Zibby interviews bestselling author Sonali Dev about LIES AND OTHER LOVE LANGUAGES, a tender and compelling novel about three women navigating families, friends, careers, and the web of secrets that ties them together. The story is set against the backdrop of a surrogacy arrangement and delves into themes of motherhood, fear, loss, and the impact of DNA testing on relationships. Sonali discusses the diverse voices and perspectives of her characters, her writing process, her travel experiences, and her love for cooking. She also shares her excitement about her upcoming book, which centers around a woman’s journey of self-discovery after finding a lost ring.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sonali. Thank you for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” this time to discuss Lies and Other Love Languages. You’re writing books so fast. I cannot keep up.

Sonali Dev: Thank you. Am I? This is what I do full time. This is what I do twenty-four/seven. There’s so many stories in there in a short life. They’ve all got to come out, right? Thank you for having me. It’s always such a pleasure to be here and to watch everything you’re doing for publishing, for women, for moms. Thank you. I am so glad to be here.

Zibby: Thank you. Tell listeners about Lies and Other Love Languages.

Sonali: I’m staying with my nephew right now, who’s twenty-six. I was telling him it’s probably my most adult book. I don’t mean that in a way that the word is usually used. The simplest way for me to describe it based on where it came from was, it’s a love letter to female friendships. It’s the story of these two women who are best friends. We know how our friendships are. I always think my girlfriends are my soulmates, really. My husband is my husband. I love him dearly, but my soulmates, the ones who see everything without translation, that kind of connection, and who’ve seen me since I was five and ten and twelve, are my girlfriends. It’s a story of how these two girls become friends when they’re twelve, which is a very vulnerable age. One of them is growing up in LA, the only South Asian girl in her class. Then this girl who’s had a horrific childhood in India moves to LA. They meet under circumstances which are kind of tragic. It changes their lives and who they become. It’s that kind of friendship. Then we meet them twenty-seven years after their friendship has broken up. It is about what happens to us when we lose our female friendships that define us. It happens over motherhood. It happens over a surrogacy arrangement. It’s a story of marriage and friendship. The way that everything breaks down is a DNA test, which is another thing in our world right now, which is blowing stuff up that didn’t blow up before. There you have it.

Zibby: So true. It’s also about motherhood and caretaking and fear. You start the whole book with the anxiety that is so pervasive right now in so many different contexts of what happens — what if we can’t find the one we love? What if an ordinary afternoon is something much more heavy? Fortunately, it’s resolved quickly. Still, that not knowing, no matter how good your life is or how successful you are, like Vanda — Vanda?

Sonali: Vandy.

Zibby: Vandy, sorry. Like Vandy. It doesn’t matter. None of it really matters if the person you care about the most is having something major go on.

Sonali: Loss, it’s really interesting. I like to say that everything in the world we do and everything that can solve all problems and cause all problems is love, but really, how that operates in the world is through fear and fear of loss. It is almost impossible to love without fear of loss. The true enlightenment where we’re all kind of trying to work toward is being able to love without the fear of loss. I think every problem in the world today exists because of the fear of losing what is yours. Then we’ve also been taught that, whether it is our loved ones or land or whatever, to love is to fight for it not being lost. This book kicks off with a mother not having any idea where her twenty-seven-year-old daughter, who she’s very close to and texts and talks to five times a day — hasn’t been answering her texts. Didn’t come to pick her up at the airport. She has no idea where she is. She’s lost her husband and the girl has lost her father about a year ago, so they’re still in that relying on each other and yet not grief phase. It kicks off with this mother not knowing where her child is, essentially. I think that that’s the fear of, again, losing someone who we love beyond reason, which is a thing. A lot of it also is defining motherhood. What does it mean? Why do we feel the need to be defined by it? Everybody is. We’re surrounded by women who feel the need to reinforce, every five minutes in a conversation, “Oh, my children come first. My children come first,” which may be true. The thing is, society also defines us by how we are as mother. Then what happens to all the women who aren’t interested in that role? Are you less of a woman? What does that mean?

