“A wild ride through Cuba during the Spanish-American War.” —Miami Herald
“Not only his finest novel but one that transcends the limits of its genre and is worthy of being evaluated as literary fiction.” —Houston Chronicle
Before Grand Master Elmore Leonard earned his well-deserved reputation as “the best writer of crime fiction alive” (Newsweek), he penned some of the finest western fiction to ever appear in print. (The classics Hombre, Valdez is Coming, and 3:10 to Yuma were just a few of his notable works.) With his extraordinary Cuba Libre, Leonard ingeniously combines all of his many talents and delivers a historical adventure/caper/western/noir like none other. The creator of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, star of Raylan, Pronto, Riding the Rap, and TV’s Justified, spins a gloriously exciting yarn about an American horse wrangler who escapes a date with a Cuban firing squad to join forces with a powerful sugar baron’s lady looking to make waves and score big in and around Spanish-American War-torn Havana in 1898. Everything you love about Leonard’s fiction—and more—is evident in Cuba Libre. No wonder the New York Times Book Review enthusiastically declared him “a literary genius.”
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About the Author
Elmore Leonard wrote more than forty books during his long career, including the bestsellers Raylan, Tishomingo Blues, Be Cool, Get Shorty, and Rum Punch, as well as the acclaimed collection When the Women Come Out to Dance, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Many of his books have been made into movies, including Get Shorty and Out of Sight. The short story "Fire in the Hole," and three books, including Raylan, were the basis for the FX hit show Justified. Leonard received the Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN USA and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He died in 2013.
Hometown:Bloomfield Village, Michigan
Date of Birth:October 11, 1925
Place of Birth:New Orleans, Louisiana
Education:B.Ph., University of Detroit, 1950
Read an Excerpt
Tyler arrived with the horses February eighteenth, three days after the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor. He saw buzzards floating in the sky the way they do but couldn't make out what they were after. This was off Morro Castle, the cattle boat streaming black smoke as it came through the narrows.
But then pretty soon he saw a ship's mast and a tangle of metal sticking out of the water, gulls resting on it. One of the Mexican deckhands called to the pilot tug bringing them in, wanting to know what the wreckage was. The pilot yelled back it was the Maine.
Yeah? The main what? Tyler's border Spanish failed to serve, trying to make out voices raised against the wind. The deckhand told him it was a buque de guerra, a warship.
Earlier that month he had left Sweetmary in the Arizona Territory by rail: loaded thirty-one mares aboard Southern Pacific stock cars and rode them all the way to Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico. Here he was met by his partner in this deal, Charlie Burke, Tyler's foreman at one time, years ago. Charlie Burke introduced him to a little Cuban mulatto"Ben Tyler, Victor Fuentes"the man appearing to be a good sixty years old, though it was hard to tell, his skin the color of mahogany.
Fuentes inspected the mares, none more than six years old or bigger than fifteen hands, checked each one's conformation and teeth, Fuentes wiping his hands on the pants of his white suit, picked twenty-five out of the bunch, all bays, browns and sorrels, and said he was sure they could sell the rest for the samemoney, one hundred fifty dollars each. He said Mr. Boudreaux was going to like these girls and would give them a check for thirty-seven hundred fifty dollars drawn on the Banco de Comercio before they left Havana. Fuentes said he would expect only five hundred of it for his services.
Tyler said to Charlie Burke, later, the deal sounded different than the way he'd originally explained it.
Charlie Burke said the way you did business in Cuba was the same as it worked in Mexico, everybody getting their cut. Tyler said, what he meant, he thought they were going directly from here to Matanzas, where Boudreaux's sugar estate was located. Charlie Burke said he thought so too; but Boudreaux happened to be in Havana this week and next. It meant they'd take the string off the boat, put the horses in stock pens for the man to look at, reload them and go on to Matanzas. What Tyler wanted to know, and Charlie Burke didn't have the answer: "Who pays for stopping in Havana?"
That evening Charlie Burke and Mr. Fuentes left on a Ward Line steamer bound for Havana.
It was late the next day Tyler watched his mares brought aboard the cattle boat, the name Vamoose barely readable on its rusted hull. Next came bales of hay and some oats, one of the stock handlers saying you didn't want a horse to eat much out at sea. Tyler stepped aboard with his saddle and gear to mind the animals himself. That was fine with the stock handlers; they had the cattle to tend. They said the trip would take five days.
