Author, Private Eye Carolina Garcia Aguilera
NEAL CONAN, Host:
Crack the book on any big city, and there's a signature shamus inside. Easy Rawlings investigates crimes in south central L.A., Boston has Spencer for Hire. Sam Spade and the Continental Op worked in mid-century San Francisco. In New York City, well, there seems to be one on every corner in Manhattan.
In Miami, it's Lupe Solano, a self-described Cuban-American princess who does most of her work among Miami's Cuban elite. Her creator is Carolina Garcia Aguilera, who's been kind enough to join us up here in Fort Lauderdale today from Miami. Good to have you with us on the program.
CAROLINA GARCIA AGUILERA: Thank you. It's an honor to be with you.
CONAN: Describe Lupe for us, if you will.
GARCIA AGUILERA: Well, when I decided to write a detective novels featuring a Cuban-American female private eye, I wanted somebody who was totally out of the mainstream of what had been done before. And being Cuban-American, I decided that was obviously the way to go for me. It was what I was familiar with.
Lupe Solano is 28 years old, and she will always be 28 years old. So, obviously this is fiction. And she's 28 years old, and she's five feet tall if the wind is blowing right. And she is more concerned about having manicures and pedicures than anything else, although she's seasoned and hardened private eye. She always carries a Beretta in a Chanel bag, but she - it was very difficult to find just the right Chanel bag so that the gun would fit. And once, unfortunately, she had to shoot somebody, through the gun...
GARCIA AGUILERA: You know, yes! And it made a hole in the Chanel bag, and I was thinking that maybe from France, you know, the Chanel Company would write me, but no, that was the case. So, she's really fun, and she likes to go to restaurants and she has a very active love life. But she's a very serious private eye. I mean, she works at it diligently.
CONAN: Now, I know that you worked for many years as a private investigator yourself. Which came first, the fictional detective or the real one?
GARCIA AGUILERA: Well, I'm still working as a private eye.
GARCIA AGUILERA: As a matter of fact...
CONAN: You're here on a case?
GARCIA AGUILERA: ...no, not yet. But I have my business cards. No, but, seriously, I just renewed my license, and I just realized when I renewed my license, its 20 years in May. In Miami, that's a record. Twenty years without, you know, having, you know, having a habit or having been in jail or anything like that. So I'm ahead of the game, I figure.
No, actually I started writing a book. This is the way that Lupe became about. I started writing a book, and this is in '86, so this is my 20th anniversary. And I decided that although the book, I thought, the story was pretty good, I really did not have an idea what it was like to be a private eye. I mean, I was a mom, car pooling with a Volvo, the three children, the station wagon, the, you know, the golden retriever.
CONAN: Not Lupe's Mercedes? No.
GARCIA AGUILERA: Not exactly. Lupe's Mercedes, no, not at all. And I became, I actually became a private eye so I could write books about it.
GARCIA AGUILERA: So I was pretty goal-oriented to get it correct. To get it right.
CONAN: Did any of your real cases end up in your novels?
GARCIA AGUILERA: I can't do that, because as a licensed private eye in Florida, we go under the statute, Florida statutes, and I go under confidentiality. The work I do is considered a confidential work product. So I can't write about my cases. Although I would love, and love, and love to, because I've done, I've worked some pretty high-profile cases in Miami.
CONAN: Mm hmm. We have a question for you from the audience here in Fort Lauderdale. Somebody's up at the mike. Go ahead, please.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Hi. I love the book. I'm a rabid fan. I think you described them so well, and I drink my cafÃ© con leche as I'm reading them. But when is Lupe back? I'm missing her. You've been writing about other folks and other characters. I want to know when she's coming back.
GARCIA AGUILERA: Well, most series writers, as I found out - usually after they write their fifth, sixth, or seventh books, that's when they reassess, what do I really want to do with my character? And I wrote six books in the Lupe series, and I wanted to see if I could do something else. And when my agent suggested that I write a love story - for me writing a love story after all the private eye cases I wrote was really sort of, you know - I mean, you know, it was crazy. But I did that, just to see if I could do it. And then my eighth book I set in Las Vegas, also to see if there was a way that I could write about something that wasn't Miami, because I know Miami so, so well. So I wanted to see if I could actually set a book someplace else.
But I'm working on other things right now. So maybe, maybe Lupe, I have an idea for Lupe. Actually I'm about a third of Lupe seven. I don't refer to them by names, only by numbers, so I remember them. So Lupe seven will probably be within the next year or so.
CROSSLEY: I like the other ones, too; they're great. But I just wanted - I miss her.
GARCIA AGUILERA: Oh, that's really nice. Only one cafÃ© con leche? I can't believe it.
CONAN: We didn't catch your name.
CROSSLEY: Callie Crossley.
CONAN: Oh, thanks...
GARCIA AGUILERA: A pleasure. A pleasure.
CONAN: ...thanks very much, Callie. Appreciate the question.
Writing about - well, writing books, in general, you need to know a little bit about human nature, but, particularly in the private eye business. I wanted to read a short excerpt from one of your books, Havana Heat.
GARCIA AGUILERA: money, sex, and pride."
GARCIA AGUILERA: I think that pretty much sums what it is. But in Miami, obviously, it's very hard to get away from politics. But, I mean, that's basically what Lupe's all about. You know, that's what her cases are.
I mean, most people think that private eyes only do matrimonial cases. Who's been, you know, having relationships with who outside the marriage, or whatever. But that is not the case at all. I mean, private eyes do many, many kinds of cases. I do a lot of civil cases, in which it's - they have financial backgrounds. I have a MBA in finance, so I can get financial investigations. It's money laundering, fraud - and in Miami, you know, when I first started in '86, just about every case had something to do with drugs. You know, it would always end up with drugs. You have a lost dog? Trust me, there will be cocaine involved.
