The Cuban Chronicles: A True Tale of Rascals, Rogues, and Romance - An Interview with Wanda St. Hilaire

What would you most like your readers to know about you that they would not likely read in your official bio?

That I have the spirit of a girl–that I still believe in my dreams of life as a wandering storyteller and in the magic of the road less traveled despite the countless roadblocks and harsh detours of heartbreak, illness, flood, financial ruin, and the dark nights of the soul. My Sagittarian fire still burns … not dead yet!

Tell the Scribblers a bit about The Cuban Chronicles, and what inspired you to write this story?

In spite of my love of all things Latin, I put myself on a travel ban to Cuba, one that lasted twenty years. I’d been there at the beginning of tourism under Castro. I have a weakness for Latin men, and cubanos are far too hard to resist. I did not want a complicated Cuban entanglement, so I avoided the tiny island.

When I was forced to cancel a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico at the last minute, I found myself in Cuba twice, on back-to-back trips after finding an offer I couldn’t refuse. Walking into the backstreets of Havana, eyes wide open, I was pulled into a dalliance with a charismatic cubano.

I had actually gone with the intention of writing a different book, but I simultaneously began writing a series of letters to a friend in Paris about my adventures, which I dubbed The Cuban Chronicles.

The story that unfolded and its tempestuous twist was worthy of a book. I changed direction and began writing this one as soon as I returned from my second fateful trip to Cuba.

Is this story all autobiographical, or a combination of memoir, travelogue, and fiction?

It’s a combo of memoir and travelogue that reads like a novel, but is completely true. (Epistolary composition)

Was it difficult to share such personal experience and moments from your life?  And, why did you feel it was important to do so?

It was terrifying! For many years I wanted to write my travel memoirs, but I wanted to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. I wrote The Cuban Chronicles with candor and raw honesty. My flaws and biases are revealed along with what some might consider questionable activity.

I felt the underlying theme of the story was somewhat universal and with my epiphany at the end of the book about my patterns in (romantic) relationships, I wanted to inspire women who have accepted too little to have their own ah-ah moment. I’ve received feedback from many women who did, in fact, recognize themselves in my story.

You are clearly a seasoned traveler. Not every travel adventure would make a good book. What about your experiences in Cuba convinced you this was the one?

Cuba is an anomaly. I hoped for readers to gain a better understanding of Cuban life and what communism does to erode personal liberty and dignity.

The book is an irreverent, cautionary tale told from a deeply personal perspective with a “buyer beware” warning for both men and women when engaging in foreign dalliances. I know many single travelers can relate to such stories, especially those of us who come from cold cultures with a lack of sensuality and spice.

My romance with a Cuban journalist took a dramatic turn when he realized I could not be seduced into marriage.

For those who would never do what I do, I’ve had many respond to tell me they loved traveling along with me on the journey from an armchair.

Was there a person, a character you crossed path with in another travel adventure that you feel would make a good story?

Oh, yes. I’m writing it now.

Can we have an excerpt from The Cuban Chronicles?

  Castro promised his people ‘bread and freedom without terror.’ Paulo has a university degree and makes between $15 and $40 per month as a professional journalist and has no freedom of speech whatsoever. Journalists are frequently thrown in jail for their writing content. Ration books that are issued for food and other basic necessities, such as soap, rarely last two weeks into the month. Although extremely poor, Paulo is proud. His briefcase was filled with pictures, articles, his current projects, and his journalist’s ID—the stuff of his profession and life to show me.   With our North American lives mostly devoid of sensuality and brazen passion, it is easy to see how we foreign women get swept into romance with these men. Maybe the repression and hard existence of daily life makes them so incredibly amorous; it may be all they have to give them happiness and life, and it is the one thing they can control without Big Brother’s interference.   For more visit: http://www.wandasthilaire.com/pdf/tcc_excerpt.pdf

Castro promised his people ‘bread and freedom without terror.’ Paulo has a university degree and makes between $15 and $40 per month as a professional journalist and has no freedom of speech whatsoever. Journalists are frequently thrown in jail for their writing content. Ration books that are issued for food and other basic necessities, such as soap, rarely last two weeks into the month. Although extremely poor, Paulo is proud. His briefcase was filled with pictures, articles, his current projects, and his journalist’s ID—the stuff of his profession and life to show me.
 
With our North American lives mostly devoid of sensuality and brazen passion, it is easy to see how we foreign women get swept into romance with these men. Maybe the repression and hard existence of daily life makes them so incredibly amorous; it may be all they have to give them happiness and life, and it is the one thing they can control without Big Brother’s interference.

