“I Am A Hybrid Writer,” In Conversation With Vish Dhamija – Author of Prisoners Dilemma, Bhendi Bazaar And Ten More Books

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“Indian John Grisham” – The term brings to your mind the face of none other than Vish Dhamija. We saw him master crime fiction, holding the reins of the plot which he maneuvers seamlessly through the twists and surprises. Being at the peak of his career with the tenth book “Prisoner’s Dilemma” grabbing the eyeballs with rave reviews, Vish Dhamija shares his journey with Outset, through our virtual tete-a-tete.
Vish Dhamija - Prisoner's Dilemma

Virtual tete-a-tete with Vish Dhamija 

Friendship or freedom, what would you choose?” This is a tagline that hooks readers. How did this idea come to you?

Prisoner’s Dilemma as a concept (in-game theory) is simply that. Rationally, there should be no reason to doubt your friend—you should know that your friend will not double-cross you, but you are talked into doubting years of friendship. Once that happens, you get paranoid, and consequently, the self-preservation instinct takes over your rational mind. That is the entire premise of the book, so when I began writing I knew that is the challenge I’ll put forth to the protagonist(s), and I appreciate the dilemma it puts the reader in. As any tagline should, it is the heart and soul of the story, and it makes you stop and think. 

Both friendship and freedom are so vital to life that one should never want to be put in a situation to decide between them.

Do you plan a book or do you go with the flow?

I’ve been asked this before. I am more of a hybrid writer if there’s a term like that, and I doubt there are writers who plan a story to the last detail before they begin penning it. In my case, I usually have the idea/premise of the story firmed up in my mind before I start writing. For example in crime fiction, I’ll know what crime is going to be committed in the beginning (burglary, theft, murder or any other) and how will it unfold for the investigator (police, detective, lawyer) and the reader. Or, if it’s a crime caper and the protagonist gets away, how will s(he) do that. The rest I decide…as I write.

When did your connection with crime fiction begin?

To be honest I was fascinated by crime fiction before I was even aware I was reading them. 

Like most of my friends at the time, I started with comic books. 

The earliest ones were Indrajal Comics (Phantom and Mandrake), and then Tarzan before moving on to Tintin and Asterix, and Obelix. Do you see what I mean? I was enjoying these comics without knowing I was reading crime fiction in this format. Mysteries from Enid Blyton and Hardy Boys came next, followed by Agatha Christie and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Now I enjoy reading every sub-genre: legal & psychological thrillers, noir, crime capers, cozy crime, police procedural, romantic suspense… the list is unending.

When did you recognize the writer in you?

I don’t think I recognized that after the success of my first book, Nothing Lasts Forever, which was published in 2010. Writing a book was one of the things on my bucket list so when the book got published I thought I was done. But it just kept selling, and readers kept asking when am I going to write my next one? And I had no plans to write a second one. Eventually, I wrote Bhendi Bazaar, published in December 2014. When that went on to become number one on the Amazon Crime chart and featured among bestselling books in Crossword stores, I realized I had a calling. And now, with six of my books being signed up for adaptation to screen, and three of my legal thrillers becoming a subject of a doctoral thesis by a PhD student, it gives me the added confidence that I should keep going.

Vish Dhamija books

Tell us a bit about you(Your background, childhood, etc)

I was born and raised in Ajmer, Rajasthan. I went to Jodhpur for a post-graduation in management. Then worked in various organizations in Jaipur, Chennai, Jamnagar, and Mumbai before moving to Manchester to study MBA in 2000. The plan was to complete an MBA and return to India, but life had other plans for me. As they say in Yiddish: if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

From Nothing Lasts Forever to Prisoner’s Dilemma, how far do you think you have grown?

Ten years 🙂 People who’ve read all my books tell me that my writing has matured. No one says I have matured. Jokes aside, as an author I like to experiment. 

I write across sub-genres of crime fiction.

I use various styles of narratives—I break chronology, I use a first and third-person or both in the same story, I use different perspectives (e.g. in The Mogul the narrative unfolds through the perspectives of the ensemble characters—seven of them). With years of writing, I’ve grown and learned that there are various ways of telling the same story, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how I want to present it to my readers for it to be most impactful.

You have been in the industry for a decade now. How was your publishing journey?

I finished writing Nothing Lasts Forever at the beginning of 2009. It took me almost 16 months to find the first publisher, so it wasn’t easy. It became just a little easier, not a lot. You may have written a masterpiece, but the publishers have to put on their commercial hats and evaluate the work. In the end, if the publisher doesn’t think the book is commercially viable, they aren’t going to invest in the book.

Vish Dhamija - Quote

Are you planning your next book?

As I said, I didn’t have any books between 2010 and 2014 (almost 4 years), but I still wanted ten in ten, a promise (made to self) that I had to break due to the outbreak of Covid last year.
Prisoner’s Dilemma was due in 2020, but it
got delayed. But I’ve made myself a new promise: I’ll
have twenty books before 2030, fingers crossed. So yes, I’m always writing something. 

The next book should be out in early 2022. 

What is your advice to aspiring readers?

Read, read, read. Write, edit, rewrite. Don’t worry about the publishing deal, and don’t bother what others say. Yes it is difficult to find a publisher, and yes it is an over-crowded marketplace, but don’t forget publishers need new voices as much as you need publishers. Also, never undermine the value of a good literary agent. Find yourself one.

How can the readers reach you?

 They should join me on Instagram (@vish_dhamija) and message me. I always respond if I think the question/request is genuine, and I think I can help or guide someone. But remember, sometimes it might take a little time to get a reply. It’s Instagram, not Instant-gram 🙂

Vish Dhamija is the most down-to-earth bestselling writer I have ever come across. Without the air of a celebrity writer, he has been patient, cooperative, and considerate. I reviewed his books earlier in 2017 and then my reviews were as short as an intro. Further, I reviewed Lipstick and now Prisoners Dilemma. All through the years, I could see a growing graph of this incredible writer. 

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