Debut Author Spotlight: Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Name: Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Book: Secret Daughter

Current Home: San Diego, CA

Number of manuscripts hidden under the bed: None (yet).

Time it took to sell first book: Two years from the time I started writing.

Writing Secret Daughter: I began writing chronologically, from the beginning of the story as it unfolds. I had a strong sense of the beginning and of how I wanted it to end. Much of the rest of the story took shape as I was writing. I found it easier to stay in one character’s voice, so I first wrote Kavita’s (the biological mother) story all the way through, then Somer’s (the adoptive mother) and finally Asha’s (the daughter). I wove those stories together and that became my first draft. Then I began editing, a lot.

Inspiration for writing: I’ve been writing since I was a child, but I began to really write seriously in 2006. It was an idea I’d held in the back of my mind for many years while I was a very avid reader. A combination of life changes — a geographic move, a professional change, a second child — created the space in my life to try something new.

Writing about adoption: I don’t have personal experience with adoption, but I was fortunate to be able to speak with several people who have adopted children from Asia, both recently and in the 1980’s, when Asha’s adoption takes place. It was important to root the story in historical context, because the notion of adopting a child from another country was a lot less prevalent thirty years ago than it has become now. The conventional wisdom about how to handle those adoptions was also quite different. People thought it was best to assimilate an adopted child to American culture as quickly as possible, so she would fit in and not feel as different. Today, many families who adopt from overseas make a point of keeping a connection to the child’s birth country and culture, which I think is a good thing. It’s rather incredible to realize how much things have changed in our society in only a few decades.

Writing about India: India is a country full of extremes and contrasts, and Asha discovers this when she goes to visit. For the first time in her life, she is not a visible minority, and yet she is aware of feeling like an outsider in her homeland. Through her work, she’s exposed to the poverty and desolation of the slums of Mumbai, and she also sees the opulence of how the wealthy live in the same city. Most importantly, she feels the warmth and acceptance of her extended adoptive family and the mix of emotions this brings for her. It is from all this that she develops a sense of belonging and comes to understand of the true meaning of family. 

Connecting with readers: One pleasant surprise has been hearing from a number of young women in their teens and twenties who, themselves, were adopted out of Indian orphanages and have grown up in America. Many have told me that this story affected them deeply, and that Asha’s character put into words their own emotions and life experiences. Some have said the book has helped them feel more at peace with their own lives and inner struggles. I could never have anticipated that the story I conceived in my mind would resonate with people in that way, and I’m very humbled by it.

Writing advice to live by: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve taken from other writers is that a first draft is just a starting point. It’s easy to get caught up in compulsively editing or revising a piece of work as you’re still writing, but there is a whole level of perspective and editing that you can’t possibly engage in until you have your first draft completed. That’s when the real work begins.

Writing routine: I prefer to write very early in the morning, before my mind becomes cluttered with other things or I’m even fully awake. A quiet room, a clear mind and a cup of tea are my favorite ingredients for a good writing session.

Work in progress: My second novel shares some of the same themes as Secret Daughter — the search for identity, and how this is impacted by culture and by family. But it’s also different in several ways, because I like to deliberately stretch myself to try to become a better writer.