When I hosted Kristan Higgins several weeks ago, she told us up-and-coming author Sonali Dev is her favorite debut author, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Sonali’s richly detailed story of Bollywood romance has captivated her readers; Kristan described Sonali’s debut as “A lush, emotional, vivid story about the power of first love told in a breathtaking, lyrical voice.”
Read on for Sonali’s fascinating discussion of the true stories that have inspired her, her process of vomiting out the first draft (her word…not mine!), and the warm welcome she received into the romance writing community.
What inspired you to write this story?
Many years ago when my father was a pilot in the Indian Air Force my parents used to be friends with another young pilot and his wife. Tragically, the husband died in an air crash just about a year into their marriage and his family from the village showed up with another young woman, who apparently was also his wife. He had been married to her 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.
I just could not get that story out of my head. 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. The crashing of the rural and urban faces of India has always fascinated me. Tradition versus progress, freedom versus the most stringent societal norms, it’s incredible how diverse the worlds India spans even today are. I absolutely had to write this story and trace the arc of the journeys I imagined for these women. That’s were A Bollywood Affair came from.
As for The Bollywood Bride, which comes out this month, you know how you grow up with these whispered stories that elders share when they think you aren’t listening but that you soak up. One of my father’s boss’s wives became severely mentally ill in childbirth. While doing research for the book, I figured her postpartum depression had probably triggered a severe form of psychosis that she didn’t get the right treatment for. But the story I heard as a child was how the poor lady went ‘crazy’ in childbirth and was locked up in an asylum for the rest of her life. I never met their daughter, but I always wondered what it must be like to have been the cause of losing your mother that way. That combined with this homogenous world I grew up in, where any child outside of the norm was openly regarded as a freak was where I think The Bollywood Bride took root.
Describe your process for writing this particular book.
I always start with the characters (I know their backstories going a few generations deep) and the arc they must travel to overcome the conflict that’s standing in the way of their happiness. So while I’m not a plotter, I know my arc and I know the major events that will happen along the way.
As for the actual writing of the book, I am not a fan of the blank page and the first draft is like pulling teeth for me. So after extended attempts at procrastination (I recently heard Kristan Higgins call it “Pre-writing” and instantly adopted the term) I try to force myself to vomit out my first draft as fast as I can. Once the first draft is out of the way I really start to write the book, which for me happens during revisions. Revisions is when I develop the story and I love that part of the process.
How long did it take to complete?
Since I learned the craft on my first book, after I had a first draft (which took about four months to write) it took me over two years to get a polished salable story.
What was the rest of your life like while writing the book?
When I started writing fiction in earnest I had two preschoolers. Now I have two highschoolers. Plus I had a full time day job and a large extended family and a husband who travels regularly for work. So the past ten years have been somewhere between mental and insane. A lot of my writing happened in parking lots outside my kid’s activities and on bleachers. The early morning hours were my friends as was the library where my kids spent hours while I wrote.
Were you involved in a writer’s group?
If you ask me what the one tool was that helped me become a published author, my answer will be my writer’s group and the RWA (Romance Writers of America). The RWA at large and my local chapters have been a precious, supportive resource but my writer’s group, we call ourselves the Aphrodites, have been a lifesaver. These are the ten women who have been there for me every step of the way. We do weekly goals and recaps, help each other out of blocks and potholes with brainstorming, critique everything from entire books to book covers and blurbs, drink to each other’s success and sob for each other’s heartbreaks.
What has surprised you most about this process?
The short answer is, everything. Everything about this process has been exciting and it has absolutely taken me by surprise. A Bollywood Affair was the book of my heart and at my most optimistic best I had hoped to get a traditional publishing deal and then I had pictured myself working slowly and steadily toward drawing in readers to build an audience. But the reaction I have received has completely blown me away. First, these huge names in the Romance genre, whom I’ve idolized for so long got behind my book including Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nalini Singh, Kristan Higgins, Courtney Milan. Then the reviewers embraced it with a passion. Booklist, Library journal, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Dear Author, RT Book reviews and a myriad bloggers and reviewers raved about it. It even made Library Journal and NPR’s list of Best Books of 2014. Even though I had experienced firsthand how incredibly generous writers and readers in the romance genre are as a newbie unpublished writer, I had never expected to see this level of love and acceptance for a book that was so different from the norm.
Ria Parkar is Bollywood’s favorite Ice Princess—beautiful, poised, and scandal-proof—until one impulsive act threatens to expose her destructive past. Traveling home to Chicago for her cousin’s wedding offers a chance to diffuse the coming media storm and find solace in family, food, and outsized celebrations that are like one of her vibrant movies come to life. But it also means confronting Vikram Jathar.
Ria and Vikram spent childhood summers together, a world away from Ria’s tragedy-ridden family in Mumbai. Their friendship grew seamlessly into love—until Ria made a shattering decision. As far as Vikram is concerned, Ria sold her soul for stardom and it’s taken him years to rebuild his life. But he’ll risk it all again if Ria can find the courage to face the secrets she’s been guarding for everyone else’s benefit and finally stop acting and start living.
Award winning author, Sonali Dev, writes Bollywood-style love stories that let her explore issues faced by women around the world while still indulging her faith in a happily ever after.
Sonali’s debut novel, A Bollywood Affair, was one of Library Journal and NPR’s Best Books of 2014. It won the American Library Association’s award for best romance, is a RITA Finalist, RT Reviewer Choice Award Nominee, and winner of the RT Seal of Excellence. Sonali lives in the Chicago suburbs with her very patient and often amused husband and two teens who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog. Find out more at sonalidev.com