Between these two friends, one has always known that is her. I can completely understand that. I think from everything I know of you, you can totally understand that. It’s a definitive part of who we always wanted to be, who we’ve become. It has given us so much power to be ourselves and all of that. One of them is that. I know how to do this. I’m going to do this. This is going to allow me to be my best human self, motherhood. The other one has had the kind of mother and the kind of life where she thinks bringing a child into this world is an impossibility for her. She’s never going to do it. These are these two friends. I think that kind of explains the spectrum of women. In terms of humanity, nobody is less or more or anything. It’s whatever our life experiences, our natural nature, and what we’ve been taught about ourselves. It’s that. When you’re taught you can only be complete doing an X thing and if the X thing doesn’t happen, what then? If you’ve always said, I’m never having children, and a situation comes when, for someone who means everything to you to have what they want, will you do that? Funny story is, where the seed of this story came from was when a friend of mine, one of my soulmate friends who I love dearly, dearly, was told that it’s probably not going to happen for her. We were having a conversation of whether I would — I had had two children at that point. I actually loved being pregnant and labor and delivery. People hate me for saying this, but I did.

Zibby: No judgement.

Sonali: It was the best experience of my life. Motherhood is different, but the delivery and labor was. It was a conversation we actually had. How far would you go? What would that involve to carry a child that is not yours? I would obviously know this child for the rest of my life because this is — that was a conversation where this, actually, story started from.

Zibby: Wow. I was wondering where it came from. There are no limits to your ideas here. You mentioned that this is a more adult story. I was sort of struck by the voice of Vandy’s daughter. What is her name? Mika? No.

Sonali: Mika, yes. Mallika. Mika is what she calls her.

Zibby: Mika. The way that Mika wrote was not — there was a huge discrepancy with voice. Her voice was a much younger voice. In fact, almost younger than you would think a twenty-seven-year-old would be writing. Speak a little bit about that and how you defined her voice versus her mom’s voice versus her friend, all of that.

Sonali: This book is written in alternating POVs between these three women. Two of them are fifty-five, fifty-seven. One of them is twenty-seven. I am surrounded by twentysomethings. My kids are in their twenties. My friends’ kids, who are like kids to me, are that age. This is what I hear. Also, Mika’s character particularly is a character who’s been protected. The other thing I was exploring in this, as a mother who has done well at something or is publicly visible, my children have had to ride with that, ride on that bus since they were in elementary school where their friends’ parents read my book and things like that. They’re not quite , but you know what I mean. They have lived in that. I had successful parents. I think being the child of a successful parent and what that comes with — Mallika’s parents are — her mother is an internationally best-selling author. She’s a self-help guru. She’s an advice columnist who millions and millions of people around the world listen to for life advice. She’s this public figure who is what everyone’s aspiring to. Her father has written twenty-plus books. Extremely successful parents, and the sense of “I will never be good enough” that she carries because of it.

Also, in a larger context, there’s this whole, certain immigrant communities and how much they value academic success and professional success and how much pressure there is to succeed in that way and how much importance is given to that. I have a twenty-two-year-old and a twenty-four-year-old. Everyone around them is constantly talking about how someone else went to X, Y, Z school, is working for X, Y, Z company, things like that. Even as a parent, if you try not to overtly pressure in that way, the world they live in is that. Mika’s world is very much that, very successful cousins, very successful parents, all of that. She is a little bit, in terms of voice, stunted in terms of confidence, how ready she feels for the world. I think the story is her finding that place. She’s spectacular in every way. Everybody is. Every child is, has the potential for that. What she doesn’t know is the story of her mother and how hard she struggled to come into herself. What she sees of her mother, as our kids often do, is us on the other side of this journey. They don’t see us where they are, which is feeling completely lost and adrift. That’s why, to me, Mika’s voice was very much a reflection of a person who doesn’t know herself yet, who feels afraid that she’s never going to be good enough. That’s where she was. Of course, Vandy and Rani, we get to see from when they are twelve to growing up. We watch them, as the book unfolds, come into themselves and Mallika go the opposite way also. She kind of meets up with herself and who she’s going to be.

Zibby: Do you miss these characters?

Sonali: Oh, my gosh. People ask me all the time, which is your favorite book? Someone was asking me yesterday. I’m like, the thing you have to understand is that these are not characters to me. These are real people who live in my head. It’s real. I was reading about the neuroscience behind this. I think even as readers, we don’t know the difference. Why we can cry in such a heartbroken way at the pain of people on the page or the screen is because our brain doesn’t know the difference between a made-up, a fictious thing and a real thing, between lies and truth, and I think for writers even more so. I just finished the book that will come out in ’24 or ’25. Man, every night, I’m — I have to give myself that time to actually work them out of my system in a way of being so present all the time. The ironic thing is when we’re talking about Lies and Other Love Languages, in my brain is the next book, which will come out next year.

Zibby: Tell me about that book. Tell me. I know. You’re like, I’m even over these characters. Let me just fast-forward.

