Interviews

Interview with The Frederick News-Post, May 2001

 

The Frederick News-Post

Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Novelist tells of a young man’s coming of age in ‘Neophyte’

By Karen Gardner

Carlos Rubio published his first short story in his college newspaper back in 1966. After that, he knew he was a writer.

“I thought, ‘I am a writer officially,’” he said. “It was not very good.” The story was about the execution of a man in his native Cuba.

Since then, Mr. Rubio, 57, has published several novels, some of which have been in English and some in Spanish. Two years ago, he retired from a 31-year career teaching Spanish in public schools in the Martinsburg, WV area.

He still lives in Martinsburg and has been a visiting professor of Spanish for the last two years at Hood College. His latest book, in English, is “The Neophyte,” from Highbridge Press, a small publishing company in Tupper Lake, N.Y.

Early on in his teaching career, he was taking graduate classes and didn’t have time to write. But once he earned his master’s degree at West Virginia University in Morgantown, he wrote a book of short stories which took second place in an international writing contest. “That reinforced the idea in my mind that I was a writer,” he said.

Since then, he’s written novels. “For some reason, I alternate languages between novels,” he said. “The things I do in English have nothing to do with Cuba or Latin Americans. They’re more an exploration of what it means to be a 20th-century man. They are kind of introspective works. In Spanish, I’m very interested in language and structure.” His Spanish stories are more humorous, he said.

He attributed this to the difference between his life in Cuba and the United States. Mr. Rubio came to this country in 1961, at the age of 17. “The essence of what I write in Spanish is more relaxed because it reflected my life before coming to the U.S.,” he said.

His carefree childhood ended when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro closed all Catholic schools and confiscated property belonging to the Catholic church. Mr. Rubio was one of 14,000 Cuban children who came to the U.S. as part of Operation Pedro Pan, a joint effort by the archdiocese of Miami and the U.S. government.

Mr. Rubio was sponsored by a Catholic organization in Wilmington, Del. It was there that he finished high school and polished up his English while working for DuPont. He and his brother, who also went to Wilmington, never saw their parents again. His father died soon after his arrival in America and his mother died in 1976.

A friend sent him a brochure from Concord College, in Athens, W.Va. “It looked very pretty,” he said. He had little money but scraped together enough to pay the tuition. “Those were the happiest years of my life,” he said.

It was at Concord College that he met his future wife, also a teacher. They settled in Martinsburg after graduation and raised three children. He began his writing career a few years later. His book “Quadrivium” won the annual Nuevo Leon International Awards for novels in 1990. This book was published in Mexico.

It is the story of four women, a Chinese magician, an American prostitute, a Brazilian choreographer and a Cuban bolero singer. The women meet in a hotel in Miami and each tells her story. His Spanish novel “Saga,” published in 1997 by Zinnia Books in New York, was a finalist in the Letras de Oro competition sponsored by the University of Miami.

He began writing “The Neophyte” in response to his high school students. “I decided I was going to write something they would want to read and also introduce the literary devices they studied in class. “Neophyte” is his first humorous novel in English, and besides irony, he used alliteration, metaphors and similes. It’s the first of a trilogy about a teen-age boy growing up in a convent.

“I quote from my Spanish novels,” he said. “It unifies the body of my work.” The book takes place in an unnamed American location. Its geography is important in one sense. It takes place at the confluence of two rivers, in a delta. “Anytime you have confluence, you have turbulence,” he said.

His novel “Dead Time,” written in English, was a finalist in the 1995 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society literary competition. His other English novel, “Orpheus’ Blues,” centered on a jazz musician from southern Virginia who goes to New York.

He has recently completed a serious Spanish novel that takes place in an unmentioned Latin American country and a book that takes place in Cuba. That is his first book set in Cuba. “It has a Cuban theme, but it is not geared to a Cuban audience.”

“I give credit to my parents,” he said. “Whatever I achieve is their doing.” He and his brother were sent to America with little chance of ever being seen by their parents again.

“They didn’t see any future for us growing up under communism. It was a trade-off, but a good one.”

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