such an esteemed newspaperman, Carl Hiaasen kind of
buried the lede.
author of nearly 20 novels naturally wanted to talk
about his newest breezy read, "Razor Girl." He
was also ready to wax about his beloved Florida and the
greedheads who have despoiled the stateís beauty. And
in this election season, how could a Miami Herald
columnist not chat bemusedly about the absurdity of
politics and corruption?
look at what America is gobbling up and you always write
in fear that no matter how weird and depraved your
fiction is, itís going to look tame," he said.
Hiaasen was 40 minutes into a phone conversation when he
casually mentioned that he blames his Norwegian heritage
for the anxiety and self-doubt he feels as a writer.
it. Self-loathing Norwegians? Does he know we invented
self-loathing Norwegians in Minnesota? Whatís your
grandfather grew up in Devils Lake (N.D.)," Hiaasen
said. "He almost died in a blizzard as a kid, so he
got it in his mind that he was going to get out of North
Dakota. He came to Fort Lauderdale in 1922 to practice
gets better. Hiaasenís grandfather married a woman
from Benson, Minn. She died in 1930 and when the old man
passed at age 100, he was buried next to his wife (he
never remarried) in a little cemetery outside Benson.
kept a picture of the graveyard and we found it and
arranged to have him buried there," Hiaasen said.
that, Floridaís most distinctive current literary
voice ó a prophet crying over the Everglades and the
Keys ó has a stake in the frozen earth of Minnesota.
BOOK WILL FEEL FAMILIAR TO FANS
latest novel, "Razor Girl," is set in the
Florida Keys, a strip of islands built on fragile
geography and a rich mythology. The story brims with
sketchy low-lifes who skirt around the edges of
probability. The title comes from a woman who grooms her
pubic hair in a car, while smashing into other vehicles.
son, who was working at the Herald at the time, sent me
this clip about an accident involving a woman who was
grooming herself at high speed," Hiaasen said.
"And I thought: I have to find a way to get this
into a novel, because no oneís going to believe
wove that incident into another South Florida weirdness
ó the business of ramming cars for insurance business
ó and he was on his way.
is a whole cottage industry of people who stage
accidents," Hiaasen said. "They work for
crooked lawyers, crooked chiropractors, crooked doctors.
They take old cars, crash into people and the insurance
companies say, ĎSettle it.í?"
encounter between the Razor Girl and a mediocre
Hollywood agent sets off a series of events with
characters that include a "Duck Dynasty"-style
celebrity, an avaricious lawyer and a former cop turned
restaurant inspector. Hiaasen fans will recognize that
last entry as Andrew Yancey, who was a hero in 2013ís
had never brought back a character from one novel to the
next, but he felt he wasnít finished with Yancey.
Besides, the character allowed Hiaasen to plumb the rich
trove of restaurant inspections that are posted online
are separate categories for live and dead roaches, so
these inspectors have to sit there and count which ones
are moving and which ones are dead," Hiaasen said.
"So what would you do if you were a hot-shot cop
(like Yancey) and this is what youíre doing?"
IS GOBBLING UP FLORIDA
63, grew up in South Florida, fishing in the swampy
waterways as a kid and then snaring a job at the Miami
Herald as a reporter in his early 20s.
worked as an investigative reporter and then became one
of those rare newspaper journalists who become
columnists. They get to stick their mug on the page and
imagine that readers care what they think. He has used
that soapbox to decry the degradation of his beloved
state and to stick a shiv between the ribs of
politicians who allow countless yards of concrete to be
poured and regulations to be bent. His homeland, an
accident of tropical beauty, has become a bizarre kind
of metaphor for America.
a question of selling out," he said. "When I
was 5, 6 years old, you saw these places disappearing
and it affects you. And it should as an adult. Itís so
perhaps protests too much. He had for years a swanky
shack in Islamadora, a point on the Keys best known
recently as the setting for the hit Netflix drama
"Bloodline." The beachfront property had six
bedrooms, a guest house, a cabana, an oversized pool and
a private beach. He sold it earlier this year after
listing it for $3.4 million ("it didnít make
sense, we werenít down that often").
Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball history,
decamped to Islamadora each fall because he loved to
fish the warm Atlantic waters. He left when it became
impossible to make a left turn onto Hwy. 1.
I first moved there in 1994, Ted was there a little bit,
but itís gotten exponentially more crowded,"
Hiaasen said. "I love the Keys but you have 6
million people within a 2 1/2-hour drive."
IN MANY VENUES
started writing fiction in 1981 with Bill Montalbano,
another Herald reporter. They fashioned three
traditional thrillers and then Hiaasen went on his own
with "Tourist Season" in 1986. It spun a story
about eco-terrorism and the Orange Bowl, two symbols in
which South Floridaís despoliation and excess meet.
has also written novels for young audiences, rummaging
in much the same environmental issues and weird
characters, although he obviously doesnít include
someone such as a half-naked woman shaving herself on
there is the Herald column he writes weekly from his
Vero Beach home. This political year has made that
endeavor as much fun as spearing carp in a barrel. A
news junkie, he skims several newspapers a day (mostly
online) and watches the evening news with an eye for the
absurdity that increasingly has come to pass for normal
life, particularly in Florida.
criminal scam, election mayhem, it usually happens first
in Florida, in an extreme and unforgettable way,"
he said. "Itís great material if youíre a
novelist but if youíre a citizen and youíre thinking
of your children and grandchildren. Ö?"
writes in an instantly recognizable style. The pace is
swift, the humor irreverent, the ideas presented simply
through metaphors rather than dialectic argument.
Newspaper writing taught him to grab readers early and
get them on their way.
work, while financially and spiritually rewarding,
leaves him spent at the end of a long day in his home
office. If you imagine him staring into the gorgeous
Florida sun and coast, think again. He prefers a blank
wall in front of him and he wears ear mufflers to keep
mission is to make people laugh for the right reasons
ó thatís the trick of satire," he said.
"But I donít come out of my office with a grin on
my face. I come out looking like I just went to a
funeral. By the 25th time that Iím scanning something,
Iím looking at every comma, semicolon, how it rings in
my head. Itís exhausting if youíre doing it
he is a self-loathing Norwegian.
PLACE LIKE HOME
heís not writing, fishing, walking the beach or
scanning the news for ripe folly, Hiaasen is on the book
tour treadmill. In 18 hours, he swoops into town, finds
his hotel room, does interviews, signings, events and
flies out again. And for all its insanity, Florida still
beckons him when he looks down from his airplane window
and sees Americaís most famous peninsula.
feel like Iím home. Part of that is because Iíve
lived here my whole life, but part of it is that itís
such an incredibly beautiful place," he said.
brief visit to Minnesota on his current tour wonít
afford him a chance to fish, or to drive out to Benson
and pay his respects to the grandfather who rescued him
from the North Dakota windscape.
is the curse of the book tour," he said. "When
Iím there, Iím always on business.
we buried my grandfather, we went out from Minneapolis
to Benson and we really got a feel for the countryside.
It was a beautiful trip to a beautiful place and itís
one of the many places I wish I could stay longer."