It was back toward the end of December Charlie Burke had wired: FOUND WAY TO GET RICH WITH HORSES.
He came out on the train from East Texas and was waiting for Tyler the first day of the new year, 1898, on the porch of the Congress Hotel in Sweetmary, a town named for a copper mine, LaSalle Street empty going on 10:00 a.m., the mine shut down and the town sleeping off last night.
Charlie Burke came out of the rocking chair to watch Tyler walking his dun mare this way past the Gold Dollar, past I.S. Weiss Mercantile, past the Maricopa BankCharlie Burke watching him looking hard at the bank as he came along. Tyler brought the dun up to the porch railing and said, "You know what horses are going for in Kansas City?"
"Tell me," Charlie Burke said.
"Twenty-five cents a head."
They hadn't seen each other in almost four years.
Charlie Burke said, "Then we don't want to go to Kansas City, do we?"
He watched Tyler chew on that as he stepped down from the dun and came up on the porch. They took time now to hug each other, Charlie Burke's mind going back to the boy who'd come out here dying to work for a cattle outfit and ride horses for pay. Ben Tyler, sixteen years old and done with school, St. Simeon something or other for Boys, in New Orleans, this one quicker than the farm kids who wandered out from Missouri and Tennessee. Charlie Burke, foreman of the Circle-Eye at the time, as many as thirty riders under him spring through fall, put the boy to work chasing mustangs and company stock that had quit the bunch, and watched this kid gentle the green ones with a patience you didn't find in most hands. Watched him trail-boss herds they brought down in Old Mexico and drove to graze. Watched him quit the big spread after seven years to work for a mustanger named Dana Moon, supplying horses to mine companies and stage lines and remounts to the U.S. cavalry. Watched him take over the business after Moon was made Indian agent at White Tanks, a Mimbreno Apache subagency north of town. The next thing he saw of Ben Tyler was his face on a wanted poster above the notice:
$500 REWARD DEAD OR ALIVE
What happened, Tyler's business fell on hard times and he took to robbing banks. So then the next time Charlie Burke actually saw him was out in the far reaches of the territory at Yuma Prison: convicts and their visitors sitting across from one another at tables placed end to end down the center of the mess hall. Mothers, wives, sweethearts all wondering how their loved ones would fare in this stone prison known as the Hell Hole on the Bluff; Charlie Burke wondering why, if Tyler had made up his mind to rob banks, he chose the Maricopa branch in Sweetmary, where he was known.
He said on account of it was the closest one.
Charlie Burke said, "I come all the way out here to watch you stare past me at the wall?"
So then Tyler said, all right, because it was where LaSalle Mining did their banking and LaSalle Mining owed him nine hundred dollars. "Four times I went up the hill to collect," Tyler said in his prison stripes and haircut, looking hard and half starved. "Try and find anybody in charge can cut a check. I went to the Maricopa Bank, showed the teller a .44 and withdrew the nine hundred from the mine company's account."
"That's how you do business, huh?"
"Hatch and Hodges owed me twelve hundred the day they shut down their line. They said don't worry, you'll get your money. I waited another four months, the same as I did with LaSalle, and drew it out of their bank over in Benson."
"Who else owed you money?"
"But you robbed another bank."
"Yeah, well, once we had the hang of it...I'm kidding. It wasn't like Red and I got drunk and went out and robbed a bank. Red worked for Dana Moon before he came with me, had all that experience, so I offered him a share, but he'd only work for wages. After we did the two banks I paid Red what he had coming and he bought a suit of clothes cost him ten dollars, and wanted to put the rest in the bank. We're in St. David at the time. We go to the bank to open a savings account and the bank refused him. I asked the manager, was it on account of Red being Warm Springs Apache? The manager become snotty and one thing led to another...."
"You robbed the bank to teach him manners."
"Red was about to shoot him."
"Speaking of shooting people," Charlie Burke said, prompting his friend the convict.
"We were on the dodge by then," Tyler said, "wanted posters out on us. To some people that five hundred reward looked like a year's wages. These fellas I know were horse thievesthey ran my stock more than oncethey got after us for the reward, followed our tracks all the way to Nogales and threw down on us in a cantinasmoky place, had a real low ceiling."
