Writers on the Block

From Authors to Playwrights to Screenwriters, There is no Shortage of Published Writers who Call Coral Gables Home

By Lizzie Wilcox

February 2020

Coral Gables is nothing if not a literary city. The most important (and successful) book vendor in the state, Books & Books, was born here. It still reigns supreme with a stunning schedule of writers who give talks there. The Gables is also home to the most used library, per capita, in the county system. And its citizens are well educated: half of the adults have college degrees, and more than half of these have another degree on top of that.

So, say what you will about literary legends like Paris or New York or San Francisco. Coral Gables is home to its own roster of talented writers, some of whom we profile here. Read on…

Christopher Demos-Brown

Christopher Demos-Brown is the mind behind the Broadway play and the Netflix film “American Son.” Set in a South Florida police station in the middle of the night, two parents search for their missing interracial teenage son. Before Demos-Brown wrote the script, there were a number of police shootings involving black men that were getting a lot of publicity. The conversations he had with friends about those incidents are what sparked the inspiration for the play.

While “shopping” for a theater that wanted to produce his work, Demos-Brown had to choose between several producers who were interested. “The guy I ultimately signed a contract with is a wonderful producer and likes introducing new writers to Broadway and likes plays that are challenging and deal with contemporary American issues,” he said.

“American Son” premiered on Broadway in 2016, starring Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale. It played its final Broadway performance on Jan. 27, 2019. Then Netflix turned it into a film, which premiered on Nov. 1 of last year. The play was even performed locally last month at the Adrienne Arsht Center. “What’s really great about it [at the Arsht Center] is this production is one of the first regional productions since the Broadway run,” Demos-Brown said.

The script is currently being translated into other languages to be shown in countries like France and India. “It’s been surprising how many countries around the world have the same type of racial problems and see the play as a discussion point,” he said.

The next project Demos-Brown is writing is a mini-series for FX, which he began last month. While doing all this, he still works full-time as a lawyer in the SunTrust building on Alhambra Circle where he and his wife have a small law firm.

Mamta Chaudhry

Coral Gables resident Mamta Chaudhry published her first book in 2019. She describes “Haunting Paris” as “a love letter to Paris.” In the summer of 1989, lead character Sylvie is mourning the loss of her lover Julien, who had spent years looking for his niece after his sister and her other daughter perished in the Holocaust. Sylvie picks up where Julien left off, unaware that Julien’s ghost is watching over her on her quest. “This love letter is not like Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris,’” Chaudhry said. “It’s darker.”

A Gables resident of over 30 years, Chaudhry got a master’s in journalism at the University of Florida and, upon realizing her passion was books, went to the University of Miami for a PhD in literature. Chaudhry met her husband while at UF and now they visit Paris once or twice a year.

“One of the things about Paris is that everyone falls in love with it as the City of Lights. But the more time I spent there, the more I became interested in the shadows that underlie it,” she said.

One highlight of having her first book published was getting her “dream editor,” Nan A. Talese, who is also the publisher of Margaret Atwood. “She devotes as much attention to her littlest author as to her grandest one,” Chaudhry praises.

Her debut novel was received by the community with open arms and a full house at Books & Books. “One of the things that is just fabulous about the Gables is that it’s a book town just filled with book readers,” she said. “And a lot of it is thanks to Mitchell Kaplan [founder and owner of Books & Books].”

Patrick Alexander

The oldest of six children, Patrick Alexander was raised in England. He lived in France, Switzerland and California before settling in Coral Gables in 1986. This is where his career as a writer came to fruition. His first novel, “The Nigerian Letter,” is about an American accountant who receives a letter from a stranger in Nigeria asking him to export $60 million out of Africa in exchange for a percentage of the fortune. In 2009, Alexander published “Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time: A Reader’s Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past.” It is essentially notes to remind readers of the plot and characters of Proust’s seven-volume book. “That was accidental,” Alexander admits. “I was just doing it for my own entertainment.”

Aside from Proust, the writer also has a love for wine. And so he wrote The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine: An Introduction to the History, Mysteries and Literary Pleasures of Drinking Wine,” which was published in 2017. Everyone has heard of wine pairing when it comes to food, but what about literature? The guide was inspired by the successful six-week wine appreciation course that he teaches at Books & Books. “I still use my wine book for reference,” he says.

