Interview and Introduction by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki
In his recently released book, Her Nightly Embrace, Adi Tantimedh has kicked off an exciting new series. It came to my attention partly because I can’t recall before seeing a book series launched with the face of its lead actor on the cover. But I’m getting ahead of myself, which is part of why it caught my eye.
The author’s hope is that the book series will be picked up as a television series and it will star popular actor Sendhil Ramamurthy of NBC’s Heroes fame, as newly minted PI Ravi Chandra Singh.
The new Ravi PI trilogy is about a destructive private investigator and his eccentric coworkers, who handle cases so high-profile that they never make the headlines. It is fun, clever and, at times, funny. It’s also interesting having a main character who often hears in his head childhood admonishments and Hindu gods.
Scott Butki: How did this story come about?
Adi Tantimedh: The Ravi stories came out of a desire to update the private eye genre. I hadn’t intended to write a private eye series, but over the years I’d been given information about how private investigators work in real life, which I found much more complex and interesting than they were portrayed in fiction.
In private eye novels, there’s the archetype of the down-on-his-luck, hard-drinking, two-fisted gumshoe who solved murders and have affairs with a femme fatale who may or may not betray him, the latter often an expression of the authors’ own paranoid and sexist fears about women.
“The reality of what private eyes do is much more interesting. They don’t really solve murders. They’re often hired to clean up people’s dirty laundry, to be fixers for the rich, the powerful and the famous. They’re hired by tabloid newspapers to help bug and uncover dirt on people.”
The reality of what private eyes do is much more interesting. They don’t really solve murders. They’re often hired to clean up people’s dirty laundry, to be fixers for the rich, the powerful and the famous. They’re hired by tabloid newspapers to help bug and uncover dirt on people. A private detective in Britain is in jail right now for hacking people for the tabloids in the Phone Hacking Scandal. Private detectives are also hired as outside contractors for intelligence agencies like the CIA when they want deniability. Private investigators also use increasingly sophisticated methods to find out about people using the internet now. Why isn’t any of this being addressed in private eye fiction? This is much more interesting than the old cliché of the hard-drinking gumshoe. I decided I wanted to write that in RAVI on top of reflect the cultural diversity of Britain and the US where the hero doesn’t always need to be a white guy. Crime fiction is really a lot more political than a lot of people talk about, with movements in countries like Italy where the novels are very directly addressing social and political issues right now. I tend to be drawn to genre fiction that deals with contemporary issues and ideas.
My high-falutin’ idea at the beginning was that I wanted to reinvent the private eye genre from the ground up, if only to write stories that I wanted to see but haven’t found in the genre fiction that’s currently out there.
At the same time, I also wanted to write a series that was more irreverent and more darkly comic than gloomy or wallowing in moral despair. I wanted to have a series with a very particular snarky London voice that I wanted to see more of.
SB: Which came first – the plot or the characters?
AT: Ravi Chandra Singh popped into my head first, followed by the first case in the book, Her Nightly Embrace, even its title. The core of his character was always there from the beginning: a well-educated middle-class Indian-British Londoner who fell into being a private investigator.
SB: Was it written with the actor Sendhill and a TV series in mind?
AT: I wrote the first case “Her Nightly Embrace” as a short story originally, with a vague notion of pitching a TV series later. When my producer Leopoldo Gout grabbed the story to pitch it as a multimedia project, he proposed the idea of Sendhil Ramamurthy being attached to be the face of Ravi and to play him in the TV series. Once Sendhil and I met and found we got along, I’ve been writing with the assumption that Sendhil would be playing Ravi, and he and I molded Ravi’s personality into a character Sendhil would be playing.
SB: How did you come up with the premise of Ravi Chandra Singh going from being a high school teacher to a private detective?
AT: This came out of my discussions with Sendhil about Ravi’s backstory. Since he would no longer be a callow twentysomething who became a private eye, we wanted him to have more of a past, a very different life that he’d left behind to become a private investigator, and we wanted something quite ordinary for him. Since we determined that Ravi’s father was an academic in Religious Studies and his mother was a teacher, it made sense that Ravi would have become a teacher to appease his parents after he gave up his PhD studies in Religious Studies.
