Last week, as you recall, our eponymous antihero decided to pass off his own unpublished manuscripts as translations of an unknown Mexican writer’s work. Now Part One of Barry Smith’s new novel Only Milo continues apace as consequences come home to roost.
At the end of the summer I submitted my translation
“Brilliant, Milo,” she said. “I had a very good
feeling about young Mr. Calderon.”
She decided to print 20,000 copies. She usually
printed no more than 2,500.
She maxed out four credit cards.
She invested in a major ad campaign.
She gambled the future of her business on “young Mr.
I had little time to work on my own novel.
José’s translation had priority. There were proofs,
there were revisions, there were production delays.
Margaret kept reminding me it had to stay true to
I told her not to worry.
There was artwork, there was jacket design, there
I was feeling closer to Margaret.
I was nearing sixty-three and was successful for the
first time in my life. My creative juices were flowing.
I felt like I was just out of college, starting my
career in publishing.
And I already had twelve novels “in the can.”
Maybe Margaret was not such a reach.
His second novel was no better than the first.
Margaret appreciated my initial effort so much she
asked me to “work my magic” again.
Little did she know.
This one was even more difficult to figure out. It
had something to do with a rising star in Mexican
politics who had skeletons in his closet. As a young
political activist, he’d killed two of his co-workers
in a fit of rage, as far as I could figure out. The
current political machine was putting him forward for
the presidency but then discovered his murky past.
Something important probably happened at that point,
but I lost interest. I never read the final hundred
This book would never work for an American audience.
What did they know about Mexican politics?
I had lived in southern New Mexico for twenty years.
I couldn’t name one Mexican politician.
I couldn’t name one Mexican political party.
I couldn’t tell you whose face was on a Mexican peso.
Was there a face on a Mexican peso?
Margaret was nervous.
Everything she owned was on the line. The future of
her business rested with my translation of a young
unknown Mexican author. She was in debt to the max,
hoping José’s book would be the one.
She had not even met José Calderon.
He was too sick to travel from his home in Mexico
City. First it was a bout with diverticulitis, then
But she had faith in his words, in his story, in his
In my words, in my story, in my voice.
She pushed, she prodded, she promoted.
She gave interviews, she bought ad space, she created
The first 20,000 copies sold in sixty days.
She ordered a second print run of 100,000.
Her future was assured.
In college, I was obsessed with the JFK
I was probably one of the few people in the world
who read the entire Warren Commission Report. Twice.
Conspiracy theories were my real obsession. Had the
Internet existed in the mid-sixties, I never would
have left my dorm room.
On a lark, I took a fiction-writing class. Since the
only thing rattling around my head at that point
involved JFK conspiracy theories, I wrote a story
about a fictional theory set in Mexico City while Lee
Harvey Oswald visited there during the summer of 1963.
It eventually evolved into my first novel.
I decided José’s second “translation” would simply
be my conspiracy theory novel.
It was already set in Mexico City.
In my book, Oswald killed two co-workers in a fit of
rage that summer. Corrupt elements in the Mexican
government, those supporting Cuba’s Castro, jumped
at the chance to use Oswald for their own purposes.
They offered Oswald amnesty if he would cooperate
with them in their plans to assassinate President
Kennedy when he visited Dallas in the fall. They
would use Oswald’s knowledge of Dallas to assist
them in developing their plot, use his insights to
make it perfect. They would make him feel like a big
man, a keystone in the planning process, the most
important member of the team.
They would let him rot in a Mexican prison if he did
not cooperate, never to see his family again.
Oswald never knew the real plan. The plot was already
in place. All they needed was a patsy to serve as a
The lone, crazed assassin.
This story would sell much better than José’s drivel
about Mexican politics.
Since it was my first novel, I knew it would need
significant revisions. It would give me a chance
to turn back the clock more than forty years as I
revised my earlier work.
The Baby Boomer Generation would eat it up.
And this time I had access to the Internet.
Meanwhile, Margaret was building an empire.
José’s first translation had three print runs. This
encouraged her to take another big gamble.
