Today’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is a finalist in the Contemporary Single Title category of Romance Writers of America’s® 2013 Golden Heart® contest for unpublished manuscripts.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?
*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!