Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Asian Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where Asian authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Asian, Asian books, and the experiences of being an Asian reader. (Note: Here is an explanation of why we are calling this guest series ‘Asian Heritage Month’.)
If you know me, you may have already heard me say that the YA contemporary scene has been nothing short of phenomenal. What I love even more though, is when a story centers on Asian teens who fall in love. With the likes of Love from A to Z (about two Muslim teens who meet and fall in love and explores the magic of fate and chance) and I Love You So Mochi (about a Japanese-American teen who visits her grandparents in Japan to figure out what she wants to do with her life – and falls in love with a Japanese teen who dresses up as a mochi mascot!), I’ll always be here for more stories about Asian teens who find joy and happiness.
When Tashie Bhuiyan announced her YA debut, Counting Down With You, my excitement was indescribable. The idea of more Asian contemporary-romance stories? A delight! About a Bangladeshi-Muslim teen who has to navigate family, love, and independence? I feel like this book will really speak to me. And fake dating? I love the shenanigans and those small moments when the characters start to realise that something is blooming; wonderful beyond words.
If you missed Tashie’s announcement, I have it right here for you!
I was delighted when Tashie reached out and wanted to take part in The Quiet Pond‘s Asian Heritage Month! When I read the piece that she wanted to write, I was moved — and my excitement for Counting Down With You increased tenfold.
Today, Tashie visits us as a fox eating a burrito bowl! I hope all of you will come away from today’s post feeling just as excited to read Tashie’s debut. And whilst there may be no cover yet, take heart in the fact that Tashie recently announced its release date: May 4th 2021!
Tashie Bhuiyan: ‘A Love Letter to Writing One’s Culture and Identity’
Hi everyone! I’m Tashie Bhuiyan. I’m 21 years old, I live in New York City, and I love writing stories. My debut novel Counting Down With You releases next year from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins. It’s a romantic contemporary YA novel in which a Bangladeshi-Muslim teenager navigates the difficulties of independence, family, and first love after being roped into a fake dating facade by a classmate. (You can add it on Goodreads here!)
Thank you to The Quiet Pond for having me! For Asian Heritage Month, I thought I’d share more about how Counting Down With You came to be, and how I struggled with writing about my identity as a Bangladeshi-American.
I’ve been writing stories since I was young, but I never thought to write a story with someone like me at the center. I didn’t think it was a story anyone else would want to read. I used to think to myself, Who wants to read about Bangladeshi girls? Who other than me? Would anyone else care? I would roam the library aisles, wondering if writing about girls like me was even allowed. So for the longest time, I didn’t bother.
Growing up, it felt like white characters were the default. A norm that was expected by all. I’m sure a lot of other Asian authors can relate to feeling that way, too. My adolescent years consisted of reading books like Twilight, The Hunger Games, Fallen, Hush Hush, Beautiful Creatures, etc.—all with main characters that were unquestionably white. It took a long, long time for me to start seeing people of color as an option to write—and even then, I was terrified to write my own identity for many reasons. My first real manuscript had a WOC as the main character, but she wasn’t Bangladeshi and she wasn’t Muslim. In other words, she wasn’t like me. But all around me, I saw more and more authors stepping up and writing their identities, writing their struggles, writing the stories I wanted to write, but didn’t know how.
“But all around me, I saw more and more authors stepping up and writing their identities, writing their struggles, writing the stories I wanted to write, but didn’t know how.”
I was afraid. I was really afraid. It felt too honest and too vulnerable to put myself on the page like that, so I decided to find an easier way. Near the end of 2018, I wrote my first manuscript featuring a Bangladeshi protagonist, set in a fantasy setting. It was strange diving into my culture, using it to enhance the worldbuilding, to breathe life into the story—but there was still a certain level of dissociation for me. My book didn’t feel as real to me because even though the culture was based on Bangladesh, it wasn’t actually Bangladesh. It was a fantasy world where there were no cultural ramifications and no societal repercussions. Despite using parts of my identity to tell the story, I didn’t have to dive into the intricacies of Bangladeshi culture, or the struggles of diaspora, or the realities of what I had faced as a Bangladeshi-Muslim teenager.
