Horror Writers Association

Latinx Heritage in Horror: Interview with Diana Rodriguez Wallach

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Diana Rodriguez Wallach is a multi-published author of young adult novels. Her most recent, Small Town Monsters, is a YA Latinx horror novel that published in September 2021 through Random House. Her next YA Latinx Horror, Hatchet Girls, comes out Fall 2023 through Delacorte. Additionally, Diana is the author of the Anastasia Phoenix Series (Entangled Publishing). The first book in the series, Proof of Lies, has been optioned for film and was chosen as a finalist for the 2018 International Thriller Awards for Best Young Adult Novel. Additionally, Bustle listed Diana as one of the “Top Nine Latinx Authors to Read for Women’s History Month.” 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 also is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses (Twilight Times Books, 2015). She has previously penned YA contemporary Latina novels, as well as a YA short-story collection. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband, two children, and two cats.

Visit: www.dianarodriguezwallach.com
TikTok: @dianarodriguezwallach
Twitter: @dianarwallach
Instagram: @dianawallachauthor
Buy: https://www.getunderlined.com/books/676302/small-town-monsters-by-diana-rodriguez-wallach/?ref=PRHD7F8C3516C&aid=randohouseinc25600-20&linkid=PRHD7F8C3516C

What inspired you to start writing?

It’s a long, crazy story. My debut, AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, is a trilogy of YA contemporary Latinx romances and it came out way back in 2008 (before many of my current readers were even born). But these weren’t the first novels I ever wrote.

Back in 2004, I had a dream I was a young adult author, and I dreamt the concept for an entire series of books. It was so vivid, I shared the story with my now husband, who reminded me of a vacation we had taken years earlier in New England.

We stopped in Salem, MA, home of the witches, and while there, I decided to visit a psychic (when in Rome, right?). 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 said, “No. I see you writing books, little books, like children’s books.”

I had never considered writing a novel before. But I was raised Catholic, so after the dream, and my recollection of that encounter, I figured it was “a sign.” I sat down and started writing my first manuscript. That book landed me my first agent, but never found a publisher. Years later, I wrote and published the Amor and Summer Secrets series, then the Anastasia Phoenix trilogy, and most recently my first horror novel, SMALL TOWN MONSTERS.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

I LOVED YA horror growing up. I was a child of the ‘90s, and I always cite Christopher Pike as my biggest influence. His books, along with R.L. Stine and Stephen King, hooked me on the horror genre. SMALL TOWN MONSTERS is my seventh published novel, but I feel it’s my first attempt to write the type of book I would have read as a teen.

But I’m not sure I would have consciously pivoted to horror if I hadn’t been struck by inspiration while watching The Conjuring film for the first time. The movie shows the real-life Warrens store the demonic artifacts from their work in their basement, and I found myself wondering, “Ooo, what if….a hurricane hit the house?” Then I began to ponder what it was like for their daughter to grow up in a home where monsters are real and the proof is right downstairs. That was when Vera Martinez was born. My voice flowed out so naturally that I can’t look back. My next novel, HATCHET GIRLS, is also YA horror. It’s inspired by Lizzie Borden and the Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts, and it will come out in Fall 2023 through Delacorte.

Do you make a conscious effort to include LatinX characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?

Yes. When I began writing SMALL TOWN MONSTERS, I intentionally wanted to add more Latinx representation to the horror and kidlit genres. I wrote my YA Latinx romance trilogy before the #ownvoices movement. Then I followed that up with spy thrillers that leaned into my Polish roots more than my Puerto Rican. But after the national conversation got much louder regarding the need for diversity in publishing, my perspective shifted.

In 2019, only 5.3% of children’s books published in the U.S. featured Latinx main characters. That’s it. And I realized I had the opportunity to change that statistic—to open the door wider for other Latinx authors and to offer more teens the chance to see themselves on the page. This is what makes SMALL TOWN MONSTERS different from other horror novels. Both of my POV characters, Vera and Max, are multicultural Latinx teenagers with very diverse home lives. They’re not the best friend, the spicy side kick, or the Latin lover; they are the main characters at the center of the story. And I am continuing this representation in my next novel HATCHET GIRLS.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?

