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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Abuela battles the demons

With Halloween approaching, this excerpt from The Skinny Years seemed worth sharing. The setting: October 31, 1960 at the home of a Cuban family recently arrived in Miami. 

An eerie wailing from the front door startled Abuela as she cracked another egg into the cast-iron skillet. The voices were shrill and insistent, uttering a bizarre incantation. In her sixty-seven years, she’d heard nothing like it.
“Triko-tree! Triko-tree!”
After the signs of brujería in the neighborhood, Abuela was wary. Evil sorcery was lurking, she was sure of that. She inched to the kitchen door and peered toward the front of the house, straining to focus her failing eyes. What she saw nearly stopped her heart.
Lucifer was at the door.
The Prince of Darkness was accompanied by Death himself, his skull’s face staring in a wicked grin. Judging by their short stature, it was clear both had assumed the form of gnomes. Worse still, as they continued their eerie incantation, each demon was thrusting an orange gourd toward her with an evil smiling face.
“Triko-tree! Triko-tree!” they shrieked again.
Oblivious to the danger lurking at the door, Marta sat in the living room transfixed by the television.
Abuela fought a sudden weakness in the knees and the urge to urinate. She braced herself against the kitchen door, her mind racing. She had to compose herself. Her grandchild was in danger.
Then, with piercing clarity, an inspiration came to her.
Rushing to the kitchen sink, she filled a saucepan with water from the tap, then ran into the living room where she grabbed the plastic crucifix hanging on the wall.
“Be gone from this house! Leave us in peace!” she screamed in Spanish as she charged toward the front porch brandishing the crucifix and the saucepan. “This is holy water! This is holy water!”
* * *

“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” Michael and Tommy Brewer called into the yellow bungalow’s screen door.
The porch light was on and the boys could see the gray glow of a television set flickering on the walls of the living room. An overhead light was visible in the kitchen at the back of the house.
“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” they screamed again, holding out their pumpkins expectantly.
After several seconds, Michael and Tommy finally saw a figure moving toward them in the house. At last, someone was coming to the door.
What they saw next left them petrified.
From the gloom of the living room, an old woman charged toward them screaming something they couldn’t understand, waving a crucifix and holding a saucepan. Her gray eyes glared wildly, exposing the white around her pupils. Paralyzed with fear, the boys stood rooted to the ground, their expressions of terror hidden behind their masks.
The deranged old woman opened the screen door and thrust the crucifix toward them, still shouting angrily. Thinking she might want him to take the crucifix, Tommy extended his basket tentatively toward the cross.
It was the wrong thing to do.
The old woman emptied the saucepan of water in his face.
Drenched and terrified, Tommy turned and bolted with Michael trailing less than a step behind.
* * *

An excerpt from The Skinny Years by Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Monday, September 26, 2016

What's your favorite coming-of-age novel?

Coming-of-age fiction has a rich history and includes some of the most memorable novels of all time. Do you have a favorite? Vote for yours below. If it's not on the list, please leave a message and I will include it in an update to this post.

What is your favorite coming-of-age novel?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

You can't breathe underwater

With summer almost over, I'm reminded of this excerpt from The Skinny Years. Enjoy the last days of warmth--and remember the times when a summer was forever.  

