Friday, May 6, 2011

Interviews With Authors: Bettina Restrepo

Here with us today is Bettina Restrepo, author of Illegal!  Bettina was kind enough to answer my questions on her experiences as an author, and what gave her the inspiration for her novel.  Thank you so much Bettina!  Illegal is a tale of one immigrant's journey to make it in America, all the while working against the odds.  This book will surely warm your heart, as Nora does all she can to achieve her dreams.  You can find my full review of Illegal here.

It is with pleasure that I now present, Interviews With Authors: A Talk With Bettina Restrepo!

A Talk With Bettina Restrepo

Author of Illegal

By T.B.

1) Where did you get the idea for your new young adult novel, Illegal?

I was working in Houston in the supermarkets described in the book. At the time, I was playing with a picture book idea about a girl who lost a library book and was afraid to tell her teacher. As I drove through the neighborhood (you can now see the photographs of the actual 5th ward neighborhood on my website), I saw a girl in profile. I had a feeling she was lost or was looking for something. She became Nora.

2) Did being the daughter of Colombian and German immigrants affect or influence the story of Illegal in any way?

Yes, because I know how it is to mix up languages and cultures. My family moved quite a bit, and I was always on the lookout for ‘normal’.

3) I’ve read that you used to be an Internal Auditor. How is writing young adult novels different from your previous career, and did you ever think that you would be an author?

The nice thing about being an auditor is that I know how to run my writing life as a business. Auditing is lonely, solitary work and my position required a lot of self motivation.

Also, auditing requires observation. In a way, it was a great training ground for writing.

And, of course, I found my story at work. There is nothing better than writing what you know.

4) Nora is a very strong character in Illegal. Did you draw on any inspiration for her and your other characters?

Hmmmmm, good question. I have always believed that a person makes his or her way in life. I think I gave Nora my own personal determination to never give up. Keisha was a mish-mash of little girls I saw in the stores with bright barrettes in their hair.

Grandma Isabel was definitely patterned after my late Colombian grandmother.

5) What message do you hope to get across to readers in Illegal?

I wanted to create an atmosphere where the readers could question this complex issue and bring to light one story of one family.

6) I’ve heard that it took you six years to write Illegal and see it all come together. How do you think this affected the story of Illegal?

I started the story in 2003 and received a contract in 2009 for publication in 2011 – so nine years!

This is the novel that taught me how to write. Much of it was read aloud during my early critiques, so there is a lot of attention to language.

I don’t want it to seem like I am finished learning. Illegal teaches me daily to dig deeper, feel harder, and tell every part of the ‘truth’ of the story. I hope that everything I write teaches me something.

7) Are you excited by what a big splash Illegal has made?

I’m unaware of any splashing as I feel like I have had my head down swimming up river.

Last week at Texas Librarian Association annual meeting – it finally hit me that Illegal is really effecting people. I have been filled with gratitude more than anything.

8) Can we expect to see anymore young adult books from you in the future?

Yes! I am putting the finishing touches on my next project, Telenovela. (A telenovela is a Latin soap opera.)

9) Many people say that they cannot wait to read Illegal, as they feel that they really connect with the story and can relate to Nora. How do you feel about this?

Honored and humbled. It’s a very intimate experience to whisper your words directly into a reader’s ear. I’ve received beautiful letters from around the world saying how much they related to Nora’s experience as an immigrant. It’s not just a Latino story – it’s a story that crosses cultural boundaries and really looks at the ties we have to our family.

10) Lastly, what advice would you give to any young readers who someday wish to become recognized authors?

Read everything, give yourself time to grow, and put your butt in a chair and write.

I encourage everyone to understand that story is a gift. Do not attach validation that a story can only be important if it is turned into a book to be sold at Barnes & Noble.

I have stories, whispered in the dark to my son, that will never be published. To us, they are worth millions.

-This is T.B. with Another Book Back on the Shelf...
Until Next Time, Keep Reading!

Thank you so much Bettina for being a part of Interviews With Authors and for taking the time to answer my questions!  Wow, I truly love the advice you gave.  What you said about stories whispered in the dark to your son is very touching.  That's interesting that you got a lot of your inspiration from the places and people around you.  I guess there's a story everywhere, you just have to look!  I can't wait to see what your next project, Telenovela will be about!  Again, thank you so much for being so kind and answering my questions!  That's all folks!  This is Interviews With Authors: A Talk With Bettina Restrepo!

You can read my full review of Illegal here.

Illegal is available from Amazon here.

Interested in more Interviews With Authors?  Check out my new Interviews With Authors page here, to find more exciting interviews!


  1. Really interesting interview. Thank you for introducing us to Bettina!

    And thanks also for the welcome back :D

    Brush Up On Your Reading

  2. Wow! Nine years for publication, but sure worth it at the end. Great story for new authors to hear. I like the advice, "Story is a gift whether published or not".

  3. Nina B.- I 'm so glad you liked the interview! And no problem, so glad you and ARGH are back :)

    Sun- I know, I had the same reaction! What determination that must have taken to stick with the story of Illegal all the way through. I'm so glad she did though! Her advice was truly inspiring, and I will definitely take it to heart.

  4. Thanks for saying such nice things about Illegal!

  5. "I hope that everything I write teaches me something."

    Great line! This is what all writers hope for. Every book is different, so we're always moving forward.

  6. Very insightful questions...and great answers! I love hearing how Bettina was thinking of a picture book at the time. Funny how you go down a different path in the most unexpecting ways.


  7. I love the way Bettina is able to articulate how all of her life connects into her writing. Illegal is a great novel.


  8. What a wonderful interview! Nora is such a strong, lovely character. It makes me proud to know her through Bettina's work.

  9. What a great interview! I loved her advice at the end :)

  10. Bettina- Thank you so much for being so kind and answering my questions! It was so much fun to be able to interview you, and it was a wonderful experience and opportunity. Thanks again!

    J. Anderson Coats- I agree! Writing is such an amazing process, and I'm sure all writers probably discover things about themselves and others that they didn't realize before through their writing.

    I Read Banned Books- Thanks so much! That's really interesting, that she was thinking of a picture book, but instead she wrote Illegal! I'm glad she did though :)

    Greg- Bettina incorporates so many aspects of her life into her writing. It's amazing! She writes about what she knows, and as a reader, it's a wonderful journey to take.

    Caroline Starr Rose- Thanks so much! Nora really was a determined soul who wouldn't back down. I'm so glad that Bettina brought her to life through her writing. Nora and her story is such an inspiration.

    Kira- I'm so glad you liked the interview! Her advice was spectacular, and I think that many young writers will certainly think so too.

  11. Amazing interview! I really have to get this book. And the advice at the end is brilliant, so thank you Bettina and Tessa! :)

  12. Thanks so much! I hope you enjoy Illegal, and I'm glad you liked the advice!


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