"The story going around," Charlie Burke said, "they pulled, Ben Tyler pulled and shot all three of them dead."
"Maybe, though I doubt it. All the guns going off in there and the smoke, it was hard to tell. We came back across the border, the deputies were waiting there to run us down."
"Have you learned anything?"
"Always have fresh horses with you."
"You've become a smart aleck, huh?"
"Not around here. They put you in leg irons."
"What do you need I can get you?"
"Some books, magazines. Dana Moon sends me the Chicago Times he gets from some fella he knows."
"You don't seem to be doing too bad."
"Considering I live in a cell with five hot-headed morons and bust rocks into gravel all day. I've started teaching Mr. Rinning's children how to ride the horsey and they like me. Mr. Rinning's the superintendent; he says to me, 'You're no outlaw, you're just stupida big educated fella like you robbing banks?' He says if I'm done being stupid I'll be out as soon as I do three years."
Charlie Burke said to him that day in the Yuma mess hall, "Are you done?"
"I was mad is all, those people owing me money I'd worked hard for. Yeah, I got it out of my system," Tyler said. "But you know what? There ain't nothing to robbing a bank."
He was back at the Circle-Eye riding the winter range, looking for late calves or ones that had dodged the roundup.
Giving each other that hug, Charlie Burke felt the shape of a revolver beneath Tyler's sheepskin hanging open. Stepping back, he pulled the coat open a little more, enough to see the .44 revolver hanging in a shoulder rig.
"You have somebody mad at you?" Charlie Burke speaking, as usual, through his big mustache and a wad of Mail Pouch.
"You don't ever want to win fame as an outlaw," Tyler said, "unless everybody knows you've done your time. There're people who save wanted dodgers and keep an eye out. They see me riding up the street and think, Why, there's five hundred dollars going by. Next thing I know, I'm trying to explain the situation to these men holding Winchesters on me. I've been shot at twice out on the graze, long range. Another time I'm in a line shack, a fella rode right into my camp and pulled on me."
"You shot him?"
"I had to. Now I got his relatives looking for me. It's the kind of thing never ends."
"Well," Charlie Burke said, "you should never've robbed those banks."
Tyler said, "Thanks for telling me."
On Thursday, February 12th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Elmore Leonard to discuss CUBA LIBRE.
Moderator: Welcome, Elmore Leonard. Thank you for taking time to join us online tonight. How is everything?
Elmore Leonard: Everything's fine. I've been working hard all day on my next book, the sequel to GET SHORTY. Chili Palmer finds himself in the music business.
Billy from Crawford, Nebraska: Writing a historical novel is quite a switch for you. How did you first become interested in the Cuban revolution as the setting for your new novel?
Elmore Leonard: I've been interested in the Spanish-American War perhaps all my life. I remember reading a book I borrowed from a friend in 1957, called THE SPLENDID LITTLE WAR, a pictorial account of the Spanish-American War, and since I was writing westerns at the time, roughly the same period, I thought I should be able to write a book with the Spanish-American War background. At the time that I decided to write CUBA LIBRE, I wanted to get away from the contemporary settings for a while. And I saw that book again, THE SPLENDID LITTLE WAR, and that was it!
Matty from Fresno, CA: From which writers do you think you have learned the most about writing?
Elmore Leonard: There's no question that I've learned the most from Ernest Hemingway. Like thousands of others, at least who started when I did, we spotted Hemingway right away as someone we could learn from, because he made it look so easy. I think I did learn a lot from him -- construction, tone, what to leave out, but unfortunately, I realized I didn't share his attitude about life. I didn't take myself as seriously as he did; I saw more humor in everyday situations, and realized that your style comes out of your attitude: Whether you're optimistic or have a sense of humor or are negative in your views, this is going to show in your writing. So then I looked around, and found a writer named Richard Bissell, who set his stories on the Mississippi River in contemporary times, 1950s, and he wrote a book called 7-1/2 CENTS, which became the musical "The Pajama Game." I recognized in reading Bissell that his attitude was very similar to mine, and I thought, I can learn from this writer, and I did. A couple of titles of his are HIGH WATER, GOODBYE AVA, and A STRETCH ON THE RIVER.
