— For three decades, the late journalist Rob Hiaasen
devoted his nights and weekends to crafting a
"float plan" — the nautical term for a
written itinerary for a journey taken by water. When a
boat goes missing, a float plan guides the people left
behind on the steps they should take to recover the
captain and crew.
59, who was gunned down June 28 along with four
co-workers in the Capital Gazette newsroom, thought he
was writing a novel, a fictional love letter to the city
of Annapolis and to the people he cherished — in
particular, to Maria, his wife of 33 years. He didn’t
realize he was creating a kind of float plan in reverse,
a manual that could rescue not him but his family.
resulting novel (titled not coincidentally "Float
Plan") is being released Saturday by Loyola
University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press. Proceeds
will be donated to Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy
group that aims to build safer communities by ending gun
million and one decisions involved in shepherding
"Float Plan" through production also provided
Hiaasen’s wife and children with a clearly defined
project to tackle in the rudderless weeks following his
death. The editor and columnist had dreamed all his life
of becoming a published novelist. Now, his family could
help him accomplish his goal.
book," Maria Hiaasen said, "is what’s been
keeping me afloat." She laughed a little, then
said, "We’re back to that title, ‘Float Plan.’
Rob strikes again."
novel tells the story of a sweet-natured, feckless high
school algebra teacher named Will Larkin. In one
disastrous year, Will loses his marriage, job, boat and
basset hound while watching his father gradually succumb
to Alzheimer’s disease. But just when Will is most
adrift, he meets the human equivalent of a buoy — the
vet tech Parker Cool.
Plan" is a rueful smile of a book that acknowledges
that human frailty is the source of comedy by exploring,
for instance, what might motivate an otherwise rational
man to attack his neighbor’s gazebo with a chainsaw.
book is a tremendous burst of sunshine for Rob’s whole
family," the author’s older brother Carl Hiaasen
said. "His voice, his wit, his way of looking at
the world, everything that made Rob such a warm and
luminous presence — it’s all there."
Hiaasen said her husband had been writing "Float
Plan" on and off for a decade. He submitted various
drafts to several publishers over the years without
works as a teacher, and in the novel’s foreword, she
describes the Saturday morning routine in the family’s
Timonium, Md., home:
I awoke to coffee and a short stack of high school
English papers to grade in the kitchen, I’d hear Rob
on his laptop in the living room, tapping out his
narrative," she writes. "He seized and used
creative writing opportunities when and where he found
filled moleskin notebooks with notations about his
characters which he left on his bedroom nightstand, in
his briefcase and in his car. Occasionally he’d become
frustrated with his inability to publish "Float
Plan" and put the novel down for months at a time,
only to eventually resume tinkering.
House, Loyola’s student-run publishing company,
originally took a pass on "Float Plan" because
the press specializes in nonfiction. But several of
Hiaasen’s newspaper columns were published after the
shooting, and they prompted Apprentice House director
Kevin Atticks to take another look at the novel. He said
he concluded that "Float Plan" "is a
long-form example of the writing that endeared so many
readers to Rob’s columns."
collection of those columns also is being planned for
release later this year.
loved being a journalist, but fiction was his favorite
literary form. As far back as 1989, he wrote in a
journal he was keeping for his then-infant son, Ben:
preoccupation of mine to be a novelist haunts me. It
preys on my insecurities as a writer."
"insecurities," Rob Hiaasen partly meant that
he feared he lacked the discipline to complete a novel
— a project requiring a huge investment of time and
effort, accompanied by the high likelihood of rejection.
But his self-doubts also were fueled by comparisons
between his career and his elder brother’s
be honest," Maria Hiaasen said. "It’s tough
to be the younger brother of a famous writer."
