Anil Goel is the author of Exit Point (a book edited by me) and Release 2.0. Exit Point is slated for formal release on 30th August 2014, at Crosswords Kemps Corner! He joins us today, at this momentous juncture, to explicate upon Exit Point, his writing process, his publishing journey and a whole lot more!
Welcome to radhikamukherjee.com, Anil! 🙂
You can learn more about Anil at: http://www.facebook.com/anilgoel
You can stay updated on Exit Point at: http://www.facebook.com/exitpointbook
Questions on Exit Point:
1. Describe Exit Point for us.
Exit Point is a tech thriller. It is an unexplored genre of writing in India, fingers crossed, but it has always been a very popular genre globally – think Michael Crichton and the Jurassic Park franchise, etc. he gave us.
Set in the year 2016 and beyond, Exit Point starts with an investigation into the mysterious death of a teenage girl who was chatting online with another teenager on a social networking site at the exact moment she died. The investigation takes on chilling connotations when it turns out that the girl she was supposedly chatting with had committed suicide a year ago, and snowballs rapidly into a global crisis, affecting all of humanity via the internet. Exit Point follows this online trail.
Exit Point is a page turner with thrills at every corner but it eventually leaves us with some deep, philosophical questions about our evolution as humans. About what it means to be human in an increasingly digital age. And what it could mean in the not so distant future.
Sai Sivasamy from Rediff.com has called Exit Point a “shocking novel”. My intention is not so much to shock as to inspire, challenge and awaken. It is a bold question from me for an entire new generation of kids who are growing up as “digital natives” – a generation that cannot imagine a pre-digital life.
With Exit Point, I have asked the question. And I can’t wait to hear their answers.
- What was the inspiration for the story of Exit Point?
I write to save myself. I am a very curious person. I have a childlike curiosity for everything. When my curiosity about something threatens to take over my life, plotting a fictional story saves me from speculating endlessly about the topic. I try to find closure by capturing one possible outcome. I wrote Release 2.0 to stop wondering about what would happen if every single Indian techie in the world resigned on the same day. I wrote Exit Point after I couldn’t stop thinking about a chance Facebook chat with a complete stranger.
- What was the inspiration for the characters?
I knew from the beginning that Exit Point was fundamentally a story about two very young people. It revolves around the relationship of two very young, very intelligent people – a boy and a girl – who find themselves withdrawing more and more from the physical world where relationships are limited by geography, and drawn more to the internet where there is endless choice. Their minds meet… and things suddenly begin to happen… bigger things… all over the net…
I didn’t have any reference for the boy and the girl. I became the boy myself. Unlike, say some of Chetan [Bhagat]’s work, where the character takes on the writer’s life story, this was the opposite. Weird as it sounds, I became Alok in my head. I lived for five years with a split personality. With Alok growing inside me and me observing him; encouraging him and biasing him no doubt, because I had an agenda for him; but observing him most of the time. That was how I created and wrote the boy. I obviously could not do that for the girl. She was pure, third person. Pure imagination. Well the boy is also imagination, but I hope I’ve been able to explain the difference 🙂
- What draws you as a writer to your genre?
I can only write thrillers. ‘Never Say Never’ but I can’t imagine writing any genre other than thrillers. Fiction writing is very demanding. It takes a lot out of you. It’s a process of inspiration, imagination, and ultimately as I see it – transcription. My characters live inside my head. They get up and start doing strange things every now and then. Some of their actions are in line with my plot and what I had planned for them. Most of it is completely radical and surprises me. As a writer I have to deal with all that insanity unfolding inside me and negotiate a middle path that allows me to conclude the story.
Just by listening to that you can imagine how intense it is. The only thing that keeps me going through this chaos is curiosity. What is going to happen next? How is it all ultimately going to end? No matter how clear you are about your story, if you are writing a thriller, and writing with the kind of complete submission to the plot and characters as I have described, the fact is you don’t really know how it’s going to end till you actually finish writing the story. That curiosity, that suspense, that almost naive sense of not knowing what is going to happen next is the only thing that gives me the energy to complete the story.
