Dictators in history: Rafael Trujillo

Today, in honour of the fact that Revolution Day is one of my publisher, Crooked Cat’s featured books this week (and available for only 99p/99c!), I thought I would do another in my occasional series of blog posts about the lives of historical dictators, looking for similarities and differences between their careers and characters and those of my own fictional dictator, Carlos Almanzor. This time, the focus is on Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic.

Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina was born on October 24 1891 to a lower middle-class family in San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic. His early life did not show much promise: he worked as a telegraph operator and later spent time in prison. However, after joining the Army in 1918 and receiving training from the US Marines who were then occupying the country, he enjoyed a meteoric rise from lieutenant to general in nine years, becoming Commander-in-Chief.

When Rafael Estrella Urena launched a coup d’état in 1930 against President Horacio Vasquez, Trujillo cut a secret deal with Estrella and kept the Army on the sidelines, allowing Estrella to oust Vasquez and become acting President. In return, Trujillo was supported in the subsequent election, becoming President on 16 June 1930 with Estrella as his Vice-President. Estrella departed two years later, but Trujillo remained in office until 1938, before nominally handing over to a figurehead President, Jacinto Peynado. Trujillo was President again from 1942 to 1952, stepping down this time in favour of his own brother, Hector. Nevertheless, Trujillo continued to retain ultimate power until his death.

During the so-called ‘Era de Trujillo’ the Dominican Republic enjoyed relative stability and prosperity. However, this came at a heavy price. Even in a region and an era notorious for dictators, Trujillo stands out for his egotism and ruthless brutality. Numerous actual and potential opponents of the regime were subjected to imprisonment, torture, execution or assassination, at first by armed gangs loyal to Trujillo, and later by the apparatus of the state itself. Those living abroad were not immune – in 1960 Trujillo even ordered an assassination attempt on the President of Venezuela.

Trujillo took advantage of his power to enrich himself and his family, acquiring money, land and businesses; and to indulge his prodigious sexual appetite. He developed the cult of personality to an absurd degree: the country’s capital and highest peak were given his name, and churches were required to put up signs saying “Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra” (God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth). He wore so many medals that he earned the nickname “chapitas” (bottlecaps).

Though he welcomed immigrants to the country, including Jewish refugees from Europe, Trujillo had a markedly different attitude to its mostly black Haitian neighbours, despite being of partly Haitian ancestry himself. He ordered the notorious ‘Parsley massacre’ of thousands of Haitian migrants in October 1937.

Trujillo’s eventual downfall came at the hands of a group of conspirators including disaffected generals, who ambushed his car on 30 May 1961. The assassination was the subject of a novel (and later film), The Feast of the Goat, by Nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa.

Trujillo and Carlos

I did not have Trujillo in mind when I created the character of Carlos, but there are nevertheless some obvious parallels between the two. One thing they share is their long reign. Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic, as President or wielding de facto power behind a figurehead, between 1930 and 1961. At the start of Revolution Day, Carlos has been in power for 37 years.

Retaining absolute power for decades through the vicissitudes of politics and economics does not come easy, as Carlos discovered early in his presidency. Something of an idealist when he first came to power, over time Carlos has adopted some of the dictatorial measures employed by Trujillo from the very outset of his presidency. Thus he has resorted to blatant rigging of elections, the arrest, torture, execution and sometimes assassination of dissidents and other potential threats; and the cult of his own personality, his rise to power being mythologised in numerous bad films.

Another factor in the lives of both men, in common with many historical dictators, is the fact that their power is ultimately dependent on the Army. Whereas Trujillo was himself a soldier, Carlos (despite his Admiral’s uniform) has no military background and is dependent upon the loyalty of the Minister of Defence, his long-standing comrade Angel. Once the support of the Army is lost, a dictator is finished, as Trujillo’s own fate dramatically shows. Carlos’s ambitious vice-president, Manuel, knows this, and the plot of the novel centres around his efforts, through intrigue, misinformation and blackmail, to drive a wedge between Carlos and Angel in order to secure power for himself.

