Dahlia Adler is an editor of mathematics by day, a book blogger by night, and an author at every spare moment in between. She is the editor of the anthologies His Hideous Heart and That Way Madness Lies, and the author of, most recently, Cool for the Summer and Home Field Advantage. She lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books. Her latest anthology is At Midnight: 15 Beloved Fairy Tales Reimagined and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for At Midnight?
I’d already done a couple of anthologies of reimaginings of classic literature, so it was just a matter of looking for the next body of work that held up to Poe and Shakespeare. Doing fairy tales was actually Anna-Marie McLemore’s idea, and they wanted to contribute to the collection but not edit it, so they put it in my hands and let me run with it!
For your first anthology, His Hideous Heart, you had some writers already interested in the project when you started. And for That Way Madness Lies, you allowed the contributors to select the Shakespeare work they wanted to reimagine. Did you follow a similar process for putting together At Midnight? Or did you approach it in a different way?
At Midnight was definitely more like That Way Madness Lies, because it came together much more quietly than His Hideous Heart, and I approached it in the same way in two senses: letting the authors pick, but then narrowing those choices a bit once I saw what was being selected, in order to make sure that we had the stories I thought were the biggest Musts for such a collection.
Your contribution to At Midnight is a reimagined version of "Rumpelstiltskin." Is that your favorite classic fairy tale? What drew you to that story?
It’s not my favorite—that honor, at least as a child, went to The Little Matchstick Girl—but I chose it because I had had an idea for a story about a catfish for an earlier anthology to which I was asked to contribute that didn’t sell, and that idea had always stuck with me. I had always wanted to find a way to use it, and Rumpelstiltskin was just the perfect inroad!
Do you have a favorite version/retelling of a classic fairy tale (novels, films, or television)? A least favorite? One that is so bad it is fun?
Do you have a least favorite fairy tale? (I realize that you may not want to address this one, and if that is the case, please don’t. But you may have some very good reasons for disliking a story if you’re willing to share!)?
I wouldn’t say I have a least favorite, but I will say I don’t think I had sufficient appreciation for Cinderella until the author Melissa Grey (The Girl at Midnight, Valiant Ladies) wrote a really great Twitter thread a bunch of years back that made me look at it in another light, from the perspective specifically of Cinderella as a girl who was regularly abused and survived with that mentality. It was definitely great insight into how much deeper fairy tales can go if we dig just right.
Do you have a favorite Disney version of a story? A least favorite? (I realize again, you may not want to answer this, but if you do, go for it!) One with which you have a complicated love/hate relationship??
I actually haven’t seen most of the Disney versions! The list of movies I haven’t seen wildly shocks people, but my siblings are much older, and I think my parents were just kinda done with those by the time I came around. I loved Aladdin and the Lion King, but movies like Beauty and the Beast just skipped over me entirely.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
An advance reader copy of The Fraud Squad by Kyla Zhao, which is a really fun upcoming novel that’s basically Pygmalion meets Crazy Rich Asians. I have one chapter left to go, but I’m sort of treating myself by holding off on finishing.
Do you have an idea or theory regarding why/how original/traditional fairy tales continue to appeal to readers and are a source of inspiration to artists centuries after they were first written down?
I think there’s something really exciting about how many of them have different versions that are polar opposites—told by one author they might have the lightest, fluffiest ending, and told by another, they can be impossibly bleak. It’s so fascinating to work with material like that, which has a familiar foundation but can branch off in wildly different ways. I also think they function like an oral tradition of sorts, which is something that any culture steeped in one can tell you is a very powerful thing.
They’re also centered on such widely recognizable themes, and I think they can hold a lot of hope for people in how many of them are about people from very humble beginnings who find a way to grasp at power. What’s very cool about fairy tales is how many of them have all these different versions and sub-versions all over the world. Maria Tatar’s The Classic Fairy Tales is a great read on this.
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
I mostly rewatch Grey’s Anatomy over and over again, but I’m trying to watch a little more new TV—Dead to Me and White Lotus and Mythic Quest and Only Murders in the Building, for a few. Inspiration can come from anywhere, for sure. But I do find something in watching familiar dynamics that’s particularly inspiring for me, which I think is one reason I like rewatching so much.
What are you working on now?
I just finished up the final corrections on my next novel, Going Bicoastal, which comes out June 13, 2023, and I’m working on my 2024 book now, which is currently called My Name is Everett. It’s a fun boarding school romance that plays heavily on the dichotomy of good/bad and what it really means to be "nice." I think it’s a lot of fun but will also hopefully spark some necessary conversations!