Sonya Singh, SARI, NOT SARI

Sonya Singh, SARI, NOT SARI

Sonya Singh joined Zibby for an Instagram Live to talk about her debut novel, Sari, Not Sari. The two discuss why Sonya wanted the book to read like a classic sitcom, which characters and storylines were inspired by her own life, and what she is working on next (as well as how it ties into this book). Sonya also breaks the news that she is writing the first South Asian holiday Hallmark movie titled Christmas Spice which is debuting at the end of this year!


Zibby Owens: Hi, everybody. I am doing the first Instagram Live in a while with Sonya Singh, who’s the author of Sari, Not Sari. Before she joins — hopefully, she’ll join soon. This morning, I found out I was nominated for two Webby Awards and got two Webby honors. I was so excited about it. This is just the coolest thing ever. The Webbys are the best of the internet. They got 14,000 nominations. My “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” show is nominated for Best Podcasts in Arts and Culture. Then “SexTok with Zibby and Tracey” was nominated for Social Humor. Who knew? Anyway, I see that Sonya has joined. I am super excited to be promoting her book today and talking to her. I will share the good news. I was really excited. She should be joining in. Hello to everybody who’s there. Thank you for saying yay. Hi.

Sonya Singh: Hi. Congratulations to you. I heard this long grocery list of all the amazing accomplishments that you just received today. Amazing. Congratulations.

Zibby: Thank you. I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it. I was just hoping for one. I was like, I would love to get just one Webby nomination this year, but there were four.

Sonya: That’s great. I think April 5th is just a lucky day for everybody.

Zibby: Why is April 5th a lucky day for you?

Sonya: It’s my pub day.

Zibby: Yay!

Sonya: It’s been so exciting. It’s so funny because my thumbs are actually numb just from social media. I don’t want to over-post, but then I’m also thinking this is the only time — you just went through all your accolades. It’s actually a great time to cheerlead and champion yourself. I want to do that. I shouldn’t feel bad for it.

Zibby: No, don’t feel bad. What else do you want to share? Tell me everything about you. I’m here for it. new book, Sari, Not Sari, which is fabulous. It reads like I’m watching a sitcom or something. Is this already going to be a movie or a show or something?

Sonya: I can’t talk about that stuff, but we’ll get to the movie stuff after. That’s so funny you said that because I actually wrote it like a sitcom. I was thinking that when it was playing out in the actual book, that I wanted to see it on the small screen. I really wanted it to be something that South Asian women could go and see characters like themself versus Bridget Jones, Sex and the City where everybody, at the time, was very Caucasian. It’s time to actually have something on TV or in the movies that look like me.

Zibby: I love it. Or not particularly like you, as it happened on the cover of the magazine in the book, right?

Sonya: Yeah, that’s actually a funny story. Well, it’s not funny. I got that headline, so to speak, because I had seen a picture of Jennifer Aniston. She was on the front cover of, I want to say it was InStyle or one of those big magazines. They had changed her look so that she looked significantly darker. There was a lot of uproar about that. I kind of switched the story around. Some of that story was also, I made myself look really white growing up. I had the blue and gray contacts and the bleached-blond hair.

Zibby: Did you really?

Sonya: Yeah, it was awful. You’re not going to pull up one of those blooper reels, are you? It was so bad. I just want to give that little girl a hug because she was so embarrassed to be Indian. Now I’m just like, get out of my way because I’m South Asian. I’m so proud of it. This is my hair. These are my eyes. These are my looks. That’s all you’re going to get.

Zibby: Wow. When did it change? Wait, let’s go back to this for one second. For people who want to know what your book’s about, can you do a little synopsis?

Sonya: Of course. I’d love to. Sari, Not Sari — I actually love the way how you said sari. Sari. It’s so Indian of you. I love it. It rolls off your tongue. It’s about this strong South Asian woman who owns a breakup agency. I really wanted her to own something or run something that was very nontraditional. Of course, it has to be a breakup agency. She’s in the midst of being at the top of her game in terms of her career. She’s getting a lot of questions about her culture and her heritage. She doesn’t have the answers. She really wants those answers. She looks around in her inner circle. Nobody’s Indian. Nobody’s really around to give her what she is missing out on. Then all of a sudden, a client comes along, Sammy Patel, who is looking for a temporary breakup, but Breakup, the agency, doesn’t do second chances. There’s no pauses like a Ross and Rachel. Once you break up, you break up. They decide to get together to be able to help each other out. Then Manny goes away with Sammy for her brother’s wedding for a week. She gets a crash course in his point of view of what it takes to be Indian, at least on a very superficial level. This is fun. I’m trying to put this in a way which is — it’s fiction. It’s not fact-tion. You’re going to get a lot of humor in it. You’re going to get a lot of point of view of weddings and how it’s like to dress up and eat and the aunties and uncles. That’s what the book, to me, is about.