Jared from Tuba City, Arizona: Whenever anything is written about your writing style, it seems one of the most mentioned trademarks is your sharp dialogue. How do you do it? What do you look for when you are writing dialogue? Do you find yourself editing dialogue much, or does it come easy to you? Thanks.
Elmore Leonard: Well, I try to move my books through dialogue. I write in scenes, and all the information is given through dialogue, or just about all of it. And so I select characters who can talk, or whom I can make talk. Characters who will talk in an interesting way. A character is a type of person, and I hear his voice, and he becomes real to me through the way he talks. I don't go to bars and hang out -- I used to, a long time ago, and I might have picked up things just talking to people.... Well, there's no question about that, but I don't eavesdrop. I do listen. I listen very closely when people are talking, and I'm aware of inflections in sentence structure that may be a little different. But I'm most interested in the rhythms of speech, in the cadence, the sound of the spoken word. What words to leave out to maintain a rhythm in a sentence. I'm very aware of rhythm.
Linda from Sarasota, FL: Hi, Mr. Leonard. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us tonight. Who are some of your favorite authors, and what did you think about "Jackie Brown"?
Elmore Leonard: I liked "Jackie Brown" a lot. The adaptation was quite close to the book. Closer than I'd thought it would be. I hear my sound in the dialogue, in a lot of the dialogue, and I hear Quentin Tarantino's sound also. The picture has his look, as in the case of GET SHORTY -- speaking of that, I could hear my dialogue all the way through the picture, but the picture had Barry Sonnenfeld's look. And it was a comedy. Even though I don't write comedy. I mentioned that to Barry, and he said, "Yeah, but it's a funny book." Quentin, too, sees "Jackie Brown" as a comedy.
I'm going to have to go back to Ernest Hemingway as one of my all-time favorites. I like Andre Dubus -- I've been reading a lot of short stories lately -- Raymond Carver, Bobby Ann Mason. And Don DeLillo -- I have his new book, but I don't read fiction while I'm writing.
Ronald Irwin from South Africa: Mr. Leonard, I've read all your books and am part of the large following you have here in South Africa. You are known as a master of dialogue. My question is, how did you get such an ear for the rough talk of convicts? And secondly, I've noticed that your books have become much more brutal in the last year. Here I am thinking of the rape and housebreaking in OUT OF SIGHT, a kind of brutality that would not be found in, say, SWAG or KILLSHOT, where the crooks are more like brutish clowns. Why have your books taken this graphic turn (I'm not complaining, just curious!)?
Elmore Leonard: Well, as far as the language of convicts, I've talked to convicts; I have visited prisons and talked to them. I hear from convicts who read my books. One convict said, "We would like to know if you've ever done time." They have the same question -- want to know how I know how they talk, think. I think, for the most part, it's a lack of education first that gives you a definite sound. Add to that prison slang, if you feel that's necessary. It can come from a documentary about prisons, a feature story about prisons. I visited the Louisiana State Prison at Angola, and I was talking to one of the inmates. I had a number of people with me: a writer from Newsweek, a photographer, my book editor, a couple of assistant wardens, and I sat down with one of the inmates, and my first question was: "What do you call the guards here?" And he said, "Oh, we call them Sir!" And I knew I wasn't going to get anything from him. But convicts write, wanting to tell me their stories -- they have interesting stories to tell. But I've never used any of them.
I wasn't aware that my books had become more violent or more brutal. The scenes that you referred to in OUT OF SIGHT were extremely brutal. What I wanted to do was to describe vividly the type of people that Jack Foley, the main character, was getting mixed up with. That he was going to get into serious trouble with these people. Also, they represented an extreme that Karen, the federal marshal, would have to face.
Benjamin from Lafayette, Indiana: Hello, Mr. Leonard. Could you tell us where you got the nickname Dutch from? Thank you very much.
Elmore Leonard: When I was in high school, there was a pitcher in the major league named Dutch Leonard. He was with the Washington Senators when I was in second-year high, and one of my classmates said, "I'm gonna start calling you Dutch." And it worked! Elmore was a difficult name to have growing up.
William Slavik from Waco, Texas: What do you think about the Pope's visit to Cuba?
Elmore Leonard: Well, I think it seems to be having some effect, the Pope's visit. I like to think that I had something to do with it, coming out with my new book, CUBA LIBRE, at the same time. But there has been a lot of news lately about Cuba. And I hope that the Pope's visit will do something to ease our relationship with Cuba, and help to lift the embargo.
