#DesiBooksDiscourse: The Importance & Necessity of South Asian Women-centered Fiction

Desi Books Ep 76 w/ Sonya Singh, Sonya Lalli, & Mansi Shah Desi Books


(available at Youtube, Anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Overcast)

Hello and welcome to Episode 76 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. Thank you for tuning in.

#DesiBooksDiscourse is available as video on Spotify, Anchor, and Youtube, and as audio on the rest of the platforms. Please see the links above.

In this #DesiBooksDiscourse episode, we have the writers Sonya Singh, Sonya Lalli, and Mansi Shah discussing why South Asian women-centered fiction is important and necessary. They talk about their writing journeys—from refusing to give up while finding an agent and a publisher, to finding support amongst other authors (South Asian or not), to the pros and cons of building a social media presence.

They address diversity in the romance and women’s fiction world and how it is improving, relating personal stories of being initially told that there was “no room” for “another South Asian story” and discussing the recent “racial reckoning” in North America that is leading to better representation in the book world today and to the publication of far more books by South Asian authors. 

The group also talks about how their Indian identities have informed their writing, how their cultural pride has grown through the act of writing, the importance of writing authentically, and the delight in their relatable books finding a wide readership.

The discussion closes with a round of writing-themed “would you rather.”

Sonya Singh, Sonya Lalli, and Mansi Shah discuss the importance & necessity of South Asian women-centric fiction and their individual book journeys. #DesiBooksDiscourse @DesiBooks

#DESIBOOKSDISCOURSE WITH SONYA SINGH, SONYA LALLI, AND MANSI SHAH — INTRODUCTION

Sonya Singh is a former entertainment reporter turned communications professional who has followed her dream of telling stories in front of the camera and now behind the scenes. Her debut novel, Sari, Not Sari, is an ode to her own personal dating experiences, during which she honed the art of writing the perfect break-up email/text. Sonya lives in Toronto, Canada. You can follow her at sonyasinghbooks.com and on Twitter @SonyaKSingh and Instagram @sonyasinghwrites.

SARI, NOT SARI: In this “most delicious rom-com” (Marissa Stapley, New York Times bestselling author of Reese’s Book Club Pick Lucky), TV reporter-turned-debut author Sonya Singh introduces readers to beautiful CEO Manny Dogra. Manny runs a multi-million-dollar company that helps people manage their relationship breakups (couldn’t we all have used their services at one time or another?) and is planning her wedding to a handsome architect. But having been raised as an All-American girl by her late born-in-India parents, she’s realizing she knows next to nothing about her culture. When an irritating client named Sammy Patel approaches Manny with an odd breakup request, the perfect solution presents itself: If they both agree to certain terms, he’ll give her a crash course in being “Indian” at his brother’s wedding. Amidst dancing and dal and lovable—if endlessly interfering—Patel family aunties and uncles, Manny discovers much more than she could ever have anticipated.

Sonya Lalli is a romance and women’s fiction author of Punjabi and Bengali heritage. She is publishing her debut crime thriller, Are You Sara?, under the name S.C. Lalli in August 2022. She studied law in her hometown of Saskatoon, Canada, and at Columbia University in New York. Sonya has worked in law, legal journalism and book publishing. She lives in Vancouver with her husband. 

A HOLLY JOLLY DIWALI: One type-A data analyst discovers her free-spirited side on an impulsive journey from bustling Mumbai to the gorgeous beaches of Goa and finds love waiting for her on Christmas morning. Twenty-nine-year-old Niki Randhawa has always made practical decisions. Despite her love for music and art, she became an analyst for the stability. She’s always stuck close to home, in case her family needed her. And she’s always dated guys that seem good on paper, rather than the ones who give her butterflies. When she’s laid off, Niki realizes that practical hasn’t exactly paid off for her. So for the first time ever, she throws caution to the wind and books a last-minute flight for her friend Diya’s wedding. Niki arrives in India just in time to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, where she meets London musician Sameer Mukherji . . .

Mansi Shah is a writer who lives in Los Angeles. She was born in Toronto, Canada, was raised in the midwestern United States, and studied at universities in America, Australia, and England. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling and exploring different cultures near and far, experimenting on a new culinary creation, or working on her tennis game. For more information about her, please visit her online at www.mansikshah.com, on Instagram/Facebook @mansishahwrites, or on Twitter @mansiwrites. 

THE TASTE OF GINGER: In Mansi Shah’s stunning debut novel, a family tragedy beckons a first-generation immigrant to the city of her birth, where she grapples with her family’s past in search of where she truly belongs. After her parents moved her and her brother to America, Preeti Desai never meant to tear her family apart. All she did was fall in love with a white Christian carnivore instead of a conventional Indian boy. Years later, with her parents not speaking to her and her controversial relationship in tatters, all Preeti has left is her career at a prestigious Los Angeles law firm. But when Preeti receives word of a terrible accident in the city where she was born, she returns to India, where she’ll have to face her estranged parents . . . and the complicated past they left behind. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of her heritage, Preeti catches a startling glimpse of her family’s battles with class, tradition, and sacrifice. Torn between two beautifully flawed cultures, Preeti must now untangle what home truly means to her.

