The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Rebecca Balcárcel
Rebecca Balcárcel loves popcorn, her kitty, and teaching her students at Tarrant County College as Associate Professor of English. Moving to Texas as a child, she embraced both sides of her Guatemalan-American heritage. Rebecca not only loves corn on the cob; she loves corn tortillas!Find Rebecca on YouTube where she analyzes literature and chats about writing as the SixMinuteScholar.
Rebecca is the author of The Other Half Of Happy (2019), which was named a Pura Belpré Honor Book, an ALSC Notable Book, and the Best Middle Grade Book by Texas Institute of Letters. .
Her newest nonfiction book, Shine on, Luz Véliz, releases May 3rd.
Welcome Rebecca, thanks so much for stopping by to chat with us about your newest book and your writing.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing?)
I write at the nose tips and tails of days, either very early or very late! I’m a teacher, so my days are full, but I make time for creative work before or after my work with students. I’ve been writing since I got carried away with creating a short story for school at age twelve. It wasn’t until I turned twenty that I started writing more seriously, though.
Such an interesting way to describe the beginning and ending of a day! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I walked 160 miles in Spain in July 2021 on a medieval pilgrimage route called the Camino de Santiago. I walked about 15 miles a day and stayed in hostels all along the route. I took only a small backpack — just the essentials — because I had to carry it up every hill for two weeks!
Wow! That's amazing. What an accomplishment. As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book?
I loved SO many books, but the one I clutched to my chest was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
That's such an amazing book. What was your inspiration for Shine on, Luz Véliz?
My grandfather’s wood shop, full of tools and sawdust, inspired a very important place, Mr. Mac’s garage. When you step in, you think, “I could make anything in here!”
My science-loving cousins and geeky 7th grade coder friends inspired the robotics and programming. (TIP: A link to the actual game and Scratch code my character creates is on my website!)
I didn’t meet my real-life half-sister from Guatemala until adulthood, but I would have loved to grow up with her. An important book character is based on her, as readers will see!
Sounds like Luz is roughly based on your life. What was the hardest part about writing Shine on, Luz Véliz? The most fun part?
Learning about what LEGO Mindstorm robots can do and what parts they are made of — that was tough! I watched a lot of YouTube videos and downloaded the instructions and parts manual, lol!
Writing about Mr. Mac’s garage was a lot of fun. His walls are covered with posters of scientists, and his workbench is where everything from electronics to wood projects happens. Mr. Mac himself was also fun because he uses Texas phrases like, “All hat and no cattle.” An intergenerational friendship was new for me as a writer; I loved it!
You did a great job with Mr. Mac. I wish he'd been my neighbor. How did the writing and/or revision of Shine on, Luz Véliz differ from writing and/or revising The Other Half Of Happy?
My first book started out as a stack of poems about the main character, so it took a lot of work to morph that into a novel! My second book went a lot faster, mostly because I knew I was writing a novel from the start. Instead of years, it took months. It helps to know what kind of book you are writing!
True. Is there something you want your readers to know about Shine on, Luz Véliz?
The “head” of this book is coding and robotics, but the “heart” is sisters. When Luz finds out that she has to share her parents and share her room, she thinks it stinks, but her growth as a sister was so heartening to watch. Luz really deepens when she learns about immigrants, ESOL kids, and their stories.
You've done agreat job of engaging the reader and bringing us along on Luz's emotional and healing journey. How long did it take from first draft to publication for Shine on, Luz Véliz? If you keep track of the number of revisions, how many revisions did it take?
This book went fast! In January 2020, I had about ten chapters, and by May, I had about 30! It was exactly two years from first draft to publication, which means that the fast part was the drafting. My first book took six years, over four of which were drafting.
So, what is the toughest part in general about writing for you? The most amazing?
Drafting is the hardest part because everything is so wide open. Anything can happen, so it’s hard to know which choices to make. Once I have a draft, revising is amazing! This is when I get to amp up the voice, make the prose sing, and get all the words working toward the same goal.
It's fun to see who likes drafting and who likes revising. Having conquered “The Sophomore Book Slump,” did you find it easier to write your third book? Does it ever get easier?
I’m working on a third book now, and it’s kinda tough! It doesn’t get easier for me, maybe because each book has challenges that are specific to that book? I’m trying to enjoy the language and the characters, but I worry about plot more than I used to. I’m always watching the tension — is it sagging or increasing? Thinking about tension keeps me up at night!
I wish you luck with it. Are there any new projects you are working on that you can share a tidbit with us?
I'm tinkering with a book that takes place mostly in Guatemala. That should be fun to write!
We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books. During these crazy times, how are you, or have you been, staying creative?
It’s been weird! At first, I was super creative. I wrote almost all of this book during lockdown, and the cancellation of every appointment gave me time and space to create. Now, I’m finding it harder. The change was cool at first, but now the strain of living in the time of COVID is wearing on me. Taking walks helps.
Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Muir Woods is my favorite! All the parks have their charms (Yellowstone is AMAZING!), but the giant trees of Muir Woods rising out of the green ferns just made my heart brim over.
Thank you so much Rebecca for participating in this chat!
Be sure to come back on Friday for a special review of Shine On, Luz Véliz.
To learn more about Rebecca Balcárcel, or contact her: