‘Pride and Prejudice’ Gets a Gender-Swapped Twist in New Romance

Posted by Hayley on May 1, 2019
"I've always been fascinated by how eagerly we readers lap up an arrogant, unapologetically prickly hero who has to make no effort to be likable," says Sonali Dev. "Meanwhile, likability seems to be a nonnegotiable quality demanded of female characters."

So the author of A Bollywood Affair decided to switch things up. Her new book, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, is a reimagining of Jane Austen's classic love story—set in modern-day San Francisco with gender-swapped leads.

Chef DJ Caine knows he’s not “good enough” for Dr. Trisha Raje, a prominent, pretentious neurosurgeon from a powerful family. But that doesn’t stop sparks from flying. Soon DJ and Trisha realize that, when it comes to his pride and her prejudice, first impressions can be quite deceiving.

Dev talked to Goodreads about the eye-opening challenges of updating a beloved tale, her neurosurgery research (“my family had to suffer some high-level obnoxiousness”), and what she’s got cooking for her next Austen reimagining.

Goodreads: Introduce us to the Rajes, the family at the heart of your new series.

Sonali Dev: Think the Indian Kennedys!

The Rajes are a politically ambitious Indian American family, descended from Indian royalty, who have worked hard to establish themselves as San Francisco elite. They come from a place of immense privilege, but they treat their privilege as a responsibility and want to use it to change the world for the better.

In keeping with that goal, the series kicks off with the oldest son announcing his candidacy for California’s gubernatorial race.

Fortunately for readers, all of this makes them a delightfully pushy, willful, and interfering bunch who make a lot of mistakes as they navigate their fierce loyalty and love for one another while trying to manage the public spotlight.

GR: It is a truth universally acknowledged that we cannot resist any story with a Pride and Prejudice twist. Why do you think Jane Austen's books are so timeless, and what inspired you to put your own spin on her classic story?

SD: I think Austen’s genius lies in the fact that she wrote from a place of complete honesty—she believed that women deserved to get what they desired.

As a child, I remember writing a million adaptations of Pride and Prejudice in my head. Growing up in India, in a culture that made a huge deal about getting daughters married off, the story was relatable. I come from a family that advocated passionately for the belief that sons and daughters are equal. But the fact that such advocacy was necessary proved that sons and daughters weren’t really considered equal by the world we lived in.

I became obsessed with finding ways to write about the power imbalances in society and the courage it takes to value yourself enough to shatter those imbalances in order to get what you desire.

GR: Were there any challenges in updating beloved characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy into a modern setting?

SD: The seed for this novel was that I wanted to write a female Mr. Darcy. I've always been fascinated by how eagerly we readers lap up an arrogant, unapologetically prickly hero who has to make no effort to be likable. Meanwhile, likability seems to be a nonnegotiable quality demanded of female characters.

I must stop to reiterate how very much I love Mr. Darcy, but large as his economic privilege is, his male privilege is humongous. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience to replicate his pride, his comfort in his skin, and his ability to own his privilege in a female character.

It was also important to me to keep the conflicts authentic to the time and place in which my story is set, which is modern-day California. Class divisions are much more subtle and much less absolute today than they were in Austen's day, but they’ve become more complex and layered because we like to believe that we’ve evolved past the biases of our ancestors.

GR: With one main character a neurosurgeon and the other a chef, did you do anything fun to research their professions? (Fingers crossed you tried your hand at DJ's spun-sugar desserts!)

SD: Gosh, I gained ten pounds writing this book. (Thank you, DJ!) And I was strangely aroused every time I ate anything delicious. (Thank you, Trisha!)

OK, I’ll stop oversharing now. But it’s amazing how hungry one gets while writing about food so intimately. I love to cook, and for decades now I’ve spent copious amounts of time watching the Food Network.

In all seriousness, though, my entire life has been research for writing a chef character. But I really loved researching the neurosurgery part, too. I got to make up all these technologies as Trisha tried to solve surgical problems, and then I went to a surgeon friend of mine and asked her to point me in the right direction. Amazingly enough, a lot of the things I made up were either being developed or already being used in operating rooms.

