Sonali Dev – The Business of Joy

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Romance, The Business of Joy

One of the teachings of Hindu philosophy is that the true nature of the human soul is bollywood affairjoyous. Our natural state or our ‘default setting’ as human beings is Joy, and all suffering arises when we allow our inner selves to transform into other non-joyous states, forcing our inner selves into states from which they must struggle to find their way back to Joy.

I know, sounds incredibly simplistic, especially since joy often feels like such a nebulous emotion to capture with words. But really, is there a simpler, more relatable thing in the world? When I attempt to list the things that bring me joy, I go from having my face slurp-licked by my puppy, to sitting in my sunroom and writing, to staring out at the Rockies across Lake Louise in Banff, to watching my teenagers do something insightful and sensitive spontaneously.

It’s a many splendored thing, this joy business, and for many years I scoffed at the philosophy that choosing and nurturing joy was at the heart of happiness. But then I started to realize that the happiest people I know repeatedly make the choice to love when they could hate, stay calm when they could get angry, and forgive when they could stew. The whole thing about positive people being happier and more successful than negative people, isn’t just the stuff of quotes-of-the-day.

“So what does all of this have to do with reading and writing romance?” you ask. Well, Bollywood-Affairtrue joy, the kind that bursts in your heart and makes you want to throw open your arms and spin around singing, is a form of love. You can’t feel joyous if you don’t feel love: love for yourself, for the world you live in, for those around you, for your puppy, for the things you do.  Love begets joy. See where I’m going with this?

And no, the romance genre might be set within the structure of romantic love, but it really is about love in all its many-facetted glory. The best kind of romance novels aren’t about hooking a guy or a girl (sorry, critics of the genre). What they are about is learning to love yourself, learning to find healing, and learning to make the choice to love when you could hate, to stay calm when you could get angry, and to forgive when you could be stuck in an endless cycle of repeating the mistakes that keep you from finding happiness. And no, I’m not boiling down the journey of finding happiness into the act of finding love. What I am filtering it down to is finding joy. Coming a step closer to our natural human state by reconciling/rejecting the struggles our inner selves get mired in and finding a state of joy where it becomes possible to love and be loved.

This inner journey is why I read romance, why I write it, why I love it with such passion. Other genres focus primarily on the fight between good and evil outside of ourselves. And that’s all good and dandy, but romance novels zero in on the building blocks of the larger worlds other genres are working to save. They focus on saving hearts, one at a time.

Ubiquitous as joy is,  pinning it down when our world spins past us with such purposeful speed isn’t easy. The opportunities to stop and soak up all that is joyous as we chase joy seem ironically sparse. When I read I’m allowing myself a moment to pause, to let myself fall- into joy, into pain, into all the things that make us human. A really good book layers the characters’ experiences on top of my own and makes me aware of how I process them. It becomes not just about the words on the page, or the story those words spin, but about all that it invokes inside me, all the emotions it touches, all the questions it raises, all the beliefs it challenges or reinforces.

A really good romance takes me through the experience of overcoming adversity to heal all that keeps holding me back from joy and helps me grow within myself that which is needed to let love in. Those who don’t get Romance, or don’t see it as anything but escapism, miss the point of it by miles. Romances are relevant at the most personal level, because not everyone can catch killers, win wars, or save planets, but every single one of us, wants to, needs to, and can find joy and consequently love.

Recommendations:

Suleikha Snyder: One of the first Indian commercial fiction authors I ever read was Shobha De and when I read Suleikha I get that same sense of gritty realness I remember from De’s books. Her characters are dark, troubled, and unapologetic, as is her writing, and you emerge from her books feeling as though you were starkly and totally immersed in her world. 

Joanna Shupe: Joanna’s trilogy was the best debut of 2015, in my opinion. In fact, I think her books are the most delightful, hot, and smart historical romances I’ve discovered since Tessa Dare. Her characters are all spunk and social justice with their tongues firmly thrust into their cheeks. Just the kind of writing I can’t get enough of. (Joanna did Read-A-Romance Month content on her site. Read it here.)

