Grady and I are both members of a large authors group, which is how we virtually “met.” He made a amusing comment to a Facebook post which made me curious. I read one of his books and several newspaper articles which I found to be not only humorous, but warm and human. When Grady reviewed my Mutinous Boomer book and dubbed it “5-Star Soul Candy” a friendship was born! I recently read a book of his that is a complete departure from his usual take. “The Hostages of Veracruz” is a suspenseful story with an unlikely romance. I thought it was terrific, which is why I invited Grady for this interview. I wanted to know how such a funny guy ended up writing such a serious novel.
Marsha: Grady, welcome to my Anything That Fancies Me blog. You know I enjoy your writing very much, but you’re a bit of a mystery to me.
Grady: A bit of mystery isn’t bad for someone who has written a thriller.
Marsha: Don’t start with me, Grady! You know what I mean. “The Hostages of Veracruz” isn’t the norm for you. I’ve read some very funny articles you’ve written as well as the light-hearted “A Very Grady Christmas,” but “Hostages” is a thriller with a deadly serious subject. So let’s back up a bit and find out something about how all this fits together.
Grady: That reminds me of the Woody Allen joke about the guy driving backwards to save on car rental.
Marsha: You see what I mean? You’re more suited for a stand-up routine than a thriller! My point exactly.
Grady: O.K. I’ll behave. I promise.
Marsha: First off, you grew up in “Steinbeck Country” on the Central California coast. I’ve been there, beautiful spot to grow up! But you’ve written that you’re “more Bombeck than Steinbeck.”
Grady: Oh gosh, I’m dating myself by talking about Erma Bombeck. She was a humorist who talked about life in the suburbs. I knew her through TV and there was a great deal of truth in her humor. Just look at the titles, “It’s Always Greener Over the Septic Tank,” “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, Why Am I in the Pits?” What really cracks me up is there was actually an inspirational book way back called “Life is a Bowl of Cherries.” It must have been a more innocent, schmaltzy age for people to be that excited by a bowl of cherries. I wouldn’t know about that, of course. I’m 28. Now my daughter says if you want to know my real age you’d have to do carbon dating. No respect.
Marsha: Join the club! And you are a self-described “Hollywood humorist and diet guru.” Those two don’t usually go together. Tell us about that combo.
Grady: I was a humorist first and then lost weight and was cajoled into writing a diet book by a producer, Brad Wyman. He was a huge champion of my diet tips which became, “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet.” Without Brad, there’d be no book, no cartoons, no Sparky Spaniel, no recipes. He helped see it through four years of writing and another of formatting. It started out as a pamphlet really, but Brad said “This is the best thing you’ve ever written,” and he saw that beyond the humor is contained a universal lowdown on how to get in shape. In the beginning he carried that pamphlet everywhere and started living by it.
Marsha: You also have a really entertaining book called “Late Bloomer.” You said it “marks the place in my life when I met comedy or comedy met me.” Does that mean you weren’t always funny? I find that hard to believe!
Grady: I wasn’t always funny in writing. We come to literature with a stuffy idea of what it should be. A turning point was coming to Los Angeles after many years in Mexico and starting over in a weird, exotic, stressed out culture with a wife and baby. My humor rose to the occasion and I associate it with a survival instinct.
Marsha: I happen to know that you are also a stand-up comedian and an actor. Tell us a little about that and how it effects your writing.
Grady: The study of human behavior is endlessly fascinating. And acting is a path to self-improvement. One of the things I found out that most directly affected my acting is that the stage is the place for rage, for talking about embarrassing things, it’s the place not to give a damn. And maybe you’ll end up speaking for whole bunch of people who keep it locked in their hearts. Acting opened all kinds of topics to me that I would have never written about. And the words for people to face the unspeakable now flow from me.
By they way, I acted in an indie movie a decade before taking an acting class. But I was naturally a method actor. I gained thirty pounds to play the charming sociopathic character, Larry. Afterward, I couldn’t get the weight off. That was the genesis of the diet book.
Marsha: As you know, my background is as a theatrical Producer, which means I’m keenly aware of my audience, whether I’m producing a show or writing. One of the things I enjoy so much about your books is that you seem to have that same awareness of the audience. Did that come naturally for you, or do you think being in show business made a difference.
Grady: Maybe it’s even astrological. I was born under the sign of the guinea pig and am acutely aware of my reactions within myself and others when trying out things. With humor and stand-up, the pay off or lack thereof is immediate. It’s walking the plank. The more times you walk the plank, the better is gets.
Marsha: I can relate to that. There’s nothing like an audience to let you know if your living or dying!
Grady: Absolutely! You see, my reactions were honed during years teaching English to foreigners, first in Mexico and then the United States. They’d yawn and walk-out. In the beginning I’d come home in grief. Years later I learned that yawning is actually the body’s best way to wake up and freshen up to concentrate. In the course of teaching and in comedy clubs I learned to lighten up. Phyllis Diller said something that I live by, whether it’s a good show or bad show, never blame the audience. Ask afterward, “What did I do right? What did I do wrong?”
