Here's my interview with the amazing Rebecca Minelga! So excited to host her on the blog today!
What first inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always been a bit of an armchair writer and have dabbled in it for years. Writing a book has always been on my bucket list, but for a long time I didn’t feel like I had a compelling story to tell. When personal issues led me down a journey into advocacy and, later, speaking and teaching, I had the opportunity to convert a powerful Bible Study into book format and seized the chance. Since then, I’ve completed a second manuscript and am working on a third.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
In general, I’m pretty centrist. I tend to have a plan and an outline, often only in my head, but the details come as I sit down to write. Now, that being said, as I’m moving into my next project, which has series potential, I’ve done a lot more outlining. As my first foray into fiction, I have a lot more threads to keep track of, as well, so I’m finding I’m more of a plotter than I thought was.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Both! I’ve written about the Apostle Paul and also memoir, so obviously they’re pretty real. With my new project, most of the characters are imaginary, though pretty rooted in reality, and a few of the characters in possible later books in the series are more “inspired by” real people or stories.
What book have you read that has most influenced your life and writing?
I don’t think any writer or voracious reader could possibly choose just one, but if I had to, I think I’d point to a middle-grade book that I read in my early teens, “Follow My Leader.” It chronicles the story of a boy who is blinded when a firecracker accidentally goes off in his face and his struggles as he seeks to overcome his limitations. Eventually, he receives a guide dog and it revolutionizes his life.
For me, it proves why our stories, real or imaginary, need to be told. That book still sits on my self today, binding stripped bare, pages dog-eared and torn, held together with packing tape and a prayer. And as I type this, at my feet lies my ninth guide dog puppy in training, TUSCON. A story I read twenty years ago has now defined my life for the last decade, inspired a memoir that I’m currently querying, and led to a full-length documentary film that is in theaters now.
Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years?
I love dreaming about the future, but I’m afraid I’m a bit too much of a realist to ever let my imagination run away from me. In five years, I’d like to have three to five published books: my memoir, all three in my new series, and enough inspiration left over to be embarking on a new project. I’d also love to continue speaking and teaching, because I absolutely love sharing my journey with others and helping them achieve their own goals.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?
I don’t know that she’s my favorite, but in my current project I have a main character named Abby who comes from a very tragic background and is grappling with how to cope. I feel like she’s a very courageous character for me to write in a lot of ways. She isn’t a strong character as strength is currently defined in our culture, especially as it applies to women. She struggles with codependency and coping with a traumatic background, but I’ve given myself permission to let her be self-destructive instead of “strong.” She is a complete contradiction in so many ways, and communicating that to the reader in a way that doesn’t create cognitive dissonance and kick the reader out of the story is really challenging. I love her and I hate her and I’d never want to be her.
Any website or resources that have been helpful to you as a writer?
Google! No, seriously, I google everything: querying questions, fact-checking, agents, all of it! I’ve also had a lot of luck building a writer community on Twitter, so I’ve enjoyed that, and I read a lot on Writer’s Digest and generally find it pretty good. I also enjoy Book Ends Lit’s YouTube channel and blogposts for their insider view of the agenting industry. Otherwise, I can’t say there’s any particular places that I regularly go; I tend to read everything and sift it for the wisdom I can gain from it.
What do you love most about the writing process?
When it all comes together! I think any writer just lives for those moments that what is in our heads comes out our fingertips and onto the page, and it’s beautiful, eloquent, well-written... It’s rare, but it’s my absolute favorite!
If you could spend time as a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I have a therapy dog in my current project that just loves life to the fullest. She is this happy-go-lucky character that brings a smile to every person she comes in contact with. In one particular scene, her handler wonders if she’s been unfair to her, making her work as a therapy dog and spend all of her time with sick children, instead of surrounding her with the life and love of healthy ones. She watches as the dog plays in the pool with a young boy and realizes that she has the chance to give her dog both, a job and a family. Seems like a “best day ever” kind of scene.
(Just for the record, I’d want to be the dog.)
What are some tips you can give other aspiring writers?
Hard work will outlast raw talent every time. If you have some talent, that’s great, but it will mean nothing if you don’t put in the hours, write the manuscript, revise, query, and all the rest. It can be a long, exhausting process, and it will sift the wheat from the chaff. Be the wheat.
And in the same vein, the only difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is that the published writer didn’t give up. I’ve read stories of writers who’ve waited two, three, four manuscripts to get published. I just shake my head and think, “I sure hope not.” But if that’s what it takes, I’m in his for the long haul. As long as I have stories to tell, I’m going to keep writing them.
Finally, to write is a privilege. One that not everyone has the freedom to pursue. Be kind; support each other; support marginalized writers, who have a taller mountain to climb; always be grateful and thank the people who make your writing possible.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently querying a memoir about the last ten years spent raising guide dogs and the intertwining story of my own battle with depression.
I’m currently writing the first in a potential series based around a variety of working service dogs. It follows an extremely broken young woman who has subverted her trauma into helping others through the medium of a therapy dog that she has raised and trained. When she helps treat a young boy, she discovers that his single dad could mean a new chance for her own future, but first, thy both have to face the demons of their past.
I’m also in the midst of publicity for our documentary film, “Pick of the Litter,” which follows a litter of five puppies from birth through their training to, hopefully, become guide dogs for the blind. It is in over sixty theaters nation-wide, now, and streaming on most on-demand platforms. Shameless plug: you should totally go check it out; it’s amazing!
Can you share an excerpt with us from one of your novels/projects?
My shared office included both the Family and Childcare Directors, and Sarita always enjoyed the opportunity to visit with children while their parents met with the appropriate director. One afternoon, a staff member marched an elementary-aged boy into the office and sat him down across the desk from the Childcare Director. "I just don't know what's up with him," she told her supervisor. "He's never been like this, but he keeps hitting the other kids."
His head was bent and he stared at his shoes, arms crossed and expression belligerent in the way only young boys can manage. When asked if he wanted to talk, he simply shook his head and grumbled.
After several tries, the Director said, "Well, I'm going to need to call your parents. You'll have to hang out here until they arrive."
By now, Sarita was trusted enough to be loose in our office, only occasionally visiting the other directors, then returning faithfully to her bed. I stepped out, needing to make a quick copy for an upcoming meeting, and when I returned, Sarita was curled up at the boy's feet, head resting lightly on one dirty sneaker. I smiled, then reassured him, "You can pet her."
Moments later, he was out of the seat and laying on the floor, both arms wrapped around her. The Childcare Director and I locked eyes for a moment, but it was broken by the sound of a hiccupping sob. The story tumbled out in gulps and whimpers, the broken heart of a child who was different than his classmates and was paying the price for it. His family had lost their home earlier in the year, the economic downturn impacting our small community more than most. They were living in their car, his summer childcare costs being subsidized by the state, and there was no money for new clothes, school supplies, or even shoes to replace the ones that he'd outgrown and worn through.
Looking at his feet, tears welled in both our eyes as we realized his toes poked through the broken fabric and the heels were all but worn away.
"They're always mean to me," he whispered brokenly into Sarita's fur, fingers wound deep in her ruff. "They make fun of me because my pants are too short."
She licked his face, wiping the salty tears from his cheeks, and he pressed himself closer against her. Later, she would do the same for me, comforting me as I shared the boy’s story with my husband that night.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us before you go?
I think it’s really important to be a part of a writing community, even if it’s a small one, but I also know it can sometimes be hard for people to put themselves out there. So, consider this your personal invitation (yes, you): come look me up. Follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, whatever. I want to hear about your projects, and I want to tell you about mine. I want to commiserate when agents reject and celebrate that one yes we’re all waiting for. Let’s do this writing thing together!
About the Author:
Rebecca Minelga is a graduate of LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, where she studied liberal arts with an emphasis on the impact of Christian culture on history and literature. Now active in Hope Church’s Women of Hope, she uses those skills to present personal, accessible, and original Bible Study material on both topical and exegetical study material. She is an author, speaker, stay-at-home-mom, and is a Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Her diverse interests inform her writing and help bring to life many complex Biblical principles in easily understandable terms.
Rebecca is currently working closely with KTF Films and Guide Dogs for the Blind to present “Pick of the Litter,” an award-winning, feature-length documentary following five puppies from birth through advanced training in their quest to become guide dogs for blind- or visually-disabled individuals. Her accompanying book, also called PICK OF THE LITTER, chronicles the last decade spent raising eight puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Rebecca and her family welcomed puppy number nine this summer, a yellow female named TICSON. She is the daughter of one of Rebecca’s previous puppies.
“To All the Saints: Paul’s Letter to the Church at Philippi”
Pick of the Litter: www.pickofthelittermovie.com