She had published the first two novels of a young
author named Howard Rush, both written while he was
a graduate student. They were small works, but based
on her previous standing as a minor, independent
press, very successful.
He had recently finished his third novel, a much
larger work that followed a fictional American family
(loosely based on the Kennedy clan) through their
trials and tribulations during the twentieth century.
Margaret thought it was worthy of a large initial
print run and a Madison Avenue-type ad campaign.
The success of José’s book gave her the resources to
The Howard Rush novel was a runaway bestseller. As
were his next, and his next.
She was featured in a piece in The New York Times
Book Review. Bright young authors and their agents
began flocking to her door, the ancient, weatherbeaten
door on her converted warehouse in Brooklyn
where her publishing firm was housed.
She was becoming a rock star in the publishing
The second translation took much longer than the first.
Research was needed to make it sound and feel
authentic. After all, José grew up in the Mexico
City area, so I could not make mistakes about
important places, dates, or historical events. I
spent hours and hours poring through Internet sites
on the subject.
Have you ever Googled “JFK assassination conspiracy
I no longer owned a copy of the Warren Commission
Report, so I spent many afternoons in the local
branch of the New York City Public Library reviewing
it, especially those parts concerning Oswald’s time
in Mexico City.
Upon returning to my apartment one afternoon, my front
door was ajar. I had lost my only key, so I never
locked the door while I was out. Sometimes lonely
neighbors stopped by while I was gone and waited for
my return. Two days earlier, the widow at the end of
the hall had left a birthday cake in my apartment.
It wasn’t even my birthday.
I entered slowly and could see the ankles and feet
of someone sitting in a chair around the corner from
my front entrance.
“A priest?” asked a male voice with a thick Spanish
I stopped in my tracks.
The shoes and ankles disappeared. I could hear
the man rising from the chair. I tried to locate a
“A serial-killing priest?”
It didn’t sound like his happy voice.
As he came around the corner, I recognized the face
from the dust cover.
A baseball bat?
What was José Calderon’s weapon of choice?
And who would discover my rotting, bludgeoned body?
My next door neighbor?
That loony widow when she brought me another birthday
To be continued …!
Only Milo, winner of the 2010 IPPY Gold Medal for Popular Fiction, is published by Inkwater Press (© 2009).
Here’s a literary first for the Wordstock blog. During the coming weeks leading up to the Festival, we are serializing Part One of Only Milo, Barry Smith’s comically macabre tale about a writer who plagiarizes himself to become the ghostwriting darling of the publishing world. Success at last! But as he takes the literary world by storm, Milo’s path for personal recognition takes on an ever-growing body count…
The winner of the 2010 IPPY Gold Medal for Popular Fiction, we’re sure you will enjoy the twists and turns of this darkly funny spoof of the publishing business, brought to you by Inkwater Press (© 2009).
Maybe it was the SPAM Reuben sandwich.
I had noticed the recipe on the back of a can of SPAM
several months earlier, which seemed to legitimize
serving the SPAM Reuben to Margaret. I had tried it
several times in the intervening months and thought
I had determined the proper proportions of SPAM,
sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. The
marble rye I’d found at the deli across town was
pleasing to the eye, and it was a lunch date – I
would never have served it for dinner.
If we ate quickly we could catch the “early bird”
matinee at the Rialto. $3 a ticket.
Maybe it was the TV tables.
They were not the flimsy, cheap aluminum type my
family had when I was young. They were purchased soon
after I moved into this apartment, and they still
looked new. They were wooden and nicely stained in a
reddish-brown color that sort of matched the wood in
my stereo speakers.
I used real plates, not the plastic ones I had in
the cupboard. And how do you beat a kosher dill
pickle with your SPAM Reuben sandwich? I served the
longest, plumpest pickles left in the jar.
Maybe it was the drapes.
Oregon Arts Commission Announces Over $1 Million in Grants….including one to Wordstock – our first general operating grant from the state! “The Oregon Arts Commission is pleased and delighted to support vibrant arts endeavors, from Ashland to Enterprise, that strengthen our communities, bring citizens together, and help us discover who we are,” said Jean Boyer Cowling, chair of the Arts Commission. Read the full press release here.