No one but Randy Wayne White could conjure up a crazy tale like Cuba Straits.
His latest thriller featuring Doc Ford, retired NSA man turned marine biologist, involves a runaway Cuban baseball player, 60-year-old love letters written by Fidel and Raul Castro to the same woman, and a treasure hunt for classic Harleys buried somewhere in western Cuba.
The Florida-based author also takes time in Cuba Straits (out Tuesday) to debunk the oft-repeated myth that Fidel was once a highly regarded pitching prospect before he found his calling as an island dictator.
It’s a lot to fit into one story, but White connects the dots in a thoroughly satisfying way.
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We chatted with White — whose book tour brings him to the North Richland Hills Library on Wednesday — about Cuba, baseball and his books.
You clearly have a great affection for Cuba and its people.
I first went to Cuba in 1977. I’ve been back many times since. In 1980, I was aboard a 55-foot grouper boat that brought back 147 refugees. That’s a lot of people on a 55-foot boat. During the voyage, they all took up this chant, “Libertad … libertad …liberty.”
I got in the habit of going to Cuba and taking baseball gear, because I had seen kids there playing ball with bats they carved by hand and balls that were made from little chunks of asphalt with twine wrapped around them. That was the only equipment they had. So I started taking gear to them.
The same way Ford’s buddy, Tomlinson, gives his baseball equipment to kids in the book?
Yeah. And I still do that. I was just there in December, when the announcement was made to begin the steps of normalization there. So I have quite a history there, much of it related to baseball.
Can you talk about “outing” Castro for being a poser when it comes to baseball?
I wrote and narrated a documentary called The Gift of the Game [in 2002, about efforts to find remnants of Cuban Little League teams founded by Ernest Hemingway in the days before Castro]. In the course of researching that documentary, we acquired actual film of Fidel Castro attempting to play baseball.
Frankly, it was pathetic. Anyone who has a history throwing a baseball would recognize immediately that this guy was a complete fraud.
The best book I read on the subject was The Pride of Havana, in which the author [Roberto González Echevarría] searched through every box score in every Cuban newspaper. Castro never played the game on any meaningful level — and the story that he was scouted by major league teams isn’t true.
You’ve written nearly two dozen books about Ford and Tomlinson over the span of 25 years. Does that boggle your mind?
I originally signed a three-book contract with St. Martin’s. Never did I envision more than three. But I did have the forethought to choose two characters, one who is a totally rational and linear guy [Ford] and the other totally spiritual and intuitive [Tomlinson], so that if the books did go on, I would have two characters that would allow me to express just about any thought I wanted.
I also wrote lengthy bios of the primary characters. There are things that have never appeared in my novels about Doc Ford and Tomlinson and may never appear. But I know those characters very well.
Any chance that Ford or Tomlinson was modeled after real people?
When I was writing for Outside magazine, I traveled a great deal, particularly to Third World countries. If war was going on, so much the better. So it’s possible that I met people in Ford’s line of work.
As for Tomlinson, the hipster, I never went through a hippie period. But I do have friends. One in particular, Bill Lee, the “Spaceman,” who pitched for the Red Sox, says that he is Tomlinson. I will not argue the point.
When you’re in North Texas, your name might get you some preferential treatment from longtime Dallas Cowboys fans.
Randy White the football player is exactly why I use my full name on my books. I’d love to meet him one day. I’ve done OK using my whole name, but I never try to say it aloud. It’s a real tongue-twister.
by Randy Wayne White
Audiobook: Penguin Audio, $40; read by actor and veteran narrator George Guidall.
Meet the author: Randy Wayne White will be featured in a speaking engagement and book signing at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the North Richland Hills Library, 9015 Grand Ave. For more information, go to www.friendsofnrhlibrary.org.