Interview with Alda P. Dobbs, Author of The Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna (+ Giveaway!)
I can't say how thrilled I am to be joined today by Alda P. Dobb's, whose truly beautiful new book The Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna releases September 14.
Give us the elevator pitch—Barefoot Dreams in a sentence.
Twelve-year-old girl will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and make her dreams come true amidst the violence and chaos of the Mexican Revolution of 1913.
I love the description of a barefoot dream. Could you tell our readers about the significance of the title? Is this a phrase you heard as a child?
My grandmother was illiterate as a child and though she had many dreams, her main one was to learn to read and write. This dream, however, went against the traditions of her family and she often got in trouble for wishing to better herself. Her family believed the church when it stated that everyone had been assigned a certain lot in life from birth to death, to include a certain social status. She never believed this. I wanted to put this sentiment in the title. Also, as I combed through old photographs of impoverished families from that era, I noticed that the children were always barefoot. It struck me like a bolt of lightning that something as simple as shoes, which we take for granted, was a luxury to people back then. I combined both the bare feet from the photograph and my grandmother’s desire to learn to read, and the phrase “Barefoot Dreams” came to me.
I’m also so intrigued by the fact that this is a family story. Can you tell us more about that?
Sure. Growing up I loved listening to many family stories about my great-grandmother’s experiences during the Mexican Revolution. They all told of extraordinary events and unbelievable trials she endured as a child. One story in particular intrigued me. It was of my great-grandmother and her family anxiously waiting for the US border to open along with thousands of other people so that they could cross into safety. I decided to do some research to find out if it was true. Without having an exact date, I searched through old newspapers and after many months of research (and almost giving up!), I found an article that described the event exactly as my great-grandmother had recounted it. I knew then I had to share her story with everyone, and Petra Luna was born!
There’s such great descriptive writing throughout. One of my favorite phrases involves sweat beads that race down Petra’s back like lizards scrambling for shade. Do you enjoy descriptive writing? Does it come naturally? Any tips for becoming a better descriptive writer?Thank you so much for your flattering words! I do love descriptive writing and I feel I still have a lot to learn. I enjoy observing nature a lot and since this story takes place in the outdoors, I was able to incorporate a lot of what I’ve seen and experienced (not to mention how much I LOVE catching lizards!). I’d say a good tip is to always be observant of your surroundings, whether outdoors, at an amusement park, a café, or at a funeral, always observe your surroundings with all your senses. How does the place smell? What do you hear? How are people talking? What are children doing? Practice making mental notes or write them down so that you can later refer to them.
Did you incorporate any details handed down from your grandmother?I was able to infuse many details and emotions into the scenes thanks to feelings of despair, helplessness, and triumph passed along with every story. In one of the scenes where a lady throws coins on the floor that are owed to Petra, I had to transport myself to the times I heard my grandmother describe this and weave in the emotion I sensed as she told the story. These emotions blended in the stories guided my writing and scene creation.
What was the writing process like? Did having history—and a repeated family tale—help guide you, or did it almost bog you down? (Sometimes, you can almost know too much!)
That’s true! You’re absolutely right. Sometimes having too many family stories can feel overwhelming. For me, my family stories helped inspire characters, their actions, and their beliefs. They also served as a frame or a base into which I could mold scenes that helped carry the plot. The family tales also gave meaning to a lot of the photographs I came across in my research. The expressions on people’s faces, their clothes, their environments all transported me to a world I felt I already knew thanks to my family’s experiences.
How did you go about building the characters?
That’s a great question. I think I first imagine scenes. I see them as an open stage where characters are invited to step in. If they’re a “fit”, meaning they feel organic to the scene, I let them stay, if not, they’re out. Some of the characters were inspired by people I know or knew but most came from my imagination after reading narratives and interviews of people who lived through the Mexican Revolution. Many photographs from that era also inspired characters.
Where did the tiny diamond detail come from? I think it’s such a powerful symbol.
Aww, thank you! I was born in a region in northern Mexico called the La Region Carbonífera, or the coalmining region. My grandfather was a coalminer, and through him and the rest of the town’s people, I learned firsthand the pride everyone had in this precious black stone. I wanted to incorporate this feeling into the story since it takes place in that region. When I was a child, I was told diamonds came from coal that had been put under immense pressure, and even then, it made me wonder if the same applied to people. Luckily, I still had that thought when I wrote this book!
Why MG? Really, this story is somewhat ageless. As an adult, I still find Petra’s story riveting. I can imagine it being an adult story as well, one featuring a young protagonist. Why did you want to write in this age category specifically?
I’ve always had a special admiration for tweens. There are so many changes coming at them head-on as they stand on the verge of claiming independence while still being afraid to let go. I also admire the courage children exhibit during dire circumstances. By writing this story geared towards young readers, I want them to know that they too have the power and determination to be a leader like Petra. Sometimes we adults don’t give children enough credit yet they are capable of so much if we give them the space and confidence to grow and figure things out on their own. I also want young readers to have hope and realize that no matter the circumstances, they too can look up to their dreams for guidance and strength during dire times. But honestly, I also wrote this book with the intent to share a good story that would appeal to any age group. I wanted to give all readers a sense of the Mexican Revolution and its effects on the poor, the rich, and the foreigners.
Every project we tackle changes us—as writers, as people. What was the biggest impact writing this book had on you?
Wow, that’s an incredible question. For one, I feel I’m a lot closer to my ancestors. I feel I’m more grateful for all their sacrifices and more aware of the many hardships they endured to give me a life full of opportunities.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on Book 2 now! It’s still untitled but follows Petra Luna and her family to a refugee camp in Eagles Pass, Texas and then to San Antonio where 30,000 refugees settled during that time. I’m also working on the Spanish translation of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and will soon record the Author’s Note for the audio book. I’m also kicking the idea of a picture book and a historical YA. Stay tuned!
Like to hear more? Check out this video of Alda talking about Barefoot Dreams. And be sure to visit her at
Click the link below to enter to win a signed copy of The Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna (or a Petra Luna coffee mug):