Published!

The Last Honest Man in Havana front KINDLE-1

 

Today was a big day! After working on this project for many years, The Last Honest Man in Havana is now available for purchase on Amazon.com. Here it is:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B014JZEQSI! Right now it is available to read on Kindle, but next week the print copies will be ready to order.

If you are at all interested in Cuba, I think you will enjoy reading this novel.

I would love to hear from you after you’ve read it!

 

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My Cuban Family

On my first trip to Cuba, in 1999, I was pregnant and meeting my in-laws for the first time. Normally, I would recommend a complete background check on potential in-laws before getting involved too deeply with anyone, but it was not possible for me. Anyway, when you’re really in love, you won’t care who they are.

You know I’m right.

Luckily, my mother-in-law, Edilia, was a lovely person. She lived in Playa, Havana, with Salva, her partner of two decades, in the tiny starter apartment she’d moved into with her first husband, Amaro. This is Edilia and Amaro on their wedding day below.

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I love the flowers at this wedding.

By the time I got to Cuba, Amaro had passed away. But the pile of photos Edilia had saved in a flimsy plastic bag gave me an incredible look at what their lives had been like. She had some great shots like this one from 1952 at El Club Militar y Naval in Nautico.

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This one of her and her friends during Carnaval.

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And this one from her own quincenera.

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But when I started asking about all the people in these photos, I learned they had all left Cuba. The only people remaining from the photo above were Edilia and her sister, Bertha, who is at her right. It was incredible. Ruly and Chuchi, her brothers, both left Cuba in 1959 after the family’s electronics business was “nationalized.”

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They hadn’t seen Chuchi for 40 years.

Edilia and Bertha also wanted to leave, but their husbands didn’t and they wouldn’t allow them to leave the country with their children.

This had been a very close-knit family that clearly loved each other a lot. Learning of their situation was upsetting. So I asked Edilia if I could take some photos home with me. We copied a beautiful photo of the four children and their parents, their parents’ wedding photos and some others. Then we mailed them off to Puerto Rico and Illinois.

The response was overwhelming. Both men called my husband, crying and thanking us for the photos. They framed them and hung them on the walls. Chuchi said he knew he would meet his parents again in heaven.

Two years later, when Edilia came to stay with us in Halifax, she was reunited with her brothers and one of her nephews! They laughed and cried together for a whole week, telling stories and reliving their happy childhoods.

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Every one of them is gone now. And I am so happy I was able to play a little part in this reunion. I believe the separation and destruction of families is one of Fidel Castro’s crimes. Unfortunately, it’s one he will never answer for.

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Two Years!!

Hello again!I am officially the most unproductive blogger I know! It has been nearly two years since I last wrote on this blog.

Since then, I took a bit of a break from freelancing and have been working at my second love, travel. I’ve been selling holidays–and taking a few good ones myself. Perhaps more about that in a different blog.

The Last Honest Man in Havana is still a work in progress, however. I am working with my writers’ group and they are keeping me on task. We sit in a circle at our monthly meetings and they shake their heads ‘no’ at me when I take a wrong turn with this story. When I’m on track, they cheer me on. “Keep going!” is our mantra.

I’m in the final stages of the second complete draft. I dream of taking the completed manuscript to a writers’ conference in Mexico, meeting a fabulous agent and selling my work. The travel bug might be clouding my vision.

In the meantime, I’ve published a short story in Celtic Life International magazine and won a prize with the same story from the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. Thank goodness for all the encouragement I get! All these years of work have just been a labour of love.

If you are also writing, I hope you will keep going too!

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Musical Inspiration

I thought it would be fun to share some musical inspiration I’ve had while writing The Last Honest Man in Havana. This song by Silvio Rodriguez is very well known by Cubans and is one of my favourites. I think Silvio and Rafael, my main character, are quite alike. They’re both very patriotic. This particular song, however, caused a lot of speculation in Cuba. Many believe the person he’s singing about is Fidel Castro. Silvio tells the press it’s about a woman. What else could he say??

http://www.youtube.com/v/u80ocuvZxmY?fs=1&hl=en_US

This song by Tito Gomez reminds me of the character, Mari, and her happy days dancing at the beach club in Nautico. Get up and practice your cha-cha!

http://www.youtube.com/v/V0-CpOOgOpo?fs=1&hl=en_US

Okay, here’s one more because these things are nicer in threes, aren’t they? While the news I read about Cuba often depresses me, Kelvis Ochoa’s video for Quedate always reminds me of the warmth and indomitable spirit of the Cuban people.

http://www.youtube.com/v/b8X2nURomrc?fs=1&hl=en_US

Enjoy the music!  Hope it lifts your spirits too!

 

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Fall Update

Summer is over and, for me, it’s the perfect time to start everything new.  New projects, new classes and new hobbies.

