Cinco de Mayo – author interview – Don Miles

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Paperback Writer welcomes Don Miles, author of Cinco de Mayo: What is Everybody Celebrating and just in time for this weekend which is the celebration of Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) in Los Angeles, CA and other places around the United States.

Cinco de Mayo: What is Everybody Celebrating Synopsis?:


Under the orders of French Emperor Napoleon III, French troops arrive in Mexico in 1861 with a dual purpose: to conquer Mexico and to help the Confederacy win its war against the United States. As President Benito Juarez suspends payment of Mexico’s foreign debts, the French drop their facade of debt negotiations and head for Puebla, where they are soundly defeated in their attempt to capture the city.


The French withdraw from their stunning setback and spend the summer of 1862 nursing their wounds and awaiting reinforcements in Orizaba. This gives the Mexicans ample time to highly fortify Puebla against a future attack. During the spring of 1863, French troops head for Puebla and Mexico City in what they hope will be a pair of easy victories.


Juarez and his government flee Mexico City rather than trying to defend the capital against overwhelming odds. The French make their grand entrance and immediately encounter problems with the Catholic Church. Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, asked by the French to become emperor of Mexico, will not accept the throne without a “popular” vote from the people.


When the American Civil War ends in 1865, generals and high-ranking officials from the former Confederate government drift into Mexico. General Ulysses S. Grant’s U.S. Army is now free to stage maneuvers along the border, setting off panic in Mexico City and Paris. Grant’s move prompts Napoleon III to cut his losses and pull his troops out. Now, it’s only a matter of time before Mexican forces retake the country.






Welcome to Paperback Writer.


            Thank you!   It’s a pleasure to be here.



Would you share with us how you came up with your idea for the book?


            A confrontation with a school principal triggered the book.  She went on the P.A. system and told the whole school – on Cinco de Mayo, (May fifth) – that “This is Mexican Independence Day, boys and girls. It’s just like our Fourth of July.” I went to her office to correct that mistaken notion, and she replied by telling me: “Well, we’ve always taught it that way, so don’t make trouble!”


             I knew that Mexicans celebrate independence on September 16th, so I searched for a book on the topic. There was nothing at the adult level, but there were 56 children’s books on the market. In the children’s books, the invading French army loses the battle and the Mexicans are happy. Then, you turn the page and it says something like, “Now, here’s how to make a piñata for your classroom party!”


            That’s when I thought, “Somebody’s got to write this book!”  So here we are.



Was it a light bulb moment, or something that you thought about for a very long time?


            The “Somebody’s got to …” was a light bulb moment, but I had been married to a lovely woman from Mexico City for more than 30 years at that point. We had traveled all over Mexico, and had celebrated the real Mexican independence as a family, so I can say I was very confident that I knew what I was talking about during that brief conversation with the principal.



How did you come up with the title?


            The Cinco de Mayo part was easy. It’s a very important date. That’s what all five of my books about this topic will have as a title. The subtitles will differ, according to whether we’re talking about an English or Spanish edition, about a textbook or coffee table book, or about the novel which has already been written.



How did you find an agent and a publisher?


            I queried 46 agents about the novel over a little more than a year, receiving either a rejection slip or no answer at all. Finally, one of them wrote a one-liner on the rejection slip that he’d like to see a nonfiction version of the book. That was easy. I took out all the fiction and put in some nonfiction material which I had been holding aside as not supportive of the fictional plot.


            He took it around to more than 30 publishers over more than a year’s time, but was unable to get any commitments. That’s when I decided that I wanted to see a real book on the table, so that we would no longer be talking about a manuscript. I went with iUniverse, a vanity publisher which produces books on demand, and is partly owned by Barnes & Noble. Critics and the academic community have responded favorably, which is why we are now looking at textbook publishers and editions in Spanish.



Who reads your work in progress?


            My wife read much of the manuscript before publication.  Now, various friends and other contacts are field-testing the book in English and the Spanish edition in manuscript form. For example, they range from the women’s book clubs at my church and at a nearby residential tennis community to high schools in Missouri and Pennsylvania.



Who made a difference in the book’s quality?


            My wife.  No question about it.  She not only toured all over Mexico with me, both with our kids and after we became empty nesters, but on her own she became a U.S. citizen and earned Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D. degrees. She not only provided a good model of what’s possible, but a strong inspiration to go for it and put it into action.



How long did it take you to complete the first draft?


            More than 40 years of osmosis as I traveled with my wife in Mexico, and about five years of research in the stacks of libraries in the U.S. and Mexico.



How long did it take from start to publication?


            Five years.



Do you have any advice for new authors?


            Yes.   Keep your day job.   I have waited on tables, driven a taxi, stocked supermarket shelves and worked as a substitute teacher.  I would do any of those things again if it became necessary, but I’m glad my books are a hobby. I wouldn’t want to depend on the publishing industry for making a living.


            As one of the panel members at a book convention said when I was telling about my problems with sales, “Just change the title.  Call it The Secret Diary of Anna Nicole Smith.







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