Recipe for Persuasion, (Morrow, June.) the second romance in Dev’s Jane Austen–inspired Rajes series, sees an old flame reignite on the set of a reality cooking competition.
The Raje family are descended from Indian royalty. What inspired their unique backstory?
I grew up in India in a bit of an Anglicized bubble. Because of colonization, we grew up reading Western fiction, so there weren’t a lot of Indian protagonists. And once I moved to this country, whatever little presence I saw of Indian-American culture in media was what I could only describe as “poverty porn” or “exotica porn.” To me, that was unacceptable. I always knew that if I were allowed to tell stories on a stage where they were going to be heard by people, they were going to be about a different Indian experience. One of those experiences is privilege. In this country, privilege is seen as the realm of white people. But there is privilege in other cultures. India’s history of royalty was rudely interrupted by colonization. The power was stripped away, but the semblance of power was left. That’s where the Rajes came from.
Recipe for Persuasion centers on the complicated relationship between Ashna and her mother. What led you to focus on this dynamic?
From the day we’re born, we’re setting up our life based on blueprints. My blueprint is how I’ve seen my mom and grandmother and aunts behave from when I was very young. You see these relationships around you and build your own vocabulary for relationships from that. Ashna doesn’t have that. She has, for many reasons including that she doesn’t really know her mother, been left almost incomplete. Until that’s been healed, letting love into her life is not something she knows how to do. That’s what this story is about for me.
Cooking with the Stars makes for a fun backdrop. How did you choose this setting?
The whole theme, taken from Austen’s Persuasion, is power balance. The first time Ashna and Rico get together, he’s a nobody and she has all the power, because her family does. Then he goes off and gains wealth and a name. He’s the celebrity on the cooking show and she’s dependent on him for the win. The power dynamic is completely flipped, and I wanted to explore that. And of course, it’s fun and I love food. I spend so much of my life watching Food Network that it had to come out somewhere.
Tell me about your relationship with Jane Austen’s work.
At a young age, I connected very deeply with Austen’s writing. I read her in middle school, and I think at the time I was looking to shore up my belief that I was just as good as anyone else, even as a woman. Even though Austen wrote 200 years ago, the messaging in her books is always, always about female agency and self-worth. She very much took over my imagination, and I find her almost a part of the blueprint I was built on.