Monday, October 01, 2007

Start Small…By Shobhan Bantwal

When I first decided to write women's romantic fiction based in India, I had to ask myself two basic questions: First, do American readers know anything about the life of an average middle-class Indian? Second, as a Hindu woman in her fifties, especially one who had an old-fashioned arranged marriage, what did I know about writing for mainstream American readers?

Not many American readers and moviegoers know a lot about Indian culture. The reason for this is because Indian writers and moviemakers have not been effective in portraying the true face of India to American audiences. The real India lies somewhere in between the glitz and glamour of Bollywood (Bombay Hollywood) movies and the poverty and despair of serious literary novels and documentaries.

As far as writing was concerned, I knew I was a good writer. But a published writer suggested that I start on a small scale first to test the waters, so I started writing short freelance articles about living in America for a number of Indian-American publications. They were received very well.

This minor taste of success led to short stories. Imagine my surprise when one of my stories won first place in a fiction competition and two others won honorable mention. Not bad, considering I was competing with hundreds of entries. Therefore I decided to take a short creative writing course at my local community college, which in turn led to aspirations of becoming a novelist.

But what was I going to write about? Most of my fellow Indian authors were well-known for writing highly literary novels that are about a slice of life or the human condition. I wanted to write what I enjoyed reading: women's fiction with strong romantic elements. But if I went against the grain, would anyone want to read the kind of fiction I wanted to write? After some deliberation I thought I would take up the challenge anyway.

At first my queries ended up in a lot of rejections. I realized my pitch letter was uninspiring, so I polished up the query and started the process all over again. All of a sudden I had a flurry of interest. Three offers of representation! I took what I thought was the best offer from Stephanie Lehamann of The Elaine Koster Agency from New York City, the agency that represents the literary sensation, Khaled Hosseini of The Kite Runner fame. I couldn't ask for a better agent since Stephanie herself is a multi-published chicklit author. She sold THE DOWRY BRIDE to Kensington Books in a two-book deal.

I had succeeded in doing what I had set out to do: convince myself and the world that it is possible for a 50 something Indian woman to write romantic fiction. Starting out on a small scale as a novice writer is probably the best advice I received, and I continue to give it to other aspiring authors: Dream Big but Start Small.

You can learn more about Shobhan and her writing at her website.


Dorothy said...

Interview looks GREAT! Thanks, Jean!

Cheryl said...

What great advice! Thank you for sharing with us. I wish you all the best.

Cheryl M.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for hosting me, ladies. You have some great advice from some wonderful writers. Keep up the good work!

Shobhan Bantwal