Friday, November 1, 2013

Don't Do an Author Event on Halloween!

If you are a writer and someone asks you to speak about your book, check the calendar first and make sure it's not Halloween. It's hard to compete with witches, goblins and kids dressed like Harry Reid and John Boehner.

Twelve un-costumed members of the audience made it to Congregation B'nai Israel last night to participate in a conversation with me about the process by which Island of the White Rose was published. We had a lively discussion, since several had already read the novel, but I felt a bit guilty for having dragged a staff member from the Avid Reader in Davis to come sell books. A bookseller could have starved to death last night.

Live and learn? I hope so.

I'm anxious to continue the research into a sequel of the novel, as well as to re-write another already completed novel, Holyman, A Story of India. But November is pretty much spoken for already, with a very unholy trial on a case that has been bouncing around the courts for the past six-plus years. At least the trial will be over by the end of the month. I suspect that years of appeals still loom, but the dramatic part will be over before Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Leaving for Florida. Hope the Hurricane Stays Away!

Scrambling to clear my desk so that I can leave Sunday for Tampa on Tuesday and a reading and discussion  at Inkwood Books. I heard from Amazon tonight that ten copies were just sold there, so thank you Tampa for that good omen. The reading at Inkwood is Tuesday, followed by another discussion and reading at Books and Books in Coral Gables next Thursday. Looking forward to lying on the beach for two days afterward.

As part of my program I'll be playing music that's mentioned in the novel. Just bought a giant Jambox, a rectangular solid approximately three inches square and eight inches long, which produces loud, brilliant sound that takes a signal from my iPhone or computer via bluetooth. Incredible sounding and can easily fill a large room with music, but weighs less than 10 pounds.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Library Journal Praises Island of the White Rose

Here's a review of the novel that popped up yesterday in the Library Journal, the source for book reviews for libraries for more than a hundred years:

          Harris, R. Ira. Island of the White Rose. Bridge Works. Aug. 2013. 243p. ISBN 9780981617558. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780981617565. F
From an upper-class Havana family, Pedro Villanueva is a 34-year-old Cuban priest who struggles to fill his church while wrestling with his faith and trying to remain out of the political changes that are sweeping across the island. When he is asked by a parishioner to help his imprisoned son, Pedro witnesses the horrors of La Cabana prison. He decides to ask his affluent family to help. After a series of bribes and missteps, Pedro’s brother is killed and the priest joins the underground movement to support the antigovernment forces led by Fidel Castro fighting in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Two women in the underground Dolores Barre and Maria Guerra persuade him to use the family racing yacht, The White Rose, to smuggle weapons to the rebels. When the Batista government is overthrown, Pedro soon realizes that the new leadership is purging anyone it doesn’t trust. Knowing that his life will never be the same in Cuba, he uses The White Rose in one last, desperate act.
Verdict This debut novel is well-crafted historical fiction that vividly captures the excitement—and disillusionment—stirred by the Cuban revolution. Readers who enjoyed Patty Sheehy’sThe Boy Who Said Nwill want to check out this adventure.—Ron Samul, New London, CT


Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Going to Hollywood to pick up the award for Island of the White Rose on Saturday at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the first academy awards. Last time I was there, I represented the buyer in a real estate transaction for the purchase of the hotel from a bankrupt owner in Tokyo Bankruptcy Court. Went for a day and stayed a week due to complications with the lender in Hong Kong. This trip will be simpler, plus I'll have an opportunity to accomplish a goal I set several years ago.

For a long time I have hoped to give a Nazi sword to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in LA for their archives. An uncle picked it up on a battlefield in Europe and gave it to me when I was a child. Its swastika always made me feel really creepy. I thought of selling it, but didn't want to sell it to the kind of person who would pay money to own it. A home in a museum dedicated to tolerance seems like an appropriate resting place. The archivist wrote today accepting the gift, so I will take the sword to its new home on Monday. Afterwards, a fast pilgrimage to Nate n Al for a corn beef sandwich, and I will be back on the road to Sacramento.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I read this week of a speech just delivered by Raúl Castro that decried the poor state of civility in Cuba. He railed against public drunkenness and the raising of pigs in cities. He decried the dilapidated condition of buildings and streets. After reading his litany I wondered, what did the man expect after 54 years of Communism? Nirvana?

