Michener on Michener: Losing Mexico

I never was much of a fan of James Michener, although he certainly was one of the 20th Century’s most prolific authors, if not THE most prolific. Starting with The Tales of the South Pacific and continuing on to more than 40 books about countries spanning the globe, he took his many  readers on detailed journeys, sometimes meandering back thousands of years to ancient times.

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

two of the many Micheners

two of the many Micheners

I read only one of his novels – Hawaii – and I remember it took me most of a long, hot summer to get through it. It was a reward in itself to finish the massive book. I never looked back or read another Michener. That is, until I found My Lost Mexico, (1992), a slim book (more to my liking, see above) describing how Michener resumed writing his novel-in-process, Mexico, some 30 years after he stopped writing it. The manuscript went missing, and only after his agent and the publisher nagged him about completing it, did a synchronicity occur. In a corner of a storage room, Michener’s cousin found the draft of the book and the many photos of Mexico and Spain that Michener snapped in the 1960s. And so, he went on to finish what he’d started. And not only that, he wrote another book (above) about what caused him to stop writing (Publisher Bennett Cerf’s gentle suggestion to correct a segment). Surprise! I’d never imagined an established author like Michener could lose his confidence over a mild suggestion to revise his work. But lose, Michener did – both his confidence and his manuscript.

In describing how he re-read the draft of Mexico, completed it and  revised it, as Cerf originally  suggested, a reader can see the painstaking research, notes and outlines Michener undertook – both in the 1960s and later,in the 1990s. Copies of his copious notes to himself and his many chapter outlines, as well as his musings about adding and subtracting characters, confirms just how hard and how much he worked at his art.

If anything, after reading My Lost Mexico, my admiration for this genius globe-trotting author soared. Both gifted storyteller and historian, his work endures.

a Michener photo for his book on Mexico

a Michener photo for his book on Mexico

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