When ex-model Katrina King’s coffee shop visit goes viral after two other customers live-tweet her conversation with a cute guy, she flees to her bodyguard Jas Singh’s isolated family home. We talked to author Alisha Rai about mental health, Twitter ethics and her latest romance, Girl Gone Viral.
Girl Gone Viral was partly inspired by the viral #PlaneBae debacle. For readers who are unaware, can you briefly summarize that cringey moment in Twitter history?
It was a situation where two strangers’ conversation was live-tweeted by a third party. It went viral as a “feel good” meet-cute, but not that many users initially seemed to care whether the “couple” had asked for or consented to the whole phenomenon.
Did this second book in your Modern Love series have a different setup before #PlaneBae happened? Did you always want to incorporate the downside of social media fame?
Nope! The premise was always the same. Having a date live-tweeted has long been a fear of mine, so I’ve been wanting to write about this intersection of social media and consent for a while. I think social media has created a world where we see people not as people but as characters for our entertainment, and if someone is a character, I probably won’t feel like they have much of a right to privacy as someone I consider a real live human. As technology grows and expands, I really think it’s important for our society to continue to have conversations about what we owe to each other in terms of privacy and consent and the impact being dragged into the spotlight can have on a person’s life.
You recently had your own personal experience with Twitter fame following a dating faux pas involving a cake pop. (Totally on your side, by the way.) The backlash was toxic enough that, for a period of time, you locked down your Twitter account. Did this affect the book at all? Were there any edits you wanted to make, or was it too late in the game to change anything?
Oh, it was way too late. The only thing I might have changed is that now I feel like maybe I can better understand how panic-inducing it can be to be the focus of all of that attention. Katrina has PTSD and panic disorder and retreated to a farm; I have neither of those, and I was ready to run away to the moon.
“Jas and Katrina’s love story was tough to write, but only because mutual pining is kind of a pain.”
Both Katrina and Jas are living with different types of trauma. What do you think is key to understanding these types of experiences and communicating them to the readers?
My main goal when I write is for the reader to understand where my characters are coming from, so I do spend a lot of time thinking about what makes them tick. I honestly think the key is to walk into their heads armed with a ton of research—book research, but especially interviews with mental health professionals and people who have dealt with similar trauma—and sensitivity and kindness.
Jas and Katrina’s love story was tough to write, but only because mutual pining is kind of a pain. For me, at least. When the story is hate to love (one of my favorite tropes) you kind of have a natural internal or external conflict, i.e., you have to get over the “hate” bump. Why would two adults who have crushes on each other not be together? (You have to read the book to find out the answer to that.)
One thing I appreciate about your books is the important of mental health, and how your characters navigate struggles in that area. What motivates you to include this in your romances?
I try to write characters who are as realistic as possible, and in reality, people’s brains are wonderfully unique. It’s a part of a person that makes up the whole and if you see a character as a whole person, it’s hard not to be sensitive to them. Plus I love therapy, it’s helped me a lot, and I’m always looking for ways to destigmatize it and mental health care.
You’re my go-to recommendation for people who love a hot, angsty romance. What draws you to those sorts of emotions? Do you ever see yourself flipping the switch and writing a completely fluffy, closed door love story?
Sure, anything could happen. Changing things up is how I keep my writing as fresh as possible. I actually think Girl Gone Viral has a slightly different vibe than even the first book in this series. It’s sweeter, quieter and a little simpler. I don’t know how much of that is the story, the characters or the idyllic peach farm setting.
“Maybe it’s an aspirational universe, but if it is, it’s an achievable one.”
Issues that affect communities of color and especially women of color have played a large part in both this book and The Right Swipe. How do you find that balance of “the world is garbage and unfair and racist” and swoony love?
In the real world, people often have to battle systematic injustices. That doesn’t mean they don’t fall in love. I like to think that my characters make a space for each other to navigate a world that may not have ready spaces for them. They help each other achieve whatever it is they want. Maybe it’s an aspirational universe, but if it is, it’s an achievable one.
What’s next for you? Can I selfishly expect a romance for Lakshmi (Rhiannon’s assistant from The Right Swipe) in the future?
I’d love to write Lakshmi’s book some day! Right now I’m working on my little influencer, Jia, the heroine of book three of the Modern Love series. It’s like a catfish via DMs that works out really well. It’ll make sense when you read it.
I so miss your paranormal/dystopian romances like Hot as Hades and Night Whispers. Will readers see a return to those genres eventually, or should we go ahead and pour one out for those books?
I miss them, too! Someday zombies will be hot again, and I shall return triumphant.
Are there any books you’re reading and loving right now?
Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn was my most recent five star read. I’m also currently reading and loving Suzanne Park’s Loathe at First Sight, and it’s out in August.
Author photo © Alisha Rai.