Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I’ll warn you, this story is kind of strange. 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. 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 the psychic, I figured it was “a sign.” So I sat down and started my first novel.
What kind(s) of writing do you do?
I write young adult novels. My current book, Lies that Bind, is the sequel to Proof of Lies. They are the first two installments of a trilogy YA spy thrillers. They’re about a girl named Anastasia Phoenix, who is my personal blend of Nancy Drew meets Buffy Summers in the world of Spy Kids. Essentially Anastasia’s a combination of the kick-butt heroines I love from the mysteries and thrillers that have impacted me. The series also indulges my love of travel. Proof of Lies is set in Boston (where I went to college) and Italy. I take readers through the streets Rome, the vineyards of Tuscany, and the canals of Venice. Lies that Bind continues with more scenes in Boston, then whisks the reader to Bonfire Night in Lewes, England; a covert meeting on the London Ferris wheel; and finally death threats and confrontations in Rio de Janeiro. I went to a wedding recently in Rio, and the location features prominently in the book. Honestly, I don’t know how the novel would end if it weren’t for that trip! I feel like with a spy novel, you need a touch of the exotic—how interesting would James Bond be if every movie were set in Des Moines?
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I love to travel. So you can trust that all of the scenes in both Proof of Lies and Lies that Bind—from Boston, to Italy, to England, to Rio de Janeiro—are based on places I’ve visited. Every hotel I describe is based on the exact room I stayed in with my husband. When Anastasia stops for fish and chips in London, you can bet I ate there. When she goes to a lavish wedding in Brazil, I can describe the exotic floral arrangements and gorgeous bartenders, because I attended a wedding there myself. My settings are real, vivid, and authentic, down to the salty humid air in Rio and the smoky fire festivals in Lewes, England. One of my favorite compliments is when a reader says my settings feel like a character in their own right. Big smiles for that one.
Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
I intentionally make the characters in my books very diverse, because I’m setting my stories in major US cities where I have lived. So when I think back to those times in my life, I think of the people I knew there and I purposely add characters that give a subtle nod to some of them. For example, large chunks of both Proof of Lies and Lies that Bind are set in Boston where I went to college. One of my college roommates was Filipina, so Anastasia’s closest school friend in the series is Filipina. Anastasia’s love interest in the books, Marcus, is from Mardid; I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain when I was a junior in college. One of Anastasia’s other close friends is half black, and one of my other roommates was half Chinese and half Jamaican. I’m also half Polish and half Puerto Rican, so I try to include a little Spanish in all of my novels. To me, this diversity is natural because it’s simply a representation of my own life experience.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
I grew up loving the YA thriller genre, so honestly, the Anastasia Phoenix series is a return to the books that inspired me. As a child of the 90s, I was obsessed with Christopher Pike. I vividly remember waiting for the release of each of his books—from Chain Letter, to Remember Me, to Fall Into Darkness. He’s one of the reasons I write for YA now, and I would completely geek out if I ever met him in person. I think that’s why I wanted to attempt a YA thriller of my own.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
I published my first novel when I was 30, back when I still had a full time job working in communications for a nonprofit specializing in improving inner-city public schools. When my first novel sold, Amor and Summer Secrets, I decided to start writing full time. This was before kids, so I had plenty of time to write all day, every day. Ahh, memories. I had no idea how good I had it. Now, I’m a mom of two small kids. So writing is something I need to schedule into to my day and multitask. But it never feels like work. I love plotting new stories, doing research, creating outlines, and imagining my characters. Also, I love editing! Strange, I know. And I teach Creative Writing online for Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m planning to return to YA contemporary romance. I’m currently working on a stand-alone title featuring an extremely gifted Latina student, under immense academic pressure and dealing with unresolved issues surrounding the death of her brother. It takes place during that space at the end of her senior year, when the college acceptances have rolled in and students start to check-out. But for this character, she’s not simply taking a mental vacation from stress, she’s considering a major life change that will mean standing up to her overprotective parents for the first time. I’ve been deep in research mode lately, conducting lots of interviews to really nail down the character. I’m so excited to start something new!
What do your plans for future projects include?
Book three of the Anastasia Phoenix series comes out next year, End of the Lie! I’m in edit-mode for this one. It’ll be so sad to see Anastasia’s journey end, but at the same time I can’t wait to hear reader’s reactions to her story.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Ideas come at random times—while watching TV, brushing my teeth, driving my car, etc. But usually the ones I act upon, the ones I start writing, are based on something true that happened to me at one point in my life. The first novel I ever wrote, still unpublished, was based on my bullying experience in middle school. The first novel I ever published, Amor and Summer Secrets, is based on my ethnic background and what it was like visiting family in Puerto Rico. And the first spark of inspiration that ultimately led to the creation of Anastasia Phoenix came when I was in high school. I was attending a college fair in Philadelphia, and I was listening to students talk about Boston University. One kid was glowing about the professors—Pulitzer-prize winners from the Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The NY Times. Then he spoke about a very unusual professor, one who was a former communist spy for Czechoslovakia during the Cold War and who now taught budding journalists how to tell if they were being fed false information or “fake news.” The tale of that rouge spy stuck with me.
But by the time I ultimately got to BU, Lawrence Martin Bittman, the spy-turned-journalism professor, had retired. I never got to take his course. However, years later when I decided to attempt an international thriller packed with super spies, that story came back to me as if it had always been waiting. I wanted my world of espionage to be focused on a unique specialty that offered me some creative freedom, and disinformation fit the bill.
I eventually meet the spy who inspired me, and we had a fascinating conversation in his home that led to many of the espionage elements in Proof of Lies and Lies that Bind, as well as the name of the CIA agent that appears in the novel, Martin Bittman.
About Lies That Bind:
What if saving yourself meant destroying everyone you love?
Still reeling from everything she learned while searching for her sister in Italy, Anastasia Phoenix is ready to call it quits with spies. Then she and her friends learn that Marcus’s—her kinda boyfriend—brother, Antonio, has also gone missing. Luckily, they track down Antonio in a fiery festival in England, only to learn he has been working for the enemy, Department D, the whole time. But Antonio wants out. And so does Anastasia.
But before any of them can leave espionage and their parents’ crimes behind them, a close friend turns up dead. No one is safe, not while Department D still exists. So Anastasia and her friends embark on a dangerous plan to bring down an entire criminal empire, using every Dresden Kid they can find.
As their world becomes surrounded by spies, and the children of spies, Anastasia starts to question who she can really trust. Including her best friends…
About Diana Rodriguez Wallach:
Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of the Anastasia Phoenix series, three YA spy thrillers set to debut beginning in March 2017 (Entangled Publishing). She is also the author of three award-winning young adult novels: Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books); as well as a YA short-story collection based on the Narcissus myth, entitled Mirror, Mirror (Buzz Books, 2013). In 2011, she published a highly regarded essay in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperCollins). It was the only essay chosen from the anthology by Scholastic to be used in its classroom materials. Diana is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses (Twilight Times Books, 2015), and she is currently on staff as a featured blogger for Quirk Books. In 2010 Diana was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch by LatinoStories.com, and she placed second in the International Latino Book Awards. She is an advisory board member for the Philly Spells Writing Center, and is a Creative Writing instructor for Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. She holds a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and currently lives in Philadelphia.
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