Saumya Dave: When Writing is Rewriting

Saumya Dave explains how her family inspired her to write her novel What a Happy Family and why she holds revising work in such high regard.
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Saumya Dave is a writer, resident psychiatrist, and co-founder of thisisforHER. Her writing has been featured in The New York Times, Huffington Post, Refinery29, and others. Her debut novel, Well-Behaved Indian Women was featured on “Most anticipated” book roundups from Elle, Marie Claire, Popsugar, Bustle, and more.

Saumya Dave

Saumya Dave

In this post, Dave explains how her family inspired her to write her novel What a Happy Family, why she holds revising work in such high regard, and much more!

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Name: Saumya Dave
Literary agent: Jessica Watterson
Book title: What a Happy Family
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: June 22, 2021
Genre: Women’s fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: After a scandal, a family learns that sometimes you have to fall apart in order to come stronger than before.
Previous titles by the author: Well-Behaved Indian Women

What a Happy Family by Saumya Dave

What a Happy Family by Saumya Dave

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What prompted you to write this book?

I always wanted to write a story that explored mental health through different members of a family. Growing up, I often saw mental health as something that carried stigma and silence with it. My work as a psychiatrist has shown me the various ways it can shape an individual, family, and community.

Throughout 2020, my husband, son, and I lived with four generations of my family. Learning their stories, reflecting on memories we shared, and seeing everyone as adults all inspired the book. I was fascinated with how we can sometimes keep the people we love in certain roles and how it can be difficult to take them out of those roles when we are back together.

(Telling Our Family Stories: 4 Reasons Why It’s More Important Than Ever to Write Our Family Narratives)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

The process took around a year and a half. I initially wanted to write a story about a psychiatric resident navigating her job. But as I kept revising, I realized I was really trying to write about family bonds. For me, writing is rewriting. I’ve learned over time that that truly is my favorite part of the process: learning that I’m really trying to say something I didn’t expect, something that can only be uncovered by rewriting.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? 

There were so many learning moments! At first, the novel had the perspectives of two sisters. Over time, it included chapters from each of the family members. My wonderful editor could see the story I was trying to write and knew that was the change I needed to make to help it get there. This shift also led to a change in the title. I wanted one that reflected the theme of the novel and was surprised my mind jumped to a moment at a close friend’s wedding. My close friend and her family were arguing on the altar and the photographer said, “Smile! When we see this picture years from now, we want to think, 'Oh, what a happy family!'” Immediately, everyone changed (and by that, I mean grinned and pretended everything was great). When I thought back to that time, I realized What a Happy Family was the perfect title.

(On Mining Humor From Family Dynamics in Your Writing)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book? 

I didn’t expect certain parts of my own residency training to inform the book. Learning individual and family therapy, understanding intergenerational trauma, and listening to people’s stories were all skills I focused on in residency and all ended up helping me understand the characters better.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope that readers feel comforted and less alone. I hope they are reminded that it’s okay to struggle, not know where you’re going in life, and also understand that we often don’t know what others are carrying.

Saumya Dave: When Writing is Rewriting

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

All of the writers I know are voracious readers, so I’d start with suggesting to read as much as possible! Read things you love. Read things you hate. Read different forms of writing. Dissect the work you come across. See why it works or why it doesn’t. 

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