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.


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

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  • Jennifer C

    I loved reading about you, Sonali! The cover of your book is gorgeous!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Jennifer! I have to admit that I madly love my cover artist and the gorgeous covers she comes up with.

  • Beautiful essay! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about The Bollywood Bride! I just added it to my TBR list. Thanks for the great recommendations too! So many new authors to try! I can’t wait!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks! This is why I love RARM. Hard as it is on the TBR (yay!)) Hope you enjoy Bride!

  • Dorothy Salvagin

    I have the “Affair” sitting on my TBR pile. It just got sent to the top.

    • Sonali Dev

      Yay! Thanks! I hope you enjoy it.

  • Rashda/Mina Khan

    Awesome essay Sonali (you made me miss desh!) and thank you for the kind mention. You’re right, joy is so hard define and comes in so many forms!

    • Sonali Dev

      Hey darling! Your writing is beautiful and I’m proud to mention it. Hugs,

  • Beth K. Vogt

    “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.” So appreciated this insight, Sonali!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Beth! Such a work in progress we are, right? Thanks so much for stopping by.

  • Patty Vasquez

    Sonali, your essay really strikes a chord in me. As a teacher, instead of counting to 10 when I need to find an extra measure of patience, I go into my head and briefly think about the romance novel I’m presently reading. When I think about the heroine and hero, their love, or their journey, I usually find the patience- and love- I need to deal with a tough situation.

    • Sonali Dev

      That’s lovely, Patty. And so much more fun than counting. Thanks for all your support. I truly appreciate it!

  • What a beautiful essay! Through the peaks and valleys of my many years of life, I have always given thanks for the lessons I learned at my grandmother’s knee: to choose forgiveness, love myself, remain calm and embrace joy. It really does open the door to a happy life. It was lovely meeting you last week at RWA. I’m excited to read The Bollywood Bride, especially after listening to you read from the book at Lady Jane’s Salon!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, PJ! Lovely meeting you too and what a lovely evening that was. One of my favorite readings ever.

  • Judy Goodnight

    “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.” YES! How can we truly love others if we cannot love ourselves? How can we heal others if we cannot heal ourselves? Excellent essay!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thank you, Judy! No genre does personal growth the way romance does and I love it all the more for it.

  • Anna

    This: “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.” Wow. Brilliant, amazing, and *thank you!!*

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Anna! What a lovely theme to get to explore, right? Definitely why I read and write Romance.

  • Karen Mikusak

    Beautiful book cover! Would love to win.

    • Sonali Dev

      Good Luck, Karen! I hope you win! 🙂

  • Linda Henderson

    You are a new to me author but I love finding new stories to read. I’ll put your books on my wish list.

    • Sonali Dev

      Thank you, Linda! I’d love to hear what you think of them.

  • jcp smith

    Thank you for the giveaway!

    • Sonali Dev

      Pleasure! Good Luck!

  • Texas Book Lover

    I absolutely adored the Bollywood Affair and this essay is brilliant as well! Can’t wait to read the Bollywood Bride!

    • Sonali Dev

      Yay! So glad you enjoyed it! Can’t wait to hear what you think of Bride.

  • Dawn Anderson

    You’re new to me, but I’d love to read your books. P.S. I love your covers.

    • Sonali Dev

      Hi Dawn! I’ve love for you to read them 🙂 And gosh, I do love my covers (and my cover artist!)

  • Sharon Hrycewicz

    I was just blessed with an ARC of The Bollywood Bride. The tone is different than The Bollywood Affair, but it was amazing. I so enjoy Sonali’s books. Look them up, you won’t be sorry!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Sharon! And yes, I keep warning people that the two books are very different. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. (yay!)

  • Christyna

    Thanks for your lovely story and novels!!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Christyna! Definitely my pleasure!

  • Melisa Safchinsky

    Can wait to read The Bollywood Affair!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Melisa! Can’t wait for you to read it!

  • mariannewestrich

    Look forward to reading your books.

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks! You must let me know what you think when you do.

  • catslady

    Great contest and love getting to know more authors.

    • Sonali Dev

      I love RARM! What a month it’s going to be!

  • Diana Michelle Tidlund

    great getting to know new authors like yourself

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Diana, for taking the time to get to know us!

  • Michele Hayes

    I like finding authors that are new to me. Thanks for the

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Michele! Good Luck on the giveaway!

  • Sandy Xiong

    A Bollywood Affair sounds so interesting! Definitely adding this book and The Bollywood Bride onto my TBR list now.

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Sandy! Hope you enjoy!

  • Lorelei’s Lit Lair

    Darling Sonali, can I just say (again, for the 100th time) How much I LOVED your book, A Bollywood Affair. It is a thing of beauty. I’ve already read it twice. It’s on the Do-Not-Ever-Loan shelf, sitting next to my Kristan Higgins *untouchable* collection. All kidding aside, it’s a story that made me feel, laugh, cry and root for these characters who are a new favorite couple, Samir and Milli.
    Now, I can’t wait to read your upcoming book. I’ve reserved a spot for it next to ABA 😉

    • Sonali Dev

      You’re the best, Lorelei! And your love has meant everything! I’m so excited (and madly nervous) for you to read Bride. And Kristan, sigh! What can I say about sitting next to her on your collection, except THANK YOU!!

