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Page One
"Every book begins with Page ONE"

 

Carl Hiaasen

 

Carl Hiaasen (pronounced "hiya-sun") was born and raised in South Florida and presently lives in Tavernier, smack in the middle of the Florida Keys. He attended Emory University and was graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Florida at Gainesville in 1974. Hiaasen began his journalism career writing weird public interest stories ("Garbageman for a day") at Cocoa Today (now the Melbourne-based Florida Today). He joined the Miami Herald in 1976, and since then has been a reporter for their general assignment desk, Sunday magazine and investigative team. As part of The Miami Herald's investigative team, Hiaasen has worked on projects exposing dangerous doctors in Florida, land corruption in the Florida Keys, and drug smuggling in the Bahamas and Key West. He is currently Metro columnist for the paper where his award-winning columns on rapacious development, egregious business practices, and corrupt politicians have helped clarify issues for the Florida citizenry.

Carl turned his hand to fiction in the early eighties. His first novel, Tourist Season, was published in 1986 and named "one of the ten best destination reads of all time" by GQ Magazine. He is the author of five other best-selling novels, Double Whammy, Skin Tight, Native Tongue, Strip Tease and Stormy Weather. Louise Bernikow, writing in Cosmopolitan, calls Hiaasen's fiction "unbelievably funny -- tears-running-down-your-cheeks funny in spite of some pretty weighty themes like the destruction of the environment and the cut-throat ways of developers." Tony Hillerman calls Hiaasen "the Mark Twain of the crime novel." And Donald Westlake says "Hiaasen is so good he ought to be illegal." Hiaasen is also a songwriter, having co-wrote two songs on Warren Zevon's album. Mutineer (the two songs are Seminole Bingo and Rollweiler Blues). The film Strip Tease, based on Hiaasen's novel, directed by Andrew Bergman starring Demi Moore and Burt Reynolds, was a recent major motion picture.

 

 

Pageonelit.com: What made you decide to write your new novel, Basket Case, in the first person?

Carl Hiaasen: I'd always wanted to try that narrative form, but I was worried that I would feel too restricted, being locked inside one character's head. But since Jack Tagger, the protagonist of Basket Case, is a middle-aged journalist with a mountain of peculiar anxieties, it seemed to make sense to tell the story strictly from his point of view. We have a few things in common, Jack and I.

 

Pageonelit.com: In Basket Case, the mystery revolves around the "accidental" death of a rock star. Were you inspired by anybody in particular?

Carl Hiaasen: Actually, I was inspired by all dead rock stars, from Jimi Hendrix to Keith Moon to Duane Allman. In that business, dying young and senselessly is a grand tradition, unfortunately. In the novel, my fictitious rocker is named Jimmy Stoma. He survived the excesses of the Eighties, got straight and retired to Florida where lives in peaceful anonymity. Until he unexpectedly croaks, of course, and that's when Jack Tagger shows up to do the obituary honors.

 

Pageonelit.com: Which of your novels is your favorite?

Carl Hiaasen: That's like asking a mother which of her children she loves the most. It's an impossible question. I'm still fond of all the novels, but there are things I'd change about each of them if I had to do it over again. For sentimental reasons, Tourist Season is probably the closest thing to a favorite of mine, because it was the first and because it was downright subversive at the time. Not many writers can get away with feeding a blue-haired old retiree to a crocodile, and expect you to root for the crocodile.

 

Pageonelit.com: How did you come up with Chemo, the hit man with the Weed Whacker attached to the stump of his arm?

Carl Hiaasen: I always felt sorry for tall guys who never played basketball, because they spend their whole lives getting asked where they played basketball. I wanted Chemo to be one of those guys, because I wanted him to have both a striking physical presence, and an attitude. In Skin Tight, Chemo's regular job was as a bouncer in a punk club. After he lost his hand in an accident, I wanted to give him something useful, something that would make an impression with the kids in the mosh pit. A Weed Whacker seemed ideal.

 

Pageonelit.com: How did you come up with the character of Skink?

Carl Hiaasen: Skink, who first appears in Double Whammy, the bass-fishing novel, was conceived as sort of a wild hermit who avenges crimes against Nature. He needed an interesting background so I decided to make him a former governor of Florida, an honest guy who went mad trying to cope with the corruption all around him. One day, in the middle of his term of office, he suddenly bolts from the governor's mansion -- disappears into the woods, where he lives off roadkill and calls himself "Skink."

Originally, he was supposed to be sort of a walk-on character. I didn't imagine keeping him around for more than a couple of chapters, but then I found myself liking him tremendously. In a way, he became the moral compass of Double Whammy. Now, whenever his services are needed in another novel, I bring him out of the mangroves to raise hell. I love him because he hasn't mellowed one bit.

 

Pageonelit.com: Putnam recently published a second collection of your newspaper columns in a book called Paradise Screwed. Wasn't it weird to look back at columns you wrote so long ago?

Carl Hiaasen: The weird part is how little things have changed -- Florida is as screwy now as it was in the 70s and 80s. Look at the Elian Gonzalez story, or the presidential recount fiasco. I mean, Florida is the only reason that George W. Bush is in the White House - 16,000 people here managed to vote for the wrong candidate on election day.

My main concern about the anthology is that it exposes me for the sneaky poacher I am -- all those readers who thought I dreamed up the crazy ideas for my novels will now realize that I simply ripped them out of the headlines in The Herald. Nothing that happens in my books, no matter how twisted, transcends the reality of South Florida.

 

 

Pageonelit.com: Are you working on a new book? If so, what's it about?

Carl Hiaasen: I've just finished a novel for kids, believe it or not. It's called HOOT, and it will be published in September. All parents should beware.

