“Darlings and Ugly Ducklings,” by Graydon Miller
Please meet my friend, Graydon Miller (aka Grady Miller) author of “The Hostages of Vera Cruz,” which I reviewed a few weeks back. Click here to read the review. Graydon has a new book out called “The Havana Brotherhood.” He is going to share some interesting information with us about his book and his writing habits. Please enjoy!
Luck was with me during the compilation of The Havana Brotherhood. This newly published collection fulfills a long-standing desire to gather all these Mexican-themed stories, mostly written during the nine years I lived in Mexico, together between the same covers.
It was daunting at first. From the material at hand, I weeded out all stories unrelated to Latin America—one from Alaska, one from suburban Arizona, another from my native California. Honestly, there wasn’t much left—certainly not the size book I’d dreamed of, and it would give my daughter yet another chance to repeat, “Dad, you should write longer books.”
Grady Miller’s Mexican Press Pass
To fatten the volume, I dug out an old story first written in Spanish. Rivals is about a teenage girl who juggles two boyfriends up to a point, and past that point the drama begins. This short story first appeared in a Sunday literary supplement in Guadalajara, a city which figures in many of the Havana stories.
Guadalajara was my Paris, a place where I flourished in surroundings ideal for developing art (low rent and a high saturation of culture). I got to know Guadalajara through and through—its people, institutions, and peculiarities, like its flat roofs where family dogs roam surreally without ever crossing over the precipice. Another peculiarity, which laid bare the city’s insular nature, was having to find a local property owner to cosign any apartment rental.
Rereading Rivals, preserved in a photocopy that was already starting to degrade, I realized the story was better than I remembered. I recognized, too, a wonderful thing about writing in another language, in this case, Spanish: freedom from self-consciousness and fashion. Months later an agent’s reader, the first person to read Rivals in English, singled it out for praise. This “light and playful” story with just a whiff of necrophilia was her favorite in the collection. That pleased me to no end.
Author, Graydon Miller
Next on the translating docket was Nostalgia for Death, one of the most abandoned of my stories. Fifteen years earlier, the editor of a Mexican university journal had practically thrown me out of his office, a sour man and gifted crime novelist, César López Cuadras.
“It’s so melodramatic,” he hissed, “so overwrought.” The dot-matrix printout of this story was rotting in my files till it turned up just as I finished translating Rivals. This European-flavored tale about the scion of an upper-class Mexican family, whose burning ambition in life is to become a waiter, was a welcome addition to The Havana Brotherhood—as filler.
After translating Nostalgia for Death, I sent it to a friend who loves short stories, Carver, D.H. Lawrence and Hemingway. Her response was unequivocal: “. . . . If I had read the story and did not know the author as I do, I would look for everything he wrote. The story still haunts and inspires me.” I was astounded and ecstatic. The rejected stone had become a cornerstone for one reader. Just one. That made all the difference in reversing my own neglectful attitude and it buoyed me for the editorial journey ahead.
One last story needed to be translated as soon as I found it. At the time, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. And again, just as I put the finishing touches on one story, the other manuscript turned up. Granted, this coincidence of finding the story once again at just the right moment would seem to support the claim of melodrama; it also reinforces the fact that luck was with me for The Havana Brotherhood.
Graydon Miller in his favorite place – a library!
I was soon off translating (i.e. recreating). I will spare the title of this story—written hurriedly for a writer’s conference in Mexico—because I wouldn’t want to prejudice you against making it your favorite.
Finally, reaching the end of a year-long editorial and archeological journey, I got the best review of all from my daughter. She looked at the proof copy, weighed it in her hands, and flipped through the pages. “187,” she pronounced. I did it! I finally made a book she didn’t accuse of being too short.
You know, we writers ought to accept our stories, flaws and all. I am guilty of throwing out my first stories and novel, threw them out gladly in a lone garbage can on Broadway one black frozen night in New York. In my case, deliberate loss, and in Hemingway’s the loss of a batch of perfected early manuscripts was accidental, and it became the source of a lifelong heartache. The losses may have impelled each us to write more and better.
However, I now regret discarding my early writings. I am wiser and know that you can make some good out almost everything written. Also, my experience with The Havana Brotherhood shows that what stories readers choose to embrace, or why, is unpredictable.
“My advice to writers starting out: hold on to all your darlings and your ugly ducklings.”
Author, Graydon Miller
Graydon Miller grew up in Watsonville, California. He attended local schools and later went to Columbia University in New York. In 1983, he moved to Los Angeles to study cinema but discovered literature instead. He lived in Mexico for nine years, where he enjoyed his first literary success with the publication of Un Invierno en el Infierno (A Winter in Hell). His other works include the organ-trafficking thriller, The Hostages of Veracruz
(on Amazon) and a screenplay based on the notorious Black Widow murder case, which he covered as a reporter in Mexico. Graydon Miller lives in Hollywood.
Do you want to know more about Graydon Miller? Find him here:
The Havana Brotherhood on Amazon
TWITTER: @GradyMiller https://twitter.com/GradyMiller
I occasionally post blogs on my Goodreads account, and there’s my newspaper column, which could be considered a blog.
Thanks for visiting. I am sure glad you stopped in!