Posted January 21, 2006 by mattlawrence in Cuba Culture.
y Laura Wides-Munoz
The Associated Press
January 21, 2006, 9:59 AM EST
MIAMI—A young man flees Cuba, takes a job at a factory but dreams of becoming a writer. On a whim, he enters a television writing contest—and wins big.
It’s a story Erick Hernandez Mora easily could have invented during the 10 years he worked at the Supermix cement factory to support his family after emigrating to the United States.
But for the 32-year-old college dropout with earnest eyes and a mop of curly hair, it’s the one story he didn’t have to make up. He won the top prize last month in Telemundo’s Spanish-language soap opera writing program, took a job at the network and nabbed a book contract with Simon & Schuster to write a spin-off pot-boiler.
Hernandez says he’d rather focus on his fiction than his own story.
“Even without wanting to, when I write I invent things, so it’s better to write fiction because otherwise people will compare it to your real life,” he said.
Executives at Telemundo and Simon & Schuster agreed it was Hernandez’ frank writing and attention to detail that captured their attention—but it doesn’t hurt that his personal tale makes an equally good script.
“He represents the story of the immigrant, who comes to this country with a dream, and in certain part, it is a dream that has come true for him,” said Johanna Castillo, senior editor for Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books.
Castillo said she didn’t know about Hernandez’ personal life when he won the contract to write a book based on a Telemundo soap for the company’s new Latino publishing line.
This month Hernandez self-published his first novel about life in Cuba, and Castillo said she’s already asked for a copy.
Hernandez grew up in the beachside town of Guanabo, about 25 miles east of Havana, and as a boy spent his days devouring Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie novels. He quickly read through his father’s library of Hemingway and Latin American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The son of a telecommunications engineer, he was expected to head to the university and eke out a quiet living, but the self-identified “black sheep” chafed under the dictates of life in Cuba, refusing to join the Communist Party and dropping out of the university when officials wouldn’t let him choose what to study.
After a mandatory stint in the army, where he served two weeks behind bars for eating lunch with prisoners, Hernandez found work as a waiter, selling T-shirts and socks on the side.
Then in 1994, President Fidel Castro cracked down on dissidents, riots broke out and more than 30,000 Cubans fled to the United States in boats and homemade rafts.
Hernandez and his girlfriend, now his wife and mother of their two young daughters, were among them. The two left in a 20-foot fishing boat with 18 other migrants on the morning of Aug. 20. By midnight they reached Miami.
Hernandez still remembers seeing failed homemade rafts bobbing in the sea as his boat chugged toward U.S. shores, but he refuses to dwell on what might have happened.
“I always look forward. I don’t believe in looking back,” he said.
Hernandez found a job cleaning at the cement factory and was soon promoted to running the computers that controlled the concrete mixers, but after a few years, he wanted more. He began reading again, and then he got out a pen and paper began to write.
Few took his efforts too seriously.
“It was his passion,” recalled Supermix truck driver Orlando Perez, who enjoyed reading bits of the novel Hernandez worked on in his spare time. “But, I told him he was crazy. ‘You work in concrete,’ I told him.”
Perez stopped laughing when Hernandez entered an Internet contest from Spain in 2002 and won second place for his short story.
Then in 2004, Hernandez spied an ad for a new program to train Spanish-language soap opera writers, co-sponsored by Telemundo and Miami-Dade Community College.
He and 14 others were selected from among more than 4,000 applicants from around the world. Mimi Belt, Telemundo vice president of artistic development, said part of Hernandez’s success is his willingness to learn.
She recalled sending a script back to him requesting significant changes. Hearing nothing for several days, she assumed he was upset. But when she finally called, “he told me ‘No, no, I’ve spent all these days studying why you wanted the changes so next time I can do it better.”’
Hernandez said he enjoys writing the simple love stories that are the heart of most telenovelas and the immediate feedback he gets when they are aired. But his literary work is more salty, infused with slang and the gritty details of life in Cuba.
To this day, Hernandez prefers pen and paper to computers.
“When you write by hand it just flows,” he said. “It’s not the same as the machine, where it’s ta-ca-ta-ca. ... If I make a spelling mistake I have to stop. I can’t see it looking bad on the screen.”
He has too much to write now to do it all by hand. He’s been hired full-time by Telemundo and is finishing the book for Atria.
The family is now building a study to give him a place to work where he won’t be interrupted by his daughters and their Barbies.
“It’s different now because I no longer write as a hobby. I can’t just stop when friends come by or go watch the game,” he said wistfully.
But he still has to pinch himself sometimes in the morning when he thinks about where he started.
“I never thought that this would happen. I thought I’d be a waiter,” Hernandez said. “That’s all I knew how to do.”
Copyright © 2006, The Associated Press
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