Monday, July 14, 2014

Estela Bernal, Can You See ME Now?, plus #giveaway to #teachers and #librarians

AUTHOR:  Estela Bernal
BOOK TITLE: Can You See ME Now?
GENRE:  Contemporary Middle Grade/Fiction
úblico Press

Because I feel strongly about reaching out to diverse populations, I would like to offer a copy of Can You See ME Now? to a teacher or librarian in a community with a large ethnic minority population who responds with the best comment/description of his/her patrons or students and why they would benefit from reading this book.  Please post your comments on this site.  I’ll contact the “winner” and post the comments here and on my website. 

Please tell us about yourself.

I’m a native Texan who, through the military, ended up in California’s high desert.  After living and working in California for many years, I moved to Oregon where I now live and write.  I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), SCBWI-OR, Willamette Writers, and the Rose City Writers.

Please tell us your latest news.

My latest and most exciting news is that my debut novel (Can You See ME Now?) was just released by the University of Houston’s Arte Público Press.  I received my complimentary copies a week later and it was a thrill to finally hold the actual book in my hands.

When and why did you begin writing?

About twenty years ago I attended a concert in Davis, California where a fellow Texan, Tish Hinojosa, played Tejano music, sang traditional Mexican songs, and performed some of her own compositions.  After the concert, I began thinking about how to best express my own creativity.  Until then, I’d never considered writing creatively. 

Since I grew up without books and didn’t learn English until I started first grade, I fell in love with books as soon as I learned to read.  I’ve been trying to make up for lost time ever since, reading everything from picture books to young adult and regular adult fiction and nonfiction. 

It didn’t take long to notice that books written by “authors of color” were pretty rare.  I read those I could find and decided to not only write for a multicultural audience, but to use the author’s proceeds from my writing for two of my favorite causes:  education and animal welfare.

What inspired you to write your first book?

Although Can You See ME Now? is my first published book, it is not the first novel I wrote.  Although a version of that first manuscript won second place in UC Irvine’s Chicano/Latino Literary Prize, it has gone through many revisions and title changes and is still evolving.  I’m currently working on what I hope is the final draft of that particular YA story.

When I go to authors’ readings, I notice that one of the most common questions is “Where did you get the idea for this book?”  I don’t know about other writers, but for me it’s very hard to pinpoint a specific source of an idea.  One of my nephews died accidentally a few years ago.  The accident happened in front of his wife and children and I began to wonder how such a tragic event would affect the family who witnessed it.  Perhaps that was the inspiration for Mandy Silva’s story, although other than the father’s death, there are no similarities between the real story and the fictional one.

Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them?

My publisher is the University of Houston’s Arte Público Press.  I first learned about them when I won second place in the above-mentioned contest as they were the press that published the winning novel.   Founded in the late 1970s by Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, a professor of Hispanic literature at the university, they began publishing Hispanic writers like Sandra Cisneros and playwright/filmmaker Luis Váldez along with many others.  In 1994 they added their imprint Piñata Press which is dedicated to the publication of children’s literature.  They continue working to expand their mission through programs such as The Latino Children’s Wellness Program that enables them to distribute books to low-income children in urban and rural areas.

A couple of years ago at a Wordstock event I sat in on a panel discussion by authors whose work had been published by small presses and I decided to submit my own work to Arte which publishes 30 titles each year.  One advantage of working with a small press is that they allowed me to express my ideas on the cover design.  As a result, I was able to work with Gigi Little, a very talented local cover designer.  The model on the cover is a niece of mine who is the same age as the point-of-view character in Can You See ME Now?

What are your current projects?

I have completed a middle-grade novel in which the severely-disabled protagonist, influenced by his adventure-loving grandmother, refuses to let a broken body limit his own adventures.  Through his vivid imagination he’s able to leave behind his disabilities and travel to unique and exciting destinations no one else has ever seen.

In addition to the manuscript I mentioned earlier, I’m also working on a historical fiction YA novel.

How can we find you? 

I may be found at and my Twitter handle is @estelabernal123.  I will be announcing scheduled reading events on my website, Facebook page, and through local media and online publications/blogs.

Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.

