Originally from Florida, Chanel Cleeton grew up on stories of her family's exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England, where she earned a bachelor's degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London, and a master's degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.
In this post, Chanel discusses how reader curiosity led her to write her new historical fiction novel, Our Last Days in Barcelona, what it’s like returning to the same characters, and more!
Name: Chanel Cleeton
Literary agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Book title: Our Last Days in Barcelona
Publisher: Berkley Publishing
Release date: May 24, 2022
Genre/category: Historical Fiction
Previous titles: Next Year in Havana, When We Left Cuba, The Last Train to Key West, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba
Elevator pitch for the book: In 1964, Isabel Perez travels to Barcelona searching for her sister Beatriz who has disappeared. Isabel is thrust into the past as she learns an unexpected family secret and embarks on an unforgettable journey of her own.
What prompted you to write this book?
I was inspired by the messages I began receiving after the publication of Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba asking me to tell the other Perez sisters’ stories. I dedicated Our Last Days in Barcelona to the readers who have embraced the Perez family; this novel wouldn’t exist without their enthusiasm and support!
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
I originally pitched the idea for Our Last Days in Barcelona to my agent and editor in February 2020 and began writing it a short time after that. The idea changed quite a bit through different draft iterations. While I knew I wanted to tell Isabel’s story, it took several drafts and wonderful insight from my editor Kate Seaver for me to establish and develop the different character interactions and timelines that thread throughout the novel.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
For having written several books featuring this family, my characters were constantly surprising me. Writing is always such an adventure, and it was an exciting surprise to realize that even though I thought I knew the characters well, there were still so many things about them that I didn’t know and that really influenced the direction of the story.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
There were! I initially was reluctant to tell Isabel’s story because having spent so much time in her sister Beatriz’s head when writing When We Left Cuba, it was difficult for me to see Isabel without the lens of her sister’s perception of her. Once I began writing Our Last Days in Barcelona, though, I fell in love with Isabel’s character, and she is now my favorite Perez sister.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
Revisiting these characters was a special experience for me as I followed them through this pivotal moment in their family’s history. Our Last Days in Barcelona is a family reunion of sorts, and I hope readers enjoy spending time with this cast of characters and following them on their journey.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?