Thank you for taking the time to be with me today during the launch of your novel, Agency Rules: Never an Easy Day at the Office! I'm excited to host you. Thrillers are my favorite genre. Can you begin by telling us about your new release?
Thanks for inviting me, Amber. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office is a spy thriller in its purest form. It takes you behind the headlines into the events that created today’s Pakistan. It is a tough look at a nation in conflict from the eyes of a young man, Kamal Khan, who is looking for his own identity and place in society. Kamal is raised in privilege, but leaves it all behind as a man to serve his nation. Once in that environment, he finds himself embroiled in a complex narrative that shifts with the fiery speeches of their anointed political and religious leaders.
Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office is a fast-paced, action packed story that will keep you guessing all the way to the end. I hope that, as a reader, you will experience that Pakistan that I fell in love with when I moved home from the United States after 25 years. You will feel your heart wrench with Kamal’s when he is stationed in Karachi, Peshawar and buried deep inside the terrorist camps. And, hopefully, you will cheer him on, because he is the Pakistani that you don’t see in the media – smart, driven and motivated to do good for his family, fellow citizens and country.
What inspired this story idea?
Honestly, I got tired of hearing everyone, from the average person on the street to the news media, calling Pakistan a terrorist state. That’s not who we are – it never has been. Sure, we have problems, but those problems are rooted in things that the news media either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care to explain. I get tired of sound bite demonization of countries and people.
So, this is my way to share the Pakistan that I know with the world. My Pakistan is a country that struggles with inept governments more interested in themselves rather than the people who elected them. It is a country whose people are extremely talented and patriotic but unable to take advantage of any opportunities because the country is run like a fiefdom rather than a nation. It is a country in search of its identity, much like Kamal, that is trapped amidst power plays from internal and external forces.
Did a lot of research go into it?
Putting this story together was literally five years of me being a sponge. I read, watch and digested everything I could get my hands on about Pakistan. I didn’t care about the source because I wanted to understand what people thought about my country. I visited the places that the terrorists had hit, bombed out buildings, suicide bomber training camps, training installations that had been bombed out by the Pakistan Army. I traveled to the lawless tribal areas where the terrorists make their homes and base camps. Since I originate from an area that borders the tribal belt of Pakistan, it’s not as hard for me to get in and out compared to others.
The hardest part was figuring out where to start the story. Most people, when they talk about terrorism start from either 9/11 or present day, but Pakistan has been dealing with this problem in different stages for decades prior. My story starts in the 1990s in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the sheer number of mujahideen that were left in Pakistan with no war, or enemy, to fight anymore so they turned their attention on Pakistan and it’s citizens.
Care to share some of your favorite lines from the novel?
I would love to. There are three lines in the book that I think really stand out for me, most of the beta readers have also liked them, so I think they hit the mark. To understand the full context you’ll have to read the book, but I’ll give you a little background on each.
“We face an internal threat today that should have been controlled by civilian law enforcement agencies, but they have sold their souls to the devil and the devil is collecting his due,” comes on the tail-end of military briefing before a specialized strike team is deployed to Karachi to deal with rampant gang violence.
“These people are not citizens of my country. They know a singular purpose… to create mayhem and destruction in Pakistan. And we will do whatever needs to be done to stop them,” comes during an exchange between the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s premier intelligence service, and the Prime Minister of the country after watching the torture of a terrorist.
The most popular line that people have picked out of the book has been, “Forget who you are, become what you must. Without it, success in the intelligence world is impossible and death most probable.”
There are a number of other quotes from the book posted on my author website at http://agencyrules.com. I think the readers would be interested in the picture that is painted of the story with the quotes.
Do you feel that you can relate to one character in this book more than the others?
Yeah, Kamal Khan, the lead character. I think I poured a great deal of myself into his character development. His raw anger, his polish and determination, his specialized skills and his love of Pakistan all come from deep inside me.
