HOLLYWOOD—Grady Miller reflects, in the third and final installment of an interview with journalist Patricio Maya, about his serial novel, “Night School,” and what the future holds. Click your way to one of the 108 installments at www.canyon-news.com in the Life & Style section under “Miller Time.”
PM: Is there a message in the book?
GM: It’s probably full of messages. The epigraph at the beginning of the book shows the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
PM: If you could tell me the whole plot in a few sentences, what would it be?
GM: Actor becomes a teacher. Hates teaching. But in the end he finds his own audience and his own theater thanks to his students. There is a lot of love. And there’s a whole sturm and drang subplot with his ex-wife who becomes a well-known starlet. That is the tragic component which produces another message. The starlet has conventional success, but happiness eludes her. The message for people in
Hollywood and not in
Hollywood is: we have to make the recipe for success ourselves. Don’t let someone else put their ingredients in your recipe for success.
PM: How autobiographical is it?
GM: It is the most nakedly autobiographical of my works. And yet, it takes place amid the funhouse mirrors of
Hollywood and the
San Fernando Valley—most people would get boggled that it is so autobiographical.
PM: Tell me about your previous works.
GM: A Winter in Hell—a doomed romance. The Havana Brotherhood—stories.
PM: Takes place in
Cuba. . .
GM: The title story is about cigar smuggling. Most of the stories involved gringos in
Mexico. “The Friendship Society”—a screenplay inspired by the Black Widow serial murder case which I covered as a reporter in
Mexico. Bread and Tears—a novel inspired by the 18-month-long cannery workers strike in Watsonville, how it rocked that community and the lives of Mexican women who were most of the work force and the glue that held that strike together.
Night School—Not the great American novel, that silly shibboleth beginning writers have to hear about, the great Los Angeles Novel with an All-American theme: biting the hand that feeds you.
PM: What has your experience been reaching readers?
GM: Three weeks ago, there was a reading at USC by T.C. Boyle, as part of his valedictory to regular teaching. I see what he has achieved and what my contemporaries have achieved. I wouldn’t dream of trading my portion of the 2 and a half million hits the Canyon-News.com gets every month for anybody else’s readers. I am a late bloomer. And I wouldn’t change a single step or misstep on my zigzagged path. My early experiences with rejection scarred me, and led me to find refuge in the Spanish language. My first published stories were in Spanish. First in
California, then in
Mexico. That’s where I published my first stories, in the largest-circulation paper in
Guadalajara. I left
Los Angeles in 1992, a few weeks before the Rodney King riots, and came back in 2001. I achieved what I set out to achieve and then some, won a prize for political short story at the
Guadalajara and was published in one of the country’s most respected literary magazines. People in
Mexico were saying—what are you doing here? These words come back with a sting because they created unfulfilled expectations. It gave me a hunger to go beyond what I’d achieved in
It seems to me that I’m doing something terrific. In
Mexico I could have fiction published in the Sunday supplement of the largest circulation newspaper, and people talked about it. People in
Hollywood know me as a human being. Not as a writer, not as the “Master of Nonsense,” or as Stu Silverman called me “the DeTocqueville of Hollywood.” In
Mexico I exceeded my wildest dreams. I have been writing a column for the Canyon News for the last eight years. Now I went to night school, and it was a dip in the melancholy pool. I emerge from this with a sense of deeply humanized comedy.
PM: There is a tradition of autobiographical writing in LA. Fante, Bukowski, Nathaniel West, Fitzgerald, etc.
GM: S.J. Perelman, the humorist who made a cottage industry of biting the hand that feeds us.
Los Angeles is such a huge city, a confederacy of cities, and the obvious way to make sense of it would be through the autobiographical eye. Raymond Chandler is first person; the detective Philip Marlowe roves the city, cuts through the socio-economic strata. “Night School” is a novel of many different people and settings. The ultimate
Los Angeles novel would contain many voices, like Joyce or Faulkner. “Night School” is just the first of my
Hollywood trilogy, so I still have a chance to go full tilt.
PM: What is your future in terms of writing?
GM: When people are drowning in the ocean that automatically swim to the shore and crawl up the sand toward the air. I could be drowning and I’ll still grab onto a story. Writing is second nature, it’s all cream at this stage, and it’s just going to flow. You know, I carry little pocket notebooks, have boxes of them, and in one of these is my Nobel Prize Speech. . .MJ