Exclusive interview with Dahlia Adler on “Under The Lights”

Dahlia Adler gives us raw, bold and inspiring novels that tackle some of the harder issues that don’t always come to surface with young adult (and even new adult) stories. Her books provide sweet romances and friendships as well as tales of true love whilst showing the difficulties in finding yourself and how to overcome these difficulties in order to be yourself. She teaches us to be who we are, and reminds us that by simply doing that we can inspire others to do it, too.

Through her novels, Adler reminds us that trying to be the perfect person in order to inspire others doesn’t work – people are inspired by those who aren’t afraid to be themselves in a world that constantly tries to make them something different.

Adler is an Associate Editor of mathematics, a Copy Editor, and a strong, powerful YA and NA writer. She’s also been a Production Intern and Editorial Assistant atSimon & Schuster, a Publicity Intern at HarperCollins, and a Fashion Intern at Maxim. She lives in New York City with her husband and overstuffed bookshelves. Her YA novels include: Behind The Scenes, Under The Lights and Just Visiting, and her NA novels include: Last Will and Testament, Right of First Refusal and her upcoming novel Out on Good Behaviour which is due to be released this June.

In a recent and exclusive interview, Adler talks about her writing and in particular, her Under The Lights, which is the second book in her Daylight Falls novels.

DahliaAdlerPhoto_creditMaggieHall

When asked if there are any particular authors, books or films that influenced her own wiring in any way wither growing up or as an adult,  Adler opened up and spoke about how it was in fact more films and TV series that influenced her the most. She said:

Sweet Valley High is really the series I have to credit, and to an extent The Baby-Sitters Club, though I think that made me a worse writer for a while. I had a very insular upbringing because I was in religious schooling up until college, so those were my life outside. And then I realised I could create my own ‘life outside’ via writing, et voila.”

We also asked Adler some questions about how she plans her writing. Does she work with an outline, or just she just write and see what comes out? She told us:

“This changes book by book, honestly. Behind the Scenes was fully and thoroughly outlined, and my next manuscript is mostly the same, but usually, I just outline a few scenes ahead of where I’m up to.”

Under The Lights is one of Adler’s newer books with it being released just last year. It was the sequel to steamy and romantic book Behind The Scenes and gave us an insight into the the other characters of the original story. She explores coming out and being a minority in a cutthroat industry, deftly weaving both threads together to show their intersectionality. A positive, empowering coming-of-age story that lifts the veil having over queerness in YA.

Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents’ wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls … opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he’s trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he’s in the spotlight—on everyone’s terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.

Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents’ disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she’s painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van’s life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she’ll have to choose between the one thing she’s always loved … and the person she never imagined she could.

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When asked about how she came up with the idea for Under The Lights, after writing Behind The Scenes, Adler said that it was originally meant to be Josh’s story, but then the idea evolved to show more of Vanessa after being worried about writing an entire story from Josh’s voice. She said:

“Under the Lights was conceived as nothing more than ‘Josh’s book’ originally, because people had liked him so much in his appearances in Behind the Scenes. But Josh has a very strong voice that’s kind of…despicable, if we’re being real. So I expressed to my editor some anxiety about writing an entire book from his voice, and she said that other editors at the publishing house who’d read the book wanted to see more Vanessa.”

She went on to talk about some of her original ideas for the story, but ended up letting the characters be who they were and watched where that took the story. She said:

“I actually felt like I really didn’t know Vanessa, and I’d been planning to ask if I could split the book between Josh and Liam, the love interest from the first book. We compromised on that I’d try to write a book from all three perspectives, and I did, but it reallllly didn’t work – Josh and Vanessa’s POVs kept intertwining, while Liam’s was totally independent, and both Josh and Vanessa were supposed to have romances, but they weren’t going anywhere at all. So the obvious solution would seem to be to put Josh and Van together, but I knew in my bones that was not their path. And then I realized Vanessa wasn’t working with any guys because she didn’t like guys; she liked a waitress she flirts with at the beginning of the book. And Josh was just so not ready to settle down. So I let them be who they were, and even though it resulted in a seriously unconventional book, I’m so happy for it.”