Sonali: I’m so not over them. If you talk to me about my first book, they’re still immediately physically alive in my brain. I don’t know how that’s going to end for me. I don’t know. We should do some research on author brains toward the end of life and how so many created realities sitting in your head — what that means for you. I know some authors in their seventies, and they seem mentally still very much present. I have hope that it’s not going to short-circuit my brain, but sometimes it feels like it’s going to. The next book that I just finished is — I don’t know if I can talk about it. It’s the story of this young woman who has gone off to New York City for her engagement-moon by herself because her orthopedic surgeon fiancé, who is the catch of Brown Town, so to speak — it’s set in Naperville, where I live, which has a very vibrant, incredibly successful, and very large South Asian American community. Of course, that comes with all of the gossip and the aspiration and all that. She’s grown up in that. She’s come in from the fringes because her family rose from poverty, which is not a normal thing for that community. She goes off on her engagement-moon by herself because he’s had to reschedule three times. Then she’s like, I’m just — she’s never left Naperville. She shows up in New York. When she’s here, she finds a ring on the pavement when she drops something. Then she kind of gets obsessed with finding the owner of the ring. Then it is this whole unraveling and traveling from here to India, traveling across time and space and finding out who that ring and a twin ring belonged to.

Zibby: Love it. That sounds great too. Oh, my goodness.

Sonali: Thank you.

Zibby: Then are you already drumming up ideas for the book after that?

Sonali: I always have far too many ideas sitting in my head. At that point, something has to solitarily come up. Something has to be bothering me. At that moment in time and in terms of zeitgeist, something has to become really important, so I don’t know yet. It’s often things that we deal with as women, as daughters, wives, that sort of thing. I have a few ideas, but I’m waiting to see what’s truly enraging me or amusing me right now.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so cool. How is it going with your partnership with Mindy Kaling?

Sonali: The word partnership is a stretch. I would love for Mindy to be my partner in any way she wants. The Vibrant Years, which was the book that came out last year, launched Mindy’s publishing imprint, which was Mindy’s Book Studio. It’s been optioned for a film with her and Amazon Studios. I’m very excited. Everything with filming was from the writers’ strike. We’re waiting to see where it goes. I am incredibly hopeful, but we’ll see. You know how all of that works. I’m so excited. I’m hoping that it happens. That’s the next step in our partnership, so to speak.

Zibby: I would call it a partnership.

Sonali: Just what she has done for creators of color in terms of visibility, in terms of opportunity, and how much she has used that platform — it’s not overnight. For twenty or thirty years, she’s been working to get to a place where she can take us into the spotlight a little bit more than we’ve ever been afforded. Even to just be associated with her or in her presence, for me particularly, is very special. As an artist and as a writer, I’m absolutely in awe. The range of the kind of writing she’s done, starting from The Office to the film with Emma Thompson to Sex Life of College Girls and Mindy Project and Never Have I Ever, the range of various voices that she’s — we’re not a monolith. There’s just so much to show. We haven’t had the opportunity up until now. I always say we’re at the front of the battering ram, a few of us, while breaking down those walls or that glass ceiling or whatever. Just the talent itself, everything else aside, her sheer talent as a writer I think is the single-most important thing for me to be admired. To be selected by someone whose work you admire is incredibly special. A lot of people have platforms and have megaphones now. When someone’s work makes you tremble on the inside and laugh out loud and kind of come into yourself, I think it’s really special to get to work with people like that.

Zibby: It’s amazing. You have to be inspired, right?

Sonali: Oh, my gosh, yes, yes. So inspiring. I think hard work is incredibly inspiring. Talent is incredibly inspiring. Those two things together and whatever fortune shines upon us, it’s always a combination of all those things. To be in the presence of that is incredibly inspiring.

Zibby: Sonali, when you’re not writing a million books and entertaining twenty-two-year-olds in your home or neighborhood, what are you doing? What are you reading? What else are you excited about in life these days?

Sonali: I think being excited in life these days is hard work.

Zibby: True, true.

