Free Cigars at the Twin Cities Book Festival

October 17, 2010

This past Saturday I was an exhibiting author at the 10th Annual Twin Cities Book Festival in downtown Minneapolis. It was pretty cool to see so many authors and publishers together in the same place, surrounded by the hundreds and hundreds of event-goers. There were reading and author signings, panel discussions, lectures, free giveaways (free candy) and dozens of authors.

I had a chance to exhibit Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy and The Cigar Maker, and in an event such as this, when you’re surrounded by your competition, you need a way to stand out, to get people to stop at your table. Since my latest novel deals with the history of the cigar industry in Tampa, Florida, I figured I’d stick a humidor on the table with a sign that says FREE CIGARS (with purchase of the book!)…

It definitely brought people over, but had two very different effects:

1. People would stop, ask about the cigars and the book. Pick it up, flip through it, maybe pickup a flier or a business card. Talk about cigars, Tampa, Cuban history, or books in general. In some cases, they’d buy the book. Sometimes they just wanted to meet you and learn about your work and who you are. That was great too! In general, this group was very friendly and my little marketing trick seemed to have served it’s purpose.

2. People walk right up to the humidor and ask for their free cigar without looking at anything on your table. When you engage them and pitch your book while explaining that the cigar is free with a purchase of the book, they just walk away.

One guy even grabbed two cigars (as he knocked my sign over) and said he was going to give one to his friend. I told him I’d throw in two cigars and that each copy of The Cigar Maker is $15. He tossed the cigars back into the humidor and said, “Then they’re not really free.” Thankfully, he quickly walked away.

Can’t blame the people in group #2 though. The sign did have kind of a “made you look” effect….but then again, these folks seemed like they were not planning on stopping by anyway. Still, if I use cigars as a promotional item again I will probably do it a bit differently. It was the right idea, but I may need to change it up so it doesn’t feel so cheap to some people.

For all your aficionados out there who are wondering what kind of cigars I gave away: they were Flor de Ybor City coronas from Tampa Sweethearts. The tie-in was that much of the book takes place in Ybor City, Florida. The fact that the cigars come from the same city where the book takes place made for a great talking point.

Met a lot of great people and made some new connections, set up a couple things. I’ll be featured on Book Snob in December. And I got the inside scoop on the Minnesota Book Awards.

But overall it was a great day. The Twin Cities Book Festival, courtesy of Rain Taxi, is a worthwhile event and one I will return to. Saw a lot of friends there, met a few people I had only known online, either via Facebook or some other outlet. After the event we went out to eat and drank beer, and discussed my next event, Literary Death Match on October 26th.

A lot of people were talking about this at the book festival and I guess I’m playing the parts of David, Rocky and a snowball in hell. Just over a week to prepare. Should be a good time…Hope to see some of you there!!

The Cigar Maker now available for download

September 9, 2010

The Cigar Maker is now available from Smashwords for $3.99….You can download it to your computer in just seconds. Cool, huh? You can read it online, or download it to your Sony Reader or Palm devise.

Smashwords is a great place for people who are curious about ebooks, but not ready or willing to fork over the cash for a Kindle. You can sample books for free and read the first 30 or 40 pages. You don’t pay unless you decide to continue. Check it out right here, right now!

Click to download The Cigar Maker!

Going to Cuba? Maybe!

August 31, 2010

When I learned that an artist and writers delegation would be traveling to Havana’s International Book Fair in Havana, Cuba in 2011 my first thought was there’s no way I’d get approved for something like that. Although this is a legal U.S. government approved trip from the United States to Cuba, I have heard it is almost impossible to get approved for these delegations. You pretty much have to be a fulltime professor, member of the clergy, college student, established filmmaker or politician. There’s no way they’d allow little old me, an independent author with just two novels and a handful of magazine/newspaper publications, to visit evil communist Cuba. Even though I am half-Cuban, and my great-grandparents were from the island, my lineage is too far removed to be considered a true family member of any distant relatives I might be able to locate in Cuba. I’ve heard it is very easy to get there illegally, and there are organizations you can join that directly challenge the travel ban, but with a family to feed, I can’t risk a $250,000 fine and 10 years in the pen.

