I'm honored to have had the opportunity to interview Bettina Restrepo as part of her Illegal blog tour. Bettina's YA debut, Illegal, was released yesterday by Katherine Tegen Books. Click here to read my review.
Illegal is a very compelling story about Nora and her mother, who bravely and illegally come to America in search of Nora's dad, who made his own illegal journey and hasn't been heard from in some time. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for this story and about any research you did?
I worked for a Hispanic Supermarket Chain called Fiesta, actually portrayed in the book. I’m a 2nd generation here in the States, the first in my family born on US soil. I’m have always been interested in the “how I got here” story.
But, during my first draft, a horrible incident happened in South Texas. A truck driver, who had over 80 immigrants illegally packed in his truck, abandoned the trailer in the middle of a field. It was July – and he left those people to cook inside the trailer. It was horrific, and close to sixty people died. The Houston Chronicle (I was living in Houston at the time) did excellent coverage – the pictures were so compelling and heart breaking.
The subject of illegal immigration is a sensitive one. What do you hope readers will take away from Illegal?
First, I want them to think about the way Americans subliminally encourage illegal immigration and how our current immigration system needs improvement.
Second, I also want readers to come away from the story understanding that most who immigrate here illegally do so out of desperation.
Third, I want the reader to be emotionally effected. Each person’s story is unique. What would they do if in Nora’s position?
Do you have a favorite scene or line from Illegal?
I don’t want to sound cruel, but the scene inside the truck was the most intense for me to write. I wrote it in 2003. No matter how many times I revised the novel, the chapter named Highway 59 never changed.(That was the most moving part of the book for me; I'm very claustrophobic and that scene was extremely uncomfortable for me to read!)
What was your favorite part of writing this novel?
That I learned so much about writing. This novel was teaching me every single day about how to listen, become patient, and how to persevere.
I can benchmark my way through the past decade. This was the chapter my son was born, this is the scene that landed my agent, this is the scene inspired by a lonely day at work.
This is your first novel aimed at young adult readers. What were some of the differences between writing and publishing Illegal as opposed to Moose and Magpie, your children's book?
Moose was written specifically for one publisher. While creativity was a component, it felt more like a recipe I was trying to get correct. I knew I had sixteen spreads (two picture book pages) to complete a moose migration. I thought up the joke idea after reading a ton of non-fiction moose books and finding them dry and boring.
The jokes were the hardest part. How many migration jokes can you think of?
ILLEGAL was of my heart. I know the characters up and down. Nora is as real to me as my own breath.
What are you reading now (YA or not)?
I just finished Storm Chasers by Jenna Blum, and I have XVI by Julia Karr in my purse (so I can read in carpool, while out doing chores). My next read will be The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg (this book will debut 4-4-11).
What do you like to do in your free time?
My son is six and has a learning difference – so much of my extra time is spent shuttling between speech, occupational therapy, and his school that is 25 miles away.
My English Springer Spaniel, Winston, demands twice daily walks – and often insists I take naps. He is naughty and wonderful rolled up into one.
I nap the way some people train for marathons. Daily and with intensity.(I'm jealous--napping is one of my favorite hobbies!)
Would you like to tell us about any projects you have coming up?
I finished my 4th (!) revision on my next YA novel, Telenovela. A telenovela is a type of Latin soap opera. The novel is about Mercedes, a foreign exchange student who comes to Dallas for a semester. She ends up writing a telenovela for a class project (the novel has an actual script!). It is chock full of comedy, mistaken identity, romance, and lies that are closer to the truth than anyone might imagine. I’ve had a lot of fun writing this book. It is my option book for HarperCollins.
Sounds like a fun novel, will definitely be looking out for it!
Thank you so much for stopping by, Bettina!
For more information about Bettina or Illegal (including reviews and discussion guides), please visit her website: http://www.bettinarestrepo.com/
As a thank you for her blog tour, Bettina has five signed copies of Illegal up for grabs! You just have to answer this question in the comments below:
Would you break the law to find your family across a foreign border?
Don't forget to leave your email address and what city and state or country you live in (encouraged but not required). The winner will be announced on Bettina's Facebook Fan page on April 2.
Enjoy your reading!