I first met Bettina Restrepo just after I began writing for children, when she was the volunteer coordinator for an SCBWI Houston conference. She was warm and funny and gracious, and I'm so pleased to host her here, talking about her debut novel, ILLEGAL.
Congratulations on the publication of your novel, ILLEGAL. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
14 yr old Nora waits for her father to come back to Mexico so that her life can begin again. He’s working a construction job in Texas and occasionally calls and sends money back to their withering village in Cedula, Mexico. When the phone call and the money stop, Nora creates a plan to cross the border to find him. It’s a coming of age story crossed with illegal immigration. It’s also a spiritual exploration many issues including right vs wrong, God, prejudice, and the forgotten people of society.
My main character, Nora, was inspired by a girl I saw on the side of the road and by my work with Fiesta Mart I traveled to the stores and saw so many things!
How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I’ve been writing at some sort of professional level since 2002. I’ve been published in Highlights for Children, Boy’s Life, Nature Friend, and more. My first picture book came out in 2009, Moose and Magpie (Sylvan Dell Publishing.)
It was my first novel I ever wrote, and I didn’t sell it until 2009. It was the novel I re-wrote a million times to teach myself to write better, stronger, deeper. I gave up many times, but I always got back onto the publishing horse. It’s a story that wouldn’t leave me alone.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Read everything. Read what you love more than 3 times. Be patient and then be patient some more - with yourself, with the story, with life.
Also, for all writers, not everything you write will be destined for professional publication. Sometimes a story is best loved with its intended audience. Write because it is art, not to get famous.
Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I’m a mom to a very special little boy. He has an articulation disorder that makes his speech not understandable – but that doesn’t mean he is broken. My personal goal is to equip him with all the tool he needs to become who he is supposed to be. It’s definitely my hardest job, and one I can’t fail at.
But, I want to continue to write novels. I just finished my next YA, which is about Mercedes, a Colombian exchange student in a Texas high school, who is not exactly what she seems. It’s a soap opera within a book and very funny. I had a ball writing it.
What’s next – perhaps I’ll tackle another serious character. I love my characters.
For life – I want to travel more, spend time with friends and family, and do good for others.
Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I always have 2-3 projects underway. :)
Do you have a website where readers can learn more about ILLEGAL?
www.bettinarestrepo.com and on Facebook @BettinaRestrepo