Vasudev Murthy lives in Bangalore, India and writes on music, humor, management and crime. He has been published by Poisoned Pen Press, Bloomsbury, HarperCollins and Sage. His work has been translated into Portuguese, Korean, Japanese and Kannada. He is otherwise a Management Consultant and violinist with a passion for animal welfare. Connect with Vasudev on the web: Blog / Twitter / Facebook
Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about your writing background? I’ve always been writing, but didn’t take it seriously till I became serious about animal welfare. That first book (on animal welfare) never found a home, but in the meanwhile, I realized that I had the ability and stamina to write a novel. My first published book was based on Indian Classical Music. My other interests –Management Consulting, Humor, and short stories – have also found expression in other books that I have written.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I never really thought of it as a decision. It simply happened. Now, with each passing book, and in the hands of my current editor, I gain in confidence and can sense qualitative changes.
Do you have another job besides writing?
Yes. I have a management consulting firm. I would be unable to sustain myself on just writing.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
Yes, I was. It was my mother who inspired me. She had a huge collection of books and ran a children’s library till her last days. I recall growing up reading books on the world wars and Hindu mythology, and listening to my mother translating and reading stories in French, in which she was fluent.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
In the Sherlock Holmes Canon, there is a period between 1891 and 1894 that’s called the Missing Years. This is a period where Arthur Conan Doyle stopped writing after killing off Holmes at Reichenbach Falls. He resurfaced in 1894 in the story – The Empty House. There is considerable conjecture about where he might have been in the interim.
My first book about this was Sherlock Holmes, the Missing Years: Japan, where I claimed that he was in Japan. In this book, encouraged by my excellent editor, Barbara Peters, I placed him in a mystery in Timbuktu, or more correctly in Africa, with the center point being Timbuktu.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I wish I could give you a complex answer, but I can’t. I acknowledge that an outline would be more efficient but I don’t do that. On the other hand, I can’t claim that I write entirely as a stream-of-consciousness. My books require extensive research and deep thinking. I write, halt, think things over, read some more and push on. It happens in fits and starts and proceeds in a zig zag manner.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Yes, definitely. Here are the topics I had to research: Ibn Batuta, Marco Polo, the Meroes and the Meroitic scripts, the Tuaregs, their history, their music and the Tifinagh script, Morocco, the Vatican, the Sahara, the Niger, French history, British history and so on. This book required very hard and intense work.
What was your goal when writing this book?
At some point, it transformed into making Holmes a complete man— at home in and respectful of African cultures and customs. But of course, the main goal was to try to come up with a credible explanation of where Sherlock Holmes was during the Missing Years.
Who is your target audience?
The usual suspects – those who enjoy reading about Sherlock Holmes. But even more, history buffs and those interested in the cultures of Saharan Africa.
What will the reader learn after reading your book?
He will become an expert on matters of philosophy, music, travel, crime, the Tuaregs and the ancient Meroes, Holmes, Timbuktu, Morocco, Southern Sudan. That’s half in jest.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
The latter. However, I will admit that I’ve been fortunate in having traveled a lot and that has undoubtedly helped.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
I get my best ideas when my table is a complete mess. I struggle to find a place to write and I then value the whole idea of sifting through data, forgotten papers and such. It triggers something in me. I am certainly driven by deadlines too.
Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?
I know when the relationship is not working and take breaks. Then it suddenly clicks and words flow.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
Slightly more than a year. My publisher was fantastic.
Describe your working environment.
Heaps of papers, books, coffee mugs, a battered old laptop, an occasional dog biscuit (for the dogs at my feet, though I may absently chew on one).
What types of scenes give you the most trouble to write?
I don’t like to use abusive language. So that’s probably it.
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
The latter. That’s helpful as I can see glaring errors I might have planned to make. It also helps me make corrections. I am absent minded and make endless errors.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
The ego part is true. Let’s remember that the author has been on a long and lonely journey and naturally loves every word he has written. Unfair criticism jars. Positive criticism that touches upon an unusual aspect is puzzling. Over a period, one can handle both with equanimity.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
Nothing ,really. People hate and love my work. It’s okay.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
Music, animal welfare, and humor.
Are you a disciplined writer?
No. I know its importance but have failed. But I am not lazy either. I get it done.
How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?
No, as I mentioned, these things don’t happen as per a schedule. But they do happen. I have never experienced stress because of deadlines. I need to also juggle my time with the demands of my consulting business.
When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?
An early bird. But I get my best ideas when I am tired and exhausted.
Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?
No, I do not have an agent. Thus far I haven’t felt the need.
Do you have any unusual writing quirks?
I like to spoil a perfectly serious conversation with an irreverent joke.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
It’s a good idea to join such a group. Only when your ego is completely crushed and atomized will you be able to write well.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
I do suffer from writer’s block quite often, But I am experienced enough to know I should not fight it, no matter how long it takes. I don’t force myself.
Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?
I like dialogue a lot, but often describing a character is a challenge. I don’t spend too much time describing a person. Perhaps I should do more.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
Networking and helping others works. I have not had too much of a problem. Harper Collins was a lucky shot in the dark. They in turn introduced me to Poisoned Pen Press. A friend who liked my management writing introduced me to Bloomsbury. I know I have been luckier than most.
What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?
I can’t answer that question well. I have had very few appearances. This might be because it’s simply impossible for me to jump on a plane and reach the US. I look forward to video discussions.
What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?
Arthur Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham, Edgar Allan Poe, Yukio Mishima an RK Narayan.
ACD: the ability to etch a wonderful character
SM: sensitivity in writing
EDP: Sheer evil and suspense
YM: luxurious and bizarre writing
RKN: wonderfully simple and approachable work
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Accept the advice of the editor and leave your ego at the doorstep. However, I am not a fool. It happened that I was once assigned an editor who I quickly realized was far too inexperienced and lacked a sense of humor. I terminated that contract.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Vmurthy.blogspot.in , and my Twitter handle is @dracula99. I don’t have a conventional website. I have been advised to have one but I can’t get myself to do it.
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
There’s a Sherlock Holmes book I am crafting in my head. There are books on music and animal rights too.
As an author, what is your greatest reward?
To see a publisher lavish love and attention on my work is a great reward. I’ve been lucky. A book does reach its reader; a book I wrote many years ago suddenly elicits a positive response from someone unknown.
Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?
At the moment, I’d be happier to hear from readers and know what I might have done better.