I’ve been honing my craft by attending writers’ workshops and taking online writing courses. I’ve met some interesting and educated people who have given me some excellent advice; including the suggestion to write this blog. The two questions I’m asked most after I tell them I’m a romance writer are: “Are you published?” and “Why did you want to become a writer?” I answer the first question the same every time. “I’ve self-published three books.” The second question has two answers and I answer depending on my mood.
The quip, sarcastic answer is an admission to the voices in my head. The stories I’ve already published wrote themselves as I simply listened to those voices. It’s hard for me to be out and about without making up a story in my mind regarding something I witnessed. I’ve been like that for as long as I can remember and about 20 years ago, I bought a notebook and when my kids would go to bed, I would start writing poems and stories. The notebook was always hidden, but I still have it. I can’t read my own writing, but I still have it.
The other answer and the one I hope everyone remembers, since my new blog and New Year’s resolution are about being positive, was because a college professor told me I was a good writer. It is amazing how many stories of success I’ve heard because someone said something kind. Annie Buentello was my English 101 and English 102 college professor when I returned to college at the age of forty. I went back to obtain my degree in culinary arts so I was extremely nervous about the gen ed courses I needed to pass to achieve my goal. My English, public speaking and storytelling classes were all icing on my culinary major cake. I loved those courses and I became “that student,” wanting every drop of knowledge I could ring out of those instructors.
A short story writing assignment in my ENG 102 course had Professor Buentello encouraging me to enter the annual Literary Review writing contest. The winner won a scholarship and their story published in that year’s Literary Review publication. I was leery, but filled out the entry form and submitted my essay. I won first place for short story fiction. Having a scholarship for my third semester of college and being a published writer was a dream I never thought to dream, however, once it came true, I wanted more.
Years would go by, I had graduated and settled into my career as a chef and food safety professional. I ditched the notebook for a computer, but after several computer crashes (remember those first years of home computers) that erased my hard drive, I had to start from scratch often. The creation of backup drives and mini flash drives allowed me to write fearlessly and start new stories whenever the inspiration hit me. But that still didn’t urge me to allow people to read my work—I just couldn’t.
To read, my genre of choice was chick lit. Jennifer Weiner, Jane Green, Nicholas Sparks and Janet Evanovich wrote the books I couldn’t put down. I never talked about Jackie Collins and the fact that I loved her. She was my secret even though I always wondered why Jennifer, Jane, Nicholas and Janet always shut the bedroom door and never wrote what happened behind it like Jackie did. Enter E.L. James.
Fifty Shades gave us romance writers who refused to use euphemisms and purple prose a brightly lit entrance into publishing that didn’t say porn above it. One by one erotic romance writers published their work and watched as the romance reading world bought it up so everyone could see … or bought it on their Kindle so no one could see, yet bought it just the same.
I’m including my winning short story here. No romance or sex in it. You should know Professor Buentello was one of the judges the year I won and I’m sure she told the other judges that my essay was part of an assignment that required her students to write anything they wanted, but the title had to be, Finally. Enjoy.
A Short Story by Diane Hernandez
As the couple’s car rounded the bend, they witnessed the tail lights of the only other car on the road swerving out of control. “Ohmigawd!” Pilar panicked as she sat up in the passenger seat. The rain had stopped, but had left the lanes glossy black and slick. When the car eventually disappeared over the side of the highway, John accelerated.
“What the hell are you doing?” Pilar demanded. John realized he was speeding and feared ending up like the car he was anxiously rushing to help, so he removed his foot from the gas, but didn’t brake.
John and Pilar pulled over at the point they estimated the other car vanished. John told his wife to stay put as he quickly exited their car to survey the damage. Pilar rolled down her window just in time to hear John shout, “Call 911!”, before he slid down the hillside.
Ignoring her husband’s orders, Pilar leaped from the car, trying to catch him before he went down the embankment. She peered over the edge and quickly punched her fingertips into her forehead, then her chest, followed by her left shoulder and lastly her right, beckoning Jesus to the rescue. The rapid descent down the steep rocky wall of smashed foliage and weeds, had John tracing the path the crushed car had made moments earlier as he disappeared into the night.
