Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dangerous rescues: Lily Prellezo and "Seagull One: The Amazing and True Story of Brothers to the Rescue"

HALLIE: When I met Lily Prellezo at the Miami Dade Writers Conference, she told the class that she had a story entrusted to her that she had to write. It was the about “Brothers to the Rescue,” a humanitarian group of courageous men and women who risk their lives to pluck men, women, and children from certain death, fleeing Castro’s Cuba on makeshift rafts.

Lily’s just published book, Seagull One: The Amazing True Story of Brothers to the Rescue, is also a thriller -- one that really happened. Lily tells how two spies, one who was a double agent working for the FBI infiltrated the group and collaborated with the Castro government in planning the shoot down over international waters of two unarmed Cessnas in 1996.

Welcome to Jungle Red, Lily! Please, tell us about your collaborator José Basulto who entrusted you with his story.



LILY: José Basulto is a patriot, a family man, and a dreamer. He's larger than life, and yet, he's a gentle grandfather, a devoted husband, and he loves to hang out with his friends. He fought in the Bay of Pigs, worked for the CIA, bombed a hotel full of Russians (no one died), enlisted in the US Army, helped the Nicaraguan contras building field hospitals for the mutilated men, and then converted to the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Then, at age 50, he started Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR).

I had never met him until four years ago when mutual friends, René and Marta Guerra, approached me and declared: "You are going to write the story of Brothers to the Rescue!" We were at the Sony Ericcson Tennis Tournament here in Miami and after two glasses of wine, I said, "SURE!"

I met him, we hit it off, and we started going through a warehouse full of information on BTTR.



HALLIE: I remember reading some pages of your manuscript and being so captivated. One of your challenges was writing such a vast cast of characters--you interviewed hundreds. How did you manage it?



LILY: First I created a timeline with the significant events of BTTR's history and literally taped it up on the walls of the A+ Mini Storage warehouse where we worked every day. It went around the three walls.

Then as I interviewed, I would tape up that person's story under the correct chronological date. It was like a puzzle, not done in order, and not even doing the borders first, put just putting the right piece in the right place.



HALLIE: I remember seeing, on exhibit near Key West, one of the boats that had been used to flee Cuba, and realizing for the first time what a treacherous journey it was, and how desperate and courageous one would have had to be to risk it. Did you talk to any of the survivors who had been helped by the Brothers?



LILY: Boat is a big word for what some of these rafters, these balseros, came on. That's where they got that moniker, rafter, because they came on truck tire inner tubes and such.

Yes, I interviewed several of them and tried to recreate their journeys as best I could in the book. Several of them were here at my launch party and they were reunited with the pilots who saved them. It was the most moving evening of my life. It felt like I opened my copy of Seagull One, and all the characters jumped out and were walking around my home.



HALLIE: And how did you uncover the group’s infiltration and the murders?



LILY: Well, I read what investigative reporters and the FBI and the spy trial attorneys had uncovered. I interviewed one of the spy's ex-wife, Ana Margarita Martinez, who was married to Juan Pablo Roque, the spy who got away. René Gonzalez is still in jail at Marianna State, and we exchanged letters, but he never really answered my questions, but rather, sent a bunch of propaganda.


The murders were also very well documented, but the most arresting testimonials came from the survivors who were on Basulto's plane. Also, the four families of the murdered men took the time to speak with me, also.


HALLIE: Did you ever feel that the work you were doing put you in any danger yourself?



LILY: No, although I've been warned about that! But some other people may have felt in danger, in particular the Havana Air Traffic Controllers that I interviewed. Their story was the most gripping. Some would not allow that I use their name because they still have family in Cuba.

A group of eight controllers, who were supposed to work the day of the shoot down, and at the last minute were told not to come to work on February 24, 1996, because another team would replace them. That other team was manipulated during the events of the shoot down. But when the original team of controllers came back, they endured six months of de-programming on the events of that day--and then were all fired! And when you're fired from a government job in Cuba, you are fired for life--you can never work again. It took some of them eight years to be able to leave and come to the U.S.



HALLIE: Tell us what you’re up to now? Book promotion? Working on a new project? And where can our readers find you talking about this amazing story? 



LILY: I am busy, busy, busy promoting my book. I've been on TV, radio, newspapers, and my first book presentation was Thursday, October 7. Over 100 people attended and the radio, newspaper, and television covered it. We hope to tour the rest of Florida, then New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico. The list of events can be found on my website, www.seagullone.com

I am currently working on the memoirs of a 101 year-old Cuban American woman whose life I find fascinating. I've also been approached by several very prominent persons to write their biographies. I believe so strongly that people's voices should be heard, their stories told. It's an honor to do that.



