“Our weakest moments in life often come when faced with adversity. The ability to cope with difficult situations can define who we are and how we go forward in life’s journey.”
Jose Esparza, an emerging author full of promise, exemplifies—no actually, embodies—these instructive and inspiring words. And this heartfelt and captivating scribe has an engaging, scintillating—and rather impressive—debut with Voyages: Poetic Journeys.
His brand new collection of poetry feels like a warm blanket wrapped all around you—though just warm enough and not too tightly–making you feel snug, safe, purposeful. And replete with hope.
Voyages: Poetic Journeys takes you on a wondrous ride of revelation, insight, light, and adventures of the heart. Quite relatable and accessible, Voyages is a triumph for Mr. Esparza, who faces daily challenges of physical disability, and has had to work his way through the premature loss of a life partner.
Voyages: Poetic Journeys is a must-read. This volume is poignant, sublime. And affecting.
Just recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Esparza. So, let’s delve right into his world.
WYATT: Jose, congrats on your debut work!
JOSE: Wyatt, thanks for introducing me to your WYATTEVANS.COM audience.
WYATT: You’re very welcome! So, how have things been for you since the release of Voyages? Excitement? Surprises? And, what were the reactions/support from your fam and friends?
JOSE: Well, it has been a wild ride of emotions. Actually, my good friend Drew Gray is responsible for challenging me to make this dream a reality. The support from friends and family has been amazing! My dad shared my book with the daughter of the lady who taught me how to write my first poem. And she loved it! I also shared my book with a few co-workers and they all were impressed.
WYATT: As you know, a title can make or break a book. You’ve said that, and I quote, “The reason I chose Voyages as the title is because I wanted to take the reader on a voyage through the many emotions in my journey.” Now, that’s deep! Tell our readers more.
JOSE: Ever since my early days as a poet, I have had a metaphorical roller coaster in my mind. I wanted the reader to feel the thrills and chills of each poem. I always try to leave the reader in a state of “What a rush!” Whenever a reader tells me the poem made them feel sad, happy, cry, etc., then I know I’ve constructed a fantastic ride of the mind.
WYATT: Jose, I know that when I completed my debut work, the first installment of my Nothing Can Tear Us Apart series, I felt I’d achieved the most difficult—yet most rewarding–accomplishment to date. I’d created, nurtured, and given birth to the “baby” that I’d been carrying around inside me for quite some time! To this day, it’s still somewhat hard to fully explain. Did you have similar feelings?
JOSE: Yes, my feelings are very similar. From a young age, I felt like eventually, I wanted my writing to be out in the world. It was a dream that was stifled by self doubt for a long time. When I finally hit the “publish my book” button on the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) my first thought was “Holy shit! Is this happening?”
I still think the experience feels surreal. I sold twenty copies my first couple weeks and for me, it felt like a massive accomplishment. I didn’t have a major publisher behind me. No book signing tour in bookstores. Just social media. The fact I sold that many within a month made me swell with pride.
WYATT: Now Jose, let’s travel back to your beginnings. I understand you’re a California native?
JOSE: I was born and raised in Northern California, in Sonoma County. I lived everywhere there…ha ha! Not really, but it feels that way.
I currently reside in Rohnert Park. Just as a point of reference: San Francisco is about 45 miles south of me. I grew up mostly in Cloverdale. I attended K-12 and graduated Cloverdale High School in 2000.
WYATT: Tell me about your family. How many siblings? Are you the youngest?
JOSE: I’m the baby. There are only two of us. My sister is actually six years and one day older. We are very close. She was actually the first person I came out to as gay in my family.
WYATT: So Jose…what kind of kid were you? On the “straight and narrow?” Mischievous? Studious? Athletic? Nerdy?
JOSE: I was always the “straight and narrow” kid at school. Growing up in a small town where everyone knows your business scared me. My uncle owned a video store in town and that was my small town claim to fame.
I was also brought up in a very religious home. The expectation was to be as perfect as can be. That meant no cutting school, no premarital sex–you know, all the stuff good little Christian boys aren’t supposed to do. In fact, I hid my sexuality so well not even my closest girl friend knew I was gay.
WYATT: Jose, I understand that you were born visually impaired.
JOSE: I was born with a condition that in layman’s terms is water on the brain. As a result, my eyes did not develop correctly. I have 20/20 central vision with glasses in my left eye. I can see just a little out of my right eye.
I use a blind cane which often makes people curious. I use it because I see right in front of me, but it’s like seeing out of a scope. I can’t see from either side. I also lack a level of depth perception.
WYATT: How has the disability impacted your life?
