HAVANA QUEEN, my nearly completed spy thriller set in Cuba, has made it to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Authors compete in one of five categories—General Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror, and Young Adult fiction—for the chance to win a publishing contract with Amazon Publishing. My book is competing in the Mystery/Thriller segment. A finalist will be chosen in each category, and a Grand Prize winner will then be selected by Amazon customers and receive a $50,000 advance. The remaining finalists will also receive a publishing contract with Amazon Publishing, with a $15,000 advance. The top 20 percent of 10,000 eligible entries -- 400 entries from each category -- are selected to go onto the second round. Amazon reviewers will then read excerpts of the entries and narrow the pool to 100 titles in each category. In the subsequent round, reviewers from Publishers Weekly will read, review and rate the full manuscripts to choose the top five semi-finalists for each category. Amazon Publishing editors will then select a finalist in each of the five categories. In the final stage of the contest, Amazon.com customers will vote for a Grand Prize winner.
The judges selected HAVANA QUEEN based on the following pitch:
Three buildings collapse every week in Havana due to internal rot and neglect. La Reina (The Queen) is one such building. It symbolizes Cuba itself. The once majestic structure implodes, killing eighty-six occupants. This sparks a revolution against the communist regime as Fidel and Raul Castro sink deeper into dementia and failing health. In a desperate ploy, sultry female Cuban spymaster Larisa Montilla takes on the CIA in a tit-for-tat shadow war of assassination. As the bodies pile up, Cuban-American FBI Agent Nick Castillo is swept up in a maelstrom of espionage, intrigue and guerrilla war. But he must navigate a wilderness of mirrors that leads him to an assassination plot against the Castros’ No. 1 enemy – the President of the United States."
In the movie, “A Few Good Men,” Colonel Jessup says, “I eat breakfast three hundred yards from four thousand Cubans who are trained to kill me.” I’ve been there. I met monthly with Cuban military and intelligence officers on “The Line” at Guantanamo Naval Base for over a year. That experience and those from my service inside Cuba as a U.S. diplomat often made me think, “Fiction can’t rival this.” So, I wrote a novel about it all, “Havana Queen.”
A respected reviewer said of my writing, “The author has an eye for detail and a style of rich description that the eager reader can feast upon.” A former intelligence officer wrote, “His descriptions are so good I wondered at times how he got them through the government reviewers." My fiction appeals particularly to fans of “Homeland,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and readers of well written spy thrillers. What makes my writing stand out from the pack is the authenticity I bring to it.
The ABNA contest is fun and exciting. Making it to the finalist stage is a real long shot. But the ride is great!