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Friday, May 29, 2009

Oh, Yeah, Just Call Me J.Lo. (or D.Rod.)

So when I first started this blog, I wrote a post describing how I was a closeted Latina. Basically, because I grew up with pale skin, freckles, reddish hair and no Spanish accent, people weren’t exactly mistaking me for Selma Hayek. And because they treated me as if my last name were just some quirky accident, I sort of went into the closet about it.

Essentially, it took me a long time to find my inner Latina, but when I did, I figured why not go all the way and write a book about it? It’s what I do, right? So I created the character Mariana, who has my same ethnic background and is just now coming to terms with her multicultural identity.

And while it may sound like I suddenly became all evolved in a manner worthy of a reinterpretation of Roots, let me be honest here, I’m a bit of a chicken. And when I first started writing the novel, I remember worrying that people might call me a poseur, claim that I’m not “Latina enough” to write a novel with a Latina character. (My dad’s from Puerto Rico, by the way, and he doesn’t look any more like the Hispanic stereotype than I do. I'm just saying...) But all kidding aside, I was truly concerned about how my books would be received by the Latino community.

That fear almost seems crazy to me now.

The largest and most positive reactions I’ve received for the “Amor and Summer Secrets” series thus far have been from Latino teens. I had an event this morning for students from a Philadelphia charter school where most speak English as a second language—all of them were enthusiastic and carrying my book in hand. I had girls come up to me in Lancaster last week all giddy because they had been reading my books with their moms. And I can’t tell you how many emails I get from students who are half-Hispanic and thrilled that someone finally wrote a book they can relate to.

In fact, one was so sweet I’m sharing a piece of it here (I hope she doesn’t mind):

“Lately, I was questioned about my own Hispanic heritage and I have no idea about my own roots…This book was an eye-opener. I know I asked myself, ‘okay, I need something to help me find my roots and give me a clue in.’ I did, your book was one that I picked up randomly after that question was asked and now I believe I found my answer.”

How awesome is that? Seriously? It’s why we write, people.

That’s not to say that my books are written only for Latinas. That’s like saying Seinfeld’s comedy is only for Jewish Americans, or Kanye’s music is only for African Americans, or that the Real Housewives of New Jersey is only for overly pampered whiney princesses from the Garden State (wait, maybe that last one is true).

But my point is that I’m really proud to be “going all J.Lo.” now. And I always thought D. Rod was a pretty cool nickname. Too bad I’m not a ball player.

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital

Is it just me, or did Michael wake up from his coma more annoying than ever? Seriously. That kid’s always gotten on my nerves. But I thought that when they SORASed him (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome), the character would be a bit more tolerable. Nope. Just got snottier. Thank goodness adolescent boys don’t watch this show, because that character’s whole attitude toward his mother makes me wanna slap him.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Living In An Amish Paradise: My School Visit to Lancaster

So, no, I did not get to do a Creative Writing Workshop in a one-room schoolhouse in the heart of Amish country. Though I do think that would make for an awesome school visit. Imagine: I could teach them that there are books in the world other than the bible, and they could teach me how to churn butter and raise a barn in a single day. It’s a win-win.

But alas, I don’t think many urban Latina authors get invited into that world. I did, however, get invited to visit J.P. McCaskey High School in the Lancaster, PA School District. It’s a slightly different population—in that the students are multicultural, they wear buttons, they don’t ride in horse and buggies, and there wasn’t a straw hat in sight. In a nutshell, they’re very cool American teenagers—only surrounded by more farm land (and more outlet shopping).

The school was amazing. They did a fantastic job promoting the event. It was hosted in the library by their wonderful librarian, Samantha Simatos, and about 45 students attended. It was my biggest workshop group ever, and consequently we did run a bit long, but thankfully that was mostly do to all of the killer ideas the students suggested.

They created a very clever young adult story based on a set of twins caught in a love-hate relationship when each is raised by a separate parent—one by the mom, and one by the dad. It creates a whole lot of drama.

