The Miami Creation Myth

Oh, boy. It’s been a ride.

The Miami Creation Myth’s genesis can be traced to 2016, a full seven years before the book’s publication, several thousand feet above the Earth’s surface, and probably somewhere over Oklahoma. My friend thought it’d be a great idea to invite a dozen Miamians to Breckenridge, Colorado for a bachelor party. In January. Two miles above sea level. But this essay isn’t about Peter’s terrible decision-making skills or our hypoxia-filled weekend. It’s about what happened in transit.

I was bored and ruminating on the hilarity of the Cuban slang term for a rollaway bed (“pin pan pun,” or the sound the contraption makes when you open it). So, drawing upon Ancient Greek, Egyptian, and biblical mythology, I whipped out my laptop and began typing an extremely silly story about how, long before there were pastelitos or Radio Mambí, Pachango the Creator awoke from his eternal slumber to create the universe.

We landed and I showed my buddy David the first few pages. He responded with a chortle and a, “Bro, how do you even come up with this shit, bro?” I got the proverbial Miami bro sandwich. I might be onto something.

When I returned from the frigid Colorado mountaintops to my frigid D.C. basement apartment, I finished writing the story, titled it “The Miami Creation Myth,” submitted it to The Acentos Review on a whim, and then promptly forgot about it.

Mind you, this literary journal publishes Groundbreaking Hispanic Authors with capital “G’s,” “H’s,” and “A’s.” Folks with MFAs who wear corduroy and nod knowingly through poetry readings. I, on the other hand, once wrote an ebulliently profane, bilingual ode to Cuban cursing just to see if I could. Turns out, I could indeed. Also, I completely lied about forgetting about the submission. I checked on it daily.

Several months and several hundred page refreshes later, I received a notification late one night and, wouldn’t you know it, Acentos Review accepted my story.

I howled. I cackled uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop laughing, all alone, in my dismal cave of an apartment, lying on my bed, in pitch darkness, like a madman. Acentos Review decided to publish a story that included allusions to Casa Pinga, Casa del Carajo, and Casa Culo as physical locations at the ends of the world. This was next to Groundbreaking Hispanic Authors writing indecipherably important poetry of great import in its importance. Hilarious! Riotous! What an incredible joke! I laughed for an hour. When I finally descended from my delirium, I allowed myself a very dangerous thought: maybe I really was onto something.

I contacted Danny Mendoza, a high school buddy who had directed feature films and TV shows. When we met for lunch, I pitched him on turning The Miami Creation Myth into a short film. He informed me there was exactly zero money in such endeavors. But, if I were willing to extend the story into an entire book and then convert it into TV screenplays, maybe he’d join the project. I suspect this was a nice way of telling me to go away. Danny didn’t know who he was dealing with.

Over the next year, I labored practically every night past 2 AM on the book. Initially, the dialogue and narration were written solely in English and Spanish, but I knew this would not do for Miami’s multilingual, multiethnic milieu, so I sought assistance and input from Haitian, Jamaican, Brazilian, and many other friends and acquaintances who helped me authentically insert their experiences and languages. I fired off each new chapter to Danny, just to prove my commitment.

I finally finished the first draft of the book after a multi-day marathon session. Then I spent several more months converting it into screenplays despite not knowing the definition of the word until I Googled it. Next time I met with Danny in Miami, he said he was in.

Now it was time to find a publisher because that’s what I thought Groundbreaking Hispanic Authors did. I first submitted the book to a prominent publishing house that specialized in “uplifting underrepresented voices, etc., etc.” The initial conversations with my assigned editor went very well. As an hondureña, she understood the concepts and jokes and connected with the characters. Another editor of Argentine background agreed. They sent me a draft contract to review and assured me they were ready to bring me onboard. They just needed final approval from their editor-in-chief. When I looked him up, I knew I was irrevocably screwed.

