Zee Monodee was born and continues to live on the island of Mauritius in the southern Indian Ocean with her husband and family. As such, her stories of love and relationships cross many cultural borders and include insight only a person raised in the exotic can provide.
Holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications Science, Zee soon learned the corporate world wasn’t for her, and she set course to find her place as an author. Eleven books to date tend to make it clear that Zee intends to be around for a while.
Though Zee’s stories find global locations, I urge readers to take a look at her Island Girls Trilogy. The setting for each is Mauritius and exposes the reader to cultural nuances unfamiliar in current day America, such as how a divorced woman is automatically subjected to gossip, ridicule, and a societal expectation that she remarry immediately – love not required.
The first in the series is “The Other Side,” a story focusing on the divorce predicament and one woman’s struggle to negotiate the maze of harassment and matchmaking while trying to find happiness. “Light My World” explores how embedded the old cultures are in modern Mauritius, and a young woman’s plight to evade her mother’s requirements of marriage. “Winds of Change” follows a widow with children who has abided by the expectations heaped upon her. Still, there’s a woman inside her with needs, and she wonders if she can break out of the shell of life she has become.
Zee writes with a flair for life and love. Her stories can be intense, though always enjoyable, and, since they’re romance, the happy ending is guaranteed, though sometimes the reader won’t see it coming.
Q) You’re fearless. Have you encountered any backlash from your stories tackling Mauritius society?
A) Lol, talk about being fearless – thank goodness I knew nothing of how virulent Mauritian media could be before I had this book released! While most women-centered media welcomed the foray into society and getting behind its closed doors, the other, male-oriented and patriarchal media had tons to say, and fling at me, for daring to treat this kind of subject. Remember – when this book first came out, it was 2007, and divorce was still a hush-hush, taboo matter. How dare I tackle such a concept and bring it out in the open?
Then, of course, this was Mauritius, where sectarian differences still thrive in – thank goodness! – only a small slice of the population. Just my luck one of the reporters who reviewed and covered the book’s release was of a different religion, and he made his beef very public that I, as a Muslim, should’ve written about Muslims and nothing/no one else.
But the point this reporter missed – or refused to see, maybe... – is that I write about culture, not religion. People from the same country/region/diaspora will find echoes of their culture in others, despite whatever religious or ethnic belonging ‘separate’ them.
Still, I stuck to my guns, and then later used this ‘feedback’ to carve myself another niche – I actually wrote a Muslim romance (Once Upon A Second Chance; 1NightStand series, Decadent Publishing) and wove threads of religion, culture, and what it means to be Muslim into a tale of reunited lovers. Most readers who’ve read this tale have mentioned it’s been an eye-opener for them about Muslims and their culture/beliefs/way of life. I just hope I did a good job portraying a world that is often misunderstood.
Q) What has been the greatest difficulty in seeing your work published?
A) That it’s “different” and “different” is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially on the publishing side.
Many of my books, especially when I started writing, focused on Indo-Mauritian culture and were set in Mauritius. First slam into the wall: what the heck/where on Earth is Mauritius? Many agents and publishers shy away from taking on something so ‘exotic’ it’s a relative unknown worldwide.
Next up was my culture slant. How many Indian-culture authors do you know? I know only 3 – Nisha Minhas, Monica Pradhan, and Shobhan Bantwal. Minhas writes popular fiction about Indian-origin girls in Britain (so huge market already in the UK). Pradhan, though still popular fiction, is more book club material – think Amy Tan’s ‘The Joy Luck Club’ on an Indian twist – with a slight literary slant. Bantwal writes outright literary, though she tackles heavy issues of Indian (as in from India itself, not the diaspora) culture like forced abortions of girls even in our contemporary world.
Enter Zee Monodee with popular fiction veering on the lighter, rom-com end of the spectrum, with stories about islanders whose ancestors – twice to thrice removed – came from India, and their story is set in a country that is a melting pot of almost every race/culture/religion of the world. See, I told you – waaaay too exotic!
In a way, I think the market wasn’t ready for my particular brand of culture back then, and I bided my time by writing more mainstream stories (regular rom-coms set in England, as well espionage tales happening all over Europe). Until I found the call for 1NightStand stories at Decadent Publishing, which encouraged ‘worldwide locations’. Jumped in with my first contribution to this series (Once Upon A Stormy Night), and this has been my springboard to unleash my brand of writing on the – unsuspecting *grin* - world.
Q) You have said your stories are as much literary fiction as romance due to your heroines’ strengths and plights. Women coming to terms with themselves and their worlds are important to you. What first caused you to write about them?
