What a treat it has been for me to meet and sit down with debut author and fellow Tuligan, Sapna Srinivasan. Sapna lives in Seattle, WA with her perfectionist husband and perfect daughter. Her name in Hindi means “dream” and true to its meaning, Sapna finds gratification in dreams and storytelling. She was born in southern India, raised in northern India, and spent the better part of her adult life in the United States. She, therefore, unabashedly clutches her Indian roots while embracing the American in herself. She loves to cook traditional Indian food and, yes, she uses cilantro in practically everything. When she isn’t cooking, writing, or being intellectually stumped by her daughter, she may be found running down the nearest trail by her Pacific Northwest home. The inspiration for her debut novel, A New Mantra, has been her own journey as both a woman of color and a runner, the latter being a sport that was introduced to her by her husband.
N: Welcome to the blog, Sapna. I’m so delighted to have you with us today. So, first question, what comes first—characters or plot?
A: I’m sure this is subjective. But for me, characters dictate the narrative.
N: You’ve brought your Indian roots to your new series, The Sood Family. What is the most surprising thing you discovered about yourself while writing A New Mantra?
A: I realized I’m braver than I thought I was. I didn’t think I had it in me to put myself—my work out there for the world to see, critique, possibly judge. It’s one thing to dream of becoming a published writer. It’s quite another to become one.
N: A New Mantra releases April 21. Can you share with us something about this new story that isn’t in the blurb?
A: Well, I love to cook. I started cooking when I was about twenty, and there are little snapshots of my love of cooking layered into the story—and in my heroine, Mira Sood.
N: Give me three words to describe your heroine Mira and three to describe hero Andy.
A: Okay, this is a hard one, because I’m so not a three-word type communicator. But here goes nothing…Mira is brave (but she doesn’t know it). She’s strong (but she doesn’t know it). She’s beautiful (but she doesn’t know it). And Andy is committed, principled, and, well, smokin’ hot.
N: What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?
A: I hope this book will have the same effect on my readers as it did on me. I hope they will walk away from it feeling stronger, braver, and with a deeper belief in themselves than before.
N: What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
A: I’m my closest ally when I write because I’m privy to my strengths. But I’m also my greatest critic—I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings. If I don’t find the balance inside my brain between these two sides, I’m in trouble. Because usually, the self-critic in me wins every argument, every arm-wrestle, hands down, against my self-confidence. Containing that self-criticism and all the self-doubt that comes with it, while letting in just enough of it to hone my craft is probably my greatest challenge when I write.
N: What is the toughest criticism you’ve received as a writer? The best compliment?
A: Wow, that’s a good one. Toughest criticism is a hard one considering I’ve got a buffet of options to choose from. The one that stands out is a two word response I received to the very first query I sent out to a literary agent over a decade ago. It was a huge moment in my life. I had just finished my first novel after working on it a few years. It was the first query of my life and I remember how hard it was to hit that “Send” button, but I did. I received a reply ten minutes later from the literary agent: “No, thanks.” That was a tough first-pill to swallow.
The best compliment would have to be when I pitched my book to Meghan Farrell of Tule Publishing at a writers’ conference and she asked to read my full manuscript. That moment was one of the best moments of my life.
N: I know A New Mantra is book 1 in your Sood Family series. Want to give us a sneak peek at whose book is next?
A: Oh, sure! Book 2, A Rebel’s Mantra, spotlights Laila Sood who is Mira’s cousin and confidant in A New Mantra. It’s slated to release July 12, 2022. More info on it may be found on the Tule site here: https://tulepublishing.com/books/a-rebels-mantra/ or on my website, here: www.sapnasrinivasan.com.
N: Writing can be an emotional, stressful pursuit. Any tips for aspiring writers?
A: From personal experience I’d say writing is a constant learning process. It’s important for us writers to acknowledge that fact. To me good writer is someone who writes well. A great writer is someone who strives to write better. So, knowing when to cheer myself on, but also knowing when to take a step back and reflect on my own writing in a way that I can hone my craft is something I’ve relied on heavily through my journey as a writer. It’s not an easy balance to strike, it’s evasive. But I think it’s still key.
N: What did you want to be when you grew up?
A: How predictable would it sound if I said I knew in my heart, for as long as I can remember, that I wanted to be a writer? I could try and ease the cringe-factor by adding that I also briefly considered being a flight attendant when I was about twelve.
N: Favorite book when you were a kid?
A: I remember being really into Nancy Drew. And I was obsessed with Archie Comics, especially the Archie and Friends, and the Betty and Veronica Best Friends Forever series. This was a rather unconventional fetish for an Indian girl back in the 1990s. I came from a traditional Indian family, and reading books about crushing and kissing was a big no-no. Not to mention, each comic cost about fifty rupees, which was not a cheap deal. But I used to save up my pocket allowance and buy a couple used books to read, then I’d resell those to a second-hand book seller down the street and buy another two. It was a good system. Worked like a charm!
N: And here is my signature question that everyone loves: If you could choose three people, living or dead, to invite to a dinner party, who would they be and why?
A: Jane Austen—I can’t party without Jane by my side, I love her; Helen Mirren—I just finished watching The Queen, followed by Eye in the Sky, so Helen’s on my mind. Plus something tells me she’d set the standard for table-manners and who doesn’t want that at their dinner party? And third would be my daughter, Noyonika, because she’s my first mate in life, and at all social gatherings.
A New Mantra
When 30-year-old Seattle-based Indian housewife Mira Sood is blindsided by her husband’s extramarital affair, her three-year arranged marriage is shattered. Humiliated, heartbroken, near-broke, and facing the united dissension of her orthodox family, Mira is desperate to rebuild her life. She moves in with her rebel cousin, searches for any job that will take her, and impulsively signs up for a half-marathon race. There’s just one problem—Mira’s experience with running starts and ends with running to catch the bus.
With herself as her biggest critic and doubter, Mira commits to the race and is assisted by entrepreneur Andy Fitzgerald, a handsome, elite marathoner who helps her create a training schedule and personal goals. When the lines of friendship begin to blur, Mira realizes she’s facing an even bigger challenge.
Can Mira embrace her stronger, more independent self—risking another heartbreak and disappointing her family—or will she once again play it too safe and let the possibility of happiness slip away?