Scott from Philadelphia: Mr. Leonard, I first got introduced to your work with GET SHORTY, which got me hooked. The movie is one of the finest adaptations from an original novel that I've seen in some time. I was wondering how much input you had in the creation of the film version, if any, and if you were as happy as many of your readers were with the results?
Elmore Leonard: I was very happy with "Get Shorty." When I saw it in New York with my book editor, she said, "I think the funniest thing about it was you laughing out loud at your own lines." But I wrote the book in 1989, so I'd forgotten a lot of the lines. I had nothing to do with the film adaptation. But I did visit the set, and an amazing thing happened, twice, when the director, Barry Sonnenfeld, came over to me on the sidelines and said, "What do you think? Do you have any suggestions?" which was to be the first time in the history of Hollywood that that's happened: the director approaching the book writer, or even recognizing him. I said to Barry before he went into production, "The characters are very serious in what they say. They're not trying to be funny. And I hope you don't cut to another character to get a reaction from a funny line." And he understood that; he understood that these people were serious about what they were doing and saying. Barry said to Gene Hackman one time, after Gene delivered his lines, "That was really funny." And Hackman said, "I wasn't trying to be." And Barry said, "That's the whole idea."
Bess from North Babylon, NY: Although it takes place in Cuba, with the cowboys and guns, did it feel like CUBA LIBRE was somewhat of a return to your first books, the early westerns?
Elmore Leonard: I thought CUBA LIBRE would be a return to the westerns insofar as I thought it'd be easy. But then I realized that even if I were to write a typical western today, I would have to go back and do a lot of research and read some of my old books, and see if they'd help me get back in the spirit of it. And then taking on Cuba as a setting proved to be another task in itself -- to research Cuba, what it was like a hundred years ago. But there was enough written at the time, books about the commerce of Cuba, a big coffee-table book called OUR ISLAND AND THEIR PEOPLE, a book published in 1958 to help American industry learn about Cuba. So there was all the material I needed. I didn't go to Cuba. I had enough photographs of what the cities and the terrain was like. My researcher did go, but by the time he got back, I'd finished the book. But he did have something I'd desperately needed: photographs of the interior of the Inglaterra Hotel. I had pictures of the outside but not of the interior. So with the photographs of the interior, I rewrote the scenes about how the lobby and the bar might have looked.
Jim Allen from Aiken, SC: How about James Lee Burke and Jim Ellroy, my other two "must buys" along with you -- what's your take on them?
Elmore Leonard: I like them very much. I think they're fine writers.
Bill from N. California: What is your favorite among the novels you've written, and why?
Elmore Leonard: Favorites of mine: I like FREAKY DEAKY and BANDITS, KILLSHOT. Actually, I like them all.
Blake from Roswell, New Mexico: I love your characters, more than those of any other author! So here's my question: If you could be any one of your characters from any of your books for a day, who would you be, and at what point in the story?
Elmore Leonard: I'd become all of my characters. I mean, whatever characters I'm writing that day. Usually the lead character, man or woman, will see the world pretty much with my attitude. But I have an affection for all of my characters. I can feel at least sorry for the ones who are so obviously bad.
Elmore from Leonardsville: There's a scene in CUBA LIBRE where a newspaper reporter says of another reporter's writing, "It isn't flowery, if you know what I mean; it's stark, you might say, without a single wasted word." (I actually saw this commented on in The New Yorker.) Do you think this speaks of your own writing as well?
Elmore Leonard: Well, he was talking about Stephen Crane. And he used as an example THE OPEN BOAT, and quoted from it. And to me, I think that the writing is still quite formal. Hemingway, though, said he was influenced by Stephen Crane, that he saw in Crane a way to write more simply. So if Hemingway came out of Crane, and I came out of Hemingway in some degree, I think perhaps we're making it even more simple as we go along. I've said before that what I try to do at least is to leave out what readers tend to skip. I won't read a book that begins with weather. Not even "a dark and stormy night."
Evan from Ft. Collins, CO: Do you read a lot of historical fiction? What type of research did you do for this book? Are you a fan of Pynchon or, say, T. C. Boyle's historical fiction?