Is there a message you'd like your readers to grasp from the story?
Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Pakistan is a wonderful country, and that’s not me saying it, every foreigner that has visited Pakistan has been shocked by the stark difference of the real country compared with the media representation of Pakistan. As I said previously, I want people to understand that Pakistan, and Pakistanis, are not full of hate and fueled by fundamentalist religious fervor. We also want a progressive country free of terror and terrorists, with opportunities for all our citizens and a government that no longer holds out a hand to beg from the world. It’s a country of people that you can identify with, understand their dreams and cry with their struggles. My Pakistan is not what the media would like everyone to believe.
What is your writing space like? Do you need quiet or do you prefer background noise?
I find myself doing most of writing with headphone pumping hard rock and heavy metal into my ears. The music matches the pace of action that I write so it is easier to think and block out everything else. I have a hard time writing during the day because of professional commitments, so my best writing is done after midnight when I can turn everything off and focus on the story, the characters and the environments that I need to paint on my pages.
When did you decide to pursue publication and why? Did you always dream of becoming an author or is this something that evolved over time?
I don’t think I ever stopped writing. I fell in love with fiction when I was in middle school because it was a way that I could express my dark side imagination without getting in legal trouble. I have written a number of short stories over the years since but never seriously thought about publishing until about 5 years ago.
There was never an a-ha moment, so to speak that made me decide to be a writer. I went from writing short stories that let me get my imagination and frustrations out, to writing a political leaning blog and then progressed into writing a novella and now my first novel. It seemed like a natural progression since my novel is an action-packed spy thriller with political undertones.
What is the most daring thing or experience that you've done that you wouldn't mind sharing with us?
Most daring experience? The most daring for me was when I moved back to Pakistan in 1997. I had spent the bulk of my life in the United States, 25 years to be exact, and had only visited Pakistan a couple of times in my life. I was extremely resistant to the idea, but my mother wanted me to move back and settle down. A good son can’t reject a mother’s request… can they?
When I got back to Pakistan, I think it was the culture shock of being in a country that didn’t have all the benefits that I was used to in the US.
I got my first introduction to the rampant corruption when I landed in the country when I had to board a connecting flight to Peshawar from Karachi. The counter staff for the national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, took one look at me and said foreigner and then tried to sell me a story that my bags were overweight and that I needed to pay $100 for each kilo, I was over. That didn’t end well for the counter staff and my bags were loaded without anything being paid.
Needless to say, that was my introduction to Pakistan and the way of life that I have fought becoming party to over the past 16 years. I still have never paid a bribe for anything in Pakistan, even though everyone around me says it will make things easier. I’ll take the hard road, thank you.
Is there a motto/wisdom in life that you live by? Or a favorite inspirational quote?
You and your readers will probably find this corny, but I am a huge Star Wars fan. Like any kid of the ‘80s, the biggest influences on our minds were the movies. Mine is one that many people will remember from The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke Skywalker is trying to levitate an X-Wing out of the bog, Yoda utters the most profound motivational statement to him – “No! Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” That has lived with me since and become a motto for everything that I do.
No, that's not corny at all. I love Yoda. I used to have a huge crush on Han Solo. Personally, I like Star Trek over Star Wars, but they're both amazing. Thanks for sharing, Khalid! I love your answers about Pakistan and it proves to us all that it's best to keep an open mind rather than believing every soundbite we hear. Now let's take a closer look at this fascinating novel. I'm sure it will be a great success!
Excerpt from Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office
Standing in the hall of the abandoned warehouse, blood dripped from his body, leaving a trail on the grimy floor. A body was slumped in the chair in the middle of the hall with a singular light hanging above, illuminating a small radius around it. Another lay in the doorway propping the door open. The fight inside had been more than expected from the three days he spent surveying the warehouse. By his count, there should not have been more than five men both inside and out. Instead, he had found almost seven men around the facility.
They had prepared well for his arrival.
