If you guys have been reading the blog, you may have already seen me rave about this book! Now you get to hear more from the author herself. Please help us give Chanel Cleeton a warm welcome today here to talk about her latest release, NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA. And be sure to add this to your reading lists this month because this book just ROCKS.
Welcome to Under the Covers, Chanel! We’re excited to be able to talk to you about your new release, NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA.
Thanks for having me! I’m so thrilled to be here.
For readers that may not be familiar with your background, can you tell us a little more about your inspiration for writing this story and why it was so important?
Next Year in Havana was inspired by my family. My father and grandparents left Cuba in 1967 after the Cuban Revolution and I grew up on their stories of home and their love for the island.
In the summer of 2016, my father told me a story I’d never heard before. When my family left Cuba, they were unable to take any of their valuables or cherished family mementos with them, so they got together one night and buried the items in their backyard. As soon as I heard the story, the writer in me could not let go of it, and I knew I had to write a book about a family caught in the middle of a revolution and the family secrets that were preserved in that box for the next generations.
This is a bit of a departure in terms of the genre that we are used to reading from you, but it still packs a romantic punch. Why was it important to write this from a different angle than the romance genre?
At its heart, this book was always about the two women at the center of it—Elisa and Marisol—and their love of family and country. While I knew they would each have a love story (I don’t think I would write a book without one), the focus for me was really a love letter to Cuba and to where we come from and the sacrifices made by those who came before us.
Did you have to do any research for this particular book? If so, what was the experience like and what was the most interesting thing you found out?
I did a lot of research on this one as I tried to capture the spirit of 1950s and modern Cuba. I was really fortunate to have grown up with a strong foundation from my family and was able to use those experiences as the start of my story. I read a lot of declassified materials and official communications from the time period, using primary and secondary sources to capture the days surrounding the revolution. Memoirs and documentaries were particularly helpful to get other perspectives on the revolution. In the end, my family was my best research resource as I was able to consult with family members who had lived through the events of the revolution. Family photos that were smuggled out of the country after my family left were also really helpful.
It was a fascinating experience and my own research took me on a similar journey to my heroine Marisol as I learned more about my Cuban heritage. I think the biggest surprise that came out of it was just how bad things were during the revolution. My grandparents and father had painted a grim picture for me, but the nuances of things like the “trials” in the sports stadium in Havana were particularly eye opening. The reality of life in modern Cuba was equally surprising and sobering.
What would you say are the similarities and differences of Elisa Perez and Marisol Ferrera?
I think they’re both loyal and courageous. Family is everything to them. They both are drawn to complicated men, and are both adventurous in their own ways. They’re both romantics.
Elisa has a strength to her that Marisol hasn’t had to develop yet due to the differences in the ways they’ve grown up. The violence of the revolution has played a huge role in Elisa’s formative years. Marisol is also more independent even as she struggles to find her place in the world in ways that her grandmother never had to.
What did you struggle with the most while writing this book?
It was really easy to get caught up in the research and I often had to remind myself that it was time to start writing 🙂
NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA is an intensely emotional story. What did your writing routine look like and did you have any must haves (like a brand new box of Kleenex every time you started writing a chapter, perhaps)?
😉 I definitely cry at certain points in the book every single time I read them and I teared up a lot while drafting. The ending always makes me cry, even though I’ve probably read it thirty times now. It was definitely an emotional book for me to write.
I always write to specific playlists so I listened to a lot of Buena Vista Social Club while I was working on the book. I had a blast working on the soundtrack for this one.
You have a playlist for this book on your website. Is there one song in particular that gives you all the feels that represent this story for you?
“Guantanamera” is such a great Cuban song and I referenced that one a lot. It’s based on this gorgeous poem by José Martí (Versos Sencillos). I also listened to a lot of Buena Vista Social Club. Their self-titled album is amazing and I have fond memories of my grandparents listening to it on their record player.
What would be your number one tip for writing Historical Fiction?
I think choosing a subject you’re passionate about is key. You’ll spend a lot of time researching in addition to writing the book and I really recommend focusing on a time period and topic that you love so that your enthusiasm connects with your readers.
Let’s talk about some of your favorites! What’s your favorite Cuban food and drink?
My favorite Cuban drink is this soda called Materva. It’s really sweet and I can only ever drink one can, but it’s a childhood favorite so it always makes me incredibly nostalgic.
Food is a tough one! I’m going to cheat and pick a few. I love lechón asado (roast pork), paella, yucca, tostones, black beans and rice, and merenguitos.
What books are currently on your TBR and you are dying to dive into?
I can’t wait to read The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh, and Four Weddings and Maybe a Funeral by Rhys Bowen.
Tell us 3 of your auto-buy authors.
This is a hard one, but off the top of my head: Tana French, Sarah MacLean, and Beatriz Williams.
If you could bring to life only one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Probably Elisa because she reminds me so much of my grandmother. My grandmother passed away almost ten years ago and we were very close. Writing Elisa made me feel like I brought my grandmother to life again.
What are you working on next?
I just finished edits on When We Left Cuba, which is Beatriz Perez’s book (she appears in Next Year in Havana), and will be out in early 2019. She’s a larger-than-life character and took me on quite the adventure.
I’m currently drafting my 2020 release which is set in the 1930s and features three amazing heroines thrust into a dangerous and unpredictable situation. Each one has their own love story and it’s been really fun to work on.
Thanks so much for sharing with us today!
Thanks for having me!
by Chanel Cleeton
Released: February 6 2018
Published by Berkley
After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...
Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...
Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.
Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.
Chanel Cleeton is graciously giving away
$10 Amazon Gift Card
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