The Latina Book Club welcomes author Carlos Harrison, whose new book TRAINED TO KILL has been compared to the Jason Bourne movies. He is a Pulitzer winning journalist, author of 15 books and even a cookbook with Gloria and Emilio Estefan. We just had to meet him.---mcf
Q: Your first book, The Ghosts of Hero Street, was all about heroes. Your new one, Trained to Kill: The Inside Story of CIA plots against Castro, Kennedy & Che, is about a killer. Is this new book a true story as well?
CARLOS HARRISON: Yes. This is the unlikely true story of an asthmatic Cuban accountant recruited and trained by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro and, later, directed to form one of the most notorious -- and active -- anti-Castro paramilitary organizations, Alpha 66. Antonio Veciana, a rising and respected young banker at the time of Fidel's revolution, masterminded three separate assassination attempts. Two came at the direction of his CIA handler; the last, if successful, could have killed his daughter in the process.
Veciana also is one of the last living links between the Agency and Kennedy's assassination. His CIA contact, the man who recruited him, became a high-ranking CIA officer and played a key role in the Bay of Pigs invasion. He blamed Kennedy for its failure. Nine weeks before JFK was gunned down, he summoned Antonio to Dallas, and introduced him to Lee Harvey Oswald. (Yes, we found another witness to the meeting.)
What attracted me to this story is not just that it's a true, little-known piece of history that was begging to be told. It has, from a writer's perspective, what we call a great character arc. Antonio began as what he himself would describe as a poor, sickly, below-average guy that other kids made fun of. He became a brilliant bomb maker, saboteur, and mastermind of some of the most audacious -- and documented -- attempts on Fidel's life, as well as the founder, fundraiser, chief strategist and face of the largest exile paramilitary group, guiding it in multiple attacks on Cuban military targets and Soviet supply ships.
But, and here's the arc, his biggest regret is not that he failed in those acts, it's that he dedicated his life to that instead of to his family. He realized it when he realized that one of his daughter's, then a young reporter for the Miami Herald, would have been feet away from Fidel -- and well within the blast zone -- if his last attempt had succeeded.
Love conquers all, they say. This time, love and a hefty dose of luck, conquered his warrior spirit. Antonio stepped away from his anti-Castro life. He lives with the daughter who could have been killed. And he's now a doting great-grandfather.
Q: What do you think lies ahead for Cubans now that Castro is dead?
CARLOS: Unfortunately for them, I think Castro succeeded in establishing a powerful authoritarian machine that outlives him, and will continue to. Even after his brother Raul is gone, it is difficult to imagine the ones who remain in power releasing the reins. I believe the Cuban people, by and large, are good, warm, and loving people who want the same thing we all do -- a little happiness and a better life for their children. But I don't think true freedom, and the chance to decide their own fate, will be theirs for years to come, if ever.
Q: The New York Post said your new book had lots of twists, turns and action like a Bourne film. We have to ask--what's your favorite Bourne film?
CARLOS: The first one! Absolutely! Love it! I've seen it more times than I can count. I wasn't thinking of that when I wrote Trained to Kill, but I'm honored and flattered that someone would make that comparison.
Q: You are a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, TV correspondent, editor and author. Would you/ are you considering writing fiction?
CARLOS: Surprisingly, perhaps, that's what I was aiming for when I first became a journalist. I saw working in news as a way for a poor kid from Miami to travel (on someone else's dime), meet interesting people, witness interesting events -- crime, war, natural disasters, presidential conventions and courtroom dramas -- and get experience in life and as a writer. That way, I thought, I'd have something to write about, have something to say, and have some idea of how to do it.
I have written some. My first two books actually are children's books; fiction, with the aim of teaching my kids Spanish. I've written seven screenplays; five were pure fiction. Two got optioned, but not made. Yet, anyway. Two documentaries did. Most recently, I've been asked to try my hand at a romance novel. It's a great challenge, and great fun. I get to be as romantic as I've ever dreamed of being, and to step into the minds and hearts of both a man and woman who find undying love and passion, and to prove their devotion against incredible odds. Send positive thoughts my way, please!
Q: What advice can you give new writers?
CARLOS: Believe in yourself. Write every day. Every day! Never give up. And read voraciously. We learn from both the good and bad -- things to do and things not to -- until, eventually, we find our own voice and others copy us. (Still aiming for that, but I know I've taught a young reporter a thing or two, at least.) Finally, we call it writing. That's kind of wrong. Don't think of writing. No one gets paid for writing. No one reads writing. Tell stories. That's what editors, readers, and the world want.
Q: We understand you wrote a cookbook with Emilio & Gloria Estefan. Tell us about that.
CARLOS: Gloria is a marvelous cook -- OMG! Everything is delicious. I'm personally a huge fan of lechon asado and fricase de pollo, though, and hers are exceptional. ... I only wish my waistline would let me do dessert.
Q: How can fans get a hold of you? Please share your social media addresses with us, i.e. Website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
CARLOS: My website is carlosharrison.com. There's a link there for emailing me.
Facebook: Carlos Harrison
I should blog, I know, but I'm so busy writing books and magazine and newspaper articles that I just don't ever seem to find the time. I'll let you know if that changes.#
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carlos Harrison is a former reporter for the Miami Herald, where he shared a Pulitzer Prize, and has worked as a national and international correspondent for Fox News. He is the author of fifteen books in English and Spanish, and has written numerous magazine articles and award-winning television documentaries. He lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida. That, of course, leaves out things like being rammed by Cuban gunships, shot at during the Invasion of Panama, and flying into hurricanes, but that, as they say, is another story.
Read the Latina Book Club review of THE GHOSTS OF HERO STREET here.