Monsters Born and Made: Author Tanvi Berwah on the Genre of YA Fantasy

YA novels are slowly gaining popularity among young Indian readers and their desire to savour Indian narratives in the genre is more than ever now. To understand the genre, Kunzum’s Khushi Arora talks with YA Fantasy author Tanvi Berwah.

Gone are the times when it was acceptable for literary snobs to look down upon the genre of YA fantasy. The dreamy genre is effectively growing among the young Indian readers. To understand the market of the same, Kunzum’s Khushi Arora sat down with author Tanvi Berwah. Her debut book Monsters Born and Made is a South Asian inspired fantasy that blends with the tunes of Game of Thrones and Hunger Games book series. Her well-crafted characters and storyline also masterfully weaves in elements of the South Asian caste system. In this conversation, she emphasises on the world-building of fantasy, the market for YA novels and the nature of genres.

A Conversation with Tanvi Berwah

Kunzum: Now that I’ve taken my eyes off your gorgeous hardcover, I’m eager to know the research that went into writing the book and designing its cover. 

Tanvi Berwah: Since I got published in America, the process was completely different. What my publisher did was — they obviously have their own internal office designers — they chose an artist, Sasha Vinogradova, who designed the Game of Thrones sigils by the way. She did some mockups based on a Pinterest board that I sent them. They asked for my inputs on the vibe and aesthetics, and what kind of covers I like. Sasha came up with multiple mockups and then they narrowed it all down until we all knew that this cover was the one, that this is what we want to go for. They showed me two covers in the end and then they basically combined the best of both of them. 

Kunzum: What are some South-Asian elements infused in the world-building of your book? 

Tanvi Berwah: Now, there are a lot of Indian inspired fantasies so I could’ve just done that. But what I wanted was a dystopian fantasy book. I had an entire world – a different world – and putting like entirely Indian elements on it would’ve been dissonant and I don’t know, it would’ve been weird. So, what I did was, I took the social aspect of South Asia in general and added it to this world; how they blend together, and how they evolve over time, because this is like a far away future thing. It was a blend of traditions — the one we would carry with ourselves, but I also wanted to explore the muck of it – the muck of what South Asian society can be like when it’s bad you know. That was my inspiration because obviously this is like a Hunger Games inspired thing so I wanted a dystopian world. 

Kunzum: You also handled YA novels for Penguin. Being a lover of YA, I’m intrigued to know what lead you to the position and how it panned out.

Tanvi Berwah: This again goes back to my Hunger Games blog that gave me so many opportunities. I worked with film distribution and people started to notice because it was a blog based in India but it was getting international recognition as well. And someone at the Penguin office connected me to the person who was handling YA over there. We struck up a rapport, she asked me about stuff, and it actually helped to have bookish knowledge. Like you know, people outside think it’s all about material connections and yes, there was one involved here, but it only happened because I was talking about books. So, she just asked me to come in and I started to intern at Penguin. As a reader I knew what intrigued me in a book so in all the campaigns I worked on, I was thinking about what the reader would want. 

Kunzum: Genres often overlap for a publishing professional but you specifically handled YA at Penguin. Tell us more about your experience?

Tanvi Berwah: The first books I worked with were YA fantasies, it was a trilogy. And that was very fun. But like you said, everyone is supposed to work on everything. I was then given a crime thriller set in Mumbai and I had no idea what to do with it. Obviously, because I am not the target audience, I had no idea what to do. But then, Penguin is also doing Monsters Born And Made here right now and they bring all the Sourcebooks Fire here – which is my publisher in America – so in that case, if you’re dealing in international titles you can work with YA fantasies like that. 

Kunzum: Being based in India, how did you get to Sourcebooks Fire?

Tanvi Berwah: I had a literary agent. I have been wanting to get published since I was in my teens, I have been wanting that since forever, this is literally all I wanted. I have been researching since I was on Twitter in 2007 when it was just starting up. All the writers were talking about it, they had communities and back then it was actually informative, it wasn’t like now. People used to have constructive criticism and I learnt so much about literary agents, about querying them, what a good publisher is like, what a bad publisher is like, so I spent the entire decade learning that. And then I got into Pitch Wars which is like a mentorship program. After 10 years that was like a leg up when agents wanted to see my book. And I signed with my agent within like a week, I think. Exactly. 10 years I queried with other fantasy books, I wrote 3 manuscripts before this. I queried them all and they got very close but it just didn’t happen…when I think it should’ve happened. But obviously, there’s also this barrier of not being in America, and agents don’t want to take a risk with a debut author. But mine did. She’s also based in America, and she’s also based outside so she does this thing, and that’s just how it happened. 

Kunzum: Oh wow. Can we have the name of this lady?

Tanvi Berwah: Rena Rossner. She has a lot of international clients. 

Kunzum: Now this is my favorite question. Readers love curating playlists for YA fantasy books. But instead of picking just any songs, I want you to describe the vibe of Monsters Born And Made with one or more Bollywood songs. 

Tanvi Berwah: ‘Tum Hi Aana’ from Marjaawaan

Kunzum: Name 5 fictional characters you’d like to invite to your dinner party.

Tanvi Berwah: Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows, Annabeth Chase from the Percy Jackson series, Dorian Havilliard from Throne of Glass, Elias Veturius from An Ember in the Ashes, and for the last one…

Kunzum: Maybe someone from your book?

Tanvi Berwah: Oh no, they’re all insane. 

Kunzum: As if Kaz is sane?!

Tanvi Berwah: (Laughs) Okay the last one is Citra Terranova from Scythe. 

Related: Crimson Spring: Navtej Sarna on Fictionalising the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

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