There is, notwithstanding these similarities, a fundamental difference in the characters of the two men. Trujillo’s career was characterised throughout by a ruthless, all-consuming desire for power and the rewards it brings. Thus, from the very outset, he showed no hesitation in intimidating voters and eliminating opponents in order to secure and consolidate his supremacy, or in exploiting it to enrich himself and his family. Carlos, however, is corrupted by power in a rather different way. His early idealism was genuine, and though he subsequently resorts to increasingly repressive measures to remain in power, he does so with a certain weary distaste, under the delusion that he alone can be trusted to steer the nation through its troubles and must do whatever is necessary to enable him to do so. He lives relatively modestly, and does not indulge in the nepotism for which Trujillo was notorious. Carlos’s fatal flaw is not the lust for power for its own sake, but an intellectual arrogance that leads him to believe that he is uniquely qualified to wield it.

You can read more about Revolution Day, and read excerpts and reviews, here.

Revolution Day (2)

 

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Burying a King

Today I’m delighted to welcome back fellow historical fiction writer Jennifer Wilson, on the first anniversary of her attendance at the funeral of Richard III.  In honour of this, her novel about Richard’s ghost, Kindred Spirits, is reduced to 99p/99c!  Hello again, Jen!

Hi Tim, and thanks for hosting me on your blog today.

A year ago, on 26th March 2015, the mortal remains of perhaps England’s most controversial monarch were laid to rest. For the second time. There aren’t too many kings or queens you can say that about (although, oddly, it is also semi-true of my second favourite ruler, Mary, Queen of Scots). I suspect there are even fewer writers who are lucky enough to say they attended part of the funeral services for their novel’s leading man…

To my amazement, in January 2015, I got the letter confirming I had been successful in the public ballot for attendance, and I was off to Compline on the 22nd March. I didn’t even know what Compline was, but right then, I genuinely did not care. I was going to Leicester!

I still don’t know exactly how or when my obsession with Richard III started, but by the time news of plans to dig in that now-famous car-park was released, I was hooked. Yet however hard I tried, the words somehow never flowed. Even whilst sat beside the beautifully-presented original grave site, nothing. Until NaNoWriMo 2013 dragged 50,000 words kicking and screaming out of my head. The idea of Richard’s ghost, having returned to the Tower of London, his own Royal Palace during his reign, and the location of one of the most infamous mysteries in British history – what did happen to those nephews of his? And I simply couldn’t resist bringing Richard and Anne Boleyn together, with, I presumed, their mutual dislike of a certain pair of Henry Tudors…

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Attending Compline in March 2015 was the final shove I needed. In the end, the weekend felt like an odd combination of mini-break and study leave – there were lectures, themed tours of the city and, of course, the public unveiling of the coffin. As we all filed in behind the hearse, it all just felt, well, ridiculous. Brilliant, but ridiculous.

Happily, the ridiculousness all put me in just the right frame of mind to get my act together and get editing. After all, what would Richard’s ghost be thinking, now he had had a much grander funeral than the first time around? How would he feel about the changing public perception of him? And would it have changed the relationships he had with the other ghosts of the Tower of London?

I’ve never been very good at the editing process, always preferring the initial flow of words, but throughout spring 2015, it was almost enjoyable, rediscovering what had been written in a bit of a blur eighteen months earlier.

Now we’re at the anniversary of the funeral week, it’s very strange to think about how much has happened in the last year, but all in all, it’s been a good one, and there aren’t many funerals which are cause for celebration, after all!

JCW in Leicester Cathedral

Bio

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III, clearly!). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.

Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice,reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her debut novel Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Publishing in October 2015.

Links:

Blog: https://jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/inkjunkie1984

International Amazon link: http://authl.it/B016TRKU2A

Smashwords link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/586365

Revolution Day on Sale!

Claire Stibbe

I’m very excited to welcome back author Tim Taylor. Some of you may remember him from last year when he visited my blog in October. Well, now he’s back again to talk to us about a new scene from his book, Revolution Day.

Over to you, Tim.

T E Taylor (2)Hi Claire! Many thanks for hosting me! My novel Revolution Day is one of our publisher, Crooked Cat’s featured books this week, and available at only 99p/99c (as is my other novel, Zeus of Ithome). In honour of that, I thought I would share a scene from the novel with you today.

First, a bit of background. The novel follows a year in the life of ageing Latin American dictator, Carlos Almanzor, who is feeling increasingly insecure and paranoid as he clings on to power. His estranged and imprisoned wife, Juanita, is writing a memoir in which she recalls the history of their marriage…

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The Rape of Africa

Today I’m delighted to welcome Jane Bwye, whose excellent novel, Breath of Africa, is set in her own homeland of Kenya. Jane is here to talk about her fears for future of the African continent, which is increasingly prey to asset stripping by foreign corporations.  Welcome Jane!  Tell us all about it…

IS AFRICA GALLOPING TOWARDS DESTRUCTION?

