5 questions with Sonali Dev

5 questions with Sonali Dev

In Author Conversations by Sarah Sung

5 questions with Sonali Dev

We love any opportunity to get to know our favorite authors better. So a lightning round of questions sounds like a good place to start. Here, we ask five quick questions (with one wildcard) about books, genres, reading preferences, writing style, and their secret to success. 

We’re grateful that romance author Sonali Dev took the time to answer a few questions for us. Her latest Bollywood-style love story The Emma Project joins Incense and Sensibility, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, and Recipe for Persuasion in exploring issues women face around the globe. These make for perfect beach reads this summer.

Here, Dev shares what kind of books move her, how ebooks saved her marriage, and her perfect coffee dates.

1. What are your all-time favorite books?

Sonali Dev: Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy is at the top of the list. It was the first mainstream English language book I read that had Indian protagonists who lived and acted like me. Not only was the prose so seamless and beautiful that I fell into the story body and soul, but for the young writer in me, finding a book that was populated by the kinds of characters that inhabited my own stories turned an impossible dream possible in my mind. 

Also: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (for storytelling you can smell and taste and feel on your skin), My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (for conflict explored all the way to its edges), Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich (for prose that feels like poetry), Beloved by Toni Morrison (for the genius of trapping pain in words), and Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding (for never failing to make me laugh at myself).

2. What’s your favorite genre to read?

Sonali Dev: Really, anything that moves me. All I want when I read is to be touched. Deeply. I want to laugh and cry and feel something shift inside me. Reading is a risk-free way to access the entirety of your emotions. I believe that getting to understand and explore emotions in stories makes them more accessible in real life. And accessing your emotions is a huge part of living fully and mindfully.

3. Which do you prefer: ebook or audiobook?

Sonali Dev: Audiobooks kept books in my life when my life was too frantic to set aside time to read and I had a long commute for work. Ebooks saved my marriage because my husband wasn’t constantly asking me to turn off the light when I read late into the night. So, really, how could I ever choose?

4. What’s your writing routine or process? 

Sonali Dev: My writing routine depends on where I am in my writing process. My process is incredibly chaotic and yet terribly simple. Essentially, I know my characters — who they are, what’s wrong with them, what’s wonderful about them; and I know the incident in their lives that they need to move past and the incidents that will take them there. So my planning process is a set of incident-bubbles on a page that then get interconnected by ever changing arrows and lead to resolution/peace. Now, how this actually happens is the chaotic part and thus far any effort to give it structure has only resulted in completely throwing me off. 

I do write my first drafts very fast when I feverishly type out a really messy sequence of scenes to make up the story while listening to the same Hindi song over and over again until my children refuse to ride in the car with me and my husband starts making offerings of headphones every time he sees me. The only thing I can say for sure about my process is that everything happens in the revisions. I’m a chronic, obsessive, wildly ambitious reviser.

5. How much of your writing success is due to hard work, talent, or luck?

Sonali Dev: Each has its place. Talent is only important because it’s the seed of passion, in that everyone loves to do what they feel like they’re good at. Hard work is the only piece that's in my control. That’s between me and my work and no one else can subtract from that or add to it. It’s what makes my work mine. Luck is a sum of all the parts that are out of my control. The part that I can only help by being ready for it with my handiwork.

Wildcard: If you could have coffee/tea with anyone alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Sonali Dev: It’s an endless list. I wish I could have one more day with my grandmothers to ask all the questions I forgot to ask when they were alive. In the literary world, maybe Jane Austen. For one, as a young girl, her books taught me who I wanted to be. But also because so many scholars have interpreted who she was and what she wanted to say that I sometimes feel like she’s buried under interpretation, and I’d very much like to know the person under it all. The one who wrote those words in those books and letters.


About the Author: Sarah Sung

Sarah is the Editorial Director at Scribd who obsesses over content strategy and brand building, and has written lifestyle content for AFAR, San Francisco Chronicle, and Under Armour. In her spare time she teaches indoor cycling and consumes podcasts, audiobooks, and ebooks at all times of the day and night. Traveling and dining out are always high on her to-do list