Miami Doesn't Care That You're Writing a Novel

Andrew Boryga
March 4, 2024

My first home here was a loft that I rented just over the county line in Hollywood. During those years, the bulk of the writing I did happened at a nearby cafe with a cool French name, stylish, yet humble decor, strong Wi-Fi, outlets, and great coffee. It was a perfect spot. They even served beer in the afternoons.

I quickly became a regular, drifting over toward the end of my shift at a remote job, ordering a cappuccino, and progressing to a couple of draft beers. Over time, I made friends with the owners: a Venezuelan couple who, in addition to running the shop, were filmmakers. They specialized in raunchy raggaeton music videos, but harbored artistic ambitions to shoot more than g-strings.

The cafe owners are just a few of the unforgettable characters that I have met since moving to Miami six years ago, coasting in and out of various parts of the city, trying to find my way here as a writer. I have had neighbors who paid the bills filming themselves having sex, but also dreamed of starting a production company. My barber is an ex-con who moves like a man to be feared, but also routinely stops cutting hair to water his plants. The Russian dude I used to buy weed from, who also sold illegal arms, nurtured dreams of being a real estate tycoon. I once met a man who told me that he was about to run for mayor any day now, as soon as he could find time away from hitting the gym and riding his motorcycle to develop legislative goals.

The city is populated with people who feel surprisingly real. People whose dialogue, tics, body language, or energy have found their way onto the page in my fiction. I had a plethora of those sorts of people back home in the Bronx. At first, I feared I wouldn’t find them here.

I was wrong.


After I was accepted into the University of Miami’s MFA program, my wife and I left Hollywood and moved into a condo in Brickell. At school, I stumbled onto something of a literary scene here—albeit a microscopic one, compared to that of the city I had just left. My classmates mostly hailed from similarly endowed literary centers, places like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. Together we spent many evenings pilgrimaging to Miami’s true, and only, literary mecca: Books & Books.

What I loved most about the readings was how low-key they were. No red ropes to wait behind. No handlers rushing you while your favorite author signs your book. Even the authors themselves seemed more laid back, as if they were just here on vacation. Suddenly, getting them to open up, or have a drink with you and talk craft, didn’t require the usual schmoozing or name dropping.

While I was in school, I mostly split my time between Books & Books and a kava bar on the outskirts of Wynwood. A year or so before, I decided to cut back on my weed intake, realizing it wasn’t helpful to my writing. I switched to kava and kratom, and became a regular at the one spot which resembled a crack house. There was a porch out front where I often sat, sipped, and wrote. The backyard was full of palm trees and mismatched tables where people smoked. The other regulars were reformed drug addicts who held court on board games in one room, and mostly bad, yet confident amateur comedians who practiced routines in another.

A year or so into my stint there, another kava spot opened up. This one was in Wynwood—closer to home. And it actually looked like a normal bar. Going there made me feel better about my life choices.

The owners of the latter spot were a short, highly aggressive, yet sweet, Russian girl and her boyfriend, who had a beard that extended to the middle of his chest. They took a liking to me. Their dog did, too. I can’t remember her name. But she was big, black, old, and tender, and she would curl up at my feet many days, or sit next to me on the couch in the back that became my unofficial writing corner.

Among the other regulars that creeped in and out of that bar were a grungy white boy who always wore a Make America Great Again hat, and a Cuban cop who always came dressed in uniform, seemingly on the job with his radio chattering away, and yet had hours to spend calmly sipping teas, hitting on girls, and bragging about his latest car chase.

In the back of the place, a hamburger shop operated out of a stand, and the Venezuelan woman working the counter, a recent immigrant, always looked stupefied—as if still wondering how the hell she’d found herself here, in this kava bar, of all places.

Every now and then, I’d feel the same way and venture out. I experienced different slices of Miami life in places like Vice City Bean, a clean-cut haven for recent arrivals who have money and U.S. citizenship. Their baristas were probably the only ones I ever encountered who spoke worse Spanish than I do. I bounced around other spots too: a Rosetta Bakery in Brickell, where I rubbed shoulders with Miami’s business class—all iterations of Francis Suarez—who would show up wearing sharp slacks and white shirts with rolled-up sleeves, and sporting million dollar smiles. A Joe & The Juice not far away was mostly populated by ripped, beautiful people wearing expensive athleisure.

Those places were fine, but they are nothing like the coffee shops I would work out of all the time if I could.

