Interview with Tanvi Berwah (MONSTERS BORN AND MADE)
Tanvi Berwah is a South Asian writer who grew up wanting to touch the stars and reach back in time. She has a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Delhi. Her debut YA novel, MONSTERS BORN AND MADE, is forthcoming from Sourcebooks Fire in 2022. Find her at:
You can order your copy of Monsters Born and Made from:
Welcome to the Hive, Tanvi. Thank you so much for joining our Women In SFF feature and congratulations on your upcoming debut. Tell us about your book, Monsters Born and Made, by describing it in five words!
A girl and her maristag! (Pick up the book to find out what a maristag is, hehe)
Haha! We definitely want to know what one of those is!!
Can you tell us a bit more about your characters, Koral and Emrik? Do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing?
Koral is an eldest daughter—which I think singularly describes her. She’s resourceful, stubborn, impulsive, and also, deeply romantic. She just hasn’t had the space to fully embrace the latter.
Her older brother Emrik is somewhat of a loner. For him, living up to his father’s ideal of what a son should be has completely destroyed who he should have liked to be. But he doesn’t understand that yet, and simply wants to be honorable and protect his family.
Together these two have taken over their ancestral profession from their father, which is hunting and capturing monstrous maristags for the famed chariot race tournament. It’s tough, deadly work, and has shaped much of their outlook toward the world.
I really enjoy writing a character burdened with responsibilities, whether they bear it or try to shun it.
We’re so pleased to see more South-Asian inspired fantasy being published, can you tell us which aspects of the culture inspired you the most? You also feature an oceanic world, was this inspired by anything specific?
I was less interested in the aesthetics of culture which dress a fantasy from the outside and more into the way it exists in daily life, which means digging into the muck of it, unfortunately. Caste atrocities and class divide are the base of the world in Monsters Born and Made. The family unit in focus, too, is complicated. While the siblings have genuine love for each other, they’re not growing up in a loving environment. Their father, himself victim to the patriarchal set up of South Asian families, is an awful man. In turn, their mother, because she has no outside support, is both a victim and an enabler of his abuse.
At the same time, there are little bits scattered throughout with the mention of the word “sitara” which means star as a nickname, the existence of sari, head scarves and other clothing reminiscent of the hot climate of northern South Asia, the idea of western dance being confusing because South Asian dance arts are more about displaying stories.
The oceanic world on the other hand is purely because of my love of the seas and the bizarre creatures that inhabit them. At the same time, I didn’t want to take only the appearance of an oceanic world, but had to add in what comes with living on isolated islands when you’re not indigenous to them.
Your story promises monsters galore! Can you share with us some of your favourites?
The monsters in this one are all invented! A mix and match of velociraptors, cephalopods, crustaceans, fangs and claws and the whole thing.
One of my favorites, apart from the maristags, is the Scythe Crab which is in the book because my sibling loves crabs. It’s a giant crab and instead of pincers it has scythe-shaped blades (hence the name, so clever) which it uses both as weapons and limbs. The scenes with Scythe Crab are too spoilery, but I had so much fun writing this vicious beast.
There’s also capricorns—which are exactly what you think. Half goat, half fish. But giant, with hard scales and claws, capable of destruction at a large scale. But every time I’m writing a scene with them involved, I’m swept away in thinking how beautiful a white capricorn would look. Terrifying, but beautiful.
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
Thank you! I feel very lucky that my editor and design team asked me for input very early. I sent them a Pinterest board of covers that I felt design-wise would suit this story. They came up with two sketches and asked for my opinion on those too. It was really cool to see the final product because of these little steps that came before.
Because of expectations, I thought I’d like to see Koral on the cover because it hadn’t even occurred to me that they’d want to portray an invented creature they’d have to come up with from scratch. But once I saw the maristag—Stormgold—on the cover, I knew it was exactly right. I also love the paisley pattern in the background merged in the dark water, it’s an extremely tiny, but lovely, detail from the story.
Let’s talk about the writing process; do you have a process? Tell us a little something about how your story comes together.
I used to just get a flash of inspiration and start writing, without an outline, without any idea of what happens next and just went with it. Those days are long past me and I don’t know how I did that.
Now, since time has become more precious with deadlines and what not, my process involves a lot of—simmering is the word I would use. I get an idea and I write it down in my ideas folder. Let it exist on its own as I pick up other details. Sometimes those ideas merge and give me something new, sometimes I forget about them completely which is how I know I wouldn’t have the sustained passion I’d need to spend a large amount of time on it.
As for active drafting, I write a brief synopsis, something I never did before. By brief I mean 500-700 words, mostly so I know the ending. It allows me creativity and exploration of a first draft but also gives me an end I work toward. It’s very satisfying.
We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying?
Ever since I entered the writing mentorship Pitch Wars in late 2019, and my mentor Rebecca Schaeffer helped me realize that writing is re-writing, I have actually come to love the revision process. Not having a blank page in front of me is an absolute miracle and, since I’m now making a habit of pursuing passion projects, I love returning to drafts and mine the best parts to make the best story I can make of the rough writing.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy/sci-fi influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I love this question! And always the first name I want to acknowledge is Roshani Chokshi. Her publishing The Star-Touched Queen was very important to me, and gave me renewed confidence to continue in traditional publishing.
I’m also deeply influenced by Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare, Suzanne Collins, NK Jemisin, and Sarah J. Mass. The latter’s Heir of Fire, which is the third book in her Throne of Glass series, is one that I go back to time and time again.
And I know most people don’t think of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History as a fantasy book, but it hinges on a very real, very dangerous ancient ritual gone wrong in the presence of a Greek god. So yes, that too.
I’d be remiss if I don’t mention Octavia E. Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Shirley Jackson, and Mary Shelley. Their collective works are always a guiding light.
As for someone I’d like to work with—Charlie Jane Anders, Becky Chambers and Nnedi Okorafor are doing some amazing work with their stories, and if given the chance I’d love to work with any, or all, of them.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
Oh wow, this is such a cool—and aggravating—question! How do I pick one? A griffin, I think, would be perfect. Not as huge as a dragon which just renders me actually going in a battle moot, and not as small as a horse which might get me immediately knocked down, probably. A griffin, though. Now that’s a creature made for riding into battles.
Tell us about a book you love. Any hidden gems?
I’m evangelical about Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant (one of Seanan McGuire’s many pen names). It’s a horror fantasy that starts as an investigation into a maritime tragedy and is just the perfect book in my opinion!
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m currently chipping away on my contracted Book 2, which is set in the same world but a different island. It’s too early to give away any details, unfortunately!
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
There are multiple things that are going on simultaneously in the narrative, but the main core that I hope people pick on is that social injustices ride on the back of divided societies. We cannot thrive without mutual trust in one another.
Thank you so much for joining us today!