Issue 036 Author Interview: Stuti Telidevara and “The Last Evening at Prosperity”

Our Issue 036 continues to rock and roll. We’re excited to share with you today a chat we had with author Stuti Telidevara about her short story “The Last Evening at Prosperity.

LSQ: The world you’ve crafted is full of magic but unfolds through context clues rather than being overly explained. What are the benefits of this kind of world building? Do you have any world building tips to share?
Stuti: I actually prefer to read . . . let’s call it implicit world building? I think that allows the reader to pick up details on their own. When I read stories and settings like that, it makes me feel like the author isn’t underestimating my intelligence. It also makes more sense that when you’re in a character’s head — even if it’s limited rather than deep POV — that the character wouldn’t be spelling out every facet of their own world in their narration. I actually think of it as the same way I’d think of writing about my own culture. If your audience was people unfamiliar with the culture, then you might have to explain everything. If your audience was exclusively people familiar with it, then you would explain very little. Implicit world building sits somewhere in the middle, where you can let some things just sit in the text without pointing them out, but you do give the reader the context they need. Then over the course of your story or novel, it’s like you’re pulling the reader closer into the fictional culture or world.
I’m still working on perfecting this in my own writing, but I think the most important thing is to resist the urge every author has to include and explain every world building detail in the text itself. Sometimes not remarking on a detail has the effect of making it seem normal to the narrator, and so that implies it’s normal to the setting. I have an example within “The Last Evening” that I had to stop myself from emphasizing: in the very beginning of the story, Jaya wraps a towel around her waist, and that was very intentional, suggesting how her culture thinks about bodies and especially women’s bodies. I have an outtakes document that describes every food at every stage of the Prosperity process, and its significance. Only with world building do I take the “less is more” approach; if my writer friends tell me they don’t understand something or need more information, then I’ll add it in during revision.
This story is very much inspired by Indian history and early British rule in India, when the East India Company was consolidating territories and spreading its way through the land by treaty rather than war. (Well, at first.) So there are some references to that end — the shah, the company, little tidbits that people familiar with Indian history will pick up — but again, I had to make sure that I wasn’t shouting about it into the reader’s ear, so to speak.
LSQ: What made you decide to make Jaya, an older woman, be the protagonist of this story rather than someone younger like Bo?
Stuti: Part of this is going to be a bad answer. Jaya popped into my head because I was thinking specifically of the “Crones” theme for this issue! I find that characters come to me not fully formed, but carrying some essence that I want to expand on. My main characters tend not to be the spunky, confident type — at least, not at the start of the story. So I knew the narrator for this story was someone who was uncertain, caught between passivity and action, and Jaya was that character from the get go. I don’t think I could write from Bo’s perspective without sounding totally hokey and one-dimensional.
LSQ: Where do you see these characters going after the conclusion? Will we be seeing more of them in the future, do you think?
Stuti: You know the sense that wars tilt one way and then the next? This is definitely the bit where the invaders have the advantage, so while I don’t have a sense of what exactly happens, it probably doesn’t end too well for the townspeople. Which feels so bad to say, I grew really attached to Jaya and Kiren! But I am playing around with another idea set in the same world. I know that the story will take place physically far away, but I haven’t figured out the timeline yet, so there might be a rebellious fire-wielder cameo . . .
LSQ: If you were capable of small-magic, what would it be?
Stuti: I have taken multiple personality questions to see what element I’d be most comfortable in, and the answers were tragically inconclusive. But I think I’d have a very practical, unmagical small-magic, which would be good for my ego. I’m great with names and faces, so maybe that’s my small-magic.
LSQ: What was your favorite part about writing this story?
Stuti: Figuring out the story’s overall direction, really. I didn’t know how it would end when I started it, which is rare for me. And I pieced together the setting while I drafted, too — I’m a very visual writer, so I need to have a concrete vision for my setting. I fiddled around on Pinterest for an obscene amount of time. (I discovered in the process that it’s so hard to find the right images of older brown women. That was not surprising, but pretty upsetting.) I also did some (very casual) research about the progress of colonialism in India, which is always interesting — and devastating — to read about.