I’m talking about the little, usually Cuban, spots with names like Ricky’s Bakery #2 and Rinconcito #71. The spots where the coffee tastes like God mixed it himself and gives you a jolt of energy that feels illegal. They are almost guaranteed to be devoid of power outlets, and only employ people who’ll look at you as if you’re insane when you ask about the Wi-Fi password. But as a result, the customers at these spots are not sitting alone, scrolling or staring at screens, but instead sit in groups, engaged in all types of spirited discussion on topics that range from the next election to the latest grisly murder covered in El Nuevo Herald.

I tried to make those spots work for me. I would print out drafts to line edit and leave my laptop at home. But after a while, I would always catch stares from the regulars which conveyed: Oye, what are you still doing here?  

My best workaround, when I’m in the mood for a stiff café con leche, is a small cafe attached to my local Publix. The outlets under the chairs still don’t work—I’ve tried them all—and half the space is shared with a pharmacy. But the coffee is cheap, and there is Wi-Fi. On my way over, I usually pass a rooster who stands outside of the Publix as if he’s waiting for someone.  

He is not the only animal attraction I’ve stumbled into in my wanderings as a writer. I have lost valuable time idling in my car while waiting for a group of peacocks to cross the street. For a while, there was a little iguana who lived inside of a grill I owned. He lived there so long I gave him a name. I considered him a friend. Joked I would charge him rent. Then one day, I found him dead inside, melting into the metal.


After I moved to my current place in Brickell, I began doing the vast majority of my writing in a small coffee shop down the block. The shop has changed owners three times in the past five years. When I first moved, it was owned by a Mexican woman who seemed entirely disinterested in her business. There was barely a menu, the croissants were stale, and often, for no good reason, she would stop brewing coffee around 1 p.m.

When the shop did get customers, they were often people in bathing suits planning out days at the beach and nights at the club. It was located next to one of the cheaper hotels in Brickell, known for guests who have a penchant for racing rented Mustangs down the block and dancing on the hoods. On good days, I would overhear sordid tales of drunken exploits and catty fights among friends. By noon the place was always dead. After a while, the owner must have realized I wasn’t going to steal anything, and began to leave me in the shop alone. Cigarette breaks turned into errands. On more than one occasion, people entered the shop assuming I worked there. You can imagine why the old management didn’t last long.

A new owner took over before the pandemic. The coffee was far better. I became friends with the servers quickly, and they would have my drink ready as soon as I walked in. The place grew in popularity, but never felt packed. I could always find a seat. But during the late stages of the pandemic, the owner closed up and sold. He assured me that the new guy taking over, a Colombian, would take good care of it.

The new guy came in with a desire to blast techno music through the speakers, as if his new coffee shop was a club. He continued even as I protested and threatened that he would lose one of his best customers. He proceeded to water down the menu, and frequently decided not to open the place. Most days, he seemed more concerned with the women he communicated with over WhatsApp audio notes than with any coffee drinkers, including me.

I stopped going around the time I found his Instagram account. His posts fashioned him as a man of business and success: dark shades, power poses next to nice cars, basking in the glow of strobe lights and toned women. I realized he was never going to care about the fuss I made about the music, or the people who would often arrive, wondering why the place wasn’t open when Google said it was. At the end of the day, like most people in Miami, he doesn’t really give a shit about anybody else.

It might sound weird, but that’s what I love about this city. No one cares very much.


I came here at age twenty-five, worried that I might not hit the arbitrary goal I set myself to publish a novel by twenty-seven. Why twenty-seven?  I don’t know. I was coming from the center of the literary world, and the accomplished people all around me often made me feel small; like I needed to do more. Stopping to think, breathe, even sip a coffee, felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford.

I slowed down a lot in Miami. Time stretches out here.

More importantly, since I moved, I’ve quickly found myself surrounded by people who couldn't care less about what I do for a living, or who I know, or where I’ve been. If the subject of me being a writer comes up, for the most part they nod, and say something like “Oh, cool, bro,” and immediately change the topic. Soon after arriving here, laying roots, and settling into my life as a writer, I started to care less about my “writing career,” too. The sunshine and laissez-faire attitude rubbed on me like sunscreen.

The outcome? I actually enjoy hanging out with the few writer friends I have made here. We don’t compare accomplishments, or talk shit about whose story got placed where. We are  content to hit up some readings, meet up for drinks, and plug away at our passion in a paradise totally, wonderfully, unconcerned.

Andrew's debut novel, VICTIM, is forthcoming from Doubleday Books in March of 2024.

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