Rooting for Rafael Rosales by Kurtis Scaletta
The cover intrigued me. I loved the soft aqua background and my eye was instantly drawn to the faces of the two children. I admit that initially I was puzzled by the inclusion of so much plant and animal life. Exactly what was the story about? The cover had me wondering...
As I begin reading I realized that the cover introduces the complex nature of a story told in the voices of two very different people born into distinct and very dissimilar cultures. Rafael is a boy from the Dominican Republic who discovers his life's passion in street games of baseball. Maya's sweet sensibility rests in nurturing the Minnesota prairie, including bees that pollinate her tender plants.
Scaletta finds a thread which connects individuals who appear to have nothing in common. Meet Rafael and Maya: kids who dare to dream, to overcome disappointment, and to make a way for the impossible to seem possible.
Mr. Scaletta, I have a Question
Well, actually I have several questions
During and after reading Rooting for Rafael Rosales, there were several questions floating around in my head about the book and its development. Albert Whitman & Company was kind enough to put me in touch with author Kurtis Scaletta. He graciously replied to my query, responding with some interesting observations about the process of creating such an intricate story. He also included a few comments about writing and the arts community in Minnesota.
Yep, my most important project management tool is a good ol’ calendar. I write down what happens each day for a character over the span of a story. In this case I also needed to include a real baseball schedule for the teams Rafael is playing on. I feel it adds verisimilitude if I’m working from a real schedule.
This was more complicated for Rafael’s half of the story because it takes place over years, but I had to think about the DR baseball season, major holidays, school year, and even the sugar season. And I had to think about his age and where a boy would be in the process, coming up as a baseball player.
In terms of plot I use a skeletal outline for each character, showing their setbacks and successes. It is a zigzag, not an arc… ups and downs.
How did Rafael and Maya develop? Was each character’s story initially created separately or did they evolve together during the writing process?
I went back and forth between the two as I wrote, but was usually immersed in one or the other. I knew from the start it was a dual narrative, and where they would first intersect, but bringing them back together in an interesting way took some creativity.
I was intrigued with the first sentence in your acknowledgments: “It is audacious to write outside one’s own cultural experience.” I have listened to several authors speak on this topic and they mentioned that in addition to the extensive research that is required when writing about other cultures, the “devil is in the details.” Each noted specific changes that were made to the manuscript after it was read and vetted by those with first-hand knowledge of the culture. Were there elements which required modifying after others read drafts of your book?
Yes, I got feedback from several readers from the DR and am very grateful for their input.
One of the early “oops” moments was that I kept having Rafael’s family sitting down for supper at the end of the day, before being reminded that the big meal of the day in the D.R. is lunch and that was when they would have their family talks.
Another change was, it is very easy for North Americans to fall back on nuclear family as the basic unit for writing about family, and that’s not true for most of the world… the DR has a much more expansive idea of family, where uncles and aunts and grandparents and cousins are part of your daily life. It’s hard to manage a large cast of characters, but realizing that helped me shape the character of Rafael’s family and contrast him more with his friends.
I notice that you infuse the text with Spanish words and phrases, often in italics, which are not translated into English. What influenced your decision to include Spanish words and phrases?
I wanted a sprinkling of Spanish to add color and remind readers that these characters are actually not speaking English; I especially used words that show a little slang and baseball terminology. That was a lot of fun to do. I spent pretty much the whole time I was writing it actively learning Spanish.
Sideline Observation: There seems to be an abundance of children’s authors living in Minnesota. Is there something in the water? Do the long winters provide ample writing time? Is it the state’s vibrant literary community? What is it about Minnesota?
It’s a great state to be a writer in any genre, and I think it’s also a great state to be a visual artist, filmmaker, musician, actor… anyone connected to the arts. There’s a lot of support for the arts here, from the community and from the state government. I want to mention that specifically because the Minnesota State Arts Board helped fund the writing of this book, through an artist initiative grant.
But it’s also a great culture for the arts, and I think it’s one where people lift each other up and support each other. We turn out for each other’s events, talk up each other’s books, read each other’s drafts… it’s a wonderful community and I don’t think I’d have done much without them.
Thank you Kurtis