There’s something about Africa – especially Africa south of the Sahara – which gets to you. You only have to live there once, for a short time, to get the bug.  Perhaps it’s the extraordinary light, translucent, clear, pristine, that lies over the land especially in the early mornings and when the sun sets. Or the warm orange glow over coastal beaches and plains, heavy with languid humidity.
The people greet you with smiles, even the most snotty-nosed kids barely clad in ragged garments as they emerge from makeshift dwellings in remote places. Their needs are few, their smiles wide with hope. Laughter is ever waiting round the corner. If you look into the eyes of a wrinkled elder or a small child, you will find a twinkle.
Life goes on, whether you are there or not. You are but a tiny spec in the scheme of things. Especially so in the wild which can be found within a stone’s throw from human habitation. Majestic lion, haughty cheetah, leopard slinking silently through the bush. And elephant – one moment you’re surrounded by these overpowering gentle beasts, the next, they have melted away leaving a sense of awe and wonder. Were they really there? And the birds – tiny treasures flitting among the trees and bushes, oblivious of the glint of binoculars.
But there is something sinister happening here… the disease has been gathering momentum through the decades and Africa is now galloping towards destruction. Not only is the wildlife teetering on the verge of extinction due to the vanity and greed of man, but the very land itself is under threat.
CORRUPTION in high places is the cause. And the latest in Kenya revolves around overseas construction moguls dredging for sand along her pristine beaches causing rapid irreversible degeneration. Money talks, no amount of demonstrations or petitions can hold sway, and the legal apparatus is rickety. It remains for decent people to shame their leaders. You can read about it HERE.

But there’s always HOPE – and the people of Africa are good at hoping!  There’s always a corner where you can find peace and sanity. You can look back with nostalgia to what has been or, if you’ve never been there you can learn about the so-called “dark continent.” If you enjoy a good read, BREATH OF AFRICA can give you a flavour of what used to be, and its sequel, my work in progress, contains a kernel of what might evolve into a workable solution. But it will take time. And there’s always time in Africa.

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Breath of Africa, was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award, 2013, and has been compared with the works of Nobel laureate Doris Lessing.
Thirty years of Kenya’s recent history unfold through the lives of Caroline, a privileged woman from the fertile highlands, and Charles Ondiek, a farm labourer with dreams of an Oxford education.

Charles’s love for Teresa, daughter of a hated settler farmer, leads to a drama of psychological terror fuelled by Mau Mau oath administrator, Mwangi, who is held in detention for six years. On his release, Mwangi forces Charles and Teresa apart, then turns his attention to Caroline. But she has inner resources, and joins with Charles to seek out a mysterious ancestral cave.

Against the backdrop of Kenya’s beautiful but hostile desert, the curse is finally broken. But when Caroline discovers the hidden reason for Mwangi’s hatred, she wonders if she’ll ever, really, belong in the country she loves.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breath-Africa-Jane-Bwye-ebook/dp/B00BOAK0FA/

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Jane Bwye lived in Kenya for over half a century, where she was an intermittent freelance journalist, a business owner and a teacher. A world traveller, she buys a bird book in every country she visits. Now living in the UK, she is a business mentor and gives talks on various topics, while indulging her love for choral singing, horses, playing tennis, bridge, and walking.

Website: http://janebwye.com/
Blog: http://jbwye.com/

Welcome, Rumer

Today I am visited by fellow Crooked Cat author Rumer Haven, on the launch day for her new novel, What the Clocks Know.  She’s here to talk about some of her literary influences.  Welcome, Rumer!

Thanks so much for hosting me, Tim!

As a writer, I’m also an avid reader, and it’s inevitable that the essence of what I read will find its way into what I write. I love losing myself in other authors’ creativity, their imagined worlds and their beautiful prose. They give me something to aspire to as I continue honing my own craft, and I’d be remiss not to give a nod to the stories that inspire mine.

Here are just a few that influenced What the Clocks Know:

  1. Charlotte Sometimes – Written by Penelope Farmer and published in 1969, this tale of a boarding-school student who slips into the past life of a former student is directly mentioned in my book to set the tone for my protagonist’s own supernatural experience. It’s a children’s book that I first read as an adult when I became aware it had inspired The Cure’s song of same name. The Cure being one of my favorite bands and “Charlotte Sometimes” one of my favorite songs, I delved into Farmer’s haunting prose and found a kindred spirit. Later on as I drafted What the Clocks Know, I originally wanted to quote from Farmer’s book, so corresponded with the author directly to ask permission. She did give me her blessings, kind woman, though I ultimately cut those excerpts out in later drafts.
  2. Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time – If a song introduced me to the previous book, a film acquainted me with this one. Enchantment, starring David Niven, did indeed enchant me from the TV screen one night as I watched Turner Classic Movies. I adore past-present stories and am perpetually contemplating the past and present lives that have traversed the same spaces, so when this movie explored the same, I wanted to read the book that inspired it. Written by Rumer Godden and published in 1945, this story waltzes back and forth in time in such a seamless, delicate way, and I, too, wanted to write a story about a single house and the multiple lives dwelling in it over generations. So, Rumer inspired this as well as my pen name.
  3. Lost – Written by Gregory Maguire and published in 2001, this contemporary story embraces the Victorian Gothic as an American woman finds herself in a haunted London flat. Now, from that description, you’d think I ripped off the plot for my own book, but it honestly didn’t inspire that aspect of the story. I just enjoy ghost stories and appreciated this one’s subtle approach–it’s haunting without horror and ultimately about the protagonist’s personal journey, not the ghost.
  4. The Bell JarWritten by Sylvia Plath and published in 1963, this book loosely inspired my own protagonist’s descent into depression. It so poignantly conveys the suffocation, despair, and numbness arising from that condition, and how gradually (yet drastically) such an insidious illness develops without awareness.
  5. The Turn of the Screw – Written by Henry James and published in 1898, this quintessential ghost story takes my favorite approach to the genre: presenting phenomena that could have both supernatural and natural explanations. It brings a psychological element to the paranormal that is more chilling to me in its subtlety than any in-your-face horror could possibly achieve. In the same way, I wanted to develop my protagonist’s story gradually, and leave explanation for her experiences open to multiple possibilities so that she fears for her mind before she can accept that something supernatural might actually be afoot.

So those are a few memorable reads that have haunted me, you could say. I hope they and What the Clocks Know will join your reading list. 😉  

~ * ~

About What the Clocks Know:

Finding a ghost isn’t what Margot had in mind when she went ‘soul searching’, but somehow her future may depend on Charlotte’s past.

Woven between 21st-century and Victorian London, What the Clocks Know is a haunting story of love and identity. A paranormal women’s fiction, this title is available as of March 18, 2016 from Crooked Cat Publishing.

“A unique tale of the paranormal – as beautiful as it is haunting.” ~ Shani Struthers, author of Jessamine and the Psychic Surveys series

** Add it! **

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29368003-what-the-clocks-know

** Read it! **

Amazon US – http://amzn.to/21DZoCw

Amazon UK – http://amzn.to/1QsiFfr

Rumer Haven

 

Rumer Haven is probably the most social recluse you could ever meet. When she’s not babbling her fool head off among friends and family, she’s pacified with a good story that she’s reading, writing, or revising—or binge-watching something on Netflix. A former teacher hailing from Chicago, she presently lives in London with her husband and probably a ghost or two. Rumer has always had a penchant for the past and paranormal, which inspires her writing to explore dimensions of time, love, and the soul. She debuted in 2014 with Seven for a Secret (in which a Jazz Age tragedy haunts a modern woman’s love life), and her award-winning short story “Four Somethings & a Sixpence” (about a bride who gets a little something she didn’t register for) was released in 2015. What the Clocks Know is her second novel.

Learn more about Rumer at:

Website – http://www.rumerhaven.com

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/rumerhaven

Twitter – @RumerHaven

 

Welcome, Jeff!

Today I welcome my good friend (and the editor of both my published novels) Jeff Gardiner, who’s here to talk about his new novel, Pica.  Good to see you, Jeff.  Tell us all about it!

In my new YA fantasy novel, Pica, teenager Luke is obsessed with violent computer games and hates anything to do with ‘boring’ nature. His favourite game, ‘Organik Apokalypse’, allows him to fulfil certain self-obsessed fantasies of his own:

What once had been jungle, river, and plains was now filled with shining towers and concrete blocks. Cities soon joined together to make mega-regions, until the entire planet became a mass of concrete; one giant urban conurbation ready to be filled with humans who would bow down to me as the master of their world.