HALLIE: For more information about the book and and Brothers to the Rescue, visit Hermanos al Rescate. For information on Seagull One: The Amazing True Story of Brothers to the Rescue, visit www.seagullone.com.



Lily will be visiting with us on Jungle Red all day today, so please, share your comments and questions.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lily Prellezo has the unique ability to capture the true essence of each of the people that she writes about. "Seagull One" is one of those books that is a real page turner--you can't put it down.

Anonymous said...

Lily Prellezo has a natural gift of writing as well as public speaking . She is extremely talented and her book is indicative of that! I look forward to reading more of her work! I was fortunate enough to hear her speak at the launching of her book and immediately one feels as if she is just talking to you alone! Thank you for sharing this interview!

Anonymous said...

A good writer has the gift of taking you on a journey where everything else stands still except where the writer wants you to go. Lily Prellezo has that gift.

Anonymous said...

I loved Lily Prellezo's book, Brothers to the Rescue. She takes us into the hearts and minds of these brave men and woman who risked their lives to save the rafters. Thousands were saved and Lily has a way of making the reader feel as though we were taking part in this journey. Read the book. It is a gift to the Cuban people and a gift to us all.

Anonymous said...

Lily Prellezo is an Amazing woman who puts her heart and soul into EVERYTHING she does. "Seagull one" is one of those things. Read it- it's amazing!

Lily Prellezo said...

Thanks to all who have posted on Jungle Red Writers. Thanks for your kudos and congratulations. The real thanks go to the brave pilots of Brothers to the Rescue, who risked their lives day after day, year after year, to save the lives of those they would seldom, if ever, meet. A huge appreciation to the men and women of the US Coast Guard who were the first to welcome them to freedom. And the biggest thank you to Jose Basulto, who responded to the call with a big YES! He sacrificed family, money, and time to follow his passion.

Anonymous said...

A truly amazing story of selflessness, intrigue, ordinary(and not-so-ordinary) people seeing a need, a huge humanitarian need, and filling the gap where governments dared not/would not go. Tragic, yet thoroughly uplifting tale told beautifully.

Anonymous said...

Great book. I read it and cried and was amazed at the stories told from the rafters and the pilots point of view. Highly recommend it. A true story of what community involvement can do.

Anonymous said...

If you want to read a truly inspiring story, then "Seagull One" is the book for you! Lily Prellezo has captured the spirit of the men and women who founded, worked, piloted, and saved thousands of people. Great book!

Hallie Ephron said...

Wow, Lily - you have quite a fan club! A question I meant to ask... is how many people did the Hermanos rescue, and is their work still going on?

Rhys Bowen said...

Welcom, Lily.
What a great story--and I guess Anonymous is a big fan!
Good luck with the book

Anonymous said...

This is a great book, about a great story that needed to be told, and written by a talented and amazing person! It is a must read!

Luis said...

Seagull One is a fascinating read. I love the stories about everyday people doing heroic actions.

Lily prellezo said...

Thanks, Hallie, and "Anonymous" are several people who have not been able to reactivate their Google names! But I DO have a lot of fans, old and new! However, the story of Brothers to the Rescue has a life of it's own. It was truly a community labor of love.

Lily prellezo said...

Hallie, in response to your question, Brothers saved 4,200 people who now live I'm the land of freedom.

Amparo Fernandez said...

Amazing interview, your words move me to read your story and truly familiarize myself with the events that took place. Hoping that you are able to start on your next book very soon!

Fran Stewart said...

This sounds hair-raising. Will pick it up as soon as I can.

Anonymous said...

I had heard about Brothers to the Rescue and the good work they had done and of course about the tragic shoot down; but did not know how they came about and the commitment of all the pilots that volunteered their time and talent from so many countries so graciously. I am still reading the book, it is very well written and I congratulate the author,Lily Prellezo, on the way she has told this story and touched our hearts.

Anonymous said...

Lily Prellezo's book is amazing and you cannot put the book down. When you read it, its like you are the pilot or the rafter being recued.

lislovesbooks said...

Thank you so much for profiling Lily's book. We are incredibly proud of her in Miami. I am the organizer of the conference and workshops Lily attended, The Writers Institute at the Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College--which is where she studied with Hallie Ephron--and so I have even more reason to be proud.

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I couldn't be happier that this book is already out. I was a witness to her courage from many years back. I hope she inspires a generation more.

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