Sonali: That’s a whole other conversation. We travel a whole lot. The more of the world you see, again, I think the more you put yourself in a place where you can understand it better and better. Until we start understanding each other and the world, I think that it’s going to get — the only way to solve it is love, like I said. You can love a thing more when you’re exposed to it and you understand it and you see how it’s all one thing. We travel every opportunity I’m given. I’ve been fortunate because my husband travels for work. He’s literally like, “I have to go to Sweden for a week.” I look up tickets. I’m like, “I think I can do that,” and take off. We’re very blessed in the fact that we’re not planners. I can show up in a place, and I’m like, “Oh, where does the subway go?” and go. Seeing the world is an incredibly important thing for me. We travel a lot. We’re lucky enough and privileged enough to be able to do that. Cooking puts me together. I think the last time we talked, one of our husbands was making chana masala or something. I think that just gathering all the food, being someone who is an immigrant to America and has literally — we build a world from scratch, which everybody does, but in terms of community, you create family when you do that. So much of that for me, my vehicle has been food. Now I have grown children, and we will have their friends — I think the way to get to know people is to get them talking. Food is a really good way to loosen tongues, a full belly. So, cooking and things. Of course, I’m a master binger when my brain is ready for that, so watching good storytelling, stories, always. When I was reading, I found a really interesting thing. This has been interesting for me personally because I grew up in India. Most of my adult life has been here.

There are a few love stories, these rom-coms that I read that are set in India. They’re set in New Delhi, but they’re incredibly contemporary and universal. We always joke about how immigrants get stuck in their country the year that they — technically, I should be stuck in 1996. Again, we’re lucky that we get to go back so much, so it’s not as bad as it used to be with how global the world is. These books are just so current and so of this time. I write Indian American books. I was saying we’re not a monolith. There’s so many different experiences just within that. To read a book that is so urban and kind of progressive in its thinking and yet tied to tradition that is set in the place I grew up in and so highly romantic and fun, they completely blew my mind, and younger authors. Their context growing up about being Indian is also so much more forcefully owning their — my generation, it was a fight. We will have independence. We’re going to do this. It’s so much more natural for these younger authors. I love it. I’ll tell you what the names of the two books were. One is called Never Meant to Stay. It’s set in contemporary New Delhi, this diplomat’s daughter who has to stay with this family and how she finds family, finally. She also kind of helps them find a lost piece of them through grief. It’s really lovely and hilarious. It’s called Never Meant to Stay. The author is Trisha Das. The other one, I don’t know when it’s coming out. It’s called All That Sizzles, also set in New Delhi. I’m from Bombay. Bombay and Delhi people have beef. I say that, but I have loved these two books. They’ve been fabulous.

Zibby: Amazing. Last question. Advice to aspiring authors?

Sonali: Oh, gosh. The thing everybody says, perseverance is the only thing that matters. You can come out the gate raging and be huge. If publishing is anything, it’s inconsistent. There will be highs. There will be lows. If you’re stuck in a long low, then the only way to get out for the high to come is to just hang in there and continuously try to better your craft and better yourself. You have to love your own work. I think that that is a thing that we are discouraged from in culture because, humility and all of that. While it’s important — if I go out and say, oh, my god, my books are the best books, and I absolutely love it, the tendency of the world is to discount me instantly as somebody who’s a bragger. I don’t mean that, but I mean actually truly loving the work you put on the page and constantly aspiring to make it better, but coming at it from a place of love. It is okay to say, I love my work. It’s okay to own that fully. I think that that journey is parallel with the journey of staying. So long as you believe what you’re putting out in the world is important, which you have to believe, then you’re not going to leave. You don’t abandon important things. I think your perseverance should come from a place of believing that the world needs to hear what you have to say rather than exhaustion, which is like, I just have to hang in there because I’ve spent ten years. The marriage analogy, which is, you don’t stay in a marriage because you’ve put investment into it; you stay in a marriage because you’ve put investment into it for a reason. The reason has to be the marriage itself. It’s like that. Love your own work, is what I’ll say. Do the work to do that. Do the work to be able to say that. Then hang in there.

Zibby: Or it’s a sunk cost, and you just have to move forward.

Sonali: That’s what I’m saying. When the love itself, when you work through it — that is totally okay too. If you’re done with that and you’ve done all you can and you no longer feel the love, then the honesty is fabulous. It’s the best gift you can give yourself. So long as you love it, hang in there.

Zibby: Amazing. I don’t even know if we’re talking about marriage or writing anymore, but it doesn’t matter.

Sonali: Same thing. All love is equal, right?

Zibby: Exactly. Sonali, thank you so much. Congratulations again. Lies and Other Love Languages. Keep going. Can’t wait to see the next one. Thank you. Happy cooking.

Sonali: Thank you, Zibby. Be well.

Zibby: You too.

Sonali: Same. Keep doing the wonderful work you’re doing. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you. Buh-bye.


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