In this interview, author and former news director Don Miles talks about his latest book, Cinco de Mayo – a date most often misunderstood in the US. Don talks about his inspiration for the book and his struggle in finding the right publisher.
When did you decide to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing? Believe it or not, I’m supposed to be “retired.” I’ve written all my books so far because there was a problem to be solved in each case and few or no books on how to solve them. As a news director in the late 1960s I got tired of writing memos to my reporters and anchors in radio newsrooms, so I came out with a book called Broadcast News Handbook. As a professor at the University of Florida in the 1970s, I had 65 undergraduates in the newsroom and no style book, so I wrote one for them.
Tell us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
Cinco de Mayo means “the fifth of May,” and this latest book was triggered when the principal at an elementary school where I was teaching in Texas told the whole school on the P.A. system that May fifth was Mexican Independence Day. Well, no it’s not – it’s September 16th – so I went to her office to say that, and her attitude was “We’ve always taught it that way, so don’t make trouble.” I looked in libraries, bookstores – all over the place – for a book that would prove her wrong, but there was nothing in print for adults. There are 56 children’s books on the market, and almost all of them have the French army show up and lose the battle, but then when you turn the page it says something like, “Now, here’s how to make a piñata for your classroom party!” That’s when I said to myself, “Somebody’s got to write this book.” So, here we are!
My real inspiration in this case was a smiling young señorita from Mexico City who came up to me in the cafeteria at college and said, “Hi, I’m one of the foreign students. May I sit here?” Well, sure, it’s the cafeteria, right? To make a long story short, we got married and we traveled all over Mexico for more than 40 years. I didn’t have a book in mind for at least the first 35 years, but when I told her what the principal had said to me, we started scouring the stacks of libraries in Texas, Washington-DC, Mexico City, Veracruz, Orizaba, Puebla, – you name it. Yes, I had to write an outline. There was a lot of information in more than 100 books, some of them dating back to the late 18-hundreds, so an outline was the best way to sort it all out. It took me five years to write it.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
Writer’s block? Not really. As I said, my motivation has always been, “Somebody’s gotta write this,” so when I commit to the topic, the whole project sort of gains a life of its own, like a runaway train. I’ll admit to you, though, that I wrote a complete novel about Cinco de Mayo before I wrote the non-fiction book that’s been published. As I resumed sending the manuscript for the novel around, a reviewer said that one of my characters was “flat,” meaning that she was just “there” in every scene but didn’t do much. After a few days, I had her kidnapped by a serial killer, but that’s as close as I’ve ever come to writer’s block. Even then, the delay was because I was busy with other stuff and had deliberately set the manuscript aside.