When his parents take him reluctantly on a country walk he’s not too impressed when his parents identify a rare flower:

Watching my parents stroll off hand in hand, I waited until they were out of sight, then I stepped over towards where the precious orchid displayed its colours in the midst of the browned grass. Standing directly over it, I undid my flies and directed my spray of streaming yellow liquid over its blossom and leaves. The orchid immediately flattened as several petals dropped off.

‘Not so pretty now, eh?’

A new boy, called Guy, arrives at Luke’s school, but his odd appearance and mannerisms lead to him being bullied.

He looked a bit of a freak. You know the sort – a saddo. Not a geeky type or a boff – more a bit of a loner … a victim. His clothes looked slightly grubby and his hair was totally uncool; greasy and parted down the middle.

However, Luke finds himself strangely drawn to this enigmatic boy who seems to have the power to attract animals to him. Luke decides to get to know Guy, but hanging around with him isn’t in the least bit straight-forward when he always acts so weirdly.

I felt his hot breath. It smelt stale and its reek clung to the insides of my nostrils. But still I couldn’t move. His black hair fell in matted curls around his eyes and his teeth were yellow and jagged. To my horror he leaned in until his nose touched my cheek. And then he sniffed me. I swear it. He sniffed me! Like he was some kind of dog testing to see if I was friend or foe. His cold blue eyes scanned my entire face; covered the whole area only a few centimetres from my skin. And then he suddenly pulled his head away from me and scampered back to the middle of the glade now filled with rabbits.

My fascination grew as Guy fell over playfully onto the grass. The rabbits swarmed over the clearing. He lay on his back and the rabbits came to him. They clambered on top of him, nuzzling his hands and face and hopping out the way happily when he shifted or rolled over. He played with them as if it were the most natural thing in the world. They appeared to respond to his every movement and sound. The rabbits crowded the space in their hundreds and yet all their movements were synchronised like liquid, flowing this way and that.

Guy shows Luke some amazing creatures and aspects of the natural world, which gradually convince Luke that perhaps nature is worth exploring. At one point he says to Guy:

‘I didn’t realise such amazing things happen all around us every day.’

Guy seems to have a great deal to teach him and Luke befriends him at great cost to himself.

Meanwhile, a magpie has been tapping on Luke’s window, returning again and again. In fact, he begins to see magpies everywhere. Is it the same bird? It doesn’t seem to be scared of him, and it appears to be tapping because it wants Luke to let him in.

Steeling myself for a fright I whipped back the near corner of the curtain and glanced at the window pane. Something stood there leering at me, but not a human face. On the window ledge stood a magpie. I was being haunted by a black and white bird. I dramatically pulled back both curtains hoping to scare it off with larger movements, but it stood its ground and continued pecking at the glass. Did it hope to be let in?

I put my face directly opposite the bird so my nose touched the cold window. Its beak tapped a few centimetres away, making me glad about the double glazing separating us. I made a few faces, leaving fogged imprints and condensation on my side. The bird watched me with definite curiosity – its sideways stare like a camera trying to autofocus on me. I got the impression of it processing still-images in its tiny brain – as if it possessed a photographic memory.

Then I tried to scare it by making sudden movements and pulling faces. It hopped around impatiently, trying to get its beak in the tiny gaps of the frame, as if it was strong enough to prize the hinge open. I smiled, shook my head, and stuck two fingers up at it. The magpie flicked its tail with great agitation, and looked at me, first with its right eye and then with its left. With a harsh ‘chack-chack-chack’ it returned to its tapping on the window, and this time it did so with surprising vigour until I feared the glass might crack.

Then one day Luke lets the magpie in, and from that moment his world is turned upside down…

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Pica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.

Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.

Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.

Jeff’s website: http://www.jeffgardiner.com/

Publisher’s Link: https://www.accentpress.co.uk/pica

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/pica/jeff-gardiner/9781783759286

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pica-jeff-gardiner/1123361258

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1783759283

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Pica-Gaia-Trilogy-Jeff-Gardiner/dp/1783759283/

Amazon Australia: http://www.amazon.com.au/Pica-Gaia-Trilogy-Book-1-ebook/dp/B0191ZKCT8