IndieView with Khaled Talib, author of Incognito

I’m realistic to know the publishing world has change. Nobody knows for sure where it’s going and how it will end. At least not now. So I’ll take what’s the best situation for me. 

Khaled Talib – 16 May 2017

The Back Flap

Pope Gregoire XVII was last seen waving to the crowd at Saint Peter’s square from the famous Apostolic Palace window. Despite several layers of tight security, neither the Gendarmerie nor The Entity (the Vatican’s intelligence service) or the Swiss Guards claim to know anything about his sudden mysterious disappearance.

As the world mourns for the pope, a frantic search begins in Italy and beyond its borders amid speculation that the Holy See may know more than they are telling.

Ayden Tanner, a former British SAS commando officer — who is officially dead — is dispatched with two other crew members to find the Supreme Pontiff by The League of Invisible Knights, a covert division of Anonymous that aims to bring about the triumph of good over evil.

A secret arrangement is made for Ayden to meet Rafael Rabolini, the Papacy’s press secretary, in Geneva, who might be able to tell him more. But trouble unexpectedly starts from the moment Ayden arrives in the city that winter day…

The story unfolds to reveal an insidious plot by Willem Van Der Haas, a ruthless Dutch senator who has aligned himself with a world power bent on its own global ambitions.

In a gasping chase that races from the snowy mountains of Switzerland to the secret passages under Saint Peter’s Basilica to the hilly terrains of Istanbul to the harsh desert air of Egypt, Ayden and his crew are forced to match wits with lethal assassins as they struggle on a desperate quest to prevent a terrifying tomorrow.

About the book

What is the book about?

Incognito is about three mysterious specialists who are dispatched to Europe by a covert division of the international hacker group Anonymous to find the Pope who is missing.

When did you start writing the book?

I started writing the story in late 2015.

How long did it take you to write it?

This time, it took me a year and four months to write the book – nonstop.  My debut, Smokescreen, took three years to complete, but prior to that I had spent about two decades tinkering with it.   It was trial and error, but with experience things naturally improved.

Where did you get the idea from?

The idea of the story began when I was on holiday in Geneva, Switzerland. I was staying in a small, old hotel, and one winter night, through the window of my room, I saw a tall woman in black standing under a street lamp. She was staring into the blankness.  When I went downstairs later, I found the same woman at the empty foyer. There was no one else. She gave me a strange look.  I ran back up and locked myself in the room. You need a password to open the hotel’s door entrance, so I wondered how she got in. She reminded me of the nanny in the old movie, The Omen.  My encounter with the woman inspired me to weave in her character into my latest novel. I even gave her a nickname.

I was also inspired by some of the Pope’s interviews with the media, particularly his opinion on Islam.  I thought it was peculiar that the leader of the largest faith in the world would speak kindly about Islam, considering the long history of the Crusades, and in today’s context, the media prejudices equating Islam with terrorism.

Following that, my research led me to the Vatican II, an assembly of religious leaders who gathered to discuss doctrinal issues.  This took place between the 1950s and 1960s. I discovered that Catholics considered Muslims and Jews as members of the “Brotherly Faith” so any ill views about these two religions after the Crusades were null and void.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

Well, let’s just say it was a situation where I had to keep calm or end up tearing my hair out.   There are many scenes in the novel involving train rides, which required me to make repeated checks on their itineraries and time schedules.

I also spent some time corresponding with people to clarify details. I contacted a Swiss hotel, the Italian tourism body, and even checked the proper usage of certain Italian words. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the different types of weapons used by the Italian law enforcers and the military. So I couldn’t complete the scenes until I got the necessary information.

As Italy is a country full of historical monuments, I also spent a lot of time reading up on its history. I had to understand certain aspects of architecture in my bid to describe structures, monuments and buildings as they serve the backdrops of many scenes.

What came easily?

My action scenes – I love creating them in various locations. It gave me a thrill. Some took place in the snow, other scenes took place at historical sites.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

The woman in black that I mentioned earlier is a real person.  I believe she was mentally unsound, but because of her size, height, attire and behavior, she freaked me out! I’ll never forget that face.  It was eerie.

We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

I read anything I can get my hands on, but I so love mysteries, suspense and thrillers.  I like not knowing only to find out in the end what actually happened. One of my greatest influencers was Robert Ludlum whose thrillers are amazing. In writing Incognito, I was inspired by Philip Kerrigan’s WeatherSpy because of the Swiss backdrop. There’s a bit of Dan Brown too, in terms of conspiracy and religious aspect, while Umberto Eco played a part in conjuring the thrill of storytelling.

Do you have a target reader?

My readers would be someone who enjoys religious thrillers and international conspiracies. It has everything: mystery, suspense and thriller.

About Writing

Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?

I don’t have a fixed regime, but I tend to eat chocolates for energy. I can write in the morning, day or night. I spent between fourteen and sixteen hours writing in a day.  I avoid taking calls except from some people. You have to prioritize your time.  I don’t wait for inspiration – I just write and I find that as you keep writing the ideas start to flow. You can make any necessary changes later. The most important is to start.

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?

I didn’t outline my first novel nor did I do it for Incognito. I had an idea in mind and I just kept going. I have written a third manuscript, and I did try to outline it. However, as I proceeded writing the story, I found myself in a quagmire that it almost didn’t make a difference if I outline the story or not.

I think you have to know where you want to go, and then work from there. You need to get the crux of the story; everything else can be amended. It’s like going into a shopping mall; there are many entrances and exits. But you know you’ll reach that particular department on a certain floor because you know where the section is located.  

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

Both. Sometimes I get obsessed with a paragraph or an entire page or chapter. I’ll rewrite it and edit it again and again until I’m satisfied.

Did you hire a professional editor?

I have an external editor and a publisher’s editor. You must have an editor, both for copy and development. There is no way you can write a novel without support. Their advice is crucial in the final creation of your novel.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?

I do, at times. I listen to all kinds of music. For action scenes, I’ll listen to a fast beat. Or I might hum.

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?

Yes, I do. The Evan Marshall Agency handles my foreign rights, book clubs, and other business dealings.

What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?

I’m open to all opportunities as I am not prejudice to one type of publishing platform. I have self-published some books, but in some other instances I felt I needed a stronger support base. I’m realistic to know the publishing world has change. Nobody knows for sure where it’s going and how it will end. At least not now. So I’ll take what’s the best situation for me.

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?

All the book covers of my novels were designed by the publishers. For one of my self-published books, The Little Book of Muses, I had it professionally done. I have also done it myself, the reason being I was experimenting.

 Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?

I have a marketing plan, which involves advertising and getting as many reviewers to read my book. I pitch author interviews and write to reviewers around the world.  I also joined several writers’ organizations for additional support. I even issue press releases and create my own book trailers as part of my efforts.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?

Don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your own thing.

About You

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Singapore.

Where do you live now?

Singapore.

What would you like readers to know about you?

I love desserts, travelling and people watching.

What are you working on now?

I finished a third manuscript, which revolves around the Philadelphia Deringer. It’s a thriller involving a Hollywood actress and a Mexican drug lord.

End of Interview:

For more from Khaled visit his website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter.

Get your copy of Incognito from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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