Elmore Leonard: I don't know anything about Pynchon. T. C. Boyle I think is a fine writer; I haven't read much of his, though. The research for CUBA LIBRE, as I'd mentioned before, included books about the commerce and industry of Cuba written at that time, picture books of Cuba, books about the American Navy at that time, a book that contained pictures of all their major ships at that time, in 1898, including the ones mentioned in the book CUBA LIBRE. I think one of the reasons I wrote the book was to correct this belief that Teddy Roosevelt stormed up San Juan Hill with his Rough Riders and won the day. In fact, by some accounts of the Spanish-American War, you'd tend to believe that Teddy won the war by himself. And the fact is that it was the regular army, and not Teddy's volunteer group, that won the war. In fact, if it weren't for the 10th Cavalry, an all-black unit, Teddy and his Rough Riders would have been shot to pieces at Las Gausimas. A skirmish prior to the taking of San Juan Hill.
Scottie from Studio City, CA: Hello, Mr. Leonard. I saw you on "Politically Incorrect," and I thought you were great. Do you enjoy doing talk shows like that? Also, are you doing any more readings in the L.A. area in the near future?
Elmore Leonard: I'm going to be in Los Angeles at the end of April for the L.A. Times Book Festival. I didn't think we were particularly funny that evening on "Politically Incorrect." We were talking most of the time about Bill Clinton and his problem, and everything I could think of seemed so obvious. I couldn't think of anything really funny or profound to say.
Glen from Tucson, AZ: You must be a fan of film noir. What are your favorites?
Elmore Leonard: I certainly was a fan of film noir back in that time, in the '40s and the early '50s. I think anything Jane Greer was in, or Robert Mitchum, I certainly liked. "Out of the Past" comes to mind. I think I was influenced by those movies. But even more so, I was influenced by real desperadoes in the early '30s, when I was between the ages of five and ten -- very, very impressionable years -- and at that time, we were living in Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Memphis, in a general area where Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, Ma Barker and her boys, were all robbing banks and were seen as folk heroes. I have a picture of myself, taken when I was ten years old, that's an imitation of the Bonnie Parker photo: Bonnie with her foot on the bumper of a car, holding a pistol at her side. In my photo, I have my foot on the running board of a car, and I'm aiming a cap pistol at the camera. The picture of me was taken within a few months of the day Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down in northern Louisiana. And that shot of Bonnie Parker was in probably every newspaper in the United States shortly thereafter.
Ken from Springfield , MO: If a person is looking into becoming a storyteller, what would you suggest as the best path to take to become a great storyteller...and when would a person know that his/her work is worthy of publishing?
Elmore Leonard: What you have to do to become a writer is read. And read all kinds of material. If you want to be a fiction writer, you read short stories and novels. You pick an author whom you like and feel you can imitate. An author that you can learn something from. An author whose attitude you feel you share. And you study the author very closely, the way he or she writes sentences, the way he writes paragraphs, punctuates, everything. A good exercise is to put a paragraph of that author's prose on your typewriter or word processor -- I use a pen, myself -- and you write the next paragraph, a continuation of the story, and compare. See what it looks like. It's a good exercise. I haven't done it in probably 45 years, but it was a good way to start. People think that having an agent is the answer, and that an agent will tell you if your work is good enough to be published. But it's as hard to get an agent as it is a publisher. You have to learn how to write yourself. I've always said, once you learn how to write, the agent will find you, somehow.
Neil Belsky from Ontario, Canada: Any chance of a collaboration between you and Donald E. Westlake?
Elmore Leonard: No, I can't imagine collaborating with anyone. I think Westlake is very good, and I think he and I see eye-to-eye. I think we have the same sense of humor. But I couldn't imagine collaborating. I like to make it up myself. I can't imagine Don Westlake collaborating either.
Megan from Seattle, WA: Have you written any of the screenplays for your books? Have any advice for someone who would like to write one?
