Mastering a dual timeline – Chanel Cleeton

By  |  0 Comments

By Chanel Cleeton

I often compare working on a dual timeline novel to playing with a Rubik’s Cube. There’s a lot of moving parts, shifting pieces, and the occasional hair-pulling moment before it all comes together. It’s also challenging and fun, pushing you to explore your boundaries and develop new skills.♥

When I first came up with the idea for my historical fiction book Next Year in Havana, I knew I wanted to tell the story of two characters — a grandmother and her granddaughter — their stories bound by a powerful legacy of family, patriotism, and courage. Their relationship was largely inspired by my own relationship with my grandmother, and I wanted to explore the bonds of family and the traditions and culture that are passed down from one generation to the next.

The starting point for my novel is the cusp of the Cuban Revolution. It begins with Elisa Perez’s story in 1958, growing up as a sheltered socialite in a country on the verge of revolution. Elisa’s journey puts her in the path of a handsome revolutionary whose views on the political struggles within Cuba are in direct opposition with her family’s political inclinations.

In drafting Elisa’s novel, I was able to traverse the Havana that was passed down to me in family stories and traditions from my own grandparents, particularly my grandmother, who looked back on their life in Cuba with great fondness. Combing through historical records and speaking with family members gave me a perspective on what life was like during the revolution my family lived through. While much of these stories were passed down to me throughout my childhood and adulthood, the novel allowed them to come to life as I recreated the Cuba I had been given, expanding it in new ways.

As Elisa’s story developed, her granddaughter Marisol’s emerged as well. Marisol’s journey in the novel is one of identity and discovery similar to my own exploration as I drafted Next Year in Havana. Set in the present day, Marisol is charged with visiting Cuba for the first time to honor her grandmother Elisa’s final wishes and scatter her ashes in the country from which she was exiled.

Here the Rubik’s Cube formed, as Marisol’s storyline intertwined with Elisa’s, the parallels emerging between the two women creating a powerful bond of love and family that endured even after Elisa’s death. Through her travels in Havana on her mission to find her grandmother’s final resting place, Marisol learns more about her family and her Cuban identity. Along the way, she becomes drawn to a man with his own revolutionary political beliefs, and discovers that many of the same issues that plagued her grandmother’s Cuba are still alive in the country’s modern iteration.

Pivoting between the two timelines and knowing when to shift between narratives was initially a case of trial and error, but little by little my characters began to show me the way, as the parallels between their lives became evident, the connection between them and the legacy passed down from grandmother to granddaughter an indelible one. In the end, the final result was one I was proud of, a story of hope and family, exile and perseverance, a love letter to Cuba and its people.

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 & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. The author of ten books, her latest novel, Next Year in Havana, is out now, published by Penguin/Berkley.

Leave a Reply