To say the least, this book was not tailored to audiences like his. It contained 11 dialects and languages, constantly shifting and morphing between them throughout, though I provided English translations in the footnotes. There were exactly two non-Hispanic White supporting characters in the entire book and they were both women. This editor-in-chief was not represented. He was not even an afterthought. And if people like him do not connect with ostensibly different narratives and characters, despite a pervading desire to “uplift underrepresented voices, etc., etc.,” then they assume no one else will pay to do so.

I received a curt email informing me I was a “talented” and “very funny” author, the book was “great,” but they would pass because it was “too niche,” i.e., ethnic. I allowed myself one day to feel crushed. Then I got angry. Then I got motivated. I was going to tell this ridiculous story exactly as every immigrant, child of immigrants, and untold others with unuplifted, underrepresented voices instinctively know how to go about things: by working 10 times harder for 10 times longer than everyone else.

Luckily, I did not sit idle while waiting to hear back from the publisher. Oscar Guzmán, another high school friend, helped me set up a website and coached me on the finer points of marketing. I informed him and Danny about the publisher’s pass and that I planned to move forward on my own. I completely understood if they were no longer interested in partnering with me on this endeavor. To my eternal gratitude, they both said they would see the whole thing through.

I needed to build an audience. I had no idea how to build an audience.

Oscar informed me I should get on social media and begin posting content that was related to the book but designed to be highly shareable. I didn’t know what that meant. My partner (God bless her) told me I should make memes, but I indignantly responded that I was a Groundbreaking Hispanic Author who couldn’t possibly stoop to such drivel. And I’m still paying for it.

Eventually, I pulled my head out of my ass, apologized to my partner for my stupidity, signed up for Instagram (yes, I only joined the Gram at 30 years old), created a Facebook page, and began cranking out what eventually became over 1,500 original, Miami-centric memes. Most touched upon how upset I was on any given day about South Florida’s traffic, humidity, popular misrepresentation, lack of social services, government corruption, and/or rampant, unaddressed racism. You know, the light stuff.

Slowly, painfully, I began building an audience. However, that audience only knew me as a Miami meme account. I needed to inform it I was a Groundbreaking Hispanic Author. So, I started publishing what eventually amounted to 153 satirical essays and short stories celebrating Miami’s cultural nuances, lampooning its politicians, and declaring my eternal, boundless, immutable, undying hatred of Brickell. The best part of it all was that I didn’t have an editor, so no one could stop me from publishing a 700-word run-on screed written from the perspective of an open-minded bro who just doesn’t like public displays of affection between two men. The torrent of hate I received from my own community when I asked it to be a little less bigoted wasn’t so great, though. Oh, well.

People were going to my website, sharing my memes, and (I assume) exhaling slightly harder on the toilet when they came across a fake Miami Monopoly board I spent four hours creating. I thought I was doing great. Then Oscar introduced me to the marketing funnel and how I should really be collecting people’s emails because email marketing has an exponentially higher conversion rate than social media, blah, blah, blah, fine Oscar! Jesus! I just wanted to write stories about the sun and moon having cataclysmically orgasmic sex. Now you have me signing up for Mailchimp, sending out a weekly newsletter, and haranguing everyone to “read the first free chapter of our book” with a link to a signup landing page on every piece of content I create. Jonathan Swift never had a Google Analytics account!

In the meantime, I had far too many conversations with several other publishers that necessitated negotiating a dozen more contract drafts, but none of that matters because they all passed, or didn’t understand social media, or remembered they left the oven on, so I continued on my merry way.

Then there were the live shows. This part blows my mind. Somehow, Peter Mir, the founder of Villain Theater, agreed to let Danny and me put on a stage adaptation of The Miami Creation Myth’s first chapter. I still don’t know why or how, but eight of his actors agreed to participate. The show was featured in The New Tropic, local TV, and WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. We sold out the 100-person theater. Then we did it again. People went out of their way, found street parking, and paid to see something I created. Twice. Craziness.

I chugged along, creating memes, writing stories, and putting together e-books of said stories that people inexplicably paid for. I left my job and terrible apartment in D.C. and came back to Miami when a funny thing happened.

