Sunflower Spotted is a guest feature where authors, content creators, and creatives are invited on the blog to talk about their work, their personal advocacy, and their lived experiences. Mainly consisting of interviews and spotlights, this series hopes to uplift voices and to foster fascinating conversations.
by Bharat Krishnan
In this epic saga about privilege and power, Rakshan Baliga will have to choose between the American Dream…and his own.
New York’s drug problem is Rakshan’s solution. Getting his hands on a super drug called WP could earn him glory, power, and a chance to win back his ex. But stealing it from the Top 1% is costly, and if Rakshan isn’t careful he’ll pay with his life.
Discover how Rakshan’s journey sets off a chain of events that changes his city, his country…and the world. This ensemble political thriller is perfect for fans of Ocean’s 11 and House of Cards.
What are three quick facts about yourself that most of your readers might not know yet?
SHEALEA: Hi, Bharat! I am absolutely thrilled to have you on my blog today. I haven’t done an author interview in a long time, so I’m a bit rusty. Let’s ease into it with a few questions about yourself. What are three quick facts about yourself that most of your readers might not know yet?
BHARAT: I worked in professional politics for ten years, working for everyone from Barack Obama to local candidates for school board and statehouse.
One of the biggest reasons I’m an indie author is because I’m eclectic and enjoy reading and writing across all genres (after this series is done, I’m probably going to write a cookbook!).
I am a massive star wars fan who hated the new trilogy so much I’ve written a 30k word treatment for how I would’ve done Episodes VI-IX and I’ve headcanoned it.
In your opinion, what is the best soup across all Asian cultures?
SHEALEA: This is a question that I ask all Asian authors featured on my blog.
BHARAT: Great question! Definitely rasam. It’s a south Indian soup of tomatoes, tamarind, garlic, and lentils.
What does representation in literature personally mean to you?
SHEALEA: Privilege follows the story of Rakshan, who shares your identity as an Indian American. As an author of color writing stories with diverse casts of characters, what does representation in literature personally mean to you?
BHARAT: Representation for me means the ability to make mistakes, the ability to not be perfect. Indian Americans, especially, are told to serve as model minorities through our parents’ intense focus on education and the pursuit of medicine, through the media, etc. I was incredibly fortunate to have supportive parents who were fine with me traveling the country for politics, but I grew up around so many people who didn’t have that permission to fail.
Pretty much every character in this novel “fails” at some point or another. Even Sadiya, who “fails” by her parents’ initial expectations for her to settle down with a husband and have kids. I wanted to write something captivating that turned expectations on their heads, with people who looked like me.
Can you tell us about how the story first started? What inspired you to write this unique political thriller that tackles the issue of drug use and substance abuse?
BHARAT: The 160k word series actually started as a 32k word novella I slapped together over the course of a weekend in 2018. That novella turned into book one, Privilege.
Up until 2018, I’d spent my entire professional life of 10+ years working for the Democratic Party. I’d endured racism within my own Party in pursuit of a career, I’d traveled the country to try and build multi-racial coalitions in places like New Mexico and Los Angeles. I took all the bitterness I had inside me, seeing politicians who didn’t care about representing their constituents, seeing colleagues feign friendship to get a leg up career-wise, seeing Democrats tolerate racism in pursuit of votes, seeing the country descend into madness during the rise and election of Trump, and I put it all in this series. The themes of the story had been building inside me since Election Night 2016, and I felt that if I didn’t say something by 2018 I’d explode.
Also, something that didn’t actually strike me as particularly relevant until I started getting some reviews back for Privilege is that I’m actually an alcoholic. I’m six years sober next month. Many people have pointed out that the book, and the series in general, tackles addiction well and I think that must be something I’ve subconsciously slipped into the entire narrative.
Do you think the way you’ve written corruption, racism, and marginalization in Privilege can be likened to our current social and political climate?
SHEALEA: It’s impossible to miss the way that you’ve interwoven themes of corruption, racism, and marginalization into your story. Do you think the way they’ve been written in Privilege can be likened to our current social and political climate? In your opinion, how should readers respond to these issues?
BHARAT: When S.B. Divya (Machinehood, Simon & Schuster, 2021) blurbed Privilege, she called it “an alt-present mirror through which Bharat Krishnan examines racism, toxic masculinity, and the Indian-American diaspora.” I thought that was so apt, calling it an alt-present.
WP is a magical drug, but when Breonna Taylor’s murderers are still walking free how is that not an act of magic? When rapists like Brock Turner aren’t served justice and Donald Trump and his lackeys get to treat the Constitution like toilet paper, how is that not magic?
I want readers to get involved. Vote, most importantly, but also pressure your elected representatives. Apathy is a luxury afforded to functioning democracies, but the United States isn’t a functioning democracy anymore. These are scary times that demand your participation if we’re to save our country.
SHEALEA: This is so eloquently put. I 100% agree.
When you wrote Privilege, did you face any big challenges that you haven’t encountered before?
SHEALEA: As an author of several amazing books, how does Privilege compare to your other books? Did you face any big challenges that you haven’t encountered before?
BHARAT: The throughline for all of my books is politics. Anything I’ve written has tried to make a big statement about how politics affects us in all ways, big and small. One unique challenge with writing my first series, since Privilege is book one of three, was the importance of character development. I learned a lot from my editor and spent tens of hours writing character sheets on everyone from Rakshan to the tertiary characters you may not even remember.
Can you share a favorite quote or two from your book?
BHARAT: The very last sentences of the book. Something I wanted to make clear is that these concepts: racism, privilege — they affect all of us differently. Especially Indian-Americans, we’ve got the highest income of any ethnic group period, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own problems. But there is always possibility, there’s always ways to shape our privilege so that it can be used for good.
Back in his apartment, Rakshan opened his freezer and found a frozen block of WP. There was nothing quite as beautiful as frozen-solid privilege. He could sculpt it into anything. “We’ve got work to do before the hearings begin.”— Privilege by Bharat Krishnan
What would you like people to take away after they finish reading Privilege?
BHARAT: Towards the very end of book three, a character is writing a letter to someone and says that “you may be capable of great things, but life consists of small things.” Over the course of Privilege, and the books to follow, you’ll see people try “great” things and people try “small” things. The ones who temper their ambitions, who realize what life is really about, are the ones who find happiness.
I’m not talking about downsizing your dreams, I want people to dream big! But reconsider what “dreaming big” means. For me, it used to mean hobnobbing with governors and congressmen and lobbyists. That life was awesome, but it ultimately turned me into an alcoholic loser. Happiness is all that really matters, and you owe it to yourself to prioritize how to achieve that over anything else.
SHEALEA: What a lovely note to end this interview with! As someone who shifted degree programs in college (going from engineering to communication research), I totally understand the value in redefining what “dreaming big” means to us. When I was younger, I was so determined to save the world/environment while singlehandedly supporting my family — but the cost of that dream was my own well-being. Even though I’m on a very different path now, I’m much happier and healthier. And more importantly, I can still contribute to social causes that are close to my heart.
But anyway, thank you for making time for this interview! It’s such an honor to have you here today, and I’m sincerely hoping that more readers will pick up Privilege.
Sunflower Spotted: Bharat Krishnan
Bharat calls himself a professional storyteller and amateur cook. After 10 years of working in politics, he tried to explain how the country went from Barack Obama to Donald Trump by writing Confessions of a Campaign Manager. Then he wrote Oasis, a desert-fantasy novel that examined what makes a family and how refugees should be treated.
Bharat is always looking to make a political statement with his writing because he knows politics seeps into every aspect of society and believes we can’t understand each other without a firm, constant understanding of how politics affects us in all ways.
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🌻 Have you added Privilege to your TBR? If you want to know more about the book, maybe you should check out the recent book tour organized by Caffeine Book Tours!
🌻 What are your thoughts on Bharat’s insights on racism, politics, and privilege? Did any of his answers stand out to you?
🌻 Are you a fan of political thrillers? Do you have any recommendations?