2020 Debut Interview: Diana Urban!

In 2019, we made it our goal is to work with as many debut authors as possible and spread the word about their debut novels. It was such a success last year that we decided to continue the fun this year as well! Follow us this year as we pick the minds of the 2020 debuts and chat with them. Also stay tuned for news of giveaways, Twitter chats and more!
At the end of 2019, we Tweeted about wanting to discover more debut authors and their books. We ended up finding Diana Urban and her novel ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS, and we have been interested in it ever since. We are so excited to have Diana on the blog today to answer some of our questions! 

Diana  Urban

Diana Urban writes dark, twisty thrillers for teens. When she's not torturing fictional characters, she's a marketing manager at BookBub, a leading book discovery platform. Outside the bookish world, she lives with her husband and cat in Boston, and enjoy reading, video games, fawning over cute animals, and looking at the beach from a safe distance. 

Keep up with Diana: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

The Book Bratz: First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to be a debut author?
Diana: Thank you so much! It was a long road to publication. All told, it’s been six years and three months since I finished writing my first novel, and I signed with my first literary agent a few weeks later. All Your Twisted Secrets is actually the third novel I’ve written. This journey has had a lot of ups and downs, but having persevered through the low points makes getting here all the more gratifying. A lot about this experience has felt very surreal. I’m days away from my dream of getting to pick up my book in an actual bookstore. Readers are reaching out to tell me how much they loved my book. I got to listen to a talented voice actress read my words aloud for the audiobook. One of my all-time favorite authors, R.L. Stine, whose books I grew up reading, blurbed my book. All of those things are incredibly magical. But there’s a lot of pressure as a debut author. There’s always another hill to climb (e.g., getting another book published!), and each hill seems steeper than the last. Plus, I’m a very camera-shy introvert, so the prospect of doing signings and panels is quite daunting. It’s a good problem to have — I’m sure with time and experience, that will get easier. But as a new debut, it’s all a bit scary!
The Book Bratz: In your opinion, what's the best part of the writing process? What's the hardest?
Diana: Revising is my favorite part of the writing process; it’s where the magic happens. Early developmental edits — making huge structural changes, adding or removing characters, or creating red herrings — are like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, and I love jigsaw puzzles. I love seeing how pieces of the story fit together in ways I never would have initially imagined. Later rounds of edits — strengthening the character arcs, improving the dialogue, finessing sentences — feels like molding a lump of clay into something beautiful. And seeing the story take its final shape is incredibly gratifying. The hardest part, hands down, the impostor syndrome that seeps into my brain while writing a first draft. I know my first drafts are far from perfect. I know that’s normal for any author. I know this. Yet it’s so difficult to throw away the notion of the perfect first draft. It’s so easy to look at what I’ve written so far and compare it to the polished book that’s getting published, and to see how far I am from compelling character arcs, from filling in all the plot holes, from making anything even remotely mysterious, etc. But completing that first draft lets me get to my favorite part, which is revising. So I have to ignore that mean voice in the back of my head telling me I can’t do this. I just have to get it done.

The Book Bratz: Where did you get the inspiration for ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS?
Diana: One day my husband and I started speculating the shortest timespan you could set a book or movie to, throwing ideas back and forth. Could an entire book take place over just fifteen minutes? No way, that’s not enough time to accomplish anything. But what about an hour? What if you locked a group of people in a room for an hour? What if someone died at the end of the hour? What if the trapped people killed one of them? What if they had to choose someone to kill, or else they’d all die? We exchanged this look that was like, “Bingo,” and I raced to my desk and started scribbling down ideas for characters I could put into this crazy situation.

The Book Bratz: Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the most difficult?
Diana: I’d be epically betraying my protagonist Amber if I said anyone other than her! Amber is a 17-year-old aspiring film score producer who arrives at an invite-only dinner and is locked in with five other students. They uncover a tray with a syringe of poison, a bomb, and a note that reads: “Within the hour, you must choose someone in this room to die. If you don’t, everyone dies.” Determined to get everyone out alive, Amber is the one who orchestrates friends and foes alike to work together — her jock boyfriend, her nerd crush, her former best friend, the queen bee, and the stoner. But as the bomb’s timer ticks down and their panic rises, she has to contend with their clashing personalities, and making sure everyone survives might be easier said than done. Amber’s quirky voice crystalized in my mind very early, and her dreams, hopes, fears, and motivations shaped the events both in the room and in the alternating flashback chapters. Those flashbacks track her struggle to win over the intimidating queen bee Sasha (who’s drama club director) to score the school play and get into her dream music school. This is the heart of the story: her relationships with the others and how she deals with many of the pressures teens face today, from bullying to college admissions to losing a loved one. Amber was also the most difficult character to write. Fleshing out her goals — and not just her music school goals — in a way that felt realistic and convincing required at least one complete rewrite. Amber liked to give me a hard time. But I loved writing her, and now that the novel’s out in the world and out of my hands, I miss her.

The Book Bratz: How do you go about planning a mystery/thriller story, since those plotlines are always so intricate? Do you have any secret tips to share?
Diana: Writing a thriller can be daunting. From effectively building tension, to hiding information from readers until the right time, to strategically placing red herrings… it’s a lot. But all those intricacies really come together during the revision process. Just like you wouldn’t solve a jigsaw puzzle by pulling pieces out of the box and setting them down in order, from left to right, one at a time—you don’t write a thriller that way, either. Instead you scatter all the pieces on the table and start working on the edges of the puzzle (the outline, or the framework of the novel) and then you tackle one section at a time (one plot thread, or one character arc, or one red herring), building and building until it all finally fits together. It can be overwhelming to conceptualize a thriller all at once, but when you break it down and take one element at a time, it’s easier to manage in your brain. At least, that’s how it works for me!

The Book Bratz: What do you hope that readers will take away from ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS?
Diana:Great question! My main mission is to entertain readers — to let them escape reality for a few hours and have fun. And I not-so-secretly want to keep them up until 3am. 😈 No, seriously, that’s my goal. I end each chapter on a cliffhanger because I don’t want readers to be able to put down my book. But while the book is fast-paced thriller, there are also lessons I hope readers take away from it, especially on the themes of bullying and mental health. I was bullied growing up, and in this book I wanted to examine the consequences of bullying and show how destructive it can be. I also wanted to write something for kids who might be experiencing something similar to what I went through, so they could relate to what the characters go through in the flashback chapters and (hopefully) feel less alone. I also hope the book sparks conversations and debates. I’ve heard from a few librarians and teachers who’ve told their classes about the book. Hearing the hook sparks instant conversation around what you would do if you were locked in a room with five others, and you had to choose someone to kill or else you’d all die. It brings up discussions around human nature, ethics, and the question: Is one life worth more than any other? (I hope the answer is obvious.)

The Book Bratz: Do you plan on returning to the world of ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS in the future, or do you have any other projects in mind? Can you tell us anything about them?
Diana: There aren’t any plans for a sequel at this time, but I never say never! And while I can’t get into specifics here, I will say that I finished drafting two different projects in 2019 — both young adult thrillers. Stay tuned!


Title: All Your Twisted Secrets
Author: Diana Urban
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: March 17th, 2020

Summary: What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies. Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die? 

Thank you so much to Diana for stopping by and answering our questions! We are super excited about ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS and can't wait for it to be out in the world on March 17th

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