Sonya Lalli: On Writing Strong, Empowered Women

Author Sonya Lalli explains how she came to write the strong female characters in her latest novel, Serena Singh Flips the Script, and how her editor gave her inspiration for exploring multiple points-of-view.
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Sonya Lalli is a Canadian writer of Indian heritage. She studied law in her hometown of Saskatoon and at Columbia University in New York, and later completed an MA in creative writing and publishing at City, University of London. Sonya has a black belt in tae kwon do and loves travel, yoga, and cocktail bartending. She lives in Toronto with her husband.

Sonya Lalli

Sonya Lalli

In this post, Lalli explains how she came to write the strong female characters in her latest novel, Serena Singh Flips the Script, how her editor gave her inspiration for exploring multiple points-of-view, and more!

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Name: Sonya Lalli
Literary agent: Martha Webb, CookeMcDermid
Title: Serena Singh Flips the Script
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: February 16, 2021
Genre: Women’s fiction and contemporary romance
Elevator pitch for the book: A woman in her mid-thirties sets out to prove to her traditional Indian parents and the aunties in her community that she does not need domestic bliss to have a happy life.
Previous titles: The Matchmaker’s List (2019), Grown-Up Pose (2020)

Serena Singh Flips the Script

Serena Singh Flips the Script by Sonya Lalli

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What prompted you to write this book?

In part, I wrote Serena Singh Flips the Script because I was discouraged by societal expectations that women need to get married and have children in order to have a happy life. In the book, Serena Singh is in her mid-thirties and has spent her entire adult life proving to her traditional parents that she does not want "domestic bliss." However, when Serena’s younger sister and best friend announces that she’s pregnant and gets too busy for her, Serena finally admits to herself that she is lonely. She has let all of her close friendships fall by the wayside and convinces herself, rightly or wrongly, that it’s because she focused on her career while the other women made more conventional life choices.

While this is a romantic comedy featuring Serena’s romantic pursuits, it is also a romantic comedy about finding your new best friend as an adult, a time when creating new, genuine friendships can be more challenging.

(Women’s Fiction or Romance? The Differences, and 5 Reasons Why They Matter)

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

I got the seed of the idea when moving to a new city in the fall of 2017 and was struggling to make new friends as an adult. I found—as does Serena in the novel—that when people are so busy with their jobs, families, and friends they already have, it’s hard to put in the effort required to solidify a new bond. At that time, I was still drafting my sophomore novel Grown-Up Pose and so I wrote my ideas down and sat on them for nearly a year. In January 2019, I submitted a proposal to my editor outlining my ideas for Serena Singh Flips to the Script, and after she signed off on it, I got to work. I handed in the first draft in early 2020. By the time book is published, it will have been more than three years.

The idea didn’t change, it just became more nuanced. The book was always about a rebellious brown woman who never let anyone else’s opinion bother her, but she was also struggling with the fact that she didn’t have any close friendships in her life anymore. As I wrote, Serena’s full story came out—particularly relating to her tense family life.

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

I think anyone getting ready to publish a book during a pandemic has to be ready for surprises! Balancing the excitement and nervousness about a new book coming out with the turbulent reality of our day-to-day lives is not always straight forward. Preparing for the launch, I have not always known what to expect, and like other authors, I’ve had to learn just to take everything as it comes.

(Why Literary Fiction Isn’t Boring)

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

In my first two books, I added flashback chapters to reveal further the protagonists’ backstory and character. In Serena Singh Flips the Script, my editor suggested that I might be able to add more depth to the story by having those flashbacks be from the point of view of Serena’s mother, Sandeep, rather than Serena herself.

I’d never written anything that had more than one point of view, but I decided to give it a go. I did research and a lot of thinking about how best to weave their two stories together. Both women are strong-willed, but they grew up in different generations and countries and led very different lives. But by the end of the book, they are both happy with the choices they’ve made and where it’s brought them. Contrasting the two women’s stories added a lot to the book, and also to Serena’s journey as the protagonist.

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

I would love for this book to fall into the hands of a reader and help empower her to live and love however she wants. We all have different backgrounds, priorities, values, and goals, and the choices we can make are endless. And all of those choices can lead to our own happily ever after.

Sonya Lalli: On Writing Strong, Empowered Women

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

Don’t worry about what people might think if they read your work. Don’t censor yourself and do not worry if it’s bad. You will need to write, rewrite, edit, and rewrite some more. But if you are writing something because you have something important to say, and you enjoy the process, it will all be worth it. 

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