I’m so thrilled to interview author, Ernesto Cisneros, about his debut must-read, Efrén Divided. (Harper Collins) This own-voices novel will be released in six months (March 31, 2020) and the reviews are already buzzing:
Let’s see what Ernesto has to say…
Q1 Which of these quotes from Efrén Divided best describes your writing process?
- “I always read [write] the ending first.”
- “If Ama were here, she’d roll up her sleeves and wave a wooden spoon and make a milagro happen. The pressure was on.”
- Reading [writing] books “was like visiting an old friend.
Ernesto Cisneros: #2 for sure. Whenever I manage to complete a scene, it always feels like a miracle. It is very difficult to find time to write so I treat every page as a true blessing. That said, I also feel a sense of magic whenever a character grows so real and lifelike that they begin to decide how they handle the challenges you create and place before them. I then simply sit back and enjoy watching the story unfold just like any reader would.
Speaking of miracles…
Q2 Without giving away any spoilers, can you tell us if, during the writing process, did you always know how the book would end?
Ernesto Cisneros: Yes and No. I knew exactly how the novel needed to end, but I was clueless on how to wrap up all the loose subplots. Making it all come to fruition in an organic, believable way was a milagro (miracle) in itself.
Q3: Which character is most like you?
- Jennifer Huerta
- Mr. Garrett (or one of the other teachers)
- Amá or Apá
Ernesto Cisneros: I’d have to say that Efrén is what I used to be like at his age. Something that never made it to the book, but I wish could have, were my experiences as a paperboy. I remember coming home with my first monthly paycheck (from 2 routes) and finding my mom in the kitchen trying to figure out how to pay the bills and how reluctant she was to accept my money.
Ernesto cont’d: However, at this point in my life, I identify most with Apá in the sense that there is nothing he won’t do for his family. Throughout the story, we see him sacrifice without ever thinking of himself—he is the father I strive to be.
Windows and mirrors
Q4: How much does Efrén’s experience mirror your own?
Ernesto Cisneros: I’ve grown up in the world depicted in the book. I have family on both sides of the border and like Efrén, I struggle to accept why I—and not other family members—was blessed with the fortune (and obvious benefits) of being born a US citizen. Everything in the book comes from either my experiences or those very close to me.
Q5: Tell us more about the qualities that make Amá a soperwoman.
Ernesto Cisneros: The character of Amá is based completely from my real-life mother. She has always been soper (super). Whether it was finding the means to provide food, clothes or a way to pay the mortgage, she always made milagros happen—even when things were especially tough.
Q6: How did it feel to show this book to your parents?
Ernesto Cisneros: To be perfectly honest, I feel like Efrén Divided belongs more to them than to myself. They are the ones who left Mexico as teenagers to make a better life for themselves and their children. Any success I have is because of their continuous sacrifices.
When each of my siblings graduated from college, we each handed our diplomas to our parents because they were responsible for our success.
Thank you Smurf cartoons!
Q7: You incorporate Spanish in the story, in a way that allows a wide range of readers to understand the content. For example, first Apá tells Efrén he’s proud of him (in Spanish) and Efrén responds with “I’m proud of you too.” This technique lets a non-Spanish speaker understand the meaning of Dad’s words. Can you tell us how this technique evolved?
Ernesto Cisneros: Using a second language is tricky. As an author, I never want to add a translation because that’s not how people naturally speak. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I honed this skill by watching old Smurf cartoons. Yes, Smurf cartoons. If you are familiar with them, you know that they routinely use the word smurf in place of everyday nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs—and yet, we completely understand their meaning simply by the context. For example, “We are going smurfing at the pool” means that they are going swimming.
Q8: Is there a question that others haven’t asked you yet?
Ernesto Cisneros: No one has asked me which part of the writing process I struggle with the most. The answer is: ALL OF IT.
Ernesto Cisneros: I don’t consider myself a very good writer. In fact, I feel like I’m not very good compared to most published authors. However, I am willing to rewrite as many times as it is necessary to get my stories to match the quality of my peers. When I was young and still played basketball, I was always the skinniest, least skilled and athletic player on the court. But I never hesitated to dive for loose balls and fight people for the ball. I used to will the ball into the hoop. Writing is no different.
“Writing is no different.”
Q9: Last but not least, since my picture book, SNOW GLOBE WISHES, has just released (Sleeping Bear Press/ Illus. Claire Shorrock): If you had a magic snow globe that could grant one wish, what would you wish for?
First of all, snow globes are amazing. They let us step out of the world and see ourselves from an entirely new perspective. If there was one that could grant me a wish, I think I’d wish that people all over the world would forget about themselves and start thinking about putting others first. The world would be completely different (for the better).
Thank you so much, Ernesto–for not only answering my questions but for writing this important book!
Ernesto is a middle school teacher and SCBWI co-ARA in southern California. If you’d like to learn more about him, go to ernestocisneros.com and follow @Author_ Cisneros on Twitter.