Dahlia Adler on her latest release, the craft of short stories, and why she writes
How to introduce a profile on Dahlia Adler? I could start by saying she's the author of one of my absolute favorite YA romances, Home Field Advantage, which just released in June 2022 and absolutely blew me away. I could introduce her as the force behind LGBTQ Reads, a blog dedicated to all things queer and bookish. I could tell you she's the queen of anthologies or of telling people to update their websites.
Or maybe I'll just say this: Dahlia Adler is a day-jobber, author, blogger, and all-around literary badass whose own works have brought me joy and whose efforts to support and promote other authors have heartened many a career.
And she's a lovely interviewee, too! I chatted with Dahlia in mid-June and there were multiple moments where I just had to gape in awe at the wisdom she wove with her words.
Dahlia grew up and remains practicing Orthodox Jewish, and she said some of the reasons she writes boil down to, essentially, wanting to experience things through her stories that she never would in life: for instance, eating certain foods or wearing bikinis. "It was that kind of thing," she said, "an opportunity to live the life I knew I wouldn’t be living."
But she continues to write because stories are a part of her.
"I think no matter what, ideas and characters would form in my head and need to get on paper somewhere," she said. "As a bonus of getting to be a published author [is] having people respond and hearing it makes a difference, once that gets started that’s an impossible thing to give up."
As I mentioned above, Dahlia is well-known for her anthologies. As of now, she has edited or co-edited four anthologies and contributed to even more. So I had to know — how does writing a short story differ from writing a novel?
"I found that you can kind of create a story on anything that gets a character or a plot from point A to point A," Dahlia said. "That’s not enough for a novel. You have to have other things happening, intertwine, subplots. In a short story you focus on the A plot. The most gifted short story authors can have a subplot even in that space. Short stories are a great way to really explore this one really strong fascinating segment of a journey, or even a whole journey."
As someone who has often struggled with short stories, I found that description really illuminating, especially after Dahlia added, "They give you that power to focus, and I love that."
In addition, short stories can provide the author with an opportunity: to hone in on an element of craft or a storyline they don't feel ready (or will never desire) to write into a full novel.
Dahlia has a day job, runs a very time-intensive blog (LGBTQ Reads), and is an author...which, when you lay it all out like that, is a lot. She uses her lunch breaks and weekends to maximum effect, and works on LGBTQ Reads constantly and consistently, and said, "I write at night after the kids go to bed…it’s exhausting. It’s not easy." She said she has sacrificed a lot over the years but, "I am seeing it pay off these days."
Dahlia's latest YA novel is Home Field Advantage, a sporty YA romance between two girls: a cheerleader angling for captain of the team and the new quarterback of the football team. The book touches on tough things, like bullying and blackmail and fear of coming out, but it's also a joyful book about romance and friendship and love of sport. I found myself captivated by the story, enraptured by the characters and romance, simply in love.
One of the aspects Dahlia is incredibly proud of is the mom of one of her main characters, who's bisexual.
"I loved writing my first bi mom and getting to show the importance of her very existence," Dahlia said. "And her bi-ness. The queer solidarity. That relationship/those relationships in the book mean a lot to me."
I want to end with Dahlia's book recs, so before I get to that, a final shoutout that she gave as the creator of a blog all about queer books and stories: "Publishing should publish more trans-fem YA." I think that stands on its own and I hope publishing listens to Dahlia!
Dahlia offered three recommendations for books she loves, starting with Beating Heart Baby by Lio Min, which releases this month on July 26, 2022. "[It's] so beautiful and special in the crack your heart wide open way," Dahlia said. "[About] finding your people, bonding over shared media love. [There's] Asian trans rep, which is really rare for YA."
Another book, one I've also read and loved, is The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson, which Dahlia said is, "Incredibly special. It handles so many things so well, and it’s incredible how well she meshes things like light sweet romance and ice cream with these much tougher things, tackling being an Indigenous child with a white father…assault…its effects on your family life. Her exploration of demisexuality is just excellent."
Finally, Dahlia recommended Man O' War by Cory McCarthy, of which she said the book, "does a lot of cool things at once — swimming in this complex romance with a transmasc main character's gender journey...it’s just…really impressive when somebody weaves a journey like that with these interesting stops along the way over the course of years."