An Interview with Tanaz Bhathena

Photo by Nettie Photography

Young adult author Tanaz Bhathena writes epic fantasy—including The Wrath of Ambar series—and #ownvoices contemporary YA. In her free time, Tanaz enjoys listening to music, traveling abroad, and watching Bollywood movies.

Tanaz Bhathena is a young adult author who has won numerous awards, including Best Book of the Year (CBC and USBBY) for Hunted by the Sky. Its sequel, Rising like a Storm, comes out June 22, 2021. She excels at writing strong female leads, like Gul in Hunted by the Sky. Tanaz speaks to us about the publishing and writing process, how social media plays into our lives as authors, and how to fit writing into our busy schedules.  —Emily Johnson

What jobs did you have before becoming a writer? Did you take jobs with writing in mind? 

I was a TA at university; I taught accounting. Being a writer was a dream, but never in the cards. It wasn’t until I was in my fourth year at uni that I finally accepted accounting wasn’t for me. I graduated with a B Com [Bachelor of Commerce] and started working full time at an export company. I simultaneously applied to a creative writing correspondence course at Humber College in Toronto. That’s how everything began. 

Are you currently a full-time writer or do you also have another job?

I still have that job at the export company. Writing full-time is still a dream. 

What does your writing process look like? Is it very organized or more spur of the moment?

Pretty organized or I would never get anything done. I wake up at 5 am, write for two hours, then work at my day job from 8 am–4 pm. 

How much research do you do when you get a new idea for a story? 

Quite a lot actually. Even when I write something I know, I do research as my memory can fail me. I did quite a bit of research for Hunted by the Sky, [because] even though it was a fantasy it was inspired by a real historical period. 

Hunted by the Sky has many plot twists, and I was surprised more than once while reading. What’s a good piece of advice to master an amazing plot twist?

If you outline your books, leave a little room for changes and don’t plan every little detail in advance. Allow yourself to be surprised as well during the writing process. If you’re surprised by a twist, chances are the reader will be as well.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I do sometimes, but I would do so for anonymity. Unfortunately, in this day and age, writers also have to promote their books, and it’s the rare one or two who can pull off an Elena Ferrante.

Do you struggle with writing anything in particular? For instance, I write relationships between characters really well but struggle with fight scenes. How do you overcome your weaknesses?

Every book is a struggle for different reasons. It’s funny you mentioned fight scenes because those were tough for me as well in Hunted by the Sky and even more so in the sequel, Rising Like a Storm. I tried to go step by step and logically plot out what the character’s body language/movements would be during fighting. We’re always told to “show and not tell” our characters emotions, and we use body language for that. If you apply the same principle to fight scenes, it becomes easier—just another emotion you need to express. 

“Allow yourself to be surprised…during the writing process. If you’re surprised by a twist, chances are the reader will be as well.”

—Tanaz Bhathena

How important do you think social media is for an author?

In 2019, I would have said social media isn’t as important. But during the pandemic social media has gained special importance because you can’t go out to festivals, you can’t do book signings or in-person appearances. Everything is virtual these days.  

Which platform is your personal favorite?

I don’t have a special favourite; I’ve had a love and hate relationship with social media, but I find Instagram a good place to connect with readers.

 In terms of personal marketing, what has been successful for you? 

Readings and panels have been generally successful for me. Whenever I read from my books or talk about them, I end up selling a book or two.

What have you struggled the most, and how have you overcome these challenges?

Having to sell the book. I don’t enjoy talking about myself or selling my work. But it’s a difficulty I’ve slowly been learning to overcome. If I’m not excited about my work, who else will be? I need to believe in my work and that it’s good. Once that’s established, selling becomes a lot easier. 

Do you find that marketing to a YA audience is different from other genres/age groups?

Yes. YA readers expect the marketing experience to be a lot more fun and interactive with contests, prizes, giveaways, pre-order campaigns. But again, not all of this necessary—especially if you can’t afford it. At the end of the day, your writing is what matters and will continue to matter in the long run.  

How has your strategy changed as you’ve reached new career milestones?

Beth Revis once told our debut group of authors that nothing sells your backlist like your frontlist, and I adopted that as a strategy from day one. It helps me mentally and career-wise as even if a book didn’t do as well as I hoped, I can keep moving forward and start working on something else.  

How much did you network before getting published?

Honestly, not much. I couldn’t take time off work to go to various festivals or do many trips. I maybe went to two literary festivals in the ten years before I got published. But whatever connections I did form at these festivals (with other authors) were very helpful after getting published.

Follow Tanaz on social media here:

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