Even as I write this I am beginning to get terrified at the thought of writing my next. There are three plots, with their set of characters, and I have kept all of them on a leash for now. They are all inside me but a bit under my control. The day – and it is not far – that I decide to start writing and unleash one of them; the mania is going to start all over again. Hopefully, I will get better at this. I need to start writing a book a year now. Look how prolific all the other writers are – I can’t afford to have one book every few years. I need to publish one book a year.
- What’s your writing process and schedule?
I don’t have a fixed schedule. I was travelling a lot when I wrote Release 2.0 so I got time on flights, airports, etc. Exit Point was a very different experience. I lived for months, sometimes years, with scenes and characters “festering” inside me and I had infrequent spells of “massive writing”. Frankly, I don’t subscribe to the idea of a fixed writing schedule, at least not for someone writing thrillers. Writing and imagination don’t necessarily go hand in hand. They should not. Imagination is the master and writing should only serve the imagination, not drive it. And you can’t schedule your imagination. Part of the challenge of writing a thriller is allowing your imagination to make leaps every now and then when you are least prepared and then pulling it all together into writing at a later point in time when you have solitude.
- Tell us more about the confluence of Technology and Spirituality found in Exit Point.
To most people, the word technology is synonymous with a digital display or the sound of a mechanical part whirring. To me, the entire universe is a technological marvel. I see technology in everything. I believe that the entire miracle of the Universe can be reduced to a computing problem. The human mind is a technological marvel, and yet, for some reason it has been imprisoned in what I find to be an extremely restrictive, clunky human body. In the internet, man has created for the first time, a platform, a layer of existence almost, in which his mind can exist and evolve unencumbered by the limitations of his physical self. That realisation and its potential implications about our evolution as a species are explored in Exit Point. The exploration forms the bridge between technology and spirituality. All of us, at some point or the other in our lives, find ourselves getting spiritual. We start thinking about fundamental things: Who am I? Why am I here? In this life? Where am I coming from? Where do I go?
Exit Point offers a perspective to answer these questions for each one of us. Alok discovers his purpose in Exit Point. Will you discover yours?
7. What are your top 5 predictions for the world of 2016 and beyond?
- Phones that you can fold and keep in your wallet.
- Ubiquitous, and FREE internet – people will only pay for services on top; not for the internet via which the services are delivered.
- The return of the cybercafé – for 3D experiences that individual users will not be able to afford themselves.
- The death of the institution of marriage – technology is making us more and more individualistic. Pairing requires covalence, it requires us to have gaps in our lives that someone else has to come and fill, and our increasing individuality, arising from the abundance of choice, will not allow for such covalence to prevail for long. Individuality is the future. It’s probably already the present.
- Without doubt, technological singularity. The thinning of boundaries between man and machine; thought and action.
- Give us some insights into the publication process for aspiring writers and thoughts on the Indian Publishing Industry at the moment.
When I started writing Release 2.0 in 2005, the industry was quite nascent; you had to submit hard copies by courier, etc. Now thankfully, you can make electronic submissions. And all publishers have a standard process. The proposal typically needs to include a synopsis, some sample chapters, who you are, what market you are addressing, etc. If they like it, they ask you for the full manuscript. If you don’t hear from them in 8-10 weeks you can usually follow up on another email address. It’s quite professional now.
The Indian Publishing Industry definitely seems to be booming. God bless Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi for creating an industry and market for fiction writers. A decade ago, when I took up writing, the idea of an Indian writing popular fiction in English looked so radical! Today at least, thanks to these two gentlemen, we know there are millions of readers out there reading fiction in English.
Tech thrillers are very popular internationally but it is a relatively unexplored genre in India. Release 2.0 was well received but it was more realistic. Exit Point is almost shocking in comparison. I have my fingers crossed that readers will go for variety and not just stick to the mythological and/or romantic stuff that is clearly dominating the bestseller lists.
