Cuba is a land that pulls you in, even if you’ve never been. Stories about the island’s culture blur fact and fiction; almost anything can be imagined without seeming too fantastic. All you need is somewhere to start.
For Frank Foster, that starting point was growing up hearing his parents tell stories about their visits to Cuba in the 1950s. “They just loved it,” he said. “Their stories got me intrigued, and I’ve always been a tropical person…”
Fresh from a week of bonefishing in the Bahamas, Foster is speaking to me about the genesis of his fourth novel, A Lady in Havana, written under the pseudonym Ashley Morgan. Using a pseudonym was a strategic decision for Foster—he believed no one would take a romantic mystery thriller seriously if the author was male. He plans to discuss this further when he visits Midtown Reader later this month, and he sent an email out to his friends and fans several weeks ago so they would understand the reasons behind his decision.
“Why would a woman buy this book from a man?” he asked, pointing out that the Wall Street Journal has written several articles examining this particular question. “And I was making a radical genre change, so it felt like the right decision.”
I asked him whether the email generated any specific feedback and he chuckled. “Well…” he said. “There were some humorous remarks from my old college roommate.”
Foster, who is the father of two well-known Tallahassee residents—Tallahassee Democrat publisher Skip Foster and Armor Realty broker Allyson Foster—is the author of three previous novels: two mystery thrillers and one straight thriller (all written under his real name). He said while he followed the accepted procedure of outlining the story for those first three books, Havana was different.
“This book just happened,” he said. “I sat down and wrote the damn thing. It just came.”
The most difficult part of writing this book was working out the technicalities of the language, specifically using the correct points of view for each character. One character only speaks in first person and another speaks in third person, but when they appeared together, it got a little more challenging.
But, Foster said, that’s to be expected. Writing is a craft and there’s an art to it; people frequently underestimate how hard you have to work at it to really create quality work. He mentioned his two mentors, Winston Groom (who wrote Forrest Gump) and Stewart Kaminsky (of Rockford Files), as being instrumental in his development as a writer. When I asked him what he would tell young authors looking for advice, he didn’t waiver.
“To the greatest extent possible, find a mentor,” he said.