Standing on the sidewalk in front of the Bockman’s house, Skinny stared nervously at the only two-story home for blocks. The house was small compared to his home in Cuba, Skinny reminded himself.  But among the small, boxy cottages in Wynwood, it seemed like a palace.
The closer he’d gotten to the Bockman’s house this morning, the more Skinny’s nerve had faded. Wearing a bathing suit borrowed from a neighbor and carrying a castoff Everglades hotel towel did not help his confidence. In fact, Skinny’s doubts had started only moments after Janice’s invitation.
What had Janice meant by ‘the kids who would appreciate it most’? The question had tortured him for the last two days. Still, the thought of seeing Janice again—in a bathing suit, no less—helped him kick that qualm down the road each time it surfaced.
Swallowing hard, Skinny walked to the door and rang the bell.
A stout, middle-aged woman in a flowered sun dress opened the door. “You must be Skinny,” she said smiling. “Come on in.”
Skinny followed Mrs. Bockman through a large living room where a slender man with a copper-colored beard sat working on a fly fishing lure and smoking a pipe. He rose and extended his palm.
“Glad you could make it, son,” Mr. Bockman said shaking Skinny’s hand. “Hope you enjoy the pool.”
“Thanks for inviting me, sir,” Skinny answered.
Mr. Bockman’s eyebrows rose. “Wow. Janice wasn’t kidding when she said your English has improved. I’d swear you were born speaking it.”
Skinny beamed at the compliment—and the fact Janice had mentioned him to her parents.
After meeting Janice’s dad, they continued through the house to the kitchen. There, Mrs. Bockman led him through open double doors to their newly-built pool. Seated at a patio table on the concrete deck, Skinny saw Janice in a modest one-piece bathing suit and a fully-dressed Norman Lee.
“Janice,” Mrs. Bockman called out, “your other guest is here.”
Janice smiled and waved him over. “Hi, Skinny. You know Norman, right?”
“Hi, Norman,” Skinny said with a small wave.
Norman Lee was new to the neighborhood, a lanky good-natured kid from Georgia with a honey-thick drawl. The thing about Norman was this: He had a bright pink harelip scar under his nose. It was something Skinny tried hard to ignore—but it always made his throat catch with pity each time he saw the kid.
 Looking at Norman, Skinny came to a realization that made his stomach flop.
Janice’s reason for inviting him now made a miserable kind of sense. This isn’t a pool party. It’s a pity party. The ‘kids who would appreciate it most’ meant the deformed, the fat and the poor. He knew the Bockmans meant well. But it made him feel small enough to crawl under the belly of ant.
“Well, now that you’re all here, it’s time to open the pool,” Mrs. Bockman announced in a sunny voice. “Norman, why don’t you go get changed? The bathroom’s just inside on the right. I’ll be in the kitchen if any of you need me.”
Norman rose excitedly and disappeared into the house.
Meanwhile, Janice pulled on her bathing cap, walked to the edge of the small pool and gracefully dove into the deep end.
“Get in, Skinny!” Janice called out after surfacing in the shallow side.
Skinny joylessly took off his shirt and shoes, lowered himself into the water and swam over to her.
“Hey, you swim pretty good,” Janice said.
“I’ve been swimming since I was little,” Skinny said dully. “We used to have our own—” Skinny stopped and turned around as he heard the clomping of footsteps on the deck. Coming toward the pool at a full gallop was Norman Lee in his white jockey briefs.
“Yeeeehaaaw!” Norman yelled as he launched himself feet-first into the deep end.  KERSPLOOOSH! The splash sent small waves sloshing over the edge of the pool.
Janice looked at Skinny, covering her mouth as she laughed. “Oh, my God! Norman’s in his underwear!”
Skinny smiled back, the sound of her laughter brightening his mood. But then Skinny noticed something wrong. Norman’s was thrashing wildly in the water. “Hey, I don’t think he knows how to swim,” he said to Janice.
Janice’s smile changed to a look of horror. “Mom! Mom! Come here!” she yelled.
Without thinking, Skinny swam toward Norman. Diving under the water, Skinny saw the gangly Georgian, limbs flailing in panic, trying desperately to reach the surface. As he swam closer, Skinny could hear Norman’s gurgling cries of terror. For a moment, Skinny watched helplessly, not knowing what to do. Then an inspiration came to him.
Diving until he was directly below Norman, Skinny stood on the bottom of the pool and pushed the drowning kid toward the surface. Looking up, Skinny could see that Norman’s head was finally out of the water. The question now was: How long could he keep this up before coming up for air?
The answer came with a heavy splash. Looking above him, Skinny saw a pair of chunky legs in white cotton panties billowing inside a flowered skirt. Mrs. Bockman had jumped into the pool, fully dressed. In a matter of seconds, she pulled Norman to safety.
Skinny surfaced and found Norman gasping for breath, clinging to the side of the pool. Mrs. Bockman was beside him, her hair wet and plastered to her neck and shoulders.
For a long moment, everyone stared at Norman, expecting an explanation.
“Y’know somethin’,” Norman sputtered in his Georgia twang. “You cain’t breathe underwater.”
A short while later, with everyone safely on the pool deck, Janice’s dad put his hand on Skinny’s shoulder. “Nice going, son. Mrs. Bockman told me what you did.”
Glancing at Janice, Skinny saw her smile, eyes glittering with approval. 
The fireworks in Skinny chest began once again. He didn’t dare hope Janice was ready to fall into his arms like a hero in the movies. But there was a whiff of something more than friendship in the chlorine-scented poolside air.

