YEM Author Interview: Diana Rodriguez Wallach chats about writing a supernatural thriller

Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of Hatchet Girls. Hatchet Girls follows Mariella Morse who accuses her boyfriend, Vik Gomez, of murdering her wealthy parents with an axe. The novel explores a supernatural thriller. YEM was able to speak with Diana about her inspiration, her writing process, and Lizzie Borden’s history being incorporated into the book.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Diana Rodriguez Wallach: It’s kind of a long story. Back in 2004, I had a dream (literally!) that I was a young adult author, and I dreamt the concept for an entire series of books based on my bullying experience in middle school. 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 the psychic, 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 sold to a publisher. Then in 2008, I finally became a published author and HATCHET GIRLS marks my eighth published novel.

YEM: What made you want to write a supernatural thriller?

Diana: It’s a true cliché that in horror movies and books, the marginalized character is often killed off. It’s hard to think of many final girls who aren’t white. So when I decided to write supernatural YA horror, Hatchet Girls will be my second in this genre, I wanted to include my Puerto Rican roots and make my multicultural characters the center of the story. Tessa Gomez comes from a strong Puerto Rican family, and she’s not only willing to fight for her brother—who’s in a horrific situation—but she’s also the smartest person in the room.

YEM: Where did the inspiration for this book come from?

Diana: Having gone to college at Boston University, I’ve long been a fan of its ghost stories and infamous historical murders. So anything Lizzie Borden-related always catches my eye. While watching the most recent movie adaption, Lizzie starring Kristen Stewart, I started to wonder if there had been another axe murder in Fall River, MA since the Bordens were killed in the late 1800s. I couldn’t find anything, and this led me to wonder what a sensational news event this would be. When my continued research uncovered the legends of the supernatural Bridgewater Triangle, and the haunted Freetown-Fall River State Forest, where the town of Fall River is situated, it felt like a story waiting to be told.

YEM: Did you enjoy reading thrillers your whole life?

Diana: 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. HATCHET GIRLS and my previous novel, SMALL TOWN MONSTERS, feel like my first attempts to write the type of book I would have read as a teen. They are both spooky, dark, and twisty but full of heart. I hope readers will agree.

YEM: What was the process of writing this book like?

Diana: A big part of my writing process includes research, and for HATCHET GIRLS, I spent the night in the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast. It was such an eerie experience staying in Lizzie’s actual home, and sleeping in her maid’s bedroom, knowing that the murders that inspired me happened within these walls. I’m a big believer in writing what you know. In every book I’ve ever written, I have personally visited each location—whether it’s a coffeeshop in Tuscany or the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast. I made lots of changes to Hatchet Girls after taking my trip to Fall River, MA, because I wanted to ensure that the setting was as authentic as possible.

YEM: What do you hope your readers take away from reading Hatchet Girls?

Diana: I call Hatchet Girls “Lizzie Borden meets SUPERNATURAL only with Puerto Rican siblings.” If you love spooky, eerie stories rooted in true crime, this book is for you!

YEM: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be a writer?

Diana: The road to publication is a long one. When I started out, things happened very quickly. I got my first agent after querying for only two weeks—highly unusual. But things didn’t go smoothly after that. It took me years to sell my first novel to a publisher. So if you want to be an author—I mean, really want it—then you need to be prepared to settle in for the long haul. Everyone gets rejected—some spend years trying to find an agent, others years trying to find an editor (here’s me, raising my hand!), and others years trying to create a fan base (all of us). Love the act of writing so much that you will do it for free, on weekends, in the evenings, or at five in the morning. Because you likely will have to. Do it because you love it, then stick with it. The difference between a published and unpublished author is often perseverance.  

YEM: Lizzie Borden’s history is incorporated into the book, have you always been fascinated by it?

Diana: While I wouldn’t call myself a true-crime junkie, I have always been curious about historical murders—if there’s a movie about Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, The Manson Family, Lizzie Borden, etc., I’ve probably seen it. I’m especially intrigued if the murder case remains unsolved—like the Borden murders. Many people forget that Lizzie was acquitted, so the answer to who definitively killed her father and her step mother is up for debate. And once I learned about the eeriness of the surrounding Bridgewater Triangle, where her hometown sits, it made me wonder: is the land cursed because so many dark events occurred here, or have these dark events occurred here because the land is cursed?

YEM: What is a book that has inspired you?

Diana: A book that really sticks out from my childhood is Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. It’s oddly still on Banned Books lists, mostly because the main character has questions surrounding her interfaith family. I remember reading it in elementary school and identifying with not only Margaret’s feelings about puberty, but also her struggles with religion. I think that was the first time I saw myself on the page. The book is now over fifty years old, and I recently read it with my daughter. It still holds up. Blume is a master.

YEM: What is your favorite quote or scene in Hatchet Girls?

Diana: You don’t pick up a book with a bloody axe on the cover and not expect to encounter that scene. For me, the BIG scene on the night of the murders was the most fun to write. I let loose and allowed my mind to go full horror. It was a lot of fun, and it took the story in directions I didn’t initially expect.

YEM: What do you have planned for the future?

Diana: My latest book deal just announced in PW! I have two more YA Horror novel in the works with Random House Delacorte. The next is titled THE SILENCED, and is set closer to my home at an abandoned girls reform school in suburban Philadelphia.