Going Dark
Diana Rodriguez Wallach hits her stride with a new YA novel about the nature of evil.
by Bill Donahue

“Do something you love.” When Diana Rodriguez Wallach was coming of age in Delaware County, she kept her father’s words of wisdom in the back of her mind. She loved to write. Naturally, she earned a journalism degree from Boston University and promptly got a job with a publisher in New York City. She was traveling, earning bylines, and making a name for herself in a field she respected. The only problem: She didn’t love it. 
“Call it a quarter-life crisis,” says Wallach, a graduate of Ridley High School in Folsom. “I always had the feeling there was something else I should be doing.” 
Everything changed after Sept. 11, 2001. 
“The experience of having lived through that changed me,” she says. “Everyone around us was wearing hazmat suits, and I had this reoccurring thought: How many people in those towers went to work every day and hated their jobs? To me, 23 was too young to hate my job. We stuck out our two-year lease and then decided to go back to Philadelphia.”
Once back home, she pursued two endeavors that touched her heart—helping children and writing, particularly thrillers and dark fiction for young adults. She has since written and published multiple novels, including Small Town Monsters, which will hit stores in September. Her website, dianarodriguezwallach.com, lists upcoming virtual and in-person events to promote the book’s release, including a Sept. 25 book launch at Children’s Book World in Haverford.
We spoke with Wallach, who lives in Villanova with her husband and two children, about her journey, the kinds of stories she likes to tell, and what scares her. 

How did you make the transition from journalism to writing novels?
When we came back to Philly [after New York], I thought what I wanted to do was change the world. I was working at the Philadelphia Education Fund, and my job was to come up with academic enrichment programs to make the learning experience better for kids. It was the first time I loved what I was doing, and I would probably still be there if things hadn’t changed for me. 
I literally dreamt I was a YA author. I dreamt up an entire concept of books based on an experience in middle school of being bullied. A couple of years before, when I had quit that first job, we took a vacation around New England to celebrate. We stopped at Salem, Massachusetts, right around Halloween, where we found a psychic. I had never been to a psychic before, so I was totally cagy about it, but she said, “You’re a writer. I see you writing children’s books.” I was raised Catholic, so I thought: It’s a sign. 
I banged out my first novel after my honeymoon. This was 2006-07. I then googled: How do you publish a book? I learned that I needed a literary agent, so I went to the Borders by City Hall and started highlighting agents. I got an agent in two weeks, but I did not sell that book. It took two more books with that agent for something to happen. 

I love the title and the description of your latest novel, Small Town Monsters. What do you like best about the book? 
My husband was the first person to read it, and one morning he woke up and said, “Who did I marry? This is some dark [stuff].” It’s based on what I find scary. I find cult stories to be fascinating, too—the NXIVM cult, Jamestown. … I wanted to look at the nature of evil and how people can listen to the ramblings of one charismatic person and let logic and reason go out the window. Combine that with the [demonic] possession element, and now you really have a story.

Small Town Monsters seems like a departure from your prior works. 
Small Town Monsters is completely different than what I wrote earlier in my career. I was inspired by watching the Conjuring films, about [paranormal investigators] Ed and Lorraine Warren. I remember googling if they really had a daughter, wondering what it would be like to grow up in an environment like that. 
I was so young when I wrote my first series; my instinct at that time was to literally write what I know, almost a thinly veiled memoir. Your voice comes out easier as you get a little older. Small Town Monsters is the first book I wrote with a male point of view. I’m branching out, which is something I wouldn’t have tried at 26. I feel like I have hit my stride with this book.  

You’ve done some work with Mighty Writers, the local nonprofit that helps kids through writing workshops and other programs. Did you enjoy the experience? 
I’ve worked with them for several years. A lot of kids have very specific questions, and they love to talk about their writing. That’s something I never had the confidence to do as a kid. You would be surprised at how many teens I’ve met who have already written their first novels. 
Even though I went to Ridley, I never met an author when I was growing up. It’s nice to give all kids the kind of access they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise, and to help them know there are other jobs out there.  

Photograph courtesy of Diana Rodriguez Wallach

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, August 2021.