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Author Divya Sood on Why She Wrote a Romance Novel Focusing on the South Asian LGBT Community
She wants her book "Nights Like This" to have the impact she wanted when she read books that didn’t deliver the right representation.
In her book “Nights Like This,” author Divya Sood, 39, touches upon several intriguing themes—romance, complicated love triangles, identity. However, the most important asset is how it represents the South Asian LGBT community. Her story focuses on the love triangle between three characters—Jess, Anjani, and Vanessa.
Rarely does a book feature relationships between the South Asian LGBT community, especially one that is so intriguing and realistic on many levels. That was one of Sood’s motivation for “Nights Like This.” She said she wanted to write about love as honestly as she could.
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“I realized I wanted to write a love story that showed the many dimensions of love,” she said. “It is beautiful to believe that you meet someone and you fall in love with that person and that person falls in love with you and there is no room for or any other conflict.”
These emotions are what drove her to write her three protagonists. “Jess, Anjali, and Vanessa showed up in my mind one day and just wouldn’t leave,” she said. “I spent a lot of time getting to know them, who they were, and what made them tick. And then I wrote their story. The motivation behind each of them and their choices represent a piece of our own identity.” Anjali is the beauty, perfection, and stability in us. Vanessa is the adventurer—the part that wants to explore and break boundaries. Jess is who we are most of the time—the person who doesn’t know what she wants or, ultimately, wants everything all at once.
For her, most importantly, she can say that at some point in her life, she has loved as each one of these women love. And they all love very differently. “I have occupied the space of each of these characters at some point in my life. They are vastly different spaces and I think that makes each character so interesting in her own right,” she said.
Writing a love story of this stature—a reflection of the LGBT community—requires patience, commitment, and the strength to be unique. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to not stereotype the story. So when I wrote it, I made it represent the reality that I knew,” she said. “Part of that reality was using humor instead of writing the stereotypical saga of angst. Part of that reality was also being really unapologetic.”
Jess begins the story as a gay South Asian not worrying about just wanting to come out. It’s about her thought process on love and what it means to be struggling with it. The fact that she is in love with a woman and not a man is just that—a fact. “I always made sure the focus stayed on the relationships among Jess, Anjali, and Vanessa. I also made sure that when there was what I call the “obligatory coming out scene” between Jess and her mother, her mother was not portrayed as a stereotypical South Asian woman,” Sood said. And the reason those scenes are so pivotal? Because they are both humans facing a conflict. It wasn’t very black and white where they both are saying opposing things. “I refused to reduce that to a stereotype. And, of course, the humor that is infused in that conversation is refreshing and keeps it from becoming a stereotypical coming out dialogue,” she said.
Clearly, Sood wants to bring in a fresh perspective of the reduced or falsetto representation of the LGBT community among South Asians. This approach needs inspiration that we don’t seem to offer writers or other artists who want to infuse change. And so, Sood looked at her life for inspiration.
“I look at the people I know and talk to, at places I visit that invoke certain emotions and thoughts, and of course through art be it writing or film,” she said. “Growing up, I ached for a South Asian LGBT novel that spoke to my own heart but I never found one.” She is, however, grateful for the two films that spoke to her when she needed something to relate to—“Lost and Delirious,” and “I Can’t Think Straight.”
Sood was born in Kolkata and moved to Edison, New Jersey when she was still a child. While growing up, she vicariously lived through the films she watched and books she read. Finally, she needed a character like her, one that had not yet been depicted anywhere too much. One who let her know it was okay to be a South Asian woman and gay.
“Over the years, I spoke to other gay South Asian women expressed the same sentiment, the same fear, the same sadness growing up. That’s why when I wrote this novel, I was adamant that I would connect to that part of me that never had a character to connect with,” she said. “In essence, I was writing to my younger self to finally give her that novel she craved. And I wrote for all gay South Asian girls who were and are looking for characters that represent them.”
She wants her book to have the impact she wanted when she read books that didn’t deliver the right representation. A combination love, loss, truth, faith is what sets “Night Like This” part, or so Sood believes. “A reader should pick up this book if they want to get lost in a world of love and chaos, of humor and heartache, of pleasure and pain,” she said.
More than anything, she wants to rightfully include the LGBT community and knows it’s up to us, as members of the South Asian diaspora, to do so. “We have to stop viewing the entire community as the other and realize that being LGBT is an aspect of a person, not the entirety of a person’s identity. We also have to admit that whom a person chooses to love or go home to is none of our business,” she said. “We have to go back to the cultural roots of South Asia where members of the LGBT community were respected and included into mainstream society. The argument that LGBT has been a taboo in our culture is a false argument and we have to realize and admit that. Lastly, we have to open doors for communication.”
Her upcoming project is a novel that delves into a breakup and how, as individuals, we perceive the world around us in different stages after losing some we love. Using all her skills and personal experience, she wants to take steps to become a strong voice for the gay South Asian community, especially women. Her writing is a great technique to do just that.
To purchase a copy of the book, visit Amazon.com.