This month, we talk to author Ernesto Cisneros about his debut novel, Efrén Divided. In this exclusive interview, we learn about what inspired his book and what he loves most about writing.
This month, Ernesto has challenged us to use our memories:
Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half. Now take THREE minutes to complete a list of some of your favorite foods. Then, on the other half, record all the memories you associated with each item. You will probably discover that your favorite foods are somehow connected/associated to your favorite memories.
|Favorite Food||Memory Associated|
A Interview with Ernesto Cisneros
When did you start working on Efrén Divided? How did the story idea start and develop for you?
The story was born after three of my students experienced ICE raids at their home. Each one of them lost someone that year. I could see the fear and hurt in their eyes. There was so much uncertainty going around, that I knew I needed to do something. That’s how Efrén was born—a friend to help my students navigate through the nightmare they were living.
Did you know Efrén Nava the moment you began, or did you use specific strategies to get to know him more clearly? Do you have any tips or advice for other writers working on layered, complex characters?
I knew that the main character needed to be special, someone everyone could relate to, but also fall in love with. So finding a person to base him off of was simple: it would be my son, Isaac. He’s got the largest heart imaginable, but yet, doesn’t seem to realize how spectacular a trait that is.
My advice is this. Always get to know your character first. The plot is secondary. If we love your main characters, the reader will follow them just about anywhere. I’m pretty sure Lord of the Rings would have been just as successful had the story taken place in outer space.
Family relationships are a major part of your story. How did you approach developing those relationships?
At the heart of the story is the idea of a family doing the best it can to make a life for themselves. It’s the story of a man and a woman fleeing their homeland in search of a better life for their children. I simply thought about all the sacrifices that my own parents made for the sake of myself and my siblings. In part, Efrén Divided is an ode to my parents for everything they’ve done for us, everything they sacrificed.
Did you face any challenges when writing Efrén Divided? If so, how did you work through them?
There were so many. There were days that I didn’t know what would happen next. There were also days I thought I wasn’t good enough a writer to be attempting this. What worked best for me was simply allowing myself to write badly—really, really badly. Here’s the secret: Bad writing can be edited to become great writing. No writing will always remain… well, nothing.
The key for me is being willing to go back and revise, then go back and revise some more, then more, then again, and again—you get the idea.
In an interview with Mr. Jon Schu, you said, “In a sense, we are all authors, and EVERY ONE of our stories is worthy of being told—and that is true of everyone, regardless of one’s skin color or socioeconomic status.” For writers who are unsure how to begin telling their stories, do you have thoughts about how they might take a first step?
Don’t think. Just write. Shut your eyes, think about the memories that you hold special in your heart. Ignore everything else that might distract you like worries or problems—even that nasty voice of self-doubt. Now share those memories with the world and don’t hold back; the relationship between the writer and reader needs to be genuine and honest.
What do you like best about writing?
I love that I control what happens in the world. I made sure that everything that takes place is there for a reason—and that ultimately, everything will end in a way that makes sense to me. Writing is also therapeutic (like a good cry), and always helps me feel better. Especially when I know it is being shared with other pretty awesome people—like you!!!
Young Author's Studio: Design a Picture Book
Come artists and writers alike! In this writing and art-making workshop, you’ll play to your strengths, be those strengths visual art, storytelling, or both. We’ll create and refine a picture book text, design a book dummy, experiment with illustration style, and complete at least two finished spreads. You’ll walk away with all you need to take your book to completion!
This Zoom workshop in partnership with Stone Soup runs July 20-23 from 9 – 11 am (PST).
A special thanks to Ernesto Cisneros for sharing with us! Ernesto’s debut novel, Efrén Divided, is available everywhere books are sold on March 31st, 2020! Pre-order Here.
Ernesto Cisneros is a 20-year veteran teacher currently serving the city of Santa Ana: the colorful but mostly dismissed section of Orange County, California. He teaches reading and writing to local students at an inner-city intermediate school. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as an Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from National University.