Author Crush Friday: Diana Rodriguez Wallach
We love asking questions and we love the answers from some of our favorite authors. Today we’re talking to Diana Rodriquez Wallach, the author of the YA thriller, Proof of Lies (March 7, 2017; Entangled Teen). Thank you for talking to us today, Diana! We’re honored!
GLITTER: For those who haven’t read your book yet, how would you describe your writing style?
DIANA: I graduated with a degree in journalism and spent a few years in Manhattan working as a reporter, so I was trained to be succinct. Don’t use twenty words when ten words will do, don’t fill five pages with purple prose comparing blond hair to a wheat field, and don’t bury your lead. So I think my writing style is tight, fast-paced, and witty with lots of action-packed scenes.
Here’s a snippet from a scene I really enjoyed writing:
“I spotted the electric sign for the restrooms and veered toward the red neon letters.
That was when it hit me.
Right between the eyes.
A chicken wing.
I never saw it coming.”
GLITTER: Who was your favorite character to write in Proof of Lies?
DIANA: Anastasia Phoenix. Period. I know, in interviews like these, you’re supposed to name a minor character (and I do have readers who rave about my supporting leads), but for me, it will always be Anastasia. She’s Nancy Drew meets Buffy Summers in the world of Alias mixed with The Da Vinci Code. She’s a kick-butt heroine with a dry sense of humor, who can deliver one liners in four languages, as she travels the world unraveling conspiracies and searching for answers about her family. Plus to me, Anastasia is an honest-to-goodness, real-life person. I’ve spent years with her. I think about her all the time, and she and I hang out daily–how many people in your life can you say that about?
GLITTER: How much research went into writing Proof of Lies?
DIANA: I did tons of research for PROOF OF LIES. The espionage elements in the novel center around the practice of “disinformation,” which is the covert use of black propaganda to mislead the press and the public. When I started writing the novel, the concept of “disinformation” was rarely mentioned in the news. Now, given current events and the rise of “alternative facts,” it feels like I might have picked a very timely subject.
But my novel deals more with the twisting of historical events, not current politics, and this required a lot of research. Half of this book takes place in Italy, thus I wanted to feature an Italian conspiracy theory that I could manipulate so my characters were suddenly inserted into the events. This required lots of work to pick just the right historical event and figure out how to contort it. Additionally, I met with a former communist spy, Lawrence Martin Bittman. He was the Deputy Director of Disinformation for the Czech Republic during the Cold War, and his backstory helped shape many of the espionage elements I created. Also, since all three of the novels in this series are set abroad, I did a lot of research on the settings, and this of course, included travel! I spent time in Rome, Tuscany and Venice as book research; not a bad work trip, huh?
GLITTER: What book of yours do you hope to see on either TV or as a movie and why?
DIANA: Definitely Proof of Lies. It’s a spy thriller, so I think it lends itself nicely to the action-packed drama of TV and movies. I have a friend from high school who is now a movie producer in Hollywood, and she’s currently reading it. So kids, be nice to those smart girls sitting next to you in high school, because you never know who they’ll turn out to be.
GLITTER: What genre do you prefer writing?
DIANA: Young adult. Actually, I’ve never considered writing anything other than children’s lit. As a teen, I read a lot of Christopher Pike, Judy Blume, and Sweet Valley High. I really connected with the YA genre, and it felt natural for me to contribute to it as an author. Plus, I had some tough experiences as a teen. I vividly remember how hard it was to fit in, and how insecure I felt every second of my life back then. Those emotions stuck with me, so it’s not as challenging for me to get inside a teen character’s head.
GLITTER: Who inspires you?
DIANA: Honestly, I never know where or when inspiration will strike. I can tell you that 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 at the now defunct Adams Mark Hotel in Philadelphia, and I was listening to students talk about Boston University. One kid was going on and on about the knowledge depth of his professors—how he was learning journalism from Pulitzer-prize winning reporters 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. Not only was I hooked by the story and utterly impressed by the faculty, but for some reason the tale of the rouge spy stuck with me long after I left Conference Room B that day.
By the time I ultimately got to BU, Lawrence Martin Bittman, the spy-turned-journalism professor, had since retired. I never had the pleasure of taking 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.
As I mentioned, I did 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, as well as the name of the CIA agent that appears at the end of the novel, Martin Bittman.
GLITTER: What is one thing fans might not know about you?
DIANA: I love to travel. As I said, all of the scenes in PROOF OF LIES—from Boston, to Tuscany, to Rome, to Venice—are based on places I’ve visited. Book Two, Lies that Bind, will feature scenes in England and Brazil. My first YA series, Amor and Summer Secrets, was set in Puerto Rico. And my short story collection, Mirror, Mirror, has scenes in Santorini, Greece. Every location I’ve described, I have personally wandered the streets. I also have travel photos that correspond to almost every scene that appears in my books; and many of those photos are on my website, www.dianarodriguezwallach.com.
GLITTER: What one piece of advice could you give any teen going through difficult times now?
DIANA: A few years ago, I wrote an essay, Strangers on a Street, for the YA Anthology, Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories. In it, I describe my bullying experience in middle school. When I was in sixth grade, for no reason, I lost all of my friends. I was kicked out of my lunch table and chased through the halls with insults from girls who used to be my best friends. It was a dark time that I never spoke about. I didn’t tell my mom, my sister, or even a teacher. And because of that, I spent a solid decade or so feeling guarded around women. Even as an adult, when a friend wouldn’t call me back or would make an off-hand remark, I found by braining instantly going to the worst-scenario. (Are we not friends anymore? Is she mad at me? Did I do something?) It took me a long time to realize these fears were all stemming from my middle school experience. So, as I wrote at the end of that essay, “To the teens who are reading this and are currently being bullied, I say: you will get through it, you will not forget it, it is a big deal, but hey, maybe one day you can turn it into a great novel. That’ll show ‘em.”
GLITTER: What are you currently working on?
DIANA: I’m working hard on Books Two and Three of the Anastasia Phoenix series! Lies that Bind comes out in March 2018, and its first chapter appears at the end of Proof of Lies. I’m also working on a draft of a children’s picture book, but that’s still very much in the early stages.
Diana Rodriguez Wallach is not the child of super spies, as far as she knows. But she is an avid traveler, and every scene in her books comes from a place she has lived or visited–from her senior year apartment in Boston, MA to the hotel where she stayed in Cortona, Italy. In addition to the Anastasia Phoenix series, Diana is also the author of the award-winning Amor and Summer Secrets series; the Mirror,Mirror short story collection; and essays in both Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories and Latina Authors and Their Muses. 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 with her husband and two kids. But of course, this all could be a masterly crafted piece of disinformation…