JOSE: This is always a hard question to answer because I was born this way. I wasn’t born sighted and then lost it. It has had its challenges for sure. There are things I will never get to experience: I can’t drive a car. I can’t scuba dive (too much pressure on the brain). Technically speaking, I can’t ride a bike. However, I have experienced riding an adult trike. That was fun until I crashed!
Work has its challenges. I work in retail with clothes. Sometimes it’s a challenge getting sensors off certain dresses. I also have challenges with public transportation. I’ve learned to just (pardon the pun) roll with it.
WYATT: How old were you when you first had that life-changing spark to become a writer? Was a certain situation or/and person responsible?
JOSE: Well, to be honest, I never thought I would become the writer I am today. I had aspirations of ministry work; but at the time, I didn’t realize that I really didn’t want to pursue that profession. You see, I wanted to make my parents proud so I explored the possibility of being a pastor.
I would say that spark you mentioned happened even before my first poem back in elementary school. I must have been about 13.
Precious moments are many
Often subtle with no warning
A newborn’s first cry
Like a melody on a mother’s ear
As the tree of life enriches our lives
The more precious each moment
Acquaintances come and go
Precious friends are like gems
Precious moments are many
Often subtle with tears of joy
A goal accomplished obstacle defeated
Like a baby’s first steps in life
A progression through time
Precious moments are many
Savor every one of them
As subtle as they may be
They are diamonds in the rough
©2019 Jose Esparza All Rights Reserved
WYATT: You began by writing short stories in elementary school, correct? What was that like?
JOSE: I absolutely loved it! It was in my special education class taught by one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Brennan. Once a month, he would put random pictures on a bulletin board. He would ask us to write a story about any picture we chose.
He saw that spark you inquired about. He had another project just for me that he put aside. I can’t recall if it was a weekly thing or a couple times a week. I idolized Joe Montana as a kid. He would write little writing prompts “From Joe.” I loved this project, and every entry was like a little mini-story exercise.
WYATT: In high school, you began writing poems in your sophomore year. Why the transition to poetry?
JOSE: Believe me when I say it just happened. I had to transition from special-education to the regular English class. My teacher gave us an assignment: to write a poem about somebody we had respect for.
I freaked out as I did not realize at the time that poems did not have to rhyme all the time. There was a lady from church who always offered to help me with homework. I took her up on this particular assignment.
Little did I know she would unlock the box of poetry. I remember that she taught me poetry had to have two things: first, it needed to be from the heart. The second is cadence. If it lacked either of those two things, then it wasn’t a poem. After I realized how easy it was to write the poem, I explored my newfound form of words even more.
WYATT: Intriguing! Jose, you’ve stated that your poems evolved over time into what you consider “multi-layered” poems. Do elaborate.
JOSE: Wyatt, when I started writing poems, they were faith-based and there was no mistaking them as such. Over time, I learned to write poetry that was open for interpretation. Someone might take a poem and think it’s about one thing, then read deeper into it and see that it could also be about something else.
WYATT: Now, if we may, I’d like to discuss your coming out process. When did you first determine you were gay?
JOSE: I would say I knew I was gay at thirteen years old. I remember watching the fitness programs on ESPN before going to school. Instant attraction to the male physique. I didn’t understand it. I grew up being taught God made heterosexuals.
It wasn’t until I was 27 that I came out, first to my sister…although, I think I really inadvertently came out to my brother-in-law at his bachelor party. I had been talking to a friend of his asking how I should approach my sister, and I suspect my brother-in-law caught wind of our conversation.
Soon, I came out to my parents. It was hard! They did not handle the news well. Thankfully over time, they came around.
WYATT: Let’s fast-forward to Voyages. Why a book of poetry?
JOSE: Poetry is my passion! It’s my outlet of expression. Occasionally, I will write a short story as a means of personal therapy. However, I have yet to use it as a means of a work to publish. Perhaps I will soon!
WYATT: Just how long had Voyages been gestating within you before you first put pen to paper?
JOSE: Well, I guess you could say a lifetime! I’ve had a dream to publish something. I did dabble in songwriting. Unfortunately, that venture went nowhere. The collection of poems in Voyages goes back ten years.
WYATT: What’s your creative process like?
JOSE: My creative process is rather fluid. Maybe “random” is a better word. Rarely do I ponder an idea for a poem for more than a few minutes before I write. I look for inspiration through anything, from a song to an object. I have a poem (“Mermaid’s Pearl”) that was inspired by a necklace that was given to me.
WYATT: You’ve said that Voyages “is a tribute to the legacy of persistence,” and that having disabilities taught you to never give up on what you want. Do some of the poems in Voyages reflect on that lesson? If so, how?
