Today we continue to get to know our chapter members. Please welcome Sonali Dev!
Thanks for stopping by, Sonali.
Q: What is it about Bollywood movies that make them such an inspiration for your writing?
A: Predictably enough, I grew up watching Bollywood films. And the Bollywood films of my childhood had this dreamy, absorbing quality that you could burrow into and that followed you into your life after you left the theater. You dreamed about those characters, stayed immersed in their world for days and days. That complete emotional immersion and journeying out of yourself is what I’ve always sought out in everything I read and watch. More recently it’s been harder for me to find that in films, but any good romance will have it. Naturally, I keep trying to create it in my books.
Q: You wrote a post for us last year about why #WeNeedDiversebooks matters. Do you think there’s been progress? Are there any new developments you’d like to share?
A: The biggest change is a personal one for me. My first book came out last year and I’m now looking at it from the other side of the fence, where I’m part of a disturbingly small group of diverse writers fighting the fight by writing authentic stories with nonwhite characters and trying to find ways to ensure that readers don’t stay away from them because of their otherness. The good news is that more of us are on the shelves today than there were when I was growing up, the heartbreaking part is that our numbers don’t come anywhere close to representing our numbers in the readership.
I recently had a conversation with a big-name agent about why in a world that’s getting more progressive and open minded writers with diverse stories are still being passed over by traditional publishing. His answer was that if we wrote excellent books like Kite Runner, there was no stopping us. So, the quality benchmark for books with diverse characters are vastly different from those for white-neutral books and that keeps a lot of very good books from seeing readers, and even worse, it keeps diverse writers from developing and writing those excellent books.
The answer is still in having more readers buy books enriched by diversity. It’s the only answer really.
Q: What are some of your favorite writing resources?
A: I think reading is by far the best writing resource (this is also how I justify my bookstore bill). Seriously though, there is an incredible amount you can learn from reading, especially bestsellers and critically acclaimed books.
As for craft books, one of my favorites is Robert McGee’s Story, also books by James Scott Bell and Donald Maas.
I also find that I learn an incredible amount from hearing authors I idolize speak about their process and craft.
Q: Do you have any special writing quirks or rituals? Are you pantser or plotter? Where is your favorite place to write?
A: I love to write early in the morning before my household awakes. That’s my magical time, but I’ll write anywhere I can grab a few moments. Most of my books have been written in parking lots while waiting for my children to be done with their various activities.
I’m an outliner. I like to lay out my arcs (very sketchily) and build up my characters. But I can’t plot out scenes or put down details of any sort because that paralyzes me. Essentially the story usually starts with a bunch of bubbles on a piece of paper that say things like “They meet” “He breaks her heart” “First time he knows he’s attracted to her” etc.
Q: How has being a member of RWA and our chapter of RWA been a help to you?
A: RWA has been the single most important factor that has contributed to me being published. When I joined RWA I had the first draft of a MS and thirty million questions, the first of which was “A query? What’s that?” My home chapter, Windy City RWA literally took my hand and dragged me through the journey from bumbling idiot to someone who believed there was real possibility of being published, to actually getting there. It is my absolute belief that the RWA is the greatest example of girl power in the world and the perfect model of how any business should be run: with passion for the product, support for the community, and focus on the bottomline.
Q: In your opinion, what is the appeal of contemporary romance?
A: That it’s love in the time of us? A love story is a love story, at its heart it’s timeless but when it’s set in our current world we get to explore issues (and freedoms) that are our own in terms of history.
Q: What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out or not yet published?
A: This is going to sound like one of those overly repeated wisdoms: Don’t give up. But I don’t mean that as in keep submitting (although that’s critical if you want to traditionally publish). I mean that in the sense of no matter how finished a book feels, there’s still more work to be done on it. Finishing, tweaking, revising, polishing, in my opinion, that’s what sells books. Your wonderful story can always be made more wonderful, stronger, more lyrical. If it’s not selling, be open to the possibility that it needs work. And accepting that doesn’t make you less confident in your work, it makes you a professional.
Q: What else would you like us to know about you?
A: That I am insanely grateful to be here.
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.