Saturday, May 21, 2011

So Good they called it Illegal: My Interview with Bettina Restrepo and a Signed Copy Contest

Today I’m sitting down to chat with my pal Bettina Restrepo, about her debut YA novel Illegal, out now from Harper Collins. I’ve known Bett for awhile – having wormed my way into her heart by schlepping up to the Huntsville Hastings for a Sunday afternoon book signing she did when her picture book Moose and Magpie came out. Huntsville, for the uninitiated, is a lovely town – truly- but is best known for being the home of the giant statue of Sam Houston, the state prison, and the Prison Museum, where one can visit ‘Old Sparky’ – also known as the electric chair. It’s also a college town. Make what you will of all this. Let’s just say that Bettina was glad to see me. We’ve stayed bonded ever since.
Bettina was glowing a few weeks ago at her book launch party at Blue Willow. And she’s been on the road – both literally and virtually – ever since, promoting Illegal, which is a novel that comes from a deep place in her heart. It’s gorgeously written, emotionally resonant, and a damn fine YA that you need to start reading immediately!

Here’s what Amazon has to say:

A promise.
A promise that we would be together on my fifteenth birthday . . .
Instead, Nora is on a desperate journey far away from home. When her father leaves their beloved Mexico in search of work, Nora stays behind. She fights to make sense of her loss while living in poverty—waiting for her father's return and a better day. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora decides that she and her mother must look for him in Texas. After a frightening experience crossing the border, the two are all alone in a strange place. Now, Nora must find the strength to survive while aching for small comforts: friends, a new school, and her precious quinceaÑera.

Bettina Restrepo's gripping, deeply hopeful debut novel captures the challenges of one girl's unique yet universal immigrant experience.

And here’s what Bettina herself had to say:

1. One thing that always fascinates me is the writer's journey. I know mine has been rather twisty, turny and tumultuous. How about yours? Can you give us a quick glimpse into the road that led you to the day that Illegal appeared on bookshelves and virtual shelves?

9 years times 365 days = 3285 days, which doesn’t seems so long now. Illegal was the book that taught me to write and re-write a novel. 2 agents, 35 rejections. It was a lesson in patience.

2. What's your writing process?
I wish my writing process was clearly defined so that I could repeat what works, but I seem to be all over the place. Truly, the story comes in a vision where I know the beginning middle and end. Then, I write 50 pages, change everything and then decide to do an outline. Then at page 350, I decide everything is wrong, and rewrite the first 100 pages. Personally, the entire process is convoluted and something I’m trying to improve.

3. Illegal puts faces and personal stories on the topic of illegal immigration. I've heard you speak about what influenced and inspired you to write this book. Can you talk a little about that here?

I worked in an ethnic supermarket as an auditor – so my job was to watch and listen. I noticed how precarious the financial life was of many of the patrons. I translated those moments, traveling through the stores, watching people, and my own personal story into Illegal.

4. Reading Illegal got me thinking about my grandparents, all of whom immigrated from various spots in Europe to America. They didn't know a soul here, just came on faith that things would be better. So although they came through Ellis Island, the emotions are somewhat similar. And I always wonder - would I have been brave enough to basically pack my belongings in a bag and come to a country without even being able to speak the language. How about you? Would you do what Nora and her mother do?

It’s very scary to think about packing up what little you have and just showing up somewhere else. Now that I’m older, no, I wouldn’t do it.
But, as I recall my childhood – I was a child of immigrant parents who were also military. We were constantly packing up and moving to a new place. Sometimes I knew the language, sometimes I didn’t. There never seemed to be a support system – and yes, it was always scary.

4. Chocolate or peanut butter?

Yes. Both. Constantly.

5. Where do you write?

I have a faux office in the front of my house facing thte front window so I can spy on people in the neighborhood.

6. How do you balance writing time with the rest of your life?

Precariously. I write from 7-11 with one break to walk the dog and put in laundry. Then, I lunch, take a quick nap or exercise at the gym (I love ZUMBA). Then, at 2 pm, my mommy/carpool hat comes on. After he goes to bed, I walk the dog and collapse into the bed to read. Then, back up at 5. Repeat, Rinse.

7. What's next for Bettina Restrepo? Any projects in the work you can tell us about?

I have another novel in its final stages (or so I hope) of revision. Like I said, it’s a convoluted process, so I never know when it’s done.

CONTEST: Want to win a signed arc of Illegal?

Comment on the following question: Would you cross the border illegally to find your family?

Best answers go into the contest hat and the winner gets the signed arc! Contest is open until 5/31! Good luck!


LiLi said...

Most definitely! When it comes to family I think I'd be willing to do a lot just to see them. Nothing's closer than family.


Kimberly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kimberly said...

My family is my life, so I would swim across the ocean walk through fire or sneak into any country to find my family.


Amy @ bookgoonie said...

Oh YES!!! That is an easy one. I would cross it in Amy attempt to make life better for my family. Amy @

bookgoonie at

Cindy said...

That is a difficult question. I love my family as much as anyone, and I would surely want to reunite with them. I'd like to think I'd be so brave as to give up everything in order to track down one missing family member. Everything though! The entire ball of wax: home, friends, security of place - it's a lot to ask, and there is a level of braveness I'm not at all sure I'd possess. Perhaps I'm over thinking - in the virtual world, I'm brave and bold and wouldn't even consider the terrible things that might happen to me and my mother in a strange unknown land where I don't speak the language. I'd just go and find my father, my family - in the virtual world!
cwex at embarqmail dot com

Vonna said...

Just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Illegal. It's one of those books that stays with you long after you've finished reading it.

Kristina said...

Yes I would cross the border illegally to find my family!

I hate it when people diss on immigrants, it really makes me mad! Our country vast majority was mostly immigration at many points in history.

My dad's father would cross over the Mexican boarder illegally to work and make money to feed and provide for his family. My dad was later adopted by one of his older brother so he could stay in the states to get an education to have a better life then what his parents were able to provide him. Because of him coming over he was able to meet my mom and have my 2 sisters and I.

Providing for your family and giving them the best possible future transcends boarders. To hell with government officials! :)

myworldofbooks18 at hotmail dot com

Alba said...

I would without a doubt! cross Illegally!! it's just that! family and love know exactly ZERO boundaries so you cannot keep me from getting to them by just drawing an imaginary line on a piece of land and tell me that just because I'm from some place else I'm not allowed in and cannot go for my family.

well at least for me is simple as one would take a chance between me getting to my family and specially not a thing such as a border!^_^ I'm really passionate when it comes to my family! lol


Leah S said...

Yes I would cross a border illegally to find my family.

Pam Zollman said...

I'm a mama bear when it comes to my family -- always have been, always will be. I like to think that I'd cross into another country -- illegally if I had to -- to save my family. I'm a writer, so, of course, I can picture it in my mind. Would I, in actuality? I don't know. But, in the past 10 years, I've been doing things that I never imagined I'd ever do: I'm divorced after 30 years of marriage; I've moved across the country twice (once without knowing where I'd live and once without having a job); I've started a company, started a writing group...and these all took more courage than I ever thought I had. So...yeah. I think I definitely would cross illegally into a country to rescue my family! Especially if I couldn't get help from anyone else (or if that help seemed too slow in coming).

Congratulations, Bettina! I'm not surprised at all that this book is a success. I saw your potential from the very beginning. :-)

Anonymous said...

I would definitely do it. My family is the most important part of my life. Being without them is the scariest, most awful thing I can imagine. Taking an enormous risk like crossing the border illegally would be worth it to find them. I'm a coward in all aspects of life except my family. It'd be worth the risk to find them again.