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Khaled Talib: How I became a thriller writer [A guest post + Giveaway]

We're delighted to introduce you a suspense thriller author Khaled Talib who agreed to share his story with the BookLikes readers. If you've ever wondered how one becomes a writer, here's your chance. Enjoy!


If you love thrillers, we bet you'll love Khaled Talib's suspense espionage Incognito - you can request an e-book copy HERE.


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-- A guest post by Khaled Talib


If you ask me to write a poem, chances are, I can— but I won’t do it with the same pleasure that I derive from writing a thriller.  It’s hard to explain why, but have you ever seen how artists paint with passion and how musicians perform with fervor? You can feel their energy like a thousand thunders and lightnings shaking and flashing the night sky during a wild storm.  Well, that’s me. I like writing stories… and that would explain how I became a thriller author.


Unfortunately, I didn’t know where or how to start. It took me a long time to discover the process of becoming a thriller author. But if there is one thing that has kept me pursuing my interest it’s stubbornness and tenacity, a good trait to have if you want to write. 


I showed an interest in writing when I attempted my first book, a detective mystery. I was around 14 or 15 when I wrote it on a school jotter, but I gave up halfway. Some idiot in class found the book and made fun of it. He didn’t understand what I was trying to do. However, it didn’t matter as the experience had set the foundation of what I wanted to do … tell thrilling tales that will play with your emotion in more ways than one.


I was reading all kinds of books. Similarly, I was also watching lots of television. But it was not until I saw one book that changed the course of my thinking. It belonged to my uncle, an odd shaped book, nothing like I have ever seen before, but with an attractive cover. I knew it was a thriller novel from the cover’s artwork. It was entitled, The Bourne Identity, by someone named Robert Ludlum. I was still a teenager then.


I read the book after my uncle had finished it. It was exciting, and the style of writing was unique. I found myself asking questions: how does one become a thriller writer like Ludlum? Do I have to live in the U.S. or London? Is there a school that teaches you how to write?


I never had the chance to pursue my dream for a long time, although from now and then a little voice would remind me to stay the course. But how? These things are not taught in school. Nobody talks about it. And back then, there was no internet to do any research.  For a long time, I felt marooned on a deserted island. I was lost, confused, and hoping someone would see the HELP sign that I made across the sand.


I ended up becoming a magazine writer. It may not have contributed directly to my interest in writing thrillers, but the field did teach me the ground work to do research and fact checking. Important ingredients to an author.


Interestingly, I found myself trying to write a story again when I was in my twenties. It was a financial thriller. But I gave it up after a few pages when I realized I didn’t have the professional skills to write a novel.


I didn’t understand the structure of story building, which included plot, themes and characterization. Imagine reading a book about flying and then sitting in a cockpit alone trying to take off on a runway. Think you can fly the plane? 


SMOKESCREEN - Khaled Talib Wasted years went by. And then it started again… the little voice reappeared and told me to start writing. This time, however, I managed to complete the manuscript. I called it Smokescreen, a story about a magazine journalist who becomes a scapegoat in a plot to assassinate the Israeli Prime Minister. But the writing wasn’t great. I didn’t know how bad it was because you can’t see the forest from the trees. However, it didn’t matter as it set me along the course about what I should do next.


My subconscious prompted me to visit the bookstore. Perhaps there’s a shelf on writing that might be able to educate me. I remember visiting Borders, and instead of getting books that taught me how to write better, I found a magazine called Writer’s Digest, where I also learned about literary agents. It was the first time I’ve ever heard about such people. I didn’t even know such a profession existed before that.  They can help you get your book published. Fascinating, I thought.


I started writing to everybody, expecting favorable responses. Those were the days when agents expected you to send your samples by mail. It was a slow procedure, but an investment that I was sure would be worthwhile. Imagine my shock when everyone rejected me.  Well, there were some nice praises and some encouraging notes, but the letters were still rejections. I almost gave up the idea of submitting until I learned that rejection was normal.


I started rewriting the manuscript and sent out samples of my work to other agents. I got lucky with one New York agent who saw something in the story. However, he advised me to get an editor to help me brush up my work before resubmitting.


I began reworking the manuscript with the help of an editor. I was excited, delirious. It was going to be sensational! When I resubmitted the novel to the agent, he rejected me again. He explained his reasons, but I didn’t understand a word what he was trying to say. It was too technical.


I tried sending the same manuscript to others, including some small press. Even they rejected me. I thought: my work must be so bad. But one small publisher told me to resend it once I fixed the problem. Yet, no one told me what the problem was.


Imagine sitting in a jail cell waiting to be executed. Sometime before dawn, you hear the footsteps coming for you. I felt my stomach churning, my heart racing and my mind in a freeze mode. I struggled to decipher where the fault lies in the story just before the hangman pulled the lever. I was breathing heavily as I feel the noose tightened around my neck. And then…


Honestly, I’m not sure if it was intelligence or pure luck, but I discovered where I went wrong with the story. I managed to fix the problem – it was such a minor problem that took me a couple of hours to fix. But the way everyone made it sound like I had committed blasphemy.


I resubmitted it to the small publisher. Guess what? I got an offer to publish the novel! Then came the tough part. The publisher wanted me to ask other authors to endorse the book. What? Who? Where? I live in Singapore—nobody writes here. There were some local authors, but I didn’t think they’d qualify. I didn’t want to be a small island author. I wanted to be an international thriller author.


So, I took a deep breath and wrote to a thriller author whose novel I had read. An interesting book about a former CIA agent with Alzheimer. That author was Keith Thomson, whose novel, Once a Spy, became a New York Times bestseller.


There I was… a small fry about to ask this New York Times bestselling author for a blurb. I must be crazy, I thought, to query him. But I did ask him. He sounded busy when he wrote back, though he agreed to read my work. In the mean time I was biting my fingernails, waiting, expecting a rejection. When you read books by others, you always feel that you’re not good enough. Your mind starts to play with you, prompting questions like, “Why can’t I write like that author?” and “Why didn’t I use that word in my manuscript?” and “That scene sounds better than how I would’ve described it.”  Simply put, I began to doubt myself— I had zero confidence. It’s only nature for you to be unsure of yourself, especially at the start. It teaches you humility. You’re going to get a rude shock if you expect things to go your way.


So, when Keith Thomson finally replied after more than a month, I braced myself for disaster. As his email waited to be opened, a dozen questions ran through my mind again. His response would make or break my future. It would decide whether I could be a thriller author or not. After all these years of trying to imagine myself as a thriller author, the answer behind the author’s email would decide if I’m qualified or not to be a thriller writer. Could I live with rejection? The book would still get published but if this New York Times bestselling author rejected me, does it mean I failed to make the grade?


Keith Thomson didn’t reject my work. In fact, he said he was “compelled” to give me a blurb! Imagine that. If you like to know what he wrote, you’ll find it on the sample pages of my book on Amazon.


My publisher insisted that I should query several more authors for endorsements. I wrote to others. It’s not easy to ask, especially highly acclaimed ones. But why did I do that? I wanted to aim high. To gauge my own standard.  Well, I succeeded to get a few more. They included Ruth Harris, New York Times bestselling author of Hooked and Brainwashed, Jon McGoran, author of Drift  and the new YA, Spliced.


And so that day, I became a thriller author. Guess what? I decided to end it there. One book, that’s it— no more. It was hell of a road trip, and I didn’t think I could ever write again. I was exhausted. Who was I kidding? Just like a marathon runner, a tennis player or a soccer player, you’re going to feel tired after a game. You’re going to rest, then come back— and that’s what I did.


Incognito - Khaled Talib  I went on to write a few more books. I wrote Incognito, a novel about the Pope’s disappearance and Gun Kiss, which is due to be released by Canada’s Imajin Books. It’s a story about the Deringer that shot Lincoln getting stolen and ties up to a Hollywood actress stalked by a drug lord. The novel received endorsements from Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author of The Rising, Gayle Lynds, New York Times bestselling author of The Assassin, and K.J. Howe, author of the riveting thriller, The Freedom Broker.


Today, I’ve become an official member of the International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association. My novels have been reviewed worldwide by magazines and bloggers. I guess this is really what I want to do— writer thrillers. Share my stories with others. Why? Why do painters paint? Why do musicians play music? Whatever the answer, this is what I like to do… because it’s who I am.  Somehow, you’ll find your way.



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