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Hello February!

The pandemic goes on, making the days blend into one another, over and over again. And if you’re like us, you’re looking for ways to keep your creativity flowing and lately, for me, that has been getting lost in a good book. Not only do we have an author for this month’s Meet the Didi, but we are also partnering up with her to do a book giveaway on Instagram. Check out our page later today for your chance to win!

Meet the Didi:
Sonya Lalli is a romance and women’s fiction author of Indian heritage. Her books have been featured in Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Glamour, The Washington Post, CBC, The Toronto Star and more. Her book Grown-Up Pose (2020) was a Globe and Mail national bestseller and Amazon Best Book of the Month and this month she will release her latest novel, Serena Singh Flips the Script.
Tell us more about the new book and what the process is like launching a book during the pandemic.
This actually isn’t the first book I’ve launched during the pandemic! My second novel Grown-Up Pose published in March 2020, just two weeks into the first lockdown. All the launch, library and other events for my third novel Serena Singh Flips the Script are virtual – and the silver lining is that online events are more accessible and I’m able to connect with people far beyond the city I live in.
The book is about Serena Singh, an Indian-American woman in her mid-thirties who does not want to get married or have children. She has spent her entire adult life proving to her traditional parents that women do not need ‘domestic bliss’ to have a happy life. However, when Serena’s younger sister and best friend announces that she’s pregnant and gets too busy for her, Serena finally admits to herself that she is lonely. She has let all of her close friendships fall by the wayside and convinces herself, rightly or wrongly, that it’s because she focused on her career while the other women made more conventional life choices.
I write romantic comedies, and this book is essentially a romantic comedy about finding your new best friend as an adult, a time when creating new, genuine friendships can be more challenging.

How do you start writing a book?
Every writer has a different approach, but I am a planner. I think about my characters and what they want out of life, the obstacles they have faced, their families, their fears and so on. After that, I map out a rough plot that follows the three-act structure, and then I get to the writing. Sometimes, I find myself sticking pretty closely to how I envisioned the story would go, and other times, the characters say and do things I didn’t plan on and I run with it. There is a plethora of free resources online that can help writers with plotting, structure, character development, voice, and more. I find these quite helpful when I get stuck.

What sparked your interest in writing in the first place?
Although I was a huge reader and loved creative writing growing up, I didn’t start writing a book with the intent to publish until about seven years ago. I was happily single and had a good job, but was frustrated by the double standards about marriage that continue to be felt by South Asian women like me. I had an idea that would become my debut novel The Matchmaker’s List, about a young Indian-Canadian woman under pressure to get married, and I was motivated to turn my musings into a book because I knew that a lot of South Asian women felt the same way I do. At the time, there were very few mainstream novels about our experiences, and I wanted to help change that.

Have you ever felt any barriers as a South Asian woman?
Definitely. I first started working with a literary agent six years ago, and at the time, a South Asian rom-com was a hard sell or felt tokenistic. But by the time my debut was ready to submit to publishers, the industry was starting to change. Some publishers had stopped thinking about ‘diversity’ as merely a buzzword and had turned it into a genuine, thoughtful goal, including my publisher, Berkley. In the past few years, they have published a huge range of diverse romance and women’s fiction books across the board, and I’m very proud to be one of several South Asian authors on their list.

What’s your advice for other Didis interested in writing a book?
Just start writing and don’t stop when it gets hard! Don’t worry about what people might think if they read your work. Don’t censor yourself and do not worry if it’s bad. Trust me, that first draft is just about getting words down on the page… and it won’t be pretty. You will need to write, rewrite, edit, and rewrite some more. But if you are writing something because you have something important to say, and you enjoy the process, it will all be worth it.

What would you love to write about next?
I love writing about South Asian women finding themselves and falling in love, and plan to keep doing that as long as I can. However, I am a fervent reader of all sorts of fiction – historical, thrillers, literary, and more – and would love to try my hand at other genres. But no matter what space I write in, it will always be important for me to write South Asian protagonists. South Asian women are incredibly diverse in terms of background, experiences, personality, and motivations, so there will always be more of our stories to tell.

What we’re reading: 

The Farmer’s Protests continue on in India. We’ve been following voices such as Baaz News OrgSandeep Singh and Amaan Bali for updates on what’s happening.  

Is It Just Me, or Does South Asian Content on TV Cater to a Western Gaze?
by Layla Ahmad for The RepresentASIAN Project 

Fitriya Mohamed is changing the game — and the conversation — around Muslim women in sports
by Sarah Hagi for The Toronto Star

— Arti Patel

Issue 36
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