Zibby: I love it. This whole idea, by the way, of the breakup agency and how at the beginning of every chapter you have one of these funny breakup texts — wait, hold on. I dogeared one of them to read. “Dear Breakup, my boyfriend is constantly reminding me of how heavy I am, as I have invested in a dietician and trainer for myself, not him. The other day, he hit an all-time low this week and has started to put sticky notes on food in the fridge that he thinks I shouldn’t be eating. ‘Don’t eat me, chubs.’ Talk about a motivation not to lose weight. I want to break up with him, beat my relationship with food while I drop the 170 pounds of dead weight that’s been hanging around me for too long. I’m ready to lose it. Laney.”

Sonya: Oh, my god, I love it. That’s actually a true story. I have to tell you that I dated a guy many years ago, and he nicknamed me Christmas ham. That’s what he would refer to me as. It doesn’t matter what time it was, but it’s still so inappropriate. I had gained some weight. That was his way of pushing me to lose weight, was to remind me that I was chunky or meaty like a Christmas ham. I know.

Zibby: Public service announcement, that type of motivation does not work.

Sonya: It does not work. It only motivates you to write about it later, if anything.

Zibby: Exactly, more fodder. Everything is copy, right?

Sonya: Exactly.

Zibby: My favorite character in this book was the guy selling the coffee on the coffee cart.

Sonya: Oh, Rajiv. His name is Rajiv. Oh, my gosh, it’s funny because one of my ex-boyfriends is an actor, and I actually modeled him after him. Rajiv was sort of modeled after him. Although, I’ve kind of played with him playing the character if it was to turn into a movie, and he’s like, “No, I wouldn’t want to play that character.” Rajiv is Manny’s best friend. Rajiv is there for all of it. He’s so innocent. He has the funniest puns. He’s got a lot of humor to him. It’s just one of those things that he says, and you don’t even know that it’s going to be funny. He’s so cute. You just want to hug him.

Zibby: I love how you had him in the final scene being so — I don’t want to give anything away, but how he was there towards the end and just cheering everybody on, like, I told you so. It was great.

Sonya: Exactly, we won’t say what happened.

Zibby: We won’t say what happens.

Sonya: You’re right. It was a total “told you so” moment for Manny. He had been pushing that all along. It was really nice to see that. That was one of the things that I loved about this book for myself. All those friendships are actually friendships that I have in real life and have had through my own grief and my own loss, which Manny went through. A lot of those people, they’re not just characters that I imagine sound a certain way or play stereotypical roles. No, they’re individuals in my life, whether it’s family or best friends or ex-boyfriends or girlfriends. They’re definitely a big part of how I am today and how I’ve reacted to situations in the last couple years.

Zibby: You wrote really beautifully about Manny’s parents dying. I think I dogeared some of those pages as well. There was some section that — although, I did dogear that “Research tells you that it’s better to break up on a Thursday,” so store that away, anybody who needs that kind of data.

Sonya: But why is that? Why is that?

Zibby: Exactly. So you can hide out on a Friday.

Sonya: I know, and feel bad for yourself with a large bottle of wine and some M&M’s and some bad music.

Zibby: Now of course, I can’t find the passage that I was going to read. Basically, you talk about the loss and how it’s hard to just regroup and join in life and how sometimes even moments later, a little thing can bring it all back, a comment or something.

Sonya: You know that.

Zibby: I didn’t realize it had come from a place of loss for you personally. Can you share what’s happened?

Sonya: Yeah. I think you know this having talked openly about your own grief. I went through back-to-back personal losses outside of going through just a breakup. This was a very difficult loss for me too. Family members that I loved and adored passed away. That’s not Manny’s story. There’s chunks of, obviously, experiences that I’ve gone through. It just happened to be a character that has lost her parents, but it certainly was not reflective of how I went through that situation. My parents are constantly pushing Indian culture, laughter. They were always like, “Do something with us,” when it comes to Diwali, but in a very modernized way. They wanted to make sure that we assimilated really well and got the best of both worlds.

Zibby: I also even just love Manny being this badass entrepreneur, CEO running the business. I know she partners with Adam. He helps her to take it to the next level and everything. They have their own interesting relationship, as it develops. It’s always good to have somebody rooting for your success and helping, pulling you along. That element was fabulous too. I know you’re this former reporter, and all your career stuff yourself. Tell me about even just making Manny into this awesome female leader.

Sonya: Oh, my gosh, thank you so much. I wanted her to be this amazing leader, like I said, in a nontraditional role. I really wanted her to kick butt inside of something that was not a lawyer, not a doctor, not an engineer, which were typical education places that we went to as women, or careers that we went to as women. Particularly if you’re South Asian, you were pushed in that direction. I wanted her to kick butt in something else. I was lucky enough to be an entertainment reporter. I went from Canada to LA. I wanted her to have those experiences. When we talk about her even being in front of the camera, she’s channeling a lot of what I went through in Hollywood as well too. I really wanted her to be badass. I wanted her to walk in with the Calvin Klein, with the Hugo Boss and own that agency. Also, just to have other South Asian women read this book and think, I can be that. I don’t need to take a path which makes my parents happy or the Indian community happy. I can actually do whatever I want to, whether it’s a makeup artist, it’s a fashion designer. South Asians are kicking butt right now. This is what I wanted the book to represent.