For more visit: http://www.wandasthilaire.com/pdf/tcc_excerpt.pdf

What are your thoughts on solo travel for women? Do you have any advice?

I think women who hold back from taking a vacation because there’s nobody to go with are missing out on a delectable experience. Once I began traveling solo, I became addicted to it. You meet people you’d never have met with a travel companion and if you’re friendly and open, you’ll get invited to places and events you’d never dreamed of going.

My advice is to be open, but trust your gut. The story I tell in The Cuban Chronicles was the first time I didn’t follow my own gut instincts and was instead coerced by the opinion of others. On my other solo adventures I’ve paid attention to red flags and said no when need be. I’ve had awesome experiences when my intuition says, yes.

What is your writing process?

I call my online shop a “café” because I do all of my writing in coffee shops, be it in Canada, a bustling European café, or ocean side in Mexico. I like the ambience of characters coming and going as I write. I enjoy making friends there. The process then doesn’t feel lonely. Also, I don’t have the distractions of thinking there is something else I should be doing.

I start by answering a wise question my editor asked me when we interviewed for The Cuban Chronicles: why are you writing this book?  I then create a rough outline, keep assorted notes on file, create a list of words, and occasionally review writing advice I’ve picked up along the way to remind me to stay on track. Then … I write.

What is the most interesting activity you’ve participated in for research?

My original subtitle for The Cuban Chronicles was Memoir of a Wanton Woman. Both my local and American editor didn’t feel I should use it for fear of offending potential readers (quite amusing now, after the Fifty Shades phenomenon). I created two other subtitles and because I was still attached to my original, I took a poll. I sent an email survey to all of my contacts, asked people in coffee shops, bookstores, and malls which subtitle grabbed them.

A True Tale of Rascals, Rogues, and Romance won by a landslide. The interesting part was that I did not offend anyone with the word “wanton.” I confused the hell out of them. People wanted to know what The Cuban Chronicles had to do with Chinese food and wonton soup. Some said they got hungry when they read the title! I let go of my attachment to the original subtitle in a big hurry after that bit of research.

Has writer’s block ever been a problem for you? If so, how do you deal with it?

After writing my first travel memoir, I couldn’t imagine writer’s block. I wrote everyday without fail after I began it and even if I was lagging, I’d do a rewrite or some research.

I was hit with a second diagnosis of breast cancer only 7 months after the launch of The Cuban Chronicles. It came after a twenty-year triumph and it rocked my world to the core. I’ve only recently pulled out of a bad case of writer’s block to write my second travel memoir, which was languishing on my laptop.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I love the challenge of writing to evoke an emotion or create imagery to properly depict a place that makes the reader feel it and see it in living color.

What do you enjoy the least?

The editing process. When I received the hard copy of my manuscript back from my editor, I nearly fell into a depression. I had to hide it in a cupboard for a number of days before I had the guts to tackle the task of the corrections and revisions.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

(I like this quote so much I put it on a small line of quote bracelets I created for my online shop).

What writer has inspired you the most and why?

Ernest Hemingway is my hero, a master gypsy-rogue. His life of travel and adventure while living on his own terms, more than his books, has influenced and inspired me.

Now for a few fun questions:

If money were no object, where would you most like to live?

In my Big Hairy Audacious Goal, I would live winters seaside in Mexico and summers in southern Italy and Greek islands.

What sound or noise do you most love?

The ocean. Even better, the sound of a breaching whale smacking the skin of the sea.

What sound or noise do you most hate?

Violent movies or shows. They can make me physically sick.

Favorite curse word?

There’s nothing like the F-word to get a point across, but only for emphasis!

What are you currently reading?

One Room in a Castle (again), by award winning Canadian author Karen Connelly.

What is the one piece of advice you would give for all of the aspiring travel writers out there?

Be yourself. Go to places that make you come alive, that awaken something deep inside of you, that coax out your childlike awe and wonder. Then write about it, authentically, without fear of the good opinion of others.

What books or other projects do you have coming up in the future?

I am currently working on my second travel memoir about another foreign love affair that begins in Portugal with a quixotic Frenchman and ends in Mexico. I am going to reformat the poetry book I wrote during this sojourn to couple with the book.

Another project I’m writing is a workshop called Life by Heart, which I plan to teach both at home and in other inspiring locales.

www.lifebyheart.wandasthilaire.com

www.writewaycafe.com

Where else can readers find you?

www.wandasthilaire.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cuban-Chronicles/212836997401

https://twitter.com/spicytraveler