Alisa Lynn Valdes was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her father, Nelson Valdés, is a retired sociology professor at the University of New Mexico, and emigrated from Cuba in the early 1960s. Her mother, Maxine Conant, is a seventh-generation New Mexican of Irish descent, and a poet and novelist.
Valdes spent her childhood primarily in New Mexico, but also lived briefly in Glasgow, Scotland and New Orleans. Upon her graduation from Del Norte High School in Albuquerque she attended Berklee College of Music in Boston where she majored in jazz performance on the tenor saxophone.
While a student at Berklee, Valdes-Rodriguez began writing freelance music reviews for the Boston Globe. After graduating from Berklee in 1992, she took an unpaid internship at the Village Voice, before going back to school to earn a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1994.
In 1994, she was hired as a staff writer for Living/Arts section of the Boston Globe newspaper. In 1999 she was hired as a staff writer for the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times where she was the first American reporter to cover Latin music industry as a full-time beat.
Valdes-Rodriguez was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing, and won the SUNMAG contest for best newspaper essayist in 1998. Her articles have appeared in dozens of newspapers, and she has written cover stories for Glamour Magazine and Redbook.
In 2001, Valdes-Rodriguez emailed a 3400-word resignation letter to her superiors at the Los Angeles Times. The letter was widely circulated on the Internet and reprinted in the St. Petersburg Times. In the letter she accused the newspaper of racism and discrimination, especially in its synonymous use of the word "latino" with "Spanish-speaker", a practice she equated to genocide.
Her first novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club, was purchased by St. Martin's Press a little more than a year after she left the Los Angeles Times. She was paid an advance of $475,000 after five publishing houses bid for the manuscript. In a profile of the writer, entitled "The Latina Terry McMillan?", Chicago Tribune reporter Patrick T. Reardon wrote: "What made [the book] especially hot was the belief among publishers that Valdes-Rodriguez could be the long-sought 'Latina Terry McMillan' -- a writer whose work would jump-start Hispanic book buying in the U.S. and create a new profitable publishing niche..." The Dirty Girls Social Club garnered media attention and went on to become a New York Times bestseller and a Booksense 76 top pick.
Valdes-Rodriguez has since written five novels: Playing With Boys in 2004 and Make Him Look Good in 2006; a Young Adult novel, Haters, in 2006; Dirty Girls on Top, a sequel to The Dirty Girls Social Club, in 2008, and The Husband Habit in 2009.
In 2005, Time dubbed Valdes-Rodriguez "The Godmother of Chica Lit" and named her one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in the United States. Hispanic Business Magazine has twice named her among the 100 Most Influential Hispanics in America. In 2006, the Hispanic Congressional Caucus awarded Valdes-Rodriguez with a Latina Leadership award, and she participated in the National Book Festival at the Library of Congress. She also received the Theatre of Hearts "Youth First" award in Los Angeles in 2004.
Before its publication in 2003, the film rights to The Dirty Girls Social Club were optioned by Columbia Pictures with Jennifer Lopez and Laura Ziskin as producers, but the option expired without going into production. The Lifetime Television network then began to develop the book as a television series, but the project did not progress beyond development. Valdes-Rodriguez is partnered with Nely Galán's Cienfuegos Films company, to make an independent film based upon the novel, with Valdes-Rodriguez, Galan and Debra Martin Chase as executive producers, and Valdes-Rodriguez as creator and screenwriter.