Hiaasen, a longtime columnist for the Miami Herald,
would be a difficult act for any aspiring novelist to
two-dozen adult novels (mostly humorous crime fiction)
debut regularly on the New York Times bestseller list
and have been translated into 34 languages. One novel,
"Strip Tease" was made into a 1996 movie
starring Demi Moore. Carl Hiaasen’s first book for
children received was a Newbery Honor, and another was
long listed for the National Book Award in young people’s
literature. Carl Hiaasen co-wrote the lyrics of three
songs with famed L.A. rocker Warren Zevon, and he
appears frequently on such programs as The Today Show
and CBS Sunday Morning.
wonder Rob Hiaasen once interviewed other lesser-known
brothers of famous siblings (including Cal Ripken Jr.’s
brother, Billy) for an article published in 1996 in The
Baltimore Sun, where he spent 15 years as a features
can’t hit or write your way out of a shadow," he
wrote. "It’s better to be yourself …"
brothers were keenly aware of the shade cast by Carl
Hiaasen’s success. In different ways, it penalized
was a wonderful feature writer and a hell of a reporter,
and the comparisons between us were unfair," Carl
Hiaasen said. "I was older and I got there first,
that’s all. Our styles are so different. There’s
nothing I could have taught Rob about writing and much I
could have learned from him."
makes Rob’s writing special, Carl Hiaasen said, was
his younger brother’s willingness to expose his flaws.
writing is introspective and personal and vulnerable in
a way that my writing is not," he said. "I
admire that enormously. He was fearless about opening
often happens when people hit midlife, Rob Hiaasen
eventually became comfortable with who he was — all 6
feet, 5 inches of him. Maria Hiaasen writes that her
husband frequently quoted the psychologist Erich Fromm’s
famous saying that "the purpose of life is to give
birth to yourself." Rob Hiaasen spent Saturday
mornings at his dining room table because writing
brought him joy, and that was reason enough to do it —
even if his novel never found a publisher.
the way, Hiaasen found mentors who appreciated what he
had to offer. One was the English teacher from his
Florida high school, whom he memorialized in a 2012
Capital Gazette column.
called him Bob, which was never his name," Hiaasen
wrote in the third person. "She could have called
him Hank or Gretchen or Dead Fish Face. It wouldn’t
have mattered. What mattered — matters — is Mrs.
Chisholm made Bob believe he could be a writer. Long
before editors and agents and even friends read him,
Mrs. Chisholm was Bob’s readership — an empire of
moved to Maryland in 1993 and fell under the spell of
the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Anne Tyler. Both
like to write stories about offbeat, unassuming people
— workers harvesting berries from trees or a strolling
violinist who was a veteran of D-Day.
wanted to get to know Tyler. He wrote her a note
requesting that they meet for tea. She said no. Hiaasen
kept writing, over a period of years. She declined, over
a period of years. But Tyler gradually became struck by
her correspondent’s warmth, charm and grace. She
changed her mind, and the two became friends.
qualities I admired in his fiction were the same ones I
admired in his newspaper writing," Tyler wrote in
an email, "close attention to the details of
ordinary life, a subtle sense of humor, and above all, a
genuine fondness for each and every one of the people he
continued: "I hope you’ll include in your story a
note about how we can all get hold of a copy of ‘Float
Plan.’ I’m eager to read it."
novel can be pre-ordered at aerbook.com and at
amazon.com for $18.99.)
who haven’t met Hiaasen can enjoy Will Larkin’s
attempts to work out an equation for his life. But for
those who knew Hiaasen, the novel is much richer.
Hiaasen was grateful for every drop of affection he ever
received, and "Float Plan" is his tribute to
his family and friends.
book’s two main characters bear more than a passing
resemblance to Rob and Maria Hiaasen. The author
assigned the names of his daughters, Sam and Hannah, to
two minor characters, while Maria Hiaasen said that the
couple seriously considered "Will" as a name
for their only son before deciding that they preferred
Chisholm makes an appearance, and Maria Hiaasen said
that Will’s friend Mack is modeled on the Paul Stiff,
the best man at the Hiaasens’ wedding. "Float
Plan’s" final page even contains the subtlest of
nods to Tyler.
Maria Hiaasen wants to remember how much her husband
loved her, all she’ll have to do is crack open his
had to reread the manuscript to write the
introduction," she said, "and it was like Rob
was right there in the room. That makes ‘Float Plan’
a priceless work of art for me."