I got the chance to check in with Khalid Muhammad recently and got the skinny on what is coming up for him and the new book. This was supposed to be posted last month but I moved and the Giveaway I wanted to do with it got put on hold. So now you get the better deal because I can up the booty (that sounds weird) and offer you FIVE copies of Agency Rules: Never An Easy Day At The Office. That is better loot than I will be getting for my birthday tomorrow. Please read this interview slowly because it took me almost a month to put it together.
Ali: Agency Rules has a huge readership now, did have any idea that your novel would have such a favorable response?
Khalid: Not a chance. I remember sitting with my editor and publisher before the release. We were talking about what my expectations were, I honestly replied… “If it sells 100 copies, I’ll be happy.” I mean, come on, a book about Pakistan’s intelligence services, the ISI, and the Taliban?!? We honestly didn’t think that Agency Rules would get the response or the readership that it has. We are all pleasantly surprised with the fan following, readers write and get responses from me all the time and, as you know, we are extremely active on our social media accounts talking about Pakistan, terrorism and the on-going military campaign to rid the country of the safe havens.
It’s been an all-around cool experience for me, and I hope for the readers as well.
Ali: You’ve received a great deal of feedback since the release, what has helped you the most from the commentary and reviews?
Khalid: The reader is where the story has to come to life. It has to move from the pages to the mind, otherwise they are just words. When I wrote Agency Rules, and it’s upcoming follow-up Scorched Earth, I was seeing the action in my mind and I did my best to let it play on the pages so the reader could experience it in their imaginations as well.
For me, as the author, I am looking for two things in reviews – honesty and emotion. It takes emotion to sit down and write a review for a book you just read. You either loved it or hated it. And either emotion drives you to write a review. That’s the first thing I am looking for. What did you think of the book itself?
Second, is the honesty. For every reader, the experience is different, so I am interested in how readers experienced the story, the characters, the dialogues… They will tell me what I can do better and what I got exactly right.
Ali: Did you discover anything new about your plot or characters you weren’t aware of while drafting and publishing it through the insight of others?
Khalid: I did, which was really amazing. I think you pointed out in your review that Kamal was a dark character, struggling with his own demons. I didn’t notice that when I was writing him. He has a past and it works as a driver for him, but I didn’t see the mental questioning that you pointed out in your review, Ali.
There was another review that pointed out how I was glorifying torture, which I was never thinking about when I wrote the scenes. Sure, I was looking for a brutality, when it fit, but I didn’t see it as glorifying torture. Some people actually really enjoyed reading that brutality when it came to the character in the chair… But you noticed that Kamal’s technique changed when required, he could play the role of father or older brother to those who wanted to talk.
I think it’s key to understand where the reader is coming from with their insights. There were some outstanding ideas and thought put forward from readers and I personally enjoy reading all of them. They are who I write for.
Ali: Have you accomplished what you hoped for most when you were penning Agency Rules?
Khalid: The intent behind writing a book like Agency Rules is really simple. Most people don’t know what we have struggled with as a nation. Some of it we did to ourselves, some of it was done to us, but we have a history behind us that must be overcome. But that’s not what the world sees about Pakistan.
They see a terrorist state, with an army that is more than willing to grab power whenever they are given the chance. All completely untrue. What I am trying to do is tell people the story of Pakistan since the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan. We had a lot of fallback of Mujahideens returning from the battle. We also had some very wealth and motivated imams that thought they could play a war games of their own. There was no shortage of money from the Middle Eastern countries to recruit, fund and motivate the fighters. And we are just getting started telling this story.
I think I have started, but I am nowhere near being done. Pakistan is a country with a rich history, wonderful people and a nation that wants to succeed. If I can get a portion of that message out to readers, I’ll be happy.
Ali: Agency Rules portrays the Taliban as a living power struggle between those of traditional Muslim faith and extremists. What has changed since the time period in Agency Rules and the current era between the two?
