Interview with SJ Sindu, Author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies
We’re so happy today to be talking with SJ Sindu, author of the soon-to-be-released, Marriage of a Thousand Lies.
Please describe what the story is about.
Marriage of a Thousand Lies is about a Sri-Lankan American lesbian named Lucky who is in a marriage of convenience—that is, she is married to a gay man so that they can both present as straight to their conservative South Asian families. But when Lucky’s girlfriend agrees to an arranged marriage, Lucky’s life of lies starts to unravel.
Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.
“The wind feels new, but then again Boston wind always feels new, solid and pregnant with the sea. Windows glow stark yellow against the painted blue of the buildings. The air wraps tight around me. Tomorrow everything will change, or maybe it’s already changed, and I’m just waiting for it to sprout like spring growth. Tomorrow I’ll bring Nisha home, and she’ll belong to no one.”
What do you want people to know about your book?
Marriages of convenience are one way that South Asians and South Asian Americans negotiate homophobia within the community, and even in 2016, it happens far more often that many would realize. This novel tries to capture the agony of living in the closet at a time when mainstream culture is becoming more and more accepting, meaning that more often than not, queer people with conservative families face a choice between leaving their families behind forever, or living a lie. This choice is even more complicated when the person, like Lucky, is dealing with intersecting identities of race, ethnicity and religion.
What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?
I was scared to write this book, because the backlash from my family and from the South Asian community at large will be just as dire as the kind of excommunication that Lucky faces in the novel. But something still drove me to write it. Like Lucky, I was tired of the oppressive silence around queerness in South Asian culture. I was tired of being scared. I learned from Lucky how to be braver.
What was your timeline from drafting to publication?
I started writing the novel during my Masters program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in 2009. I finished it in 2013, spent nine months finding an agent, then another 14 months finding a publisher. I signed the contract with Soho at the beginning of 2016, and the novel will come out in May 2017. So all together, 8 years.
What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?
I love being in the trance of voice. When I find the voice of a piece—it’s like everything else falls into place. I’m seduced by voice, as a reader and writer—I find it intoxicating.
Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?
When I was in college, one of my best friends—a gay Indian man—asked me if I would marry him so that we could appease our families. I said no, but the idea kept nagging at me. I wondered, what kind of person would I have had to be to say yes? That’s how Lucky was born.
When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?
I like thinking while doing some sort of physical exercise. Swimming, running, biking. Even just standing in the ocean waves. Some physical activity that is redundant and methodical so that I can tune out and think.
Share something people may be surprised to know about you?
I wasn’t born in the U.S. I was actually born in Sri Lanka, and when I immigrated here at the age of seven, I knew absolutely no English at all. So I’m not as Americanized as my character Lucky, and I can sympathize with both Lucky and her mother in their intergenerational culture war.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Do the work. Put your butt in the chair, and write. Don’t just say you’re going to write, or plan to write, or think about writing. Actually write. Do the work.
Right now I’m revising what I hope will be my second novel (currently titled Blue-Skinned Gods), a faux-memoir about a young boy who becomes the center of a Hindu cult in India.
MARRIAGE OF A THOUSAND LIES
My parents are the kind of people who talk politics but never mention gay marriage, who watch the news but change the channel at the mention of gayness. Shame, dishonor, embarrassment. Five hundred Sri Lankan Tamil families in the greater Boston area, and not one of them has a gay kid…
Lakshmi, called Lucky, is an unemployed programmer. She likes to dance, to have a drink or two, and she does art on commission. Fifty bucks gets you high-resolution digital images of anything you want (Orcs, mermaids, fan couples in sexy boudoir scenes) and a nice frameable print. Lucky’s husband, Krishna, is an editor for a greeting card company. Both are secretly gay. They present their conservative Sri Lankan-American families with a heterosexual front, while each one secretly dates on the side. When Lucky’s grandmother has a nasty fall, Lucky returns to her mother’s home to act as caretaker and unexpectedly reconnects with her childhood best friend and first lover, Nisha. Nisha has agreed to an arranged marriage with a man she doesn’t know… but she wants to hook up with Lucky again.
Lucky wants to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie—but does Nisha really want to be saved? And what does Lucky want, anyway? It doesn’t always get better. To live openly means that Lucky would lose most of the community she was born into—a community she loves, an irreplaceable home. As Lucky—an outsider no matter what choices she makes—is pushed to the breaking point, MARRIAGE OF A THOUSAND LIES offers a moving exploration of friendship, family, and love, shot through with humor and loss.
I love Lucky, the unforgettable narrator of Marriage of a Thousand Lies. She has taken a place among my favorite misfits in literature, a young woman longing for love and tradition and celebration and family even as she defies expectations and navigates her own paths. I’m especially captivated by the novel’s honesty and tenderness – SJ Sindu is such an intuitive writer with such great insights into the complications of love and friendship. – Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola