Updated: Aug 12
White People on Vacation by Alex Miller examines anti-capitalism and environmental devastation through the eyes of four jaded, self-indulgent college students on vacation in Hawaii. Surprisingly, you find yourself rooting for the unlikable along the way. You can thank the author's sharp characterization skills for this! Satirical and sardonic, this coming-of-age story envisions what it's like to seek beauty in an intensely unforgiving world.
To learn more about the story behind the story, read A Good Book To End The Day’s interview with the author below.
Tell us a little about yourself and your journey to becoming an author.
I have loved to write since as far back as I was able to write, and before that, I loved listening to my grandparents and parents and older sister read stories. Then in the fourth grade, my class held a monthly contest where the students would write a story and vote for their favorite. And I swept it the entire year—every one of my stories won first place. On the last day of school, a girl I liked came up to my desk and asked if I was going to be a writer when I grew up. Right then and there I made up my mind to be a writer. Looking back, the whole episode created a lot of unrealistic expectations.
I started writing seriously about ten years ago. I just decided—after years and years of not getting around to it—to write a story and get it published. And it took a while. It got rejected several times, and after every rejection, I opened it up again and revised it, really asking myself honestly what worked and what didn’t. And all that revising made me a better writer. And once it got published I was hooked.
I still spend more time writing short stories than novels. It’s not a great financial decision. Writers love short stories more than readers do. Or at least they buy a lot more novels than short story collections. I like how short stories give me space to practice and experiment without committing to a big novel. And the cycle of rejection and revision and acceptance that comes with short stories still really drives me.
Can you tell me about White People on Vacation?
It’s a story about trying to create a life for yourself in a world that is objectively garbage. The main character is about to graduate from college and enter the adult world of work. And it fills him with dread. He can see that the world is all about poverty and authoritarianism and environmental catastrophe. And he sees that he’s always been on a particular middle-class trajectory, one that will turn him into one more cog in the wheel that is causing all this misery. And he wants out. He wants to do something different but doesn’t know how or what. He gradually works everything out when his rich friends let him tag along with them on a vacation to Hawaii. Basically, he blows up his life and all his friendships and relationships. And once the old trajectory is gone, newer and weirder possibilities arise. White People on Vacation is extremely anti-capitalist.
What inspired the idea for your book?
I started writing the book when I lived in Hawaii, on the Big Island, for a couple of years while working at a newspaper. It’s an amazing place, and I wanted to write about it while I was still there and able to write about it authentically. And I met some fellow white people who had been on the island for a few years, and they were over it. I mean they were living in a real, honest-to-god paradise, and they were just bored, just zoned out and watching Netflix. They inspired some characters in the book.
Do you have a favorite line from the book? If so, what is it and why?
There’s a particular line of dialogue toward the beginning before the characters leave for Hawaii. They’re all eating dinner at an outback Steakhouse at a mall in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. And Nate, the main character, describes the restaurant and their meal as a “meat holocaust.” And everyone just ignores him. So for the rest of the meal, he keeps muttering “meat holocaust” over and over. And I like that line because it’s weird. It’s a very Nate thing to say because he’s a weird guy. And Nate is very much struggling with the morality of meat. He knows how bad it is for the planet, and he knows that slaughterhouses are completely hellish. But he just can’t stop eating meat. And there is a woman at the table who he’s very attracted to, and she’s attempting to eat vegetarian, so Nate is acting out and pretending to be a much more conscious eater than he actually is. That sort of rank hypocrisy is what Nate is all about.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned about yourself while writing this book?
I wrote the book over eight years, and it was an interesting time in my life. I did learn a lot about myself, but really not so much from writing the book but just from living. I got divorced. I fell in love a few times. I moved all around the country and made some good friends. It was an incredibly rich period, and I know that the richness steeped its way into the book.
Do you have any other projects in the works at this time?
I’m working on some short stories. I’m deep into one about teenage church youth groups in the 1990's, and it’s turning out really well, which is my code for completely unhinged. Short stories are a good distraction from novels. I wrote a rough draft of my next novel about a year ago. The characters are a few years older than the college students in White People on Vacation. The main character is out there in the world, working at an office, living his best life in a city. And he’s a true believer in capitalism and meritocracy and the American Dream and all of the other things good kids are raised to believe in. So it’s a story about him having his eyes opened, hopefully in the most embarrassing and painful ways possible. The rough draft is OK, but it needs to get about a million percent better. Anyway, I wrote a bunch of stories this year to take my mind off it. But now that White People on Vacation is out in the world (and people don’t seem to hate it!) I’m feeling more and more like I want to get back to work on that.
What does literary success look like to you?
Supporting myself financially as a writer. That’s a boring answer, but it’s also the honest one. And if I could somehow avoid flaming out in a totally narcissistic, self-inflicted J.K. Rowling/Joyce Carol Oates-style shitstorm. That’s the dream.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
Thanks so much for being part of the A Good Book To End The Day family! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I had a story published in Pidgeonholes a few years ago, and I think it's a good example of what I do with fiction. So if you’re considering reading White People on Vacation but are still not convinced, you can get a sense of my style from the story. It’s free and you can read it in about 5 minutes. So much less commitment than a novel!