Khalid: Well, Agency Rules is based in the 1990s, immediately after the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. At that point, the Mujahideen were returning to their homes and Afghanistan was free of occupation. In Pakistan, the training camps that were setup in conjunction with the CIA and the Saudis continued to be operational. These camps produced fighters for anyone who was willing to pay the highest price. The Taliban didn’t exist at this point.
Now, we have the Taliban, TTP, al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hekmatyar, Haqqani to one side, and the ISAF forces, Afghan and Pakistan Army to the other side. You have a Pakistan that has been beaten with massive terrorist attacks that have taken 80,000+ innocent Pakistani lives, including the most horrific, the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar on 16th, December 2014. 131 children died on that day and Pakistan finally united against terrorism.
Since then, the Pakistan Army has been set loose to take out all the camps, whether in the urban or rural locations. The army has had outstanding success against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and pushed them back across the border into Afghanistan, where they have government-sponsored safe havens since Karzai’s time as President. Karzai was once credited with saying that the TTP was Kabul’s strategic depth into Pakistan to destabilize us for more favorable terms. Well, they don’t exist anymore.. who’s next?
Ali: Kamal Khan has enjoyed a bit of aging since his conception, do you think you are ready to move on to his next adventure?
Khalid: You know… that was the hardest part for me. Letting Kamal grow up means more maturity in his decision making, command positions, and maybe a personal life. I really liked creating him as a character because of the growth process. He’s a sniper. He kills from a distance, never knowing what cologne his target wore as he died. Then, he must transform into an intelligence operative. Close range relationship. Instead of taking someone’s life, he had to save it now. The cool part about Kamal is that he never forgets that he is a soldier first. He’s the best embodiment of a brutal warrior.
His next adventure is also really cool. In Scorched Earth, the upcoming novel in the series, Kamal develops as an intelligence operative. He must play both sides of the coin now. He has his own team of operatives and they are deeply embedded. We’ll get to meet a new character named Ahmed, who will make you question everything you know about terror training camps. And, of course, there are some new characters that will make your skin crawl again.
Ali: You aren’t solely a fiction writer, you have a background in editorial and journalism. How did you move from one into the other?
Khalid: Actually, my background is a lot more diverse than that. My background is actually in marketing, but I write opinion and analysis articles for different newspapers and publications. So, I have always been a storyteller, if you think about it. They are just different levels of storytelling.
The shift to the fiction writing came from a reaction to years of media reports about a country that really isn’t as bad as you hear. Like I said before, I wanted to tell the story of my country to a people who will never be closer than the words on those pages. What I write on the pages of the Agency Rules story is a mixture of all of it.
Ali: Pakistan has been crippled with sociopolitical turmoil for sometime and Agency Rules introduces many to those issues for the first time. How has the novel become a bridge to those blind to the conflicts within Middle Eastern countries?
Khalid: I think that a lot of people thought they knew what it was like to live in these countries based on media stories, but they have no idea what it was really like. It’s very easy to make a judgment about a country and a people without ever speaking to someone from that country. Both of our countries experience this equally.
When someone living in the United States, understands the nepotism and corruption in Pakistani politics, the constant power struggles and the anger that builds up in people, you start to understand why insert name of any Middle Eastern country struggles with so many simple problems. No one understands the level of political chess is being played in these countries, unless we tell you about it.
I do think a lot of readers really identified with the people and situations in Agency Rules, based on the reviews that I have read. There are very few people that are black or white, everyone has a shade of grey inside them. And it’s within those shades of grey that you really find the people you thought you knew.
Ali: When are you hoping to release the next book? Where can it be purchased?
Khalid: The next book, Scorched Earth, is due to hit the market next month. When Agency Rules was published, we published everywhere except Pakistan. Honestly, we didn’t think there would be the market that exploded behind the first book. So, this time, we are publishing across the globe at the same time, but doing that successfully requires a great deal of pre-planning and coordination.
We have had some problems with printers with the new book, which has delayed its release twice now. It’s really easy on the digital platforms like Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, etc. because the publisher uploads specific files and it’s ready to go in a few hours. When we are printing domestically for Pakistan, I don’t sacrifice on standards. I want my books to look and feel just like the ones that come from abroad, so we do have some problems with printers.
You’ll be able to get Scorched Earth via Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores throughout Pakistan.
Ali: What is next for you beyond more Agency Rules?
Khalid: Beyond Agency Rules? I’ve got another few books in this series to write before I think about putting it to bed. I am thinking about doing a crime thriller as well. Again based in this region. There are so many stories to tell from this area of the world that the world never gets to hear from our point of view.
That’s what I am going to enjoy doing for a while. Telling the stories of the country that I love.
Ali: Thanks, Khalid. It’s always great to speak with you. I can’t wait for more Kamal!
Khalid: It’s always a pleasure, Ali. You bring the great questions and I’m sure your readers appreciate the insights you are able to draw from authors. Can’t wait for our next sitting.
Agency Rules – Never An Easy Day At The Office Synopsis:
Celebrated as a ragtag force that defeated and broke the Soviet Union, no one predicted the Mujahideen would bring with them a plague that would spread like wildfire through Pakistan in the years to follow. When the battle-worn fighters returned with no enemy or war to fight, they turned their sights on the country that had been their creator and benefactor.
From the same battlegrounds that birthed the Mujahideen, a young Kamal Khan emerges as a different breed of warrior. Discarding his wealthy family comforts, Kamal becomes a precision sniper, an invincible commando and a clandestine operative bringing intimidation, dominance and death with him to the battlefield. Ending the plague is his prime directive.
Shrouded in political expediency, hampered by internal power struggles, international espionage and doublespeak that makes Washington’s spin doctors proud, Kamal’s mission is a nightmare of rampant militant fundamentalism that threatens to choke and take Pakistan hostage. For him, the fight is not just for freedom, but the survival of a nation.
Purchase Agency Rules – Never An Easy Day At The Office:
Agency Rules – Never An Easy Day At The office Excerpt:
“Kaleem, Kaleem!” Kamal yelled, slapping him across the face. He paused for a second to reach down to check for a pulse. Faint, but he is alive. Kamal lifted Kaleem over his shoulder, wincing from the pain in his torso from by the repeated blows. “I’ll get us out of here,” he said to his friend, “just hang on.” He moved towards the door, knowing there was only one escape route, which would most likely end with confrontation with either Faheem or the Brigadier and his reinforcements. He could tell the Brigadier who he was, but not Faheem. That information would end up in Bajaur.
Reaching the door, Kamal poked his head out to see if anyone was in the corridor. He saw a shadow move in the corridor and quickly pulled back into the hall. Glancing around, he found a dark corner where he could put Kaleem, while he dealt with the shadow in the corridor. Setting him down, Kamal heard a noise in the hall behind him. He sat motionless, protected from sight by the darkness that engulfed the area around him, surveying the area for clues to the direction of the sound. He had been struggling with dark spots in his eyes since the goon struck his head, but he was sure that he saw something move to his right.
“You might as well come out,” a voice hollered. “We have you surrounded.”
Kamal quietly moved from his location to one closer to the voice, and called out, “Who the fuck is we?”
“We are the Frontier Constabulary,” said the voice, giving Kamal a better indication of where the person was standing in the darkness. “Come out now, Dawood! Or we open fire!”
Open fire? Is he kidding? He has no idea where I am. Kamal called out again, slowly moving closer to the voice, “Open fire. You will only kill your own.”
“Do you think this is a negotiation?” the voice yelled. “Show yourself.”
“If you are FC, you’re a ranking officer,” Kamal called back. “Protocol demands that you identify yourself.”
Suddenly, the tone of the voice changed. That the intruder was familiar with the keyword protocol followed by the military for hostage situations made him realize that he was dealing with someone who either is or was military.
“Name and rank, solider!” the voice called out, booming through the warehouse.
