[Interview] Shobhan Bantwal

Novelist and playwright, Shobhan Bantwal has a master's degree in public administration from Rider University and works for a government agency in New Jersey.

She was born and raised in Belgaum, a small town in Southwestern India and moved to the United States, as a young bride, in an arranged marriage.

The Dowry Bride (Kensington Books, 2007) is her first published novel.

Bantwal also writes plays in Konkani, her mother tongue and performs them on stage at Indian-American conventions. Her short fiction and other articles have been published in newspapers and magazines that include India Abroad, DesiJournal.com, Sulekha.com and New Woman India.

In a recent interview, she spoke about her writing.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

The Dowry Bride is my first book. It was published by Kensington Books on August 28. The book is based on India's notorious dowry system and its atrocities but it also tells a tale of hope, triumph and the resilience of the human spirit.

I categorize it as mainstream women's fiction with romantic elements. It doesn't really seem to fit into a particular genre for some reason.

My target audience is women of all ages, ethnic groups and religious affiliations. Although, l have had many men who have given me marvelous feedback about how much they enjoyed the book.

How long did it take you to write The Dowry Bride?

My books have to do with Indian culture, its colors, textures and cuisine, and the Hindu religion. That's what I grew up with. I had an arranged marriage more than three decades ago, and all those factors influence my writing directly or indirectly.

The Dowry Bride is set in India and tells the story of one young woman trapped in India's arranged marriage and dowry system and her escape and extraordinary journey to freedom and hope.

It took me about a year to write and edit and re-edit it. It took me longer to find a reputable agent and then sell the book. Kensington Books bought the rights to it in April 2006 in a two-book contract.

The Dowry Bride was published on Aug. 28, 2007 in the U.S. and Canada.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Writing the chapters that are in the points of view of the males was a real challenge.

I've written the thoughts of two male characters, a young man who's in love with the protagonist, and an older man who wants to help her but is helpless to do so because he's weak and caves under societal pressures.

Which did you enjoy most?

Creating the main character, Megha, was a lot of fun.

Putting myself in her shoes and in her mind gave me an opportunity to see a familiar world from a different perspective. Suddenly the small town in which I grew up in India wasn't quite the same when seen through Megha's sad but discerning eyes. I experienced all of Megha's joy, humor, pain and hope.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

The Dowry Bride deals with a dark and controversial topic, unlike the short stories and other books I've written.

The similarity is in the genre -- mainstream women's fiction with strong romantic elements.

I am rolling around some ideas for the next book with my editor at Kensington. It'll definitely be set in India. That much I know, but the story is something I've yet to start work on.

What motivated you to start writing?

I took up writing rather late in life -- around the age of 50. I call it my "menopausal epiphany" because I hadn't written anything creative before that. I believe my yo-yoing hormones kicked into creative gear for some reason.

I started on a small scale to get my feet wet.

At the age of 50, I enrolled in a creative writing class. The Dowry Bride was actually the short story for my homework project. Then I started writing articles for a number of Indian-American publications.

The next step was short stories. Imagine my astonishment when three of my stories won awards and honors. That's when I got more ambitious and decided to turn The Dowry Bride into a full-length novel.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

I enjoy women's fiction books in the same vein as mine written by other authors, like Dorothy Garlock, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell and Barbara Delinsky.

Dorothy Garlock, with her simple heroines, who are heroes in the true sense of the word. Her books are set in small towns and deal with ordinary folks, but her stories are extraordinary. By the way, Dorothy very kindly gave me a wonderful blurb for my cover immediately after I asked her. It's a kindness I'll never forget.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

That I may not be able to reach as wide an audience as I would like by boxing myself into the "romance" genre, which seems to be the general perception about The Dowry Bride for some reason. I don't consider myself a pure romance writer and I don't want to be called one.

[Also, there is] the potential bias some readers might have regarding reading about an alien culture, or a particular genre.

I'm afraid people very often get hooked on one type of genre or certain authors and they rarely steer away from them. In the end, it's not so much the advertising that counts; its word of mouth that sells a book in large numbers.

Do you write every day?

Unfortunately with a full-time job and a hectic social life, I can't write every day. Also, my creativity often takes a vacation, so I write whenever I can. Some weeks it's 10 hours and others it's a lot less. I don't have a typical writing week.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.


Anjali Kaur said…
I enjoyed reading "The Dowry Bride". Starting from the very opening line to last word on the closing page. And reading that you entered the writing arena late in life gives me hope that pursing my dreams a 50. Are so wild and just might be the door that was unseen. I am looking forward to your next book.

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