Hello hello and welcome or welcome back to my little bookish corner of the internet. Today is my stop on the blog tour for Small Town Monsters, a young adult horror novel that will have your hair standing on end! I’m bring you an interview with author Diana Rodriguez Wallach, as well as my top five reasons to read the book. To find a full list of posts for this tour, you can find the schedule here.
Vera Martinez wants nothing more than to escape Roaring Creek and her parents’ reputation as demonologists. Not to mention she’s the family outcast, lacking her parents’ innate abilities, and is terrified of the occult things lurking in their basement.
Maxwell Oliver is supposed to be enjoying the summer before his senior year, spending his days thinking about parties and friends. Instead he’s taking care of his little sister while his mom slowly becomes someone he doesn’t recognize. Soon he suspects that what he thought was grief over his father’s death might be something more…sinister.
When Maxwell and Vera join forces, they come face to face with deeply disturbing true stories of cults, death worship, and the very nature that drives people to evil.
Hi Diana, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about your upcoming book, Small Town Monsters. How are you feeling about your book being out in the wide world?
I’m really excited! Thank you for hosting me! SMALL TOWN MONSTERS marks my 7th (yes, 7th!!) published novel. But it’s my first YA horror and my first with a Big 5 publisher. So even though I’ve been in the publishing biz for over a decade, this has felt like a new experience.
What made you decide to write a book, and this book in particular?
Well, those are two very different questions. I’ll focus on the first half here, since it’s a long story. My debut novel, AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, is a trilogy of contemporary Latinx YA novels and it came out way back in 2008 (before many of my current readers were even born). But it wasn’t the first novel I ever wrote. How I came to write my first book is a strange story.
Back in 2004, I was fresh out of college and working for a nonprofit. Then one night, 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 to see the witches’ houses. 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 after the dream, and my recollection of that encounter, I figured it was “a sign.” So 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 now SMALL TOWN MONSTERS.
Where did you draw your inspiration from?
The story for SMALL TOWN MONSTERS hit me when I watched 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 was struck with that mystical writerly inspiration, “Ooo, what if….a hurricane hit the house?” Then I began to wonder what it was like for their daughter to grow up in a home where monsters are real and the proof is right downstairs. In that moment, Vera Martinez was born. I’d never considered writing a horror novel before, but her story just kept growing until I had to put it on paper.
Young adult fiction is a growing genre with a huge following. Is it something you read yourself?
Yes! I LOVED YA horror and thrillers growing up. I was a child of the ‘90s, and I always cite Christopher Pike as being my biggest influence. His books, along with R.L. Stine, hooked me on the teen horror genre. While SMALL TOWN MONSTERS is my seventh published novel, I feel it’s most like the books I would have read as a teen.
Compared as “The Conjuring” meets “The Vow”, where do you see your book fitting in?
I intentionally wanted to add more Latinx representation to the horror and kidlit genres. Surprisingly, in 2019, only 5.3% of children’s books published in the U.S. featured Latinx main characters. That’s it. And it’s one of the things that makes SMALL TOWN MONSTERS different. Both of my POV characters, Vera and Max, are multicultural Latinx teenagers with very diverse home lives. And I think this matters.
Additionally, I wrote this book in 2019, when NXIVM was in the news and the election was everywhere. That had a huge influence, which ultimately led to the cult aspect in the book.
Do you have any writing essentials for when you’re working?
Silence. I don’t like music while I write. Nor do I like the chatter of a coffeehouse. Given we are in the middle of a pandemic, and I am at home with two small, school-age kids, silence has been hard to come by. Since COVID hit, I’ve been locking myself in the guestroom most weekends to write nonstop. So I’d say the other big essential that I, and every other writer out there, needs is time.
And finally, how would you describe Small Town Monsters in three words?
Creepy atmospheric horror.
Top Five Reasons To Read Small Town Monsters
- The Spooky Supernatural
All the spooky things are happening in this book. There’s no holding back; it’s full blown, out to terrify you, supernatural. It’s so well planned out that you find yourself turning the pages with one eye closed, as if it that will make it half as scary.
- Family Dynamics
Vera’s parents might be supernatural specialists, but they are still parents, and absent ones at that. Her aunt has taken care of her through most of her life, and is a strict Catholic who takes her convinctions seriously. This makes life for Vera quite difficult in numerous ways.
Max lives with his mother and sister, and has been holding up the family business almost single handedly since the loss of his father, as his mother spiralled downwards – and is now possessed by a demon.
- Genuinely Scary
I might have mentioned about the supernatural, but did I mention that this book was actually really quite terrifying? Not just on a horror / demon level, but because it looks also at the realities of how a cult can build up from the ground and develop such a following.
- Breaking Down Barriers
Max has always judged Vera with his friends… until now. He needs her help, whatever his friends think. Almost as soon as he speaks to her, he realises how wrong all the stigma is, and it makes him reconsider not just the way he treats people, but the people he hangs out with too. This is always a good takeaway from a book, especially a book aimed at young adults.
- Dual POV
Books with multiple perspectives can be really fun to read, especially when it comes to scary books. Alternating between Max and Vera, we get a really clear view of both of their lives, and of the impact they have on one another – and Max’s request for help has on not just them, but the whole town. Curious? You really should be…
About the Author
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 will publish in Fall 2021 through Random House’s Underlined imprint. Additionally, Diana is the author of the Anastasia Phoenix Series (Entangled Publishing), a trilogy of young adult spy thrillers. 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 her as one of the “Top Nine Latinx Authors to Read for Women’s History Month 2017,” and Paste named Proof of Lies one of the “Top 10 Best Young Adult Books for March 2017.” Diana is also the author of three Latina young adult novels: Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books). Amor and Summer Secrets placed second at the 2009 International Latino Book Awards for Best Young Adult Novel. Diana also penned a YA Greek-myth inspired short-story collection entitled Mirror, Mirror (Buzz Books).
In 2011, Diana published an essay in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperCollins), which was the only essay from the anthology selected by Scholastic to be used in its classroom materials. Diana is also featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses (Twilight Times Books, 2015).
Diana has taught as a Creative Writing Instructor for Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth since 2015, and she has led Creative Writing Workshops in inner-city schools throughout the Philadelphia region for over ten years. She previously wrote as a blogger for Quirk Books, and she currently volunteers with the nonprofit organization Mighty Writers, which promotes writing in urban communities. Diana holds a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two children.
For US readers (sorry international ladies and gents!), you can also click here for your chance to win a finished copy of Small Town Monsters. Good luck!
Thank you ton Diana for her time, and to TBR and Beyond Tours for all their hard work. Small Town Monsters is out now, and is the perfect read for these Autumn nights.