Author Interview: Lupe Ruiz-Flores on Lupita’s Papalote

Lupita’s Papalote/El papalote de Lupita by Lupe Ruiz-Flores, illustrated by Pauline Rodriguez Howard, Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura (Arte Publico, 2002)(a bilingual picture book). Condensed from the catalog copy: Lupita sits on the wooden steps of her house and stares into the sky. Lupita cannot tear her eyes away from the colorful papalotes, or kites. Lupita yearns for one of her own. But the family needs to save all of its money for school supplies and other must-haves. The kite remains in Lupita’s mind until, with the help of her father, Lupita hatches a plan to make her very own.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

My father. When I was a little girl of about five, we really couldn’t afford to buy a fancy kite like some kids (not many) in the barrio where I grew up. I remember my father comforting me and telling me that we would make our own kite just like he used to when he was a little boy. Together we made it out of comics, old colorful rags, and bamboo sticks from the vacant yard next door. Then he taught me how to fly it. I remember the thrill of the kite pulling and tugging and the fear I felt at the force of the kite as it kept going higher and higher.

But what I remember most was a gesture that stayed with me to this day. When I was the most afraid of being swept up into the sky by the kite, my father who was standing behind me, must have sensed my anxiety because he placed his hand on my shoulder. As soon as I felt the warmth of his touch, the fear oozed out of me through my feet and I knew I was safe. The love that the human touch brings is powerful. I wanted that to be in my story.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The spark came in 1996 when I wrote a very rough first draft with the idea and filed it away for about three years. I was busy with career and family and didn’t know if I could even write something that someone would like. Once I retired from my career as an engineering technician, I really thought about pursuing writing. Since my background was all technical (Masters in Computer Information Management), I entered writing contests just to test the waters. I got my rejections but I also started winning some, i.e., subscriptions to magazines, a ton of deck supplies when I entered a Thompson Deck contest, and finally when I won a writing contest for Guideposts magazine, that gave me the self confidence I needed to continue.

In the summer of 1999, I revised the draft. I had no idea where or how to send it out. I read about a writing seminar being offered at one of our local universities. It was a one-day workshop and that was my initiation into the world of writers and publishing. One of the speakers, who turned out to be one of my closest friends, suggested to the audience that a certain publisher was looking for bilingual stories. I perked up. That was me. That was October 1999. I immediately mailed my manuscript out and by January 2000, I had a contract. Unbelievable! The book came out in October 2002.

I thought it was going to be easy from then on but it hasn’t been. I’ve had my share of rejections since then. Although now, I’m happy to announce, I just signed my second contract for another bilingual picture book tentatively titled, “The Woodcutter’s Gift.” Since then, I’ve attended as many writers’ workshops and conferences as I can. I’m immersing myself in the writing process. I have years to catch up on. This summer I attended the Highlights Foundation Workshop in Chautauqua, New York, and the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. I cannot tell you what an experience both were.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

With Lupita’s Papalote, there really wasn’t any research because I wrote it from the heart. I embellished it, of course, because the story becomes a fantasy for the little girl. I think bringing the book to life gave me a real sense of accomplishment when my entire family of 10 brothers and sisters, plus nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, my son, daughters, grandchildren(total close to 100 friends and relatives who showed up for my book signing) were there. The characters in my story were named after my real brothers and sisters. My sisters cried when they heard the inspiration for the story because they remembered. (My father died in 1980). Logistically, it wasn’t hard to bring the book to life because the illustrator lives in the same city I do and the publisher is only three hours away. I lucked out!

How has the book been received?

Very well. As of July, it has gone into its second printing and is on the Accelerated Reader list. I am presently working on a middle grade novel which does entail tons of research.

Cynsational News & Links

Chris Barton’s blog talks about some of the contemporary picture books he’s sharing with his son. I was honored to see that he’d pulled from the suggestions on my Web site.

Chris has one of the best blogs on the ‘net; most recently, he drew my attention to this interview with Cheryl Klein, an associate editor with Arthur A. Levine Books on the Rocky Mountain SCBWI site. The site also features an interview with Yolanda LeRoy, editorial director at Charlesbridge, and an interview with Michele Burke, assistant editor at Knopf.