But writing that fantasy manuscript gave me confidence. It gave me courage. I had written a book with a brown girl at the forefront and it was a story worth reading. So maybe… maybe I could write another one—a more personal one. In March 2019, I decided I would try to write a contemporary novel. One that featured a main character with the same identity as myself. I didn’t know if I could, but I was going to try. For my younger self, if no one else.
So I took the plunge.
Counting Down With You started with a character—Karina Ahmed, the protagonist. A Bangladeshi-Muslim teenager dealing with all of the same things I dealt with. Overbearing parents, wild dreams and ambitions, and a heart that was struggling to make the right choice for her future. I built the story around her wants and needs—around wanting to please her parents, but wanting to chase her dreams. And once Karina was fully realized, I knew I needed another character that complemented her, but also challenged her and pushed her to be the best version of herself… hence Ace Clyde, the love interest. With these two at the center of the story, I was able to figure out the rest. The plot, the setting, the other characters, and of course, the romance. (My first time writing the fake dating trope!!!)
“Overbearing parents, wild dreams and ambitions, and a heart that was struggling to make the right choice for her future. I built the story around her wants and needs—around wanting to please her parents, but wanting to chase her dreams.”
I began writing the story in April 2019 for Camp NaNoWriMo. At the time, I was taking six classes at university, and interning three days a week, but I didn’t let that hinder me. Even though this was uncharted territory, I was kind of excited. I’d made up my mind to tell Karina’s story and I was determined to follow through on that promise. I made time to write every day, whether it meant arriving at my internship an hour early, utilizing my lunch break well, slipping into the library between classes, or finding an hour before sleep overcame me at night.
It was strange to write Karina as an Asian-American teen who was unapologetically Muslim and Bangladeshi. It was even stranger to draw on my own real-life experiences. Frankly, it was terrifying. It felt like I was laying my heart bare on the pages for everyone to see. Some nights, I barely knew how to keep going. It was the hardest story I had ever written. And yet fifteen days in, I’d already met my goal of 50,000 words. Karina’s story was coming together in ways I couldn’t have expected, and I realized that it would have been more painful to stop writing than to continue.
So I kept pushing forward, chapter by chapter, page by page, until I finished the first draft at the end of April. 90,000 words in one month. 90,000 words of Karina Ahmed’s story. I cried a few times because it was hard to write—harder than I could have ever imagined—but when I reread it at the end, I felt lighter. For the first time ever, I had written a book that I could relate to wholeheartedly. One where I could see myself on every page. One that 16-year-old Tashie would have given anything to read. It was a book for young brown girls and it was a book that I was proud of. It felt vulnerable and honest and hopeful and tender. It felt like coming home.
“For the first time ever, I had written a book that I could relate to wholeheartedly. One where I could see myself on every page. One that 16-year-old Tashie would have given anything to read. It was a book for young brown girls and it was a book that I was proud of.”
One month later, I sent the book out into the world. Within ten days, I got an agent offer. Two months later, I got a book deal. One year from now—May 4th, 2021, I’ll be able to walk into a bookstore and get a copy of it. And wildly enough, so will you!
All this to say, I wrote Counting Down With You as a love letter to my culture and my identity. And I’m glad I did.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for having me @ The Quiet Pond. Sending everyone all the love!
About the Author
Tashie Bhuiyan is a Bangladeshi-American writer based in New York City. She is an Author Mentor Match alum and recently graduated from St. John’s University with a bachelor’s degree in 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. Her debut novel COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU (Inkyard/HarperCollins) releases on May 4th, 2021.
Wasn’t this such a wonderful piece? I’m so so in awe and happy for Tashie that she’s written a wonderful book that feels fulfilling and validating for her! I can’t wait to meet her characters, Karina and Ace, and feel the love through Tashie’s writing.
I feel so honoured to have Tashie here today for Asian Heritage Month and I hope that we can have her again one day. Don’t forget to add Counting Down With You on Goodreads, friends!