Zibby: I love that. That is so cool. How long did it take to write the book?

Sonya: Because I had gone through that period of grief, it took me four months. I dived right into it. I wrote as much as I could. I literally remember writing thirty thousand words in four days. Those words were probably crap, but it just came out of me so quickly. Then the process of editing took probably about another six months. Then everything happened so quickly, which I’m so happy about. At the same time, I was getting a lot of rejections from agents who were telling me that my story was too South Asian, not South Asian enough, or that they couldn’t have another South Asian author debuting at the same time because there was already one coming out. I just was so baffled by this industry. I didn’t understand why there wasn’t room for me. The process really was getting myself in a place where I didn’t feel competitive with other South Asian women because I think that’s what the industry was leveling me off to do in the beginning, to feel that any other author that was South Asian, that I needed to compete against — I finally got to a place where I appreciate all — a South Asian author who just wrote The Circus Train sent me a bouquet of flowers. I’ve never met her. Slid into my DMs. Can’t wait to see her tonight at the launch party. That’s what I really want for other South Asian women in any of these creative fields.

Zibby: Amazing, oh, my gosh. What a role model you’ll be then, also, for kids growing up now. It’s great. It’s really wonderful.

Sonya: Thank you.

Zibby: After writing this, it just basically flew out of you, what else? Are you write more? Have you already written more?

Sonya: The Fake Matchmaker is the second book that’s coming out. It’ll be based on Manita, who’s a pivotal character in the book. She needs her own book anyway. She’s just so fun and so light-hearted. She carried the story. Then of course, drumroll on the breaking news, which is —

Zibby: — I was like, is that a joke that it’s breaking news because it’s just coming out, or do you actually have news?

Sonya: Actually, I’m going to write the first holiday Hallmark movie that is South Asian. There’s going to be a Christmas holiday Hallmark movie. Say all that in one breath. It comes out December 2022. I have started writing it. Hallmark gave me this amazing opportunity to team up with them and Crown Media. There’ll be four leading South Asians in a movie that we’re all going to watch next year.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, so excited. That is awesome. Congratulations.

Sonya: Thank you. I wanted to share that news with you. I’ve been such a big fan of yours. I know you’ve also gone through your trials and tribulations and been so open about everything that’s happened in your life. I just felt a really good connection. I thought this would be a great way to break news with you, break bread with you, and really be able to share this special moment.

Zibby: I love that. I’m so excited for you. I can’t wait to watch it. Anything I can do to help when it comes out. You must feel so great. You should have the best day ever. Buy a lottery ticket or something. You’re on fire. Everything is great. It’s just so exciting.

Sonya: Thank you. I need to actually eat something. I haven’t eaten anything all day. I need to just digest the — the launch party is tonight. To actually get to see people at a party is going to be so huge. I haven’t seen a lot of my friends, oh, gosh, in two years. We’ll all get to celebrate tonight. It’s going to be fun. There’s so many surprises today. I’ve got a huge South Asian theme for the evening’s event. I’m really, really excited. I’m excited to see who gets to read Sari, Not Sari. I really hope it’s going to be a very diverse audience. It’s not just South Asian women. Everybody reads it.

Zibby: It’s great. It’s really, really awesome. It goes fast. It’s entertaining. You want to keep turning the pages. The characters are really likeable, or not when they’re supposed to be. I was totally rooting for Manny the whole time and wanting to see how it all ended. It was just really, really enjoyable, clever, smart, enjoyable. Love it.

Sonya: Thank you. It’s so funny that you’re saying that. I love hearing what you’re saying. I did one of those things that you’re not supposed to do as an author, check out your reviews. I did this one night. I have to tell you, people are super offended that I actually started a breakup agency. They couldn’t handle the fact that I had come up with an idea where people were going to be broken up or dumped through email and text. They were just so upset. They couldn’t finish the book. How thoughtless of me.

Zibby: What?

Sonya: Yeah. Here I am thinking that I’m giving people closure. This agency is for people to coach their way through a breakup. I think it’s people who maybe weren’t dumped the right way. They might just be upset.

Zibby: Haters can hate. You got to just ignore those reviews and focus on all the positives. Just enjoy it, all your hard work. Here you go.

Sonya: Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you for sharing your amazing Hallmark South Asian-themed movie. Does it have a name yet?

Sonya: It’s called Christmas Spice.

Zibby: So cool. Awesome. Thank you for joining me today. Congratulations.

Sonya: Thanks, Zibby. Thank you so much. Have a great day. Bye, everyone. Thank you.

Zibby: Bye.

Sonya Singh, SARI, NOT SARI

SARI, NOT SARI by Sonya Singh

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