Mock My Words by breakout author Chandra Shekhar is a fast-paced multi-genre ride, bringing together the best of marital drama, techno-thriller, and romantic, so it is no surprise it is poised to be a bestselling novel. Chandra Shekhar has been at the forefront of technology for over 15 years, having come to the US from India to study Artificial Intelligence, and then working on developing technology for self-driving vehicles, facial recognition, and video surveillance. Now he has turned his attention to writing, and Mock My Words his first novel shows that he made a great choice. We were thrilled when Shekhar agreed to sit down with us to talk about his new novel and his life.
Every book has a story about its creation, what’s the story behind Mock My Words?
MMW is inspired by my experiences as a freshman writing instructor at Stanford University. The book is entirely fictional, of course—the setting, events, and characters (except perhaps David) are entirely made up—but the context is real. It has two layers. On the surface, it’s what Graham Greene would call an “entertainment,” or what Bollywood would call a “masala” story, with elements of comedy, drama, and thriller. But at a deeper level, it deals with what it means to move to a different culture and find your place in it. When I began teaching at Stanford, it was extremely challenging for me—a man from India whose first language is not English and whose background is engineering, not humanities—to teach English to a roomful of kids for whom English is their native tongue. To say I had trouble establishing my credibility would be to put it very mildly. I used to dread going to my classroom. It was a daily torture, and in the end, I never really succeeded in connecting with my students. But out of this torment emerged the idea for Mock My Words. Since the best fiction often is nothing but exaggerated fact, I based the character of David on myself, amplifying tenfold both my strengths and weaknesses. To make it less autobiographical, I made the protagonist Chinese rather than Indian.
I know this is akin to asking a parent which of their children is their favorite but here I go – who is your favorite character in Mock My Words?
My favorite character is Laura, David’s attractive-but-tough wife. I wanted to portray a complex character, one who can be cold and cruel in a domestic setting but brave and compassionate in other situations. To judge by reader reactions, she is the one who evokes the strongest response. Some readers characterize her as a detestable shrew, but others find her to be principled and courageous. She is both strong and vulnerable, aggressive and driven in her dealings with others but still a frightened little girl deep inside. She resists easy characterization. That’s what makes her interesting to me and to many of my readers.
You went from studying Artificial Intelligence and developing technology for self-driving vehicles to having a career as a writer. How did that happen?
I have always wanted to be a writer. But in the middle-class Indian milieu where I grew up, writing was most definitely NOT a career option. Anyone with decent grades had to become either an engineer or a doctor! So I became and engineer and drifted into a career in AI research. It was intellectually satisfying to some extent, but I always felt it wasn’t “me.” Further, I had qualms about developing technology that could be used for destroying livelihoods, privacy, or worse. After more than a decade of waffling, I finally worked up the courage to change my career. I worked as a journalist for a few years, using it as a stepping stone to fiction writing. Compared to my engineering days, I’m now poorer but happier!
Writing a novel can mean going deep for the author, while writing Mock My Words did you learn anything new about yourself?
This is an interesting question. The most revealing thing I learned was that yes, I can write a novel! As I said earlier, I’ve always wanted to write. But wanting to do something and being able to do it are two different things. With Mock My Words, I proved to myself that I could be a novelist. I could invent a story that made other people think and feel and laugh and cry. That was huge.
Is there another book in your future? If so can you tell us about it?
I have two books that are nearing completion (and hope there will be many more). One is Thirst for Power, which deals with the intertwined lives of an idealistic young man, a scheming politician, a romantic professor of English, and an enigmatic social worker, set against a background of political, social, and climate change. Taking place in India and London, this novel draws on my varied and quirky background. My other work-in-progress is an illustrated collection of short stories, flash fiction, and humorous verse titled Unintended Consequences, Illogical Extremes, and Other Ironies of Life.
To check out Mock My Words head over to Amazon