Shobhan Bantwal is the author of six novels and one anthology. Her books combine contemporary women’s issues with romantic elements. Her articles have appeared in The Writer, Romantic Times, India Abroad, Little India, New Woman, and India Currents. Her short fiction has won honors/awards in contests sponsored by Writer’s Digest, New York Stories, and New Woman magazines. Her debut book, THE DOWRY BRIDE, won the 2008 Golden Leaf Award. THE UNEXPECTED SON won the 2012 National Indie Excellence Award. Shobhan lives in Arizona, USA.
Visit her website: www.shobhanbantwal.com or her Facebook page
NAW- Please give me your bio in brief elaborating on how and why you decided to write?
As a child, growing up in the small town of Belgaum in southwest India, I was an avid reader, but I had never written more than the required school and college essays. Later, while I was a working wife and mother in New Jersey (USA) for many years, and had dabbled in a variety of hobbies like embroidery, baking, and gardening, somehow creative writing had never appeared on my mental radar.
Surprisingly, at the late age of fifty, I more or less stumbled into creative writing, when my husband’s employer assigned him to a job outside New Jersey. His work kept him away from home during weekdays. Since we were already empty-nesters by then, I started writing articles for a few Indian-American publications as a productive way to occupy my lonely evenings. Gradually I drifted into short fiction, and when three of my short stories won awards, one of them being First Prize in a competition run by New Woman magazine, my ambitions expanded to writing a full-length novel. Because I already had a demanding day job and a hectic weekend social calendar it took me more than a year to complete my first manuscript, The Dowry Bride.
Most of my story ideas come from incidents I have personally witnessed or heard about through the media or word of mouth. Some others simply come from imagining a complex situation and the multiple ways it could play out. Both my recent books, The Unexpected Son and The Reluctant Matchmaker,are purely fictional, but rooted in reality. Having an out-of-wedlock child was taboo in the 1970s, and yet it happened to some respectable Indian women. The Unexpected Son is my take on how a middle-aged woman who had given birth to an illegitimate child as a result of a youthful indiscretion deals with the trauma of once again facing her demons from thirty years ago. The Reluctant Matchmaker too is an entirely possible scenario: a petite girl falls in love with an exceptionally tall man who is adamant about finding a suitably tall wife.
“What if?” is always the big question I like to toss around in my mind, then I throw in some intriguing conflicts and/or controversies. After that the possibilities become endless.
NAW- How do you carry out research for your books? Do you write in one go or randomly? Take us through your writing process.
Unlike many authors whom I admire, I am not a very disciplined writer. I usually start a novel with a mere germ of an idea floating in my mind, write several chapters, but end up making impulsive changes midway. Consequently I need to go back and fix the storyline and timeline to adapt to the new twists I introduce on a whim. Then there are those inevitable bouts of writer’s block to contend with. All of the above issues make my writing process rather erratic, but curiously it works itself out in the end.
As for research, I do most of it online, but consult experts only when reading alone is not adequate to craft a credible story. For example, in The Unexpected Son, the protagonist’s son is suffering from acute leukemia, therefore I consulted medical professionals to learn about the nuances of bone marrow transplants, chemo-therapy, and even malaria, which my Indian-American heroine accidentally contracts while she is visiting India to help her ailing son.
NAW- Your books are a unique blend in the sense that they address traditional issues that need to be questioned and yet they are a racy and breezy read. Was that deliberate on your part?
Blending serious conventional issues with lighter and sexier topics was a calculated risk I took very deliberately. For years I had been reading literary fiction by Indian-American authors and had wondered why they never wrote more fun, entertaining stories. While their books were beautifully written, they were mostly for intellectual minds and not mainstream readers seeking entertaining fiction. If Indian movies, with their emotion, drama, and adventure, have captivated the masses for decades, why not also give them books that mimic Bollywood to some degree? I always knew my unique medley of genres was risky and off the literary beaten path, but thankfully my brand of ethnic fiction has worked well for me so far.