The mangled car rested in the ravine that acted as a moat circling the cluster of pine trees that formed a mini forest. The twisted metal landed right-side-up, in the same direction it had been traveling. When John reached the wreckage, he could see the driver hanging by his shoulder strap, as if the air bag in front of him was still inflated and holding his weight. John, wanting desperately to help, ripped off his coat, shoved it through holes where windows once completed the car’s doors and bunched it around the injured man’s neck and back to support him as he reclined the driver’s seat. As the injured man’s face became exposed, John gasped in horror.
The injured man tried to speak. “Fa…Fa…Fine...AL..ly!”
John didn’t understand what the man was trying so hard to say, but replied anyway, “Buddy we’re gettin’ help.” The injured man’s right arm rose from his side as he spoke again,
“Okay, Okay, buddy we’re here and you’ll be fine,” John said, trying to convince the injured man.
“No!” the raspy voice of the injured man cried.
John reached through the door’s holes to restrain the injured man’s right arm; it now flailed wildly in the air as the rest of his body remained still and lifeless. John begged the man to be calm as he reassured him help was on the way. Once more, the defeated man spoke in a faint, strained, breathless whisper. “Finally, pleeeze, finally.”
John, now curious and wanting to understand asked, “Finally what?” But the injured man fell unconscious.
John turned toward the highway searching for any sign of assistance. He spotted Pilar struggling to maneuver her body down the slope. Carrying emergency supplies and wearing three-inch heels, made her journey impossible. John rushed to his wife’s side and lightened her load by removing the bundle from her arms and supporting her weight with his back the rest of the way down. As they rapidly walked back to the tragic scene, John tried to prepare Pilar for what she was about to see.
Pilar awkwardly searched the body for bloody areas she should apply pressure to, while John used the blanket his wife brought from the car to shield the man’s fragile body from the cold. Pilar then began to clean his battered, bruised, and bloody face with the towel and bottle of water she found in her gym bag, careful not to touch the shards of glass sticking out of his cheek, as if they were needles and he was a cactus.
The man was still unconscious, but John told Pilar how he kept saying, “Finally!” as if he was upset about something other then the accident. Pilar shrugged her shoulders and shook her head, not having an answer for the question John was about to ask. Pilar hadn’t heard the plea in the injured man’s voice like John did, but by the way he appeared, she was certain it couldn’t have meant anything consciously. She then asked John if he had found any ID. As he was making sure the injured man still had a pulse, he said, “No, but I saw a suit jacket back there.” He pointed with the flashlight Pilar had brought down to a corner in the rear passenger seat, then waded through the thick muck to the other side of the car.
Pilar knew her husband wasn’t going far, but with the clouds coming back to form another massive gray sheet and the wind picking up speed, a chill shot straight through her body and she swore she heard the trees in the nearby forest moan as if they were in pain too. She quickly grasped the hand of the accident victim as though he was the one frightened.
John now on the other side of the car, reached inside, snatched the jacket he had seen and made his way back to his wife. He laid the jacket on what was left of the hood of the car and began to frisk the brightly colored silk lining. As his hand glided over a bulge, he stopped and removed a slim, butter soft, black leather wallet. John carefully stepped closer to Pilar, who was still linked to the man, so she could see as he opened the wallet. Pilar grabbed the 2x3 photo as John studied the driver’s license.
“Steven Goodwin”, John recited.
“Is this the same man?” Pilar asked, as she held the photo next to the driver’s license.
The photo was of the same man and a beautiful woman, who both had bright white smiles, tanned faces, and the wind blowing in their hair, with a crystal clear, blue body of water in the background. John and Pilar couldn’t believe the man laying before them once looked like the pictures they were holding. Pilar turned the photo over and they both read the inscription silently to themselves. Steve and Allison, Summer 2003 was scrolled across the back in a very feminine script.
Just then, the couple turned toward the sound of sirens. John and Pilar stood facing the highway until they could see the silhouettes of professional rescuers. Relief filtered into their bodies as they both mentally registered they were no longer responsible for the man’s aid. The couple clung to one another watching the firemen work their way closer to hopefully save the man’s life.
The long embrace John and Pilar shared started to slowly break apart, as if they were rehearsing a ballet. The couple stared at each other wondering if they could possibly be thinking the same thing. Pilar, not taking her eyes off John, watched as he lunged for the wallet and reread the inscription on the picture. He then turned back toward his wife with an alarmed expression on his face. Simultaneously they cried, “Find Ally!”