Adler explains that the powerful storyline of Vanessa’s struggles in breaking through in acting being Asian and a minority was always going to be part of the book from the start. And even more so was the idea of comparing a straight white guy and a queer Asian girl working in the same industry and the differences between their hardships. She told us:

“The storyline of Vanessa’s struggles trying to break through as an Asian actress was part of the book from the very beginning, but it really built up when I tried to fancast the character and came up extremely short with possible results. Even though I was writing about something I’d obviously already noticed, it was really burning in my brain by the time I started Under the Lights. The book is about a lot of things, but the thread that runs from beginning to end is the disparity of treatment and opportunity between a straight white guy and a queer Asian girl.”

She went on to talk about the differences between the characters and the outcome of the story. She tells us:

“Josh is a train wreck of a human who constantly screws up, has almost no passion for what he does, and doesn’t care what anyone thinks, but everyone bends over backward to find a way to make him fit. Vanessa does absolutely everything to fit, and forces herself to be as perfect as humanly possible, no matter the cost for her emotionally, and somehow this super-perfect, aspirational version of herself is a logistical nightmare. I know a lot of people don’t understand why Josh gets so much of what’s ultimately Vanessa’s book, and I understand that, but it’s very largely his service to this storyline, to show that steep contrast. And I love that she takes over what was originally his book. I love that the queer Asian girl completely overshadows the straight white boy here when she doesn’t get to do that anywhere else. And I love when that speaks to other people too.”

Most YA fiction stories (and most genres, really) focus on typical boy/girl relationships, when asked about what inspired her to write a girl/girl relationship with Vanessa and Brianna, Adler told us she just knew that’s how Vanessa’s story was meant to be told. She said:

“It’s very hard to explain how characters aren’t always in your control, but sometimes, they’re just not; they are who they are and you just know. In almost two full books’ worth of Vanessa Park, she only had chemistry with one person, and that was this waitress she inexplicably flirts with at a party. So I turned that waitress into Brianna-in-disguise, and their romance stemmed from there. It was cool because I had planned to write a romance between girls in YA for a while, and for that book, that really stemmed from a “YA needs more of this” perspective. So, it was a combination of things, but I love writing romances that aren’t boy/girl, and I’m now on my third with two more in the pipeline. It’s nice to mix it up and give everyone the happy endings they deserve to see.”

When reading Under The Lights, I found that there were so many powerful, deeper meanings and messages hidden through it’s pages, including those about giving young gay girls the courage to be themselves and to know everything they’re going through is real. Adler only confirmed this, saying that this, as well as many other things, is a message she hopes readers will walk away with after reading her novel. She said:

“It’s always a tricky thing for an author to hope they’re sending a certain message; one thing you have to get used to is letting your work be open to interpretation. But I always wanted this to be a book for queer girls to be able to keep under the mattress, so to speak, and to know that their love and feelings are valid and real. And I want other readers to get that too – that romance is romance no matter who it’s between. And ideally, of course, I hope people pick up everything I put down re: Vanessa and Hollywood, and the importance of friendship, and also the ways that friendship grows and changes, and how much acceptance matters, and and and…”

Adler also offers up some advice for aspiring writers and those hoping to get into the writing industry. She tells her readers not to hold themselves back. She said:

Don’t hold yourself back. You have to be your own best advocate, and you’ll also be your own worst enemy. Stop telling yourself a hundred reasons you can’t start That Book and a thousand reasons you can’t finish it. It’s okay if it’s terrible! Writing it is only step one, and revision will become your best friend. Which leads me to an even bigger tip – make writer friends. They are everything.

You can find Adler on Twitter, Facebook and blogging at B&N Teens, The Daily Dahlia, and LGBTQ Reads. As well as on her own website.

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