Monday, May 30, 2011

Illegal by Bettina Restrepo — Interview with the Author

I was lucky enough to meet Author Bettina Restrepo at the YA A to Z Conference in Austin this past April. She spoke on a panel titled: New Voices in YA. Bettina read the prologue from her book ILLEGAL to the attendees, and it was evident that this daughter of German and Columbian immigrants felt deeply connected to the story she had written. To say that writing this book had a profound effect on Bettina would be a gross understatement. Bettina spent time getting to know the immigrant families who frequented the Fiesta Mart where she once worked. They were generous enough to share their stories. And from those stories grew a rich and heartbreaking story of one family’s quest for unity, under the oppressive circumstances of survival in a new country.

The main character, Nora, takes the reader on a journey from Mexico to the United States in search for her father who went ahead of his family on a quest to begin a better life. When her father stops sending money back home to Mexico, and they don’t hear from him, Nora makes a decision. She and her mother must cross the border in Texas by any means possible. Traveling under inhumane conditions, and determined to survive, they face the challenges of unemployment, language barriers, and bigotry upon arrival. Not knowing who to trust or where to turn, especially when faith becomes something of a burden, Nora prevails. Her faith lives inside her, not in the confines of a church, or the words of book, but in her heart.

Nora is a survivor. She stands up for what she believes is right. She has a rock hard personal constitution. And through all that her family endures, Nora shows an unparalleled strength. There are times when losing everything, including her father, is too much to take. But even then she prevails, finding strength in the kindness of strangers who become more like family.

As the daughter of Greek immigrants, I could relate to Nora’s struggle with the language. It brought back memories of my mother’s story of survival and adjustment. For me, personally, this is an important story that should be found in abundance in any school library.  I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but if you’ve ever felt like an outsider, or befriended someone from another country, this book is a must read.



WHY I YA: Why do you write books for young adults?

BETTINA: I go where the voice takes me.  Sometimes it’s a snarky six year old, and others a pensive teenager who has told one too many lies.  I let everything stand with the character.  But, I do tend to gravitate to YA – perhaps my teen years had the juiciest material to draw from!

WHY I YA:  Do you think there’s an age limit for writing the YA protagonist?

BETTINA: Yes and no.  18-19 are really the limit – because after that, most teens have enough experience to lead themselves into different directions.  Life EXPECTS them to be more responsible.  Teens over 18 have more access to freedoms – which I think changes the ball game. 

WHY I YA: Who was your favorite character to write in Illegal?

BETTINA: I was in love with different characters at different times.  I love Keisha’s heart, Nora’s perseverance, and Grandma’s faith.  Flora is the most complicated, so perhaps I love her most – today!

WHY I YA:  Is this the character you most identify with?

BETTINA: There are pieces of myself in every character I write.  I’m not adept enough to get myself out of the way. Maybe one day.

WHY I YA:  What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

BETTINA: Publish well, not fast.

WHY I YA:  How do you deal with negative criticism or reviews (if any)?

BETTINA: A three-prong approach on reviews.  1.  Margaritas   2.  Delete or block as quickly as possible.  3.  Move on.

But- helpful criticism of work in progress is soooooo good.  I love a good critique (but I hate comments like… why don’t we try this in 1st person/ 3rd person/ unreliable narrator after I’ve written 80,000 words.  THAT is NOT happening)

WHY I YA:  Have you, or do you think about, writing anything other than YA?

BETTINA: Yep, I also do picture book, but I prefer YA.  Believe me, if the voice takes me somewhere, I’m following, I don’t care what category it is – I just want to tell a good story.

WHY I YA:  What ran through your mind the first time you saw your book in print?

BETTINA: Surreal and indifferent.  It didn’t seem like me anymore.  Those words from my brain grew up and moved out of the house.  About an hour later, I cried until I almost collapsed.  I lost a dear critique partner and teacher who helped ‘raise’ the book six months prior – and she didn’t get to see the book.

WHY I YA: What’s in store for us from Bettina Restrepo?

BETTINA: Hopefully more writing and teaching for me.  I just love the kidlit and YA community so much.  So, I have a PB and another Latina YA in the mix.  


Bettina Restrepo and I (Demetra Brodsky) at the YA A to Z Conference in Austin

Thank you, Bettina. I know many readers and aspiring authors are looking forward to what 
you will bring to the genre next. 

Monday, May 23, 2011


I'm starting a series of posts where authors reveal why they write for the young adult genre. First up is Courtney Cole, Author of the Bloodstone Saga. I met Courtney through the YA Sisterhood on Facebook, the rest is history in the making. Here's what she has to say. 

Why do I write YA? Because it is the most fun, obviously. And really, to tell you the truth, I didn’t choose YA.  It chose me. I just happen to have a great YA voice. 

You know, I’ve heard other writers say that they have gotten some eye-rolls when they mention that their genre is Young Adult. I’ve never been a recipient of that genre snobbery and I can’t imagine why anyone would give it! YA fiction is the best…and it is very, very important. 

Think about it… have you ever been as passionate about a book as you were when you were a teenager?   Many people discover their true love of reading when they are this age… because they come across an epic, amazing book that makes them feel something and from there on out, they recognize the power of a good book.

Teenagers/Young Adults are curious, open-minded and passionate about what they love. They haven’t been hardened by life yet… so who wouldn’t want to write for them?  And also, growing up is something that we have all universally experienced.  So, really, everyone can relate to a good YA book.  

Teenagers seem to truly feel a connection with great characters in YA books. They are at an age when everything is still so big- the world is their oyster. Everything is still possible for them. Remembering that mind-set and getting re-acquainted with my inner-teen is so much fun. I had actually forgotten how much fun she was! 