Can You See ME Now? was released May 31, 2014 and launched at the Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton on June 30th.  Since Kirkus Reviews did such a great job of summarizing it, I’ll use their summary to describe it:

Tragedy strikes on Mandy’s 13th birthday when her father is struck by a drunk driver and killed.  Now grief—both her own and her mother’s—complicates the already confusing landscape of early adolescence. 

With her mother working more and more hours in the wake of her father’s death, Mandy begins spending most of her time living with her grandmother.  Often the target of bullies, loner Mandy approaches Paloma to be her partner for a school project.  Paloma is also a misfit, but she carries herself with a self-assured grace that Mandy finds compelling.  As she becomes closer to Paloma, she learns about the practices of yoga and meditation, which are foundational in Paloma’s family.  An overweight boy in class, Rogelio, is also touched by tragedy when his family’s home burns down and Paloma invites him to join their yoga crew.  As the three continue practicing together, they each begin to cultivate their own peace amid the chaos in their lives.  Though each faces personal challenges, they find friendship and support in one another.  Bernal has succeeded in crafting a story that acknowledges tragedy without wallowing in it, placing her emphasis on resilience and personal growth.  The quick pace and distinctive characters make for a smooth, well-crafted read.

What influences your writing?

I’m influenced by current events that affect kids at the age level that I write for.  I’ve always had a very soft spot in my heart for the “underdog” and tend to gravitate toward characters who face long uphill challenges in their lives.  I also think about the kind of stories I would have liked to read when I was a child and try to develop characters that kids of all backgrounds can relate to.

Also, when I won that second-place prize in the UC Irvine contest, I was approached by a couple of young women (students) who told me how much they’d enjoyed reading the manuscript.  One of them said, “You have to keep writing.  These are stories that need to be told.”  I was very touched by their sentiments and wish I’d asked for their names so that I could personally thank them these many years later.

Why did you choose to write a children’s book?

As I said earlier, I grew up in a home without books and, unfortunately, this is still the case for many children whose parents are unable to read to them for some reason or other.  I love all books, but I especially love children’s books and hope to write stories that will touch children in such a way that will help them fall in love with reading and learning.

What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?

I hope this book will encourage readers to pause to consider how their words and actions affect others and to reflect on how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of angry words and hurtful actions.  I also hope they understand there are alternatives to violence and that when we’re going through difficult times we should not hesitate to seek help.

Do you have any tips for writers who are new to children’s literature?

I would encourage them to join organizations like SCBWI and Willamette Writers and make use of their many resources, to attend conferences where they can connect with writers, agents and editors in order to learn what is currently happening or is expected to happen in the world of books and the publishing business.  I’d also encourage them to attend events such as book festivals (Wordstock for example).

One very important habit for writers to develop early on is to read, Read, READ.  When I decided to write, I began by reading.  I read as many books as I could from the greatest books and award winners lists and am still making my way through such lists and new releases.  I also read books on craft and refer to some of my favorites whenever I need to. 

What books are you currently reading?

I just finished Read Like a Writer by Francine Prose and am reading some of her suggestions like The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead.  I’m making my way through a list of greatest children’s books and reading Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Becoming Naomi León while also reading my latest issue of Glimmer Train.

What books have most influenced your life?

My degrees are in Spanish, so I read a lot of Spanish novels in college.  I love Don Quijote and Cien Años de Soledad.  A Wrinkle in Time, Bridge to Terabithia, To Kill a Mockingbird and The House on Mango Street among others have also impressed me greatly and serve as inspirations and models of great writing.


  1. Most writers I've known become writers after being readers all their lives. Strange to think of a writer coming from a childhood without books.

    1. Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds just have to work harder to realize their dreams. That's why it's so important to get books into the hands of those who don't have them. Otherwise, we may never benefit from the contributions they would've made in whatever career they chose to pursue. And that would be our loss.

  2. Estela, CONGRATS on your recent book release.

  3. Congrats, Estela! What a lovely interview! I loved hearing about how you came to be a writer.

    1. Thanks, Jenni. My latest interview was with my "hometown" newspaper and the young woman writing the article has the same name as the POV character. This is opening so many doors for me and I'm enjoying every minute of this amazing experience.