“Fuck you and your name and rank!” Kamal answered, moving again in the darkness behind the Brigadier. “You know who I am. Tell me who the fuck you are!”
The silence was deafening as Brigadier Imtiaz contemplated his next move. Is my luck really this shitty? Did I authorize the capture and interrogation of an ISI operative based on faulty intelligence? His mind spun in different directions, contemplating the fallout from this hurried decision that had been backed only by his over-ambitious ego.
“Men, lower your…” the voice shouted out. His sentence was stopped midstream, as Kamal snatched his sidearm and placed its cool barrel against his temple.
“When you were told that the ISI had a deep cover operative, why would you carry out this mission?” Kamal growled in his ear. “Are you really that stupid? Tell them to lower their weapons and come out of the shadows.”
The Brigadier could feel his throat closing from the chokehold Kamal applied. Tightening it slightly, he ordered him again, “Tell them!” before slightly releasing the hold to allow the Brigadier to speak. In the cover of darkness, no one had seen him take him and not being seen would facilitate his escape without having his cover blown.
“Men, we have a friendly here.” The Brigadier’s raspy voice quavered as he called out to his troops. “Lower your weapons and show yourselves.”
“Wait one minute and then turn on the lights,” Kamal whispered into his ear. He released his hold on the Brigadier’s throat. He had no intention of being there when the lights came on.
Someone pulled a lever, bringing all the lights in the warehouse on. Kaleem’s bruised body lay motionless in a corner. The two closest soldiers ran towards him to check his vital signs, tripping over another body as they ran towards him.
“Men, fan out and search the warehouse,” the Brigadier ordered. “Make sure there are no hostiles left inside.” The Brigadier glanced around the hall for the person who had, moments earlier, had him in a chokehold, but saw no one. His hand instinctively dropped to his sidearm, finding it in his holster, creating even greater confusion in his mind. Why would he leave the gun? He didn’t know how many men I have with me. Looking around the warehouse, all he saw were bodies and blood trails, and his own soldiers, gingerly moving through the building.
Kamal stood on the roof of the warehouse, watching the entire show below. He knew that he had escaped with his life. Kaleem had been sacrificed as the friendly in this encounter, but the bloodlust that the Sheikh had for Dawood was not going to be quenched with just one sacrifice. He would want Dawood as well. Below him was a contingent of FC personnel patrolling the street and making his escape from the building roof impossible. He would just have to wait them out. The Colonel knew that there was a friendly there and the ISI would not confirm the identity after such a brazen attack on an operative. He would have no reason to leave anyone behind for surveillance, and even if he did, Kamal was confident that he could slip away unnoticed.
Realizing that it may be a while before he could move, Kamal relaxed against the concrete roof, finally taking stock of the various injuries that were battling for his attention. Slumping down against the short wall that surrounded the roof, he slowly slipped into unconsciousness. His last thought was a growing desire to even the score with the Sheikh.
Meet Khalid Muhammad:
By day, Khalid Muhammad is a mild-mannered business executive keeping busy running a marketing and brand management company. By night, his alter ego emerges; one that has a penchant for sadistic retribution towards those who wrong others, and that spends its time devising intricate and detailed plans for a nefarious end.
Born in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, educated and raised in the United States, Khalid returned to Pakistan almost 17 years ago and fell in love with his country. His debut novel, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office, is a journey behind the headlines about Pakistan, the world’s most dangerous place, to deliver an intense story that will challenge the reader to question everything they have been told about the country.
He began writing to let the wickedness escape, as the other option means a great deal of blood, numerous torture implements and… well, infinite ways to dump a body. It’s safer for everyone involved and less dangerous for the guilty… until he writes another book.
Khalid Muhammad’s Web Tracks:
Khalid Muhammad on All The Things Inbetween:
Hashtag – The Story of a Lion or a Lamb: ‘I Am’ by Khalid Muhammad
Weekly Indie Word Slinger – Khalid Muhammad
Tongue Wagger – Agency Rules – Never An Easy Day At The Office by Khalid Muhammad
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