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Interview with Ruby Gupta

Based amidst the misty Himalayan foothills, Dr. Ruby Gupta is the best-selling author of nine books. She was honored at the International Agatha Christie Festival England, 2022, is an awardee of the GSE (USA) by Rotary International, the recipient of the Pratibha Samman Award (journalism), and a double gold medallist in English Literature.

Her conspiracy thriller The Secret of Leifeng Pagoda, inspired by true events, is being adapted on screen by Almighty Motion Picture. Two of her short stories are published in an anthology by Penguin Random House in collaboration with Romedy Now. Currently working as Professor and HOD of Humanities at the ACC Wing, Indian Military Academy, she loves to concoct heady mixes of mystery and emotions.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I am an INFJ.

Q.2 What inspired you to write The Secret of Leifeng Pagoda?
A newspaper article about the mysterious deaths of Indian nuclear scientists. When I read this, I was shocked and decided to delve into it. The more I delved, the more insidious facts I uncovered that pointed to a conspiracy against the safety and security of our country. That is when I decided to write this novel.

Q.3 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
A. The Secret of Leifeng Pagoda
is my ninth book, and I do have many more books in me. Which one of them will be born first? I can’t say at this point in time.

Q.4 How long does it take you to write a book?
Non-fiction and academic books I write in some months, whereas fiction takes me several years to write.

Q.5 How do you select the name of your characters?
Some names of characters could be names that I already like. Some character names are different or unusual. In novels with many characters, I try to keep the names as different from each other as possible (so that the reader is not confused).

Q.6 What’s your usual writing routine?
I don’t have any writing routine. Since I am a full-time professor, months or a year can go by without me being able to write anything.

Q.7 How do you develop your plot? Do you have a set formula?
I am deeply influenced by Agatha Christie. Subconsciously my plots are akin to hers and have the usual Christie tropes of a closed environment, multiple suspects, red herrings, and the proverbial twist in the tail.

Q.8 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing? Tell us about your marketing campaign?
It is vital to get exposure and target the right readers, especially nowadays, books compete with social media, OTT platforms, etc. However, I do not have any marketing campaign in place at all.

Q.9 What were your feelings when you found out about this book being adapted by Motion Pictures? Also, how long do we have to wait for it to see on the big screen?
I was naturally thrilled when The Secret of Leifeng Pagoda was picked up by Almighty Motion Picture for screen adaptation. It is a huge testament to the novel's plot, theme, and characters. I cannot say when the adaptation will happen because these things take time. The credit for the screen adaptation goes to my literary agent Anish Chandy of Labyrinth Literary Agency.

Q.10 Whom would you like to play the role of protagonist Shantanu Bose?
In the Indian context, I think Amir Khan would be ideal as Professor Shantanu Bose. Though Vicky Kaushal would also be a good fit.

Q.11 How did you conduct your research for your books?
All my novels are based on intensive research. For The Secret of Leifeng Pagoda, I went through reams of newspaper articles, archival materials, books, research papers, journal articles, etc. I also spoke to several domain/subject experts regarding several aspects of the novel.

Q.12 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I don’t think there is anything difficult about writing characters of the opposite sex. All my readers have stated that Prof Shantanu Bose, the amateur detective of my three-novel series, is completely real.

Q.13 What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
There were several surprising things I learned while writing this book. They are listed below:

1. There have been four assassination attempts on Jawaharlal Nehru.
2. The mysterious deaths of Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
3. Chinese-Indians were interned at the POW Camp at Deoli, Rajasthan, 1962-1968.

4. 1991-94 - Setback to Indian Nuclear progress:
1991-Russia agrees to transfer Cryogenic Tech to India, but the US forces Boris Yeltsin to backtrack.
1994-Cryogenic Engine Scandal/Honey trapping of ISRO scientist Nambi Narayan and his colleague.