I was really impressed by the imaginations of the students, and I’m happy to report that one student already contacted me to tell me that she started writing her own version of the story. Feedback doesn’t get any better than that, does it? Plus all of the students got a signed copy of “Amigas and School Scandals.”

It was a fun day, and I thank everyone who put it together! Next time, I’ll try to keep Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise” from playing in my head on the drive out there.

POP CULTURE RANT: So You Think You Can Dance

Yeah, I know everyone’s still talking about the American Idol upset (I personally was rooting Adam, too), but I’m more excited about the debut of its reality counterpart—So You Think You Can Dance! I seriously heart this show. Every time I watch it, it makes me want to learn a Mia Michaels routine (and not die trying). So everyone, let’s get on the SYTYCD conga line. I’m already cheering for Katie’s roommate, Natalie. Girl’s a shoe-in for the Top 20.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Have a Lovestruck Summer with GCC Member Melissa Walker

Memorial Day is just around the corner and I’m sure you’re all looking for a great beach read worthy of your beach chair and floppy hat. Well dust off your flip flops, bust out the sunscreen, and grab yourself a copy of GCC member Melissa Walker’s latest book, LOVESTRUCK SUMMER, which just debuted through HarperCollins Publishers.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:
This is the story of Quinn, an indie rock girl who came out to Austin, Texas for a music internship. She also plans to spend long, lazy days in the sun at outdoor concerts--and to meet a hot musician or two. Instead, she's stuck rooming with her sorority brainwashed cousin, who now willingly goes by the name 'Party Penny.' Their personalities clash, big time.

But Sebastian, a gorgeous DJ, definitely makes up for it. Sebastian has it all: looks, charm, and great taste in music. So why can't Quinn keep her mind off Penny's friend cute, All-American Russ and his Texas twang?

One thing's certain: Quinn's in for a summer she'll never forget!

Here’s what Melissa had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Melissa: I used to be terrible at it! (See this story) Because of major lessons I learned about being a gossip in high school, I'm now a really, really good secret keeper.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?
Melissa: I went to Sao Paolo, Brazil for Fashion Week once, and it was so amazing that I had to set one of the Violet books there. The colorful clothes, the carnival feel, the amazingly delicious meat dishes--sigh. So great.

Now, that’s an enviable vacation! I’d love to go to Brazil. But I worry my body would need way too much waxing and tanning before I could step foot in country.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?
Melissa: Ooh! I have. My Spanish class went on a field trip to NYC in 10th grade, and we all visited a psychic. She told me I'd drop out of college halfway through because I'd fall in love with a dark foreigner. Didn't happen, but maybe that's a book plot I'm supposed to write?

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Melissa: We used to have these HUGE family reunions in West Virginia, where my Irish ancestors on my dad's side settled. There's still a ton of family history there, and I can trace waaaay back when I visit the cemetary, which is a neat feeling.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?
Melissa: I was at work at ELLEgirl when I got the offer call from an editor. After that, I had to do things backwards and find an agent, so I don't have that one shining moment that some authors had, I was just kind of buzzing for days!

Thank you, Melissa! And for a chance to win Lovestruck Summer, plus 3 other great beach reads, visit Melissa's other (very cool) website iheartdaily.com.

Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Proposed Etiquette Guide to Writing Bad Book Reviews

I came across an amazing new blog this week, The Worst Review Ever, and I’ve been shouting its praises because it’s so unbelievably cathartic and funny. Essentially, it’s a venue—created by Alexa Young, author of Frenemies—for writers to post the worst reviews their novels ever received with the intent being for all of us to join together to chuckle and commiserate. Heal the pain, people.

