July 27, 2009

Culture w/ YA Author Diana Rodriguez Wallach

The Writer

Diana Rodriguez Wallach’s debut novel, Amor and Summer Secrets, is the first in a young adult series published by Kensington Publishing in September 2008. The sequels to the series, Amigas and School Scandals and Adios to All the Drama, were released in November 2008 and January 2009, respectively.

Born to a Puerto Rican father and a Polish mother, Diana has experienced the cultures her characters inhabit, and many of the multi-cultural themes expressed in her novels are based on her personal background.

Diana holds a journalism degree from Boston University, and has worked as a reporter and as an advocate for inner city public schools. Her first novel, Amor and Summer Secrets, sold to Kensington Publishing on Fat Tuesday 2007 while she was at Mardi Gras wearing beads and a feathered mask.

She currently lives in Philadelphia with her husband Jordan and her cat Lupi, who was rescued from a shelter in Harlem. Diana enjoys traveling, watching bad TV, reading great novels, practicing yoga and cheering on the Philadelphia Eagles.

You can learn more about Diana by visiting her MySpace page, Twitter page, official blog, and official website.

The Book

Mariana Ruiz thought she left her summer fling in Puerto Rico, that is until she finds Alex sitting across from her at the breakfast table. Living two doors down from her visiting old flame isn’t easy, especially given the unresolved sparks still lingering for her locker buddy Bobby—and they don’t exactly go unnoticed.

Her best friends are little help as Madison deals with her IM-only “boyfriend” and Emily sinks into secret mode after her parents’ recent breakup. The only relationship that seems to be working is her estranged aunt Teresa who’s tying the knot on New Years with Mariana and her cousin Lilly as bridesmaids. But the last wedding detail left unplanned is who will Mariana kiss at midnight?

Strained friendships, stolen kisses, and secret loves create plenty of surprises to unfold before the New Year’s bells start ringing…

Watch the trailer for Adios to All the Drama below!

Click the cover above to order your copy of Adios to All the Drama today!

On Culture & Writing

How important is it for you to integrate your cultural experiences into your writing?
For this young adult series, it was very important. I set out with the intent to write a multicultural novel, specifically one from the perspective of a girl who didn’t quite identify with either of her parents’ cultures.

This is not only similar to how I personally felt growing up, but I think it’s also similar to how many American teens feel. It doesn’t matter whether you’re half Polish and half Puerto Rican, or half Thai and half Jamaican, I think a lot of people (and a lot of teens) can relate being torn between two very different ethnic groups while at the same time living in a very American suburban world.

In viewing media - TV, movies, books, radio, etc., how do you see your culture being conveyed?
I’m going to assume you probably mean how do I see my Puerto Rican culture being conveyed, and not how I see the Polish culture conveyed (pierogies, anyone?) or Philadelphians in general (our murder rate’s not so great). But as for Puerto Ricans, I think there is obviously still a stereotype that all “real Latinos” speak Spanish as a first language and have dark hair and tan skin. Obviously this is not the case. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…as Seinfeld would say.)

But as for the media’s representation beyond that, I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations. Yes, there are still plenty of shows portraying Latinos as drug dealers or maids, but there are also plenty that don’t (Ugly Betty, Cane, George Lopez Show). And I think the trend is moving away from the stereotypes, at least I hope.

What do you look to convey about your culture through your writing?
For much of my life, I had a hard time connecting to my Puerto Rican roots because I don’t fit the conventional stereotypes. 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.

All of these cultural experiences led to the creation of my character, Mariana. In Amor and Summer Secrets, I send Mariana on a journey that took me a lot longer to take. So hopefully, I’d like other multicultural teens to read this novel and realize it’s never too late to connect to your roots—even if it’s something that wasn’t taught to you in the home.

Do you think writers are (or can be) spokespersons for their culture?
It depends. The Amor and Summer Secrets series definitely serves as a window to my personal culture and how I was raised. So in that regard, I do feel like I’m a spokesperson for American teens caught between two ethnic groups.

I’ve also received an amazingly warm welcome from the Latino community. Much of the email I receive is from other Latinos who have read and related to my books. And this couldn’t thrill me more, especially since the first book in the Amor and Summer Secrets series takes place in Puerto Rico—I wanted to make sure I represented the culture fairly.

However, this is not to say that every book I write will feature a Latina character or multicultural themes. The project I’m working on now is about spies. So with that book, one could say I’m representing the espionage culture (or criminal culture?).

But regardless of the ethnic backgrounds of my characters, I’ll still always be Latina no matter what I write, so I guess it depends on the individual’s perception of “spokesperson.”

Any closing comments you'd like to make regarding culture and writing?
Personally, I think books are leading the way in terms of breaking cultural stereotypes. I can’t think of one Hispanic author who’s written a novel that paints their culture as a cheesy stereotype. And since so many films and TV shows are adapted from novels these days, I think the trend will continue to bleed into other media outlets.

This generation of teens is truly a blend of countless varied cultures and to win over their diverse demographic, I foresee all forms of media showing a more accurate representation of what the American culture is like today. As I often say, many of us put our pierogies and plaintains on the same plate.

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