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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Interview With Bettina Restrepo

Today, I'm continuing this week of inspirational interviews with author Bettina Restrepo. Her young adult debut, Illegal, will be available in 2011.

Tell us about your book.
Illegal is the story of Nora, a Mexican immigrant who crosses the border illegally to find her missing father in Houston. We are all immigrants, so this story just isn’t about one nationality looking for family in a Texas town. It’s about how we love and survive.

I started Illegal in 2002, and it was accepted by Katherine Tegen Books, Harper Collins, in April 2009. Illegal will be in stores in January 2011. Nine years.

Can you tell us a little about your path to publication?
Illegal was the book that taught me how to write, because I had to write it over and over again. My main character, Nora, began her “life” as a nine year old searching for a lost book. She grew into a 14 year old searching for her missing father across the border in Texas. This happened through revision. Lots of it.

Illegal was also rejected by twelve publishing houses (including Harper Collins in 2004) and over thirty literary agents during its pre-acceptance life – and I am grateful. The book wasn’t ready and had not found its proper home. I NEEDED the no (although each time it hurt). Now, I know have the best book I could write.

When I was first starting out, Cynthia Leitich Smith told me, “You don’t want to be published fast. You want to be published well.” It is my mantra today – because I am impatient.

While I was working on the book, I did lots of other things; magazine articles for children and adults, a monthly column for a glossy under different names, fired an agent, found another agent, published a picture book, quit my “paying” job to be a mommy, became a mom to a learning difference child, and read thousands of books. It helped that all of my eggs were not in one basket. When one egg broke, I didn’t feel like the entire henhouse was coming down. Today, I feel like a juggler of eggs.

How did I find my agent?
The first time – a conference. We didn’t work out- which sometimes happens.
The second time - a query letter.

After my first agent and I parted ways, I knew that I wanted someone with an editorial eye and a nurturing spirit.

I researched a long list and was received many full manuscript requests – but I wanted someone who was looking at me as a career writer, not just a quick sell. That person became my forever agent - Blair Hewes, of Dunham Literary.

Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn't you?
Yep. I convince myself that I am an utter failure and tie myself into knots. After a considerable amount of self torture, I look back at what I have accomplished in one year, three years, nine years. I re-read the rejections letters. I re-read some of my terrible stories. I realize that I have matured. I savor the fact that skills I wished for years ago are now turning into my writer muscles. Feel the pain and then decide it won’t kill you. Take a nap, walk outside, pet the dog…. Then start again.

Then, occasionally, I pick up an application from Starbucks. Just. In. Case.

My advice to writers:
Your story does not have to be on a bookshelf to have meaning. Write for the craft and the art of the story well told.

This is a picture of Bettina's "little man" saying, "Put down the manuscript and PLAY!"

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and telling us about Illegal and your publication journey, Bettina!

For more information about Bettina and her book, check out the links below:
Bettina Restrepo's website
More about ILLEGAL

Also, don't forget to read the other inspirational author interviews going on this week at the blog links located here.

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Blogger Bish Denham said...

I very much like Bettina's advice.

"Your story does not have to be on a bookshelf to have meaning. Write for the craft and the art of the story well told."

Nice interview. Thanks!

March 31, 2010 at 7:57 AM  
Blogger Kim Harrington said...

I'm jealous of your office with all those bookshelves! Want. More. Bookcases. :)

Great interview!

March 31, 2010 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger Elana Johnson said...

Wow! I'm amazed at this story. It's so inspiring to hear that you didn't write the book, get an amazing agent and sell the book in like a month. 9 years! Kudos to you for such perseverance and for sharing it with all of us.

March 31, 2010 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Love this interview! I like what you said about looking back and seeing how far you've come. Congrats, Bettina! I can't wait to read Illegal.

March 31, 2010 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger Gail said...

Amy: Great interview with Bettina. I'm looking forward to reading her book. I'm also intrigued by your book- so now I'm one of your followers! Hope you'll have an opportunity to check out my blog as well.

March 31, 2010 at 3:41 PM  
Blogger Kathy McCullough said...

This is a fantastic and inspiring story of tenacity. And it proves that we just have to slog on, no matter what. (I will confess, however, that I too have frequently considered becoming a Starbucks barrista when things get low.)

March 31, 2010 at 4:32 PM  
Anonymous bettina said...

Gosh, look at all those nice comments. I look really cool and intelligent! Thanks for having me at your blog!

March 31, 2010 at 5:53 PM  
Blogger Angie Smibert said...

Wow. That was great advice: "You don’t want to be published fast. You want to be published well."

March 31, 2010 at 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Jenn said...

Your work is a gift to all of those who read it, even the early writing. Love you girl!

March 31, 2010 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger gae polisner said...


i just keep telling myself all those years make it even sweeter. but some days i want the years back! ;)

But I agree, my books always take a few major revisions before the story arrives where it needs to be. I'm good with this. I'm learning.

Really enjoyed reading more about you.

March 31, 2010 at 10:32 PM  
Blogger Dawn Simon said...

Excellent interview! It's truly inspiring to read. Thanks!

March 31, 2010 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger said...

Hi, Bettina! This is such a wonderful interview!!

Bettina won't say this about herself, but she also has one of the most innovative minds in YA. She is a joy to read.

Thank you for the interview, Amy!

April 1, 2010 at 8:45 AM  
Blogger Amy Holder said...

Thanks for all the great comments! And thanks for the interview, Bettina!

April 1, 2010 at 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Scotti Cohn said...

Hi Bettina! A fellow Sylvan Dell author here. Great interview. I'm hoping to eventually get a YA novel published in addition to my picture books and nonfiction adult titles. Your story is inspiring and motivates me to keep trying!

April 1, 2010 at 3:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa and Laura said...

Such fabulous advice for all of us impatient writers. I've heard a lot of that this week--the waiting, the waiting--I'll remember this interview when I want to fast forward!

April 2, 2010 at 11:46 PM  

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