I wrote SMALL TOWN MONSTERS during the run-up to the 2020 election, and I sold it during the pandemic. That was a dark time for this country, and I think a lot of what was happening in the world seeped onto the pages. I’d say the real-life election madness affected how I depicted the people in Vera’s and Max’s town, Roaring Creek. Also, the isolation of the pandemic and the tragic losses surrounding us had me thinking about good and evil, and exactly what people on the brink of losing everything (or someone) would be willing to do for a chance to stop the pain. So while on the surface this is a horror novel with a possession story, I hope people really consider the layers that went into it and identify with some of the emotions behind them.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?

I think there are two big changes that affect me personally—there are more female horror authors and more diversity among horror authors. This genre, like pretty much all sectors of publishing, has historically been a white man’s playground. So we have a breadth of movies and novels depicting what scares men. Or what men think women are scared of. But not many women I know are frightened of a Michael Myers in the bushes. Now, we are finally starting to see stories come out featuring the female lens. Also, Jordan Peele radically exposed the need for diversity in this genre. GET OUT is the perfect example of how to not only depict what scares people in the black community, but how big the horror fanbase can be if it features more POVs. Additionally, I’m loving the dip into other culture’s folklore. SMALL TOWN MONSTERS drew some inspiration from Santa Muerte, which is likely a religion many readers are unfamiliar with. I think this exposure is important.

How do you feel the LatinX community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?

I always answer this by asking—how many horror movies or novels can you name featuring a Puerto Rican main character? Most people, outside of the Latinx community, probably can’t name one. This is for a few reasons. First, the lack of opportunities for Latinx authors. And second, the lack of marketing for the books that are created. My debut YA series was not marketed, at all, outside of the Latinx community. There has historically been an assumption that people of color will read stories about white main characters, but the opposite was never considered. Now that misconception if finally changing, and I hope it continues.

Who are some of your favorite LatinX characters in horror?

I love Cina Pelayo’s main character in CHILDREN OF CHICAGO, Lauren Medina, as well as V. Castro’s MC of THE QUEEN OF CICADAS, Belinda Alvarez, for a similar reason. Both female characters are complex and do things that the reader won’t like. A lot of times, especially in horror, a female MC is a Mary Sue lacking flaws—hence, the stereotype that she has to be a virgin in order to survive a horror story. Both Pelayo and Castro have created Latinx characters who upend this tired trope and create layers of depth to the women that center their stories.

Who are some LatinX horror authors you recommend our audience check out?

  • Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo’s CHILDREN OF CHICAGO
  • V. Castro’s THE QUEEN OF THE CICADAS
  • Agustina Bazterrica’s TENDER IS THE FLESH
  • Gabino Iglesias’ THE DEVIL TAKES YOU HOME
  • Ann Dávila Cardinal’s CATEGORY FIVE
  • Gaby Triana’s MOON CHILD and HAUNTED FLORIDA

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?

The road to publication is a long one. When I started out, things happened very quickly. I got my first agent after querying for only two weeks—highly unusual. But things didn’t go smoothly after that. It took me years to sell my first novel to a publisher. So if you want to be an author—I mean, really want it—then you need to be prepared to settle in for the long haul. Everyone gets rejected—some spend years trying to find an agent, others years trying to find an editor (raises hand!), others years trying to create a fan base (all of us). Love the act of writing so much that you will do it for free, on weekends, in the evenings, or at five in the morning. Because you likely will have to. Do it because you love it, then stick with it. The difference between a published and unpublished author is perseverance.

And to the LatinX writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?

Consider the old adage—write what you know. As a half Puerto Rican and half Polish woman who grew up in a town where the 0.1% Latino population was my family, I have a different outlook on the world than a Puerto Rican who grew up in the Bronx speaking Spanish. But my lens on the world is just as valid, and there is an entire segment of readers who will find it just as relatable. Give those Latinx readers a chance to see themselves in horror stories by incorporating some of what you’ve gone through. Unlike what many political pollsters might believe, the Latinx community is not a monolith. We have very diverse backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to share yours.

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