Bettina Restrepo has splashed onto the literary scene this summer with the picture book Moose and Magpie, an entertaining and humorous book about the life of a moose. A reformed business woman turned author, Bettina has also written a young adult novel entitled Illegal that is soon to be published by Harper Collins. Recently we caught up with Bettina to talk about books, writing and inspiration.
Describe your path to writing.
I wanted to win a creative writing contest, but came in 2nd place to a girl who had great penmanship. It was straight up and down with pretty loops at the end of the sentences. I don’t know what her story was about – but mine was completely inappropriate.
“The Teacher Compactor” was a sad tale about a machine that came to life and ate teachers when they weren’t looking. No wonder I got second place – I thought it wasn’t fair! I quit writing for many years because I hated to lose.
But, I have always loved telling stories. The more convoluted, the better. My husband, an engineer, says I never get to the point. I meander through the fields, describing each flower, the sunset, and the taste of the toast in the inn before I would ever tell you there was a murder. I like to observe and then explain.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere and in every day life!
Describe a normal “writing” workday.
I take my little boy to school and find a workspace. This space might be a library, coffee shop, empty classroom at the school. Sometimes I might even go back home (which is a long drive since my son attends a special school for children with speech and hearing disorders).
It doesn’t have to be quiet, but sometimes it helps, because I listen to the characters in my head. They talk and I listen (I am merely the typist). My mind is always listening, so I can’t say that the 2-3 hours that I sit in the chair and rearrange words are my “working” time. I’m always working. Looking. Seeing. Listening. Absorbing.
So, I sit in a chair and editing and rearrange words about 15 hours a week. I market myself another 5-10 hours a week (communications with editors, PR, agent, website, bookstores, etc). Then, there is the book keeping part of it. I also nap daily – which is part of my work routine. I need time to dream and recharge – otherwise the people in my head can’t talk. They will just beat their hands against the glass like prisoners without the telephone. I won’t be able to hear them. They will riot. I will be frustrated. All will suffer. Then, school will be over, and I will start my other job. Mommy, chauffeur, wife. I’m lucky my husband hasn’t fired me, yet. Neither has the dog. Both are very forgiving.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
I love new writers. Their hearts are big and new, like toddlers. Their words are bright and shiny. They have fought hard to get into the world.
What advice would you give aspiring writers and why?
Be a rat. Rats are savvy. They learn from their mistakes.
Humans can be very determined, but they expect if they do the same thing over and over again, they will yield a different result. This is also the definition of insanity. If I continued to submit the same story I started with in 2002 and never changed or edited it, I would be in the same place – the rejection pile.
A rat in a maze that is fed a piece a cheese at one door will learn to visit that door. But, when the cheese is moved, the rat will learn to move.
Aspiring writers may have the talent, but you will need the ability to edit and receive criticism to succeed.
To learn more about Bettina, her books and her life, check out her website at http://www.bettinarestrepo.com. Her picture book Moose and Magpie is available at your local bookstore or at your favorite online book provider.
This interview orginally appeared in the July 2009 edition of the Houston Banner