June 26, 2019

Birth Stories for Books, CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?, by Estela Bernal

Can You See Me Now? by Estela Bernal
One of the things I most love about the Birth Stories for Books series on my blog is getting to know members of my writing community a little more deeply. I met Estela Bernal several years ago. We’ve signed books together, shared meals at book-related events, and exchanged friendly conversation at these opportunities, but we’ve not really gotten to know each other beyond these settings.

I really enjoyed getting to know Estela a little bit better as we prepared for this blog post, and I look forward to the next in-person opportunity to connect with her.

Friends, meet Estela Bernal: Air Force veteran, former teacher and social worker, SCBWI and Willamette Writers member, CASA volunteer, foster parent, and author of CAN YOU SEE ME NOW? (Piñata Books, 2014).

My Writing Secret
by Estela Bernal

Born and raised in a small Texas town, my love of books and reading began in first grade. Like most Hispanic kids at that time, I didn’t have books at home and there were no libraries anywhere near the town, much less in the neighborhood. When I started learning English and suddenly had access to books and other written material, I was hooked. I read everything I could get my hands on, as if trying to make up for lost time.

To this day, I can’t remember how or where I found a copy of The Good Earth. I read and re-read it, losing myself in that world—strange and exotic, yet familiar in so many ways. Since my father was a farmer, perhaps it was my own family’s connection to the land that drew me in and held my interest.

Although I did my share of writing in college, my writing was limited to reports, essays, and such. Unlike most writers, though, it never occurred to me to write my own stories until many years later. It came about in a unique and unexpected way. I was at a Tish Hinojosa concert in a small and intimate venue in Davis, California. Tish sang folk songs, traditional Mexican songs, and some of her own compositions (many of them about social injustice). That very evening, I decided I wanted to write. Rather than songs, though, I immediately decided I’d like to write for children.

My writing journey started with reading books on craft and many more children’s books. Along the way, I took writing classes here and there. I found the whole process fascinating and, although I was working full time and had a part-time job, I spent most of my spare time reading and trying to write.

After I’d been writing for a while, I attempted a YA novel and entered it in a UC Irvine writing contest. I was surprised and elated when, a few months later, I got a $500 check and a letter informing me my entry had won 2nd place. At the ceremony held to celebrate the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners, one of the staff said, “Your friends and family must be very proud of you.” She was shocked when I confessed that no one even knew I wrote.  “Well, now you’ll have to come out of the closet, won’t you?”

But even with that validation of my work, I remained in my little writing closet for a while longer. It wasn’t until I retired from my jobs that I finally shared my “secret” with family and co-workers who were just as surprised as the UC Irvine staff member.

My retirement wasn’t really official until three months after I moved to Portland where I had much more time to indulge my reading and writing passions. I somehow found out about an organization called The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It so happened that the regional group was having a picnic. I couldn’t believe my luck at finding such a resource and the local group of amazing fellow writers. It was there that I met the lovely Dawn and learned about an upcoming Silver Falls retreat. At the retreat I met Kim Kasch. We were both looking for a critique group and, after several short-lived attempts we ended up forming the Rose City Writers group which meets every other week.

I’ve lost count of how many conferences, workshops, and retreats I’ve attended since. I always come away totally energized and motivated to keep going.

Oregon Reads Aloud
My MG novel Can You See Me Now? was published in 2014. A couple of years later, thanks to another lovely lady, Amber Keyser, I was asked if I’d be interested in writing a story for the collection (Oregon Reads Aloud) which celebrates Start Making a Reader Today (SMART’s) 25th anniversary. I was not only honored to join a very talented group of local writers and illustrators, but it was especially meaningful to be part of a project that does so much for schools and children who may otherwise not have the beautiful experience of having a reading mentor. As a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for children in foster care, I knew many CASAs are also SMART readers, so that made it even more special.

Although my free time has again shrunk quite drastically (since I became a foster parent myself to a very active nine-year-old), I continue to attend as many writing events as I can fit in and write a little whenever I can. Some recent SCBWI events (a Novel Idea in April and a Picture Book Intensive in May) were a special treat because, not only did I have the opportunity to absorb great information, I also got to connect with fellow writers and meet new writers and illustrators.

I continue to draw inspiration from others’ creative journeys. I’m currently reading (mostly during the few quiet moments before my own bedtime) A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, a collection of letters by authors, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and philosophers about the impact reading has had on their lives. Each letter is accompanied by an illustration. As I read these letters, the young reader still curled up inside my heart, keeps nodding, smiling and being reminded that, despite the different creative paths we each may follow, there is one common thread that binds us all—our love of books and reading.

It’s been a wonderful journey so far and SCBWI continues to play a very important role in my life.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your path to publication, Estela, and about some of the other aspects of your life. I'm so glad your secret is out!

Estela Bernal is an Air Force veteran, former teacher and social worker, as well as a member of SCBWI and Willamette Writers. Her MG novel (CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?) was a finalist in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards. Her PB story Mount Tabor: Home of Ardi the Squirrel was published by Graphic Arts Books as part of an anthology of stories by Oregon authors (OREGON READS ALOUD). Learn more at her website, www.estelabernal.com.

“I believe reading plays a key role in a child’s education and am a big supporter of diversity in children’s books. Because I support diversity in children's lit, I help sponsor a writing contest for children through Skipping Stones, a multicultural literary magazine for children based in Eugene, OR, which promotes diversity in children's books. Through my readings, workshops, and classroom presentations, I hope to instill a love of reading, writing, and learning among children, particularly underprivileged children. I’m currently revising two YA novels (one historic and one contemporary), one MG novel, and several PB stories—all in various stages of completion.”


Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019), and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.

1 comment:

  1. Gracias, ladies. I learned a lot reading this blog. Like you, Dawn, I didn't know that Estela was an Air Force veteran. WOW! I can't hardy wait for that story, beginning with the "no books to read to the a woman in the Air Force to writing for children.

    Carmen La loca, didn't know about this fabulous blog! Live and learn.