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Alejandro Nodarse on Writing a Thriller About the Real Miami

Alejandro Nodarse on Writing a Thriller About the Real Miami

Miami is a crime writer’s paradise. This city has seen it all, and her denizens have definitely done it all, so there’s no shortage of inspiration to fuel the imagination. The Magic City often feels more like a fictional metropolis than an actual, real-life place. Our history is tumultuous, our population is sundry, and our reputation as a notorious, world-class, city of the night is hard earned and well deserved. But above all, Miami is a city that grows and changes, just like its people. It updates more often than any smartphone app, which is to say that unless you’ve visited within the last year, your perspective is likely outdated. 

That doesn’t mean that you don’t know Miami. Day-to-day life here is a lot like it is anywhere else, only it’s sunnier and more expensive. 

But Miami is much, much more than palm trees, beaches, drugs, bronzed bodies, and neon nightlife. And yet it’s that, too. This plurality of identities presents interesting opportunities for writers who set their fiction set in a city like Miami. Miami is too big for one novel to encompass, so it’s important for writers to add their versions to the collective consciousness. One of my goals when writing my debut novel, Blood in the Cut, was to highlight the humanity beneath the perceived exoticism. As with any genre, there are specific things readers expect when they pick up a crime thriller, and certain things are expected of a crime thriller set in Miami. But like any ambitious writer, my job is to shatter every single one of your expectations. But I want you enjoy the experience. I want it to linger like a sweet aftertaste. I want you to think about it long after you’ve put down the book and rejoined your reality. To do my job well, I have to give you what you want in order to show you that which I need to show you. 

While I don’t know what readers know about Miami, based on what I see on TV and read in the news, I have a sense of how they perceive it. I know what they think about Miami. Again, the flat, single-note identity afforded to us all the way down south is, to the reader’s credit, often accurate, but it’s incomplete. Our country’s perception of the city is an oversimplification that affords writers like me an opportunity to introduce readers to some the people and places that are often overlooked by the rest of the country. What’s well-known to me is fresh ground for readers. 

This is one way that I’m able to subvert expectations. Turning away from as many of the easily-recognizable images and locations that are associated with Miami (and thrillers, I dare say) was my first and strongest instinct. Like many locals, I have no interest in fighting tourists for parking spots in Wynwood or Miami Beach. I refuse to pay what you pay for bottles in a club. In fact, the only time I venture over the bridge is at the behest of friends and family who visit and want to experience what they believe to be #MiamiLife. What they don’t know is that actual Miami life, as lived by locals, is far more interesting. As my favorite local musician, PinoGrillo, puts it: “My city’s not found in the bars, it’s busy under the stars. What clubs? We party in our backyards.” 

Eventually, my guests are exposed to the other elements and experiences that Miami has to offer, and that adds layers and layers of complexity and understanding that make the Magic City even more magical. For instance, there’s nothing on planet earth like the Everglades. Nothing. It’s a one-of-a-kind ecosystem. As you explore this primal, verdant paradise, you can almost feel of eons that have washed over the grass all around you. Time flows differently when the sky and distant tree line are your horizon. You become aware that you are on sacred ground. 

And if that’s not enough, you might visit any of the countless beaches along our shores for some of the most sobering, spellbinding sunrises and sunsets you’ll ever experience. And few cities can offer the cultural diversity that Miami can; languages from the far corners of the globe intermingle with music and birdsong to weave a deep auditory fabric. This city is the bedrock of a million American Dreams, where families from every creed and country come to forge their futures. 

But more than anything, Miami is a city of experiences. You have to come here and see it, feel it, be it. Miami is the moments that you spend under its spell. It’s your senses enraptured. It’s a version of you that can exist nowhere else. That’s the magic of Miami.

I won’t tell you where I take my visitors when they visit. I won’t tell you what we do. You’ll have to read the novel for that. But I can tell you that anyone who rides through Miami with me finds it far more complex and enticing than they did before. Being accompanied by someone Born & Raised like yours truly will do that.  

The Magic City performs for a worldwide audience day in and day out. We know what you think of us. We’re putting on the show, remember? But the underbelly, the world you don’t see, is so much more gritty, seductive, and dangerous than what you’re shown. Experiencing the Magic City from the right perspective and the right time will change your understanding of what makes Miami what it is. Think of Blood in the Cut as a backstage pass.