Today I'd like to introduce you to young adult author Diana Rodriguez Wallach. She's already written three novels in her young adult series. The first one, Amor and Summer Secrets, just won 2nd Place at the International Latino Book Awards. In this interview, the young author talks about her childhood, her books, writing habits, and her wonderful road to publication, among other things.
Thanks for being with us today, Diana! Tell us a bit about your childhood. What type of kid were you?
Overall, I was pretty good kid. My parents did a good job. But I think my classmates would probably remember me as one of those students who flew under the radar. I was a good student (National Honors Society, thank you very much), but I wasn’t one of the “smart kids.” I played sports, but I was mostly second string. I was a cheerleader, but it had nothing to do with popularity. And mostly I think I was in the “background” of the social scene.
Looking back, I can now recognize how insecure I was in middle and high school (what adolescent girl isn’t?). But I think that’s why I enjoy writing for teens. I still vividly remember how I felt during those years, and I hope teens today can relate to that voice in my writing.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I’ll warn you, this is kind of a strange story. I started writing my first novel because I had a dream one night that I was a young adult author, and I dreamt the concept for an entire series of books. Seriously. When I woke up and told my husband, he reminded me of a vacation we took five years earlier through New England.
We had stopped in Salem, MA to see the witches’ houses (obviously). While there, I decided to visit a psychic (when in Rome, right?). So I sat down and the psychic immediately said, “You’re a writer.” And I was; at the time, I was a reporter. I told her this, and she asked what I wrote about. Intentionally trying to be cryptic (I mean, she is a psychic, shouldn’t she already know?), I told her that I wrote about “business.” She swiftly said, “No. I see you writing books, little books, like children’s books.”
I had never considered writing a book before. But after the dream, and my recollection of that psychic encounter, I figured it was “a sign.” So I sat down and started writing my first novel.
Tell us a little about your books and writing style.
Part of the inspiration for Amor and Summer Secrets was derived from my first trip to Puerto Rico after I graduated from college. I met my relatives there for the first time, and I got to see where my dad grew up. I really was impacted by that trip and decided I wanted to share some of those experiences in my novel.
So like me, my main character, Mariana Ruiz, grows up feeling very disconnected from her cultural heritage. She doesn’t feel anymore Puerto Rican than she does Polish. And when she’s shipped off to Puerto Rico for the summer, she experiences a huge culture shock. She doesn’t speak Spanish. She spoiled, she’s very close-minded, and she has no interest embracing her relatives.
But ultimately Mariana learns to open up. And that newfound sense of self comes back with her from the island. So you see a very different Mariana in Amigas and School Scandals and Adios to All The Drama. She’s more worldly, more accepting, and eventually more assertive. Plus, there’s also lots of boys, friends, and drama.
I’d say my writing style is more conversational. I like to write the way I believe Mariana thinks and avoid injecting any type of disconnected narrative tone. I want her to sound like a teenager.
What do young adults like to read about?
Well, as a teen, I know I liked to read a lot of Christopher Pike. I devoured every one of his books as soon as it was released, like: Remember Me?, Fall into Darkness, Chain Letter, you name it. A major component of his novels is suspense, which is something I try to incorporate into all of my books. Even if I’m telling a summer love story, I want suspense in every chapter. That’s what keeps not only teens, but readers in general, turning pages.
So in my first book, Amor and Summer Secrets, Mariana discovers a hidden secret as to why her family left Puerto Rico 30 years earlier. In the second book, Amigas and School Scandals, one of Mariana’s best friends is acting strangely and the truth behind her actions isn’t revealed until the end. And in the final book, Adios to All The Drama, Mariana is having boy (and friend) troubles rooting in issues that don’t fully unravel until the final scenes. Personally, I think it’s suspense that makes a good book.
Your road to publication was a first-author's success story. After you wrote the novel, you submitted an equery and 24 hours later, you had an agent. Were you surprised?
Yeah, I had a very atypical experience. But it wasn’t as easy as it seems. I spent a lot of time (months) on author message boards before crafting my query letter (www.writers.net, in particular). So I got a good sense of what works and what doesn’t in a query. I also really targeted my search, choosing agents I knew represented books similar to my own. And then I sent off the letters. I think in all, I probably sent about 20-plus queries within a two-week period.
My agent, Jenoyne Adams, accepts e-queries, which is why I got such a quick response. She let me email her my manuscript and read it in a single day. I think my novel was on submission with editors less than a month after I started querying. The whole thing was a whirlwind, so I was surprised to say the least. That said, my first novel never ended up selling. So I took my fair share of licks—just more on the editorial side than the agenting side. No author can escape rejection—don’t we wish!
How is your creative process like? Are you disciplined? Do you write everyday?
It depends on my mood, but typically I’m not much of a procrastinator. Typically, when it comes to the first draft, I write about 3,000 words per day. And I almost always write at the desk in my house and listen to music on Comcast TV (during the first draft, I often listen to heavy metal because I don’t know the words and pounding beat keeps me motivated. During revisions, I either listen to the ‘90s channel or ‘adult alternative.’). Also during revisions, I’m more likely to get out of the house. Since I live in Philly, I’m a slave to the seasons. So when it’s warm, I’ll work on my patio. And when it’s cold, I’ll move to a coffee shop.
What's on the horizon?
I am hard at work on a new work-in-progress. It’s a complete departure from my Amor series—lots of spies, suspense, fight scenes and, of course, a love triangle. I’m really excited about it. Plus I get to travel because I’m setting some scenes in Europe. And the main character is a lot of fun to write. She’s much cooler than I am, all about girl power, and her dialogue is very punchy. I hope to have it ready for the publishing world soon!
Thanks for the great interview, Diana!