Marsha: I’ve heard that, but didn’t know she was the one who said it! I have to tell you that “Hostages of Veracruz” really surprised me. Everything I had read of yours before that was extremely upbeat, but “Hostages” is about human organ trafficking. Tell us how that idea came to you and how you went about developing it.
Grady: The seed for the story came from an investigative report I read the 90s in the Mexican news magazine Proceso. The story about organ trafficking was compelling but inconclusive. Here I saw this hairline crack in reality to insert fiction, which often can be the only way to speak the truth in regions where truths gets mangled beyond recognition because of powerful interests and human nature. It’s sheer madness to rationally try to verify “the truth” in places like Latin America, Russia and Los Angeles. In the course of writing, “Hostages of Veracruz,” I questioned a lot of doctors and health officials in Mexico. The pivotal situation about the boy who is taken comes right out of my research.
Marsha: Frankly, I don’t usually enjoy books that have something as grizzly as organ trafficking as the primary focus of the plot. But I couldn’t put your book down. I was always thinking “and THEN what happened?” How do you go about moving the plot in such a compelling manner?
Grady: Marsha, that is really gratifying. To be honest, I had a big helper in making that plot, my first wife. I was going off to teach an English class one morning and left her with this short story, that had a boffo dark twist at the end with Peter escaping. When I got home from my class, I expected to be showered with praise. My wife said, there’s not enough here; there has to be more. That started me off on long path, picking up the storyline and advancing it. When the story became longer, good against evil got their chance to battle it out, and romance and poetry became my biggest allies. It has all the classic elements, and there was no way it could have been thought out in advance. It was sweated out. The short story turned into the novella, which I am so glad you couldn’t put down. Marsha: The main character, Peter Vandervoot, was so real to me, I’d recognize him on the street. I know I would! Is he based on someone you know? If not, what was your process of fleshing him out?
Grady: Peter has a lot of me. Of course he’s very good looking, like me, and naturally you’d want to recognize him on the street.
Marsha: Yeah, yeah. And then what happened.
Grady: Ha! Well, he’s got a bit of the wastrel and the soul of an artist. And he’s very European, seen as naïve and has a deep belief that people are basically good, and then he comes face to face with the evil. And Peter is also shallow or perceived as shallow, which is part of the paradox I explored in him. He was also heavily influenced by a character in “The Magic Mountain,” but that’s too detailed to go into here.
Marsha: What has been the most satisfying experience to come out of your writing?
Grady: Out of “Hostages of Veracruz,” I realize how a romantic thriller transports people. One reader with a busy life wrote to tell me how she looked forward to her allotted reading time every night. Being in the middle of a good book is an awesome enhancement to life. I was in the middle of Richard Lang’s “Angel Baby,” last year and I remember not wanting to be anywhere else. And I realize the advantage of a thriller over a diet book is it’s not just for people who want to lose weight. I almost said fat people, but, you know, Marsha, I always bristle at that word “fat” even if it gets a laugh. That’s me I guess. My heart that dwells along side the humor and sometimes they’re at odds.
Marsha: What has been the most rewarding experience from your humorous nature?
Grady: Getting a laugh and a smile, that’s always a reward! The most rewarding experience from my humor was when I was in around the sixth grade. A note came to my house during Christmastime from a woman thanking me for laughs provided during a hospital visit the Presbyterian youth group had made to her bedside. I had nabbed a dough hook from the church kitchen and stuck it up the arm of my jacket. Just me being irreverent. It wasn’t the Marx Brothers, by any means, but it helped this woman who had cancer. Her note was better than a check for a million dollars.
Marsha: So, what do you think of yourself as? A funny, serious actor-writer-comedian-diet guru? Or what?
Grady: Could you repeat the question?
Grady: After I lost a lot of weight, Brad Wyman said, “You’re not half the mensch you used to be.” Mensch is a word I first heard applied to me by a crazy, angry old man from Brooklyn who was on the lam in Mexico. I think he said that because I showed up and listened to him. The minute I heard that word I said, that’s me. I’m a mensch, a human being engaged in humanity.
That’s the one thing that makes sense of it all. On the other end of the spectrum there’s universal genius, of course. It’s not on the high school tests measuring job aptitude and they don’t seem to have been making many of those since Goethe. And that might help explain why I’m such a late bloomer. I really seek harmony and wholeness in all that I do. But that can be rough when trying to shape and mold it all from the outside. The best thing is sometimes to surrender to the unexpected. Who could have known that by gaining thirty pounds for movie role I’d gain a career as a diet guru. And listen, America it’s time to lighten up now! Forgive that little plug. I can’t help myself. But yes, I would love to sell a few diet books and finally get around to building that wine cellar.
Marsha: You let me know when you get it built and Bob and I will have to come to California to inspect it!
That’s it for today! I hope you enjoyed Grady Miller as much as I did and will check out his latest book: The Hostages of Veracruz.
You can find “Hostages” on Amazon here: http://goo.gl/JqZr4o
And more information about Grady, including links to all of his books on his Amazon Author Page here: http://www.amazon.com/Grady-Miller/e/B00NJQRHK8
Until we meet again on my Anything That Suite My Fancy blog, may angels and blessing be with each of you!
Marsha Roberts, Author
Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer and her Parable of the Tomato Plant