So there was always drugs involved in everything. But now it's the - and then in the '90s it was more financial cases. Asset tracing, fraud, money laundering, that kind of stuff. So, you know, private eyes do handle every kind of case. And you assume, mostly, that your client basically will lie to you when they come in, because they don't want you to be, they don't want you to see them in a bad light.
CONAN: They want you to find out stuff for them, but they don't tell you the truth.
GARCIA AGUILERA: No. Correct. That's correct. So you go in totally the wrong direction that you should go, and then at the end of the day you present them with a huge bill, and you say, but you know, I did all that based on what you told me. And they say, well, I didn't want you to think that I was doing this, or that, or the other thing. And I go, no, no, that's not the way it works. So...
CONAN: One of the characters in this book, for example, is deeply offended when, in fact, Lupe ends up partly investigating her because she hasn't told her the truth.
GARCIA AGUILERA: That's right. That's right. That's the first thing that you - the premise is, are you lying to me? And they usually say, no, no, no, I'm really truthful. But eventually, you find out.
CONAN: We're talking with novelist Carolina Garica-Aguilera, a novelist and private eye, I should say. She's the creator of Lupe Solano. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
So the cases, I mean, you're talking about financial cases, money laundering cases...
GARCIA AGUILERA: Yes. Yes.
CONAN: The real life police in your novel - I mean, there's a cop who's very tired but honest, remarkably, cop who sometimes conveniently see some of the things that Lupe is doing. Nevertheless, there has to be a relationship with the real police departments.
GARCIA AGUILERA: Yes. I mean, and sometimes in like television shows and in the movies, it's always adversarial. And that's just really not the way it is in real life. Because if that's the way it was in real life, I couldn't get any information from anyone. You don't - I mean, and plus, you have to work with them over and over again as they do with you, so you develop friendships with state attorneys, with other people. So, no, it's not adversarial at all, and you do rely on each other for the right information. There are some things that, by law, that police officers can't do that I can find out, and vice versa. So it's, you know, works very well both ways.
CONAN: Lupe circulates, as we said, amongst the Cuban-American elite. Do your friends, your acquaintances, do they ever see themselves, read themselves into your novels?
GARCIA AGUILERA: Everybody thinks I'm writing about them. I've said, the more books that I write, the less friends that I have, because they're always convinced that they're going to end up one way or another in a book. But I try not to do it.
CONAN: Maybe perforated.
GARCIA AGUILERA: My mother picks up every one of my books with dread. So, anyway, it's...
CONAN: What, she's afraid you're going to kill her off?
GARCIA AGUILERA: No, she says, that, you know, the one thing I did was I didn't name any of my daughters after her, by I did name the nun in the book after her. So Freud would have a field day with that one.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CONAN: Well, I did want to ask. There was one of your books that was quite a departure from the usual, you know, gun smoke and crime. And that was a case of an alleged miracle.
GARCIA AGUILERA: A miracle, the fourth book. I wanted to investigate. I never went to Catholic school. Actually, I went to Jewish schools, even though I'm a, you know, practicing Roman Catholic, and the, sort of the idea of Catholicism fascinated me. Also, the miracle, the idea of miracles, how do you transcend something that you've never seen? How do you really have faith? How do you believe? So a lot of that was, you know, just to educate myself. Not to mention the fact that I found out there's a circle of nuns that pray for me.
GARCIA AGUILERA: I get a lot of mail from them. Yes.
CONAN: But it was a case that challenged not only Lupe's faith...
GARCIA AGUILERA: Yes.
CONAN: ...but her politics as well.
GARCIA AGUILERA: That's right. It did. It challenged a bit of them both, because, I mean, I don't think one can be Cuban, living in Miami, without having a sort of finely-honed political sense. Although I try not to put my politics in my book. I mean, the people on the left think that I'm totally right, the people on the right think I'm totally left. So I figure that's successful. I've sort of straddled the two relatively, you know, without too much danger - the minefield.
CONAN: And how do you divide your life? As you've said, you're a mother, you have a number of, I'm sure, interests in your life. But you have, certainly, your children, your life as a private investigator, and your life as a writer. How do you juggle all those things?
GARCIA AGUILERA: You know, it's easy in the beginning, you sort of - well, in the beginning it's more difficult. You sort of don't really know which way to go. But now, now I know. I thank God for contracts, because if I didn't have contracts, I could never write a book. I mean, people swear at contracts and say how can you do it? But for me, I just, you know, I have it there, and I have the dates circled around when I have to have it in by, and I'm very grateful for that. I'm a night bird. I'm a total night person, a night owl. For me, the best hours are, I mean, I work until three, four, five o'clock in the morning. Which I really like, because that's when it's quiet. So I've sort of learned nowadays, my children are grown up, so I don't have to carpool and take them to school. So that really frees up my time a lot. But now I'm boxing. I box a lot, so...
CONAN: You're a boxer as well?
GARCIA AGUILERA: I'm a boxer. Yes. Yes.
CONAN: Well, that's a good trade for a private investigator, you'd think.
GARCIA AGUILERA: Yes. Because my eyesight's going, so I think I can't just rely on shooting people anymore. I need close contact.
CONAN: I do have to ask, is there a Beretta in that bag?
GARCIA AGUILERA: No, because I just came back from Washington. I can't go through security at the airport.
CONAN: Thank you so much for being with us, Carolina.
GARCIA AGUILERA: Oh, thank you.
CONAN: And we all await Lupe's next adventures.
GARCIA AGUILERA: It's an honor to be with you.
CONAN: Carolina Garcia Aguilera, whose most recent book is The Luck of the Draw, which takes place in Las Vegas, as well as Miami. And she joined us here today in Fort Lauderdale.
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