Interview with Author Shobhan Bantwal

Mini Bio for Shobhan Bantwal:

I was born and raised in India and came to the U.S. as a young arranged-marriage bride 34 years ago. I have embraced American culture and the U.S. has been my home all my adult life. Arranged marriage is an exotic and odd concept for most Americans, but in my culture it is the norm. Most marriages like mine are happy and satisfying. My late-in-life writing career has somehow made me appreciate my marriage and my family more than ever.

It’s rare today to find an author who does nothing but write for a living. Do you have a ‘real’ job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you’ve had in your life?

Shobhan Bantwal: I wish I could afford to write full-time, but economically it is not an option at this time in my life. I have a day job with the state government. I supervise a statewide program and my job is demanding, so I often come home too tired to concentrate on writing, but I try to write at least a little each day to keep the momentum going. I don’t want to get into a complete slump, which is easy to get into if I don’t watch myself.

What compelled you to write your first book?

Shobhan Bantwal: I had never really aspired to become a writer, nor had I written a creative word until I hit the age of 50. I call my writing career my “menopausal epiphany” because I discovered my muses so late in life. It was a combination of mid-life crisis and empty-nest syndrome that led me to take up writing as a hobby. Little by little I progressed from non-fiction articles to short stories to full-length novels.

Tell us a little bit about your book/s.

Shobhan Bantwal: The experts say one should write what one knows, so until now I have adhered to what I know: my Indian culture and its innumerable and colorful elements that can be quite fascinating for folks from other cultures. My debut book, THE DOWRY BRIDE, which was released by Kensington Publishing last year, was about the dowry system in India. This latest book, THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER, is about gender-based abortions and their potential impact on society. I am a feminist at heart, so writing about a controversial social issue, especially if it affects women, is a work of passion for me. Combining social topics with a romantic and intriguing storyline is particularly fascinating for me. In both my books, I have aimed to do exactly that – educating and entertaining my readers at the same time. The Forbidden Daughter has already received some great reviews.

Have you ever won any writing awards? If so, what?

Shobhan Bantwal: Yes. I won First Place in a short fiction competition sponsored by New Woman magazine in India in 2005. I have also won Honorable Mention in short story contests run by Writer’s Digest and New York Stories magazines in 2002.

How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?

Shobhan Bantwal: It was a magical moment, second only to holding your first-born in your arms right after he/she is born. After hours of hard, grueling work, which includes crafting, plotting, editing, revising and re-editing, followed by the frustrating hunt for an agent, it is indeed a joy to behold the end product, especially when the cover has one’s own child on it. The Dowry Bride’s cover photo is of my daughter, dressed in all her wedding finery.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?

Shobhan Bantwal: Reading great books by other authors who write prolifically and with passion is probably the most inspiring thing for me. No matter how busy I am with both my regular job and my writing career, I always make time to read a little each day, at least as a motivator if nothing else.

What about your family? Do you have children, married, siblings, parents? Has your family been supportive of your writing?

Shobhan Bantwal: I have a wonderfully loyal family. My parents are deceased, but I have three married sisters (a fourth passed away recently) who are solidly behind my writing career. My husband of 35 years is just about the best thing in my life. He is so supportive of my efforts that he went out and learned how to develop and maintain websites so he could be my webmaster. He keeps track of my expenses and the business end of the writing so I don’t have to worry about it. Then there is my married daughter, her husband, and their baby girl. They are a joy and my inspiration.

The main characters of your stories – do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?

Shobhan Bantwal: Both my protagonists are completely different from me. I’m extroverted, very outspoken, and I have a fiery temper, the very opposite of my main characters. And yet, there is a little something of me in my female characters, some small piece of me that I can’t pinpoint. I like to put myself in my characters’ shoes and imagine what goes on in their minds as they face their challenges, their joys and their sorrows.

When growing up, did you have a favorite author, book series, or book?

Shobhan Bantwal: While I was growing up in semi-rural India in the 1950s and 60s, we had mostly British books, Enid Blyton, Schoolgirls’ Picture Library and such. As a teenager I enjoyed mysteries and romances. But my all-time favorite book was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I still have a copy of it.

