Beyond the Walls: A Q&A with Dahlia Adler


under the lights dahlia adlerA few months ago, one of our writers had the privilege of doing an interview over email with Dahlia Adler, right before the publication of her incredible novel Under the Lights. I then interviewed her again at BookExpo America, and that interview ultimately became our author feature with her. The initial interview collected dust in the lost corners of our email inboxes until I found it, calling out for love, about a week ago. And why not share this tiny Q&A with you now? After all, the answers are fantastic – and so is Under the Lights.

In Under the Lights, 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.

Do you feel like your writing has changed in any way from your debut to this latest release?

God, yes. When I wrote my debut, I was really focused on plotting and pacing, because those are things that were definitely weaknesses for me in the manuscript before that. Now I feel like those things come much more naturally, which allows me to focus more on character nuance, distinctive voices, etc. The books I’ve written since Behind the Scenes have had different tenses, points of view, characters of different backgrounds… stuff I’ve really loved being able to focus on and improve.

What do you hope readers will be left with after reading Under the Lights?

One of the best things I’ve heard from readers is that it’s made them think a lot more about Asian representation in Hollywood, and it really, really thrills me to hear that; anything along the lines of it opening people’s eyes to inequality is one of the best things I can hear. I also hope queer readers – especially women of color – are left feeling well represented and visible, and that any straight readers who might’ve struggled before with the whole “love is love” idea get it a little better now. Also, I hope people think it was hot, not gonna lie.

What was a particularly special part to you about writing Under the Lights?

The sex scene, first and foremost. I talk about it a lot, but I really wanted to write something I hadn’t seen in YA in a book with a happy ending, and to make it feel real, and hot, and emphatically consensual. It means a lot to me to see other people connect with that too.

Who was your favorite character to write?

You would think the answer would be Josh, because there’s something really fun about getting to write someone that unfiltered, but the more Vanessa grew into herself, the more I loved writing her, until she far overtook him. She’s falling in love with both who she really is and with someone else at the same time, and writing both of those things feels like a privilege.

Why do you think diversity is so important? As a diverse blogger, what do you think is so important for writers to understand when writing diversity?

I think feeling alone in the world is really scary, and especially when you’re a teen, you have really limited access to what’s beyond your “walls” – home, school, maybe summer camp. If you need to know there are more people like you out there? Books representing you do that. If you want to understand someone you know’s experience better? Books representing them can do that. There’s such a wealth of experiences out there and I think the more exposure we have to them, the better people we become, especially to each other. I think writers need to really think about who their books are for and who they’re representing, and how the people you’re depicting are going to feel about the way they see themselves on your pages. So often I see authors get wrapped up in a culture they find fascinating, or just love the concept of bringing diversity to their work, and they don’t think about the people behind the culture and how they’ll feel when they read it. Don’t skip that step.

How long have you been writing in general?

Pretty much as long as I can remember – over 20 years, for sure. But I didn’t start pursuing publication at all until six or seven years ago.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Courtney Summers, Melina Marchetta, Corey Haydu, Amy Reed, Nina LaCour, Katherine Locke, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Leah Raeder, Geraldine Brooks, Ann Patchett, Stephanie Kuehn

What interesting research did you stumble upon while writing Under the Lights?

I wouldn’t say I stumbled into anything particularly surprising, but accounts of being Asian in Hollywood were really interesting to me. I read every Jamie Chung interview I could get my hands on, and some interesting pieces written around when Selfie was new and it was huge that John Cho was the romantic lead, plus I had a great beta who’s both Korean-American and a former Hollywood intern (thanks, Lyla!) so all of those experiences were cool to be able to see from those who are far closer to Hollywood than I am, and really reinforced and influenced the struggle I was writing for Vanessa.

What’s next for you, if you are able to share that?

[Published recently] is my first novel where romance is not the central storyline (although it’s definitely in there, as is just plain ol’ hooking up). It’s a YA called Just Visiting, about best friends living in rural Kansas who are visiting colleges together and confronting secrets from their pasts as they look toward their shared future. Now what’s up next are two ]new adult novels] coming in 2016, called Right of First Refusal and Out on Good Behavior.

Why is writing YA, or YA in general, important to you?

I think those years leading up to legal adulthood are so important, and so scary, and so desperately in need of guidance – not in a “teens don’t know what they’re doing” kind of way, but in a “look at what the world is and can be” kind of way. We have such a limited scope of vision in our lives, and especially before we leave the house, high school, our parents… I think it’s such a great way to help teens see around the corner and embrace their power.


Under the Lights is available now. For more on Dahlia Adler, visit her website or her blog. You can also follow her on .

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Nicole Brinkley

Nicole is the editor of YA Interrobang. She has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. Follow her on Twitter at or Tumblr at . Like her work? Leave her a tip.

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