Hanna Martine: I love paranormal romances, but the single most important thing for me when I read them is relatability. The world has to feel like one I can slip into but also one I want to slip into. Hanna Martine’s Elementals world is incredibly well set up and absorbing with spot on metaphors for racism and colonization. Plus, her writing and and her settings are so transporting that emerging from her books is almost disorienting. (Hanna did RARM content too! Read hers here.) 

Sonali is also a huge proponent of writers from South Asia. Here are some of her friends and favorites:

Suleikha Snyder   |  Kishan Paul   |    Ayesha Patel 

Falguni Kothari   |   Mina Khan (read Mina’s post here)

Thanks Mina, Joanna & Hanna!

Sonali is generously giving away an ARC of The Bollywood Bride and a pair of handmade Indian earrings. (U.S. only, apologies to international friends.)


Questions for the Author:

Tell us about a moment in your life when you experienced sheer joy. 

This moment when I’m writing a piece for RARM where so many of my writing idols are featured is pretty darned joyous. It’s one of those things that you dream of doing some day when you’re aspiring. One of the little dreams that defines your big dream. And hello, I’m posting on the same day as the very person because of whom I knew I was going to write romance, Lisa Kleypas! As a moment of sheer joy, what could get better than that?

Tell us about a place that brings you joy, or is attached to a memory of joy.

I’m in Mumbai right now visiting my parents in the home I grew up in. It’s been two decades since I left my parents’ house, but the feeling of home I get when I’m in my parents’ house, especially their room is indescribable. It’s this feeling of all the weight of effort sliding right off my shoulders, all filters gone, of being utterly accepted and entirely myself. It’s the kind of joy that’s the most precious of gifts.

Tell us about a sound that brings you joy.

It’s really quite a joyous coincidence that I am writing this while in India, because as an immigrant you have two parallel sets of memories that invoke entirely different facets of the same feeling. In startling contrast to the quiet of my suburban life in America (which I love), India is rife with sound. Noise pollution is the uninterrupted, loud background score to urban life here (think blasting horns and squeaking breaks and growling engines) but there’s another layer of sound— the call of birds. A mix of coos and chirps and chimes, a medley of notes with a cadence ranging from staccato and rhythmic to lilting and operatic in its endlessly held breath. It’s almost as though the birds have adapted and evolved to be louder than anywhere else in the world in an effort to be heard over all the noise. If there ever was a sound that could instantly transport me to a place if joy, it’s this symphony of birdcalls that my ears thankfully have remembered how to discern.

What recent book have you read that brought you joy. (Or a book you read in your life that brought you so much joy you’ve never forgotten it.) Why?

This is the hardest question because three minutes after I answer it I’ll think of another book. Because reading is the most joyous of experiences for me. I find Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ and Kristan Higgins’ books incredibly fun, because their characters are just so buoyant of spirit and so funny. Another book that I could read anytime and it just lifts up my mood is Bridget Jones’ Diary.

And for fun, the joy of choice ~

Pick your Chris! Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, Chris Rock, Chris Evans or Christopher Plummer (circ. 1964 aka Capt. Von Trapp?) – trying for a little diversity! ;o)

It’s a toss up between Chris Pine (there’s just something about cocky, irrepressible men) and Chris Rock (a man who can make me laugh while making wicked social commentary? Come on!)

Sonali is generously giving away an ARC of The Bollywood Bride and a pair of handmade Indian earrings. 


SonaliAward winning author, Sonali Dev, writes Bollywood-style love stories that let her explore issues faced by women around the world while still indulging her faith in a happily ever after. Sonali’s debut novel, A Bollywood Affair, was one of Library Journal and NPR’s Best Books of 2014. It won the American Library Association’s award for best romance, is a RITA Finalist, RT Reviewer Choice Award Nominee, and winner of the RT Seal of Excellence. Sonali lives in the Chicago suburbs with her very patient and often amused husband and two teens who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog. Find out more at sonalidev.com.

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