What about now: who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?

Shobhan Bantwal: My tastes still run toward romantic mysteries, thrillers, contemporary romances, and women’s fiction. Judith McNaught, Nora Roberts, Jayne Anne Krentz, and Linda Howard are some of my favorites.

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now – city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?

Shobhan Bantwal: I was born and raised in Belgaum, a small town in southwestern India. The fictitious town in both my novels, Palgaum, is actually Belgaum, with some variations that I put in as artistic license. Now I live in a typical northeast U.S. suburb. If I could live anywhere, it would be Hawaii. Something about the beauty and weather in Hawaii beckons me often.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?

Shobhan Bantwal: My husband and I share a small home office, which is one of the spare bedrooms in our home. We have our separate desks, lamps, and computers. With bookshelves, a futon (a castoff from our daughter’s college dorm days), a coffee table, and a file-cabinet vying for space, it is rather cramped, but it suits us just fine. As long as the inspiration to write stays with me, I don’t mind the small quarters.

Do you watch television? If so, what are your favorite shows? Does television influence of inspire your writing?

Shobhan Bantwal: I watch very little television, no more than a little news in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings. Since I don’t watch prime time shows, there is nothing that comes from television that inspires my writing. But news stories often provide good fodder for novel ideas.

Is there any one particular book that when you read it, you thought to yourself, “Man, I wish I’d written that one!”?

Shobhan Bantwal: If there is one book that I totally connected with and wished I had written myself, it is Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. I just loved that book. I dearly wish I had written that one. In fact I liked it so much that I queried his literary agent and she signed me up as a client. How serendipitous is that?

What is your main goal or purpose you would like to see accomplished by your writing?

Shobhan Bantwal: With my books, I aim to educate, inform, and entertain at the same time, and that is why I introduce so many cultural elements from India and from my Hindu religion. A burning social issue can become more interesting if it is interwoven with a good plot and characters and turned into fiction.

How has having a book published changed your life?

Shobhan Bantwal: Having my book published has not just changed my life, it has taken over it entirely. I am consumed by it, especially the marketing phase, which takes time, effort, money and space. It is undoubtedly a challenge, but a worthwhile on in the long run.

Have you ever had a character take over a story and move it in a different direction than you had originally intended? How did you handle it?

Shobhan Bantwal: Many of my characters tend to go in a different direction than I had intended. But I don’t resist their tugging away from me because it is a lot of fun to let them wander. In fact, they have provided some interesting twists to my stories, things I had never dreamt of originally. Characters do have a mind of their own sometimes.

Is there any lesson or moral you hope your story might reveal to those who read it?

Shobhan Bantwal: I like to tell stories that include the universal sentiments of love, hope, and the resilience of the human spirit. The fact that “there is hope” is one of the morals I try to throw into my stories.

Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where?

Shobhan Bantwal: Since my home is in New Jersey, I have a number of author events coming up within the next several weeks. My kickoff book discussion and signing is at the Barnes & Noble in Princeton, New Jersey on September 4th, 2008, at 7:00 PM. There are other events that are listed on my website: www.shobhanbantwal.com under the events page.

It’s said that the editing process of publishing a novel with a publisher is can be grueling and often more difficult than actually writing the story. Do you think this is true for you? How did you feel about editing your masterpiece?

Shobhan Bantwal: So far, I have been lucky. I did not have to do any revising. My editor was very good about this aspect although my agent was not that easy on me. But I have a feeling I am not going to be quite that lucky with my next few projects.

Now, use this space to tell us more about who you. Anything you want your readers to know. Include information on where to find your books, any blogs you may have, or how a reader can learn more about you and writing.

I love connecting with my readers. I personally reply every email that I get through my website. So I encourage all my readers to contact me with their comments. I am giving away a “Dowry Bag” to one winner in a drawing through my website www.shobhanbantwal.com through the end of September to celebrate the release of THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER. I also have short stories, articles, book excerpts, book trailers, recipes, and photographs from India on my site. So do visit the website when you find the time. Thank you for an interesting interview. I appreciate your time and enthusiasm.

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