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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

An Interview with Ray Rao

         Ray Rao spent his formative years in India before coming to America over three decades ago to become an award-winning academic endocrinologist. His abiding love for India's history, traditions, and people underpins a deep understanding of its spectrum of religious and ethnic contrasts, ranging from the sublime to the grotesque.
         Bloodbath is the first in a planned series of suspense thrillers set at the intersection of his intimate knowledge of Indian society, his life experiences as a world traveler and physician, and his study of the martial arts. He is widely published, and the author of over forty medical publications, including a book on the unique influence of culture and tradition on medical education in Japan.

Q. Does writing energize or exhaust you? 
        It energizes me!  I love getting deep into creating something that reflects my unrequited dreams of adventure. There is a lot of hard work involved, of course, like the research required to create a factually accurate backdrop of history and location or to craft realistic combat sequences.  But once in a very great while, you find yourself in a zen state in which the story flows almost effortlessly for a few pages—when you don’t have to think what you are writing about and the only thing holding you back is how fast your fingers can type. That occurs less than 1% of the time, but those all-too-rare magical moments are what make the grunt work required for the remaining 99% totally worthwhile!

Q. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? 
        Yes, I did consider it initially.  I assumed—wrongly as it turns out!—that using the same name for both my fictional and professional writing might somehow diminish the latter’s gravitas. I abandoned the idea, realizing that each stands on its own, creating an alliterative version, Ray Rao, by dropping my middle name and using a short form of the first.

Q. Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly? 
        Definitely not.  If you can’t feel your characters’ emotions—their fears, hurt, joy, anger, sorrow—yourself, they can never come through to your reader in the words you write.

Q.   Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
        Definitely the latter! I feel far too invested in my characters to stop at one book—it would be like killing them off if I didn’t continue their saga! 

Q.   How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? 
         The second book in the series, titled “Swordplay”, is in the final stages of editing by me, before I send it to my professional editor to shrink even further.  The third, tentatively titled “Payback”, is in the early stages of conception.

Q.   Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
        Yes, it is, in the sense that it relates to the inner spirit, with no religious connotation. To my way of thinking, writing can be compared to a form of yoga.  It is, in many ways, a form of meditation—an intellectual pursuit that calls for dedication, commitment, persistence and, above all, the conquest of frustration, and acceptance of failure (rejection). 

Q.   What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
        “The biggest challenge any man can face: (is) trying to realistically portray a woman’s thoughts and feelings.”  That is what I wrote in acknowledging in Bloodbath the debt I owe to my wife and two daughters.  Their withering critiques of “my cluelessness” taught me how to realistically portray the reactions of my female protagonist. Therefore, any authenticity I may have achieved is directly attributable to the three wonderful women to whom Bloodbath is dedicated.

Q.  What was your hardest scene to write?
        The scene I found most difficult to write was the first meeting between Alexis and her father, Jonathan.  I actually wrote it only after the rest of the book was written.  It was my first experience with writer’s block, finding now way to reconcile her hatred of him for his perceived betrayal, with his lifelong obsession with rejecting any claim of filial relationship as out-and-out fraud.  The ‘aha’ moment came when I conceived the idea of Jonathan’s ‘ghosts’, leading to a shattering realization that, but for that obsession, he might have found the daughter he never knew he had.  Then, the scene came together

Q.   What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
        Staying grounded in the need to keep the reader’s needs at the forefront as you write the story—I find that I can sometimes be so seduced by the characters and plot that I end up adding details and descriptions that might be interesting to me, but are actually unnecessary, maybe even boring, for the reader.  Guarding against that can be difficult when you get wrapped up in your writing!

Q.   Does your family support your career as a writer?
        I would never have been able to write without the unqualified support of my wife. It is a measure of her strength and love that I was able to do it while also pursuing a full-time career as an academic physician.  Her commitment to me and my writing never flagged, despite my spending many late nights and weekend evenings in seclusion.

Q   Do you believe in writer’s block?
        Yes, I do—I have experienced what I believe was writer’s block.  I was halfway through writing my second book, Swordplay when I suddenly hit a dead end.  I knew how the book was going to end but I had no idea how to get there from where I got stuck.  So, I just wrote the ending, thinking the connection would fall in place if I did.  It didn’t, even though I made many unsuccessful attempts to write that part.  Each successive attempt turned out to be worse than the other, so I finally gave up trying and left it unfinished for several months.  Then, one day it just hit me and I started writing again and everything fell in place almost effortlessly.  That, I believe, qualifies as writer’s block.

Q.   Were you good at English?
        I had the good fortune to attend a school run by Irish priests in India, and complete my high school education with a diploma from Cambridge University, with honors in English Language, and English Literature, including such greats as Shakespeare, Dickens, Keats, Tennyson, Wordsworth.  Growing up at a time and in a country without TV, and with parents who were highly educated and fluent English speakers, I read classical literature in my spare time, enjoying the works of Stevenson, Defoe, Sewell, Verne, Hardy, Austen, Dumas, and so many others.

Q.   What are you working on at the minute?
        The final edit of Swordplay, my second book involving the series.

Q.   How much research do you do?
        Extensive background research is essential to maintain the authenticity of plot details involving weapons and ordnance, as well as martial arts maneuvers. For instance, it took me almost two years to track down one obscure book on weaponry in India in the late nineteenth century to verify that an extremely small number of highly-skilled Gurkha warriors did learn to throw the kukri, an unwieldy machete-like weapon.

Q.   Why do you write?

        To satisfy a long-held desire to express myself creatively in the written word (as opposed to professionally).

You can also find Ray on Amazon:
Official website for the book:

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