Rebeca Monzo, writing from Havana in a blog, translated at, provides her reaction to the same speech:

Posted on July 11, 2013
“We have painfully perceived, for more than 20 years of the Special Period, the increasing deterioration of moral and civic values like honesty, decency, shame, decorum, honor and sensitivity to the problems of others.”
So reads one of the paragraphs of Raul Castro’s discourse before the Cuban parliament, published today, Tuesday, July 9 in the daily Rebel Youth.
I ask myself, why did he have to wait more than 20 years to put the brakes on a situation that was already noticeable and perceived to be worsening?
At this point the social indiscipline and human deterioration is almost uncontrollable. There are many factors that have influenced it, and they were known by all. The fragmentation of the Cuban family, product of the political confrontations and political estrangement among their members, many times imposed by the regime itself, is perhaps the crux of all the subsequent social misfortune. The family was always considered and in fact is the fundamental social nucleus of a nation.
The misconduct of the marginalized, like screaming loudly in the middle of the street, the use of obscene words and the vulgarity of speech, have been present in our daily lives. Television, one of the most influential of the mass media, also has contributed to exposing all kinds of vulgarities and mediocrities, in terms of image and vocabulary.
Throwing trash in public roadways, as well as indulging physiological needs in streets and parks, is something now of daily routine and are acts that are carried out before the indolence and apathy of observers, maybe for fear of being verbally or physically assaulted by the actor himself if attention is called.  Walk in the morning through the old Asturian Center, now a museum, and you will be horrified to have to move away from the doorways by the strong odor of urine that these emanate.
With respect to the increased consumption of alcoholic beverages by the populace, their indiscriminate sale in almost all the state establishments from early hours is noteworthy, being that the only one responsible is the State itself.  It is a shame to see in any state business, very neglected and rundown, a little table dragged to the middle of the sidewalk for the sale of rum, so that the pedestrian does not have to bother entering the place in question to drink.
As far as the abuse of the school uniform, generally the teachers themselves have given the bad example, dressing inadequately to stand in front of a student body and make themselves respected teaching a class.  All of this of course has been a product of the bad training of many teachers, the prolonged shortage of clothes for sale, the low salaries and the transportation difficulties, which has brought about having to use a kind of clothing that does not impede climbing into a truck or hanging from the platform of a bus.
Nevertheless, barely hours after publishing the discourse in question, a friend of ours was an eyewitness to an event in the farmer’s market at 17th and K streets, in Vedado, when a young man came running and tripped and almost fell on an elderly woman, who sells plastic bags at the exit of said establishment.
She, feeling battered, uttered one of the most gross curses, “now so in fashion,” which begins with “P.”  Then out of nowhere came another man, also young, dressed in plainclothes, who immediately asked for the woman’s identity card, in order to impose a fine of 200 pesos, not for selling bags (which is considered a crime), but for the “curse.”
The woman began to cry living tears, explaining that she was retired and hypertensive, that she had no money, etc.  When the young man in plainclothes saw that those present began to encircle them, he told the vendor that “this time he was going to pardon the fine,” but instead he was going to “draw up” a warning.  This made the woman burst into tears again, before the astonished gaze of all those present, who daily often utter these curse words and others even stronger, before the indifference of everyone.
Translated by mlk
9 July 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Browsing YouTube for examples of Arturo Sandoval’s magical trumpet playing, I came across this spectacular nine minutes:
Sandoval, the subject of Andy Garcia’s inspiring film, For Love of Country, is a Cuban-American who is widely recognized as the preeminent trumpet player of our time. As someone who at one time had planned to be a classical trumpet player, I was struck by the instrument he is now playing—a combination of brass and carbon fiber.

I was totally unaware that carbon fiber had replaced any part of a trumpet and was interested to learn that Sandoval is now playing one manufactured by daCarbo, a Swiss manufacturer. The world has certainly changed from the time when Schilke and Bach Stradivarius were the most sought-after horns. Part of the pizzazz of trumpets was always their gleaming brass or silver bells that reflected the lights. Sadly, carbon fiber bells, like stealth fighters, reflect nothing.

The glitz may be gone, but the sound is magnificent. I hope you enjoy Arturo’s magic.

p.s. Many thanks to those of you who have called or written about the Honorable Mention Award from the New York Book Festival.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Island of the White Rose Ties for Third and Receives Honorable Mention at this Year's New York Book Festival

Received word from the New York Book Festival Fiction Competition today that Island of the White Rose won honorable mention, tying for third place. The festival takes place June 21-22 in New York City. I hope this is a harbinger of good things to come for Island.

It’s hard getting back to work after attending Book Expo America, a dazzling book fair at the Javits Center, a huge complex. I spent so many hours walking its length repeatedly that there was no danger of gaining an ounce from any of the many meals taken at a variety of New York restaurants. The highlight of the week was having dinner at the Cosmopolitan Club with my editor and publisher, Barbara and Warren Phillips. Although I have worked with them for nearly a year, we had never met. Barbara shared her recent photos of Cuba, and Warren informed me that Publishers Weekly had agreed to review Island. They were very gracious hosts, and I enjoyed our dinner at that historic building, a center of literature since the early 20th Century.

