Simi, the main character in Falguni Kothari’s new novel ‘My Last Love Story,’ is at a crossroads in life. Her husband Nirvaan has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer and their best friend Zayaan has come to visit them for the summer as they begin to navigate the hardest periods in their lives. The three friends had been close since their teens and as Nirvaan comes to terms with his imminent passing, he is determined to secure Simi’s future by encouraging a romance between his wife and Zayaan.
We caught up with Kothari recently to chat about this unconventional romance novel, how she got her start in publishing and how our pasts shape us.
The Teal Mango: How did you come up with the idea for this book? Your earlier books seemed much light in terms of both tone and topics.
Falguni Kothari: I actually surprised myself because I actually don’t tend to write serious books, I hadn’t until this one. But I guess with every book a writer changes or your writing changes. Your thinking your changes and maybe this one just needed to be written.
So while I wrote it a couple of things happened. When I was 14, my cousin who was 16 was diagnosed with a brain tumor and I think she was in the back of my mind throughout my twenties and thirties. She suffered from cancer for about nine years before succumbing to it.
We grew up together, so we saw in the family what was going on and how she reacted and how we reacted to her. She was 16 and she was seeing somebody and the boy stood by her for the next three or four years. But eventually, when you know that something is terminal, and you know that you are never going to recover from it, you automatically start losing your friendships or losing part of yourself. That was one thing that I guess was at the back of my mind when I finally decided that one of my main characters was going to go through this disease. And that part of it was unintentional, I didn’t realize I was doing that until I was halfway through the book and I was like ‘Oh my God, this is so much of what I saw and observed my cousin go through.’
I wanted to show the strength and absolute joy in life that people have. That’s what I’m trying to show in Nirvaan.
TTM: It’s also really touching that he is spending his last few weeks on Earth making sure his wife is going to be okay. He’s working to ensure her future.
FK: Correct. And that’s another thought that will come to somebody who has a terminal illness– what will happen to my family after I go? It’s a very natural thought. Especially the kind of bonds that are shown between Simi and Nirvaan and Zayaan that they know each other and so well. he knows she is going to be shattered and he knows that the only person who can bring her out of that is Zayaan. So he is kind of manipulating that situation for that to happen. For that whole set up where he is like ‘I need her to be ok and I will make sure he will be ok.’
TTM: Simi is only 30, but she’s already gone through so much. Her early life was also quite troubled. What would you say to somebody who is going through something like that?
FK: Yes, That’s the kind of life that she had. Every few years something happens that derails her whole life.
The thing is that all of us go through ups and downs. That is part of life. But she goes through things that are larger in life in what she goes through. But she learns to deal with it. You can’t do anything else. That’s what I tried to show in the book, that things happen and you have to go through it. Whether you go through it well or badly, that depends on your personality. There is no other choice.
That’s one of the things her husband is trying to get her to do. ‘You need to live, you need to make choices in your own life. You need to have agency..’ That’s what he’s trying to push her to do.
TTM: I think that Bollywood fans are used to the concept of a love triangle, but this one is very different than that. Everyone here really cares about one another. How did this aspect of the story come about?
FK: There was a book that read a while ago by Megan Hart, it was called “Tempted.” That story was about two best friends and there was a married couple and they had a three-way love affair all through the summer. And for some reason, that story stuck in my head. Of course, the ending was very different and what the characters went through was very different but that story kind of stuck with me.
And just before I wrote My Last Love Story I had finished my urban fantasy novel “Soul Warrior: The Age of Kali,” which is based on characters from the Mahabharata. I tried to use the mythology of India and put it in a very modern context. So in that book I was immersed in Draupadi’s story whereas you know she has five husbands and she juggles that and then I added Karna into the mix.
So I was already in that frame of mind where it fascinated me how one woman could handle multiple loves or multiple men at the same time. So I guess going from five husbands to just two boyfriends is not going backward.
TTM: I also wanted to ask you about your career. How did you end up as a writer? Did you always know that you wanted to write fiction?
FK: I didn’t actually. I grew up in India and went to school there in Bombay, and I’ve always been a huge reader. I love stories, whether it was verbal retellings by my grandmother or my parents or reading all kinds of books. I’m an eclectic reader — I’ll read anything that will interest me.
Stories are part of my psyche, but with writing I never, ever thought I’d write a novel. I was good at writing in school, but I found it very cut and try. It wasn’t creative writing in school, it was very structured and there were rules and I didn’t like the process of writing in school.
However moving to New York and after raising a family, once the kids were in middle school I had more and more time on my hands. I wanted to do something. I haven’t worked outside of the house ever so I think I was looking at online courses in things having to do with history and literature — the things that I loved and I thought I wouldn’t get bored of.
And then I stumbled on this very short romance writing course called “Romance Writing Secrets” and I took it and I just got addicted. I was just like ‘Oh my god, this is so much fun!” With that and taking that six week course I sort of understood what the process was in writing and I think at the end of it we had to do an assignment of ‘if you wrote a book, how would you start the book?’ Thinking of that, I wrote the first scene of my first romance, which was called ‘It’s Your Move, Wordfreak?’ and it just thrilled me that I could make up these characters and a world around them. I think that within 11 months I had a manuscript. Then I gave it out to my book club and most of them said, ‘You should try to get it published, because it’s good! Very good!’ and I said, ‘Really?’ I didn’t think anything would come of it.
TTM: What did you do when you realized you wanted to publish that story?
FK: I started looking into things like ‘How does it work? Who do I have to pitch? I started pitching to editors and agents alike, both in the U.S. and in India. I actually thought the India thing would work better because I write predominantly about India and Indians in the diaspora. Within five months I had a contract with Rupa Publications, which is a leading publisher in India.
But then I had to sit down and relearn everything. There are rules to follow, there are things and there are patterns. Because how it’s done is the U.S. is different from the way it works in India.
TTM: What are you working on next? Do you have anything new coming up?
FK: My next book comes out in February. It’s called ‘The Object of Your Affection’ and it’s about two best friends. One is a widow who has had a surrogate child for her other best friend and it looks at the way their relationship changes through that whole process. It’s more about women and their relationships and the choices that they make.
Grab your copy of ‘My Last Love Story’ here.