My guest today is children's author Lupe Ruiz-Flores. Lupe has led quite an intriguing and interesting life. Though she's now a children's author, she used to be an aerospace engineering technician for the Department of Defense and once lived in Thailand and Japan. She was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to answer my questions about her life and her writing.
Thanks for being here today, Lupe. Why don't you start by telling our readers a little about yourself and how you started writing?
First, let me thank you for this interview. I think I’ve always been a writer at heart. I was born and raised in southwest Texas, but have also lived in California, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. I come from a large close-knit family where my sisters are my best friends. My grandmother and father were great storytellers. I guess that’s where my love for storytelling comes from. We couldn’t afford books when I was growing up, so I spent as much time as I could at the school library.
Even though I worked in a technical field for many years, I always had that desire to write. Since my degree was not in journalism or creative writing, I had my doubts. But then I won a few writing contests and that gave me the confidence I needed. Since then, I’ve immersed myself in the writing process by reading books on writing, and attending writing workshops and conferences.
I was intrigued by the fact that you've lived in various exotic countries. Has the experience of living abroad influenced your writing?
Absolutely. Living in Thailand and Japan was a cultural experience. Diversity is a wonderful thing. My children attended the International School of Bangkok with classmates who came from all parts of the world. It was extremely educational for them. Learning about and respecting other people’s cultures also opens up a whole new world.
We had fun riding on elephants and visiting the pagodas (temples) in Bangkok. Buddhist monks in orange flowing robes strolled past our house every morning. I picked up enough of the Thai language to go shopping, that’s all. In Okinawa, we once huddled inside our house in the middle of a raging typhoon. Since we lived on an island, it was a great adventure watching giant ships coming in on the harbor. I learned to pattern draft from a Japanese tailor who had lost both legs in World War II.
You used to work as an aerospace engineering technician. That's quite a jump to picture books!
I guess it is. I loved my job – working on aircraft systems in the aircraft structural integrity branch for the Department of Defense. At the time, it was a nontraditional role for a woman.
My jump from that job to writing picture books didn’t happen right away. Initially, I wrote nonfiction articles for a national magazine. I interviewed people and wrote their stories. I found that extremely inspiring.
Tell us a bit about your children's picture books. Did you write them in English or Spanish? Did you want them to be bilingual or was this your publisher's idea?
I love the way children’s eyes light up when I read them my picture books during school visits. I call them picture story books because they have quite a bit of text as opposed to a few words and lots of pictures. It was the publisher’s idea to make the books bilingual and I was thrilled. I like the fact that the same exact text is in English and Spanish on the same page. I believe some schools use my books in their bilingual education classes. Since I am bilingual, I sometimes do the readings in Spanish.
What would you say to people who think picture books are easy to write?
Sometimes they’re harder to write because you have to develop your characters and tell the story in a limited word count. You don’t have the luxury of really fleshing out your characters as you would in a novella or novel. The structure of the story is the same, though.
How are your writing habits? Are you disciplined?
I wish I were more disciplined. I don’t have a set time to write. But I do find that I am more alert and creative in the early morning hours or late at night. I love to do research and I can get carried away with that and get distracted from what I’m supposed to be doing. I think I work better under pressure. When I was writing for a local newspaper and had deadlines, I really focused and always met my deadlines.
Do you have an agent? How was the publishing process for you?
I do not have an agent yet. So far, the publishing process has been good for me, but I find it extremely competitive and frustrating at times. I’ve gotten my share of rejections like everyone else. But on the bright side, I have had numerous nonfiction articles published in magazines. Some of my poetry has been published in anthologies as well. I’ve had two bilingual picture story books published (Lupita’s Papalote and The Woodcutter’s Gift) and a third one due out in 2010 (Battle of the Snow Cones). I’ve finished a middle-grade historical fiction piece and hope to find a publisher soon. My work in progress is another middle-grade story.
Do you do a lot of school presentations?
I do quite a few school presentations, book signings, and book fairs/festivals. I enjoy meeting other authors and illustrators at some of these events. I always make friends and learn something new about the writing/publishing business at these functions.
Leave us with some words of wisdom...
Be passionate about what you do. Give your reader an experience with your story. Nurture yourself spiritually and as a writer. Connect with other writers. It is never too late to realize your dream. Never give up. Hope you visit my site at www.luperuiz-flores.com and my blog at www.luperuiz-flores.blogspot.com.