Interview with Carl Hiaasen
AFG: We all know about the several challenges of writing, but what are some of the challenges you face with a YA book?
CH: Kids are a sharp audience, and if you’re writing humor it had better be dead-on funny. They love the irreverence of satire, skewering phonies, poking fun at pompous adults like the reality-show star in CHOMP.AFG: You worked as an investigative journalist for years. And you still write a column, is journalism something you feel that you can never leave?
CH: The future of newspapers doesn’t look so bright, but there will always be a need for good tough journalism. It’s been such a core part of my life for so long that I can’t imagine not doing it. Having a column at a big paper like the Miami Herald is a privilege – and a responsibility — and I don’t take it lightly. Being connected to the news also gives me fantastic material for the novels because Florida is such a wonderful fountain of weirdness.
AFG: It’s very obvious in your works that you feel that Florida’s natural beauty is being spoiled by developers, are you optimistic more pessimistic about the future?
CH: I’m pessimistic about the future of the political process, which thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court will be further debased by big money from special interests. I’m optimistic about the future generation of citizen-readers, from whom I get hundreds of leaders. They’re smart, they’re not easily fooled and they really, truly care about preserving the last wild places in this country.
AFG: Have you visited Norway, they ought to claim you though are facing competition from Jo Nesbo!
CH: I visited Norway once on a book tour and found a village full of Hiaasens. It was a wonderful and memorable trip, although I’d like to back when it wasn’t the dead of winter.
AFG: Tell us about how you first met John D. MacDonald?
CH: I never met John D. MacDonald but we exchanged notes shortly before he passed away.
He generously gave a nice blurb for my first novel, TOURIST SEASON, which blew me away.
He was one of the great American storytellers of the crime-fiction genre, and a true original voice for Florida.
AFG: Who are the writers that have inspired you?
CH: Over the years I’ve been influenced by lots of difference writers – from Joseph Heller and J.D. Salinger to Woody Allen and even Johnny Carson, who had a tremendous gift for constructing a comic line. I’ve been reading Tom McGuane ever since 92 IN THE SHADE came out, and I would still give anything to have a fraction of his talent for humor.
AFG: I’m going to have to take you to task for not contributing to my serial novel No Rest for the Dead! I know you edited a serial novel Naked Came the Manatee what was that like?
CH: I was assigned the last chapter of NAKED CAME THE MANATEE, and it was a challenge to wrap everything up. Working with the likes of Dave Barry and Elmore Leonard was great fun, though, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
AFG: Having good-naturedly chided you about not participating in the book, I don’t think I’ll ever edit another serial novel again! You’ve been compared to Mencken and Mark Twain, since there is some sharp wit and satire in your work and yet you have a knack for involving mystery—how can you walk that delicate tight rope of creating a satirical crime novel?
CH: Every writer’s obligation is to create enough suspense to keep the readers turning the pages, and it’s doubly hard if you’re trying to make them laugh along the way. Some days I do better than others. In satire there’s a fine edge between something that works and something that falls flat, and the writer has to be pretty tough on himself or herself.
AFG: What did you think of Jeb Bush?
CH: Jeb’s a smart guy and I think he’ll be remembered as a decent governor, even though I disagreed with many of his policies. He worked hard, and he pushed for Everglades restoration funding, which was critical.
AFG: Do you write from a perspective of being angry at all the corruption or at a certain point does it become, I better laugh at it and poke fun at it rather than let it get me angry?
CH: All good satire comes from a well of anger and frustration. It’s a healthy outlet for writers like me and, when it works, it pays off for readers, too.
AFG: So what do you do to keep sane?
CH: I write and write and write and write. And then write some more.
When I’m not writing, my incredibly patient wife and kids keep me sane.
AFG: When you write do you outline?
CH: No outlines for me, not since college. I would be like wearing handcuffs when I write.
AFG: What did you think of the film versions of Hoot and Strip Tease?
CH: I liked the way HOOT turned out, though it would have been nice to have a bigger budget and half as many studio executives to deal with. STRIP TEASE had some very funny moments, and Andy Bergman’s original screenplay was really good. But in the making of any big Hollywood film, story lines and characters get changed. Novelists are much better off worrying about the next book they’re writing instead of how a movie adaptation turns out.
AFG: All authors have a book which they’d describe as the one that changed everything for them and put them onto the scene, which one would that be for you?
CH: STRIP TEASE is the first novel that really took hold on the best-seller list, so that was a boost.
The YA books, starting with HOOT, have been an unexpected joy for me because they’ve opened up a market that I never dreamed would be interested in my work.
AFG: So after an absence since the ‘70s your still playing golf?
CH: Barely. I still enjoy the game but I hit one of those grim plateaus of mediocrity.
AFG: Tell us about Team Rodent which is an anti Disney book? It seems your angering just about everyone in Florida!
CH: To the contrary – lots of parents are secret fans of that book. They’d rather take their kids to the orthodontist than spend one more day in the fuzzy greedy clutches of Mickey Mouse.
AFG: I have a fascination with stories and novels featuring lotteries, what was the inspiration behind Lucky You?
CH: Here in Florida we’d had a couple cases of disputed (or disappearing) lottery tickets, and it seemed like a cool idea for a novel – what if somebody was robbed of a winning ticket and the only recourse was to steal it back?
AFG: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
CH: The best thing about being a writer is the independence. The worst thing is the solitude, and the toll on one’s family life. It’s a tricky balance, but there’s no way to get around the fact that a writer needs to work alone, locked away.
AFG: You one said you thought the human race is de-evolving? What evidence do you have for that, besides all the madness going on in the world?
CH: Every time I pick up a newspaper I find ample evidence that the human race is heading the wrong direction. One word says it all: Kardashians. Case closed.
AFG: I lived in Athens for ten years as a kid, not Athens Georgia but Athens Greece and I have to say, I had a rather exasperated view of tourists. What do you think in winter when you see thousands of tourists occupying your state?
CH: As you know, there are good tourists and bad tourists. Good tourists care deeply for Florida and treat it as gently as they would their own backyards. Bad tourists toss their trash out the car windows and do other clueless things that make you want to strangle them. Or put them in a novel.
AFG: Will you ever retire?
CH: Writers don’t retire. They just keel face-first into the keyboard. If you’re lucky it happens just after you type “The End.”