Every writer hopes to one day find his or her name on the cover of a novel. For one professor in the Fresno State English department, those long held hopes of becoming an author have materialized into a career.
Born in Tijuana, Mexico, and raised in Southern California, Alex Espinoza has always wanted to write. The youngest of 11 kids said that he never imagined himself doing anything else.
He began the process of writing his first novel, “Still Water Saints,” as an undergraduate student at UC Riverside. He worked on it little by little, as he continued his education, earning his Master of Fine Arts in writing from UC Irvine.
“Still Water Saints” was published in 2007 and received rave reviews. Espinoza said a big reason why was the outpouring of help he received from fellow writers.
“I managed to have lots of friends who were writers, who managed to navigate me through the process and also be very supportive — writers who gave me blurbs, writers who endorsed what I was doing,” Espinoza said. “So the publishing world appreciated that and responded to that positively.”
The same year his first novel came out would also be the year he would join the faculty at Fresno State. Espinoza said he was just following the advice given to him by one of his professors.
“She said you have to put yourself in a place where you can now help young writers find their voice,” he said. “Just like I held the door open for you, now it’s your turn to hold the door open for other people.”
Brandon Baker is one of Espinoza’s M.F.A. students. He said that having the chance to study under the tutelage of a published author has been immensely helpful.
“It lends a lot of credibility to his teaching, to his advice,” Baker said. “I mean he’s a published author, and we get to ask him all kinds of questions every week, so it’s fun.”
Espinoza said it is tricky to be both a writer and professor, but it is possible to be successful at both.
“I found that, early on, I needed to make sure that I was really regimented in terms of the hours that I spent dealing with my classes and doing stuff for the university and then the time that I spent sitting down and writing,” he said.
That scheduling has paid off for Espinoza, because he once again gets to see his name on the cover of a novel. His second book, “The Five Acts of Diego León: a Novel,” came out in March.
“Now with the second one, it’s cultivating that platform,” he said. “It’s really sustaining the reputation that you’ve built as a writer.”
However, just because he has gone through this once before, does not mean that the publication process does not make him anxious.
“It’s a very different experience, but you still have that sense of apprehension,” Espinoza said. “You still get really, really sort of nervous. I feel like I’m about to have a child. The baby’s about to be born, and I’ve been in labor for like five years.”
For students who wish to become authors, Espinoza has a few pieces of advice. First of all, he suggests the importance of reading.
“Oftentimes, I encounter people who want to write but don’t like to read, and that doesn’t work,” he said. “You have to be willing to read — a lot.”
However, Espinoza’s biggest piece of advice for students is for them to show their writing to others.
“For me,” Espinoza said, “the whole purpose of writing is that we write something with the hope of changing the world a little bit, and the only way we can do that is by sharing what we’ve written.”