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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

He can push a broom, can't he?

Number 3 in a series of excerpts from The Skinny Years.

        “Be reasonable, mamá. Juan barely speaks English—and he’s a professor of Cuban law,” Alicia calmly explained. “Where could he find a job in this country?”
“He can push a broom, can’t he? You don’t need an American law degree to do that.”





SYNOPSIS:
Surfers, soul brothers, hippies, and thugs — they’re all part of Victor “Skinny” Delgado’s world growing up in Miami during the turbulent 1960s. Fleeing the Castro regime in Cuba, Skinny’s once-wealthy family moves from a mansion in Havana to a roach-infested bungalow in Miami’s low-rent Wynwood district. Over the next ten years the Delgados struggle to survive in this strange new land—a place where fat men in red suits enter your home through the chimney, demons appear at the door begging for candy, and young women go on dates without chaperones. There’s only one constant in Skinny's world as he grows from 8 to 18. He longs in vain for the girl of his dreams: his neighbor Janice Bockman who seems everything American—and everything he’s not.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Castro made Cuban-Americans exiles, not immigrants

There's one thing most people in the U.S. don't realize about Cuban-Americans. We are primarily exiles rather than immigrants. Many of us left, not for a better life, but to have a life at all. All the same, most Cuban-Americans now probably consider themselves fortunate that they were forced to leave. I certainly do. 

Oddly, my family did not come here fleeing Castro. On the contrary, my father was involved in Havana's urban underground trying to overthrow Castro's brutal and corrupt predecessor, Fulgencio Batista. Like Castro, Batista trampled human rights. His secret police kidnapped, tortured and at times executed political opponents. That's what led my mom to divorce my father and come here out of fear for her safety and mine in 1956. My mother also disdained the socialist ideology her husband had adopted.  

We did not lose property to Castro or had relatives jailed or executed after the revolution in 1959. Still, I feel a deep empathy for my fellow Cubans who did. Those kind of wounds do not heal easily. I can understand why they'd want to dance in the streets right now. But I don’t feel any joy knowing Castro is dead. Just relief... and hope.  

Maybe this time around we can have an “evolution” rather than a revolution in Cuba. Let’s liberate the Cuban people with Big Macs instead of bullets. Getting rid of the embargo is a first step. We traded bullets with China and Vietnam. Today we trade goods. 

Why should Cuba be any different?


Monday, November 28, 2016

Goodreads Giveaway


You can now enter a drawing to win one of 15 free paperback copies of my 4th novel,  THE SKINNY YEARS, on Goodreads. 

Please act soon. Drawing ends December 9th. 



SYNOPSIS:
Surfers, soul brothers, hippies, and thugs — they’re all part of Victor “Skinny” Delgado’s world growing up in Miami during the turbulent 1960s. Fleeing the Castro regime in Cuba, Skinny’s once-wealthy family moves from a mansion in Havana to a roach-infested bungalow in Miami’s low-rent Wynwood district. Over the next ten years the Delgados struggle to survive in this strange new land—a place where fat men in red suits enter your home through the chimney, demons appear at the door begging for candy, and young women go on dates without chaperones. There’s only one constant in Skinny's world as he grows from 8 to 18. He longs in vain for the girl of his dreams: his neighbor Janice Bockman who seems everything American—and everything he’s not.




Friday, November 25, 2016

We'll Be Home in a Few Months

Number 2 in a series of excerpts from The Skinny Years.

        As the family took their seats, Victor saw his mother begin to cry. With a flamboyant sweep, Juan put his arm protectively around his wife. “Don’t cry, mi amor. I assure you, we’ll be back home in a few months—perhaps a year at the most.”





SYNOPSIS:
Surfers, soul brothers, hippies, and thugs — they’re all part of Victor “Skinny” Delgado’s world growing up in Miami during the turbulent 1960s. Fleeing the Castro regime in Cuba, Skinny’s once-wealthy family moves from a mansion in Havana to a roach-infested bungalow in Miami’s low-rent Wynwood district. Over the next ten years the Delgados struggle to survive in this strange new land—a place where fat men in red suits enter your home through the chimney, demons appear at the door begging for candy, and young women go on dates without chaperones. There’s only one constant in Skinny's world as he grows from 8 to 18. He longs in vain for the girl of his dreams: his neighbor Janice Bockman who seems everything American—and everything he’s not.




Monday, November 21, 2016

The Cream of Cuban Society

The first in a series of excerpts from The Skinny Years.

        “If Batista and his low-life cronies have become the cream of Cuban society, then it won’t be long before that scoundrel Castro is taking his morning sh*t in the Presidential Palace,” the old woman yelled at her son-in-law before shuffling out of the room.
        “Your mother has a lot of class, Alicia,” Juan said dryly. “Unfortunately, it’s all low.”






SYNOPSIS:
Surfers, soul brothers, hippies, and thugs — they’re all part of Victor “Skinny” Delgado’s world growing up in Miami during the turbulent 1960s. Fleeing the Castro regime in Cuba, Skinny’s once-wealthy family moves from a mansion in Havana to a roach-infested bungalow in Miami’s low-rent Wynwood district. Over the next ten years the Delgados struggle to survive in this strange new land—a place where fat men in red suits enter your home through the chimney, demons appear at the door begging for candy, and young women go on dates without chaperones. There’s only one constant in Skinny's world as he grows from 8 to 18. He longs in vain for the girl of his dreams: his neighbor Janice Bockman who seems everything American—and everything he’s not.





Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Trailer: The Skinny Years

"Goodbye mansion. Hello roaches and rats." 

The new book trailer for The Skinny Years colorfully chronicles a young Cuban exile’s bittersweet coming of age during the stormy 1960s, a time of the cold war, civil rights struggles, and the hippie counter culture. 

Enjoy...and please share! 



You can learn more about the novel at: www.RaulRamos.com

Friday, November 4, 2016

Coming soon: The Skinny Years Book Trailer


Coming soon to a digital screen near you...

The Skinny Years Book Trailer!

Months in the making, the one-minute, 38-second video is slated for release next week.

Stay tuned!
Raul

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