Welcome back to the Eastern Penn Points Café! We’re so excited to have Diana Rodriguez Wallach joining us today. Diana is the author of the award-winning Amor and Summer Secrets series, a short story collection titled Mirror, Mirror, and has contributed essays to numerous anthologies.
Her latest novel, Proof of Lies, first book in the Anastasia Phoenix trilogy, debuts on March 7, 2017 through Entangled Teen. Proof of Lies is available for preorder now, or you can win a copy here! Giveaway details follow the interview.
Hi Diana! Thanks so much for returning to our Eastern Penn Points café! As you’re gearing up for the launch of Proof of Lies, can we get you some calming tea, or would you prefer a fancy coffee?
Why thank you! My drink of choice is a grande nonfat caramel macchiato. Yup, I’m one of those people who takes five minutes to order. You should have heard me when I was pregnant and it needed to be “half caf with sugar free syrup.”
Now that we have you settled, let’s dig into your latest novel! Proof of Lies is described as Taken meets The Bourne Identity. Writing in the YA spy thriller genre is a departure for you…how did you come up with the concept?
Oddly, the first spark of inspiration for Anastasia Phoenix came when I was in high school. I was attending a college fair at the now defunct Adams Mark Hotel on City Line Ave., 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 there. I wanted my world of espionage to be focused on a unique specialty that offered me some creative freedom, and disinformation fit the bill.
Eventually, I got to 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.
It sounds like this idea was germinating for years, which leads to my next question. On your Tumblr, you recently mentioned that Proof of Lies was seven years in the making. You talked about the many years of writing, revising, and rejection during your presentation at Fall Philly. Now that you’re approaching the release date, what does this particular publication mean to you personally?
Everything. For years, the wallpaper on my laptop was a fortune cookie I got that read, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” To me, that sums up my journey to publish this book perfectly. I persisted. I didn’t give up, even when the novel was knocked down again and again. My current publisher rejected this book a few years ago in its earlier form, but now they’re about to send it out into the world with love. Getting to this point, is proof that I wasn’t crazy all the times I rewrote this novel. And holding this book in my hands for the first time was a moment I always remember.
#ShePersisted is a great motto for all women, especially women writers!
Proof of Lies also features a multicultural cast, which we’re always excited to see. How important and intentional was it for you to include characters of different backgrounds?
I often talk about how I pull aspect of my plots from my real life. I even go around to schools and teach a workshop on how to do this. PROOF OF LIES is set in Boston, where I went to college, and so it only felt fitting to give Anastasia the same multicultural friends that I had when I lived there. Anastasia is from a mixed Caucasian background, her love interest is Spanish, her best friends are African American and Filipino, and one of her new friends is British. Having spent my entire adult life in major US cities (Boston, New York, and Philly), it makes sense for me to write novels that represent my personal experience in these places. Just like I chose to write only about locations I’ve actually traveled to, I also chose to write about the people I actually see there. It’s my reality.
Do you have a favorite scene that was a dream to write?
The one scene in PROOF OF LIES that hasn’t changed much since the very first draft is Anastasia running through the dark canals of Venice in a yellow cocktail dress. It’s the image I had in my head when I first visualized this story, and it’s the dream sequence I picture if the book every makes it to a movie. I even made a collage to commemorate the scene:
I saw this collage on your Twitter and was definitely intrigued!
In the midst of launching Proof of Lies, the first book in your series, you’re also editing book 2, and writing book 3. You sound like superwoman! How do you balance the marketing side of things with the writing side?
Now is a bad time to ask. 😉 Lately, I’ve been referring to my overwhelmed brain as a constantly spinning roulette wheel with dozens of conflicting ideas and responsibilities churning until the little white ball lands on one—Ping! Write a blog; Ping! Fix that character arc; Ping! Make my daughter’s school lunch; Ping! Call the caterer for the book launch. There’s a lot whizzing around in my head right now, especially since the debut is finally upon us.
But when the launch wasn’t so imminent, I tried to keep myself focused by compartmentalizing. I try to commit to a daily word count for Book 3 (usually 2,000 words/day). Then I’d try to keep all marketing efforts to one day, for some reason Wednesdays (I also hired a social media intern to help). On the weekends, I often work on the online Creative Writing class I teach for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. It’s a nutty schedule, especially when you add in two kids.
Most writers have a “dark night of the soul” moment, where they feel their work-in-progress is the worst thing ever written. Do you experience this still, even after multiple published novels? And if so, how do you pull yourself out of negative thinking?
ABSOLUTELY! I find this typically happens around the 30,000 word mark. I just hit one for Book 3, in fact. Usually, it requires me stepping back from the novel for a couple of days and instead of writing, I just think about it. What exactly is bugging me? What isn’t working? Why do I think this scene/character/plot line sucks? Typically, the answer comes to me while I’m in the shower, and when it does, I sit down, go back to the beginning, and fix that broken element. Sometimes, it’s a major change to the plot; sometimes, it’s a character arc. But once it’s fixed, I can move forward again.
Thank goodness! Because we’re really going to want to read Book 3!
And now for our lightning round of questions! Please tell us your…
Favorite 90s movie: Clueless. My college roommates and I watched it every weekend for an entire year. Seriously.
TV show obsession (past or present): My favorite show of all time is probably Buffy. My current favorite show is Game of Thrones. And the guilty pleasure that has been with me since my youth is General Hospital. Yes, I’m a soap fan. My grandmother taught me well.
The book that inspired you to become a writer: Christopher Pike, Remember Me. Actually, all of Christopher Pike’s books. He was the YA mystery guru of the ‘90s (can you tell I’m a ‘90s child), and I was obsessed with his books. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d be a YA writer today, if he didn’t exist. He made me love the genre.
Favorite Riverdale character (because we know from Twitter that you’re obsessed!): Ohhhh, interesting. Well, admittedly I’m more of a Betty than a Veronica (though I wish I could be a badass). But I guess given my current profession, I feel most drawn to Jughead—he is writing a mystery novel, after all. (And is dad is played by Skeet Ulrich, the villain from the first Scream movie. Again, I love the ‘90s.)
And lastly, because you’re a Philly girl, can you share your favorite local thing to do? I live within walking distance to Rittenhouse Square, so to me, there’s nothing better than sitting out at sidewalk café on the Square on a warm day with a glass of wine. It makes me feel like I’m back on vacation in Europe.
Thank you so much for spending time with us, Diana!
You can read more about Proof of Lies below, and be sure to visit Diana on her web site to learn more about her other YA novels.
By leaving a comment below, you’ll be entered to win a copy of Proof of Lies! The winner will be contacted via the email used to post the comment. This giveaway opportunity is currently open and ends on March 6th at 11:59 pm.
Proof of Lies
Some secrets are best kept hidden…
Anastasia Phoenix has always been the odd girl out, whether moving from city to international city with her scientist parents or being the black belt who speaks four languages.
And most definitely as the orphan whose sister is missing, presumed dead.
She’s the only one who believes Keira is still alive, and when new evidence surfaces, Anastasia sets out to follow the trail—and lands in the middle of a massive conspiracy. Now she isn’t sure who she can trust. At her side is Marcus, the bad boy with a sexy accent who’s as secretive as she is. He may have followed her to Rome to help, but something about him seems too good to be true.
Nothing is as it appears, and when everything she’s ever known is revealed to be a lie, Anastasia has to believe in one impossibility.
She will find her sister.
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…