Because, really, there’s nothing you can do when your book is ripped to shreds. You can’t defend it, and there’s no point in crying about it. Ultimately, you just got to shrug it off and laugh when someone actually has the nerve to call your book “a holocaust of prose.” Or when someone says your romance novel is so “derivatively chick-lit it was physically passed from Oprah's uterus onto paper made out of Helen Fielding's afterbirth.” (Honestly, that line deserves to be on a T-shirt somewhere.)

But I noticed a common thread among the bad reviews posted here (as well as elsewhere)—most come from bloggers who openly admit they don’t like books in the genre in which the novel is written. They hate chick-lit, yet they’re reviewing a romance novel. They hate young adult, yet they’re reviewing a teen novel. They hate books featuring rich prep school girls, yet they’re reviewing a book about a rich prep school girl.

See where I’m going with this?

So to take a cue from Emily Post (or these days Martha Stewart), I’ve decided to create:

An Etiquette Guide to Writing Bad Book Reviews

1. Do not spend half your bad review bragging about how you received the book for free, and begging people to use your Amazon link for purchases so you can get a few pennies of “commission.” To steal a line from Z100, “Knock, knock. Who’s there? TACKY.”

2. Be sure you get all your facts straight. If you’re going to attack an author’s plot and characters, be for darn sure you’re getting every scathing detail correct. Do not leave the author (who will read it) to wonder whether they should comment on your plethora of factual inaccuracies (as was the case in one of the blog’s reviews).

3. If you hate SciFi, don’t review it! If you hate chicklit, don’t review it! If you hate thrillers, don’t review ‘em! It’s not brain surgery, folks.

4. The author (often) has little or no control over their cover or title. So picking on these aspects of a novel in the book review isn’t really fair to them—especially if you follow it up by stating you hate all pink covers that look like chick-lit. (See a trend here?)

5. If you’re going to trash an author’s book, at least do it with some comedic flair. Show some originality! Calling someone’s book Oprah’s afterbirth is far superior to calling it a “cliché commentary on the perils of adolescence.” Because, let’s face it, the reviewer’s cliché there was probably worse than anything the author wrote.

I’m sure there are many, many more etiquette tips we could share—feel free to leave some of your ideas in the comments section. And check out the site, if not for just a good dose of schadenfreude.

POP CULTURE RANT: Lost –vs- Fringe

It’s been said before that Lost needs to start selling a companion study guide, equipped with a few chapters on quantum physics, because it can get a bit daunting to follow. (How do people watch this show without DVR? Because I had to rewind Faraday’s theories several times before I got them). But, confusion aside, have you guys noticed a growing trend with time travel themes? Both Lost and Fringe are dipping into this time-honored scifi territory, both with unique twists (Fringe is really based more on an “alternate universe,” but it’s close enough). Now the question is—who explained their crazy plot best? Personally, I preferred Fringe’s “déjà vu” analogy to Lost’s “record skipping” analogy. But hands down, I gotta give it to Hurley’s character for always uttering what we’re all thinking, “Dude, what?”

Monday, May 11, 2009

Attacking My White Whale…Once More With Feelin'

I think every author has a book tucked under a shelf (or these days, tucked in their hard drive). A book they wrote a while ago—maybe their first novel, maybe their first dip outside their genre, or maybe some unfinished manuscript that lost its plot. It’s our white whale. The book that despite the thick layer of dust on top, still nags at the back of our heads. We must conquer it. Get the torpedo!

My white whale is my first novel—the novel that actually landed me my agent. I love it. She loves it. But frankly, every editor in Manhattan did not love it so much.

So every once in awhile, I go back and take a peek.

Once I added an entirely new family and back story to the main character—equipped a single dad and dead mom (ah, tragic). Once I changed the climax. Once I added in more current technology references. Once I changed all my characters names. The edits go on and on and on.

Currently, I’m changing the voice—making it sound more funny and snarky, rather than sad and lonely. I like it better now. It’s lighter with just a touch of girl-power.

But you may be thinking: it’s been five years woman, get over it! Stop plucking away at that withering, old manuscript! Write a new one already!

