Interview With an Author: Dahlia Adler

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Young Adult author Dahlia Adler and her latest novel, That Way Madness Lies
Young Adult author Dahlia Adler and her latest novel, That Way Madness Lies. Photo credit: Maggie Hall

Dahlia Adler is an editor of mathematics by day, a book blogger by night, and a Young Adult author at every spare moment in between. She is the author of Cool for the Summer and the editor of His Hideous Heart an anthology of stories inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. She lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books. Her latest anthology is a collection of stories reimagining Shakespeare, That Way Madness Lies, and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for That Way Madness Lies?

My previous collection, His Hideous Heart, was inspired by the answer to a tweet I’d asked about which authors you’d pair to retell certain stories. Once I edited that anthology and saw how brilliantly I thought it worked for classrooms in particular, I really wanted to do another one, and who’s probably the only author read more in American classrooms (and classrooms around the world, in this case) than Edgar Allan Poe? And so, a collection of Shakespeare retellings was born.

What was your process for putting together this collection? The anthology includes new looks at Shakespeare’s poetry and his plays. Did you assign specific authors specific works, did the authors select their own works to reimagine, or did you approach it in a different way?

It was actually a combination in this case. For the most part, I simply had authors select them, and some very much surprised me with their choices. But one constant in Shakespeare is that while crossdressing is prevalent, trans characters are not, so I did want at least one of the prominent cross-dressing comedies to be done by a trans author, and I also specifically asked Brittany Cavallaro, who’s a poet in addition to being a New York Times bestselling author of one of my favorite YA series, to do a sonnet.

You wrote a reimagined version of The Merchant of Venice entitled “I Bleed” for the collection. What drew you to that story?

As a Jewish author, The Merchant of Venice evokes a lot of feelings, both positive and negative. Shylock has one of the most beautiful monologues in Shakespeare’s entire catalog but is portrayed as a hateful villain who received a brutal, highly anti-Semitic ending in a story that’s classified as a comedy. I very much wanted to reform it into a story where the Jewish character wasn’t necessarily kinder or gentler but had more power and agency, and I worked some of our own literature into it as well.

Do you have a favorite of Shakespeare’s plays or poems?

Ambition and revenge are two of my favorite themes in work, so I do hold a special place for Macbeth. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the very presence of Judaism as such a significant aspect of The Merchant of Venice ascribes it a lot of personal and special meaning for me.

Do you have a favorite adaptation (television, motion picture or theatre production)?

Easily Ten Things I Hate About You—such an incredibly fun movie that came out at the perfect time for me. I have seen it a million times and just nails modernizing The Taming of the Shrew.

Do you have an idea or theory regarding why/how Shakespeare’s works have become so ingrained in western culture and his contemporaries and their works have been mostly forgotten 400+ years later?

The time of Shakespeare’s rise to fame, “The Lost Years”, is so poorly documented that it feels like there’s some missing piece there that would help solve this particular mystery, but as an avid romance novelist, I see a lot of mirroring in the fandom of tropes. Romeo & Juliet is particularly persistent as “forbidden romance,” and used as inspiration frequently regardless of whether or not the authors using it maintains the tragic ending. Macbeth is ambition and power and magic; who doesn’t love reading and writing about those things? And the more you cite an author as your jumping-off point, the more credence it lends to their work.

That said, perhaps his contemporaries were writing about exactly the same sorts of things but didn’t have his social capital, royal patronage, and the stage of the Globe Theatre, and it’s as simple as that.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark, which is an adult fantasy debut out later this month that takes its inspiration from North Africa and alternates perspectives between a soldier who’s been stationed in the very land from which she was stolen and conscripted as a child and the princess of the empire, and Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve which I actually devoured in a single night; it’s a contemporary YA novel about a trans boy figuring out his gender through the help of winning the role of Romeo in the school play. (On theme, even!)

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I was privileged to read The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros, which releases in September, quite early in order to provide a blurb for the cover, and it really struck me how marvelous it felt to read a story that was so unapologetically (and I actually quite despise using that word, but it’s the only one that fits here) Jewish. (Again, rather on theme here.) It’s a queer historical thriller about disappearing immigrant boys during the World’s Fair, set in 1893 Chicago and with the supernatural element of a dybbuk, and it’s just a fascinating story that also just beautifully captured the details of being an Eastern European Jew new to America at the time. I felt my family’s roots in it, and it really made me want to put more of my background into my own work.

What are you working on now?

My next novel, Cool for the Summer, releases on May 11, and I’m just finishing up the draft for my (unrelated) follow-up to it, which is also a Sapphic romance set in high school. I’ve also just received the first story for my next anthology, At the Stroke of Midnight—a collection of reimagined fairytales publishing in Fall 2022—so the editing is officially beginning on that as well!

Book cover for That Way Madness Lies: Fifteen of William Shakespeare's Most Notable Works Reimagined
That Way Madness Lies: Fifteen of William Shakespeare's Most Notable Works Reimagined
Adler, Dahlia