S.B. Divya (she/any) is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. She is the Hugo and Nebula nominated author of Meru (2023), Machinehood, Runtime, and Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse. Her stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and she was the co-editor of Escape Pod from 2017–2022. Divya holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing. “Two Hands, Wrapped in Gold” is her second appearance in Uncanny, a poignant reimagining of a classic fairy tale.
Uncanny Magazine: This is a beautiful retelling of the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. What drew you to this particular fairy tale?
S.B. Divya: A few years back, I was reading fairy tales to my child, and after reading Rumpelstiltskin, I started to wonder what his motivations were. There’s no explanation given in any of the versions I’ve seen. Dreaming up my own answers eventually led to this story. I was partly inspired to write a more realistic retelling by one of my favorite movies in the genre, Ever After.
Uncanny Magazine: What research did you do for this novelette? Were there any particularly interesting tidbits that didn’t make it into the final version?
S.B. Divya: I mostly looked into what everyday life was life in the 900–1000 CE era, especially in the regions from South India to Bavaria. I read a bunch about the Rajputs and the Chola Empire that didn’t end up making it into the story in detail, but I tried to drop hints for all the really interesting tidbits. For example, I learned that South India had hospitals—as in places that sick people went to stay and be treated by doctors—which is something that Medieval Europe lacked.
Uncanny Magazine: “Two Hands, Wrapped in Gold” does a beautiful job creating well-developed characters and depicting the relationships between them. What sources do you draw from in creating your characters? Do they ever do things you don’t expect?
S.B. Divya: My sources are all around me—people I know and people I read about in the news. My characters are often pastiches—they have pieces of real people in them. They don’t often surprise me, but in this story, Trudy’s character ended up being quite different from my initial concept, which was more of a mean girl sister to Ilsebill. As I wrote out the story, that personality just didn’t fit. She’s more of a meek and slightly tragic person, emblematic of the fear that Ram is ultimately able to free himself from.
Uncanny Magazine: Rampalalakshmicharan has a gift that comes with a heavy price. Given a choice, would you want that kind of gift?
S.B. Divya: I think superpowers (like any power) are a heavy burden and ripe with the potential for abuse. The right people can do amazing things in positions of power, but I find that kind of responsibility very stressful. The closest I’ve gotten is my co-editor position at Escape Pod, and that has definitely weighed on me. I don’t think I’d want Ram’s ability, not unless it came to me later in life.
Uncanny Magazine: “Two Hands, Wrapped in Gold” centers on someone who has traveled far away from home and must navigate balancing the culture he grew up in with a second, very different, culture. Is this a theme that you return to often? What other themes are common in your fiction?
S.B. Divya: As an immigrant child, this was a huge piece of myself in the story. I came to the US in the early 1980s, and the way people would mangle my name (first and last)…well, let’s just say it left a strong impression. Immigration and cross-cultural conflicts are definitely themes in many of my stories, as are family ties, class differences, and bridging technological (or in this case, magical) divides.
Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?
S.B. Divya: I’m almost done with a far-future novel involving directed evolution, post-humans, space adventure, and romance. It’s called Meru, and it will be published in 2023. It’s not a retelling, but it is broadly inspired by a famous story from the Mahabharata called “Nala and Damayanti.”
Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
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