It made me feel quite full of myself, and my family had to suffer some high-level obnoxiousness. In summary, I got to play at being a neurosurgeon, and no patients were harmed during the making of the book.

GR: Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a writer.

SD: My mother loves to tell stories about how I was writing rhyming couplets about everything and anything before I could even read.

But making a living as a writer was one of those dreams that always seemed too far-fetched. Consequently, I studied architecture in college so that I could have a "real" career. But the need to write was so strong that, within months of graduating, I found myself quitting my job at an architectural firm to work for an architectural magazine.

For me, the true journey was going from business writing and journalism to fiction. That flip did happen serendipitously. I was talking to my best friend, who is a movie producer, and she was bemoaning not being able to find a good commercial script. We both said, in one voice, "How hard can it be to write a good story?"

So I wrote my first script in response to that challenge and then wrote several after that. None of those ever saw the light of day.

But once I had caught the fiction bug, I couldn’t shake it off. The high of creating characters—putting them through the ringer and watching them triumph—was a drug like no other. It took another five years of writing obsessively and working on the craft before I finished my first novel.

GR: Mr. Darcy remains one of readers' favorite "book boyfriends" of all time. Who are some of the fictional characters you can't get enough of?

SD: Mr Darcy, of course, but also Frederick Wentworth. Maybe because I’m writing a Persuasion reimagining, but I’m obsessed with him right now.

There’s just something about constancy and being the kind of person who can hold on to love across time and separation without becoming despondent. There’s also something lovely about a person who doesn’t take himself so seriously that he lets anger and a hurt ego get in his own way.

GR: What romance books hooked you on the genre?

SD: I think the first time I read a romance and fell in love was when I read Julia Quinn and Lisa Kleypas. There was such cleverness and wit to Quinn’s writing, and Kleypas had perfect emotional pitch. I remember feeling a hunger to write like that. I inhaled their books not just as a smitten reader, but also as a student reading craft texts.

But it wasn’t until I read Susan Elizabeth Philips, and fell in love with her stunningly real and irredeemable characters, that I felt like I could actually write the stories I wanted to write.

Then there was Kristan Higgins, who creates families and communities I want to crawl into and never leave; Nalini Singh, for the sheer intensity and sweetness of her romantic connections; and Sherry Thomas, for the complex intricateness of her characters.

GR: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

SD: The only way to be a writer is to write and read—and write and read. And then do that again.

Keep working on your craft and your story without letting rejection dissuade you, without worrying about what sells and what doesn't. The stronger your writing gets, the more confident you will become. That will help you find the right home for your book.

And never give up. This is the best possible time to be an author. Thanks to all the various ways in which you can publish, no matter how niche or off the beaten path your book is, you can take it to your readers. Just keep going and make your writing as strong as you possibly can, because that's what will stick with readers in the end.

GR: What books are you looking forward to reading soon?

SD: My to-be-read pile is a teetering tower thanks to my writing deadlines. But I’ve been dying to get to Nisha Sharma’s The Takeover Effect, Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe, Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal, Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test, and Falguni Kothari’s The Object of Your Affections.

GR: What's next for the Rajes?

SD: As I hold my breath for the release of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, I’m working on the next book in the series: a reimagining of Jane Austen’s Persuasion set on a fictional Food Network show called Cooking with the Stars. (Yes, more food!) Think Dancing with the Stars, but with a celebrity paired up with a chef instead of a pro dancer.

The chef heroine is on the show to save her failing restaurant and prove herself to her super successful mother. And the celebrity she gets stuck with? He's the legendary soccer star her family made her dump years ago, when they thought he was a nobody.

I’m also finishing up a novella set in this series about a bride who runs away the night before her wedding. The groom finds her and has that one night to convince her that they’re meant to be together as they traipse around San Francisco in search of the connection they’ve lost. It’s all very Before Sunrise, and it’s going to be part of an anthology called Once Upon a Wedding.

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message 1: by Bidisha (new)

Bidisha Das This is such a good interview! Can't wait to read Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors!

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