 

 

Pageonelit.com: "In your book TEAM RODENT - How Disney Devours the World. (A work of nonfiction) -- It sounds as if there have been incidences on Disney property that make a Carl Hiaasen story look a little like an Asop fable. What were your reasons for writing this book and have you heard one 'Goofy' response from Mr. Eisner?"

Carl Hiaasen: "I wrote the book because Disney has a creepy corporate culture, and because somebody needed to speak up for a natural world in which animals aren't battery-operated, or portrayed by minimum-wage actors. Michael Eisner sent a snotty note to my editor suggesting he wasn't fond of the book, then only weeks later went on National Public Radio to assert he hadn't even read it. Something tells me he had."

 

 

Pageonelit.com: "In a bookstore in Gainesville Florida on the release of STORMY WEATHER -- you told me that SKIN TIGHT had the possibility of becoming your next novel turned into film. Does this project still have a green light? If so, any word on who the actor might be that will play Mick Stranahan? Who may play Chemo?"

 

Carl Hiaasen: "SKIN TIGHT is tentatively set to be filmed down here in South Florida in February, with Matt Dillon playing Mick Stranahan and Burt Reynolds playing the evil Dr. Rudy Graveline. I don't know who they've got playing Chemo, but I presume it's somebody tall and gruesomely complicated."

 

 

Pageonelit.com: "POWDER BURN, TRAP LINE, and A DEATH IN CHINA co-authored with Bill Montalbano were just republished by Vintage Crime books. Do these stories differ from what the hard-core Hiaasen reader may expect?"

Carl Hiaasen: "Those three novels -- POWDER BURN, TRAP LINE and A DEATH IN CHINA -- were first published in the early 1980's and re-released this year. They were written as conventional thrillers, not wild satires, though they sprung directly out of our experiences as journalists. Those were the first books I had the guts to put my name on, and I'm still proud of them -- the plotting was nifty and the characters were pretty sharp. And, not least of all, was the pleasure of working with an extraordinary talent as Bill Montalbano. He loved the craft of writing, and it showed in everything he did --especially BASILICA, the novel he finished shortly before he died. It will be published next month by Putnams."

 

Pageonelit.com: "Is there a new novel in the works and if so can you tell us what we may expect?"

Carl Hiaasen: "The novel I'm finishing is called SICK PUPPY, and it's due out in the fall of 1999 or early 2000, depending on how much fishing I plan to fit in between now and then. I can't say much about the book except that the title is apt -- and also that the character of Skink, the roadkill-milching ex-governor, makes his return."

 

Pageonelit.com: "In closing, Jimmy Buffett wrote a song called The Ballad of Skip Wiley based on your novel TOURIST SEASON. Did you have anything to do with the writing or singing on the song?"

Carl Hiaasen: "It was a complete surprise. Jimmy called and asked me to come to Key West, where he was recording the BAROMETER SOUP album. That was the first time I heard "The Ballad of Skip Wiley." Jimmy let me clap along on the final cut, but was wise enough not to ask me to sing. It was a complete blast, and very flattering. He's always been a fan of TOURIST SEASON and that was his way of saying thanks for the book."

 

 

Pageonelit.com:You're obviously a fan of rock music. Do you play any instruments yourself?

Carl Hiaasen: I have a Fender Strat that Dave Barry helped me pick out. It's blue, though Dave tells me that the red ones sound much better. I can now play several chords consecutively without taking a muscle relaxant.

 

Pageonelit.com: How do you balance writing the newspaper columns and the novels?

Carl Hiaasen: Easy. You write every waking hour and have no life. Actually, the jobs complement each other. In a place as wild as South Florida, true-life events are almost too big and too weird to be dealt with appropriately in a newspaper. The journalism feeds the imagination, which feeds the fiction. As for keeping a schedule, it's pretty simple: Two days a week I write for The Miami Herald, and the rest of the time I'm working on novels or magazine articles. Or fishing.

 

Pageonelit.com:You're obviously a fan of rock music. Do you play any instruments yourself?

Carl Hiaasen: I have a Fender Strat that Dave Barry helped me pick out. It's blue, though Dave tells me that the red ones sound much better. I can now play several chords consecutively without taking a muscle relaxant.

 

Pageonelit.com:How do you balance writing the newspaper columns and the novels?

Carl Hiaasen: Easy. You write every waking hour and have no life. Actually, the jobs complement each other. In a place as wild as South Florida, true-life events are almost too big and too weird to be dealt with appropriately in a newspaper. The journalism feeds the imagination, which feeds the fiction. As for keeping a schedule, it's pretty simple: Two days a week I write for The Miami Herald, and the rest of the time I'm working on novels or magazine articles. Or fishing.

 

Pageonelit.com:How did you get started as a novelist?

Carl Hiaasen: Most young writers need luck and some good breaks, and I had both. In college I helped a friend write a couple of novels that were both eventually published -- which is always a confidence builder. Later, working at The Herald, a reporter named Bill Montalbano and I wrote five chapters and an outline for a thriller that was set in the midst of Miami's "cocaine wars" of the late 70s. Another friend recommended an agent, who passed us off to her assistant, who somehow got us a book contract. Bill and I wrote three novels together, and learned a lot about how the world of publishing works. Twenty years later, I still have the same literary agent.

 

 

Pageonelit.com: Is it true you keep snakes?

Carl Hiaasen: Ever since I was a kid I've had snakes as pets. They're clean and quiet. You give them rodents and they give you pure, unconditional indifference.

 

Pageonelit.com: Do you enjoy doing interviews?

Carl Hiaasen: Only slightly less than I enjoy prostate exams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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