Welcome, Sonali Dev, Golden Heart finalist!

Sonali DevToday’s interview is with Sonali Dev, author of The Bollywood Bad Boy, which is a finalist in the Contemporary Single Title category of Romance Writers of America’s® 2013 Golden Heart® contest for unpublished manuscripts. This is the premier contest (worldwide) for writers of the romance genre. Welcome, Sonali!

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi Leslie! It’s so great to be here. Congratulations on your final too!

It’s so strange to have someone ask me this, because, you know, I’ve only spent half my life interviewing myself in front of mirrors, in cars, and in the shower. And now I can’t seem to recall anything clever to say about myself. Today was my firstborn’s Jr. High graduation, so I guess I’ll start with my most challenging persona right now, and that’s being a mom to a fourteen year old and a twelve year old. (Yeah, I know, fun times!).

Add to this the fact that I was born in India many (many) years ago, where school, childhood, basically the world was entirely different. Except for the fact that even back then I had opinions about everything, and expressing them was my favorite pastime. Which translated directly into writing everything down– a notebook is a really good listener, you know. So, I’ve basically written all my life.

As for hobbies, I could spend all the time I have left over after writing split evenly between reading and dancing. But of course I don’t, because I have the quintessential big fat (not to mention adorable) extended Indian family that fills up my hours and days and makes my life a wonderful and very busy place.

Tell us about your manuscript, The Bollywood Bad Boy, that just finalled in RWA’s Golden Heart contest!

Oh gosh, this book is my baby, the book after my heart. It’s the story of a child bride from a tiny village in India who grows up and finds she’s married to the wrong man. Unfortunately, the right man is her husband’s brother, and he’s only charming the pants off her to help his brother get rid of her.

And no, there’s no cheating icky-ness going on. Her husband has basically been missing in action her entire life and he believes their marriage was annulled. Complicated, I know. But don’t worry, things work out pretty spectacularly for both of them. As you’ll see when you buy the book when it comes out from Kensington in 2015. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the plug. Blame it being a newbie Promo-diva wannabe.)

Just the idea that my story about a simple girl (okay, so maybe she’s not all that simple) from a small village in India and a Bollywood playboy (who’s most certainly not simple) finalled in the Golden Heart makes me want to do backflips. I mean, I’m pretty certain most of the judges had absolutely no frame of reference for my characters or their world. So this final just makes me ecstatic and reinforces all I believe about reading, which is that it’s the best way to travel without ever leaving your chair.

How do you feel about the Golden Heart experience?

I love me a good segue. Apart from the fact that there is no possible way to not be mad with excitement if you final in the Golden Heart, I feel especially mad with excitement, because what I write is so off the wall in the Romance genre. My stories are what we call in India full-on Bollywood-style stories. With Indian characters who romp across the globe with enough drama to warrant wailing violins and backup chorus dancers. And this is validation that there are at least five romance-reading strangers who enjoy these colorful stories and like getting an insider’s view into a different culture.

Also, as I so unsubtly slipped into a previous answer, I sold a two book deal to Kensington a little before the results were announced. So, this really was my last chance to final in the Golden Heart. And if you’ve been hanging out in the RWA universe as much as I do, the GH is like the treasure chest at the top of the mountain with all those jewels spilling from it and catching the sunlight. Wanting it is just par for the course.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories? And/or for this story, in particular?

I love this question, really I do, because it makes me feel like such a writer. And I love the answer even more. I grew up in Mumbai, India, which is nothing if not a hot bed of stories waiting around every corner. I mean, textures, sounds, smells, emotion, it actually thrums through the air there. And then there’s my family. A grandmother who was a doctor back when the British still ruled India and a majority of women were still illiterate, a father who spent months in a Pakistani prisoner-of-war camp, a great grandmother who was a poet and died of a broken heart, a grandmother who tucked me into her side every afternoon and waxed eloquent about ‘that Mr. Rochester’ –it was a childhood seeped in stories and many many great story tellers who loved to color it all in with opinion and interpretation.

And all this was before I moved across the world and found myself surrounded by an entire array of characters so drastically different and yet so fundamentally similar. The short answer? The world around me is where I get my ideas from.

