New Author Vanessa Montalban ’20 Discusses “A Tall Dark Trouble”

Montalban received her degree in creative writing through UCF Online: Ranked as a Top 10 online program by U.S. News & World Report, UCF believes everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Vanessa Montalban ’20 has loved reading and writing all her life and felt she was always destined to become a writer. With the release of “A Tall Dark Trouble,” Montalban’s dream has become a reality.

Vanessa Montalban’s tumultuous teen years led her to believe that earning a college education was not in the cards for her. Born and raised in Miami, she dropped out of high school in the 11th grade; she received her graduation-equivalency diploma online shortly thereafter and launched herself into a career in insurance and real estate. She was 18.

Montalban’s Journey to Becoming an Author

“I had always loved writing,” Montalban says. But with the demands of her growing career – and then, later, the birth of her son – it took a while for her to find her passion again. “Ever since I was little, I’d always been obsessed with reading and writing silly little stories and poetry scribbles. Once I got to high school, it just wasn’t a part of me anymore.”

Still, she wanted to share her love of reading with her son, and the two would spend many hours revisiting books that Montalban had read when she was a child, and also discovering new favorites.

“I would read to my son all the time,” she recalls. “And then one night after he had gone to sleep, I picked up “Twilight,” and I was transported back to the wonderful act of reading for pleasure, where a book can take you into places you’ve only dreamed about.”

Montalban has a notebook that she keeps by the side of her bed in case she wakes up in a “fever dream” for a great idea for a new book. It’s a habit she’s had, on and off, for years. Montalban has already written two books, including one that she submitted to a complex process of review and editing. This is not the book upon which this article is based. That book, says Montalban, will “never see the light of day,” but she revisits it from time to time, as writers are known to do, to let herself know how far she has come in the general creative writing process.

“After I had my son, something clicked,” Montalban says. “I would tell him all the time that he could be whatever he wanted to be – and then I realized that it applied to me, too!”

She missed writing. She knew that it had been a big part of her life, and she had to get back to it.

Discovering UCF Online’s BA in English – Creative Writing Program

Montalban wanted to study creative writing, and she had already discovered that UCF had a fully online creative writing track as part of its English program in the College of Arts and Humanities. She was especially interested in online programs because of her busy schedule, and she felt that she would do better in the structured program.

In 2023, Montalban was part of a writer’s panel discussion at Yallfest in South Carolina.


“I didn’t start at UCF until I was in my 30s,” Montalban says. “There was a group of us who were the oldest in the class, and we weren’t even that old!”

After she read “Twilight” and many other Young Adult books,  Montalban became inspired to try again, she says.

But after her first two attempts, she had a “fever dream,” and had what she legitimately thought was a good idea for a fantasy book.

“I was inspired by ‘Practical Magic,” Montalban says. The 1998 movie, based on a 1995 book by Alice Hoffman, centers around the life of two witch sisters who are raised by their eccentric aunts in a small town.

Montalban  realized that she could weave elements from her own life into the story. Her family hails from Cuba, a country whose religious influences include Santeria and brujeria, both of which have complex roots and share certain mythologies that have been associated with “witchcraft.”

Montalban credits her father for helping her create one of the themes in “A Tall Dark Trouble.”

“In 2016, I saw my dad crying when the news came that Fidel Castro had died,” Montalban recalls. “He had fled Cuba in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift.”

Her father, along with other refugees from Cuba, had sought asylum from more than 20 years of Castro’s oppressive regime. On that day in 2016, Montalban witnessed her father, along with other Cuban immigrants, come out into the streets of Cutler Bay near Miami, bashing metal pots, blasting car horns, and waving Cuban and American flags through the night as they celebrated the death of the man they knew as el monstruo – the monster.

“I knew I needed to write a story about female witches who are not only clashing with their magic, but also with their culture,” Montalban says. “Here was my dad, who had been a part of the historic Mariel boatlift in Cuba but was now living a separate timeline in Miami. I knew my story had to also exist on two separate timelines.”

The more she thought about it, the more she thought that she had an actual good idea for a book.

“I had a feeling that this book would be something,” Montalban recalls. “That self-doubt was a lot quieter than with the other books. It was a story I really needed to tell.”

Before Montalban finished her book, she wanted some feedback. She joined Las Musas, a writing group to help Latina writers. There, she met a mentor, Nina Moreno (author of “Don’t Date Rosa Santos” and more), who helped guide the ending to make it just right.

“To this day, the ending is my favorite thing out of everything I’ve written,” Montalban says.

Montalban knew that getting her book published was going to be a long shot. She had done her research, however, and discovered that the social media platform formerly known as Twitter had a “Twitter Pitch” contest. She had to “pitch” her book in 120 characters, and also include a query letter, synopsis and the book’s first three chapters.

“The pitch took off,” Montalban says. Within a week, she had requests from agents and book editors, and after sending off her package to 30 of  them, she had offers from five agents.

“A Tall Dark Trouble” is available in hardback, as well as an audio book on Kindle, Montalban says. The next big thing for the book is its paperback release; Montalban is unsure when that will happen. She is also unsure about how many copies of her book have been sold; she could find out, but that would be one more distraction, she thinks. She has, however, acquired a movie agent, in case there is interest in that.

woman giving a book to a person at a conference
The experience to becoming a published author has been kind of surreal, says Vanessa Montalban. Here, she gives a signed copy of A Tall Dark Trouble to a fan.

It’s still kind of surreal to Montalban, especially the moment when she received her first fan mail.

“That has been the best part of this process,” Montalban says. “I’ve had emails telling me how much they loved my book, and one person told me that reading my book brought her a lot of peace and made her so happy. I sent her some swag.”

Montalban says that her assignments in UCF’s online program, especially the screenwriting class, helped her change parts of her writing process.

“I had to write a ten-page paper on a subculture,” Montalban says. “And it forced me to think outside my usual genres. I chose heavy metal heads, a movement that began in the 60s in England. For this and for other courses, we received critique from about 15 students – you give feedback and you get feedback, and it forced me to think critically about my work.”

Montalban’s currently in the editing process of her second book; her contract for “A Tall Dark Trouble” included the promise of a second book.

“This one is not a sequel,” Montalban says. “It’s a stand-alone fantasy novel, based on La Cegua, a beautiful woman who lures men into the woods and reveals her skeletal horse face and petrifies them. It’s a cautionary tale for cheating men.”

Montalban says that although the success of her book seems to have happened quickly, she credits connections that she made through UCF’s online creative writing program, especially Judith Roney, one of her instructors.

“She was one of my favorites,” Montalban recalls. “I had her for a poetry class. She told me that a writer evolves over time, and that maybe ten years from now, my writing will look different to me. I looked back on some of my earlier work, and some of it still sounds good to me, but some of it is cringey.”

Montalban’s mother and business partner, who understands that her daughter is gradually stepping away from their family business to chart her own course, is also, naturally, one of her biggest fans. Montalban says her mom scours social media looking for people asking for book recommendations and always tells them about “A Tall Dark Trouble.”

“I hope that my story encourages people who think their future is planned out,” Montalban says. “It is never too late to try to do what stokes your passions, no matter how old you may feel, or how late in the game you think you are. I want all people to realize they can always go back and tackle their dreams, and create a new outcome for their lives.”

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