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Bookend: Novelist A.X. Ahmad On Learning The Craft Of Writing

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A.X. Ahmad at the National Portrait Gallery courtyard.
Jonathan Wilson
A.X. Ahmad at the National Portrait Gallery courtyard.

In our monthly look at the D.C. literary scene, we'll meet A.X. Ahmad, author of the new thriller "The Caretaker." The novel centers on the story of a former Indian Army Special Forces captain trying to carve out a new life on the island of Martha's Vineyard, when that elite military training suddenly comes in handy. Jonathan Wilson met Ahmad downtown at one of his favorite writing spots, the courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery, where they talked about writing thrillers and the author's job teaching at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Md. Following are excerpts from their conversation:

On why he likes to write at the National Portrait Gallery courtyard:

"I discovered quickly in my career that sitting alone and making up stuff can be a pretty lonely business. I actually find it easier to be creative and to let my mind wander when there's a certain level of distraction. And the Portrait Gallery is really wonderful — I mean, this courtyard is incredible. You get sunlight all year round, and when I want to take a break I can walk around and see some incredible works of art."

On becoming a full-time writer after 15 years working as an architect:

"Architecture is a long term creative process, and it's not a linear process. You just don't do one thing and move on to the next step. You don't have, like, a little sketch on the back of an envelope, and then you have a building, you know, a few years later. It's very iterative; you have to go back and redo, and redesign. And you start with a concept, and you deepen, and you make it real, and you put in the plumbing and the bathrooms and stuff like that. So that gave me a certain toughness, and a certain resilience that I'm not sure I would have had in my 20s."

On choosing to write a thriller:

"Really the question is: what can I write about? What is my subject matter? And if I were to write about India at this point, I'd be writing about an India of the 1970s — something very nostalgic... When I started writing my current novel, T"he Caretaker," I was really looking for a world that I could claim of my own. And really, writing in genre, writing a thriller-slash-mystery, has really opened up a lot of material for me because I'm limited by the immigrant stories of assimilation or nostalgic stories about India."

[Music: "Frostbit" by Oddissee from Odd Seasons / "I Could Write a Book" by Bengt Hallberg Trio from The Tap-Dancing Butterfly / "School of Rock (Karaoke Version)" by Charttraxx Karaoke from Best of Rock, Vol. 20 ]


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