In a word, long! I’m always envious reading about writers who wrote their first book, got an agent, and published in like, the span of six months. Mine was definitely longer as this book was first written as a memoir, then I fictionalized the story which took a few years. The big moment was when Melissa Marino selected my manuscript for Pitchwars, and that led me to find my agent.
As tech experts both your hero and heroine tend to be data driven which leads to the creation of ‘the marriage code’. What is the code and how did it come about?
The marriage code is a customized search for the perfect woman that Emma develops for her coworker Rishi. It only finds women who match his exact specifications (well, his and his family’s). I like to think of it as Match.com (or shaadi.com in India) on steroids.
This is definitely not a love at first sight story! In fact, Rishi and Emma have quite a difficult time getting along at first. Can you describe their first meeting and how this sets the scene for their relationship?
Emma is in a super rough spot. Her carefully constructed world is collapsing because her boyfriend has publicly proposed to her, she wasn’t ready, and he in turn blames her for turning him down. So the next day she goes into work, clinging to the fact that at least she has her job, and this project she’s put all her blood, sweat, and tears into. But then Rishi, a stranger, tells her that this project is no longer hers. For a woman who likes patterns and predictability, well…she loses it. Now Emma is faced with the threat of no job, no boyfriend, no homey apartment—until she convinces her manager to give the project to her, not knowing Rishi is slated to manage it, and that it’s his salvation from the pressures of his family. They still need to work together…closely. And that sets the two of them off on a journey they never expected.
Rivals to friends to confidants … to something much, much more. What do you consider the turning point in their story?
I think the big pivot for Emma and Rishi is when she finally lets her guard down and tells him about her past when they’re in Kerala. Emma is really private and feels like she’s always had to protect her vulnerability to be successful, and I think for a lot of women in tech that can be true (well, probably true for a lot of women in many jobs). That opening up leads to the much, much more!
Emma is from the Northwest and Rishi from the south–southern India that is. There are some serious cultural differences between these two. What are some of the biggest roadblocks they face in their relationship?
Emma’s biggest roadblock is trying to protect herself. She’s carefully constructed this world she lives in to be compartmentalized, practical, and to suit the life she thinks she needs to rely on. Even though Rishi’s not out to get her professionally, she’s been taken advantage of before by male coworkers and she doesn’t want to let it happen again. For Rishi, the pressure to get married to a woman who will fit into the culture of his family is the biggest roadblock. His family depends on him, and their reference point for someone marrying outside their culture has caused so much heartache, it’s hard to get past that.
As much as they are different, Rishi and Emma have a lot in common — including their careers and their drive to succeed. What are some other similarities that you found when writing your hero and heroine?
Food is something that very much brings these two together. For Emma, growing up poor and with her grandmother, who had to work multiple jobs to support her, throughout her childhood she basically survived on canned food and hotdogs. So now that she’s out on her own, she relishes in amazing cuisine wherever she can get it. For Rishi, he is super passionate about the different varieties of Indian food, but his favorite is still what his mom cooks. He often serves as her culinary guide around Bangalore, and Emma helps him open his eyes to the food he’s been eating his entire life. That balance brings them together often, and how they are able to become friends—and more!
This is a very personal story to you—like Emma, you moved to India and had to adapt to your new environment. What are some customs that you liked the best? Which ones were more challenging for you?
When I first moved to India, and especially when interacting with my (now) husband’s family I was constantly trying to make sure I wasn’t offending anyone. In the US, we have one main gesture that is super offensive and it’s easy NOT to use it. In India, what you do with your hands and feet can be offensive, and so it’s more nuanced; there is a lot of using your right hand vs your left hand, not putting your feet towards someone, knowing when to take off your shoes, and that takes some constant reminding and getting used to. Oh, and eating with your hands. In the book, Emma feels like she looks like a toddler eating, and yeah, so do I!
My favorite customs are mostly around how in general, I think Indians cherish their traditions. Despite all the Western influence, it feels like people still care a lot about continuing to practice traditions of their family, religion, and heritage. Whether it’s the clothes people wear, the multitude of holidays, or the weddings chock full of ritual and customs, I think it’s amazing to take the time and intention to continue practicing those. I also really appreciate their reverence for elders. There is a lot of respect given to the wisdom and experience of older people in the culture that feels very different then how we often treat our elders in the US, for example.
Both you and your characters are very adventurous. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to make big decisions for their future?
If you want to try something that feels like it will challenge you (even if it’s scary!) do it! If you make a mistake you can always come back from it. Most of my regrets in life are because I didn’t do something, and it’s hard to recapture and relive those moments. I don’t have regrets on trying to do something new, like moving to another country or going on a safari in an open jeep with a lion five feet away (both scary and amazing). But I have regretted that trip I didn’t take, or words I didn’t say to someone. I think that’s one of my biggest life lessons.
Why is The Marriage Code the perfect book to introduce you to readers?
The Marriage Code is very personal to me because I wanted to write a book that echoed some of the experiences I had moving to India and meeting my husband. So if there is any kind of introduction to my writing and me, this is definitely a good one!
Two cups of coffee. His laptop bag hung on one shoulder, threatening to slip off. His sunglasses fell from his head and teetered on the end of his nose as he approached the room. He tried to use his hip to push the handle down and splashed coffee on his jeans. He looked through the glass door. Emma was sitting there, laughing at him.
“Help, please,” he said, a thread of irritation in his voice, through the practically soundproof glass.
She made a big production of sighing and taking off her headphones and rolling her chair back inch by inch, the wheels moving as slowly as bad bandwidth. Yet the whole time, she was still smiling with complete amusement.
She pulled open the door, her arm sliding up the edge and blocking his entrance to the room with her body. “Can I help you? I mean, you look like you need help.”
“Uh, yeah. I got you a coffee. Apparently the last time I’ll do that. Take it.” He thrust it toward her. Now he could slide his sunglasses back on top of his head and save his suffering forearm from his laptop bag, which he was carrying like an old woman with an oversize purse.
“Oh, why, thank you.” Her eyes lit up in surprise as she tasted the coffee, just a sip, and looked up at him through her eyelashes. He tried not to notice how cute she looked, her nose hidden inside the cup, inhaling the coffee. But puppy cute. Like a tiny stray he’d found outside his house who needed help.
Rishi shook his head and glanced up at the projected screen. Now it was his turn to laugh. It reminded him of when his professor had once said, “Done code is better than perfect code.” This was definitely just done.
“Wait, are these the bugs you’re trying to address? What is this code?”
“Look, I’m not an app developer, but I’ve been reading up.” She unplugged her monitor, like she could hide the evidence. “I told you I needed help.”
“I’ll fix the bugs in the log. I think you should leave that to us app devs, honestly. You might break something.”
“Oh? Well, hopefully I didn’t break your marriage code.”
Sometimes she really exasperated him. “Emma, you can’t be perfect in every aspect.”
She tilted her head and pursed her lips, doing that puppy thing again. Or maybe like her part-android brain couldn’t process what he’d said.
He didn’t mean perfect in every aspect, of course. He shook his head. What was wrong with him? “I just meant you’re not an app developer. You’re good at web crawls, right? Desktop development? That’s more than most people can say.”
She straightened up and typed on her laptop. “Well, I guess you’ll be the judge of that. Should I put the candidates for the future Mrs. Iyengar on the big screen?” She looked at him before plugging in the HDMI cable.
He looked at the hall, still empty. Still way too early for anyone to be in here. “Sure. I’m ready for the big unveiling.” He took a deep breath and crossed his arms, leaning back in his seat. Was he ready? What if it hadn’t worked? Or what if he felt insta-love just by looking at the screen? Should he pray or something before she showed him what the results had come up with? He’d practically promised his mom he would take care of it. That he could find “the one.” And after his conversation with Sudhar, one of these women had to work.
Rishi’s feet tapped on the floor. Why was a sudden cocktail of impatience, dread, and curiosity swirling in his stomach? A perfect match could be presented to him in a few short seconds. Because if he knew anything about Emma Delaney, it was that she strove for perfection.
And with passion.
If they really went on an Indian tour together, outside the confines of Bangalore’s best eateries, what would it be like? He’d have to show her the best things about the country he called home. Let her taste the coconut-seeped curries of Kerala. Visit a roadside dhaba in Punjab where the paneer melted on your tongue. Show her the famous Madurai temples in his hometown, but also his favorite Ganesh temple, the tiny one near his apartment.
She’d have to see the flower vendors at Gandhi Bazaar, with their overflowing baskets of marigolds and roses, and eat chaat from his favorite cart in Vijayanagar. She’d take his India, place it in her mouth, and suck the joy of his country like a mango seed.
And end the tour by seeing what other flavors they could search out in the curves of each other’s skin.
What the hell was wrong with him? That couldn’t happen. Obviously, it couldn’t. And yet the thought snaked through him, a depraved viper swallowing his brain whole. He slumped over on the table, his elbow on the cold metal, his palm catching his forehead.
“Are you okay?” Emma had pulled her laptop up and slid it over toward him.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Just forgot something.” Like my mind.
“Here you go.”
Rishi took a deep breath.
Rishi cannot believe that he got passed over for promotion. To make matters worse, not only does his job require him to return home to Bangalore with his nemesis, Emma, but his parents now expect him to choose a bride and get married. So, when Emma makes him an offer—join her team, and she’ll write an algorithm to find him the perfect bride—he reluctantly accepts.
Neither of them expect her marriage code to work so well—or to fall for one another—which leads Emma and Rishi to wonder if leaving fate up to formulas is really an equation for lasting love.