Trust me, I have. But there’s still a little piece of my brain that refuses to give up on Libro Numero Uno. The story is good. The characters are good. And based on my recent school visits, the themes are still relatable. Maybe even more so.

And because of that, I have vowed to conquer this manuscript! Regardless of whether every editor in the greater state of New York has previously showered it with rejection letters. Just think of it this way—how often do you get that much professional feedback? And with years of distance behind me, I think I can go at it with fresh eyes and a new found perspective. At least I hope so.

Because, come on. If I don’t believe in my work, who will?

POP CULTURE RANT: Justin Timberlake on SNL

Oh, my God! Did you guys see this? Justin Timberlake has now risen to the ranks of Alec Baldwin in the SNL Guest Host Hall of Fame. He was hysterical. Like, every skit was funny and not just because of the writing, but because of him. He played on old lady, a singing breast implant, and he even revived his notorious R&B singing duo with Adam Samberg. Let’s just say, the sequel to the famous Christmas Present in a Box video is even more inappropriate; but wow, is it funny. Be forewarned, do not watch the below video if you are easily offended.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vampires Teeth With Lipstick In GCC Member Lucienne Driver's New Book

Imagine a fashionista (à la Paris Hilton) gets bitten by the undead and turned into a vampire—Can she still go tanning? How would she do her hair and makeup without the aid of a reflection? And how do you keep your hot boyfriend vampire’s wondering eye from straying to the latest vamp bitten on the block?

All of these questions and more are answered in GCC member Lucienne Driver’s latest book, VAMPED, which just debuted this week through Flux Publishing.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

From “Valley Vamp Rules for Surviving Your Senior Prom” by VAMPED heroine Gina Covello:

Rule #1: Do not get so loaded at the after prom party that you accidentally-on-purpose end up in the broom closet with the surprise hottie of the evening, say the class chess champ who’s somewhere lost his bottle-cap lenses and undergone an extreme makeover, especially if that makeover has anything to do with becoming one of the undead.

Gina Covello has a problem. Waking up a dead is just the beginning. There's very little she can't put up with for the sake of eternal youth and beauty. Blood-sucking and pointy stick phobias seem a small price to pay. But she draws the line when local vampire vixen Mellisande gets designs on her hot new boyfriend with his prophecied powers and hatches a plot to turn all of Gina’s fellow students into an undead army to be used to overthrow the vampire council.

Hey, if anyone's going to create an undead entourage, it should be Gina! Now she must unselfishly save her classmates from fashion disaster and her own fanged fate.

Here’s what Lucienne had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Lucienne: Wow, start with a toughie, why don’t ya? I’m a pretty good secret keeper, except from my husband. It kills me when people say that I can’t tell even him. I have to admit that some of those slip.

I’m the same way. But is telling your husband really breaking the confidence? Who’s he gonna tell?

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?
Lucienne: So many places I’ve been and loved! Heights used to be a stumbling block for me, but I’ve been working on that lately. I’ve now been to the top of the Schilthorn in Switzerland and the rotating restaurant there that was used in a Bond film, climbed all the stairs to the very top of Sacre Coeur in France and even, just this year, become a regular coaster freak. But I think the coolest thing I ever did was go cliff diving in a spot only locals knew about near Lake Champlain that had two different levels of cliffs and falls. That’s where I learned that when diving from a great height you aim out, not down. Down will take care of itself.

I love Paris! Been there twice, but never went up to the Sacre Coeur. Maybe next time.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

You know, I want to believe. It does my heart good to think there might be magic in the world, but up until about a week ago I’d have said I hadn’t seen any evidence. Then one of my authors did a palm reading for me….

