Desai playfully combines rom-com tropes in The Dating Plan (Berkley, Mar.), which pairs neurotic Daisy Patel with devil-may-care Liam Murphy.

What drew you to the fake dating trope?

One of the things I like to explore is the difference between cultures and their attitudes towards marriage. Daisy and Liam decide on a marriage of convenience and go on a number of fake dates to legitimize it. Part of the reason is so Daisy can escape from her parents attempts to arrange her marriage. When you’re in an arranged marriage situation, often there isn’t a lot of dating that goes on. The whole aspect of getting to know someone slowly doesn’t happen that often. So for Daisy, she’s sort of exploring a Western ideal by going on all these dates.

Tell me about your approach to making these tropier elements feel believable.

I think it comes from the character. With Daisy’s very exacting personality, she needs to have some kind of structure to whatever she’s going to do. Whereas Liam is almost her opposite. Even though he’s found his way in the corporate world, he’s still very much that guy on the motorcycle with the bad boy persona. So I thought about those characters and what would be an interesting way to put them together that would give them some conflict, and these tropes really worked for that.

The Patel family is a delight. What inspired their dynamic?

Family is a huge part of Desi culture. The family is involved in everything you do. So that family structure was very important to me. It was almost like its own character. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the people who were going to be in Daisy’s family—an auntie here, or an uncle there—and how they would challenge her or bring conflict into the story.

There are some mouthwatering depictions of Indian cuisine throughout.

Food is a way to bring people together. Whether it’s just a couple sharing a meal, or the family coming together, food is a huge part of the culture and I wanted to bring that in. And I was using it as a tool: if it was a light scene they would be having a light snack—or if there was some kind of conflict, I would use food there as well, to showcase the differences between cultures.

Daisy’s sister is planning a wedding. Tell me about how you incorporated Indian wedding traditions.

I wanted to bring out the things that I thought were beautiful. Some of the clothing, for example. The wedding dresses are incredibly ornate and a lot of time goes into them and there’s a lot of color. I wanted to try and bring that out for readers who wouldn’t otherwise be familiar with it.