Elmore Leonard: Yeah, I've written probably a dozen screenplays. The first feature was of THE MOONSHINE WAR; another one, "Mr. Majestyk," with Charles Bronson; an Eastwood western, "Joe Kidd." And I've shared credits on others: "52 Pick-Up," "Cat Chaser," "Stick." I think "52 Pick-Up" was pretty good, for the most part. But none of the others were successful. I've written a few television movies. But I've given up screenwriting, simply because it's work. You're an employee, and you're writing to order, rather than creating something yourself. Writing a screenplay isn't nearly as hard as writing a novel. That's why I think so many people want to write screenplays. And they feel that ideas that they have are better than the movies that they see, but it's so hard to get in the door in Hollywood. You have to have an agent, and even if he submits something, the producer or the studio executive will say, "Well, it's just not what we're looking for at this time." The executive having no idea what he's looking for, but it's a way to pass the screenplay off. I think the best way is to go to Hollywood, get involved in the movie business on some low level, and write your screenplays in your spare time. But you will have met people that you can show your scripts to.
Moderator: Elmore Leonard, thank you for joining us online. Any closing comments?
Elmore Leonard: I can mention my work in progress. Tomorrow morning I'll get back to my sequel to GET SHORTY. It's called BE COOL. Chili Palmer, looking for a movie idea, finds himself in the music business and becomes the manager of a rock-'n'-roll group. I'm about halfway through, with no idea how it ends, which I never know, but I'm having a pretty good time.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was my first Elmore Leonard western, which will surprise many people because it is set in Cuba, which happens to be my nationality. However, Leonard succeeds in creating a fast, fun, and action-packed set in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. As with all of hi novels, Cuba Libre is filled with great characters, dialogue, action, and back-stabbing. I have read a total of five Leonard novels, all in the year 2011 so far, and Cuba Libre is definitely towards the top.
This was my first Elmore Leonard novel, and I have to say, I thought it was just okay. The historical setting was interesting, the protagonists (Ben and Amelia) were quite likeable, and the villains were suitably vile, and for a while there the plot looked like it was really going somewhere, albeit slowly. However, the climactic train heist, with a good half dozen separate parties after the loot (one hell of a set-up), basically fizzled, and after that not much of interest occurred.I wouldn't say Cuba Libre was a waste of time to read, and I might try another Elmore Leonard novel again sometime, but if I'd had a bit more advance warning about this one I probably would have skipped it.
Typically Leonard with taut, realistic dialogue. Fun, fast paced thriller with rich mix of late 19 Century Cuban history (Spanish-American war). Perfect for a Cuban beach read.
This is a cowboy/western book, set in historical Cuba in 1898. The protagonist, Ben Tyler, is taking horses as a cover for smuggling guns to Cuba, and arrives shortly after the sinking of the battleship Maine. He meets various bad guys (Guardia Civil) and a sugar mill plantation owner, along with American newspapermen (it is the time of yellow journalism coverage of Cuba), and the mistress, Amelia Brown, of the plantation owner. Tyler quickly ends up in prison for killing someone, is rescued with the aid of Amelia, and then they are off to make their fortune in the rough-and-tumble, deadly war time effort with Cuban insurgents and Spanish soldiers and Americans soldiers all fighting each other.Ben Tyler is good with guns, killing, and horses, but also a former unsuccessful bank robber and overall rather dim-witted. Amelia Brown is more intelligent, but nonetheless falls in love with Tyler; she is primarily an opportunist interested in fame, excitement, and money. The Spanish plantation owner is an interesting character, but the Cuban characters are poorly developed, even though they play major roles in the book. As it turns out, all the main characters in the book are motivated primarily by money, not by idealism or patriotism. The reading is pleasant enough. The plot starts off nicely, but definitely languishes after the initial third of the book. The character development is adequate but not great. One of the major pluses is the historical aspects. Many real places, people, and events show up. Even some of the small details are historical too, such as the boat "Vamoose", which was a real filibuster smuggling boat used to smuggle weapons into Cuba at that time.
Sometimes a story works hard to get the reader to the end just for the pay-off for a twist that just has to satisfy. Othertimes, the reader is lured in by a book that is great for long enough that one becomes invested, and has to continue to the end, no matter how poorly or anticlimactic it might turn out to be. "Cuba Libre" falls into the latter camp.Leonard is a good writer, and can tell a good tale; one would expect this to be the case, considering his popularity among Hollywood's elite (okay, Jackie Brown and Get Shorty are not exactly classics). "Cuba Libre" is effortless, gracefully moving from page to page a story of gun-runners gone good in Cuba at the turn of the nineteenth century. There are betrayals, murders, accidents, incidents; everything is place.But then when the end finally arrives, as it must always do, it is such a damp squib of an affair, with a silly conclusion stapled on, and a worthless final line of dialogue. This last ends with an exclamation mark; ironic considering how little there is to exclaim about.