An excerpt from The Skinny Years by Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Skinny Years September Savings Specials

Get em' while you can. My publisher is offering some "September Specials" on The Skinny Years that won't last long (or I'll go broke): 

Paperback edition, signed and dedicated 
Just $10 including shipping 
(retail price: $12.99)

Hardbound edition, signed and dedicated 
Just $20 including shipping 
(retail price: $22.99)

Kindle edition 
Just 99 cents
(retail price: $4.99)

These specials are an excellent opportunity to create a keepsake or give a great gift. I hope you'll take advantage of these savings available during all of September.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Friday, September 2, 2016

On the air with Book Nook's Vick Mickunas of NPR/WYSO

I want to thank Vick Mickunas, host of Book Nook on NPR/WYSO, for inviting me on his show to discuss my 4th novel, The Skinny Years

A conga-beat coming of age in the stormy 1960s
Vick Mickunas introduced the Book Nook author interview program for WYSO in 1994. Over the years he has produced more than 1500 interviews with writers, musicians, poets, politicians, and celebrities including Pat Conroy, Anne Lamott, Donald Ray Pollock, Tom Robbins, Kate Atkinson, Amy Tan, John Kasich, Donald Trump, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Nora Roberts, John Glenn, Bill Bryson, Garrison Keillor, Dave Barry, and music legends from bands like The Animals, The Doors, and The Rolling Stones.

You can listen live online at the link below:
A podcast will be available later in the week. 

Hope you can tune in!

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Cuba: A blend of races with a single culture

Cubans are a people with genes from many parts of the globe. You'll find faces on the island that reveal ancestors ranging from Nubian to Nordic. Most mainstream Americans visiting Cuba for the first time find that diversity surprising. But it's not really unusual. Many other nations in Latin America have similar tapestries of phenotypes. But what makes Cuba unique goes beyond features and pigmentation.

The United States is also made up of a wide range of races. These racial groups are, for the most part, divided into separate communities. African-Americans, in particular, live in a vastly different culture. There are "black" styles of music, food and fashion. Many African-Americans speak with a distinctive English dialect, These differences are an unquestioned fact of life in the United States.

In contrast, Cubans have a single cultural identity. Cubans of every color share the same music, the same food, the same accent. That's not to say racial prejudice does not exist in Cuba.

Look at the highest echelons of Cuban society and you'll find a preponderance of lighter skin. Poverty, on the other hand, is much more egalitarian on the island. The poorest districts are mostly integrated, These conditions preceded the communist revolution, by the way. The Castro brothers can take credit for removing Cuba's versions of Jim Crow. But the strongman overthrown by the communist revolution, Fulgencio Batista, was a person of mixed European and African heritage.

Perhaps Cuba's greatest unity comes from our music. The neurosurgeon and the hotel maid still move their hips in the same saucy way when they hear a conga beat. It seems we all have the 1-2-3, 1-2 rhythm of the clave hardwired into our nervous systems.

Want proof? Watch the video below. You'll see a rainbow coalition of Cuban musicians and everyday folks sharing their passion for music--and the moving words of poet and statesman, Jose Marti.

To be sure, we Cubans have our faults and foibles like every other nation. But there is a lot the world can learn from the beauty of Cuba's cultural unity.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Old stories, new faces

Since 2007 I've hosted, a website where immigrants to the U.S. from all over the world can tell their stories in their own words. This week I received a series of similar stories, all from Phoenix, Arizona. This had never happened before. One of the stories mentioned a class called "English Innovations." After Googling the term in Phoenix, I discovered this course is part of the evening curriculum at Maricopa Community College. The reason behind the series of stories quickly became clear. Posting these stories to the website was evidently a class assignment for people learning to communicate in English.

As a child, my mother took English classes at the local high school. She attended these lessons after making my dinner following a long day of work. I can picture the authors of these stories doing the same. Below you'll find their stories, verbatim. Their struggle to master grammar and spelling underscores the challenges they face every day--and face willingly.

The next time you hear someone say today's immigrants don't want to accept American ways, remember these stories. There are many others like them, people quietly struggling to adapt to a new language and culture so they can provide their children with the same life you'd wish for your own. They're old stories, repeated many times in the course of U.S. history. Only the faces have changed.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Susana, Phoenix Az
My name is Susana, and I am from Mexico City. I am 36 years old. I came to the USA because I was married. My husband and I came to have more opportunities and to have a better life. Now, I live with my sons and my husband. I hope that some day I will see my family again.
On my journey, I felt nervous and was cautious. When I got here, I saw many differences, such as the language, the money and the weather. But as time passed, I met new people and I felt better. Now, I eat different foods, and I found many Mexican restaurants that bring me many memories.
Although I miss my friends and family back home, I am glad that I am able to provide a better life for my children.

