Shalini Dua never pictured she would be writing professionally when she graduated from JMU with a degree in finance in 2006. However, sometimes the most unexpected of opportunities arise long after a student walks across that graduation stage. After a couple years working in corporate, she realized it wasn’t for her. Now, 12 years after her graduation, she’s in the final stages of publishing her debut novel.
The novel, “The Secret Lives of Royals,” is a contemporary fairy tale for a modern audience. Dua had been developing the story for years in her head, inspired by her time studying in England in her youth. The story follows Olivia, a recent college graduate who’s searching for her dream job in New York City and is soon whisked away into the lives of royalty. With Olivia, Dua was determined to create a modern fairy tale heroine who couldn’t be found in the current literary scene.
“I also wanted a fairy tale that was contemporary, had a strong female protagonist who was not being saved by anyone else but was capable in her own right, and I could not find one,” Dua said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I write that book?’”
Dua worked hard to make Olivia seem as if she walked right out of the streets of New York onto the page. At the start of the story Olivia is down on her luck, stuck in her dead end job waiting for her big break. Just as she’s about to leave the city behind, she gets the opportunity of a lifetime — writing for one of the top selling magazines in the city. Little does she know that this introduces her into a new world: a world where royals hide in plain sight.
Lauren Milne — one of Dua’s closest friends — designed the cover for the novel. The two met in primary school and kept in touch over the years. She explained that the process for designing the cover was easy, as she and Dua bounced ideas and collaborated.
“I sketched out a few ideas for Shalini, all completely different, hitting the whole secret society and love triangle thing at a different angle,” Milne said in an email. “Shalini and I both loved one concept, so that one was worked up and developed into what you see today.”
Dua also wanted to incorporate her love of travel and food into the novel. Jen Hilder is another one of Dua’s childhood friends who traveled with her to various European cities to get inspiration and sprout ideas for the novel.
“My involvement was to travel with Shalini around Europe and to some of the cities that are featured in the book,” Hilder said in an email. “It was probably more the cities that provided the inspiration for her writing, but I'd like to think I helped in being a travel companion!”
Throughout her writing, Dua’s goal was to share her love for fairy tales with a modern audience. She combined her interests in pop culture, food and travel to create a humorous 21st century fantasy.
“It’s about a girl who’s after her dream job, she’s graduated college and it is looking forward to what’s next,” Dua said. “It can connect to college students who are working on their dream but may not be there yet. Hopefully, it inspires people to go for what they want to dream.”
Contact Camryn Finn at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.