Diana Rodriguez Wallach’s debut young adult novel, Amor and Summer Secrets, is the first in a three-book series published by Kensington Publishing in September 2008. The second two books in the series, Amigas and School Scandals and Adios to All The Drama, come out in November 2008 and January 2009, respectively. Diana holds a journalism degree from Boston University, and has worked as a reporter and as an advocate for inner city public schools. She currently resides in Philadelphia.
Fifteen-year-old Mariana Ruiz has no desire to step foot outside her affluent Philadelphia suburb. BUT she may not have a choice.
With total disregard to the high-glam Sweet 16 her best friend is hosting, Mariana’s father ships her off to a tiny mountain town in Puerto Rico to stay with family she’s never met. The heat is merciless, the food is spicy, and only one of her relatives—her distant cousin Lilly—speaks English. Her consolation prize is Lilly’s homespun Puerto Rican Quinceãnera. Only the riotously festive party exposes Mariana to more than just her culture. She uncovers new friends, her first love, and a family secret that’s been buried on the island for more than 30 years.
Fill in the blank: “Writing AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS was organic and very speedy.”
AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS is book one in a series you have coming out through Kensington – what was the spark that created this series in your mind?
The idea behind it developed during a phone conversation with my agent, Jenoyne Adams. She had mentioned seeing an increase in interest from editors seeking multi-cultural YA projects, and like any good agent, she asked the infamous question, “Got any ideas?” I didn’t. But by the end of our conversation, I pitched the story for what became Amor and Summer Secrets.
My goal was to feature a character with a background similar to my own—a girl who was half Puerto Rican and half Polish, a girl who grew up not speaking Spanish, a girl who didn’t look like the Latina stereotype. Many of the feelings Mariana expresses about her cultural identity are similar to the questions I faced growing up.
She was a lot of fun to write about, and I was thrilled that Kensington gave me the chance to expand upon her story with two more books—otherwise how would find out what happens when Mariana gets back from Puerto Rico, meets a new boy, throws her own Sweet 16, and ends up at a frat party? Stay tuned for the sequels!
YA is huge – there are so many books on the market that feature girls having to spend what’s to be their best summer away from home in a different place. There are a slew of books about best friends, new friends, and love – how do you make your series UNIQUE? How does it stand out from the pack?
I didn’t set out to write a “fish out of water” story. My goal for Amor and Summer Secrets was to offer a modern-day look at the reality facing many American teenagers who are torn between two ethnic groups. It doesn’t matter whether your half Polish and half Puerto Rican, or half Filipino and half Russian, people can relate to what Mariana is feeling.
But in terms of uniqueness, the novel also brings to light many secrets that would have stayed hidden in Puerto Rico had Mariana not taken that trip. It opens Mariana’s eyes to a side of her family she didn’t know existed, and I think many teens can relate to being kept in the dark about unpleasant family histories. Trust me, I know. I was the youngest. I practically lived in a bubble.
Do you think the multiculturalism is an aspect that helps to illustrate the series uniqueness?
Absolutely. I think it’s becoming rare to find many American kids who are 100% affiliated with just one ethnic group. And I find that many people, including myself, connect more to the culture that they “physically” resemble.
For much of my life, I had a hard time connecting to my Puerto Rican roots because I didn’t fit the stereotype. My picture’s posted here, take a look. Would you look at me and think “Puerto Rican”? But as I grew older, I chose to seek out those connections. I studied Spanish in school, took a semester abroad in Madrid, and visited my family in Utuado.
So I purposely sent Mariana on a journey that it took me much longer to take. After all, Mariana’s a smart cookie, I knew she could handle it.
Your publishing journey: once you completed AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, how long did it take you to find an agent and to receive a book deal?
I lucked out on the agent front. I only queried for two weeks (don’t hate me). I didn’t realize until much later how incredible lucky I was—not only to have skipped an incredibly demoralizing process, but to also land such an amazing agent right out of the gate—Jenoyne Adams.
The journey to find a publisher was much longer. My first novel, the one that landed me an agent, has yet to sell. But it still holds a special place in my heart (pitter pat)—I might one day release it on my website. I hear e-books are all the rage.
That said, when “Amor and Summer Secrets” did sell, it was quick. We submitted the manuscript to Kate Duffy at Kensington on a Thursday and by the following Tuesday, I got THE CALL.
It was Fat Tuesday. I was at Mardi Gras wearing beads and feathered mask. There’s a photo on my website of me on the phone during the exact moment that I got the news from my agent: [LINK].
It was awesome! I danced in parades and drank hurricanes the rest of the day.
What are THREE adjectives that best describe AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS?
Fun, smart and engaging.
What are THREE adjectives that best describe YOU?
Creative, ambitious, and outgoing.
Diana Rodriguez Wallach: The Soundtrack: What THREE TRACKS would HAVE to go onto a soundtrack of your life?
Suddenly I See, KT Tunstall –It fits the mood I felt while chasing this writing dream.
Someone Like You, Van Morrison –It’s my wedding song. I’m cheesy like that.
One, U2 and Mary J. Blige –It might be my favorite song in the entire world (I wish I could sing like Mary J—oh, to dream), and it perfectly fits the theme of my new WIP. It’s pretty much my anthem at the moment.
We all know that writing for an author is only part of the journey – publicity soon follows. What are some things you’re doing to promote AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS?
You mean besides this interview? Hehe.
Well, I used to do PR for a nonprofit so I have some experience drumming up press. I’ve sent out several press releases, and I have some articles coming out in Main Line Magazine, Motivos Magazine, and Philebrity to name a few. I also threw a Book Launch Party for more than 100 people. And I was a panelist at the Baltimore Book Festival on Sept. 27th.
Plus I have book signings set up in October at stores in Philadelphia, the Philly suburbs, and Wilmington, DE.
I also created a fun book trailer. And I’m blogging and twittering, and I have accounts on MySpace and GoodReads. I keep very busy and truly empathize with every word in the YouTube sensation, “Book Promotion 2.0.”
Many people believe that good writers are also voracious readers. What are three of your favorite books, and why do they make the list?
I like to read every genre, so these were chosen at random merely because there are part of a select crop of books that I’ve read more than once.
Pride and Prejudice—I’m an Austen fan, and the first time I read this book I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I went out and rented all the movies adapted from it. I devoured Bridget Jones, which is loosely based on it. I didn’t want to let the characters go. I still don’t. And I love Colin Firth.
Twilight—I know many people are divided on the Twilight phenomenon, but I loved Stephenie Meyer’s debut novel. I stayed up late on my vacation, not wanting to put this book down (I chose reading it over the casinos). I love the characters she created, and they made me aspire to go deeper with my own.
Cider House Rules—I actually cried while reading the end of this novel, and I was sitting outside in Manhattan eating lunch on a workday. This book really made me think, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
Looking back on your writing journey, who has been one person that has inspired you the most in your literary aspirations? How has he/she inspired you?
My husband, hands down (he’ll be happy I said that). He’s my biggest fan. I literally dreamt the concept for my first novel, and when I told him about the dream, he didn’t laugh. Instead, he immediately reminded me of a psychic we had met years earlier who had predicted I would “write books, little books, like children’s books.” This was long before the idea ever popped into my head, and if my husband hadn’t reminded me of that story, I might not have been so determined sit down and write that first novel. I owe a lot to him—including the fact that I was able to quit my day job. Plus, he’s a great publicist and a thoughtful editor.
Word Association. What comes to mind when you see the following words:
AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS: Awesome
TEEN: Steam (Teen Steam is Alyssa Milano’s 1980s workout video, I don’t know what made me think of that)
DIANA RODRIGUEZ WALLACH: Author (How cool is that I get to say that now?)
AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS: The Movie. Who would play Mariana Ruiz?
I love this question! Usually, I say Miley Cyrus so the film will make a bazillion dollars in its opening weekend! LOL.
But in all seriousness, this would be hard to cast. As I’ve mentioned, Mariana does not look like the stereotypical Latina. But I think for politically correct reasons, I’d have to cast a Latina in the role. So I would need a Cameron Diaz type, only younger and with red hair.
What’s currently going on in your WRITING LIFE?
The sequels to the series, Amigas and School Scandals and Adios to all the Drama, will be released in November 2008 and January 2009, respectively. I’m very excited for those debuts!
Also, I’m currently working new YA project. It’s a complete departure from what I’ve done in the past—lots of spies, suspense, fight scenes and, of course, a love triangle. I get to travel for it because I’m setting some scenes in Europe, which is amazing. Also, the character is a lot of fun to write. She’s much cooler than me, all about girl power, and her dialogue is very punchy. I hope to have it ready for the publishing world soon!