On his approach, he saw one man guarding the entrance. There were usually two… where’s the other one? Kamal shook off the thought and sized up his enemy, noting that he was a scrawny soldier that didn’t fill his uniform. He ducked into the shadows where he could use the darkness against the soldier, catching him by surprise. He rushed the guard, knocking him to the ground before he could set himself or draw his weapon. With a quick strike to the head, the first guard was neutralized. Before he could get up, he heard the door to the warehouse open. Jumping to his feet, Kamal saw the second guard emerge, finding Kamal hovering over his partner’s incapacitated body. The guard, surprisingly, dropped his AK-47 and rushed at Kamal, driving him into the concrete wall of the warehouse with a shoulder block. As he pulled back from Kamal, he landed two solid right crosses to his jaw stunning Kamal and giving himself time to set for the fight. Kamal pulled himself up from one knee, gasping for air and taking the time to assess his opponent. The guard didn’t wait for Kamal to position himself and struck again with a swift kick to his midriff, bring the taste of blood to Kamal’s mouth. Oh, that is just unacceptable.
Kamal spat the blood onto the ground and spun around, taking the guard’s legs out with a vicious kick to his knees. As the guard hit the ground, Kamal launched himself onto him, grabbing his neck in a chokehold. The guard threw elbows behind him, and kicked helplessly in the air as Kamal increased the pressure on his throat. Within minutes, his body stopped fighting and he was down.
Kamal stood, spitting a few times to clear the blood that had filled his mouth, finally using the sleeve of his shirt to wipe the remaining away. He smirked, admiring his work. Not as tough as he looked.
Standing over both bodies, his plan rapidly changed. Grabbing the second guard by the legs, he dragged him around the corner and pulled his uniform off. Silently and rapidly, Kamal undressed and pulled on the FC garb. Wow, this fits well. The guard had seemed so much larger than himself. He ripped his own shirt in half, using half to tie the guard’s hands together and the other half to seal his mouth, in case he came to and tried to warn the others. Kamal laughed silently, giving the guard another hard kick to the head. Just for good measure, you son of a bitch.
He entered the warehouse corridor, looking for the other guards. Spotting one about fifty feet down, he straightened his shoulders and called to him, “Did he come through here?”
The guard was surprised by the question. He hadn’t heard or seen anything. He strolled over to Kamal to find out what his colleague was talking about. “What?” Kamal waited till he was close enough, and casually raised his arm, as if to indicate towards the door. Gun in hand, he brought his arm down in a vicious swipe to the guard’s head, knocking him out cold. He fell hard into the wall from the blow and as he slid down, his gun clattered to the ground noisily. The commotion alerted another guard who came rushing around the corner, sidearm in hand. Seeing his compatriot laid out on the ground, with a fellow soldier standing over him, he slowed down.
“What happened to Ayaz?”
“I don’t know! I came in looking for the guy that knocked Sheraz out and found him like this,” Kamal said, quietly pulling his sidearm from the holster. “We should warn Faheem that we have a guest,” the soldier said, turning to warn his superior. Kamal waited for him to get a safe distance away and fired two rounds into his back, dropping him to the ground like a wounded deer. The guard tried to roll himself over to fire back at Kamal, but the round had damaged his spine badly, leaving him face down on the floor. Kamal went over and fired another round into his head, and almost like a second thought, changed his sidearm with the guard’s.
Kamal moved a few yards down the corridor when another soldier jumped from behind a crate hitting him with the butt of his AK-47, stunning him. What the fuck? Kamal thought, reaching up to find blood coming from just above his eye. “What’s your problem soldier? Don’t you recognize your own?” he said, glaring at the attacker. The guard hesitated for a moment but something must have alerted him, because he drew his weapon back again. Kamal used all his body weight to jam the weapon and soldier against the wall; he could feel his eye swelling up already, and he preferred not to expend any more energy than he had to.
Now Available on Amazon: