Born and raised in a conservative Hindu family in India, Shobhan Bantwal’s arranged marriage took her to the US. Directing and acting in a play in Chicago made her realize her calling towards writing. She has since then given us various books like The Dowry Bride, The Sari Shop Window and The Reluctant Matchmaker. Describing her writing as “Bollywood in a book”, her books are replete with observations and anecdotes about the Indian life in the US. IndiaBookStore in an exclusive chat with her:
- You took up writing pretty late. What led you to make the decision to write a novel?
Writing was something I stumbled into at the ripe age of 50, when my husband and I became empty-nesters after our only child left home to pursue a career. Since I already had a demanding full-time job, I took up creative writing purely as a hobby. At some point, suddenly and unexpectedly my humble pastime exploded into a full-time second career.
- Is writing something you have always been interested in?
I was a fairly competent writer since childhood, perhaps because I was a voracious reader as well. Nonetheless I never wrote anything beyond the required school essays and thesis for my master's degrees until I took it up much later in life.
- How do your own life experiences inspire your books?
The life of an NRI can be very inspiring simply because it is so unique and challenging at times. My entire adult life has been spent in the US, and my personal experiences frequently appear in subtle ways in most of my stories.
- What particular aspects do you focus on when writing about the Indian immigrant experience in the US?
My main focus in on the wide spectrum of issues faced by immigrants, positive as well as negative. Embracing the American way of life while preserving the elements of Indian culture can be a difficult yet rewarding transition. It is this fine balance that I try to portray, to the best of my ability, in my writing.
- How strong do you think are community and caste dynamics in the Indian population abroad?
Community spirit is very strong and enduring within the Indian population in the US. We are passionate about building temples, celebrating religious festivals, and cooking traditional food. However, caste distinctions have blurred, and are slowly becoming extinct, especially amongst folks who have raised children here, children who have settled into inter-caste and inter-racial marriages. I consider this a positive outcome of living in America's melting-pot culture.
- What kind of books do you enjoy reading? How do these books influence your writing?
I always was and still am a romance and mystery fan. Now that romance comes in so many sub-genres, it has become even more interesting, and it has greatly influenced my own writing. While my books are marketed in the US as multicultural women's fiction, they contain a strong romantic element, which seems to appeal to a large readership in the US.
- Any particular routine you follow when it comes to writing?
I am not a very disciplined writer, therefore I write whenever the mood strikes. It is not the most efficient way of writing, but it has worked quite well for me.
- Ever face the writer’s block? How do you deal with it?
Writer's block plagues me more frequently than I would like. It can be annoying, but I deal with it by self-editing what I have written during those rare periods when my muses are active, so there is minimal waste of time.
- How difficult was it to publish your first book? Any tips you would like to leave our aspiring writers with on the same?
Since I first took up writing strictly as a hobby, the process of getting published was tough for me, and took four years. It was only after a few of my short stories won awards/honors in nationwide contests that I made the conscious decision to try my hand at a full-length novel. I was lucky to find two remarkable critique partners who helped me improve my writing skills. Later, after a long and frustrating search, one of the top literary agents in the US signed me on as a client, and I got published by a reputable publisher. It led to six successful novels.
My advice to aspiring authors is to find a few committed and talented fellow writers (in-person or on-line) and form a critique group. Peer support and constructive criticism can be a writer's two most valuable resources.
Information on my books, short stories, articles, reviews, photos, and contact page can be found on my website: http://www.shobhanbantwal.com.
Thank you for inviting me to interview with you today. I appreciate your kind and continued support.
Thank you very much, Ms. Bantwal for taking time out from your busy schedule for this interview with IndiaBookStore. We wish you all the best for your future endeavors.