Feature Image Credit: @sejalinareads

For romance novel lovers, Sonya Lalli is the full package: Her books combine humor and heartbreak, familial pressures and cultural traditions, self-discovery and, bringing in her own Punjabi and Bengali heritage, shattered stereotypes.

Now, right in time for the holiday season, Lalli’s latest is A Holly Jolly Diwali, an engaging holiday romance. In Holly Jolly Diwali, twenty-nine-year-old Niki Randhawa is a type-A data analyst who puts her love for music and art on the back burner for a job with more stability. She does things by the book: dates guys who look good on paper, sticks close to her home, reliable for her family—but when she’s laid off from her “practical” job, she decides to embrace her free-spirited side, booking a last-minute flight for her friend Diya’s wedding in Mumbai, just in time for Diwali, the festival of lights.

After meeting—and being immediately drawn to—London musician Sameer Mukherji amidst the wedding’s holiday splendor and flowing champagne, Diya and Sam decide to join their friends on a group honeymoon. On the gorgeous beaches of Goa, Diya begins to connect to her creative side and her Indian roots—but when she gets a new job offer back home, she must decide if she can go back to living a straight and stable lifestyle, or embrace the bolder life she would’ve never dreamt of before.

We talked with author Sonya Lalli about challenges while writing, the book that made her want to be an author, and “the best thriller ever written.” 

If you could only describe A Holly Jolly Diwali in five words, what would they be? 

 Festive. Charming. Adventurous. Uplifting. Swoony!

Can you tell us about any challenges you face when writing your novels about cross-cultural differences and familial pressure within those different cultures?

I write from my own experiences with my family and community, and I always try my best to be authentic and genuine. I often worry that the story won’t resonate with readers. I want the story to ring true for those of a similar culture, but understanding now that that’s not always possible – nor should it be. We all have such diverse experiences and challenges when it comes to our culture and identity. I can only write what I know, and hopefully it will speak to some people.

What was the inspiration behind combining the two settings of Diwali in India and Christmas morning in Seattle? 

I love watching romantic comedies and holiday romances, especially those on Netflix and the Hallmark channel like Holidate and The Knight Before Christmas. I think I was inspired to write a holiday romance that reflected the experiences of someone more like me – a South Asian living in North America who celebrates Christmas, but also celebrates Diwali from my own culture. I think a lot of people can relate to living with a combined cultural background and celebrating everything that’s good about both cultures.

Quick lightning round! Tell us the first book you ever remember reading, the one that made you want to become an author, and one that you can’t stop thinking about.

I’m not sure if this is what made me want to become an author, but the first books I remember reading myself are The Baby-Sitters Little Sister books, which were a spinoff from The Baby-Sitters Club series. The books were focused on Karen, the younger stepsister of Kristy (the main character in the Baby-Sitters Club stories). It was geared towards a younger audience and I loved the series and the adventures that Karen and her friends got into.

The one book I can’t stop thinking about is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn… there’s a reason for all the hype. Best thriller ever written in my opinion. I think about that twisted book a lot.

 What has been your favorite character to write so far? 

 My favorite character was Serena Singh from my last book, Serena Singh flips the Script. I wrote a character who was brave, bold, and didn’t think twice about beating to her own drum. She is my role model! However, in A Holly Jolly Diwali,, my main character, Niki, was really fun to write too. She is probably the closest character to my own personality—often the good Indian girl, but an adventurous one too!