The Bollywood Bad Boy is the perfect example of what I’m trying to say. Two summers ago, I was walking along the riverwalk in Naperville with my parents when they started reminiscing about a young man who worked with my father decades ago. He and his girlfriend, who later became his wife, hung out at my parent’s home a lot. Tragically, the guy died in an air crash soon after their wedding. And his family from the village showed up with another young woman, who was apparently also his wife. They had been married when they were children. The family claimed all his assets, because his wife, who was now his second wife, wasn’t his wife at all because polygamy is illegal in India.

The story socked me so hard in the gut I literally could not get it out of my system. I couldn’t stop thinking about those two women. One was raised to believe she had a husband, when really she didn’t, and the other had a husband and yet really she didn’t. This crashing of the rural and urban faces of India has always been fascinating to me. Tradition against progress. Freedom against the security of societal norms. I absolutely had to write this story and trace the arc of those journeys, and of course, somehow find a way to end it all in happiness.

What has your writing journey been like?

I’m one of those writers who didn’t discover her love for writing suddenly or serendipitously. I’ve written and loved to write for as long as I can remember. But making a life as a writer was one of those dreams that somehow always seemed like a pie in the sky. And in retrospect, I have no idea why. So while I went to architectural school so I could have a ‘real’ career, I continued to pursue my ‘hobby’. But the need to write was so strong I found myself quitting my job at my architectural firm to work for an architectural magazine within months of graduating.

So, really, for me the true journey was going from non-fiction and journalism to fiction. And that flip happened over the phone when I was talking to my best friend who is a movie producer. She was complaining about the scripts she’d been reading and we both said, ‘Well, how hard can it be to write a good movie?’ Famous last words, right?

I wrote my first script for her within a month and then wrote several after that. None of which ever got made into movies (answering our ridiculously arrogant question with all the delicacy of a tight slap).

But once I’d caught the fiction bug I couldn’t shake it off. The high of creating characters and putting them through the ringer and watching them triumph was a drug like no other.

My kids were babies then and I wrote everywhere. When they napped, at playgroup, at the park. As they grew, I wrote at soccer fields, on swimming pool bleachers, in math class waiting rooms, and in parking lots large and small. I still get a lot of my writing done in parking lots outside my kid’s various activities.

But my quest to get published didn’t start in earnest until I completed my first manuscript, The Bollywood Bride, in 2010 and joined the Romance Writers of America, including two local chapters, Windy City and Chicago North. After that it was all crazed obsession. I spun in the edit/query/get rejected loop incessantly for two years until I sold The Bollywood Bride a few months ago following an impromptu pitch to my editor in the middle of a Kensington spotlight at The Chicago Spring Fling conference. The Bollywood Bride comes out in November 2014, by the way.

What’s your ideal writing environment?

Parking lots? I’m kidding. My ideal writing environment is inside my head. Once the chaos inside my head falls in place and cooperates, externally, I can write just about anywhere. Although, in deference to my hubby’s incessant nagging efforts to save my aging spine, I’m trying to avoid writing in bed and on the couch.

How can fans reach you?

www.sonalidev.com

Facebook.com/SonaliDev.author

Twitter@Sonali_Dev

*If you are at RWA Nationals in Atlanta in July, and you see an Indian woman dressed in a salwar-kameez, please come say hi. I promise to shut up long enough to let you get at least a few words in.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you SO much Leslie. And welcome. It was really hard to go on and on about myself.

Seriously though, I can’t wait to celebrate the Golden Heart experience with you in Atlanta this year and I wish you the very best for the final and for your writing career.

Thank you, Sonali, for visiting Leslie Lynch Writes – and we wish you the very best in your publishing future!

This entry was posted in Creative Process, Golden Heart, Leslie Lynch, Romance Writers of America, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to Welcome, Sonali Dev, Golden Heart finalist!

  1. Leslie Lynch says:

    Good morning, Sonali! What a fascinating life you’ve led! You’ve lived in places I’ve only dreamed about. How wonderful that you have translated that into your stories! I’m looking forward to The Bollywood Bride in 2014, just to get a chance to experience that wonderful world myself!

    If you have time, I’d love to hear more about your doctor grandmother, prisoner of war father, and poet great-grandmother. Clearly, family is of primary importance in your life – and what strong examples you have to follow!

    Thanks for being my guest today, Sonali! Enjoy the Golden Heart experience in Atlanta! We wish you the very best with your already-launched publishing career!