This means I either try for the International Book Fair or I wait until the travel ban is lifted and join hoards of American tourists in a mass exodus to paradise. Waiting until the Castro brothers are dead and joining a mob of tourists doesn’t sound too appealing. Even though the House Agricultural Committee recently voted 25-20 to lift the travel ban, it will be a long time before a plane full of American tourists lands in Havana.

Photo courtesy of Lehman College

I figured I’d  give the Book Festival a legitimate shot. The trip is being organized by Anya Achtenberg of the Minnesota Cuba Committee. The first thing I had to do was put together a writer’s resume. My wife Lupi, a cartoonist, began putting together her own artist’s resume. A list of publications, shows we’ve participated in, awards we’ve won, committees or organizations where we’re members. I wrote a novel about Cuban cigar makers for crying out loud – that has to count for something! Then we each wrote a cover letter describing our purpose for going to Cuba, what we planned to do while we were there, and who would benefit from our experiences.

We basically have to meet one of the following 3 requirements:

  • Full-time professionals, whose travel transactions are directly related to research in their professional areas, provided that their research: 1) is of a noncommercial, academic nature; 2) comprises a full work schedule in Cuba; and 3) has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination.
  • Free-Lance Journalism – Persons with a suitable record of publication who are traveling to Cuba to do research for a free-lance article. Licenses authorizing transactions for multiple trips over an extended period of time are available for applicants demonstrating a significant record of free-lance journalism.
  • Professional Research and Professional Meetings – Persons traveling to Cuba to do professional research or to attend a professional meeting that does not meet the requirements of the relevant general license (described above).

We fired these off and have been told that we have a 99.9% chance of getting approved. I’ll take those odds but am still nervous. Even if we’re approved by Uncle Sam, there is still no guarantee that we’ll be able to handle the finances and logistics involved with such a trip. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Cuba, a communist country that most Americans are banned from visiting. A chance to visit the island while Fidel and Raul Castro are still in power. A chance to see the land of my ancestors, to experience the Cuban culture, to meet the Cuban people, to learn their language and customs. To see how they live. To see, firsthand, why the United States government thinks it’s a bad idea for Americans to visit Cuba.

What kind of souvenirs will we bring back? Apparently the Feds will seizes our cigars and rum but there is no limit on books, CDs, photographs, artwork and other “informational materials.” See the details from

What Can Be Brought Back
If U.S. travelers return from Cuba with goods of Cuban origin, such goods, with the exception of informational materials, may be seized at Customs’ discretion [Section 515.204 of the Regulations]. Cuban cigars and rum are routinely confiscated at U.S. ports of entry. Purchasing Cuban cigars and rum in a “duty-free” shop at the Havana Airport does not exempt them from seizure by U.S. Customs. There are no limits on the import or export of informational materials [Section 515.206 of the Regulations]. Information and informational materials such as books, films, artworks, posters, photographs, tapes and CDs are statutorily exempt from regulation under the embargo and may be transported freely; however, blank tapes and CDs are not considered informational materials and may be seized.  To be considered informational material, artworks must be classified under Chapter subheading 9701, 9702, or 9703 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (for example, original paintings, drawings, pastels, engravings, prints, and sculptures are all exempt.)

We’re keeping our fingers crossed for what will certainly be the trip of a lifetime!

Click for more information on traveling to Cuba from the U.S.


The Old Cigar Factories…of Minnesota?

August 5, 2010

When I was invited to a book signing for The Cigar Maker a few weeks ago, by the Dayton’s Bluff Town Council, they told me they were considering hosting the event in an old cigar factory in St. Paul. I said “Wait a minute. There’s an old cigar factory in St. Paul? St. Paul, Minnesota?”

Turns out there is.

The John Doeren cigar factory, built in 1909, is located at 699 7th St East in St. Paul. Doeren arrived in St. Paul in the 1880s, already a cigar businessman, and in 1909 his company opened in a brand new building, where cigars were rolled by hand until 1940, when the company finally closed its doors. That’s 60 years of cigar history that most locals don’t even know about!  Nowadays the small brick building is the current home of the St. Paul Police East Team. Here’s how it looked in 1910…

And here’s how it looks today…

But the cigar industry was not just active in St. Paul. The town of Two Harbors, located in VERY northern Minnesota on the north shore of Lake Superior was home to two cigar factories in the early 1900’s and produced over 30,000 stogies a month!

And then there’s the town of Benson (pop. 3300ish) on the west side of the state. Mostly an agricultural town, tobacco was grown in the county and back in the 1880’s the town was said to have several cigar factories.

