Meet Your Heroes: Carl Hiaasen

When my editor told me Carl Hiaasen agreed to answer a few questions for The Thrill Begins, I kinda gushed. Yep. Full-on midlife melt-down. I would have caught the next flight to Florida to ask the questions in person, except that would have made me the kind of nutbar he pillories on the page.

I discovered Hiaasen via one and a half column inches in a Saturday round-up of new book releases sometime in the late nineties. The reviewer included words like dark, satirical, twisted, and mangrove—enough to make me bite, given my fascination with Floridian adventure. I picked up a copy of LUCKY YOU for my first taste. A couple of younger, hipper co-workers saw it on my desk and gushed enthusiasm before I’d even cracked the spine. I knew I was in for something special.

“Special” doesn’t come close to describing the feverishly funny reads Hiaasen has delivered since. It’s like I swallow his books whole. Whichever societal ill he decides to take on, he nails it, writing seriously warped characters believably, and producing more than a few belly laughs amid the mayhem.

He’s got a new one coming this fall: RAZOR FALL.  You can be sure he worked it, sweated it, made it the best it can be before unleashing it on his readers.

You write biting satire that skewers western civilization through the particular lens offered by southern Florida. Does Florida attract more than its fair share of wackos or would your viewpoint be equally trenchant in, say, Seattle?

Florida is famously a magnet for wackos, and growing up here undoubtedly twisted my view of humanity in general.

The issues you tackle in your Miami Herald column sometimes parallel story elements in your novels. Do you find the inspiration flows both ways?

Some of the weirdest stuff in my novels is poached straight from the headlines. There’s no way to separate the influence of the newspaper work from the books, because the source material is basically the same.  Novelists, like columnists, are creations of the world they inhabit.

In Toronto while touring BAD MONKEY, you surprised both Andrew Pyper and the audience when you spoke of the self-doubt a writer faces. How does a guy whose books automatically hit best seller lists still question his craft?

Some of the best writers I’ve ever known were insecure, or at least perpetually unsatisfied. By that I mean they’re focused always on writing the next best sentence. Good writers are their own toughest critics. They have to be.

It seems that in your more recent novels like BAD MONKEY and STAR ISLAND, you are skewering types of people more than situations. Do you think greed, narcissism, or self-absorption are any worse today than when you started writing?

I think greed and narcissism are more openly on display today because of television and social media. Shame is basically non-existent in modern American society, which means it’s a field day for satirists. We live in a world where everyone wants their own reality show, and too many morons get one. That’s sort of the theme in RAZOR GIRL, the new novel.

Given you draw comparisons to Mark Twain, do you ever approach your novels with a sense of responsibility to chronicle the American experience? How do you balance that with your obvious commitment to entertain?

A novelist’s one and only responsibility is to entertain. Nobody understood that better than Mark Twain. Any writer who thinks he or she can change the world has been misinformed.

In my case, I’m committed to making people laugh — and laugh for the right reasons. My readers tend to be in on the joke, which is cosmic. Just look what’s happening in politics right now.

Since your first three novels co-written with Bill Montalbano, you’ve stuck to dark humor. Do you ever consider writing fiction that isn’t comedic or does your non-fiction work fill that need?

Satire tends to be darker humor. I write that way because it’s how I happen to see the world. The narrative voices in my novels are echoes of my own. As much as I’d like to try something new, I basically have no choice but to write the way I do.

What’s the hardest part of sustaining humor in crime fiction?

All fiction is about crime, or at least sin.  The hardest part of doing novels like mine is the pace, balancing the satirical riffs with the action. Humor is tricky because it’s so easy to fail.  I agonize over every line, every bit of dialogue, trying to get the tone of a scene just right. 

For authors at the beginning of their career, what advice would you share about preparing for the marathon of building an oeuvre?

My advice to any young author is: Don’t think about an oeuvre. Think about what you’re working on now, and how to make it better. And when you’re done, think about the next one.

This fall, RAZOR GIRL hits the stands. Do you still feel the thrill of the launch?

It’s always a rush when a new book comes out. It’s also nerve-wracking, because you desperately want people to like it. That never changes, no many how many books you’ve written.

There’s always a short time after I finish a manuscript when I hate every word of it, because I’ve read the damn thing hundreds of times. But by the time the first box of books arrives – many months later — I’m much more objective when I look at the first page. It’s fresh again, and that’s when all the good feelings come back.

ROB BRUNET writes character-driven crime fiction laced with dark humor. His debut novel STINKING RICH was listed on Crimespree Magazine’s Book Picks for 2014 and named one of the year’s top debuts by Mystery People. Brunet’s short crime fiction appears in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Crimespree, Noir Nation, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, and numerous anthologies. He loves the bush, beaches, and bonfires, and teaches creative writing at George Brown College in Toronto, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and son.

To learn more about Rob Brunet’s novel, click on the cover below:

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Previously: Shannon Kirk interviewed F. Paul Wilson.

Next: Wendy Tyson interviews Jonathan Kellerman.

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