The entire world got sick.

Millions of people were dying, everyone was stuck at home, and I had plenty of time alone with my thoughts. The Miami Creation Myth wasn’t good enough. It needed more diverse experiences. It needed to truly represent Miami, not just my straight, male, Hispanic-centric perspective. It needed more nuance and authenticity. I reached out to more people, including those from communities I was completely unfamiliar with.

The first person to respond was Cheyenne Kippenberger. If you don’t know who she is, shame on you. She is a former Miss Seminole USA and the first ever Miss Indian World from South Florida. The woman is a powerhouse. She read my book and calmly, patiently told me that I got the chapter on the Seminoles absolutely wrong. Then she connected me with Rollie Gilliam, her friend and a Black Seminole tribal member. Together, after many phone calls and trips to the reservation, they helped me rewrite the entire chapter.

Similarly, Leiva helped rework the chapter on undocumented immigrants, while Charity Fort and Vanessa Joseph refined my depictions of African American and Haitian women. So many others reshaped country-specific dialogue (Guatemalan, Mexican, Dominican, Argentine, etc.), making the book an infinitely better work than anything I could’ve created on my own.

The pandemic tapered off and I came to the sinking realization that I was about to create far more work for myself. Miami’s many voices shouldn’t just be read, but also heard. I needed to record an audiobook, and I certainly didn’t have the gall to deliver a 70-year-old Haitian woman’s Creole dialogue. I needed a recording studio, editor, and a whole lot of actors.

Luckily, Danny was still game to be my director. Peter, incredibly, offered us the use of Villain’s recording studio for free. Joel Someillan (the man did the Harry Potter books in Spanish and had absolutely no business joining our silly little project) came onboard as our editor. I spent an entire year driving to Little Haiti after work and staying there well past midnight with Danny to record the narration. I don’t know why he let me do that and I doubt I ever will.

I also can’t believe that 25 different people—including a Juilliard-trained thespian, a radio personality, a TV show host, a professional voice actor, and plenty of others with far more important things to do—all agreed to participate. My biggest coup was convincing Jenny Lorenzo to be the audiobook’s headliner. I had been a huge fan for over a decade. I’m a much bigger fan now that I know first-hand what a lovely, generous person she is.

I certainly did not have the money to pay her or anyone else for their time, so instead, they will receive a percentage of audiobook revenue in perpetuity. I like this system because 1. I didn’t go bankrupt and 2. every actor, despite their number of lines, is literally invested in the book’s success. My gratitude to everyone who came into the studio to record knows no bounds. I can’t thank them enough.

It took us two years to complete the audiobook. Joel is finalizing it for publication later this year. Oscar redesigned the website and typeset the hardcover. Feli Arguello and Sofia Hidalgo are managing my public relations outreach and social media, respectively. Madeleine Salman created a slew of trailers. 25 actors probably forgot about this whole thing until I sent them a reminder email. We have more than 27,000 followers across social media platforms, 1,900 opt-in emails, and a launch party scheduled for March 4, 2023, at Villain Theater.

I’ve never worked longer or harder on anything in my life, all because I really, really want to tell this story. I desperately want Miamians to see themselves faithfully represented, even when I make fun of them. I want to make them laugh. I want to make them think. I want to present others’ experiences through my work.

I want to thank you, whoever you are. Maybe no one will care about The Miami Creation Myth. Maybe no one will read this 2,400-word essay, much less the hardcover, or listen to the audiobook. But maybe someone will. Even if it’s just one person, thank you for giving me and my collaborators a chance. Thank you for taking that chance when so many others refused to do so. Truly, thank you. I hope I did right by you.

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Andrew OtazoAndrew Otazo

'Miami Creation Myth' author Andrew Otazo has advised officials on Cuba policy, worked for the Mexican president, fired a tank, and ran with 30lbs of trash.

Check out the first free chapter of Andrew’s upcoming book here.


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