This fall and winter, I will continue working on The Last Honest Man in Havana. Of course, it’s not a new project. In fact, by December I will have spent two years on it. But I’m re-writing it in such a way that it almost feels like something new. The story still compels me and this time I will have my new writers’ group to share my work with. We meet once a month and I’m very excited about working with a group of such talented, creative women!

Somehow, I’m lucky enough to have been selected to attend a screenwriting workshop with AFCOOP, the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative in Halifax. Screenwriting is quite new to me, but I see AFCOOP as another wonderful place to learn about storytelling. I have no idea who is teaching the workshop, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

As for new hobbies, after an eleven-year hiatus, I’ve taken up cycling again! This week, I’ve logged more than 50 km on my old mountain bike. This is not much for a real cyclist, they would do that much on one ride at least, but I feel I’ve made a good start with it. The weather has been gorgeous here, about 24C on October 2, and I hope I’ll get at least another month before it’s too cold.

Biking along Cavendish Beach this summer got me hooked. Spectacular!

I’m still looking for moneda nacional and Cuban pesos to take some photos for this blog. If anyone has pics they’d like to send me, that would be great!

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First Public Reading

On June 5 I did my first public reading at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia’s Annual General Meeting.  I have to say, it’s fun showing up on the same page as Alistair MacLeod and Shandi Mitchell!

Three other participants read, too.  I heard touching excerpts from the memoirs of Mary Jane Copps and Sarah Jewel and the colourful poetry of Brian Braganza.

A public reading should be just be enough to whet your audience’s appetite, and with Stephens’ help, I chose a section with a bit of drama. I read a two-page excerpt from chapter three of The Last Honest Man in Havana.  It was a little nerve-wracking, but this was a supportive group, not a room full of literary agents.  They gave me a great round of applause and I enjoyed the experience more than I thought I would.

Chapter three is set in April 1980, when a hijacked bus crashed through the gates of the Peruvian embassy.  This resulted in more than 11,000 Cubans claiming refugee status behind the gates.   Not long after, more than 100,000 Cubans left the country via the Mariel Boatlift.

I wanted to visit the site of the former embassy during my last trip to Cuba.  I’d heard it had been converted into a museum, The March of the Fighting People Museum.  I wanted to see the fence, the gate and imagine the garden and all that transpired there.  We shouldn’t have been so surprised to discover that the entire building is gone and is now the site of a small hotel.  The March of the Fighting People Museum still exists, but has moved a few blocks over.

I was disappointed about the changes, but went in to visit the museum anyway.  It cost one peso, or 25 cents.  If you’re travelling to Cuba, I wouldn’t advise putting this high on your priority list.  It’s only got one item that has anything to do with the incident at the Peruvian embassy: the rifle of José Ortiz Cabrera, the guard who was killed when the hijacked bus went through the gate.  The Cubans maintain their story that he was hit by the bus.  The Peruvians say he was accidentally shot by his colleague in the melee.

The most disturbing thing about all of it is that the younger Cubans I was talking to had never heard about the bus crashing into the embassy.  It’s generally not discussed and it’s definitely not taught in the schools.

At home, I was able to find an excellent documentary (only in Spanish) about all the April 1980 events on El Nuevo Herald’s website.  They’ve taken it down, but it’s called Mariel 25 and can be ordered from Univision by calling 1-877-CUBANOS.

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Tobacco Fields in Pinar del Rio

Taking a little break from The Last Honest Man in Havana.  My mentorship with Stephens is almost over and I’m proud of how far I’ve come with this project.  I hope you will all have a chance to read it one day between two covers!

In the tobacco field

Here we are in the middle of a tobacco field in Pinar del Rio.  I really needed to see this because of Rafael’s experience at his escuela del campo in chapter two.  Since the 60s, Cuban school children aged thirteen and up have been required to do forty-five days of field work every year.  Sometimes they pick tobacco, sometimes they plant sweet potatoes or other vegetables.  Think of it as a way to pay for that free education.

By the end of March, the harvest is almost over and the stalks are being picked by this young fellow.

Tobacco picker
He’s a slightly weather-beaten 22-year old and has been picking tobacco every season since he was five. He was very fast with his little hooked knife.  It’s a tough job.  The leaves have to be in perfect condition to make those famous habanero cigars.

tobacco barn


Inside the barn, the leaves are hung to dry.  Later, someone will pick them up.  They’ll be packed tightly and fermented for about three more months before they’re rolled into cigars.

Drying tobacco

Flowers from the tobacco plants.

The lovely family running this farm originated in northern Spain and first settled in the region in the 1700s.  They don’t own the land, it was taken away from them by Castro in the early 60s, but they were given more control of it again the 1990s.  Now they get some profit for their yield.  Only tobacco farmers have this privilege because tobacco is so important to the Cuban economy.

 

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