Crime novelist Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, creator of the wisecracking Cuban-American private investigator Lupe Solano, will happily tell you how to kill someone. She says she’s much more comfortable writing scenes in which only one character is left breathing than scenes in which two characters are breathing — and breathing heavily.
You may not believe that claim after reading her latest novel, Magnolia (B&B Press, $16.95 in paper), about a young woman who finds wealth, success and, yes, happiness while working as what can only be described as a sports geisha.
Enlisted by an agent worried about losing clients, Magnolia — young, beautiful, unable to find a job in Miami and not averse to sleeping with hot athletes — is a high-priced prostitute, to be sure, but she’s also a sort of sports psychologist, guiding her clients to a peace of mind that will serve them well on the football field, basketball court or jai alai fronton.
Not surprisingly, sex of the kinky variety plays a starring role.
“I never knew how innocent I was until I started researching this book,” jokes Garcia-Aguilera, who talks about Magnolia Friday at Books & Books in Coral Gables.
Why did a writer who counts P.D. James, Ruth Rendell and Arthur Conan Doyle as personal heroes make the leap from crime fiction to erotica? The Havana-born Garcia-Aguilera, who splits her time between Miami and New York City, isn’t exactly sure what inspired her. She assures you it wasn’t the phenomenal success of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy: She wrote Magnolia more than four years ago.
That it was just published is a happy accident: Not long ago, at LaGuardia airport, Garcia- Aguilera ran into Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan, who founded B&B Press last year. He asked her if she had any manuscripts in need of a publisher. She did.
As for the inspiration for Magnolia, “I think it was all my experience as a private eye,” Garcia-Aguilera says. “I’ve been a private eye for 25 years. People would always tell me stories, all sorts of things, about the choices they make when their backs are to the wall, when they don’t have very many options. I thought, ‘What if it’s a young girl who’s stranded in Miami with very few options? What would she do? What happens to her dreams?’ ”
Researching the book was a new experience for Garcia-Aguilera, author of nine other novels, including the Lupe Solano series. “I can tell you how people die,” she says, “and I can take a gun apart, but this ...”
“She was calling me up and saying, ‘Tell me about this kind of sex or that kind of sex,’ because I’m the resident pervert of South Beach or whatever,” says Brian Antoni, author of the steamy South Beach: The Novel.
“I told her the best new tool is to go online and be your character. There are so many chat rooms! You want to find out about S&M, there’s a chat room for that. That’s what I did for my book. The answers are all there. If you’re afraid you’re a closet pervert, no matter how perverted you think you are, you know you’re white bread when you go online.”
Online research proved helpful, Garcia-Aguilera agrees. And she’s proud (and still somewhat startled) to point out that all the fetishes mentioned in Magnolia are real. Don’t believe her? Google “pony play,” although maybe not from your work computer.
“Everything is true, even the thing with people having sex on ice,” she says, referring to a particularly frosty encounter between Magnolia and a figure skater. “People die from this stuff because of hypothermia. I had no idea.”
Still, online research only goes so far; she also had to get a little hands-on experience at a fetish shop down the street from her New York City apartment, accompanied by her open-minded, performance-artist eldest daughter. In the book’s acknowledgements, she thanks the sales lady for demonstrating proper spanking techniques.
After all this work, how do you know you’ve written a good sex scene? “You get embarrassed. You blush. Even though the only ones in your office are the four dogs on the floor. I’m Cuban. I do not have an English rose complexion. I feel the red!”
Working in the new genre has altered Garcia-Aguilera’s outlook a bit.
“I would see couples together and think, ‘I wonder if they do this; she has a bruise on her arm,’ ” she confesses. “But we all have this seamy side to us. You travel, and you see some attractive guy and think, ‘Hmmm. What if ...’ ”
Magnolia’s ending leaves plenty of room for further adventures, and Garcia-Aguilera is working on a sequel. But she isn’t sure how long she’ll stick with “this whole new world” of erotica. Sexual fun and games are all well and good, but her true passion remains crime fiction. Besides, there’s that little matter of Lupe Solano.
“Now that I’ve started going on tour and the book is out, the first question I get is: ‘When’s the next Lupe coming out?’ ” she says. “People write me on my website: ‘I read Magnolia and liked it. What about Lupe?’ I just want a little bit of time to go by. I got too much into her. She became too much me and I became too much her.”