Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. EFRÉN DIVIDED is his debut book.
Tanya Guerrero: Hi Ernesto! I’m so excited to be interviewing you since EFRÉN DIVIDED is one of my most anticipated 2020 MG releases. I think this is a timely story that will be a must read in all classrooms and libraries across the country.
Please tell us about your MG debut, EFRÉN DIVIDED, and what inspired you to write it?
Ernesto Cisneros: EFRÉN DIVIDED is a story about family, friendship, and perseverance. It begins when 12 year-old Efrén Nava comes home from school only to discover that his Amá has been deported, and he is left with the heavy responsibility of having to care for his young siblings while hoping his family is reunited.
TG: In writing EFRÉN’S character, how much of yourself as a kid did you include in his story/personality? Were you also inspired by your own children and students?
EC: There are certainly traces of myself in Efrén, especially when it comes to taping back my ears to keep them from sticking out. But mostly, I channeled my son. He’s got such a large heart—and it’s really the secret to why readers are connecting to this character.
TG: What other children’s books that you read as a child, or as an adult, motivated you to want to write your own children’s book?
EC: The very first book that inspired me to write children’s books was K.L. Going’s FAT KID RULES THE WORLD. I really connected with the voice. It wasn’t overwritten… but authentic sounding (to me). Something I’d never seen in books before.
TG: What is the one thing that you wish your readers will take away after reading EFRÉN DIVIDED?
EC: I want readers to realize that while our lives may be different, we are more alike than they might have thought. The theme of family and doing what is best for those we love is universal.
TG: Tell us a bit about your writing journey and how EFRÉN DIVIDED went from an idea to a finished book with a Big 5 publisher book deal?
EC: To be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure how that happened. I spent 14 years writing and mostly spinning my wheels. Throughout those years, I deconstructed every book I read, in hopes of being able to duplicate the magic in their words. However, when I wrote EFRÉN DIVIDED, I wrote it for my children and students, no one else. I didn’t let anyone influence me. In fact, I never had plans to submit this book for publication.
TG: What advice do you have for other marginalized aspiring authors out there?
EC: Find your voice and be loyal to it. It’s the one thing that will set you apart from everyone else. And know that your story has a place in this world. It matters.
TG: If you could send EFRÉN DIVIDED to one politician or celebrity out there to read, who would it be and why?
EC: I’d really be honored if Edward James Olmos were to find a copy of my book. He’s always been someone I admired—not only because of his acting, but his work with the community.
TG: If a movie adaptation of EFRÉN DIVIDED were to be made, who would you cast for the key characters?
EC: For some reason, I really picture Wilmer Valderrama playing Apá because he’d break a few of the stereotypes about Latino fathers. Aside from him, I’d rather they be fresh, undiscovered actors who merit the parts rather than rely on name recognition.
TG: Is setting an important part of the story? If so, why?
EC: I always felt that Efrén’s world was another character with an arc of its own. It is moody and grows as much as any of my characters. The setting was crucial for this particular story because it needed to represent the real world as seen through a Latinx lens.
TG: Which 2020 MG and YA releases are you excited about and why?
EC: There are too many to name. But I’m really excited to read the books of all the Class of 2K20 Books authors who I’ve had a chance to interact (and become friends) with: Adriana Cuevas, Cathleen Barnhart, Kit Rosewater, Kate O’Shaughnessy, Tanya Guerrero, A.J. Sass, Lorien Lawrence, Janae Marks, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, Amanda Sellet, Alecia Dow, Amelia Cooms, Kristin Lambert, KayLynn Flanders, Amelia Coombs, Andrea Contos, Jennifer Moffett, Amy Noel Parks, and Katherine Rothschild
TG: What are your favorite books and what are you reading right now?
EC: I’m working on three books right now. One is WE ARE NOT FROM HERE by Jenny Torres Sanchez, DON’T ASK ME WHERE I’M FROM by Jennifer De Leon, and RED HOOD by Elana K. Arnold. It’s going to take me a while to get through them because I’m such a meticulous (fancy word for slow) reader.
TG: Please tell us about what you’re writing next? I’d love a sneak peak of your next book!
EC: I’m working on a second mg book, tentatively entitled One Shot. It is a quirky, but heartfelt story about 2 best friends with two things in common: a strained relationship with their fathers and a promising fresh start in middle school that just might fix that.
Congrats on the release of your debut novel, Ernesto! You can visit Ernesto’s website to learn more and follow him on Twitter, as well as order EFRÉN DIVIDED on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound. And don’t forget to add it on Goodreads!