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Lucienne: I’ll make it to Sicily some day. My very favorite family story is this…. My great grandparents’ families came from the same teeny tiny town near Palermo, Sicily. Didn’t know each other. They both emigrated all the way to America and ended up next door to each other in the same tenement building in Manhattan. His name was Cosmo. Her name was Cosma. He was a barber and she was an opera singer, one of the early RCA recording artists. They married, and he eventually left his job to take care of the kids and travel with her. This was waaayy before the concept of house husband. Papa was one of the kindest, funniest, oddest men I ever knew. Once, realizing that the cracked wall in the dining room was about the same color as the mashed potatoes he was eating, he tried to spackle the fissure with potatoes. It worked really well for a few days until the spackle turned green and moldy (and stinky!). I could build a whole interview around Papa stories, but no one would ever believe them.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

I was in the airport, flying to New York for a Superbowl celebration with friends. It was terribly frustrating because I wanted to run around and tell everyone I knew but was surrounded by strangers, who just looked at me funny when I whooped and inched away from me. I might have turned cartwheels. Okay, there were definitely cartwheels, but I still say the security guy was way out of line.

Thank you, Lucienne! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Eat, Pray, Write…I’m Joining An Advisory Board with Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m telling you, Philadelphia is turning into the writing Mecca. Not only does Jennifer Weiner live on my block and the Copy Store Man routinely tell me about the amount of local authors Xeroxing manuscripts, but now I’ve been asked to join the Advisory Board of this amazing start-up non-profit that’s opening a writing center for Philadelphia students. And because we have such a plethora of writers living in the area, the board is chocked full of amazing authors including—Elizabeth Gilbert.

Yeah, I’m going to be advising alongside the woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and who spent time on Oprah’s couch. No big deal. (Hence the note of sarcasm.) Seriously, how cool is that?

Elizabeth’s picture with Oprah is Real.

My picture with Oprah is Not.

Now, I’m gonna have to read her book. I previously hadn’t picked it up because I’m happily married and I thought a memoir about a tumultuous divorce might scare the crap out of me (and my husband). But I have traveled to both Rome and Bali, which I hear are heavily featured in the book, so I’m sure I’ll love the parts about the pizza and the luxury resorts (please, tell me she stayed at the Aman Resort in Bali. I fantasize about that place often). So I now have a reason to head over to Head House Books and join the reading masses who have already made the memoir a colossal success. Can’t wait to dive in!

And I can’t wait to work with Elizabeth and all of the other authors, lawyers, educators, nonprofit advocates, marketing specialists and others who will be bringing the Philly Spells Writing Center to Philadelphia. The center will be based on the 826 Valencia model, and is slated to open in Fall 2010.

One of the goals is to expose the city’s kids (ages 6-18) to all facets of the writing world—from novel writing to journalism to song writing to screen writing. Let’s just hope I won’t be teaching kids how to write music. I’m fairly positive I did not retain the sheet-reading music skills I learned while playing the flute in the fourth grade mini-band. But hopefully I will be continuing my Creative Writing Workshops and teaching teens how to outline their stories and pull ideas from their personal histories (we’re all a lot more interesting than we think).

And hopefully we’ll help some kids enter the workforce knowing how to write better than they did before they met us. Hey, maybe they’ll even find writing fun. Wouldn’t that be crazy?

POP CULTURE RANT: Craig’s List Killer

So a week or so after BU’s Men’s Hockey Team wins the National Title, I find out that my alma mater is in the headlines once again—this time for educating a now notorious (alleged) serial killer. Yup, the infamous Craig’s List Killer was a med student at Boston University. Though something tells me BU won’t be sending any alumni emails about this. Seriously though, can you imagine what his fiancé is going through? In the midst of planning your wedding, you find out your groom-to-be (allegedly) murdered women—um, about your age. Talk about dodging a bullet. And do you ever picture yourself buying a sofa from Craig’s List again? I’ve never used the site personally, but I know people who have (mostly to buy furniture). And I can’t say I see myself showing up at some stranger’s house to pick up their old sofa now. If I want to save some cash, I’ll hit the outlets (and protect my life).

Copyright © 2008 Diana Rodriguez Wallach, All Rights Reserved