Patricio Maya: I heard that you didn’t even want to write Night School?
Grady Miller: Yeah, it’s true. It was very much a yes-no proposition. Right up until December 2010 when I launched it, I wasn’t sure. I was fearful that people would realize I’m not as nice a person as I seem to be. In fact, during the first year of the novel, every night I walked into the adult school office, at the school where I was teaching, especially after the weekend, I had the fear that one day people would look at me strangely and I had been ”˜outed.’ That somebody had gone on Internet, seen the latest Canyon News, and realized I was writing about them.
PM: Finally, what made you embark on the writing of it?
GM: I knew that if I didn’t write it then, all the accrued experience about the night school and Sun Valley would rot and atrophy. The silence would win.
PM: You seem to have been very wary about the material. Can you explain more?
GM: I set out to explore the power of negative perception. My mom was a inspiring example. She belongs to a generation that is free from the new-age yoke of negative not negative. People her age tell everything, worts and all; they tend to dwell on the warts, on the underbelly of it all. It’s a less than flattering view of humanity. I realized that there could be whole tracts of thoughts and reality that could be opened up to literature.
Negative perception opened up all these themes—divorce, professional envy, addiction, suicide, jealousy, the vicissitudes of single parenthood, dating, and the result is my most nakedly autobiographical book. It speaks to the deepest fears. . . of failure. . . of losing a parent . . . or a child. . . “Night School” is a Bildungsroman of the ego’s progress, a self-help Hollywood novel. For all the negative perception, there is a healing dose of Mylanta, the fictional guru of Laurel Canyon. So there’s a glimmer of hope for all the darkness.
PM: What did you discover?
With “Night School” I realized my dream of doing the Dickens thing and write a novel appearing in weekly installments in a newspaper. I discovered the vast advantage of forward moment. Every week I had to inch my story forward, and it set me free. I couldn’t look back and retouch it. And moving forward gave me vast unsuspected resources, the option of weaving in things from breaking news: a border patrol agent keeping undocumenteds in his San Diego basement inspired what happens to Candy, the Salvadoran girl. This forward movement was so liberating; it imbues the process with unsuspected angels, allies who come to the rescue, totally unknown to traditional writers who draft and perfect a whole book before releasing it to the public. You might say I had a privileged trip to the brain and experience of Charles Dickens.
PM: Did this method have any drawbacks?
Life doesn’t have to make sense, but books do. In the two-year course of writing "Night School," somebody’s eye color may have changed from blue to green, or a character’s sign shifted from Scorpio to Aries. The rule was to live with that. The stress was always moving the story forward and living with its flaws, even exploiting them. Once I mistakenly changed the make of Jason’s car from Nissan to Mazda. I made a joke out of it. He was so stressed out looking for another make of car in the school parking lot, he’s standing in front of a car that’s not a Mazda and then realizes it’s his car. So true to Los Angeles, these moments of wigging out and leaving our brain behind.
To be continued
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