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Interview With an Author: Dr. Munish K. Batra & Keith R.A. DeCandido

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Dr. Batra and Keith R.A. DeCandido and their first novel, Animal
Dr. Munish K. Batra and Keith R.A. DeCandido and their first novel, Animal

Munish K. Batra’s cosmetic practice is one of the busiest in the nation, and Dr. Batra has been featured in People, The Los Angeles Times, and many other national media outlets. He is active in developing multispecialty medical practices that put patient care and the doctor-patient relationship at the center of health care. He also enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, yoga, and meditation. His wife Pooja and their three young children, Ayaan, Kairav, and Kiara offer him constant encouragement and support.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is the award-winning, best-selling author of more than fifty novels, almost a hundred short stories, a smattering of comic books, and a ton of nonfiction. His work includes fantastical police procedurals in the fictional cities of Cliff's End and Super City to urban fantasies in the somewhat real cities of New York and Key West.

Dr. Batra is currently collaborating with Keith R.A. DeCandido on fiction projects and their first novel is Animal, which they recently talked about with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Animal?

MKB: I was inspired by my real-life experiences in seeing animal cruelty around the world. In my work as a plastic surgeon, I have traveled to many countries, and unfortunately seen a lot of terrible things done to animals all over the world. In addition, my seven-year-old son Ayaan asked me a lot of very pointed questions about extinction that inspired me to look more closely into that.

Are Detective Halls, Agent Chang, Detective Skolnick, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

MKB: Yes, many of the characters are based on people in my inner circle and share many of the traits and idiosyncrasies of the characters in the novel.

KRAD: I've done a lot of research into police procedure—my bibliography is full of stories involving cops and other law-enforcement personnel—and I instilled a great deal of that research into the characters of Halls and Skolnick in particular.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

KRAD: There were no scenes or characters lost in revision in the manner you're referring to. The main change that happened in the process of writing is that, in the original plot of the story, the incident in Atlanta involving dog fights was just another flashback. We decided to make it something that Halls experienced directly as a teenager, to give her a more visceral response to what was happening, and make it a bit more personal for her.

In the Author’s Note, you state that “Every instance of cruelty to animals dramatized in this novel is based on documented real-world occurrences...” How familiar were you with issues of animal cruelty when you chose to write Animal?

KRAD: While Munish was very well versed in the awful things people do to innocent creatures—as he said in his answer to question #1, it's what inspired him to do this book in the first place—I was not as intimately familiar with just how widespread animal cruelty remains. Mostly what I was aware of is how much better things than they are twenty, thirty, fifty years ago. As an example, the 1986 movie Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home postulated that the humpback whale would be extinct by the mid-21st century, but now that we're into the 21st century, the humpback is classified as "least concern" rather than endangered, and its Star Trek fate is very unlikely. But while I knew of the good, I hadn't realized to what extent we still have a very long way to go to make animals safe from the casual cruelty of humanity.

Did the decision to write the novel require a lot of research to be able to base the examples used on documented events? How long did it take you to do the research and then write Animal?

MKB: Both Keith and I did extensive research. We made sure to instill those nonfiction elements into the story to make it as close to the awful truth as possible. The novel itself took approximately two years to write.

KRAD: I made sure to base every instance of animal cruelty on a specific example from recent history. I've written close to sixty novels, and have done all manner of research for them, ranging from reading autobiographies of several U.S. Presidents to taking a tour of a medium-security prison, but the research I did for Animal was by far the most spirit-destroying.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned during your research?

KRAD: I had no idea of all the many different reasons why primates in Africa and other tropical regions are hunted. Not only is so-called "bushmeat" a thing I didn't know about, but their hands are often used as ashtrays, which is awful on several levels.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

MKB: Jaya, the retelling of the Mahabharata.

KRAD: The Oz books by L. Frank Baum.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

KRAD: With the caveat that if you ask me this question next week, it would not have the same five names:
Ursula K. Le Guin
P.G. Wodehouse
Mary Shelley
J.M. DeMatteis
Sarah Orne Jewett.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

MKB: The Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs

KRAD: The various Jeeves stories and novels by P.G. Wodehouse.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

KRAD: No. My parents are librarians, and I never needed to hide anything I was reading from them.

What is a book you've faked reading?

KRAD: Again, my parents are librarians. The notion of faking reading a book is, frankly, revolting.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

KRAD: Not really. Certainly not since I got involved in publishing thirty years ago—I know way too much about the process of cover creation to ever use it as criteria for choosing a book to read.

Is there a book that changed your life?

KRAD: Fiction: The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, which was just a brilliant treatise on telepathy, and which showed me just what prose fiction could do. Nonfiction: Dancing at the Edge of the World, a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin, to which I think I owe any skills I have as an essayist, reviewer, and pop-culture commentator.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

MKB: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

KRAD: Rabih Alameddine’s The Angel of History is one of my favorite books ever. In it, a sardonic, urbane Satan struggles with Death in all his blasé world weariness for control of the poet Jacob, currently waiting for admission to a psych ward after crumbling beneath the unbearable burden of his losses during the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The book is at once profound and hilarious, heartbreaking and uplifting, and the writing is sublime.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

KRAD: Laurie R. King's Mary Russell books. Or maybe David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which was my second choice of nonfiction book that changed my life in the earlier question.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, TV, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

MKB: I am listening to the Beatles' Abbey Road with a new ear, as my eight-year-old son is enamored with the album. This has allowed me to rediscover it and enjoy it in a fresh way.

KRAD: The music of Rhiannon Giddens, who pulls from so many different musical traditions, from African-American music of the United States to Irish folk ballads to Italian patter songs, all with a superb voice and fantastic instrumentation and arrangement. She has created some truly lush and beautiful music over hauntingly effective lyrics.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

KRAD: A day in Italy, preferably Florence, Siena, or Venice. Cappuccino and breakfast to start the day, wandering around and taking in the city throughout the day, experiencing all the art and history, pausing for another cappuccino in midafternoon, and then a magnificent dinner at one of the many great restaurants.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

KRAD: "How do you get your hair to look so amazing?" To which the answer is "almost nothing." I wash it every day, but that's about as much as my lazy butt is willing to do in terms of hair care.

What are you working on now?

MKB: Keith and I are currently working on Pigman, a medical thriller about how genetic editing and xenotransplants can go horribly wrong. We're also in the plotting stages of a sequel to Animal. I'm also working on a nonfiction book called Medical Madness.

KRAD: In addition to my work with Munish, I'm working on a novella about the Jersey Devil called All-the-Way House, part of a series called Systema Paradoxa, which is a set of novellas about cryptids; Feat of Clay, the sequel to my 2019 urban fantasy novel A Furnace Sealed about a guy from the Bronx who hunts monsters for a living; Phoenix Precinct, the sixth novel in my series that mixes epic fantasy with police procedure; and a very nifty graphic novel project that I can't discuss in detail yet.

Book cover for Animal
Batra, Munish K., M.D. ; DeCandido, Keith R.A.