    Smiles,
    Leslie

  2. Hi Sonali,

    Just reading your comments has me feeling like I know you already. I visited Mumbai a few years ago and remember it just as you describe it. And congratulations on your two-book deal!!! You should definitely slip in a ‘plug’ about that any chance you get. The Golden Heart final is a nice perk as you officially step into your professional career. Can’t wait to read both the Bollywood Bride and the Bollywood Bad Boy.
    Looking forward to Atlanta, too!
    Jacqueline Floyd

    • Sonali Dev says:

      Thanks, Jacqueline! You have to tell me all about your Mumbai experience when we meet. I can’t even imagine how all that sensory overload must feel as a first time experience. Isn’t travel the most wonderful thing?

      Can’t wait to meet you in Atlanta!
      Hugs,
      Sonali

  3. Kay Hudson says:

    What fun to hear your story, Sonali. What a wonderful supply of stories you have in your own family. I love books with unusual backgrounds and I can’t wait to read yours. Looking forward to meeting you at RWA13 in Atlanta–congrats on the GH final!

  4. Hi Sonali,

    Congrats and good luck!!

  5. Robin Skylar says:

    Hi Sonali,

    Great post! I learned so much about you I didn’t know. Thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to being roomies at RWA!

    Robin

  6. Sonali, your passion for writing shines through your words. I literally cannot WAIT to read your Bollywood books, and I have a feeling many more wonderful stories will be pouring out of your pen (or keyboard:).

    • Sonali Dev says:

      Thanks, Miranda!
      From your lips to god’s ears.
      The idea of stories drying up, quite literally scares me witless! But that’s a whole different blog post.

      Cannot wait to meet you in Atlanta.
      Hugs,
      Sonali

      • Leslie Lynch says:

        I think we ALL harbor the same fear, Sonali! I do. But once I got the idea for book #2, it flowed. (Okay, there were some rapids and dams and free falls in there, too, but the story was there!) The main character from book #3 just appeared one morning, ready to roll. Learning to trust our individual creative process is part of the journey – and you’ve already proven that you have more than one book in you!!!

  7. Hi Sonali! Your post was so interesting and fun to read. My sister-in-law also grew up in Mumbai, and I love to hear her talk about the culture of her childhood. Congratulations on your book deal and your Golden Heart– you’ve earned it!

  8. Sonali Dev says:

    Hi Amy,
    And Hi to your sister-in-law. Us Mumbai-girls are a sisterhood you know!
    Thanks so much and Congratulations to you as well!
    Hugs,
    Sonali

  9. piperhuguley says:

    Hi Sonali,

    I am so looking forward to reading your work. I asked you in another place but maybe you didn’t see–is Shobhan Bhantwal a comparable for you? I look forward to reading your work, regardless, but I just wondered. I enjoyed your post today!

    • Sonali Dev says:

      Hi Piper, I’m SO sorry, I could have sworn I answered. But it might have been lost in the cyber-hole. Yes, Shobhan Bantwal is definitely the closest in terms of genre to me. Mine are a wee-bit more romance heavy, though. Once you’ve read mine, you have to tell me what you think.
      Many hugs and thanks for stopping by!
      Sonali

  10. taliaquinndaniels says:

    Sonali, your delightful voice shines through and makes me want to read your Bollywood books right now! Consider me sold, no promo needed here. 🙂 I also seriously can’t wait to meet you in Atlanta!

    My son is just a bit older than your oldest, and is heading to high school in the fall too. Weird feeling, huh? And I too come from screenwriting… and though NYC isn’t exactly Mumbai, it’s also, well, big. And seems exotic to a lot of the rest of the country. (Okay, yeah, stretching a bit there.)

    I have two questions for you:

    First, I’ve been dying to know what makes your hero a Bollywood bad boy. Is he a movie star? Or is it that he’s like Bollywood characters?

    And second, when you started writing Bollywood romances, how did you shut up that inevitable “But this is so different, how am I ever going to sell it?” voice? (Or am I the only one who hears that voice? Uh oh.)