A) In my bio, I mention that I’ve always felt like I lived on a fence. I grew up as a Muslim girl of Indian origin in one of the most rapidly developing countries of Africa that also happens to be an island dubbed the ‘rainbow nation’ for the harmony that exists there between all races and religions. That’s a lot for a girl to take, lol! Jeans from Western culture v/s the kurti and churidar of India/Pakistan, not to mention the djellaba and occasional head scarves from the Muslim culture – knowing which clothing to pick for whatever occasion is a minefield, trust me!
The local tongue is Creole, a language derived from French. I spoke mainly French at home, Creole with my friends, learned English at school, and spoke/understood Hindi & Urdu (the languages from India) thanks to so many Bollywood movies that we watched, my mum and I, right after we downed hefty doses of Falcon Crest, Dallas, & Dynasty –dubbed in French! – and EastEnders or Neighbours (that we got in the original English versions).
Fast-forward to teenage years. A good Indian girl (never mind if she’s Muslim, Hindu, Tamil, or any other religion!) keeps herself pure and pious for the ‘good’ marriage she is expected to make. Step out to go to school, lessons, tuition, hanging out with friends, and what happens? Boys, of course! How to reconcile your upbringing with peer pressure, with your own yearnings for adventure and just something ‘more’?
So it thus happens that I’ve always striven to find my place in the world, to find where this ‘me’ would figure out her equilibrium point. And frankly, isn’t that the struggle of every teenager out there? With globalization blurring geographical and regional barriers, and more and more population displacement across the world, how many young women today are striving to find their place in this new, dynamic, societal setup?s
They say ‘write what you know’, and I knew what it feels like to stand on a fence and feel like you don’t or can’t belong to both sides at the same time. The rest, as they also say, is history.
Q) You survived a devastating car crash, only to learn later you had breast cancer. How did those events change your outlook on life?
A) Lol, yep. Two crushed vertebras in my spine – result of that accident – put me in the world of chronic back pain sufferers, and this decreased my scope of action for the future. Like, my range of action was compromised, and travel exacerbated the pain. A desk job seemed like the only solution, and that’s how I entered the corporate world. Being so ‘restrained’ physically made me start to dream big, to really think of those aspirations that had been simmering at the back of my mind for maybe forever. Like, write, for example.
Then I got married and had my son, and dreams got shelved while I became a stay-at-home-mum. Barely two years into this stint, and bam, there it is – the diagnosis for rapidly-developing malignant breast cancer. At age 22! Yeah, I, too, thought it never happened before the 40s. My cancer care team got that tumor out in the nick of time; another week and I’d be toast – the cancer would’ve probably spread to my whole system. I realized I came close to death...but at the same time, God had granted me a second chance. I was still alive, still given the possibility to build a future with my husband, for us and our son, to watch my kid grow and be there for him the way I’d promised that just-born baby I would always be for him.
Life can stop at any given moment; we never know when. It made me appreciate the moments I get to be alive, to feel, to know that, maybe, I’ll get to see another day. Trust me, that kind of wakeup call changes you – you never under-appreciate a single moment of your life from there on.
And you decide that the ‘one day’ when you’ll fulfill your dreams is not in 20, 30, 40 years’ time, or when you’ll retire, or when the kids will be out of the house, etc. ‘One day’ is right now – make your dreams a reality; do not wait!
Q) What’s next for Zee Monodee?
A) More writing, growing existing series, and more new series? I just cannot stop the replicator sequence on the plot bunnies in my head. *grin* Oh, and yeah – dealing with a teenage kid at home (well, 2 actually, when you add my stepson, lol) and making sure those growing boys do not eat the kitchen sink after they’ve finished raiding the fridge a few times a day.
Q) Any parting comments for fans and readers new to your work?
A) I’d say, Thank you! It’s because of you people – readers and fans – that we authors get our validation. Make yourselves known; don’t be shy! We blabber all day long and almost hurl word vomit through our keyboards and screens all day long, more often than not in extreme solitude. We authors would love, love, love, to blabber with you, the people we write for, so please, don’t be afraid to get in touch with us! An email, a comment on a blog post, a PM or wall post on FB, a Tweet – we’re just waiting for you to reach out to us. I know I am.
And another thing – when you’ve read a book of ours that you have enjoyed or even loved, please post a rating, if not better, a review, for us on places like Amazon and Goodreads. Help us this way, because it’s thanks to your involvement that we can become known and our work reach more others – you, readers, are the driving force behind this process! Don’t underestimate yourself there, please. We don’t ask for lengthy reviews; even 1-2 lines will do. But please, become involved with us so we can do more for you.
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net