Fake dating? Bad boys and bookish girls? Protagonists, who find themselves while finding love along the way? All these are tried and true favourite elements of romantic comedies the world over. And all of them can be found in Counting Down With You, the 2021 YA romcom by debut author Tashie Bhuiyan. I got to chat with Tashie about romance, writing, and Bangladeshi Muslim representation in publishing, as well as ply her for information about what we can expect next! Check out our conversation below:
Meha Razdan: Let’s start with the big picture! When you started writing, did you know YA Contemporary was the genre you wanted to explore first? What drew you to it?
Tashie Bhuiyan: I didn’t know if we’re being honest! I was actually first drawn to YA fantasy and then after I drafted two books that were YA fantasy. I finally considered writing YA contemporary. It always felt a little scary to me, even though I love rom-coms. YA contemporary just feels so vulnerable, and it was something I think I needed to slowly open myself up to. But a huge part of me really wanted to write a book for the sixteen-year-old version of myself because I never saw myself in stories like these. So one day, I decided to just take the plunge and now here we are!
MR: Karina Ahmed, the protagonist of Counting Down With You struggles with anxiety. Mental Health and emotional abuse has always been a difficult subject within immigrant communities in particular — did you find it difficult to balance the different intersections of representation here? How did you approach it?
Tashie Bhuiyan: As someone who struggles with all these things, I pulled a lot from my own experiences, which was difficult in a lot of ways. Putting yourself on the page like that is honestly hard, especially to lay yourself and your experiences bare for everyone to see. It was important to me to talk about these topics though because these are very real struggles that so many young people are facing and they deserve to read about people who look and act like them, feeling the same things they feel.
MR: On a lighter note, Ace and Karina’s love story is full of fun tropes and romantic moments — what do you think are the key elements of building a romance story?
Tashie Bhuiyan:I think the key element for me when building a romance is to make sure that the people involved in the relationship help make each other better people. At the end of the day, there has to be a reason they chose each other over everyone else in the world, so what is that reason? So for Ace and Karina, I wanted them to be mirrors of each other that helped each other grow and thrive and be the best versions of themselves! And then of course, throw in some classic tropes to showcase how they’re the best possible matches for each other.
MR: This feels like a very personal book in a lot of ways — how do you balance tapping into your own vulnerability and experiences with working through the craft and technical aspects of writing fiction?
Tashie Bhuiyan: It was honestly really hard. I usually write in chronological order, but for a lot of the more difficult scenes, I had to leave them unwritten until the very end when I could really take the time I needed to tap into those experiences. In a lot of ways, it feels like reliving your trauma in certain ways, but I also found that writing it out and giving Karina a happy ending was cathartic in a lot of ways.
MR: The premise for your next book — A Show For Two — sounds WILD and very fun. Tell us a little bit about what inspired the story!
Tashie Bhuiyan: Of course! So A SHOW FOR TWO is actually inspired by when Tom Holland went undercover at my high school as a student during my senior year. He was prepping for the upcoming Spider-man film, and I was lucky enough to meet and talk to him. It was honestly very surreal, and I remember thinking this is something that would happen in a book/movie. I mean, a celebrity attending your high school under a secret identity!? So in A SHOW FOR TWO, the love interest Emmitt Ramos goes undercover as a student in the main character Mina Rahman’s high school as research for an upcoming film!
MR: Speaking of inspiration, where do you draw your ideas from? Do you see yourself exploring different genres in the future?
Tashie Bhuiyan: I feel like I draw a lot from the world around me and my own experiences. I love consuming media and then examining whether I enjoyed it and why I enjoyed it. Whether I can implement that in my own writing and storytelling. Of course, I also draw from emotions and experiences that I’ve had because, at the end of the day, I always want to write books that the teenage version of myself would feel seen by. I would LOVE to explore so many different genres in the future, especially YA fantasy!
MR: A really central aspect of CDWY is Karina’s identity as a Muslim Bangladeshi American teenager. Publishing has traditionally been incredibly white — how do you as an author of colour navigate that as you debut? What do you hope readers take from your book?
Tashie Bhuiyan: I think it’s good to find a supportive community that has your back when you’re in a space that can be ostracizing. I’ve been fortunate enough to find great friends in the publishing sphere. And those are the people that keep me sane. For my book, I hope readers take away a sense of hope and a feeling of understanding. I want my book to feel like a warm hug!
MR: Ace and Karina have some movie night dates, and your next book is about a film star! Who’s on your shortlist of dream cast members for a hypothetical CDWY screen adaptation?
Tashie Bhuiyan: Ahhh, I’m not sure! I actually don’t know many young Bangladeshi-American actresses. So, for Karina, I’d love to find an unknown actress and give her a big break. For Ace, I imagine him as Deaken Bluman, but I’m down for anyone who fits his vibe! It would be so cool to see a screen adaption for CDWY, though, and I hope it happens one day.
MR: What’s on your author bucket list — dream collaborations, adaptations, fan experiences, awards?
Tashie Bhuiyan: Since I debuted in the pandemic, I’d love to go to a book signing! Have readers come up to me and talk to me. That’s definitely on my bucket list. I’d also love to have readers cosplay as my characters! I think that would be so cool. And finally, I’d love to see a huge celebrity reading my book of their own volition. That would be the coolest thing!
MR: And finally… if you had 28 days to do whatever you want, what would you do?
Tashie Bhuiyan: I would go to a friend’s place and sleep over the entire 28 days. I never got to go to a sleepover when I was in high school. So I feel like sixteen-year-old Tashie would die to have that chance. It’s what she deserves!!!