of his interesting anecdotes, Srinivasa Ramanujan, one of the greatest mathematicians to have ever lived on earth, once attended a lecture on elliptic integrals by Arthur Berry, the renowned expert in this subject matter at that time. While speaking, Berry wondered whether Ramanujan was able to comprehend the formulae he was writing on the blackboard. So he stopped and asked him if he was able to follow and would he like to add anything. Ramanujan stood up, took his chalk and wrote down results which Berry had not known of, not proved yet and possibly wouldn’t have been able to derive by himself. Such was the genius of Ramanujan, that mathematicians often placed him on the same pedestal with Euler and Gauss.

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The Steradian Trail, a mystery thriller, celebrates the mathematical genius of Ramanujan, and even seems to draw inspiration from the above anecdote to dazzle the readers with the prowess of one of the characters named Divya. The story begins with the murder of a man, who in his dying moments speaks something into his mobile which would have sounded gibberish to most, but not to the brilliant protagonists Joshua, a world-renowned computer scientist and Divya, a whizkid who adores Joshua. Before the killers target Joshua, he needs to find the mystery behind his colleague’s death, a quest which will take him to the origins of the genius called Ramanujam and into the religious history of South India. This book is the first one in the Infinity Cycle series. You can read more about it in M.N. Krish’s interview here.

The Steradian Trail is an intelligently written thriller and a refreshing change from the religious thrillers doing the rounds in Indian markets. To be fair to thriller readers, it is not the run-of-the-mill pacy, gripping, fast-paced thriller, but it is a somewhat light-hearted, breezy mystery novel with dollops of humour and insights on vedic mathematics and religion. Almost all the important characters in the book are nerds and connected with the academia, and hence their perspectives on life is amusing and make for a good read. The setting of the story is Chennai, and Krish takes the readers straight into the daily lives of people in Tamil culture, highlighting a funny contrast between the views of the different generations.

Being the first novel by Krish, there are a few glitches here and there, which is OK. For example, had the  dialogues been a bit lesser verbose, more realistic and with easier words, the narrative would have flown faster. However, the debutant novelist still does a great job and has created some interesting characters whom we would like to see again in future. Hope the upcoming books in the Infinity Series take the adventure to the next level.

An interview with Anuj Dhar: Author of “India’s Biggest Cover-up”

On 18th of August, 1945, a Japanese plane carrying a famous passenger crashed in Taiwan. Subhas Chandra Bose was the man who was believed to have died in that crash, almost shattering the dreams of independence of the people of India. But did he actually die in that crash? Did such a crash take place at all? – These are some questions which underlie one of the most baffling mysteries of modern India. Meet Anuj Dhar, the man who has dedicated his life to uncover this secret and find out what exactly happened on 18th of August, 1945. A former journalist and ace researcher, he has authored four non-fiction books till now which includes the wildly popular book “India’s Biggest Cover-up”.

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Below is his interview with ThrillerWritingHelp. He talks about the mystery behind the disappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose and his experiences as an author.

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What made you become a writer?        
I used to be a journalist and it was by fluke that I got into researching the Bose mystery. It did not take me long to realize that there was a need for a properly researched book on this engrossing subject matter.

Tell us about your books.
I have done 4 non-fiction books so far. Three are on the Bose mystery and another one is about the CIA. They are:

Tell us more about your campaign on Subhas Chandra Bose.
It started out as a journalistic venture, and then it became a personal quest. Thereafter, a few like-minded people got together on internet chat rooms and formed Mission Netaji. Our aim was to crack the case and we are still at it.  From the time we started, we have managed to sensitize a huge number of people across the world about the need to settle the controversy surrounding Bose’s disappearance in national interest. In the course of it only I wrote “India’s Biggest Cover-up” which I guess is the most definitive account of the matter. Now we are at a very crucial stage as one hand we are trying to move to court and on the other, we are looking forward to a regime change at the Centre. If all goes well in the next few months the people of India will hear more and more about Subhas Chandra Bose.

What, according to you, is the actual mystery behind Netaji’s disappearance? 
It’s a cover-up by our government. Whatever happened to Netaji is very much known to our government but because of political reasons the authorities are not willing to share the facts with the people of India. That’s why you see gratuitous state secrecy around Netaji’s name. Everything about him is security classified. Over the years the governments of ours has piled up dozens of secret files about him. I think time has come to change things. We are not living in Nehruvian era.

Your typical day of writing
Writing doesn’t happen to me on every single day. It’s rather erratic. Sometime I suffer from writer’s block for days and then suddenly one day I write reams of it in one sitting.  But probably early morning session are better for me.

How do you do research for your books?
So far I have written about the Bose mystery and declassified CIA documents. For the CIA, there is enough material available on internet. One just has to think what is most relevant. For the Bose matter, my research has been long-drawn. It has taken me to places, people, libraries, archives, etc. And, being a journalist helped me access lot of information that is not in public domain. That’s been my USP so far as “India’s biggest cover-up” is concerned.