Mario, Phoenix Arizona
My name is Mario. I am from Guerrero,Mexico. I am 44 and I am married. I have three children and I came to the United States for a better future. In Mexico I didn't have my own home. I came to Phoenix with the brother in laws and of my wife. I didn't have family in this city. My long term goal in this country is to get my own home. I need to prepare to take my Residence card. That's why in the eigth years I always have had two jobs to survive. It is very difficult to get a long without legal documents. My greatest des8ire is that my children continue studying to improve themselves and have a better way of life. Someday we will have our own home and be able to get our legal documents to go visit our relatives in Mexico.

Maria, Phoenix AZ
My name is Maria 
I come from Tamaulipas Mexico.
I cam to live in Phoenix, A Z
I left my country because need to work 
I had no difficultades because I arrived by plane 
My reaction to the U S A was fear.

Araceli, Phoenix Az 
My name is Araceli. I am from Mexico I came to this country twelve years ago looking for a better life in this country.When I came I brought a suitcase with my Mexican culture,my roots and illusions for a better future leaving behind my family my job my country to start a new life. 
When I was travelng to this country I was very sad because I thought how will be my life in U.S.A .
When I was on the border was the worse experience in my life I feel humiliated because all things was diferent but I am happy because in this country I achieved things that in my country was impossible.
some things I like in this country are I can do my Mexican traditions.
One struggle I encountered was I could not find work because I was undocumented but that not prevented me to get ahead and achieve my dreams.

Luz, Phoenix
I left my country in 2003. I came to unite with my husband, who was working here for a few years. I brought with me my 2 children, leaving behind my mom, sibbilings and all my family.
During my journey to Phoenix, I was feeling sad to leave all my life and thinking what it was to come. At the time I arrived my reaccion was better than I was thinking because the neighborhood was good. As I have found a big difference because my home town was smaller and all people living there greeting everyone and here we are like unknown people.
I have found nothing the same.
The struggles were finding the right school for my children and how to transport us and also the big struggle was when I wanted to get work.

Teresa, Phoenix, Az.
My parents came from Puebla, Mexico we came to Phoenix, Arizona. Because my parents came for more opportunities for them and my siblings as well as better medical attention for me, for my eyes. I brought with me my hope, faith my desire to succeed. I am leaving behind my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.During my journey to the U.S.A. I felt so excited & had fear at the same time. I had many emotions at this time. My reaction to the U.S.A was difficult in the beginning because I had an auto accident and had long time in physical therapy and mental (emotional), and then when I started school, it was a little hard to learn the new system of education, the difference from my native county is food, culture, language, the people the similarities from my country is some people that are from the same place I am from some places that have same language to me like Spanish the struggles that I have encounter the auto accident, time for my recuperation different system of education and the culture.

Elda, Phoenix, Az
My name is Elda. I am from Sonora Mexico. I came to the U.S.A because my husband did not have a job. My husband came first. Then a month later my children and I came whit some friends. My friends took me to my husband. In my country we have many parties, here in U.S.A every one is in their own world. I had no struggles when I came here. In Mexico we are not safe but in the U.S.A were are.

Ariana, Phoenix AZ 
My name is Ariana; I came from Oaxaca Mexico, when i was 15 years old,my parents decided to move to Arizona because our business got burnt,They rebuilt the grocery store,but nothing was the same.I brought a Virgin of Guadalupe necklace.I left 1 brother and 2 sisters in Oaxaca. I felt sad because my family was separated.I was scared because I didn't know what was on the other side.The truck drivers drove like a crazy person,and I was worried about my dad because he was apart from us.I was so happy we were safe.My native country is a little town so only the road and big street was paved.I remember the weather; it felt so warm at 7:00am. The only thing that was the same was my uncle and aunt who recived us in their house. English was the first problem I had; the first question i learned was "Do you speak spanish? The kids were so mean and rude with no good manners,fortunately I started knowing good people.

Andres, Phoenix, AZ.
I come here to the U S A . for the first time in 1992, because I looking
For better work. Now I have all my family with me, I have good work,
I 'm very happy.
God bless me.