5. Mysterious deaths of the following nuclear scientists, engineers, and defence personnel:
2nd July 2004
Abduction of official (unnamed) of NPC (Nuclear Power Corporation).
14th April 2009
Ravi Mule, a non-technical staff of NPC, was found dead during a morning walk.
8th June 2009
Loknath Mahalingam, the scientist of NPC, disappears. The body was found on 13th June 2009 in Kali River at 10 pm.
23rd Feb 2010
M. Iyer scientist at BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) found dead.
29th April 2011
Uma Rao of BARC committed suicide?
11th Oct 2011
Sq. Leader Baldev Singh of HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) hanged himself.
7th Oct 2013
K.K. Josh (Chief Engine Room Officer) and Ashish Shivam (Chief Engineer) of the Arihant nuclear submarine were found dead on railway tracks.
14th August 2013
INS Sindurakshak sank, and all 18 personnel on board died.
25th Aug, Mon 2014
G.K Kumaravel, a developer of Arjun Tank, was killed in a road accident.

6. The Chinese angle:
Chinese hacking into DRDO etc.
Chinese double agents arrested by FBI. (Hacking and Espionage in the US and other countries by the Chinese).
Build up of nuclear weapons by China.
Skirmishes at the Indo-China border.

7. The growth of Naxal/Maoist violence in various parts of the country, particularly North-East.
8. The increasing terrorist activities are particularly related to POK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir).
9. Increasing discrimination against Dalits, people from the Northeast, and other minorities.
10. The focus on developing thorium fuelled nuclear reactors in India and China.

Q.14 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
I’d like to list my favorite authors because I like almost all their books. The reason I love them is that most of them are in the genres of mystery and crime fiction. Some I love because they are fast-paced thrillers, and some for the amazing plot and characters. They are:

1. Agatha Christie
2. Enid Blyton
3. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
4. Ayn Rand
5. Sidney Sheldon
6. Dan Brown
7. Ken Follet
8. Jeffery Archer
9. John Grisham

Q.15 How do your family/friends feel about your book or writing venture?
My family/friends are happy that I’m being true to myself. They are amazed and thoroughly impressed after reading The Secret of Leifeng Pagoda due to the novel's intense research and broad scope in terms of the geopolitical scenario of the world and India that it depicts. They are also fiercely proud of me and the work I do.

Q.16 What kind of impact would you like to make with your books?
I’d like there to be a debate/discussion about the themes I highlight in my novels. For instance, The Secret of Leifeng Pagoda is a cautionary tale about the disastrous consequences that can result if the divisive tendencies in our country are not reigned in. Also, the covert and subversive forces constantly at play since the time of independence that threaten the safety and security of India.

Further, the readers can learn about themselves and about life through the philosophical/spiritual component, which is an integral part of all my novels. My non-fiction and academic books are for the benefit of students - because they are comprehensive yet concise and written in an easy-to-understand language.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
I do read my book reviews. I try to be objective and gauge whether both - the good and bad ones are fair. Mostly I learn from them. What was liked/not liked/areas for improvement, etc.

Q.18 Who designed your book cover? How did you select them?
I was actively involved in designing the cover. Since I have actually visited the Leifeng Pagoda, I sourced the cover image of the Pagoda myself. Then keeping the plot in mind, I wanted to merge a military image with it. This was advised by my agent Anish Chandy. So along with the designer, Rupsha Ghosh of Vishwakarma Publications, we then finalized the cover.

Q.19 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
I have written nine books. Four are nonfiction, and five are fiction. Of the five fiction, the first book Maya is a spiritual and a mystery novel; and three - A Degree in Death, No Illusions in Xanadu, and The Secret of Leifeng Pagoda are a series with Prof Shantanu Bose as the amateur detective in all of them. They are all unique, just as all the children of a mother are. Naturally, I cannot choose any one of them as a favorite.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
My first book, a collection of short stories, was published in 1996. Before that, I had published numerous articles, poems, interviews, and short stories in several national/international publications. I was also a journalist and wrote for several newspapers and magazines.

As an academician, I have published/presented several research papers in national/international journals/conferences. So my writing journey has been long and varied. I have dabbled in all kinds of genres. Though my favorite genres are mystery and crime fiction.

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