& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, February 03, 2018

“…for the longest time, no one even wanted to publish my book!”: Tanaz Bhathena

Tanaz Bhathena is a Toronto author. 
Her debut novel A Girl Like That will be launched this month.  

"I am very grateful for the response the book has had so far. I honestly expected nothing because, for the longest time, no one even wanted to publish my book!"  

Q. If I remember, I believe I saw one of the drafts of the novel about five years ago. It was called Thicker than Water then, and I saw the 27th draft. How much has A Girl Like That evolved from Thicker than Water?

A. It has definitely changed. Thicker than Water had adult perspectives along with teenage ones. A Girl Like That focuses solely on the teen POV. That said, the soul of the book remains the same.

Q.  You were involved with the Shoe Project earlier, and have been active in the Toronto literary circles. How did the interaction with different authors influence you as a writer?

A. Interacting with different authors always means coming across different writing styles and perspectives which is wonderful for expanding your worldview. I’m also lucky to call some of these writers my friends and have been happy to witness their journeys to publication.

Two members of the Shoe Project have books out: Double Exile by Yoko Morgenstern and The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth which is an essay collection edited by Saima Hussain. I am very excited for The Higher the Monkey Climbs by Bruce Geddes, which is releasing in the spring of this year.

Q. Unlike many other first-time writers, you showed tremendous patience by not being eager to publish your novel as soon as you finished writing it, but chose to wait for many years to find an established publisher – Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and you have been able to launch the novel simultaneously globally, including in India, with major publishers in those markets. Describe this fascinating journey.

A. Haha, there’s nothing fascinating about it, honestly, and a lot of credit also goes to people who have been with me and supported me through the years from behind the scenes.

I knew I didn’t have the bandwidth to self-publish a novel, so I decided to go the longer route and submit short stories to literary journals to build a platform first. Once I finished a collection of stories, I found an agent. Finding a publisher was more challenging—no one wanted a short story collection from a first-time writer.

So I took one short story and spent over a year expanding it into a novel for adults. Rejections poured in again. This time though, my agent, who had seen the crossover potential of my work reached out to a couple of YA publishers. An editor at one of the YA imprints came back to me and asked if I would rewrite the book for teens. I agreed and signed a contract with FSG in 2016.

Q. What role your agent, Eleanor Jackson, have in your success? How did you find her?

A. I queried over seventy agents before I found Eleanor. She told me from the very beginning it might take us a long time to find a publisher and if I was willing to wait. She was the only agent (out of the four who offered representation) who read my whole book and really seemed to get it. So I agreed to the wait time and signed on with her. It took us five years to find A Girl Like That a home and she stuck with me through all that time, keeping the faith even when I lost it, finding niches that I wouldn’t have thought of when it came to getting my book out into the world.  

Q. All major book trade publications have praised the novel, including the prestigious Publishers’ Weekly. Did you anticipate this overwhelming response to your novel while you were writing it?

A. I am very grateful for the response the book has had so far. I honestly expected nothing because, for the longest time, no one even wanted to publish my book! 

Q. While you were waiting for the launch of your debut novel, you were writing another novel, which, too, is being published next year. Tell us about it.

A. The Beauty of the Moment begins a year after A Girl Like That. Though not a true sequel, it follows the journey of a girl from Qala Academy (the fictitious school in the first novel) in Jeddah to Mississauga, Canada, where she faces new challenges and finds new love.

Q. You began writing A Girl Like That when you were a young adult, now that you’re an adult, will your future works be more reflective of your age, or will you continue to focus on the YA segment?

A. I did not know I would write another YA novel after my first one, but somehow that’s what I ended up doing. I am not sure where my third book will take me—if it will be YA or adult fiction—but I’m looking forward to finding out!

Q. Are your parents happy with your success? I remember how pleased they were when you read at the Shoe Project readings at the ROM some years ago.

A. They are very excited and very proud and are telling everyone they know about my book. (I, on the other hand, am more likely to hide and say “Don’t tell anyone!”)

Buy Tanaz's novel here: A Girl Like That

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