#DESIBOOKSDISCOURSE WITH SONYA SINGH, SONYA LALLI, AND MANSI SHAH — A TRANSCRIBED (LIGHTLY EDITED) EXCERPT

SONYA SINGH: And I wonder, you know, a question that I want to ask you about being in this space. Have you felt that it’s been competitive with other South Asian women based on sort of what we’re fed, and not necessarily being able to champion and cheerlead each other because you’ve actually done the opposite for me—cheerleading me and championing me for a book that you haven’t even read. So I just wanted to get your take on that.

SONYA LALLI: Oh, yeah, no, for sure. It’s very, very complicated, because obviously, we’re good people. But of course, we’re also ambitious and creative. And so there’s all these mixed emotions all the time. And I think, for me, I’ve had a largely positive experience. I haven’t become super close with a lot of authors, but mostly because—not because I don’t like like them—it’s because everyone’s busy. We only have so much bandwidth. [. . .] but I’ve really tried to have that mentality where a success for another South Asian author is also a success for me because we’re not competing with each other, we’re trying to change the game. So it doesn’t matter if two South Asian books come out on the same day. It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to both get coverage. I mean, unfortunately, it does sometimes mean that, right? And the realities are that things are slow to change, even though there’s a lot of really good-intentioned people working in publishing and the book industry trying to change things [. . .] And so, while I sound like I’m very wise, it’s not always like, I don’t always feel this, but I do try and think of it like, we are in this together. And someone else succeeding is also my success because it means that I have a better chance too. You know what I mean? So it’s about, yeah, I try and have that mentality.

SONYA SINGH: I love that attitude, because—I’m just going to say something here, and I’ll get Mansi to comment on it in a minute—but I have not had that experience. So, with me, when I’ve reached out to other South Asian authors—outside of you too, who responded really quickly and, actually, I’ve been able to develop a strong friendship with Mansi—I have had to lean on Caucasian authors. So I have found that Emily Gibbons, or Emily Henry, or Samantha Bailey have actually supported me a lot more than a South Asian author. Which, you know, really set me back because I felt that I shouldn’t be doing that then to somebody else. And with Mansi, when we met, I think in a span of twenty-four hours, we were sharing a lot of secrets. You know, normally you would sign off on an NDA, and we were just like, going at each other, you know, like this, this, this, and this, genuinely trying to help each other out. And I really love that relationship. And I think it was so important for me to get out of that rabbit hole, that I was spinning out of control of, thinking that every South Asian author that I came across was out to get me. And so thank you, Mansi, for that. But how has it been for you now that your book is out and your author roster has increased? Have you been leaning towards specifically making industry friends that look like you? Or you’re just, you know, this is the support you’re getting? And that’s what you’re happy with?

MANSI SHAH: It’s such an interesting question. And I think, both in my writing world and in my day job before this, I have always subscribed to the mentality that a rising tide lifts all ships. And so I have done that. As a lawyer by day, I’m very, very cognizant of hiring junior attorneys who are women of color and just really focusing on that. That’s sort of always been a life mission for me. And so with writing, I knew it wasn’t going to be any different. So I tend to—because this is what I read—I tend to promote more books by authors of color, because that’s what I’m focused on reading, because for the first time in my life, there are enough books in that genre that I can read exclusively that if I want to. [. . .] So when when I started chatting with you, it was seamless, right? It was, of course, we’re just going to help each other. And there was never any discussion any other way. And I definitely had, I don’t know that I’m specifically seeking out certain people, but I I’ve got a small group of debut authors all from the same publisher. And so that is like my ride-or-die group. And we’re chatting every day and it’s a mix of people in that group. But there’s seven of us and those are the people I’m gonna go to bat for and none of us have met in real life. We all met through social media, essentially—actually, take that back, two or three of us have now met in real life. So I think, for me, that’s always been the focus and I just was never going to waver from that because, at the end of the day, I want a successful writing career and it’s super important to me. But, for me, the message of my writing career is more important than the sales.


Sonya Singh, Sonya Lalli, and Mansi Shah discuss the importance & necessity of South Asian women-centric fiction and their individual book journeys. #DesiBooksDiscourse @DesiBooks

You’ve been listening to or watching episode 76 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. Thank you for tuning in. Today’s #DesiBooksDiscourse episode was with Sonya Singh, Sonya Lalli, and Mansi Shah discussing why South Asian women-centered fiction is important and necessary. They talk about their writing journeys—from refusing to give up while finding an agent and a publisher, to finding support amongst other authors (South Asian or not), to the pros and cons of building a social media presence. Thank you to all of them.

Episode 77 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Sign up for the free, weekly newsletter and you’ll get all the updates you might have missed as well as some new stuff. And please share this via social media to help raise the tide of South Asian literature. Thank you.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


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