- Give us a few insights into the editing process.
The editing phase is almost as tough as the writing. You’ve invested so much of your time and energy to come up with your first draft. Unless you’re a prolific writer churning out novels at a fast clip you’ve probably invested a whole lot of soul in it as well – you understand all your characters inside out, you’ve made so many difficult choices to arrive at their individual journey through the story, and eventually the story and its conclusion. And now, for the first time, someone has read through it with a critical eye and reverted with their feedback.
Opening the editor’s feedback note is not for the feeble-hearted. It takes a lot of courage. After reading through it, your first instinct, almost always, is to finally throw in the towel. An impartial editor, invariably, not only finds areas for improvement in the story and the characters but also challenges a lot of the assumptions and devices you have used to build up the story. That’s when your passion and interest is truly tested. Do you surrender meekly and try to take the easy path of pretending to agree with everything but make changes? Or do you take the opposite stand and vehemently disagree with her? Or do you take a bolder middle path; you imbibe the criticism and revisit everything with the points raised at the back of your mind?
With Release 2.0 it was a bit of the first. I was writing for the first time and my confidence levels were low. I surrendered meekly. It was all good feedback that enriched my writing but I don’t think I went deep and challenged it as much as I could. With Exit Point, after giving 5 years to writing the first draft, I had no choice but to do the third. I don’t know how I found the energy and courage but I took to it and Radhika and I spent months discussing, debating and to a great extent rewriting Exit Point. The novel that you are reading is very different from the draft that arrived at Radhika’s desk. And if I say so myself, as much credit to me as to Radhika, for bravely taking up the editing/rewriting phase. Radhika and my collaboration has been very fulfilling and I would like to share equal credit for it! Credit to me for being brave enough to choose the more difficult path and full credit to Radhika for managing, what I call, “the fragile ego of a fiction writer” to extract a professional novel worthy of your money, and more importantly, time. If writing a novel requires commitment, being sincere in the editing phase requires courage and character. Good luck to all of you who want to take on such challenge. It’s a true test of character.
10. What’s the best way you have found to promote Exit Point in the Indian and the global market and what’s the critical and reader response been like?
Given my day job, I haven’t been able to devote a lot of time to promoting Exit Point but the response is already very encouraging. Exit Point went out of stock on Flipkart within the first week and then again a week ago. I am on the lookout for a PR freelancer whom I can hand over the promotion to and just ask her to give me dates to block through the year. I will do whatever she says. I strongly believe that a storyteller should find time to be out there and meet people in person as well and I will urge her to make a plan that incorporates a lot of my personal availability. But she has to balance my time and energy. It’s difficult but I’m sure the right person is just around the next corner.
11. Concluding message for our readers:
Aim high, especially all you young kids out there who are just beginning to get out the door and into the world. Don’t settle for mediocrity. This is not the 70s of “main MA first class first paas ho gaya maa”, certainly not the 90s of “mera USA ka visa aa gaya”. There are infinite things to choose from today. And there will be food on the table for you no matter what you do in life. Technology is cheap today and technology offers you a lot of opportunity to imagine new way of living and working. Find unique ideas and let technology show you ways to convert them into business models. Try to change the world. You have the power in you. Read a lot, write as much as possible, question everything, and never stop having a hell of a ride. Not when you have a strange hairstyle, torn jeans and youth on your side. Not when you grow into experience, formal clothes and more age. Stay young at heart. Go for gold. Good luck, God bless.
Thank you for such an insightful interview, Anil!
Intrigued by Exit Point?
You can read quite a bit of Exit Point for FREE at: Google Books
The buy links are here: http://www.exitpoint.in/buy
And for anyone who’s in Mumbai on 30th August, you can find out all about the book launch of Exit Point at: http://www.facebook.com/exitpointbook
Have more questions for Anil? Just hop over to the comments!