Do you read fiction? Which genre do you prefer? Who are your favorite authors?
I regret not reading fiction while growing up. I am making up now by reading some selected novels. I guess I like the way Dan Brown writes and builds up his research-fuelled narrative. Jeffery Deaver is good as well and the same I’d say for our own Amish.

What are some of the lessons you have learnt about the publishing business?
Marketing makes a bestseller out of a good book.

Your views on two monsters in the publishing world – self-publishing and eBooks.
Marketing, which includes proper distribution, does the trick in this business. So self-publishing is no good when have a bestseller on your mind. Amish’s case was an exception. His book was most exceptional.

With regard to e-books, the market in India is still evolving unlike in the West. I’d wait and observe the impact of Amazon’s entry.

What are you currently working on?
Attempting to do something in fiction.

What advice would you have for writers who are trying to get their first book published?
Revisit your manuscript at least twice before going to a publisher. Make it as concise you can. If you can say something in 10 words, use no more than 10. Approach leading publishers only. Fiction is a far better genre than non-fiction.

Of Science, Religion and Crime: Interviewing M.N. Krish, the author of The Steradian Trail

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The Steradian Trail begins an exciting mystery thriller series known as the Infinity Cycle, brewing a delirious concoction of Mathematics, Science and Religion in the shadow of a chilling crime. Here’s an interview with M.N. Krish, its author, whose fascination with numbers has turned out to be a blessing for thriller readers who wanted to read something ‘different’.

About yourself
Essentially a numbers guy all my life. Went through the usual JEE race, graduated with BTech from IIT and then from MIT with dual MS degrees. Been in the data analytics, predictive modeling area ever since, using math to solve business problems. Been a bit of a nomad, lived in the US and SE Asia, now back in India, getting my toes wet in the startup waters.

How did you begin writing?
I’ve always been interested in stories, stories behind people, stories behind things, including science and technology. When I was a student in Boston, I started learning about the curious connections between religion and culture and science and technology. It just hit me and made me go ‘wow’. The inspiration for writing comes from there. There are a lot of amazing stories there which haven’t been given due attention by writers and brought into the popular domain. I thought I should give it a try and share that sense of amazement with everyone. That’s how the whole thing started. I was doing research, making mental notes and planning it out in the head for a few years before actually starting to write in 2003. From that point it took well over a decade before things turned into published or publishable work.

Tell us about your books
The books that make up the Infinity Cycle series are mystery thrillers that uncover some strange, amazing, unexpected connections between things like science, religion and crime. Do that not in a dense, heavy way but in a fast-paced way, with a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek tone that keeps the pages turning. The Steradian Trail is the curtain-raiser, what we call the Book #0 that introduces the basic cast of characters and kicks off the adventure. I have the completed drafts of two more books in the pipeline. They’ll feature the same characters from Steradian, but the stories will be totally different. Each book will be self-contained and can be read independently of the others.

What is your process of writing a book? 
I have been at this for twelve plus years spanning three books and so the writing process itself has gone through a process of evolution. When I wrote Steradian I knew the theme I wanted to tackle and the lead characters and the overall flavor, but had no idea how the plot would unfold. I just kept writing and the story grew organically. But the completed draft was really terrible and called for wholesale rewriting. However, I took a different approach with the other two books. I first did the research and I wrote a 5-10 page outline before actually starting to write the books. This way, it took much longer to complete the first drafts but they required less rewriting. I had to make sure there was consistency and continuity between the three books and I was fooling around with three manuscripts at the same time. Steradian took 8-9 drafts, while the second took 4-5 and the third took just 1. The key lesson I learnt is what looks like common sense now: investing time and energy upfront in planning and scoping things out saves a lot of effort later on.

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Your typical day of writing 
I have these writing bouts when I sit at the laptop and type maniacally. I do that late at nights during weekdays or during the day on holidays and weekends. This was particularly true for the second and third books where I had an outline ready. I would pick one of the tracks in the story and tell myself I need to move it from here to there and start typing. I will often hit a wall and go back to doing research again because, although I had done research for writing the outline it won’t be complete. Some of the details would need a much deeper, thorough look to make the plot work and avoid loopholes. I often spend a lot of time just reading and thinking than actually writing. Stringing words together on the computer becomes less difficult if I have thought things through.

Some of the lessons you have learnt about the Indian publishing industry?
Indian publishing scene is booming compared to overseas markets which are still recovering from the last financial crisis and downturn. But the book retailing in India is in a flux with online and offline stores slugging it out. With too many books being published and many more imported, there is way too much noise and clutter in the market and it’s becoming more difficult for new books to stand out regardless of their quality.

Indian readership is much younger compared to other markets and people’s tastes have not yet matured or diversified enough to accommodate a wide variety of styles and genres like international markets.  A lot of people here are still sampling different types of books and developing their tastes.

