Young Diane Gonzales Bertrand sits in a stairwell of her middle school, tutoring a transfer student in math. Her seventh-grade teacher has asked the future author to help the other student with long division, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in learning how to bring down digits to the remainder. In the middle of Diane’s explanation, the other student suddenly says, “I know how to read palms. Do you want me to read your future?”
Intrigued by the offer, Diane extends her open hand. After studying her palm for a long minute, the other girl says, “The first guy you truly fall in love with — you will date a while — but then be separated for five years. You’ll get back together again and finally get married.” For a math-challenged girl, she’s very precise with her numbers.
Diane jots the experience down in a notebook. She has wanted to be a writer since fifth grade and keeps notes on characters and incidents that might lead to new stories.
Soon thereafter, Diane comes home from school to find her older brother, Mike, and his friends playing cards around the dining table. She tries to join in on the fun, but is teased as the chatterbox little sister by the older kids. Then Mike’s best friend, Nick Bertrand, pulls up a chair beside her and asks if she wants to learn how to play the game. He’s kind and patient and makes her laugh. He’s also the only guy in the group who doesn’t have a steady girlfriend. “I was pretty shy,” says Nick.
They naturally become good friends, as Diane tags along with the group for fun tennis, miniature golf and movie dates. She develops a crush on Nick, but keeps her feelings secret since he’s five years older than she is. At 13 and 18, that’s a big difference. They’re separated when she stays in San Antonio for high school and he goes to college in Austin. Although she has other boyfriends in high school, she sees him occasionally when he comes home to visit and knows by her senior year that she is truly in love with him. Yet their age difference comes into play again, as Nick feels he’s too old to accompany her to senior prom and other high school activities.
Five years later, Diane is about to graduate from college and begin student teaching. Nick has returned to San Antonio, working at his first job as a high school football coach. One day, Diane attends church and unexpectedly sees him as she leaves the service. Now both in their 20s and embarking on careers, their age difference no longer seems to matter.
For one of their first dates, they go to A Night in Old San Antonio, an annual Fiesta event, where they walk pass a fortune-telling booth. Diane tells Nick about the “fortune” she got in seventh grade. He’s skeptical about the palm reading, but within weeks they are seriously committed to one another and, a year later, they're planning their 1980 wedding. Clearly, they are meant to be.
Nick’s love and support inspires Diane to write her first novel, Touchdown for Love (now in reprint as Lessons of the Game), in which a football coach and student teacher, who knew each other when they were younger, find romance on and off the field. Her latest book with Arte Publico Press, Cecilia and Miguel are Best Friends, is not only inspired by their love story, but by many couples who were childhood friends who grow up to marry one another.
"We love working with Diane," says Marina Tristan, assistant director at Arte Publico. "One of her novels, Trino’s Choice, is our best-selling novel for teens; it sells more than any other YA title."
Beyond her own award-winning work, Diane takes time out of her busy schedule to help other writers. She teaches at St. Mary’s University as a visiting lecturer and writer-in-residence. Once a month, she meets with a few other authors to critique each others’ work-in-progress. Katy Jones, who has been part of this critique group for 25 years, remembers being approached by Diane. “Some people don't want critique, they want praise,” says Katy. “Diane was looking for writers who wanted to be the best they can be -- people who wrote from the heart.”
Through all her achievements, nothing much has changed about the Bertrands’ friendship since their teenage years. Still young at heart, Nick usually gives Diane a funny card for Valentine‘s Day (although he splurges on Brighton jewelry this year, too). They still have dinner together every night. If anything, their love has deepened during the course of their 34-year marriage, as they raise two children, help their aging parents and support each other through Mike’s sudden passing two years ago. Nick also remains a major creative inspiration.
“There is no doubt that Nick’s love and encouragement as my best friend and wonderful husband inspire every word I put down on paper,” says Diane, whose next picture book, The Story Circle, will be published in 2016. “My fortune came true!"