Looking for a comfort read? I’d recommend picking up Alisha Rai’s Girl Gone Viral. The second book in the Modern Love series, Girl Gone Viral follows Katrina, who thinks nothing of sharing a table with a stranger in a crowded coffee shop until she discovers that someone else was live-tweeting their entire conversation. Katrina and her bodyguard Jas retreat to his family’s peach farm, hoping to stay off the grid until the viral post dies down. Along the way, sparks start flying as they discover their secret feelings for each other. Here, I asked Rai about the process of writing Katrina’s experiences in therapy, the concept of happiness, and what readers can expect from the third book.
This book features the mutual pining trope: both the hero, Jas, and heroine, Katrina, secretly have feelings for each other. What inspired you to write this trope?
Honestly, with everything going on in the world, I craved writing something a little simpler, and nothing to me is more quietly sweet than an unrequited crush. I just wanted to write about two good, kind people who like each other very much falling more in love and learning how to communicate with each other. Seeing good people be happy feels priceless right now, as far as a mood boost goes.
A refrain throughout the book is “happiness is a radical act.” It inspires and drives Katrina to live her life the way she wants to after years of being controlled by her father. What does this quote mean to you?
I’ve often felt that it’s harder to write a happy ending than a tragic ending, and I suppose that quote is part of the reason why. It shouldn’t be, but happiness is subversive. It’s not the baseline in the world, it’s the thing you get in spite of everything and everyone that wants to squish you down.
I also think happiness and love are verbs. So if someone wants you to be miserable, and you find happiness instead… yeah, I think happiness is a radical act.
Even before their brief meeting goes viral, Katrina doesn’t get a good vibe from Ross. She sees the spine of his book is cracked and thinks to herself that it’s bad bookworm behavior (but not necessarily a deal-breaker). What book-related behaviors would make you swipe left?
I am oddly not precious at all about my books! So short of burning or gleefully tearing up, I think I’d overlook the occasional cracked spine myself. I’ve been known to dog ear a page here and there, so who am I to cast stones.
You went viral after you wrote Girl Gone Viral—over an innocent tweet ironically about a date’s behavior in a coffee shop. Is there anything you would’ve done differently in this book if you wrote it now?
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 become the focus of (what feels like) the entire internet. 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.
Therapy is an important part of Katrina’s routine as she manages her PTSD and panic disorder, and even side characters mention going in for a “tune-up” when needed. What was the research process like when crafting the elements that connected to Katrina’s mental health?
I love therapy and it’s helped me a lot, so I’m always looking for ways to destigmatize it and mental health care. My main goal when I write is for the reader to understand where my characters are coming from, so I 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.
The heroines of the first two books in the Modern Love series are both dealing with scars left from previous trauma involving a power imbalance (one from a boss, and one from a father). What drew you to shaping a series around heroines dealing with these experiences, and how did you approach writing their experiences in a way that’s both sensitive and realistic?
I try to write characters who are as realistic as possible—psychologically—obviously, a dating app CEO is a little out of the norm. In real life, we often carry trauma and issues from past relationships, and brains are wonderfully unique. I love writing characters who are loved for their whole selves… and if you see a character as a whole person, it’s hard not to be sensitive to them.
Something I loved about this book is that the characters in Katrina’s life (particularly Jas) do not question or push back on the choices Katrina makes when it comes to caring for her mental health. Aside from giving readers a respectful hero and a heroine with a stellar support system, what inspired that choice?
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, and part of that is understanding and respecting each other. Maybe it’s an aspirational universe, but if it is, it’s an achievable one.
Family-owned businesses are a really integral aspect of both this series and your Forbidden Hearts series—how they’re managed, how legacy is passed down, the tensions they inevitably create. As a writer, what keeps bringing you back to this theme?
I really like to write about families and complications, and nothing is more complicated to me than a family business. I’m pretty sure this may be my childhood of watching soaps with my grandma coming out, too. Everyone had a dynasty, and it was so much drama!
Can you tell us anything about the next book in the series?
Right now I’m working on my little influencer, Jia, the heroine of the third book in the Modern Love series. It’s like Cyrano de Bergerac meets Catfish via DMs that works out really well. It’ll make sense when you read it.
What have you read recently that you’ve loved and would recommend to our readers?
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. As far as quarantine comfort reads, though? Nalini Singh’s entire backlist is vast and wonderful.
Alisha Rai pens award-winning contemporary romances and her novels have been named Best Books of the Year by Washington Post, NPR, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. When she’s not writing, Alisha is traveling or tweeting.