Delilah S. Dawson is the author of Midnight at the Houdini. Midnight at the Houdini follows a girl who discovers a surreal hotel where no one ever leaves. The novel explores magic, mysteries, and spells. YEM was able to speak with Delilah about what inspired the book, the writing process, and what she has coming up in the future.
Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Delilah S. Dawson: Not until I was 31! I grew up as a visual artist and got an art degree, but ultimately it was really hard to find a fulfilling job. I tried lots of different artistic media but never really found my voice. Then, when my second kid stopped sleeping, I did, too, and my brain pretty much broke. That’s when I started writing—probably because I was too tired to experience self-doubt.
YEM: Where did the idea of Midnight at the Houdini come from?
Delilah: In the early parts of the Covid pandemic when we stayed home as much as possible, I started dreaming of a magical escape. I started writing a book about a girl with plant magic who grew up in a Las Vegas hotel, but then I realized I was more interested in the hotel. I tried to think of the most exciting, bewitching things that could happen in a beautiful, old-fashioned hotel that transformed to delight the visitor, and that’s where the Houdini came from.
YEM: Was any part of your book inspired by your life?
Delilah: The main inspirations were Sleep No More, an immersive theater experience in NYC, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Anna is very different from me, but Max is exactly the kind of guy I would’ve fallen for when I was in high school.
YEM: What was your writing process like?
Delilah: Most of the time, I outline a book first, but because of the unique situation we were in when Covid first struck, writing Midnight at the Houdini was more like wandering into a dark space and trying to find my way around. It was a process of discovery—which meant that I had harder revisions than usual! I always write my first drafts fairly quickly from front to back with no pausing or self-editing, then fix all the issues in subsequent edits. My agent helped get the manuscript in shape before we pitched it to my editor.
YEM: What is your favorite part of writing?
Delilah: Definitely the beginning of the first draft, when everything feels magical and possible and the book feels big and important and its possibilities are limitless! And also because I haven’t hit any speed bumps yet or landed in the soggy middle.
YEM: What drew you to wanting to write such a mysterious book?
Delilah: I needed an escape. My entire family was stuck at home and we all lived in daily fear and anxiety around the new terrifying pandemic that changed daily. I would go outside to my office and lay back in my papasan couch and dream under the dappled shade, finally alone with my thoughts. Usually, my books are ‘issues’ books where I pry up past trauma and work through it in prose, but the Houdini is all about magic and discovery.
YEM: What do you hope your readers take away from reading your book?
Delilah: I hope it offers them a beautiful escape and happy discover and tummy flutters, just like writing it did for me!
YEM: What is some advice you have for someone who wants to become a writer?
Delilah: Read Story Genius by Lisa Cron. If you treat it like a workbook for your story idea and see it all the way through, you’ll have a functional outline by the end. That book was a game changer for me!
YEM: Is there a genre that you particularly like writing?
Delilah: Whichever one I’m currently writing! I like to skip around and follow whatever spark gets me excited to write. So far, that includes Romance, Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, Satire, Science Fiction, Horror, Weird West, Literary Fiction, YA, and Middle Grade.
YEM: What is a book that you love so much you wish you had written it?
Delilah: Watership Down has been one of my favorites since I was in second grade. Everything about it hits home for me.
YEM: What is your favorite quote or scene from Midnight at the Houdini?
Delilah: I love the Wardrobe. I always have a problem finding clothes that are comfortable and stylish and affordable and fit my body without setting off any sensory overloads, and a magical closet that automatically knows my size would be a dream come true.
YEM: What do you have coming up in the future for your writing?
Delilah: My next book is out in October, a cottagecore horror story called BLOOM inspired by my 17yo daughter, who watched Hannibal and was annoyed that all the hot serial killers are guys. So I tried to fix that. I have several books out next year that haven’t been announced yet, but you can always find my upcoming releases at delilahsdawson.com or by following me on Twitter, Instagram, or Blue Sky, where I’m @delilahsdawson.
Thanks so much!