Former corporate exec, fashion journalist and PR director Dawn Klehr has an obsession with writing—and that obsession has given birth to On the Cutting Room Floor, an enticing new YA thriller that hums on many narrative levels.
Behind-the-scenes secrets could turn deadly for Desmond and Riley.
Life in the Heights has never been easy for seventeen-year-old Riley Frost, but when she’s publicly dumped and outed at the same time, she becomes an immediate social outcast at her high school. So Riley swears off romance and throws herself into solving the shocking murder of her favorite teacher, Ms. Dunn.
Riley turns to her best friend, budding filmmaker Desmond Brandt, for help. What she doesn’t know is that Dez has been secretly directing her life, blackmailing her friends, and hoping his manipulations will make her love him. When his schemes go too far, Dez’s web of lies threatens to destroy both of their lives.
YOUNG ADULT: If you could surmise your relationship to writing in three words only, what would they be and why?
Dawn Klehr: An incredible obsession.
My relationship with writing is a bit like Dez’s (the antihero in TCRF) relationship with film. It’s an obsession for me and not always a healthy one. I love writing and feel extremely lucky to have found my calling, but it can be very consuming. It’s really difficult for me to break away and join the real world sometimes.
YA: Tell us a little bit about your latest work. What is different about THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR?
DK: The Cutting Room Floor is a creepy thriller about a seventeen-year-old girl, Riley, trying to solve the murder of her beloved teacher—and budding filmmaker, Dez, who becomes obsessed with her. But, at its core, the novel is really about two characters trying to find love.
The book is different in many ways: its exploration of sexuality, a narrative that slips in and out of a movie/screenplay format, and the unsaid pieces of the story that allow the reader to draw their own conclusions.
I also think the way the protagonist grows throughout the novel while questioning her sexuality—but without it becoming an issue book, and without her being punished, as many LGBT characters are, for her choices—is unique. The plotline is there, but there is so much more going on in her world. I also love the anti-hero aspect of Dez, and the way his sense of reality begins to blur as he becomes more and more intent on winning Riley’s love.
There’s a lot going on in this novel, but it’s a fun, exciting, and scary ride.
YA: Take us through a typical writing day for you.
DK: I’m not sure I have a typical writing day. I have a young son so, when he isn’t in school, I’m entertaining him. That means my writing often happens during bath time, while I’m cooking dinner, and through the night when necessary. There’s no waiting around for the muse, I just make the time.
YA: Can you describe the path to getting this work published? What were the challenges? What was easy about it?
DK: It’s still a bit of a blur, but definitely one of the most exciting times of my life. The hardest part, of course, was writing the darn thing. I had just come off submission with a different book that didn’t sell, so finding the strength and confidence to do it again was really difficult.
The easiest part was that I already had an agent in my corner as I was writing it. She was my biggest cheerleader and also my toughest critic. We went through numerous revisions before sending it out on submission to make sure it was in the best possible shape. And that paid off—we had a lot of interest pretty early on.
But, wow, the day I got my first offer? It was incredible and made everything worth it.
YA: What were your specific influences for this story? Other literature, film, TV? Would you term this as a ‘high school mystery’?
DK: There were so many influences for this story. The obvious is film—and screenplays. When I worked in television, I was fortunate enough to interview Tippi Hedren (the star of The Birds and Alfred Hitchcock’s muse) and she was amazing the way she lit up when the camera was on. I thought about that interview and her story a lot during the writing of TCRF.
Film was also a driving force in understanding my characters. It was very easy to get inside Dez’s head when it came to his passion. I immediately knew all his favorite films: The Godfather, Reservoir Dogs, and Fight Club. I re-watched all of these films because they needed to be fresh as I wrote from Dez’s point of view. For Riley, she was all about sweet and sassy like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Wizard of Oz.
Then, to get into the right space as I wrote the book, TV shows like: Dexter and Pretty Little Liars helped prepare me mentally.
YA: If you hadn’t become an author, what path would your career have perhaps taken?
DK: So far, my career path has included work as a TV news producer, online fashion writer, and PR director. The corporate world was very draining on me so if I wasn’t lucky enough to become an author, I think I would’ve went back into journalism.
YA: What other authors, YA or otherwise, do you idolize? Or, what YA books are on a pedestal for you?
DK: As a younger reader, I loved anything by S.E. Hinton, of course. I also loved Lord of the Flies, which wasn’t classified as young adult at that time. In fact, there really wasn’t a young adult genre, so I usually read up—mostly commercial fiction.
More recently, the YA authors I would put up on a pedestal are: Laurie Halse Anderson, Sherman Alexie, and A.S. King. I also adore Sara Zarr and Gayle Forman.
And my favorite YA novel of all time is Speak.