i enjoyed this story--the sweet salty havana night, palm fronds rustling in the hotel lobby, great adventure story, and a hot love story. excellent characters. but the problem i have is there are too many flashbacks! elmore, how about some forward narrative drive here? in the first chapter alone, we start out entering havana bay, flash back to new years day out west, flash back to a prison, and, within the prison scene, flash back again. i had to read the first chapter a few times just to figure out what was going on, and who was where. at the midpoint of the book, we go with the heroine on a flashback of a killing she witnessed, and it doesn't work. the scene would have worked much better in the present. i wish elmore would set the scenes in the present, and let the story drive itself forward. there is no need for all these flashbacks. it's like he needs to take a beginner's fiction writing course. but, i loved the story, and have read it four times.
Don't even think about getting the audio-cassette version of 'Cuba Libre'. While the book was mediocre, these tapes are another thing altogether. This narration contains the worst New Orlean's accent I have ever heard in my life and the Cuban accent is a rung down from that. It sounds like the voice people use to tell ethnic jokes.
Anyone expecting to learn more about the enigmatic sinking of the USS Maine through 'Cuba Libre' will be sadly disappointed. This book has little to do with the event that triggered America's involvement in Cuba's war of independence from Spain. Instead it serves as wallpaper for another Elmore Leonard saga about criminal losers hunting each other down for bags of money. This is basically 'Get Shorty' with 6-shooters and cross-chest ammo belts.
To me, the strength of Elmore Leonard has always been in his dialogue. He has an ability to capture the venacular that is almost unsurpassed, and his crime novels 'ring' true with an amazing resonance as a consequence. When we hear those cadences and accents, we know the real nature of the characters and their thoughts in a subliminal and subconscious way. Moving this 'crime story' to Cuba during the Spanish American war means that the currency of the dialogue is lost on us. So the book becomes dependent on the plot and characterizations to entertain us. Both areas are a little stronger than usual for Mr. Leonard, but not as strong as they should be. The descriptions of the geographic settings are much better than Mr. Leonard usually does, and that element greatly improves this book. The book's concept is an intriguing one. Take some Americans in Cuba who are directly and indirectly involved in the Spanish-American War, and use that plot complication to develop their relationships and characters. The execution unfortunately falls short of the full potential of the concept. The Americans and Cuban revolutionaries are pretty cynically 'in it for the money' whenever there is any to be made. Their sense of honor is most seriously engaged when they are not being treated fairly in business dealings. Ho hum! The book's action begins with the American battleship, Maine, recently sunk in Havana's harbor. Two Americans have arrived ostensibly to sell some horses and cattle, but really to smuggle in weapons for the Cuban revolutionaries who oppose the Spanish. Things start to go wrong when the Spanish offend one of the Americans, leading to a shooting. Matters get worse when the horse buyer reneges on his offer of full payment. Following the shooting, the two Americans find themselves in prison while the Spanish try to find the weapons that were smuggled in. Things look bleak, and they get bleaker. Along the way, Ben Tyler finds that a fellow prisoner is a Marine from the Maine who is wrongfully imprisoned by the Spanish as well. With the help of the revolutionaries, Tyler finds himself able to pursue his opportunities to find love and a fortune in Cuba. The second half of the book involves a very detailed scam in which the double crosses pile on top of each other quite rapidly in classic Leonard style. The Tyler character parallels that of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. You learn what he is about by how he handles his trials. A man of great perseverance, his weakness is striking to take what he feels to be his by right . . . even when that doesn't make much sense. As a result, he finds himself getting into unnecesary and dangerous trouble. But on occasion, his ability to strike like a rattlesnake enables him to serve himself and others well. He certainly is a good man to have as your friend, and a bad man to have as your enemy. If you are feeling lonely for a western-style novel, this one may fit the bill. If you have read relatively few, I suggest that you read Owen Wister's, The Virginian, instead. After you finish enjoying this novel, I suggest that you think about how you respond to challenges to your honor a
I have been kind of surprised by the lukewarm response this book has received. I loved it! The characters, the adventure, even the history lesson. In Leonard's return to the western, readers are treated to a truly romantic vision.
She stares in his eyes. The asks innocently arent you going to finish?