  • Kristan Higgins

    I’m so excited to read A Bollywood Bride, Sonali! And I can’t wait for our signing in Naperville! Enjoy your family! xox

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Kristan! And I can’t wait for If You Only Knew (like madly can’t wait). Is it August 26th yet? Monster hugs,

  • Kathy Nye

    I visited India more than twenty years ago and I loved every minute. I need to go back.

    • Sonali Dev

      Hi Kathy, I just got back and I feel like it changes so much every time I go. I can’t imagine how it will feel after twenty years.

  • Beautiful words! I haven’t read any of your books, but I hope to change that in the near future. I love the cover of your book that is coming out in September. Thanks for the giveaway.

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks Angela! I hope you enjoy them. And yes, I madly love the cover of The Bollywood Bride. (To let you in on a secret, I just saw the first proof of the next one, and I cannot wait to share that one, it’s so beautiful!)

  • Kathryn Trask

    I loved your first book and have your second one as an ARC to read. Enjoyed A Bollywood Affair, heard about it from Nalini Singh. Love SEP and K Higgins books too. So many wonderful romance writers. Just need the time to read!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Kathryn! My world basically comes to a standstill when Nalini, SEP or Kristan have a book out. Because seriously, nothing comes before reading their books. It’s the only downside of RARM– the TBR gets gargantuan!

  • Aleen D

    I totally agree with you, some people just don’t understand what it means to read romance. The common misconception that we are all lonely housewives is one of my biggest pet peeves!

    • Sonali Dev

      Hi Aleen, what could be farther from the truth, right? But, listen, we love it and that’s what counts!

  • BookLady

    What an interesting book! Lovely cover too. Chris Hemsworth is my choice.

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks! Those were tough choices. Impossible even.

  • Amy Livesay Hart

    Love getting to know “new to me” authors! Thanks!

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Amy! Me too. Best part of RARM!

  • LSUReader

    Thanks for the post. I’m not sure you can go wrong with these Chris choices, but I’ll choose Hemsworth, with Plummer a close second.

    • Sonali Dev

      Those were not fair choices, now that I think of it. Yes to Hemsworth and the good Captain.

  • LaurieL

    Really enjoyed A Bollywood Affair and am looking forward to your next book. I believe our default setting is joy and too many people accidentally or purposefully turn it off.

    • Sonali Dev

      So, true! And thank you!

  • Marcy Shuler

    You’re a new-to-me author and I enjoyed getting to know you a bit through your post.

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks, Marcy!

  • Kareni

    What an enjoyable post! I hope that you have a wonderful time with family and friends in Mumbai.

    • Sonali Dev

      Hi Kareni! It was great, but I might still be in a food coma. Thanks for visiting.

  • Eileen Aberman-Wells

    I loved A Bollywood Affair and am so looking forward to your next book!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this post.

  • Mary McCoy

    Loved Affair and look forward to reading Bride! Congrats on selling out your table at Barbara’s luncheon! See you in April!

  • Cindy A

    More new writers to read and enjoy. thanks!

  • carolaw41

    I love going to the shore and listening to the waves. My favorite book is FOR THE ROSES by Julie Garwood. My favotite Chris is Chris Hemsworth

  • Sara Underhill

    I haven’t read any of your books yet, but I enjoyed this post a lot, so I will have to keep you in mind! I adore the covers of both of your books, so I might even splurge for the paper versions, instead of Kindle like I typically do. 🙂

  • Range Girl

    I love the opening paragraph. Thanks for the words of wisdom.


  • Quinn Fforde

    What a beautiful definition of joy! Thank you.

  • Kai W.

    I haven’t read any of your books. You are a new author to me.

  • kirsten west

    Thanks for the giveaway

  • Marissa Yip-Young


  • Liz Araguás

    I loved A Bollywood Affair and I can’t wait to read the new book! Sonali Dev is a new favorite author for me, excited to see her profiled here

  • dholcomb1

    I love the feeling of “home,” too!

  • flchen1

    Thank you for sharing some of what joy is to you, Sonali! Romance is definitely much about the business of joy!

  • Deborah Favorito

    Thank you for your wonderful blog.

  • Sheryl N

    New author for me. Great post

  • Emily R.

    I love your description of the sounds of Mumbai. Makes me wish I could be there!

  • Flora Segura-Buchler

    You are a new author for me, Sonali, but I loved your essay and am looking forward to that great sounding book!

  • Karen

    Sonali your comment about feeling joy in your parents home touched me. I to have positive emotions when go to my childhood home. There is something magical about the sense of truly belonging to a place. One day I wish to travel to India. This has been on my bucket list since I was sixteen. I won’t go to visit your parents home. Yet maybe just maybe I’ll get to hear the magical sound of the beautiful birdcalls.

    • Sonali Dev

      Thanks so much for this, Karen! I hope that you get to go. Hugs,

  • Thank you so much for your inspiring words, Sonali!

  • Katherine Cummins

    What a wonderful way to look at things. I loved A Bollywood Affair and now I’m a little in love with Sonali Dev as well. Can’t wait to read more.

  • Sheila M

    I love your viewpoint. Bollywood Affair was great and I look forward to reading your next book!

  • Seanna Yeager

    I would love to give your books a try, a new to me author.

  • I’m so excited to read this! A Bollywood Affair was amazing.

  • Pamby50

    I loved Bollywood Affair!! I also agree with you about Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

  • rebecca moe

    I agree, A Bollywood Affair was soooo good! Can’t wait to read your second book. Thanks for posting, Sonali!