    • Sonali Dev says:

      Hi Talia,
      No, actually you’re not stretching it at all with the NYC-Mumbai parallel. There is a lot of that character in the air, characters everywhere feel and that arts and commerce coexisting thing going on that make the two cities very similar.
      To answer your Qs.
      Samir is a hotshot bollywood director, one of the younger breed of Indian filmmakers who endorse brands, host tv shows, and basically keep the popular media afloat with their lifestyles. Of course that’s just his outer persona. On the inside he’s an abandoned child of mixed parentage who would die for his adoptive family.
      As for your second question, no, you are not alone in the voices – mine are loud and brutal too. But they stick to plot and character and prose and general writing ability. Honestly the one thing I never worried about was not being able to sell my books because of their Bollywood/Indian theme. To me that was always my strongest suit. I had to write what I knew and where I was coming from. And I got feedback that told me everything from how the stories were too foreign, to how they weren’t Indian enough and too Americanized. In the end they were my stories and I could write no other way. All I can do is fix craft and refine, refine, refine.
      I am so looking forward to meet you.
      Hugs,
      Sonali

  11. Great interview, Sonali and Leslie!

    Sonali, it sounds like you’ve enjoyed the best of both sides of the Atlantic. I’m also delighted that your judges rewarded your awesome manuscript with high scores — the bookshelves need more unique stories!

    And I want to know the answers to Talia’s questions too!

    Can’t wait to meet you in Atlanta!

    • Sonali Dev says:

      Thanks Bonnie!
      Yes, I do truly enjoy both my homes. And I do love me a good foreign story too.
      I actually answered Talia in two places 🙂
      Can’t wait to meet you too,
      Hugs,
      Sonali

  12. Savannah says:

    Sonali,
    I am so happy for you! You have this openness and sincerity in all that you write. You make an only who’s very satisfied with their only-ness long for a big, Indian family. Can’t wait to see them in print!

  13. Don Mulcare says:

    Hi Sonali,

    I went to college in Lisle, Illinois, so Naperville is familiar. Your answers to Leslie’s questions are fascinating. Would you say that members of the RWA are more “romantic” that other writers? Do you see romance everywhere?

    Most importantly, how do you like the Chicagoland winters?

    God Bless,

    Don

    • Sonali Dev says:

      Hi Don,
      I could do a series of blog posts on how unique and amazing romance writers are. Not only are they more romantic, they have an amazingly generous worldview– kind and helpful and invested in their sisterhood. My only explanation for the kind of support you see among romance writers is that they spend so much time thinking about a happily ever after and what it takes for their characters to get there that they try to reflect those values it in their own behavior.
      As for the winters. I try not to think about them on a gloriously sunny spring day like today.
      Thanks so much for stopping by.
      Sonali

      • Don Mulcare says:

        Hello again Sonali,

        Speaking of Indian connections, most of mine were Civil Engineers. Their offices were in my building at the University of Massachusetts. For some reason, none were Romance Writers. You mentioned RWA as a Sisterhood. Are there any male Romance Writers? I think that Terry Pratchett has a lot of romance in some of his sci-fi/fantasy novels.

        Best to you,

        Don

  14. Sonali Dev says:

    Hi Talia, No, actually you’re not stretching it at all with the NYC-Mumbai parallel. There is a lot of that character in the air, characters everywhere feel and that arts and commerce coexisting thing going on that make the two cities very similar.
    To answer your Qs.
    Samir is a hotshot bollywood director, one of the younger breed of Indian filmmakers who endorse brands, host tv shows, and basically keep the popular media afloat with their lifestyles. Of course that’s just his outer persona. On the inside he’s an abandoned child of mixed parentage who would die for his adoptive family.
    As for your second question, no, you are not alone in the voices – mine are loud and brutal too. But they stick to plot and character and prose and general writing ability. Honestly the one thing I never worried about was not being able to sell my books because of their Bollywood/Indian theme. To me that was always my strongest suit. I had to write what I knew and where I was coming from. And I got feedback that told me everything from how the stories were too foreign, to how they weren’t Indian enough and too Americanized. In the end they were my stories and I could write no other way. All I can do is fix craft and refine, refine, refine.
    I am so looking forward to meet you.
    Hugs,
    Sonali

  15. Katie Graykowski says:

    Sonali,

    I can’t wait to read your Bollywood bad boy story. My next door neighbor is from India and my nine-year-old daughter is in love with him. On Memorial Day, we bar-b-qued and he told us charming stories of growing up in India. Can’t wait to meet you.

