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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest alumni remotely co-write a mystery novel during pandemic

Jul 26, 2021 02:41PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Michael Padjen (left) and Ron Cisneros remotely co-wrote a novel during 2020. (Photo courtesy Ron Cisneros)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

When faced with the boredom of quarantine, two lifelong friends from Midvale started writing a novel together. To their surprise, they completed the book just nine months later. 

Ron Cisneros decided to make the leap from penning short stories to writing a novel in April 2020. 

“I thought I would tell people I started writing a book during quarantine,” Cisneros said. “I didn’t think I’d finish it.”

He knew that his good friend, Michael Padjen, had also been writing and decided to let him in on the fun. Cisneros sent Padjen chapter one and challenged him to write chapter two. 

Padjen replied, moving the story forward, and they continued taking turns for another 10 chapters. 

“We hadn’t been talking, just writing back and forth and it was very disjoined,” Cisneros said with a laugh. “I developed a character that Mike ended up killing in the next chapter. We realized we really need to be serious about this.”

Creative writing is not part of either man’s day job. Cisneros is a graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma and works as a human resource manager. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, Linda.

Padjen graduated with a degree in engineering from the University of Utah and now lives in North Carolina with his wife, Sue. He built a career in international manufacturing and sales that was cut short when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and became an advocate for blood cancer and immunodeficient communities through blogging, coaching and founding a nonprofit organization.

Blogging gave Padjen confidence as a writer, but taking on a novel was a whole new challenge.

“I started researching how many words a novel needs to be,” Padjen said. “It turns out you need around 60,000 words.” 

The resulting book, “Untruthful Speech,” is around 50 chapters and 83,000 words and is available for purchase in paperback or e-book from Amazon and several other booksellers.

The plot centers on Nick Griego, a young man struggling with the loss of his brother to leukemia who finds himself caught in a global adventure of espionage. Both men drew on their own experiences and research to craft the story.

“Ron took stateside, I took overseas,” Padjen said. “I was in the furniture industry in international production and sales in 35 different countries. I spent time in Thailand and China. Those portions of the book are straight out of my memory and knowledge.”

Cisneros had the idea to write about a young man having adventures on a lobster boat.

“I didn’t have experience with that, so I researched where people fish for lobster,” Cisneros said. “I learned about Bar Harbor, Maine and called the local chamber of commerce. I talked to local restaurants. It’s the backdrop of the story and a destination I want to visit.”

Padjen did his own research on Bar Harbor and learned that it is home to one of the top genetic laboratories in the world.

“I’m interested in new technologies that can vaccinate people from viruses and do cool genetic things,” Padjen said. “I started introducing medical and technical aspects to the story.”

The story came together organically, but due to the linear way they wrote it, the two friends had to go back and make extensive edits. They sent their draft to friends and family asking them to read the novel and point out flaws in the story.

“You can take courses from writers and they all say you should start with an outline. Maybe we should have read that first,” Padjen said. “In reality, it seemed to work out pretty good.”

Many months later, the friends had co-written a book but still hadn’t seen each other in person for years. 

They had met while attending Midvale Junior High and quickly became friends.

“I have great memories of Midvale. Fond memories,” Cisneros said. “We would hang out in Mike’s basement. Other friends, too. We’d go from house to house.”

The two stayed in touch over the years, but Padjen’s cancer diagnosis in 2017 made their friendship more vital. 

“We spoke weekly when he was diagnosed,” Cisneros said. “He has a great appreciation for life and its blessings. Mike is in my prayers all the time. He’s very inspirational.”

“Ron was a blessing to me when I was at my worst,” Padjen replied. “He actually called me more than once a week to check up on me.” 

The pair is already working on the next book in what they hope becomes a series. Like the first one, they want to tell a good story that reflects current events but isn’t politically divisive. 

“We have different religions now, different affiliations,” Cisneros said. “But writing the book really brought us together.”