JOSE: Yes. All of them do to certain degrees. My hope with this book is to encourage readers. Many poems are about obstacles one faces in life. My obstacles happen to be the loss of my life partner David and my disabilities. I wrote a poem (“Legends”) that speaks specifically to that. It was inspired by a man who was my physical education coach in collage. He always stressed the point that I am more than I give myself credit for. He always pushed me towards a new personal record.
When the nights are cold
Stories often are told
While Children hunger for adventure
Grownups long for inspiration
Legends are born through the darkness
They stand when it is easier to sit
Never settle for just the moon glow
Legends are ordinary with extraordinary will
They take the risk determined to win
The woman with no arm and a surf board
The man with no eyes but an arsenal of words
The man climbing out of addiction with purpose
The single parent striving to open doors of opportunity
The teacher that believes in incredible odds
These legendary hearts are heroes destined to inspire
©2019 Jose Esparza All Rights Reserved
WYATT: You’ve also stated that other poems “reflect on overcoming the traumatic loss of (my) first love to heart disease. This collection was a labor of love he inspired.” Do expound.
JOSE: Well, this is two-fold. David (his deceased partner) loved my poems. In fact, one evening he asked the question that I still think about. He asked me when I would write another poem.
I was in a dry spell. I just shrugged my shoulder and said, “Whenever I get the inspiration.” His response was one of disappointment. I, unfortunately, was unable to write a poem before his passing. I decided this collection of work would be my love letter, if you will, to his memory.
WYATT: How long were you with David, and how old were you when he passed?
JOSE: David and I were together for fifteen short months, but it felt much longer. There was a significant age gap between us; however, it didn’t matter to us. We had a connection that made it work. I was 32 when he passed. He was three months shy of 60.
WYATT: What do you most remember about him? What makes your heart and soul smile?
JOSE: I remember his warm smile the most! David was my rock. Whenever I needed to talk or a shoulder to cry on, he was always there. He always did little things to remind me how much he loved me.
I remember one day I was not having a particularly good day. I was out running errands before going home. When I got home, he had a bath complete with aromatherapy and candles waiting for me! I remember him saying, “You’re home now. I want you to forget about all your worries and just relax. I made you a bath and after that, I DVR’d something I think you’re going to like.” I have so many memories like that to look back on.
WYATT: Jose, most aspiring authors never get to the finish line. In your opinion, what are the three most crucial things necessary to get “ovah that hump,” and to ultimately be successful?
Believe in yourself.
Keep moving forward.
Believe in your writing.
WYATT: Great stuff!
JOSE: When I started Voyages, I had a lot of self-doubt I had to overcome. I always shared poems with friends and family but that felt like a safety net. In my mind, friends are supposed to say positive things about your work. Therefore, I felt vulnerable because now I would be sharing my work beyond that safety net. I had moments where I thought it was too intimidating. Too many things could go wrong. All the negative scenarios played in my head.
Then, there came a point where I remembered something: Walt Disney never gave up on his dream to be an animator–and look at what happened! He became a household name in the entertainment industry.
I had to be the believer of and in my own work. I had to believe my dream of being a published author was about to become a reality.
WYATT: Do you see any unique challenges that confront LGBTQ authors of color—particularly those who are Latina/Latino?
JOSE: Yes, for sure. The majority of the Latino community is Catholic. I myself was raised protestant. My parents were raised Catholic, so I have a vague understanding of the guilt associated with being gay and Catholic. I think times continue to change for the better since my parents grew up, but I still think society within the context of religion has a long way to go.
WYATT: Any upcoming book readings, events?
JOSE: None yet. I’m still working on setting a few things up. I’m hoping to do a couple readings here in Sonoma County soon.
WYATT: Do you have a specific mantra/philosophy for not giving up and continuing to strive for excellence?
JOSE: Indeed! Some time ago, I saw a motivational speaker who was in a wheel chair. He had no legs and one arm. He wore a ball cap that read HANDI. He said, “The only handicap we have is the one we put on ourselves.”
I will never forget how that changed my mindset! Prior to that revelation, I always felt sorry for myself. I saw myself as the disabled kid who couldn’t do much. Also, I’m a huge Disney fan. When I read up on the history of Walt Disney and his own challenges, it made me appreciate Disney even more.
WYATT: What’s on tap for Mr. Jose Esparza for the remainder of 2019?
JOSE: Well, I am currently in the beginning stages of writing my next book. A title and release date are yet to be determined. I’m hoping to have it out in time for Christmas.
WYATT: Jose, thanks for taking the time to chat with WYATTEVANS.COM! You’re an inspiration to us all. And, much continuing success to you.
JOSE: It was my pleasure, Wyatt! Thanks.
On Twitter: @PoeticVoyages; Instagram: @PosticVoyages.
And, grab your copy of Voyages: Poetic Journeys at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1792168837/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awdb_t1_zdcJCb0JTK0XV_nodl