I’m so excited to feature an interview with Amulya Malladi, author of The Copenhagen Affair, which releases today. I’m a big fan of Amulya’s work, so after I read a review copy from Net Galley, I knew I wanted to have her on my blog to talk about the book and the story behind it.
Amulya is the author of seven novels, including A House for Happy Mothers and A Breath of Fresh Air, both of which I really enjoyed. Her work has been translated into several languages. In addition to writing, Amulya works as a marketing executive. (If you want to know how she does it all, keep reading!) After living in Copenhagen for several years, she now resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.
I like Amulya’s books because they feature strong female characters in diverse settings. The Copenhagen Affair, a comedy about depression, is no different. After experiencing a breakdown, Sanya moves to Copenhagen with her husband, Harry. There, she meets the handsome and enigmatic Anders Ravn, with whom she forms a connection. What follows is a twisting tale of white-collar crime, high society shenanigans, marital secrets and the temptation to cross moral boundaries. It’s funny and thought-provoking and a really good read.
Let’s get into the interview.
What I liked most about this novel is that you balance a serious topic such as depression with a dose of comedy. Why did you choose to write about depression? What do you hope readers come away knowing about the illness?
I joke that The Copenhagen Affair is a comedy about depression set in the capital of the happiest country in the world. I wrote this book when I was depressed. For a couple of years there, I wasn’t writing. My corporate career was stressing me out and everything had gone gray around me. I wanted to laugh and I wanted to write something without ever worrying about its quality and ability to get published. So one day I just started writing.
I will always think of The Copenhagen Affair as the book that helped me get mentally healthy, helped me laugh. When you’re feeling sad, doing something that makes you happy is like sunlight washing into a dark and cold room, it may not lighten up the whole room or make it warm right away, but slowly as the light becomes stronger, it can change your brain patterns and teach you to smile the sadness away.
I think a lot of people think depression is what we see in the movies—it’s associated with a suicide attempt or something traumatic that has happened. In Denmark, I once went to see my doctor to ask if my healthcare would cover a therapist and he asked me if I’d been raped or if I was suicidal. I was neither and he said then I’d have to pay for it myself.
But depression comes in many ways. I’m a high-functioning depressive and I can’t just get over it. There are many others like me and I hope those who’re not well will seek help and those who are will have more compassion.
Over the course of the story, we see the many cracks in Harry’s and Sanya’s marriage. As a reader, it was easy to take sides, but in hindsight, I can see the other party being at fault too. What was it like to write about a complex topic such as marriage?
I’m married so in many ways it was not so complex. Marriage like any other relationship has its ups and downs and like any other relationship needs to be nurtured. My husband and I have been together for 22 years and I think this exchange between my husband and me in the Q&A at the end of the book says it well.
SØREN: We’ve been married a long time. What do you think about our marriage?
AMULYA: It’s been good. It’s been bad. And it’s been everything in between. It’s my only marriage. I have nothing else to compare it to, either, so I can’t benchmark. Overall, it’s been like life—some ups and some downs and still alive.
You mention in the acknowledgements that this novel is a love letter to Copenhagen and having read the book, I can say it certainly feels that way. To me, Copenhagen is a character in this book because it gives Sanya some transformative experiences. How has the city shaped you?
We moved to Denmark in 2002 when our oldest son was just a year old. We had been living in Silicon Valley, I had just signed a two-book contract and we had a baby. My husband is Danish and we started to discuss the idea of moving to Denmark living in another part of the world, have an easier pace of life than Silicon Valley–and most importantly, grandparents for our children. When we moved to Denmark, I never thought we’d live there for fourteen years. I even kept my California driver’s license right up until I simply had to legally get a Danish one.
I lived all over Denmark—more than most Danes who tend to live around the area where they grew up. I lived on Fynn (the middle island), on Jylland (the big island) and on Sjaelland, the island where Copenhagen is. I saw the rural, the suburban and the city personalities of the country—I saw what a truly homogenous society looks like and how stark the presence of a brown person in this milky white country. I didn’t like living in Denmark until we moved to Copenhagen. I fell in love. Like many capital cities it’s different from Denmark, the country and is a cosmopolitan, diverse and engaging place. I love the food, the streets, the lakes, everything about it. The outdoor cafes, the museums, the walking street, and the small town feel but with the benefits of a capital.
The city has made me more European, broadened my horizons. I didn’t even realize it until we moved back to the US last year that I am European, my sensibilities, my politics and my outlook has become Scandinavian, in fact. But what Denmark really gave me was the responsibility of having work-life balance. I don’t work during my vacation anymore, I take all of it and I know how to check out of my job. The country taught me to respect downtime and that there is more to life than your job.
I know you have a family, work a full-time job and write. You’re Wonder Woman! How do you manage it all? What advice do you have for writers who’re trying to write while juggling other responsibilities?
Don’t do it all. Really. It’s not worth it. Do what you can and stop doing what you can’t. Writing and working works for me. My family is happy when I have a book to work on because when I don’t I’m just miserable. For me, it doesn’t feel like doing it all. I don’t do many things. I don’t go for my sons’ basketball games and when we lived in Denmark I didn’t do family stuff (weekends were for writing)—I also have a husband who is ridiculously supportive, so I have the space and time to indulge myself.
My advice is that you can’t find time; you have to make time, which means you may have to give something else up. A coach once told me, “You’re superwoman, Amulya and you can do anything you want, you just can’t do everything you want.” This was an important lesson.
In addition to writing, you paint too. Does your writing inform your painting and vice versa?
I think they both reflect how I feel—though I can create a painting in a week and a book takes a year. When I started painting three years ago, I just painted to pass time, it was a creative outlet. But it wasn’t real to me. It was like knitting. Then I had an incident at work where I felt betrayed by someone I had taken care of. I came home angry and hurt and started to paint to just get my mind off of what had happened. That evening I painted my first abstract– I called it Betrayal & Anger. My heart was beating fast as I painted. It took me many hours to paint the piece and I did it without stopping. For the first time since I started to paint, I poured my emotions onto the canvas.
It was like a door opened inside and I could translate how I felt through the colors and shapes on the canvas. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I made a few more abstract paintings, each one fueled by how I was feeling, and slowly, the anger tempered and was replaced with grief.
As I learned to deal with my emotions with art – I use it as therapy – I also learned that I could change how I felt by painting how I wanted to feel. When I felt like my life was out of control and I didn’t know what to do, I painted happy paintings. The process of painting changed how I felt and went from feeling hopeless to feeling hopeful.
Art has a way of helping us feel better– feel different. I realized that just like words on paper, paint on canvas is another way to tell stories, to release the emotions from within and bring them out to the world to see.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a story I call the fictional Lean In and it’s titled The Nearest Exit Maybe Behind You.
I was working on something else earlier, but after a conversation with my agent about how I struggle with where to set my story, I found that I just had to tell this story.
I travel a fair bit with my other profession as a marketing director for a medical device company and my agent suggested why not write about that; about airports and business travel. As a woman leader in a male-dominated corporate world, I feel my greater purpose is to help other women rise in their careers. So, this book, where my protagonist has to learn to lean in and take her place at the table, is close to my heart, because it blends my corporate persona with the storyteller.
Amulya, thanks so much for sharing the story behind the story and Happy Pub Day!