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Chai & Cocktails: Creating Fantasy Worlds from a South Asian Perspective

Chai & Cocktails: Creating Fantasy Worlds from a South Asian Perspective

To begin the new year, the Brown Geeks team at Avaaz met with two amazing fantasy writers Tanaz Bhathena and Davis Ahsura, and discussed with them their own personal process of how they develop such intricate fantasy worlds and how their culture plays an important part of the development. 

  • Tanaz Bhathena, Young Adult writer.  Her latest novel, Hunted by the Sky, was named a CBC Best Book of 2020 and is the first of a YA fantasy duology set in a world inspired by medieval India. The sequel Rising like a Storm is slated to be released on June 22, 2021.
  • Davis Ashura,  a best-selling author, and a full-time physician. He is best known for Castes and the OutCastes trilogy, which is part of the Anchored Worlds universe, a set of linked epic fantasy series.

With discussion of their past work as well as their future projects, the panelist shared their personal procedures about how they created their worlds and how their culture influenced their stories. 

Some Highlights of their process and questions asked are below, in case you weren’t able to watch the panel. 


With any story comes to the core of inspiration that helped spark the idea to be written. Both panelists shared their history and past anecdotes of how their culture influenced their work and the creative process of the worlds they made. 

Tanaz Bhathena mentioned how in her writing there are many real-world influences that play key parts in her story. She uses them not as a “Retelling” but as a core of her building process. 

She mentions,

“I wanted to use an existing mythology as a basis. To start creating my own myths. I kinda wanted to do what George R. Martin did, in the game of thrones, by incorporating  the war of the roses, but in a different setting.”

When speaking about the history of India and its influence in her work she mentions,  

“At the same time, I was thinking about colonization. India was colonized by the British, so oftentimes our history is told by that lens of colonization. So what I had to do was de-colonize my own imagination and figure out how Umber would be similar to and different from a typical kingdom in 15th or 16th-century India.”

Caste and Social Hierarchy in a fantasy setting 

Both panelists were presented with the topic of “Caste” or social hierarchies and how they go about creating such roles in their stories. While the topic is a sensitive one, they were able to give us some insight on how to handle it properly without offending anyone. 

Tanaz Mentions, 

“When you put class in a fantasy setting it has to make sense in the world you are building….(When speaking about the system in Umber). I feel that good fantasy doesn’t only allow for escapism, but it also makes you pause and reflect on what is wrong with the world right now.”

Cultural World Building

On the topic of how their culture helps them in their world-building, both panelists explain that their culture is in every way a part of them as is in their stories. Whether it is writing in different languages or contemplating the social differences between Western culture and South-Eastern cultures, both writers demonstrate how this is a key part of creating their story. 

On the topic of creating his new project Davis Mentions, 

“I’m trying to incorporate a lot of those more western elements to the world bundling but also infuse them with my background. Which makes an interesting challenge if I just went one direction pure Indian background it would be a lot harder some ways. If I went pure western I’d not be true to myself.”

Tanaz notes how her work draws from culture and mythology but uses them in an appropriate way of referencing them. She comments, 

“You take elements of what you already know and grow up with, but then change things around to make it more suitable for your particular world. Rather than taking the existing religion and trying to change it around. You’re playing around with things. You have to see what works and doesn’t work. “

Creating a Character Versus Creating the world. 

One final topic discussed is the different ways each panelist creates their characters compared to the world they have made. 

Davis explains,
“I wanted my characters to be true heroes, the main characters I didn’t want them to be ”Grey “… I wanted to write about people I actually want to win. So that was part of the process was that I had to make sure the characters had flaws, they weren’t just “White Knights”. They had arrogance, kurt, not always understanding but by and large, you like at them and think, “that’s a really good person, I wouldn’t mind having a beer with them someday.” 

Tanaz on the other hand has a different approach. She explains, 

“I approached building characters the way I approach building my settings. I kind of see my setting as a character as well. So, I kind of like having my settings and characters play off each other; in terms, they feed off each other’s energy…I like writing from the point of view of the protagonist and the antagonist. Usually, when the protagonist bores me I write from the view of the antagonist. That’s where the whole world opens up in a different way for me. “

To hear more from our panelist, you can watch the full Chai and Cocktails panel here!

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Avid learner of animation and the arts, Kunal loves to talk and discuss everything animated. Currently working towards becoming a storyboard artist, Kunal's website (chaosthoughts.net) shows a plethora of drawings, animations, and 3D sculptures dedicated to express himself creatively.

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