More Than Just a Book: PW Talks with A.M. Khalifa
Khalifa: "In many ways, a book can be more than just a book. It could be an integrated, perpetual experience that comes to life across other media and channels."A.M. Khalifa’s debut self-published thriller, Terminal Rage -- about former FBI Agent Alexander Blackwell's battle with international terrorists -- has received favorable reviews from the likes of Foreword Reviews and Publishers Weekly, with both reviews praising the book’s gripping and surprising plot twists.
Reviewers have complimented the authenticity of Terminal Rage's cultural texture. Talk a little about doing research for the book.
I've had an exciting life growing up. Let’s just say I have ample material to play with. But even if all you have as a writer is your imagination, just look around. The world is a treasure trove of spectacular story strands. Once you've identified the raw ideas, you then need to build on that with viable research. People are your best sources of information, and you’d be surprised how willing and open many individuals are to share their knowledge or expertise. Of course there are many things you can research online for practicality, but I love to step away from the computer when I can to go out and talk to real people.
You've also been praised for the book's plot twists. How do you go about maintaining tension and intrigue?
You cannot contrive a plot twist or use it as a gimmick. If it doesn't serve a higher calling in the overall storyline, it will come across as clumsy and could undermine whatever trust or goodwill readers have granted you. With that in mind, if you do use a plot twist, you must strive to make it impenetrable, even for the savviest of readers. By the same token, you cannot cheat—you need to lay down honest clues that readers can then revert to if they want to trace the evolution of the plot twist. It is precisely these progressive layers of the truth being craftily revealed that tantalize and add the right amount of tension that keeps readers engaged. I also find that if your plot twist is the only thing holding the narrative, than it will most likely fail. The story has to be able to continue breathing after the reveal.
You've marketed your book with a soundtrack and book trailer. Can you talk a little bit about your decisions to go about it in this manner?In many ways, a book can be more than just a book if you choose. It could be an integrated, perpetual experience that comes to life across other media and channels. For instance, the soundtrack for Terminal Rage augments the experience of the story and connects readers at a different emotional level. The book trailer on the other hand was an experiment on my part to reinvent a marketing tool which I believe was not living to its potential. Book trailers should not be devised to sell books, but rather to create interest and intrigue around your story or your overall brand.
In terms of end goals, the stated one for both the trailer and the soundtrack was to expand the Terminal Rage universe for readers so they could stick around longer, after they've finished reading it. But a secondary and unexpected one also emerged: both tools turned out to be excellent proofs of concept that the story lends itself to an audiovisual interpretation. That is not a bad thing to have if you are on the verge of pitching the film adaptation to Hollywood.