A Conversation with Chen Lizra, author of ‘My Seductive Cuba’

CHEN LIZRA started traveling to Cuba in 2005 in order to train with the island’s best professional dancers. Each year she finds more excuses to visit Cuba, discovering the culture from within and hanging out with her close friends.

Chen grew up in Israel and later moved to Canada. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing, which allowed her to turn her passion — Cuban dance and music — into an inspiring lifestyle for others through her company, Latidos Productions®.

Chen was selected as the Student Entrepreneur Champion for British Columbia in 2008. The following year, she was nominated as one of the “Women of Distinction in Vancouver,” and in 2010, she was named “Woman of the Month” by Modern Working Woman Magazine. In addition, the Australian government has honoured Chen with a distinguished talent permanent visa. She’s also been featured in numerous newspaper articles and TV shows.

Her latest book is My Seductive Cuba – A Unique Travel Guide.

Visit her website at www.myseductivecuba.com.  Connect with her via her blog www.chenlizra.com, at Twitter at www.twitter.com/#!/MySeductiveCuba, www.twitter.com/#!/ChenLizra and Facebook at www.facebook.com/MySeductiveCuba.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Chen. Can you tell us what your latest book, My Seductive Cuba, is all about?

My Seductive Cuba is a unique travel guide to Cuba. It’s deeply personal with my own stories providing a moving portrayal of this little-understood country on the verge of historic change. It’s both packed with practical information for travelers as well as being a humorous travel guide. Imagine “Eat, Pray, Love” meets “Lonely Planet,” topped with charming Cuban seduction. Yet it’s much more than just a travel guide. The book will take you on a profound journey into a world driven by soul, rhythm and passion. If you plan on traveling to Cuba, you will arrive in Cuba “knowing” the place and understanding how Cubans think, feel and behave. It will feel as if your best friend met you there and showed you around. If you do not to travel, it will make you want to go. And if you cannot travel to the island you will unravel the mystery of this controversial country. The book exposes you to what Cubans love most about their culture.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

You are just going to roll on the floor laughing. I was sharing with a friend of mine the thought of writing a book and she encouraged me to do it. When I came up with the first concept I came up to my dad, who is the biggest book warm on the planet, to ask for his opinion. He is very honest and direct, so I knew he would tell the truth. As soon as he saw the concept he thought that it sucked! My heart sunk. But he also dragged me to one of his many home libraries and piled a list of books for me to read. He advised me that the most intriguing books today are the ones that combine personal stories while providing you with the information you need. He loves fine food, for example. So for him a book about France that didn’t just offer recipes but also engaged you in the culture and flavours, just made his eyes glaze with joy. After reading a few of them and enjoying thoroughly Eat, Pray, Love. I knew what I wanted to write. And you know what? None of the big travel guide book companies has combined personal stories yet. I was on to a hot new trend. So far it’s been 5-star reviews all the way on Amazon.com. I am grateful for my dad’s wisdom and guidance.

Q: What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?

I had to do so much research, it’s crazy. The challenge of writing a book about Cuba is that Cuba is a controversial place due to communism and the U.S. embargo. You have many Cuban Americans who are pro the embargo, you have Canadians who are very peaceful in nature, and you have Europeans who flock the island as well. I had to speak to all of them about history but also about common things like flights. Add to that the close relations with Latin America and you can see how complex it can get. Facts had to be perfect and I wanted to offer a balanced point of view. Because of all of this I decided to hire the best editor I could find, Larry Luxner, who specializes in writing about Cuba. He is the editor of CubaNews, a newsletter about Cuban politics, finance and business. With his help I was able to verify my research, correct mistakes, and make sure it was perfectly done. But I can tell you that because he is American we had very differing views. We had many intense arguments. At the end of the day I think that due to this process the book speaks to so many crowds and is so solid. My Spanish editor, Lucia Terra, also helped smooth out the style and I think that Latin Americans will enjoy it a lot as well. It brings a flare of their Latin world. Yet one thing that people should not forget is that this is a book about tourism and not politics. The politics and history are only there to offer you context.

Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?

Don’t take life so seriously, in a place where material things are not as common, you learn to focus on the human connections and the sense of community. Bottom line is that these are the things that really make us happy, not the things we buy or own. Cuba personally inspires me each year to rethink my life and re-evaluate what is really important to me.

Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?

This is from a chapter where I talk about how Cubans feel about the revolution and the U.S. embargo, and the various Cuban generations:

“The older man at the table was in his 60s. He remembered the Batista years as well as the early days of the revolution. His conclusion was that young people should work “for the good of the community as a whole.” It sounded to me like Socialism 101, and hearing such socialist slogans come out of his mouth made my jaw drop. He meant and believed every word of it. I felt like I was watching history in the making. The image of the revolution was ingrained in him deeply, and he longed for a dream that was forever gone.”

Q: In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today?  How did you do it?

No, it isn’t hard to publish a book; today anyone can publish a book through Print On Demand (POD) or as an eBook. The problem is not publishing; the problem is getting the book to the hands of a wide audience. I took probably the hardest route – self publishing it all by myself – because I felt I had no choice. The kind of book that I wanted to produce and the quality needed was not possible with traditional publishers (for a first time author) or with POD companies. We are talking about top of the line full colour and packed with graphics. Anyone that I have met so far who got the book was blown away by the quality – content and design. It meant that I had to take huge loans in order to print quantities. Now the trick is to get them in the hands of those who will truly benefit from the book.

Q: What’s a typical day like for you?

I wake up in the morning, take a shower and head to the office – that’s next room. I dress up for work or I can’t feel that my working day has started. Then the madness starts with e-mails, phone calls, strategies, meetings, writing etc. Some evenings I teach dance. It’s a magical break with Cuban seduction. It diffuses everything. I typically have to have a clear plan for the week in order to achieve so much. Then I just do it. I am pretty good at keeping up with my system, and I love the wide variety of things that I get to do. It’s a great challenge!

Q: What’s next for you?

Leading new trips to Cuba three times a year, consulting as a Cuba expert to companies that do business with Cuba, mentoring people who want to follow their own dreams with a new coaching program that I am designing, searching for partners for the TV show that I have developed and want to host, and two more books in the long term plan. Is that enough? (lol)


Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Chen.  We wish you much success!

Thank you for hosting me. It’s been my pleasure.

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