When I came to Amerca it was veri hard because the agente of immigration was holding me and took me bak to Mexico.when I came to America, everything was different than Mexico. So I was feeling sad because I was in a strange place. Everithing, was different the language, monney, stores and the people. I missed my mam, my dad and all my family. The weather was to hot here in Mexico the weather is very nice. I didn't have work . No money and I didn't know any body. I needed to go to places but I did not have a car. I did not know the city. So I really was want to go bak to Mexico.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A tasty review of The Skinny Years

Author Roger Besu
Roger Besu is an exile of my generation, born in Cuba and raised in Miami during the sixties and seventies. He is also the author of a definitive book on Cuban cuisine, Cuban Cooking 101.
I did not know Roger growing up. We met as mature adults. So I wondered if he would connect with my fourth novel set in Miami during the sixties. Roger's review of The Skinny Years left this author feeling heartened that the story resonated as authentic with someone whose experiences mirrored my own.


by Roger Besu, author of Cuban Cooking 101

I started to read this book with the idea that I was going to encounter a chronicle or a biography. What I found was a ride through memory lane – a trip that reaches into the fantasies created by the author about the many encounters of the characters he describes in a family forced into exile from La Habana to Miami. The legend of the Delgado family takes place at the beginning from the sixties when the wave of the Diaspora began and thousands fled the oppressive new regime brought by the Castro brothers and their cohorts. But, the story is not so much about politics but about the serious business of young immigrants coming to the Melting Pot of America and trying to survive in the new environment. 

"There is exhilaration, funny moments and the hard reality, all described in this very witty novel with a delicate touch by a master writer."

You will find in the lives described, as in many lives, those brilliant moments and those very somber, but in between there are many neutral zones. There is exhilaration, funny moments and the hard reality, all described in this very witty novel with a delicate touch by a master writer. You will laugh, cry, remember and find that you can actually understand what it is to find a new life in a new country. The immigrant, be it Cuban, or from whatever background you come from, will find incomparable affinity and rapport with the characters.  

This is a very timely book for those who not only are interested in the history of the Cuban exiles of the sixties, but of the history of immigrants in general in America. A true work of literary license, which is much more interesting than a chronicle  or biography, I say. 

Roger Besu

Monday, July 11, 2016

Honored to be interviewed by Armando F. Sanchez

Armando F. Sanchez

A former educator, Armando F. Sanchez has dedicated himself to inspiring Latino youth through his efforts as a CEO, producer and author. I was proud and honored to appear in Armando's global on-demand podcast interview released this week featuring my latest novel, The Skinny Years.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Skinny Years: Book of the Month for Latina Book Club

Talk about making an author's day... Today I awoke to find Latina Book Club had selected The Skinny Years as its Book of the Month. The thrill did not stop there. The review below that accompanied the announcement had me busting my buttons.

by Maria Ferrer, host and editor Latina Book Club

Colorful. Emotional. Outstanding.

THE SKINNY YEARS can take its place proudly alongside other notable coming-of-age tales like BLESS ME, ULTIMA by Rudolfo Anaya; WHEN I WAS PUERTO RICAN by Esmeralda Santiago; and ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

THE SKINNY YEARS deals with lots of complex issues like identity, loss, belonging and connection. Through our teen hero Victor “Skinny” Delgado,” Ramos y Sanchez gives life and light to the “kaleidoscope of color, culture and creed” that was Miami in the turbulent 1960s.

SUMMARY:  Victor Delgado is eight years old when his family flees Cuba in 1959 as Fidel Castro moves in. The family goes from being land rich to dirt poor. Whereas the family had several maids in Havana, now the mother works as a hotel maid in Miami, while his ex-law professor Dad wallows in the past. Luckily, Abuela is always there to care for Victor and his baby sister and share her own brand of wisdom; as well as his best friend Loco, another exile with dubious connections.

Victor quickly learns to survive in this foreign land where a fat man in a red suit replaces the Three Kings and demons boldly knock on your door wanting treats. He learns a new language and earns a new nickname with one swing of the bat. He obsesses over puppy love; joins the skateboard craze with a home-made board; lives through Hurricane Cleo; stars on the football team; runs away to join a commune; and returns home to reconnect with his family and his future. 

And as Victor grows and changes so do his two homelands: Cuba and the U.S. Victor and the world around him are in constant flux – Cuba and the U.S. face off during the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Civil Rights Movement burns bright; disco balls rule the music halls; and peace walks hand in hand with drugs.

Readers will love the characters, the fast pace, and the realistic setting that frames the story.  It’s an emotionally packed coming of age tale that is destined to be a classic.  Bravo, Raul, Bravo.


You can see the original review at the Latina Book Club website.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez