Delilah S. Dawson talks her new book, her process, and what’s coming next

Delilah S Dawson. Photo credit Allan Amato
Delilah S Dawson. Photo credit Allan Amato /

Delilah S. Dawson’s newest book is Midnight at the Houdini, a young adult fantasy novel about a young girl named Anna who finds herself stuck in the Houdini hotel with her father and his friends. The hotel will not let her leave, but if she doesn’t find her way out with the help of a boy named Max, she will be stuck there as a ghost forever.

It’s an extraordinarily twisty novel with lots of magical rooms, a bit of romance, a few villains, and a journey to figure out how to get out of the hotel before time runs out.

On top of being able to read this fantasy mystery early, I was also lucky enough to interview Delilah S. Dawson. She talked about what sparked the idea for this book, how she created this world, and what’s coming next for her!

Delilah S Dawson. Photo credit Allan Amato
Delilah S Dawson. Photo credit Allan Amato /

Interview with Midnight at Houdini’s Delilah S. Dawson

Culturess: What first sparked the idea for this book?
Delilah S . Dawson: There’s something intrinsically magical about hotels—about the liminal space of a lobby, the enticing call of bottles sparkling behind a long wooden bar, the possibilities of a seemingly endless row of doors. During the first wave of Covid, I needed a mental escape, and the first thing that came to mind was a magical hotel that changed to suits a visitor’s every need and whim. The Houdini was also influenced by the immersive theater experience Sleep No More and by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Culturess: The hotel features a pretty complex magic system. What was the experience of creating that?
DSD: One of my flaws as a writer is that I like to dream big and shove everything I love into a book and explain it away with, ‘because it’s cool!’ And then my editors make me pin down the magic system and rules, which is always a lot more complicated. I combined The Tempest with the history of magic and hopefully brought it together in a way that makes sense. The rogue white rabbits are one of my favorite aspects.

Culturess: What magic room from the book was your favorite to create?

DSD: The Wardrobe! I’ve always had trouble finding clothes in my exact size that suit me and are stylish and affordable and not a sensory nightmare, so I’d love a room that just magically sized me up and spat out hundreds of options.

Culturess: Rabbits were a help for Anna when she needs it most. Was that the hotel helping her or something else?

DSD: A magician never reveals their secrets, but I can tell you that the Houdini is benevolent and whimsical, if you’re a good person. If you’re a bad person… things get dark!

Culturess: The hotel seems like a metaphor for the cages we put ourselves into, especially when we are scared. Can you talk about that a little bit?

DSD: When I created the Houdini, I needed to come up with a main character who would be uniquely challenged by a magical hotel that anticipates your every desire. Therefore I made Anna a headstrong, anxious, tightly wound busybody who has trouble letting go of control. So it’s not so much about Anna putting herself into a cage as me, the god of the world, looking at a particular cage and deciding which animal would have the most trouble breaking out of it. In a place like the Houdini, all your needs and wishes would be met, but you’d lose your freedom, which would be a hard one for me personally. I love the whimsy but, like Max, I would push up against the concept of eternal captivity.

Culturess: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

DSD: All of my books exist on a spectrum from whimsical to dark, and Midnight at the Houdini is the most whimsical and least dark of them all. I want to give readers a pretty escape, to delight and amuse them and give them those wonderful tummy flutters of first love. I hope they will feel enraptured!

Culturess: How do you think Max will fare in our world?

DSD: One of the wonderful things about the current moment in time is that a century of cultural media is pretty much constantly available, meaning that any of Max’s favorite songs from the 1940s can be found online, any of his dog-eared books can be ordered, and any of his comforting black and white TV shows can be rewatched. I think he’ll be excited about exploring new media—and, honestly, pretty shocked at how violent and sexy things have gotten. Max is going to be scandalized. But I feel like he’s really going to enjoy going for a hike, learning how to drive, seeing a live concert, going to Disneyland, and playing video games—probably the least violent ones.

Culturess: Without giving too many spoilers, what do you believe happens to the ghosts in the hotel? Are they finally able to rest after the end of the book?

DSD: When you put it that way, I… kinda killed hundreds of people over the years in the Houdini, didn’t I? This book is now darker than I’d anticipated. So let’s change the narrative. While Anna and her party exit, let’s say that a hundred confused people suddenly appear on the roof, and the US government has to assume it’s some sort of alien/X-Files activity and helps them all reassimilate, kind of like witness protection participants. So they all get to finish having wonderful lives while bankrolled by the government. Aaaaaand that’s what we call artistic license!

Culturess What are you working on next? What can fans expect coming soon?

DSD: My next book is out October 3, a cottagecore horror novella called Bloom that was inspired by my teen daughter, who watched Hannibal and complained that all the cool serial killers were dudes. I have several books out next year that haven’t been announced yet, and you can always see what’s coming up at or on Twitter, Blue Sky, or Instagram @delilahsdawson. My previous releases this year are Disney Mirrorverse: Pure of Heart and Star Wars Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade. Oh, and I’ll be at New York Comic Con, too!

Midnight at the Houdini by Delilah S. Dawson is now in ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats.

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