Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of Amor and Summer Secrets which was released this month. Enjoy!
How has Amor and Summer Secrets changed since the first draft?
When I wrote Amor and Summer Secrets, it was originally titled “Ay, Americana.” In the first draft, Lilly was 17 and the events that now occur at her Quinceanera originally occurred at a nightclub. But during the submission process, my agent received a request from an editor at Kensington who was looking for a Latina book featuring a Quinceanera.
So I looked at “Ay, Americana” and thought about whether it could possibly fit this objective. Ultimately, it couldn’t hurt to try, so I spent two weeks revising the manuscript and was shocked when I loved the book so much more afterward. It added an element that I didn’t know was missing. We submitted the manuscript, re-titled as “First Class Chica,” to Kate Duffy at Kensington and it sold within days. Then, to my great surprise, Kensington said that they loved it so much they wanted to publish a three-book series to expand on the character.
Has your path to being published been any different than you thought it would?
It took a long time to get to this point. Unlike many authors, I got an agent very quickly. I only queried for two weeks before getting an offer for representation. However, landing a publisher was a much harder process. To this day, the book that first got the attention of my agent has yet to sell. And Amor and Summer Secrets is actually the third book I wrote before I found a home at Kensington.
But in retrospect, I think the experience was very valuable. I can look back on that first book and see the mistakes I made. It wasn’t ready for the world (maybe one day it will be). And when things come very easy, or quickly, sometimes it can be hard to appreciate them. By working so hard to get published, it helped me realize how much I really wanted this.
If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only have your iPod with you, what kind of music would we find on it?
I love this question! I’m a big fan of chick singers. So I listen to a lot of Joss Stone, Fiona Apple, Alanis, Sarah McLachlan and Madonna. But I’m also big on rock bands. I love Bon Jovi (hey, Philly’s not that far from Jersey), U2, Bruce Springsteen and I have an entire “Monster Ballad” playlist. ☺
Did you choose to have Mariana be Puerto Rican because you are Puerto Rican yourself? If yes, were any of Mariana's experiences like any of yours?
While I am not Mariana, I did give her my ethnic background. Come on, how many Polish Puerto Ricans do you know?
But seriously, I wanted to write a multi-cultural novel from the perspective of a girl who didn’t quite identify with either of her parents’ cultures. That’s the major experience I share with Mariana, and I feel it’s a very American experience. It doesn’t matter whether you’re half Polish and half Puerto Rican, or half Thai and half Jamaican, I think a lot people (and a lot of teens) can relate being torn between two very different ethnic groups. And often I find that 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. I have red hair and freckles, and I didn’t learn Spanish in my home. But as I grew older, I chose to seek out those connections. I studied Spanish in school, took a semester abroad in Madrid, visited my family in Utuado, and achieved an overall better sense of self.
So while Mariana doesn’t share many of my personality traits, I did purposely send her on a journey that it took me much longer to take.
And on a superficial level, Mariana lives in a much nicer house than the one I grew up in. ;) But we are both from Philly. And my family really is from Utuado, Puerto Rico—the town where Mariana spends her summer.
On your website, you said that you never always wanted to be a writer. Why is this?
My father’s an accountant. It took him eight years to pay his way through night school to get that degree. So I think that I was also taught to take a practical path. While my parent’s wanted me to find a job I love, there was always a part of me that was too “Type A” to think an artistic career was available to me.
I recognized early on that writing was something that came naturally to me, but I never considered creative writing. I didn’t even take a creative writing course in college (actually, I’ve never taken a creative writing course). Instead, I focused my talents on journalism. Only after working as a reporter for several years, I realized I felt unfulfilled. I knew there was “something else” I should be doing, only I hadn’t figured it out.
Ultimately it took a crazy dream and a psychic (seriously) for me to realize I wanted to be a novelist. But I got there eventually.
If you couldn't have one of your senses, which of the five would you give up?
Probably taste. I’m not much of a “foodie.” You know that scene in a Christmas Story where the narrator says that “every family has a kid who won’t eat.” That was me. As I’ve matured, I’ve become a less picky eater, but I don’t think I appreciate food the way some others do. Ironically, however, I’m a pretty good cook. My mom taught me well.
Who are your favorite young adult authors?
I’ve recently become obsessed with Stephenie Meyer. I didn’t read the Twilight Saga until this summer (I’m late to the party). But I couldn’t put it down. Her character development is AMAZING. And—don’t tell my husband—I’m a little bit in love with Edward Cullen.
Prior to this recent obsession, I was hooked on Meg Cabot. The woman is so young and she’s practically written a library of hilarious books. Her wit can’t be beat.
If your book was to be cast into a movie, who would you choose to be in it?
Hhhmmm. Can I say Miley Cyrus so that the film will be an instant success? 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. Same goes for Lilly.
As for Alex, there a guy who’s used to play “Diego” on General Hosptial, Ignacio Serricchio. He’s a little old now (probably early twenties), but I still think he could pass. And my father would absolutely LOVE it if Hector Elizondo played Mariana’s dad.
Is there anything that people don't know about you that you wish they did?
I have very vivid dreams, and I actually dreamt the entire concept for my first YA series. It was based on an experience I had in middle school. That dream (along with a psychic who years earlier predicted I would write children’s books) is what sparked me to write my first novel. Since then, I haven’t dreamt the concept of any other books, but I still am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I’m working on a series now that was partially inspired by the life of a professor who taught journalism at BU. So if I hadn’t gone to school there, I may have never come up with this idea.
What is your advice to aspiring teen authors?
Butt in Chair! That’s the only way a novel gets written. You have to force yourself to sit there and write it. Also, don’t give up when the success is not immediate. If this is what you truly want, you have to keep working at it. And I do mean “work.” If you want to be a published author, then you must look at writing as a job. You need to read what’s selling in the marketplace. You need learn how to self-edit. And you need to accept constructive criticism.
But that feeling you get every time you type “The End” can’t be beat. Actually, I write “El Fin” at the end of all my novels now. I did it for the first time after I wrote “Amor,” and it went on to sell. Now I think it’s good luck. What can I say? I’m superstitious.
Thanks for doing the interview, Diana! As I said above, Diana's first book, Amor and Summer Secrets, was released this month - so please check it out!