Sunday, September 28, 2014

Who is Evelyn Hernandez?

Evelyn Hernandez is a little bit of my daughter, Erin, and a little bit of every one of the young ladies that have been - or currently are - my high school students. She is talented and intelligent and she has people in her life that love and care about her. She wants to fit in and feel normal, but at the same time she doesn’t want to be like everyone else. She wants to follow her own style and follow her own heart. Sometimes this gets her into trouble, shakes her self-confidence, and causes her to doubt herself. But mostly, Evelyn Hernandez is just…herself, still finding her voice, still discovering her powers, and still learning how to use them.

An early version of Evelyn first appeared in something I wrote for my students a few years ago. I had them working on fictional short stories that were based on an actual conflict they had, or were having, with a significant person in their lives, and I wanted to show them how easy it was to discover the stories all around them if they only looked. Many of the students were having difficulty finding a conflict to write about; something I had assumed would give them the least trouble.

Sure they’d all recently been in some sort of disagreement, argument, shouting match, or even an actual physical fight, but they failed to see any of their own conflicts as story worthy.

I wanted to show them that the struggles in their own lives were just as relatable and just as valid as those in the lives of the fictional characters they enjoyed reading about…that it wasn’t the nature of the conflict that made a story interesting and believable, but the quality of the storytelling. So I made up a conversation between two people texting each other during class and presented it in a PowerPoint. Two students volunteered to read the parts out loud. It went something like this:

Hey. Why won’t you
return my text?

          I’m in class.

I’ve been texting you
all morning.

           I’m in class.

You didn’t call me back 
last night.

          My mom was mad 
I got back so late.

Did she take your phone?


Why didn’t you call me 
back then?



Stop ignoring me!

          I’m in class!

I’ll be waiting for you

          She’ll see.

Her class is in 200’s.

          Someone will tell.

Sure, the texts were all in complete sentences and free of spelling errors and emoticons, but the students found them convincing and were instantly intrigued. Who were these people and what were they hiding?

If you look inside your own phones, I told them, I’m sure you will find plenty to work with. It’s not so much the texting, but the story surrounding it that is important, I said. Then I showed them the story I had begun to write around this conversation:

Evelyn’s purse began to vibrate in her lap again. Her phone had been going off all morning. She knew who it was. Mr. Schwartz was standing only two desks away, but he had his back to her, explaining something to Luis. He would be a while.
“Hey.  Why won’t you return my text?”
It was Mark. Evelyn looked up from her purse. Schwartz was still explaining.
She switched the pencil to her left hand and began thumbing the keys on the phone in her purse with her right, “I’m in class.”
“I’ve been texting you all morning.”
“I’m in class.”
“You didn’t call me back last night.”
Schwartz was now leaning heavily on Luis’s desk with one hand and gesturing in the air with the other, his hand fluttering as he spoke like a one-winged bird. “My mom was mad I got back so late.”
“Did she take your phone?”
“Why didn’t you call me back then?”
Her thumb twitched once, but remained hovering above the keys. Wasn’t it obvious? Did she have to spell it out for him?

The phone vibrated again, but she was no longer holding it. Her hand had drifted up toward her face and her fingertips pressed lightly to her lips, remembering.

And then what happens, they asked. Well, nothing, I explained, it’s just an example. Yes, but where’s the rest, they wanted to know. I don’t know the rest, I said, I only wrote that part to give you ideas…to help you finish writing your own. We’ll finish writing ours, someone declared, if you finish writing yours. And so I finished it.

When it was done, I found that Evelyn’s character was much more complex and interesting than I ever thought she would be. She turned out to have such complicated feelings, and she could be impulsive, aggressive, even mean; but she was also conflicted: feeling powerful, yet ashamed for finding joy in causing someone else pain. I called the story, “Fight or Flight,” and as the title suggests, it was about choices: Do you run away to keep from getting hurt, or stand and fight for what is right for you…even if you must hurt others in the process? I later submitted it to a few literary magazines and one of them published it.

Another version of Evelyn appeared about a year later in a very short screenplay that I wrote, once again, as a model for my students. The class was an English elective I’d created called An Introduction to Horror Film. In it we examined the origins and evolution of the genre and wrote analytical essays on films like Nosferatu, Frankenstein, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho, and Night of the Living Dead. As a final activity, the class wrote original short screenplays, and we managed to film five of them, enough for a Horror Short Film Festival during lunch. Even though we never planned it, all of the films shared a common theme: bullying.

Most of the students completed their films at home, but I wanted a story that would involve the whole class and that would take place entirely in my classroom. So I wrote a screenplay about a bullied teen who gets revenge on her tormentors when she discovers she can make things happen by drawing them. Even though it was only three minutes long, it took three days to film, which explains why in the final edit some students’ clothing, and even hair styles will suddenly change from one cut to the next, and then change back again. We had fun making it though, and since it was a horror film there was definitely lots of blood.

I won’t say anymore about the plot of the film because a very similar scene appears in chapter nine of my novel, The Revenge Artist, and I don’t want to give too much away.

This October 22, my book finally becomes available, and I can’t wait for more people to get to know Evelyn Hernandez. If she seems familiar, or even reminds you of yourself in some way, don’t be surprised, especially if you were ever one of my students, but in many ways she remains her own person and not even I always know what she will do in a situation until I start writing it.

I’ve decided to write a sequel to The RevengeArtist and I’m already half way finished. I think I know how it will end, but I can’t be sure. Evelyn continues to surprise me.


  1. This is Great , i really like how you mentioned that the way in which you tell the conflict is more important than the actual conflict sometimes.In the example you gave it clearly shows that , it leaves us wanting to read more, we gain a sense of anticipation and emotion toward the conflict, if the storytelling is right of course.It is interesting how you mention the characters and what is the message behind the character, does the author purposely do this to get a response out of the reader, a connection maybe?.In addition i like how you mention that the character has both struggles internally and externally. yeah awesome Mr. Hoy :D

  2. Reading this, Evelyn does seem like a mixture of all of your past students. I feel like I know Evelyn but at the same time trying to discover who she is. Can't wait for Oct. 22, good luck on the sequel, and the rest of your work.

  3. Thanks, Luis. Always good to hear from you.

  4. Just finished reading it and I have to say Mr. Hoy that I absolutely loved it! Very well written, as is expected from you of course. Really looking forward to the sequal, can't wait!