In addition to the “guide” genre, he also wrote a trilogy where all the books have one thing in common: “They all begin with dead bodies.” The second book of the series, “Death on the Eighth,” is even based in Coral Gables – well “Greenhaven,” but residents will be able to pick up on the similarities, like how the mayor of Greenhaven lives on the golf course (a nod to former Mayor Don Slesnick). And the golf course where the mayor of Greenhaven lives? The Alhambra Golf Course. All of this success comes relatively late in Alexander’s career. “I always enjoyed writing,” he says. “Life got in the way, so I didn’t start until I was about 60.”

Vanessa Garcia

Born in Miami to Cuban parents, Vanessa Garcia attended Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart from ages 3 to 18. She then went on to study art history with a concentration in visual arts, and English with a concentration in writing, at Barnard College, the women’s college of Columbia University. Garcia eventually received a MFA in creative writing from the University in Miami, but in between worked for author and playwright Caryl Phillips. Furthering her education, she moved to California to get a master’s in English from UC Irvine in 2011, and then a PhD in English with a focus on creative nonfiction from the same university four years later.

Garcia, 40, now resides in Coral Gables. She has written an overwhelming amount of works in a span of mediums from fiction to theater to film. Her latest body of work is “AMPARO,” the immersive theater experience about the family who created the Havana Club rum in Cuba. Coincidentally, her dissertation was on Cuba so she had already researched and studied the country’s history thoroughly.

Around two years ago, she was contacted by the marketing team of Havana Club to work on what was intended to be a 20-minute play performed at a bar. “It felt like this was a moment of destiny,” Garcia said. “That 20-minute show became a two-hour pilot [performed] in Ball & Chain.”

The team then tested “AMPARO” in New York to see if the story would resonate with an audience that wasn’t so deeply rooted in Cuba. It passed, and so began work on the immersive experience that premiered this past summer in Miami. It continued to exceed expectations – it was set to run for a month and a half, but ended up closing in November. “Miami in general is an incredible place to make and create projects,” said Garcia. “It’s such a beautiful incubation area.”

Lauren Rigau

Lauren Rigau recently published her first book, entitled “The Adventures of LaLa and her Papa.” A children’s book, it was inspired by her father Carlos, a news photojournalist of over 40 years. Born in Miami, Rigau moved to Los Angeles when she was 14 to pursue acting. She had a lead role in the films “The Inner Circle” and “Common Practice,” the latter of which was featured at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. She also co-starred on television shows including HBO’s “WEED’S” and ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.”

Following her acting career, Rigau studied U.S. History and Political Science at Arizona State University and then moved to New York. It was there that she volunteered at a low income school for a program that taught students about the love of reading. “Reading children’s books to them I thought, ‘I could write a book like this,’” Rigau said.

She moved back to Miami – Coral Gables, specifically – at 26. When it came to putting pen to paper, she decided to write about what she knew best: her childhood. “I had such a cool experience because of my dad,” she said. “And kids love adventure books.”

As a photojournalist, her dad (now at NBC 6) has been all over the world capturing wildlife, active volcanoes and the Olympics – and it’s all illustrated in the book. Of course, “LaLa” couldn’t go with her papa on his adventures, but “no matter where he went, he would always bring a trinket home for me.”

If you would like to read “The Adventures of LaLa and her Papa,” it’s available for purchase on Amazon or from the website theadventuresoflalaandherpapa.com.

J.K. Franko

J.K. Franko was turning from Kendall Drive onto Old Cutler Road when the inspiration for his book hit: What would it take for him to commit murder? The first book of the Talion series, “Eye for Eye,” revolves around this question, as a married couple takes the law into their own hands. The thriller, which was published last year, is set in none other than the City Beautiful. “It’s really kind of cool in the sense that it’s very much about this whole area,” Franko said. “For somebody who lives here it’s very easy to visualize.”

Born and raised in Texas, Franko admittedly wanted to be a writer since the sixth grade. But since it wasn’t an encouraged profession, he took a more traditional route and went to law school. After roughly a decade as a trial lawyer, he worked as a Fortune 100 company’s in-house attorney and got an MBA. After running a business in Europe for around five years, he moved back to the U.S. in Austin. In 2014, he found his way to the Gables. Franko’s wife, who is also a lawyer, has been pushing him to write professionally for 20 years.

The second and third books of the Talion series are currently in the works. “Book number three is about 70 percent done because I wanted to make sure I could plant seeds in the second that I could bring to fruition in the third,” he said. The second book, “Tooth for Tooth,” will be available in April of this year.

Franko asks his readers the same thing he asked himself: What would you do if someone hurt the one you love? How far would you go to get revenge? Read the series and decide for yourself: What would you do?