Growing up in Delaware County, Diana Rodriguez Wallach read a ton of youth-oriented fiction by authors like Christopher Pike, R.L. Stein and Judy Blume—though her father, a native of Puerto Rico, directed her toward a more practical path as writer. Wallach was living in New York City and working in the magazine industry when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted a switch to YA novels. Her seventh, Small Town Monsters (Underlined, 336 pages), was released late last year.
MLT: How does a journalist become a novelist, especially in YA horror?
DW: When 9/11 hit, I was living five blocks from Wall Street and working at One Penn Plaza, living and working on the 36th floor. You could smell the rubble and the death every time you were outside—and I decided I wanted to do more than essentially look at myself each day. So I moved back to Philly and was working for a nonprofit, which was meaningful—until a dream about an entire series of books prompted me to write.
MLT: What were your earlier books about?
DW: They were all derived from my life. My first published book, Amor and Summer Secrets, is set on the Main Line. Otherwise, it’s based on my experience of visiting Puerto Rico for the first time and coming to terms with being a white-passing Latinx, like my father.
MLT: It’s great how you tied Small Town Monsters into historical events and included the facts in the epilogue.
DW: It’s important to cite your sources—and it’s creepier. [Suicide] cults like the ones in the book really exist. If you hit rock bottom, you’ll start seeking really unusual therapies for your grief. And so, I wondered, “What if a prayer to do anything to save a child is answered by a dark force?” I grew up Catholic and believe dark forces exist, but I also believe in medicine and other belief systems.
MLT: What about your latest project?
DW: I’m continuing to use and cite historical elements. This time, it’s focused on Bridgewater Triangle, an area in Massachusetts where mysterious things happen.