There’s also the Close-But-No-Cigar History of Minnesota, which includes last year’s Minnesota Vikings, the 2002 Twins, and of course, Norm Coleman.

What kind of cigar history exists in your home state? A quick Google search can uncover quite a bit!

For additional reading on Minnesota’s cigar factories (from some really old newspapers! ) click here and here.

The book signing for The Cigar Maker is scheduled for September 22nd. Click here to learn more.

Mark McGinty is the author of The Cigar Maker. His work has been published in Cigar City Magazine and La Gaceta, one of the nation’s oldest tri-lingual newspapers.

Mark McGinty discusses The Cigar Maker on The Author’s Show

July 19, 2010

I will be discussing The Cigar Maker on The Author’s Show with Don McCauley today (July 20)…the show runs for 24 hours. Just click the link below and the show will start! (sorry about the cheesy music)

Mark McGinty on The Author’s Show

5 Star Review from Midwest Book Review

July 9, 2010

It’s nice to get these, even when they’re short. Usually I provide a link to the reviews for The Cigar Maker but in this case I can post the whole thing…

***** A fine read, highly recommended

From one tumultuous home to another. “The Cigar Maker” tells the story of Salvador Ortiz as he leaves Cuba at the end of the nineteenth century to find a better life in America. But he finds that the streets of Tampa are just as shady as the streets of Cuba, and finds that keeping his family together and strong will be a struggle no matter where he is, as he faces off with the clashes of culture and history surrounding him. “The Cigar Maker” is a fine read, highly recommended.

Aside from that nice little nugget, here are my upcoming events…

July 12 – Interview on DogWatch Cigar Radio @ 6:00pm CST…this will be a podcast so you’ll be able to check it out after the 12th.

July 20 – Interview on The Author’s Show.

July 31 – Book signing and chat and Mayday Books in Minneapolis, MN, 3:00pm. Sponsored by the Minnesota Cuba Committee, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the bookstore, which is a non-profit organization.

If you are in the Tampa area check out the July 2nd issue of La Gaceta and Cigar City Magazine (also available online), where excerpts of The Cigar Maker have been recently published!

In addition to the above, you can hear recent interviews on Blog Talk Radio and The Cigar Authority.

There is also a Cigar Maker giveaway on GoodReads, where you can enter to win a free copy!

A small plot of American soil…owned by the Cuban government?

July 1, 2010

It’s the only piece of “free Cuban soil” in the world…and it’s locked behind bars.

Martí statue in the Friends of José Martí Park, Tampa

Over a hundred years ago, Jose Martí, the Apostle of Cuban Liberty, visited Tampa, Florida to raise awareness and collect money for Cuba Libre, the effort to rid Cuba of Spanish rule and establish Cuba as an independent country. When in town, Martí stayed at the home of Afro-Cuban patriot Paulina Pedroso, who operated a small boarding house on 8th Avenue. The Pedrosos eventually moved back to Cuba and the property passed though several hands until it was eventually donated to the Cuban government as a tribute to their national hero.

In 1956 the Republic of Cuba took possession of the deed and the American consul in Havana approved the transaction.

Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator eventually toppled by Fidel Castro’s forces (and the guy who makes the toast in Godfather II, right before Michael Corleone gives Fredo the kiss of death), donated the money to raze the old Pedroso house and establish a park. But when Castro came to power, and Cuba became a communist country, the city of Tampa found itself with a dilemma. City officials still maintain the park’s lights and irrigation but have left everything else to the Cuban-American community in Tampa.

And things have been messy ever since. You can read more about it here. On one side of the debate, pro-Castro speech is not permitted in the park and anti-embargo Cubans have been locked out. On the other hand, in the only plot of free Cuban land, free speech is squelched and national hero Jose Martí is locked behind bars.

I won’t go into this debate, I’ll leave that to you. I’m just bringing you another little known slice of American history.

The park is fairly small, centered around a statue of Jose Martí, with six rocks decorated with the Cuban flag. There are six tree planters in the park, each containing dirt that has been mixed with soil from Cuba’s six provinces. You can visit it during daytime hours but need special permission to have the gates unlocked on weekends.

Here are some more photos of the park…click here for a map of its location.

Mark McGinty is the author of The Cigar Maker.

Email the author: