Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Q&A with Mansi Shah

Photo by Ron Derhacopian



Mansi Shah is the author of the new novel The Direction of the Wind. She also has written the novel The Taste of Ginger. She lives in Los Angeles.


Q: What inspired you to write The Direction of the Wind, and how did you create your characters Sophie and Nita?


A: I have long had a love affair with Paris and knew I wanted it as the backdrop to my story, but I wanted to focus on the lesser-known gritty side of Paris that isn’t often written about.


I also wanted to address the expectations of motherhood placed on women and how that could impact a woman’s mental health, especially as we are moving into a time when more and more women are choosing childfree paths.


I’ve always loved books that deal with complex issues by making them more accessible in an engaging story with interesting characters, so I set out to combine all these elements in my novel.


In creating Sophie and Nita, I wanted to have characters who had sheltered lives in India and had to learn about the harsh realities of the world when they went to the Western hemisphere for the first time.


Sophie is someone who has always wanted to blend in, but with a name that is not common in India and growing up without a mother, she never could. Nita is someone who always wanted to stand out, but felt that the culture and society into which she had been born wouldn’t allowed that.


The similarities and differences between them make clear they are family even though they spent most of their lives apart, and show that while we each have a history that we cannot change, we all have the power to guide our futures in a different direction.


Q: The book is told from both characters’ perspectives, along two timelines. Did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character before turning to the other?


A: My first chapter had always started with Sophie and is basically the same as in the final version. I knew from the start that the story would be most compelling if I alternated between Sophie’s and Nita’s stories, but in my original drafts, I wrote the entirety of Nita’s story after the first chapter with Sophie, and then picked up the remainder of Sophie’s story and her search for Nita.

I needed to know everything that happened to Nita before I could write Sophie’s story, and writing chronologically made the most sense to me. Going back and editing to alternate the chapters was a lot of work to keep both stories engaging and cohesive, but it definitely felt like the right decision in the end.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I love a multi-layered title, so when it came to choosing titles for my books, I leaned on Indian proverbs that apply to the characters and stories in a nuanced way. Once I had the concept for my book, I started researching proverbs that would fit the themes, and had to enlist the help of my parents and their friends to help me translate a lot of the Gujarati writing, but there’s no better feeling than the calm I feel once I know I have the right title.


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I want my readers to feel immersed in the places in which I set my novels, so for The Direction of the Wind, I spent a lot of time in Paris over many years to make sure I had an accurate depiction of the neighborhoods and places described in the book.


I also had to research any changes that would have happened between 1998 and 2019, but one of the reasons I’d chosen Paris as the backdrop is because it is a city that favors tradition over modernization, and has many long-established restaurants and locations that would ensure that despite the two-decade difference in the storylines, Nita and Sophie would be able to visit many of the same places.


I also had to do a lot of addiction and drug-related research, so that was an interesting rabbit-hole to jump down. If anyone had reviewed my Google search history during that time, they would have had a lot of questions!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on a novel that features a chef and takes place in Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. I have plans for future books that take place in Singapore and Bali as well. I’m not sure where my characters will end up after those stories, but Antarctica, East Africa, and the Maldives are in consideration.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I have been blessed with an immensely talented cover artist, Micaela Alcaino, who does an exceptional job of visually representing my stories. I’d highly recommend you check out her work.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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