“I believe in casting a wide net in research rather than give in to the tempting of personal bias or confirmation bias. The best research often blows open your assumptions on a given topic and generates new ideas.”
SB: Which of the many characters is most like you?
AT: My first impulse is to happily say none of the characters are like me at all, although if push comes to shove, I would have to admit I gave Ravi some exaggerated versions of a few of my traits, namely his tendency to think and perhaps overthink everything, his constant worry that he might be doing something that could cause harm to someone.
That said, at least 80% of the things Ravi does in the books are things I would never dream of doing.
SB: How did you go about researching this book?
AT: My research into private investigators was done without my really even doing it over the years: Hearing about how they worked from a friend who was once on the receiving end of tabloid attention, attending a talk by a high-end private investigator about what they do and what digital and high-tech tools they use these days. I even spoke to a private investigator who used to be a DEA agent who talked about how his agency worked and the legal lines they had to stick to in order to avoid arrest and prosecution.
As for the topics in Ravi’s cases, I keep my ears open with headlines, tech news, cultural news, I have my social media feeds open for the latest news and when something catches my attention, I look into it and it might become something I write about. When there’s an issue or topic I want to research, I search for different articles that have proper attribution to read a variety of takes on the topic to get a big a picture as possible. It’s all a combination of searches, reading articles and talking to humans. The latter often offer insights and information that you don’t find on the internet. I believe in casting a wide net in research rather than give in to the tempting of personal bias or confirmation bias. The best research often blows open your assumptions on a given topic and generates new ideas.
SB: What’s your background?
AT: I started out wanting to be a playwright and cartoonist. I wrote plays and comedy sketches in school, sold my first radio play to the BBC at the age of 17, and had four radio plays produced by the time I got my English Literature degree from Bennington College. Writing for the BBC and writing TV scripts for Britain prompted me to go to New York University to get an MFA in Film and Television Production, after which I began to write screenplays for Hollywood and Britain. During that time I also wrote comics and graphic novels like a Superman and Justice League graphic novel for DC Comics, Blackshirt, which was an update of a decades-old pulp character for Moonstone Books, and La Muse, a comedy about a political activist with superpowers who becomes the world’s biggest celebrity. I also worked in development for a China-based production company for a year and got an inside look at how movies are made and approved in China. I also did the occasional writing for video games.
“I also wanted to write a series that was more irreverent and more darkly comic than gloomy or wallowing in moral despair. I wanted to have a series with a very particular snarky London voice that I wanted to see more of.”
SB: What experience and knowledge from past work were you able to call upon when writing this book?
AT: My experience in scriptwriting definitely informs the writing of the book. I tend to think visually, and the discipline of knowing how to write and pace scenes, how long they should run and so on gives me a good idea for how much or how little I should write. It gives me a good sense of boundaries and structure for writing a book. From there I can push beyond just writing scenes and delve into what prose lets a writer do, which is to write in a character’s inner voice, give the reader access to the inside of their heads, and be able to discuss abstract ideas that scripts often don’t have room or scope for. The point of writing a book is to use the opportunities the medium offers that other mediums can’t handle. A book can go deeper than a movie or TV show does, and I want to use that opportunity as well and push the genre in places you don’t always get to in a visual medium like TV or movies.
SB: Have you already written books two and three?
AT: I have not, alas. I am current writing Book Two, and will immediately begin Book Three once I finish it. I have outlined Books Two and Three in some detail, leaving room for improvisation and updates for any interesting news in the world of tech, politics and culture that I can use as part of the up-to-the-moment social commentary that’s part of the story in the books.
Crime fiction is really a lot more political than a lot of people talk about, with movements in countries like Italy where the novels are very directly addressing social and political issues right now.
SB: Lastly, what is the status of the goal of having it adapted for a TV series?
AT: At the moment we’re still in discussion with various production entities. There’s the question of whether it’s going to be a US show or a British show. We would all prefer it be a British show and closer to the novel. If it ends up becoming a US show, we would want Ravi to be British, since that’s the key component of his character – not that he’s Indian, but he’s British with that unique darkly comic, ironic way that Londoners have of seeing things.
You can find copies of Her Nightly Embrace on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.