Happy Tuesday, everyone!
I got to interview Tashie Bhuiyan, AMM R6 alum and author of 2021 YA debut COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU! Tashie is bright, fun, and inspiring. I know you’ll enjoy reading her talk about her life as a student AND an author, her favorite rom coms, and the journey that led to her getting her agent.
Hi Tashie! Can you tell me about the book that got you your agent?
TB: Of course! So the book that got me my agent is Counting Down With You (which you can add on Goodreads now!!! https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48258256-counting-down-with-you) and it’s a YA contemporary coming-of-age novel with a side of romance! It has fake dating, a forced tutoring situation, a ridiculous group chat, and the most supportive grandma. It discusses themes of independence, family and first love as my main character struggles between doing what she wants to do and what her parents want her to do.
Can you tell me a bit about your querying journey?
TB: My querying journey is actually kind of unusual. CDWY is in fact the first book I ever queried and I was actually very fortunate in that I only queried for ten days before I received an offer of representation. I know it’s a very unusual situation and I’m extremely grateful for how things came to play out.
Was there a time in your journey when you felt like giving up?
TB: Since my querying journey was so short, I never really had a chance to really wait in the trenches. But last year, I applied to Pitch Wars with my first ever manuscript (not CDWY) and I didn’t get in, which was heartbreaking. I genuinely did doubt my writing skills for a while and whether I was capable of getting an agent or getting published. I really felt like giving up. But in the end, inspiration struck and I just wrote the next thing, even though my heart was still aching from not being chosen. The next book I wrote (still not CDWY) is what got me into Author Mentor Match and led me to finding my writing community, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I think that things happen for a reason and no matter what, the journey you’re on is the right one, even when it feels impossible at times.
How did you get the strength to keep trying?
TB: Honestly? Reading. I remember after I didn’t get chosen, I reread one of my favorite books and after finishing it, this amazing idea struck me and I had to write it. I didn’t have a choice. I wanted to do right by the book I had just read, by the author who wrote it, by all the people who could one day hold my book and call it their favorite book.
What’s something you know now as an agented author that you wish you knew before?
TB: One thing I wish I knew was that when querying, you don’t have to find an agent that represents all of your wide writing interests. You can focus on an agent who specifically wants the book you’re querying, because if they love that book, they likely love your writing, and they’ll want to represent you no matter what you write. For example, my agent doesn’t represent fantasy but because I write it, she is absolutely willing to work with me on it.
When and why did you start writing?
TB: I started writing in sixth grade! I used to be in ESL (English as a Second Language) in elementary school and reading is what helped me learn English. It felt like a natural jump to go from reading to writing. In my English class in sixth grade, my teacher asked to write a story. I was in my Twilight phase so I wrote a novel about a vampire queen and I felt so proud of it.
It was an outstanding six pages.
But moving forward, I just loved it. I loved being able to express myself through words, I loved being able to tell the stories that lived in my head, I loved being able to share the experience with others. I wrote fanfiction all through high school and only decided to write my first manuscript last year, because I wanted to write stories for my younger self. I want people to see themselves on the pages and know that they aren’t alone–especially young brown kids.
What inspires you?
TB: Everything. Mostly from media and books, but everything. There’s so much potential in the world around us! For contemporary, I tend to pull from lived experiences, but for fantasy, they usually come to me unbidden (most often when I’m reading or watching something, because my brain is always so immersed in these new worlds that it’s eager to create one of my own!). My most recent book idea came from rewatching Tangled with my best friend a few months ago… so I think inspiration can strike anywhere.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
TB: I am absolutely a plotter. I don’t think I can function without an outline. Sometimes I’ll leave the ending a little vague in the outline to give myself some room in case the story shifts as I’m writing it, but everything else needs to plotted meticulously in advance. I write really fast, so if I don’t have a firm direction, the story will go completely off the rails.
If you read writing craft books, do you have any to recommend?
TB: I own a bunch, but haven’t read them. Isn’t that every writer’s problem? LOL. I have read Story Genius though and it was super helpful for figuring out my character’s internal motivations and where the story is going underneath the surface!
Who would your dream co-author be?
TB: Oh… my God. This question. I honestly don’t even know! I would say my favorite authors, but I honestly don’t think I’m worthy, hahaha. But I think working with Tahereh Mafi or C.S. Pacat would definitely be a dream come true. They’re both such incredible authors and I admire them so much. They like… invented galaxy brain. Ugh. *chef’s kiss*
What’s a book you’ve read lately that you’re OBSESSED with?
TB: I’ve been absolutely OBSESSED with the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews. It’s admittedly not for everyone, but the latest book released a month or so ago. I reread the whole series in preparation so I can’t stop thinking about it. The magic system is incredible and I love the family dynamics so, so, so much. I wish the Baylor family would adopt me!
What’s your author dream? Fanart? Movie adaptation? Fanfic?
TB: Is it bad to say that my author dream is to hit the NYT Bestseller list? It’s a seemingly impossible goal, but I really hope to hit it one day with at least one of my books. Aside from that, I think movie adaptations would be SO COOL!!! I love to see brown girls on the screen as a main character (because it so rarely happens), and it would be even more amazing to know that it’s happening because of me and my book.
