News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Saturday, April 9, 2016

I Tend a White Rose

Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca (I Tend a White Rose) is perhaps the best-known work of Cuba’s most beloved patriot and poet, Jose Marti. In Spanish, the poem’s simple words are powerful and inspiring. Yet I’ve never been nearly as moved by its many English translations. So I will toss my hat into the ring. Whether you are bilingual or not, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of my version.

I Tend a White Rose 
I tend a single white rose
in summer as well as winter,
for the true friend who will extend
an honest hand in peace.  
And for the foe who would tear
the living heart from my chest,
thistle nor thorns do I sow,
I tend a single white rose.

Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca
Cultivo una rosa blanca
en junio como en enero
para el amigo sincero
que me da su mano franca.
Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazón con que vivo,
cardo ni ortiga cultivo;
cultivo la rosa blanca.

Little known outside Cuba, Jose Marti was a patriot, a poet, and most of all, a humanitarian.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Do you cringe when recalling high school?

Do you cringe when recalling your high school years? You may be surprised to learn you’re not alone after reading best-selling author Ralph Keyes' updated classic “Is There Life After High School.”

The latest edition contains new research on the high school experiences of public figures like Barrack Obama, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Katie Couric, George Clooney, Lady Gaga, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and many more. 

One of my favorite nuggets from the book:
When a high school tormentor came to congratulate Mike Nichols after his standup act, Nichols asked the former bully what he was doing now.
"I'm selling used cars," said the tormentor.
"I'm so glad," said Nichols. 
If you’re a few years beyond those hallways filled with lockers and adolescent angst (or even if you're still in high school), you’ll find this an enlightening and enjoyable read. 

"Is There Life After High School" is currently available as a Kindle edition

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Friday, March 18, 2016

Author James Rollins: A Class Act

James Rollins has written dozens of novels, many of them best-sellers. As anyone who's penned a novel can tell you, good writing takes time. And Rollins is no slouch. His work is consistently ranked with other thriller giants like John Grisham, David Baldacci and James Patterson. Yet Rollins somehow finds the time to read the work of other authors and showcase their books alongside his own.

I found this out firsthand a few days ago.

On Jim's FantasticFiction page, along with his many titles, were novels he recommends. There, among books by several other authors, was the second novel of my Class H Trilogy, House Divided.

Jim Rollins is an example of what we should all strive to be, regardless of our endeavors: dedicated, hardworking, and generous.  I'm honored by his recognition--as a fellow author and a class act. 

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Thursday, March 10, 2016

When the book is better than the movie

When the subject of books-into-movies comes up, almost everyone I know favors the book over the film. The most often cited reason? The book offers more depth of character and plot.

That’s not surprising when you do the math. Most books run 250 to 350 pages. The typical movie script is 100 pages long.

All the same, there’s an exception to every rule. Below is a short list of movies I think are better than the book. Have a different opinion? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Forrest Gump

I found the novel by Winston Groom rambling and bizarre. In the book, Forrest is a stereotypical lug-of-a-lineman at Alabama who becomes an astronaut and has an extended relationship with a chimpanzee. Thank God the film’s producer kept the title and little else.  

The Legend of Bagger Vance

I’m a fan of Stephen Pressfield’s historical novels. But the film adaptation of his golf-themed book is more focused and richer in character. An outstanding performance by Will Smith really helped. I was also pleasantly surprised to find Robert Redford’s direction less treacly than usual.

Get Shorty

I am messing with a demi-god in dissing Elmore Leonard. Over 20 of his novels were made into films—and I’ve loved many of them. But Get Shorty on the page seems slow and stale compared to its screen adaptation. Chili Palmer could be John Travolta’s best role ever—although that’s not saying much.

The Martian 

My hat is off to Andy Weir. Rare is the contemporary science fiction writer who hews to the laws of physics and resists invoking mystical forces. Still, the novel’s dialog and narrative are stilted at times. Ridley Scott transformed Weir’s well-intentioned effort into a captivating film.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Just because you can write a book doesn’t mean you can sign one

As an author of 16 titles, you'd think author Ralph Keyes faces book signings with little trepidation. After reading Ralph's new essay for The American Scholar, I was relieved to find I was not alone in my angst over dedicating books. Enjoy Inscriber's Block, an inside look into the world of authors and our insecurities.


Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Thursday, March 3, 2016

KKUP live: Cuban myths, El Trumpazo, music and more

When: Saturday March 5th 3-4 PM ET - Noon to 1 PM PT
Alma Latina - hosted by Jesus Orosco

Listen live on your laptop or computer 

Hope you can join our conversation as host Jesus Orosco and I discuss... 

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio -- Cubanos or Latinos?

How El Trumpazo made his bones on Mexicans

Cuba: the reality vs. the media myth

Great music too

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Saturday, February 20, 2016

PANCHO LAND now available in paperback and Nook eBook


Nook eBook

PANCHO LAND, the third novel of my Class H Trilogy, is now available in paperback and Nook eBook. I expected these other editions were just around the corner when the Kindle version was released in 2012. Now, nearly four years later, the stars have aligned and the other editions are finally available. Whew.

Anyway, it's an excuse to celebrate. So here is the honorary PANCHO LAND spokesperson Chi Chi Chihuahua with his take on the news.


Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Thursday, February 18, 2016

South Korean soaps a hit in Cuba

Here's a head scratcher: In Cuba, subtitled South Korean soap operas are more popular than Mexican telenovelas broadcast in Spanish. (One of my cousins back on the island is hooked.) A quirky group, we Cubans.

Read the full story. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Good judgment

An anthropologist once asked a Sioux tribal leader how he got to be chief.
“Good judgment,” said the chief.
“How does one acquire good judgment?” the anthropologist asked.
“Bad judgment,” the chief answered.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Return to Cuba Thaws Cold War Fears

The detente between the U.S. and Cuba continues to make headlines. Some in the Cuban-exile community are opposed to the change in U.S. policy--and they have a right to be concerned. Cuba is not a free country. Still, I believe we can create more change for the better through engagement than by continuing policies that have failed for over 50 years. Below is an essay I wrote that PBS carried as part of its launch of the Latino Americans documentary in 2013. I think the essay still has relevance today.

A Return to Cuba Thaws Cold War Fears

At the heart of almost every Cuban-American family is a tragedy. Most of us were torn apart from loved ones by the passions of ideology. In some cases, this included fear of reprisals and imprisonment. Many also lost personal property. Wounds like these do not heal easily. So my first visit to Cuba after 52 years in exile began with heavy apprehensions.

From the airliner’s window, my first glimpse of the Cuban coastline was a smudge of white in a bluish haze. Emerging from the clouds, a familiar sight came into view: Havana’s cluster of pale towers hugging the sea around the city’s pocket bay. From the air, it seemed little had changed since I’d last left my homeland as an eleven-year-old in 1961.

As the plane taxied to the terminal, a few fading signs on the buildings extolled the virtues of the socialist revolution. That seemed familiar as well. I’d left Havana with Cold War tensions near the breaking point between the U.S. and Cuba. In the previous 18 months the Bay of Pigs invasion and numerous bombings had rocked the island. Now, I was returning to a place where my most vivid memories included a wary militiaman in fatigues sitting at the street corner near our house, a Czech machine gun in his lap.

I’d been assured that the Cold War enmity and fear I remembered was in the past. Nonetheless, I was still leery about what kind of reception Cubans like me, who had left the island long ago, would receive from their countrymen. The answer came as I stepped outside the special terminal for charter flights from the U.S. carrying returning Cuban nationals.

Behind a waist-high fence stood a crowd five and six deep, faces turned like sunflowers toward the passengers emerging from the terminal. I suddenly knew what a movie star must feel on the red carpet. The longing and excitement in those faces was electrifying. From that moment on, I knew I was back home.

Riding through Havana in a  small Russian sedan for the first time in five decades, my attention was divided. I wanted to catch up on years of family news with my cousin and her nearly-middle-aged-son I’d just met for the first time. But passing by outside the car were sights that loomed large in my memory:  the flying-saucer dome of the Ciudad Deportiva stadium; the grater-like spire of the Jose Marti Monument above the roof of a taxi; the flat-roofed pastel-colored buildings nestled among the palms and majagua trees.

For the next seven days, I met with aunts, uncles and cousins I’d last seen as a child, along with an even bigger group: their descendants, born since I’d left Cuba. Even the youngest among them knew the story of my mother and me, the aunt who had divorced her husband and left with her son for the U.S. long ago. This family lore was kept alive on both sides of the Florida Straits. My mother had told her three children – two of whom had been born in the U.S. – a wealth of stories about her relatives in Cuba. These family traditions converged in a series of emotional reunions filled with hugs, laughter, tears, singing and dancing.

Sadly, my mother never made it back to her homeland. She passed away quietly two months before our trip. True to her resolute spirit, we persevered and celebrated her life among the family who never forgot her.

After a few days on the island, my Midwestern, German-Irish wife became a Cuban. Captivated by my family – and they by her – my wife caught the Cuban vibe of uninhibited expression. At our gatherings, she began enthusiastically addressing the entire family (usually at least 20 people) in her skimpy Spanish, something she rarely did with her own family back home. In true Cuban fashion, my wife even invented a word in Spanish for the many large and lively family get-togethers we were attending. “Are you ready for another day of familia-son?” she asked me with a smile our fourth morning on the island. (Cubans often add “son” to a word, giving it the same hyperbolic context as adding the prefix “uber” in English.)

Along with our family gatherings, we found a warm reception among many other Cubans in public places as well. There are shortages of all kinds on the island. But humor and verve are in overwhelming supply. Many of Havana’s residents will charm you with an exuberance that transcends the city’s worn and grimy buildings. Moreover, unlike many urban areas in the U.S. and Latin America, tourists and locals casually walk the streets of Havana day and night.

A wise person once observed that anything you can say about a nation is true. Cuba is a complex place and my impressions of the island are limited and subjective. There are other Cuban exiles who still harbor feelings too powerful to visit Cuba until there is a regime change on the island. They have my sympathy and compassion. All the same, Cuba is changing.

The Soviet Union is no more. The Berlin Wall has fallen. The U.S. now trades with former enemies China and Vietnam. But the U.S. ostracism of Cuba endures, a Cold War relic as anachronistic as the 1950’s U.S. cars that famously cruise Havana’s streets.

Ironically, Cuba’s diplomatic banishment is primarily sustained by the island’s own exiles in the United States. Should we continue the embargo that has failed to topple the Castro regime for over 50 years? Or is there another path for Cuba to emerge from its political and economic woes without turmoil and bloodshed? I don’t have the answer. But a visit to the island may be the first step for my landsmen. My trip to Cuba left me with a glimmer of hope for the future. Our culture’s reverence for family may ultimately transcend politics and help us forge a better nation. Perhaps the time has come for warmth of family to thaw the Cold War.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez