SAPAHM Guest: Sonali Dev

Hi friends! So … my gosh. We’re basically at the end of May. How did that happen??? I’m not ready! I really love May. Not just because of APAHM, but because here it’s when weather actually starts getting nicer and you know summer is coming. Longer days, actual sun, all good things. [Sorry to our friends down under who are experiencing the opposite of that.] So … Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is drawing to a close, but you know I like to end on a bang – and of course we’ve got more fun Heritage Months to come!

As you see I have Sonali Dev here today – she’s (in my opinion) a breakout author of 2014. So many people recommended her – for me personally both Courtney Milan and Nalini Singh told me to read her debut book A Bollywood Affair. That’s some heavy hitting right there. More importantly – to me at least – is the book stood up to the hype, and it was one of my favorite reads last year. And like Cecilia Tan, she also won an award at RT this year! So without further ado, Ms. Dev! 🙂 She also says everything better than I could, so I’m leaving her ending as the end – for APAHM et al.

Acknowledging Moments of Change Toward Momentous Change

A Bollywood AffairWalking up on stage on the arm of one of those models whose job it is to escort people up on stage was something I never thought I’d do. Then again, I might have thought about it far more than is necessarily healthy. It’s one of those things that you dream of without quite knowing you’re dreaming it because it’s tucked inside another more significant, more consuming dream. 

What I’m trying to say in my overwhelmed way is that I walked up on stage to accept an award this week at the Romantic Times Booklover’s convention, and amazingly enough, my most tangible thought walking up that ramp (other than “don’t trip don’t trip don’t trip”) was “Woah! He has humongous arms” — a solid (literally) thing amid that incredibly unreal moment. I have no idea who the man was. I can’t remember his face but I will forever remember the texture of his suit and the curve of his bicep beneath my palm and his practiced, on-duty chivalry that grounded me in the moment with a tangible memory.

Because dreams are just such nebulous things with nothing to define and encompass them or clearly signal their realization. They tend to leak and expand and roll, going from being published, to being read, to being well received, to winning something, and then getting to publish more and then repeating it all. A dream doesn’t stop and consequently it’s easy to not stop and acknowledge it being fulfilled before it turns into a milestone and then a moving target.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, what with infinite potential and all that. But I spent a lot of my time at the convention talking about diversity, on panels, at lunch with my South Asian writer colleagues, in meetings with other authors who are bothered by the imbalance in publishing, and at signings with anyone who wanted to address the ‘other’ness of my book.

So in that moment, when I was surrounded by women who had fought harder, lasted eons longer and reinvented themselves over and over in this business of rolling, seemingly impossible dreams that I was only just entering, I knew that I had to take all the gratefulness I was feeling, all the insignificance I was feeling and set it aside at least long enough to acknowledge that a dream that had really insignificant odds of coming to fruition had been realized.

When I used to tell people I was writing romance with two Indian protagonists dealing with seemingly Indian problems, I had encountered everything from suggestions to change one of the protagonists to Caucasian, to nervous hope on my behalf, to resigned sighs that indicated that I was welcome to dream but I might want to manage my expectations— reactions any writer writing diverse books will recognize all too easily, reactions that continue to be daunting roadblocks for dreams everywhere. And that’s exactly the reason why I knew I had to take that moment to stop and acknowledge this serendipitous clearing of my path that may very well be a flash of fortune but is definitely a step forward. My diverse book was loved enough for me to be standing on a stage next to a bevy of stars of an overwhelmingly white genre.

The Bollywood BrideSo, as I stood there, my ears ringing, unable to hear a word being said, I tried to absorb details, the blinding light in my eyes, the scrape of sari sequins on my skin, the feel of a strange man’s brawny arm under wool. And when I returned to my seat I started to cry. As in ugly cry without help either from waterproof mascara or the foresight to bring tissues along. But it was a crying that felt precious, a privilege earned on behalf of all the writers who’ve dreamed and struggled and inched me closer. A crying that acknowledged that while we have such a long way to go before the stories on our shelves are colorblind we aren’t quite where we were such a short time ago. And I was allowed to be humbled by that and yes, to also be just a little proud and more than a little hopeful.

Again, my overwhelmed point is that faced with all the daunting resistance that bringing diversity to publishing is, it is easy to feel only the anger and to see only the distance we have left to go. But I grew up with a sum total of zero brown protagonists in my choice of literature. Today, I have a TBR pile of diverse books, as do my children. Is it a nearly high enough pile? No.

But my mother has this concept of taking stock, of measuring how far you’ve come on any path so you can gather energy for how much farther you have left to go. “You’re just starting out,” she would say or “the elephant is gone, only the tail remains.” And I found that knowing I had made progress made it easier to put my shoulder into what remained. It also made the journey a celebration instead of constant battle. And I like celebrations. I like them so much, in fact, that they make me cry.

I will say that currently the kindle version of A Bollywood Affair is only $2.99! If you haven’t already bought it, now is the perfect time!

18 thoughts on “SAPAHM Guest: Sonali Dev

  1. ki pha

    I definitely need to grab this book. But it was definitely an honor to also meet Sonali this year at Barbara Vey’s luncheon and hoping that she gets a spot at the lunch next year for many of her readers.

    1. Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Ki! I loved sitting at Jeannie’s Lin’s table, her swag is the best, most creative swag. But yes, I am looking forward to going back as an author next year.

  2. Darcy

    Now you’re going to make ME cry, Sonali! (and we know I’m very good at this both on and off stage 😉 ) It brings me SO much joy to watch the world embrace your phenomenal book. “I told you so,” has never sounded sweeter.

    Let’s drink bubbles that match your authorly effervescence and celebrate you some more in NY, okay?


  3. Sandra Owens

    As one of your Golden Heart sisters, I feel so proud of you, Sonali, but even if I didn’t know you, I would be proud of the trail you have blazed. And I’m so in love with your mother’s saying..“the elephant is gone, only the tail remains.” 🙂 See you in NYC!

    1. Sonali Dev

      Sandy, that saying was the bane of my existence growing up. Studying for exams, looking for a job, cleaning my room, it was her way of saying ‘almost done, don’t lose steam.’ We tease her about it now, but gosh it was traumatic 🙂

  4. ae jones

    Sonali –
    So, so happy for you and tears are in my eyes too as I write this! Always hold onto these special moments. you’re right, dreams never stop.


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