About Courtney Cole:
Courtney Cole is a YA novelist who would rather write than eat chocolate (but she wouldn’t suggest that anyone try and make her choose!).   Her debut novel, Every Last Kiss (Book One of the Bloodstone Saga) was released in April. 

Every Last Kiss tells the story of a girl who, for thousands of years, has been a Keeper of Fate in the Order of the Moirae, an ancient organization. She literally holds fate in her hands. But, this is something she often forgets because her memories are wiped clean in every life, leaving her to figure things out over and over. 

In Every Last Kiss, fate is threatened, and the main character, Macy, is left to return to ancient Egypt to fix it…to a life where she was Cleopatra’s handmaiden, Charmian.  She is meant to repair the fabric of time, but unless she interferes with fate, the one thing that she was born to protect, her soul mate will die. Again. 

Every Last Kiss is the first in a series, containing magic, mythology and romance. You know, the fun stuff.  

Enjoy and excerpt from Every Last Kiss. And if you want to know more follow Courtney Cole:
Follow Courtney on Twitter: @courtwritesYA

Dipping my fingers in a jar of scented oil, I glanced back into the mirror as I began to apply it. And froze with my fingers at the base of my neck.
A woman, pale and beautiful, sat on the bed behind me as though she belonged there. Her eyes were ice blue and her long hair was so blonde that it was snow white. I whirled around to face her.
“How did you get in here?” I demanded.  “How did you get past the guards?”
She smiled peacefully at me, but didn’t answer.
“Can you speak?” I asked.  “Who are you?”
She studied me again, unmoving and silent from her perch on my bed.  She wore silvery robes embroidered with rich blue which were spread around her and her long fingernails were silver. They sparkled in the muted light from my window.  She reminded me of what a fairy would be like. An odd sensation began to build in my chest and I hesitated.
“Who are you?” I whispered again.
   “You know who I am,” she said gently, as she rose from the bed. She was so graceful that it seemed as though she floated as she walked toward me.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dude, Where's My Ending?

There are two basic questions I apply to plotting my novels: what if, and and then.

What if is easy for me. What if my main character falls off a bridge? What if he’s a daemon, droid, lycanthrope, mixed alien…well, you get the picture. I’ve been accused of having what if attitude sometimes when I should just go with the flow. But, what if something goes wrong? What if I’m late to pick my kids up from school? What if I don’t make the cut? What if I do? You see, art mimics life. I’m cool with my what ifs. I don’t see it as a pessimist’s perspective, but rather a path to preparedness.

And then, on the other hand, likes to wear me down. I hate to see it printed in a book. It’s one of my pet peeves. And then, he turned to her… or and then, they lived happily ever after? Just like that? Really? No mortgage. No sick kids. Okay. Must be nice. And then, I lost interest in the book.

But I do use and then to work out kinks. It plays devil’s advocate because what if can’t exist without and then.
For example:
What if, Harry Potter found out he was a great wizard? And then, he went to a school of magic. And then, he learned he had a formidable opponent, and then he faced this opponent and saved the day. Perfect.  For you see, the two go hand in hand, like Voldermort and Harry. One cannot live while other survives. They need each other. What if is my Harry, while and then is my Voldermort.

But here’s my dilemma. Lately brain has decided on a new deep-seated perversion of and then because of the movie Dude, where’s my car? I just can’t seem to shake it. Every time I think “and then,” my brain screams back at me, “NO, and then. NO, and then.” Even though idea making, if nothing else, is a veritable idea menu just waiting for me place my order. Darn you, Ashton Kutcher; you've ruined me!

What about you? Does something you've seen or heard ever muddle your brain?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Get Behind Behind Me, Nemesis.

That’s right, I said nemesis. But can someone be your nemesis if they barely know you exist? Probably not. Nemesis is too strong a word. But it is how I’m justifying my next course of action, which is turning a negative into a positive.

Let’s start with a brief examination on the definition of the word.
nem·e·sis [nem-uh-sis] 

1. An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome. —Yes, but she doesn’t even see me as competition, and barely knows I exist, making me a slight head case.
2. Classical Mythology . The goddess of divine retribution. —Strange, the goddess nemesis is in my sequel to FATAL THREADS, but not applicable in this instance.
3. An agent or act of retribution or punishment. —Again, yes, but she doesn’t know it.

Origin: Latin  < Greek némesis  literally, a dealing out, verbid of némein  to dispense (justice)

Negative: Somehow, in my twisted way of thinking, another young adult author has become my momentary nemesis. This prolific, New York Times best-selling author recently released a story about reapers. Grim Reapers. That's cool if you like reapers, which I do. And even cooler if you love her books, which I do. But here’s where the nemesis part comes in. I’m currently outlining a novel about a family of reapers. When I saw her story, my brain screamed, “What? How can this be happening? She has the publishing machine behind her, and how am I, an unpublished author, going to compete with that?”

Positive: The truth is I’m not. I’m avoiding reading her work, even though I pass it daily and stare with longing, because I don’t want it to influence the way I construct my own story. Her success tells me something very important. There is an audience for stories about reapers. But only I can write my reaper story. Good thing, because what I’m going to do…how I’m going to beat the nay saying in my head…is to write the best darn book about reapers I can and hope it sits on a shelf next hers. What an honor that would be.

disclaimer: my nemesis is a talented author and, having met her at book signings, a nice person to boot. She just happened to be the right author, doing the right thing, at the right time, giving me a little kick in the pants I call motivation.