NAW- How did you get published? Did you face any hurdles?
Hurdles were aplenty in my literary career. When I initially started writing it was merely a hobby. I did not have any plans to become a published author. But after I decided to explore the possibility of getting published I was shocked to discover how difficult it was to break into the world of fiction, at least in the US, where Indian-American writers are prolific. With celebrated literary names like Jhumpa Lahiri, Kiran Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, and Chitra Divakaruni established firmly in the fiction arena, how could a new mainstream writer like me even dream of approaching venerable agents and publishers with their intimidating 98 percent rejection rates? And yet, I naively ventured to query some agents. After several rejections I amazingly landed one of the top literary agents in the country, Elaine Koster. She was an icon in the American publishing industry, having launched the careers of authors like Stephen King, Erica Jong, and Khaled Hossieni, to name a few. She sold the rights to all my books to Kensington Publishing of New York. Sadly Elaine passed away in 2010, but she will always remain my hero for recognizing the potential in my “Bollywood in a book” concept and introducing it to North-American readers.
NAW- You have touched upon marriage, dowry and many other social practices prevalent among Indians in your books. What themes do you wish to tackle in your forthcoming works?
As a sociology student I was always passionate about women’s issues in contemporary India, so I naturally decided to incorporate these social themes into my fiction. They not only add drama to the books but they also bring awareness to these practices that continue to plague Indian society, despite its impressive technological and economic advances. About forthcoming books: currently I am taking a long hiatus from writing, so there are no new projects in the pipeline. But I would like to try my hand at romantic mysteries sometime in the future.
NAW- This is a personal question. You had an arranged marriage and you believe in destiny too (so it says on your website). If one believes in destiny, then hasn’t destiny selected our life partner for us already? Why interfere with it by going for an artificial arrangement through an arranged marriage.
Yes, I believe in destiny, and to that end I think even the very process of arrangement becomes a part of one’s journey. There is a pre-determined pattern to life, whether it is marriage, education, or career. Arranging events to follow that ordained design is simply following the essential steps in that natural progression and not exactly artifice. I believe I was meant to be born in a certain community and family, to a chosen set of parents, who then found me a suitable husband (already fated to be my life partner) at that specific time in my life, and so on. In my opinion, even my late-in-life writing career, although serendipitous, was meant to be. Of course, this is strictly my peculiar personal philosophy and not meant to be a generalization – LOL.
NAW- Tell us about your other works.
At the moment I am working on the final edits for my fourth book to be released in India by Fingerprint Publishing. The Full Moon Bride is a quirky romantic tale of a highly successful New York lawyer whose personal life is not as rosy because she has major hang-ups about her plain looks and her rejection by several suitors. Consumed by her fixations, she is shocked when finally an attractive young playwright shows genuine interest in her. She just doesn’t know how to handle his engaging wit, handsome looks, and endearing personality, and her steadily growing attraction to him.
Two more of my novels, The Forbidden Daughter and The Dowry Bride, will be published sometime later this year by Fingerprint Publishing.
NAW-What do you do when you are not writing?
I have a very active social and family life. When I started writing some years ago, I had a demanding full-time career, therefore I had to make time at dawn and late nights to accommodate my hectic writing schedule. Juggling two exacting careers was indeed a challenge. However, I retired recently from my full-time job and also put my writing on hold to spend more time with my two young grandchildren and travelling around the world with my husband.
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
I am not working on any new novels at this time, but since Fingerprint Publishing in India bought the rights to all six of my existing books I am actively involved in the editing process with their editors. Three of these books have already been published in India, and garnered great reviews to date. Meanwhile I am often invited to address book clubs, library groups, and women’s organizations in the US, in person or via Skype. Recently I met a readers’ group in South Africa through Skype, so I look forward to future online interaction with more international book clubs. This type of personal communication with my readers is one of the most enjoyable ways of promoting my books. Additionally I continue to write guest blogs and articles for some online sites. But my grandchildren are the most delightful part of my life right now.