It was fun visiting with my boyhood friends, Paul and Carl, as well as my cousins, Al, Sussie, Carol and Steve. Paul and Ronni Ginsberg were fantastic hosts at their lovely home on Huckleberry Hollow in Stamford and made us feel very much at home. I always learn of something new that Costco sells whenever I look in Ronni's refrigerator. This visit was no exception—the tzatziki is wonderful and with the paleo diet being the order of the day, a relatively safe cheat on top of a mushroom omelet.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Since my last posting, the news has been full of Cuban events and their consequences, and I’d like to get caught up to date with observations about both the trivial and the important. Likely, it will take several postings to get current on that and the news of Island of the White Rose.

Where Jay-Z falls—important or trivial—his visit to Cuba certainly captured a lot of media attention. One point that was mostly overlooked was his seeming preoccupation with Che. He’s often shown sporting his signature Che t-shirt, and he self-describes himself as “Che Guevara with bling.” I wonder if any of his posse has ever told him that in Motorcycle Diaries Che wrote, “The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing, have seen their territory invaded by a new kind of slave: the Portuguese. The contempt and poverty unites them in the daily struggle, but the different way of dealing with life separates them completely; the black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations.”

The civil rights movement in the U.S. was all about discrediting such a racist philosophy. That Jay-Z continues to celebrate Che spits in the face of Martin Luther King and is a throwback to the philosophy of the KKK.

 Jay-Z’s embrace of Che boggles my mind. To make fair disclosure of my other feelings about Jay-Z, I think his musical arrangements for the new version of The Great Gatsby deserve a special place in hell. With all of the wonderful music of the 20s, assaulting the audience with a rap soundtrack to  dancing flappers was a poor choice. Otherwise, I thought the movie was terrific, notwithstanding a rather dull interpretation of Nick Carraway by Tobey McGuire.

In book news, in ten days I’ll be off to Book Expo America in NYC to visit the largest book fair in the country (samples please). I hope to be spending some time at BNN’s booth to help in the marketing of Island. If you’re in the neighborhood, drop in.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Just learned that Books and Books main store in Coral Gables, FL will host a book launch for Island of White Rose in September. Here's a link to this historic independent bookseller, the largest book store in south Florida.
I hope some of you can be there for my reading. I should know the date fairly soon. 

Meanwhile, the final corrections of the galley have been submitted to Bridge Works Publishing and a Hollywood film agent is looking for a producer to make a film from story. Stay tuned.

After a summery day yesterday, it's miserably rainy today and I have to trudge down to federal court for a hearing on a case that has been pending for five years. I'm not sure what requires more patience, wading through manuscripts looking for missing quotation marks or waiting for the wheels of justice to  slowly creak forward.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Trailer for Island of White Rose is Republished

Today is a landmark--more than 25,000 page views of this blog to date. Thank you readers for returning here to read my meanderings. 

It is also the date of publication of the remade trailer. Thanks to the talents of Mark Kingsley Brown, accomplished graphic artist and video editor extrordinaire, the trailer has been re-edited to reflect the change in title of my novel from Death of the White Rose to Island of the White Rose and also to connect the novel to its publisher, Bridge Works Publishing. If anyone needs help with the design for any kind of marketing communications, visit Mark's site at

Click on this link:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Corrected March 25th post - Bebo Valdés, Musician and Cuban Refugee Dead at 95

One of the profound effects of the Cuban Revolution was the fracture of families, as husbands or wives came under suspicion of members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and had to flee, often in the middle of the night. Bebo Valdés, who died last Friday in Sweden, is one of these tragic stories. Bebo was the music arranger and house pianist at the Tropicana nightclub in Havana at the time of the revolution. When he fled Cuba, he left his entire family behind him.

Here is an excerpt of an interview made by El País in 2008 (Bebo was a better musician than grammarian):
"He said that when the revolution triumphed, he was threatened with a 20-year jail sentence. What did he do? Did he murder anyone? I bought a piece of land and placed a foundation on it. One day I went there and found a guy placing rocks and things on it, and I said: 'Hey,! what are you doing here?' 'The government sent me.' I said that this cannot be because this is mine. A policeman came over and said: 'Here no one owns anything, sir. All this, and all of Cuba, belongs to the Government.' Anyone can tell you this. Luis Yáñez, who worked with me and was my friend, pointed a machine gun at me so that I would open a shopping bag where I had a chicken for my daughter, Miriam. Everything was 'fatherland or death, we shall overcome, if you don't like it, leave.' When you wanted to leave, because I wanted to leave in July of the preceding year, he (Castro) came in January, they asked for your passport to stamp a visa on it and they did not return it. I was lucky to have been able to leave with a fake work contract from Mexico."

Bebo left Cuba on October 26, 1960 and never returned.

This is not what the protagonists of Island of the White Rose dreamed for their fatherland, nor was it the dream of the middle and upper classes who fought in the underground to support Fidel in the mountains. They hoped that the revolution would bring democracy to Cuba. There was no plan to establish a system in which the government owns everything. Bebo died in exile on March 22, 2013. He left without realizing his dream of going back and without seeing the dream of the revolution fulfilled. Unhappily, there are many more Bebos still waiting for this to occur.