  16. Nan Dixon says:

    Oh Sonali,
    I love your path to publication. I can not wait to pick up your books!
    My Grandfather was in the British Cavalry in WWI stationed in India and fell in love with the country. (Hated the camels) When I finally meet my grandparents when I was 12, they lived with us for a year and half. He would recite Kipling and other poetry all the time. With help, I can still recite The Green Eye of the Little Yellow. Don’t know who wrote that one. My son is also in love with India, having spent lots of time there studying yoga. The pictures are so vibrant.
    Can’t wait to meet you in July!

    • Sonali Dev says:

      Thanks, Nan! I am so sorry I didn’t see your comment yesterday. No idea what happened.
      Isn’t it amazing how different the world was just two generations ago?
      I’m just so fascinated by the whole colonial history, it’s the perfect backdrop for historicals, isn’t it? hmm. maybe someday 🙂

      Can’t wait to meet you in Atlanta.
      Hugs,
      Sonali

  17. Leslie Lynch says:

    I’m going to jump in here and respond to Don Mulcare’s latest question. Yes, there are male romance authors, but they are a minority. (They are the only ones at the RWA National Conference who never have to battle lines in the restrooms – except for the occasional times when the women commandeer the men’s room!) Leigh Greenwood comes to mind (http://leigh-greenwood.com/). He is a very successful, longtime romance author and has served as RWA’s president. Offhand, I can’t think of any others, but there are men who write and sell romance.

    So we refer to ourselves as a Sisterhood, but the term is used in the same spirit as Sisters in Crime, the mystery writers organization. Informally, they call themselves Sisters and Misters in Crime.

    Most guys include some romance, or some shade of it, in their action/adventure stories.

    Thanks for stopping by again, Don!

    Blessings,
    Leslie

  18. Walt Mussell says:

    Sonali, congrats on your news. As someone who uses unique settings in his writing, I’m excited when stories like yours are purchased. I can’t wait to read it. By the way, I’ll be at Nationals and I will look for you (though I probably won’t be that hard for someone to pick out either).

  19. Walt Mussell says:

    Don, I’ve been to a few regional romance writer conferences and men are definitely in the minority. At the same time, the writing workshops offered are excellent. This year, I will be attending my first Nationals conference. I have no idea what to expect.

  20. I’m looking forward to reading this! I love all the elements you’ve woven together, it sounds like such a great story.

  21. Leslie Lynch says:

    Popping in one more time – I told Sonali last week that I have to leave early today, so wanted to say thanks for being here! THANK YOU, Sonali, for a lively day and for visiting my blog. It’s been a pleasure having you!

    And thanks to all those who visited today, and over the past three weeks.

    Smiles,
    Leslie

  22. anjugattani says:

    Hi Sonali,

    What a wonderful interview and I loved your take-on-life! India’s tradition vs. progress is a similar issue I address in my work… and every time I go back to India (vacations and whatnot) it’s like being transported in a time capsule to what you last remember… and being flooded with a changing India.

    Your books sound exciting!! Congratulations on the 2-book deal! The Golden Heart Finalist and now a win-for-sure!!

    It’s the first time I’m visiting your blog. Leslie… hope to tune in more often from now on 🙂
    Regards
    Anju

    • Sonali Dev says:

      Thanks, Anju!
      Yes, in these past two decades I feel like India has changed a centuries-worth (which given its long history is still a drop in the ocean, but still)
      I’m so glad to have you as my fellow genre trailblazer of sorts.
      Hugs,
      Sonali

  23. Sheila Athens says:

    I enjoyed reading your story and about your manuscript, Sonali. America is a tapestry of different cultures and communities. I’m glad to see that our RWA GH class epitomizes that. Can’t wait to read your book!

    • Sonali Dev says:

      Thanks, Sheila! Yes, our diversity here really is tapestry like, so inclusive and tightly woven and it makes for a great immigrant life and a great palette for stories.
      Hugs,
      Sonali

  24. Congratulations, Sonali, on your Golden Heart final and your two book deal to Kensington! A “romp across the globe” story sounds like a story I want to read. Looking forward to meeting you in Atlanta and seeing your books on the shelf of my local bookstore!

  25. CJ Warrant says:

    Congrats, Sonali. Love reading about your journey. I’ll be Atlanta, on the sidelines cheering you on!
    CJ Warrant

  26. What a fascinating background you have, Sonali. The Bollywood Bad Boy sounds like a great story. I can’t wait to read it. Looking forward to meeting you in Atlanta!

  27. Hi Sonali,

    Congrats again and looking forward to your books! And good luck!

    Mary Jo

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