Your views on the new waves of self-publishing and eBooks.
Self-publishing opens avenues to authors who are not taken on board by mainstream publishers. It bypasses the traditional gatekeepers of the publishing industry and helps reach out to readers directly. It adds to the glut and clutter in the market but a few books do break out and find big readership. However, so far, successful self-published books and authors have invariably gone back into the folds of a mainstream publisher. So self-publishing is more like a proof-of-concept and pathway to a mainstream publisher.

eBooks are the future. There is a whole generation that’s growing up with digital devices, so eBooks are going to occupy a sizeable share of reading. eBooks help automatically track reading patterns of people and get a better sense of how people consume books. This could be useful input for publishers and authors, sort of complete the feedback loop between demand and supply.

Any advice to budding authors
Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep rewriting. Be patient. Be flexible.

To know more about M.N. Krish and his books you can explore these links to his website mnkrish.com, Facebook and Twitter. The Steradian Trail is available on Amazon, Flipkart and your nearby bookstores.

Interview with Usha Narayanan, author of ‘The Madras Mangler’

Author Usha Narayanan on her Crime Thriller The Madras Mangler. She also talks about her writing process, her views on the Indian Publishing Industry and the trend of ebooks and Self-publishing in India.

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Tell us about yourself 
I started with a gold medal in English from the University of Madras, and two Masters degrees – in Literature and Education. I taught English and then worked as Creative Director in several leading ad agencies, including RK Swamy/BBDO; and in Radio City 91.1 FM. I managed corporate communications at Scope International, Standard Chartered Bank and also worked in e-publishing.

I have lived mostly in Chennai, with a stint in Honolulu, Hawaii where I did a course in creative writing. My interests are reading, travel and animal welfare. I also help Vidyarambam Trust which has reached out to over 7 lakh rural children.

What made you become a novelist? 
It was the sheer joy of working for myself and fashioning a whole new world of my own. I enjoy creating characters, bringing them love and success, or making them face problems that threaten their very existence. I laugh and cry, dream and die with them. The goal is always to create a rip-roaring page-turner that appeals to all readers. And the response to ‘The Madras Mangler’, my first novel, has been simply amazing!

Take us into “The Madras Mangler”
A serial killer jolts placid Chennai awake, killing college girls and dumping them in the city’s rivers. Vir, an ace Indian-American criminologist, is called down to India by his friend Bishnu to assist in the investigation run by his crack unit. Among the suspects are beer barons, cyber bullies, ruthless politicians and their henchmen. Elections are around the corner; a major producer is shooting the first-ever Hollywood movie in Chennai; the one-day cricket final looms over the horizon. Will Vir, who is struggling with demons from his past, track the psychopath in time? Will pretty Kat, Lolita and their other friends survive?

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Your typical day of writing
I try to write in the mornings and evenings, some eight hours in total. Sometimes life, chores and cat fights (I have two cats and several marauders!) intervene. At other times, the clock ceases to exist and the book consumes me.

What is your process of writing a book? 
I start with a broad idea of the context and the kind of novel that I want to write. But sometimes even this changes as the characters take shape and begin to call the shots! ‘The Madras Mangler’ started off as chick-lit and then came to a standstill as I did not know what to do with these sassy girls. Then after much thought, I brought in the serial killer and that turned the manuscript on its head.

Then it became all about plot ― the twists and turns, clues and red herrings and the writing of hundreds of outlines. Who is the killer? Who is the victim? The suspense had to be maintained at two levels. And of course, I had to do a lot of research on forensics, technology and the locations.

How do you deal with the dreaded writer’s block?
If you find yourself stuck, it’s probably because your mind is telling you that something isn’t working. Check what you’ve written already and see if the characters ring true and their conflicts and motivations engage your interest. If they don’t, throw out segments or even the whole of your manuscript as required. And remember, you will get nowhere if you haven’t started writing!

What are some of the lessons you have learnt about the Indian publishing industry?
Do your research on publishers, check out their submission guidelines, polish your manuscript till it shines, follow-up at the required intervals, and then cross your fingers and your toes! If the Big Five turn it down, re-read your query letter and your sample chapters again and send to the next five on your list.

Your views on two monsters in the publishing world – self-publishing and eBooks. 
I wouldn’t call them monsters, but rather the last hope for those whose work has been turned down by traditional publishers. These options also help established authors acquire more control over their new books. Self-publishing is still rather risky and distribution to bookstores nationwide is a problem. But with more writers jostling for space, it may soon become the new reality. As for eBooks, it is a concept whose time has still not come in India. But things can only improve with increased internet and smart phone usage.

What are you currently working on?
My next novel is a breezy tale of love and power-play in a glam office. It’s a cocktail of fun and fizzy elements in a world of nasty bosses and other animals!

What advice would you have for writers who are trying to get their first novel published?
Keep writing, keep reading, keep your mind open to opportunities, and don’t ever give up! Good luck.

The Madras Mangler: A sneak peek

 

The Madras Mangler is available in leading bookstores and also online as paperback or ebook on SnapDeal, Flipkart, Amazon and Infibeam. Check out the author website www.ushanarayanan.com. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.