Khalid Muhammad is an entrepreneur and teacher, who, in 1997, moved to Pakistan after 27 years in the United States – an anomaly in this world, as migration tends to be the other way around. In Pakistan, he worked for some of the nation’s largest technology companies before establishing his own business and teaching interactive marketing and entrepreneurship at a local university in Karachi.
Many of his students are loyally devoted to him, even though they have long since graduated and moved on with their lives. This is simply because Khalid manages to absorb information like a sponge, and is able to assess the knowledge and apply it, in context, to a goal or situation. He has used this ability to gain moderate success with his company, emagine, though it is clear that he is equally capable of writing a strong story as he is creating brands!
Also, I had found him to be a kind-hearted, grassroots statesman who cares deeply about his people and wants to make life better for all his countrymen.
Welcome o Vision and Verse, the place for Art and Authors this morning, Khalid. It is a pleasure to have you with us. What have you written and what is it about?
My first novel, Agency Rules, is due to release in November 2013. I have had a number of papers published in my professional career, but this is my first fictional novel.
Agency Rules is the story of a young man, Kamal Khan, who dreams of joining the intelligence services in Pakistan. The story takes the reader into a world of espionage in a highly volatile, nuclear-armed country, where external threats are not as dangerous as the internal ones. Kamal is an interesting character because he doesn’t fit the traditional spy mold. He joined the army at a young age, attained successes as a soldier and then became part of the intelligence services. Where he gets interesting is how he struggles with internal conflicts where his values and beliefs don’t match the objective that he must deliver for an intelligence success.
What inspired you to write Agency Rules?
The book is more inspired by a series of events in Pakistan. When we go backwards to the 1980s and the Afghan conflict, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a series of events was started in Pakistan that the country still suffers with today. The Taliban, terrorism, and the drug culture are all remnants of that time and we have not been able to escape it because the US invasion of Afghanistan brought it to our doorstep again.
I also think that part of my motivation to write this novel was to help people understand that Pakistan is not a nation of terrorists. We have the misfortune of having self-serving politicians with no checks and balances, so the “anti-state” elements are able to prosper because many politicians and law enforcement personnel are involved for financial benefits.
What is your favorite genre to write?
That’s easy – spy thriller. I have tried my hand at a few different genres, but the spy thriller has been the right fit for me because it allows me to let loose the sociopath side of my mind.
I love Italian food. Odd right? I grew up in the United States and always found myself sitting in Italian restaurants when I had the time to go out and get a good meal. I do cook a great deal when I am at home, but when I cook, it’s usually barbeque. I love Pakistani food, particularly the food associated with Pathan culture.
Where would you like to visit?
You know, I was quite blessed in my professional career and was able to travel around the world, so picking a place that I would like to visit is a bit more difficult now. I personally have loved being in Pakistan because every city and village has a great deal of history dating back to the times of the Mughals and Ottomans, ranging from the values to the architecture. But, if you were to put me on the spot, the one place that I would love to visit is Sicily.
I’m sure that has a great deal to do with the mobster movies that I have watched for years, but from what I have read, Sicily is full of history and tradition. I think it is the perfect balance to the places that I have been since moving to Pakistan.
I appreciate that, Khalid. My family is from southern Italy and we are all not mobsters. Beautiful scenery, great food, and wonderful loving people. Okay, back to the questions. Favorite musical artist. Do you listen to music when you write? What?
I don’t think I have a favorite musical artist anymore. Music has changed so much since I was in my 20s and 30s. I hate the boy-band, programmed pop that wins Grammys today. There is no feeling, soul or message in any of it. It’s just teenie-bopper music.
When I write, I do listen to music. I love classic rock and hard rock. Put on some Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath or Metallica and I go to a different place in my mind. It’s that place where I get the best writing out of my soul.
What makes you laugh?
Fox News. Can you really be that stupid and biased and still pretend to be a news organization?
Very funny! How old were you when you started writing?
I wrote my first short story when I was 15 as a class project. I wrote my first poem for a competition at 17, didn’t win. I didn’t take up serious writing until I graduated from university and entered the professional world. With a degree in marketing, you really do become a storyteller, which most people don’t understand. I finally started to write a novella when I was 35, I think. I’m 43 now and finally got a story together that works and I am proud of enough to publish.
What do you do when you get a writer's block?
I stop writing. When I can’t get a scene to flow clean out of my mind into words on paper, I put it away and work on other things. I have learned that my writing process is not forced. I can’t write x number of words every day because I have to. When I do that, I end up editing so much out of the writing that it would just have been easier to not write it at all. My breaks can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
Who is your favorite author?
I don’t have a single favorite. I love to read spy thrillers so Tom Clancy, John le Carre, Fredrick Forsyth, Daniel Silva, Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum are big influences. But at the same time, I really enjoy the new voices in the espionage world like Tom Rob Smith, Matthew Farrugia, and Matthew Reilly.
Best book you ever read.
Wow… best book? That would actually be a tossup between Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Afghan. Both are fantastic stories with characters that you can really identify with, if you are a true spy fan.
I like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, also! Who is the one person who has influenced your personal life the most and why?
It’s not one person, but one type of person. Throughout my life, I have had the misfortune of knowing and being associated with people who hated themselves so much that they took it out on others. These people did everything they possibly could to demotivate, insult and damage me. I’m sure that they thought they were self-confident and high achievers, but the image that showed to the rest of the sane world was very different. Some of them were family, some were friends, but each made a significant impact on my life and thought processes.
I guess if I were to thank anyone for where I am today, it would be those people. If I hadn’t encountered them, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve all the things that I have in my personal or professional life. It was their hatred that motivated me to prove them wrong, so I guess I owe them a thank you for being such losers.
What advice would you give someone who aspired to be a writer?
If you want to have sleepless night where you are thinking about a fictional world and how to make it more real; if you dream fantastic stories and live a normal life; if you struggle with personal insecurities, but would love to have an alter ego that would kick everyone’s ass and rack up the body count, then you are already part way to becoming a writer.
The only advice that I can really give is it takes time. No one has a best seller inside them on the first try. It takes time to get the story, characters and your own writing style down. I think I wrote 3 novellas that just didn’t click with me for one reason or another and never got beyond the Word document. When I wrote Agency Rules, it was a novella, but I put it away for a few weeks and then read it as a reader instead of the author and the story jumped out of the page, which led to me re-writing almost 75% of the novella to turn it into a full novel.
Take the time to get the story right.
Facebook – http://facebook.com/khalid.muhammad and http://facebook.com/AgencyRulesPK
Twitter – http://twitter.com/AgencyRulesPK
Booksite – http://agencyrules.com
Thank you for joining us this morning. We wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors, Khalid.