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.
The beautiful Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of the new young adult novel Amor and Summer Secrets.
It's so great to have you over at Into the Wardrobe for an interview, Diana! What are your favorite YA books?
Well, I think Stephenie Meyer’s a rock star. I read the entire Twilight Saga over the summer (I’m late to the party, I know). But I couldn’t put a single one of her books down. Her character development is AMAZING. And—don’t tell my husband—I’m a little in love with Edward Cullen.
I’m also a huge fan of Meg Cabot. The woman is so young and she’s practically written a library of hilarious books. Her wit can’t be beat.
What YA book are you currently reading?
I just finished “I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You” by Ally Carter. It’s really cute and funny with a great teenage voice. Next I plan to read “Keeping the Moon” by Sarah Dessen.
Are there any songs, movies, tv shows, or other things in pop culture that have influenced Amor and Summer Secrets?
I have an entire playlist of songs on my website, http://www.dianarodriguezwallach.com. However, these didn’t actually influence the book. They’re more of the songs that I could see being in the soundtrack if a movie were ever to be adapted from it (Steven Spielberg if you’re reading this, the option’s available).
While writing the novel, I actually listened to the ‘90s channel on Comcast TV. I’m not sure how old school rap and grunge music influenced Mariana’s voice, but that’s what was floating in my head.
Do you write every day, and keep a certain schedule? Do you have writing "rituals"?
When I’m working on a rough draft, I write at least five days per week, 3,000 words per day. I keep going at that pace until the book is done. I’m a huge fan of the BIC mantra (butt in chair).
That’s what I consider “writing.” Once the rough draft is done (which is the hardest part for me), I try to edit anywhere from 30-60 pages per day. It depends on what round of edits I’m on, and how inspired by the scene I was. Overall, I’m a bit of a workaholic. I don’t usually turn my laptop off until 11pm.
What was the hardest part of writing Amor and Summer Secrets?
Well, I didn’t actually have a Quinceãnera, so I had to do some research on those scenes. I learned all about the dresses (white or pink), church rituals (there’s a court!), party traditions (the waltz with the father), and so forth. It was fun to live vicariously through Lilly and give her a kickin’ party, but challenging at the same time.
What was the best part?
Because I had Mariana’s family be from the same town in Puerto Rico that my dad is from, I was able to use some antidotes from my father’s past sprinkled throughout. I know he got a kick out of reading scenes that sounded familiar. He said, “I never knew you kids were listening!” That made me feel good.
What is your favorite or strongest memory from when you were around Mariana Ruiz's age?
I don’t know if I could pick just one, but I am still friends with many of my friends from high school. We have lots of great memories together from Jersey shore vacations to Alanis concerts. I’m glad I’ve stayed close with them all these years—a lot of them were at my book launch party!
What do you want teen readers to take away from Amor and Summer Secrets?
When I started the novel, I wanted to write a multi-cultural story from the perspective of a girl who didn’t quite identify with either of her parents’ cultures. I feel this is a very American story. 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 to 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, and visited my family in Utuado.
So if teens take anything away from this, it would be that regardless of stereotypes and regardless of how they were culturally raised, it’s important to acknowledge your roots and seek them out on your own if they’re not immediately presented.
If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for your books to be award-winning, or for your books to be bestselling? Why?
I would say award-winning because much of the “bestseller” success unfortunately has to do with marketing: the cover, the title, the publicist. But when you win an award, that’s entirely for the content—the words you put on the page, the story you told. The writer won that honor, not a sales team.
What book would you like your work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, popularity, or awards)?
I try not to compare my work to other authors; it helps my sanity. LOL. This is my first book, my first series, so my goals are to keep the positive reviews flowing in, to make sure I earn out my advance, and to exceed my publisher’s expectations by going back to press again (we’ve already gone back once based on presales).
What is the coolest thing about being a writer for teens?
Middle and high school were tough years for me. I struggled with being myself, and feeling comfortable in my own skin. Because of that, I vividly remember the emotions I felt then and it’s cool to be able to channel those emotions into my writing. It’s even more rewarding to look at teens going through some of the same things I did and tell them, from experience, that what they’re experiencing right now is tough and stressful, but it gets BETTER. So much better. College is awesome. And the most interesting people I know now did not peak in high school, they didn’t even know what they wanted to major in.
What are you working on now?
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 think readers are going to be really happy with how the story plays out—at least I hope so!
Also, I’m currently working on a 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’m really excited about it. Plus I get to travel because I’m setting some scenes in Europe. 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!
Thank you, Diana! :D
Diana's official website (She has the prettiest website I have ever seen.)
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