Our Man in Miami: Talking Trash with Carl Hiaasen

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Hard to believe it took me this long to get with Carl Hiaasen. Granted, the cat’s busy—I mean, most of us don’t write a dozen bestsellers and a weekly column. Still, Hiaasen’s one of Miami’s most astute wordslingers, and as a Miamian who makes his living slinging words and chatting up those who do the same, it’s nuts that we’d not yet met. But I guess great good things come to those who wait, however impatiently. On Monday night, amid the mannered wilds of Fairchild Tropical Garden, I at long last got to get with the wily maestro. As suspected, Hiaasen is one charming fella. Keen, too, which is always a pleasure in a world dumbed down to its lowest common denominator. Better yet, Hiaasen gets kicks from the same kinda lowlifes that I do. In fact, he’s made a career out of giving them a voice. Okay, so I might happen to be one such lowlife. But that shows we’ve got something in common other than a hometown. And I bet the man can rest much more peacefully knowing that’s so.

I jest. Unless a chat comes to fisticuffs, I figure everything went swimmingly. And with Hiaasen, the water was smooth enough for sailing. Sure, the subject was Star Island, his latest long look at the insanity that is Miami. And yeah, the paparazzo anti-hero of the story is a “step down” from the telemarketer in his previous Nature Girl. Nevertheless, we talked trash as if he wasn’t being simultaneously shot for another glossy and about to speak in front of a good few hundred souls. Hiaasen and I also talked about being noble, a trait that in this town is as rare as snow. But I’ll save all that for another time.

Okay, Ben Kaplan at The National Post quotes you as saying novelists are attracted to “low-lifes and scumbags,” which is great because my yet unplublished debut happens to called Scumbag. What is it about my sort that you so dig? (Laughs) I wouldn’t put you in the some class with the paparazzo.

Oh, those were the scumbags you were talking about? It’s a scumbag du jour. Whatever book I’m writing I’ve gotta have somebody like that. I mean, all novelists do. You don’t write a book about all good people. How boring would that be? Life isn’t really like that either.

The Post also reported that you’re “in talks with HBO about developing a series with Mike Lupica about a witness-protected golf pro.” Care to share the details? That’s not happening any more, unfortunately. We both had to go write books.

You’re famous – and infamous – for your ever running social commentary. For instance this bit in Star Island: “Like countless fools before him, Bang Abbot believed carrying a firearm would make certain persons take him more seriously.” What is it about fools and firearms? It’s true, isn’t it? You know I hate to say it, but I know a few fellas like that, and the higher the caliber the more masculine they seem to feel. Really, I know people who have kinda shopped upward. I mean, a .22 will kill you just fine.

I reread Nature Girl in anticipation of our chat. And I wanted to ask who’s the Miami writer name Wiley “who wanted to save Florida as desperately as any Seminole”? Wiley was a crazed newspaper columnist from my first book, Tourist Season, who was involved with a group that was bumping off tourists.

Any similarities to a certain newspaper columnist named Hiaasen? (Laughs) You know actually I wrote him before I became columnist.

image Susie Horgan

Nature Girl is set in South Florida’s 10,000 islands. Did you dig Peter Matthiessen’s Watson Trilogy? I loved it, and I am a huge admirer of his. He’s a gentleman and just an amazing guy. You know, I saw him in the author’s lounge last year at Book Fair and I still kick myself for not going up to him and introducing myself. But he was speaking with someone and I didn’t wanna bother him. You should have. He’s the nicest guy.

Did you reread the Trilogy before delving into the 10,000 islands? Actually, I didn’t, because I spend a lot of time out there. And I went to Dismal Key and a lot of the other locations.

So there is a Dismal Key? There absolutely is. I love the name. I called a fishing guide over there, a good buddy of mine, and I asked him if he knew of any islands that had kind of dark names and he said there’s one I’ve never been on but I’ll take you there. That turned out to be Dismal Key.

Over the weekend I reread Lucky You, too. Is Grange a stand-in for Cassadega? You know you’re one of the only people who have caught that.

Really? That’s odd. Yep. One of a very few. Maybe the only one.

Guess folks aren’t quite up in small town Florida craziness. Guess not.

Top photo by Cristina Nosti