What’s the hardest part about being a writer?
The hardest part is probably the physical act of writing. I know that’s kind of obvious, but I’m midway through my first draft for my WIP right now and I’m screaming internally half the time. Okay, maybe three-fourths of the time. Pulling new words out is always so difficult! I always second guess myself and wonder if I’m just writing gibberish. But I guess all we can do is finish it–and then if it is gibberish, we can fix it during revisions!
What’s the best part?
TB: When other people read it and enjoy it. Nothing makes my heart more happy.
Can you tell us a bit about what the process of being an AMM mentee was like?
TB: Of course! My mentor Christine Calella is an angel on earth and I would risk it all for her in a heartbeat. I subbed a fantasy novel to AMM and was lucky enough to be chosen by Christine. She sent me an edit letter about a month after I was chosen and I’m still working on implementing her revision ideas (I know, I know, but LIFE HAS BEEN BUSY IN MY HONEST DEFENSE). Christine is always there for me when I have a question or concern and held my hand entirely through my query and sub process. I still don’t think I would know what emotional or story beats are if she hadn’t explained it to me!
Also, the AMM community is the absolute best. I’m friends with all of the other R6 mentees. We even have a group chat where we speak to each other every day and have become incredibly close. They’re such an amazing and talented group of people and having them in my corner has made this journey feel a lot less lonely. I love them!
Do you have any advice for future AMM mentees?
TB: I think my advice for future AMM mentees is to make the best of the community. I’m so grateful to be friends with my mentor (we had milkshakes just last week!) and with my fellow mentees. That human connection has made this process and this experience so much more valuable. While your book an incredibly important part of this journey, it’s also super important to have people around you that can guide you along in the process and also people that are in the same boat and can commiserate (and celebrate) with you.
You are an author AND a college student, right? How do you make time for everything?
TB: Honestly, who can even say? I’m just a big ball of chaos. In all seriousness, between university, my internship, and various other social outings, I think it’s just a matter of prioritizing. My writing is incredibly important to me so I force myself to make time for it. I’m super lucky that my IRL friends are the most supportive human beings and are incredibly understanding that sometimes I have to bring my laptop along with me so I can write while we’re together, or that on occasion I have to miss out on an outing because I really need to hit my word count goal for the day. Whenever I have free time, I make sure to spend it productively. I think it helps that I usually enforce strict deadlines on myself to make sure I don’t slack off. Also… I never sleep, LOL.
Do you have any advice for other student authors?
TB: Yes! I think my advice is to set aside a designated time every day (or every other day) to focus entirely on writing. Whether it’s thirty minutes, an hour, or even more, make sure to stick to it. As long as you’re writing on a consistent basis, the word count will inevitably go up. It’s also good to find friends who will keep you accountable! That’ll help a lot, because it’s easy to give into procrastination and put off writing entirely.
I’m SO excited for your book deal. What are some of your favorite rom-coms (books or movies)?
TB: I’m ALSO so excited, ahhhh!!!!! My favorite book rom-coms are The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata and definitely more that I can’t think of off the type of my head. For movies, I love Set it Up, Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Love, Simon. 🙂
Favorite romance tropes?
TB: SO MANY! Everything slowburn! Enemies to lovers! Sunshine/grump! Soulmates! Fake dating! Protagonist/villain! Marriage of convenience! Strangers to best friends to lovers! Star-crossed lovers! GIVE ME ALL OF IT!!!!!!!!!
I see that you’re working on a project with fantasy elements, which seems pretty different from your contemporary book. Do you find there are any commonalities between your stories, or do you just follow the muse wherever it goes?
TB: It’s funny that you’re asking me this question, because I’ve recently been thinking about it a lot. Earlier I described CDWY as having themes of “independence, family and first love as my main character struggles between doing what she wants to do and what her parents want her to do.” I’d say those are the exact same themes as in my fantasy book, despite the wildly different elements, tropes, genre and plot. I think in general my stories are about brown girls navigating who they are, because it speaks to my younger self. 🙂 But I do always follow my muse wherever it goes — I don’t actively look to write about the same themes, but sometimes it happens on its own. I’ve learned not to question the process!
Do you prefer drafting or revising?
TB: REVISING!!!! I used to prefer drafting, but lately it’s been killing my ass. Definitely revising. It’s so much easier to work with something when the base content is already there!
Lastly, do you have any advice for people who are querying right now?
TB: My advice is to find a community of people who are in the same place as you. It helps so much to be able to turn to a group of people who are also in the query trenches, because it feels so much less lonely. Whether it’s a rejection or a request, those people are there for you, willing to cheer you on. When you doubt yourself, they’ll encourage you not to. It’s good to have friends who can pull you out of your despair and remind you this industry is incredibly subjective. Plus, more friends!
Tashie, thank you so much for your time! It was a pleasure talking with you.
Read below to follow Tashie on social media, and don’t forget to add COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU on Goodreads!!
Tashie Bhuiyan is a Bangladeshi-American writer based in New York City. She is an Author Mentor Match alum and an undergrad student at St. John’s University, where she’s studying Public Relations. If she’s not in a Chipotle or a bookstore, she can probably be found wandering the NYC streets, rambling about the latest pop culture news or laughing over a meme on Twitter.