The Florida author talks about his first book for young adults, his favorite characters and taking his work to cable TV.
It’s always a good day when Carl Hiaasen releases a new novel, but this time he dips his toe into the YA genre for the first time. Out last month and one of our fall reads, Skink — No Surrender brings back Hiaasen’s popular character Skink, who was first introduced to readers 25 years ago in Double Whammy. A missing girl, a hungry gator and the scraggly one-eyed former governor of Florida set the premise for the story, as teenaged Richard attempts to save his cousin from a guy she just met online. He meets Skink on the beach one night and gets swept along on the wildest ride of his life as the pair road trip through Florida, dodging bullets and battling storms, wild pigs and hungry gators along the way.
Editor Erin Z. Bass interviewed Hiaasen by email about his new book, penchant for bringing back characters and what he thinks about the state of Florida today. Skink — No Surrender is available now Knopf Books for Young Readers, but we recommend it for adults with a sense of humor too.
EZB: You’ve written books for young readers, adults and now young adults. What made you want to try a new genre, and how is writing for young adults different?
CH: I didn’t set out to write a YA novel. I wanted to do a novel featuring Skink for young readers, and the story just evolved into one that was more suited to teens.
EZB: Skink—No Surrender brings back one of your most beloved characters. Why do you think people relate to Skink, and why don’t you want to kill him off?
CH: I think both grownups and kids can relate to an outlaw hero. Skink lives on the edge and certainly pushes the boundaries, but his heart is always in the right place. Also, he’s funny in an outrageous way, which is endearing to readers. When you live on roadkill, you’d better have some serious charm in other departments.
Built like a grizzly, he was coughing and swearing and spitting through a long caked beard. On his chiseled block of a head he wore (I swear) a flowered plastic shower cap. Even weirder, his left eye and right eye were pointed in totally different directions.” – Richard, Chapter One
EZB: Skink hasn’t been your only memorable character over the years. There was Chemo with a weed trimmer for a hand, sketchy marine biologist Chaz and pop star Cherry Pye. How do you decide how far to take a character, especially when they’re a villain, and do you have a favorite?
CH: I’ve been especially fond of Chemo since he first appeared in Skin Tight. How can you not love an aspiring hit man with a weed trimmer attached to the severed end of his arm? That’s why I didn’t kill him off. In Star Island, I felt he’d be a perfect “bodyguard” for a delaminating pop diva, but just for insurance I outfitted him with an electric cattle prod.
EZB: Your young-reader and now young-adult books seem to have a direct message about protecting the environment. Do you find that kids and teens are more receptive to that message?
CH: Honestly, I don’t believe in putting messages in novels. I believe in creating characters with strong moral compasses, characters who aren’t afraid to fight for saving a bunch of little owls, or whatever. The message lives in the characters. I’ve always been a strong advocate for the environment, so some of my motley crew of misfits will naturally reflect that particular outlook. And they take action, too.
Back when I didn’t believe the ivorybill still existed, Skink had warned me that if word of a sighting ever leaked out, the river basin would be overrun by tour boats, swamp buggies and roadside souvenir shops, all sorts of greedheads trying to make a buck off the bird. He’d said it might be the last of its kind on the entire planet, or maybe the first of a hardy new generation, but either way it deserved peace and solitude. He might as well have been talking about himself.” – Richard, Chapter Twenty-Four
EZB: What’s the status of Basket Case coming to cable TV?
CH: The last I heard, a script for the pilot episode of “Basket Case” has been written. We’ll see if they want to move forward. Rob Reiner is a funny guy and a good director, so I’m hoping for the best.
EZB: You’ve written about Florida for almost 30 years. How has your perception of the state changed since you started writing your column in 1985, and how would you describe the state of Florida today?
CH: Well, I care about Florida as much today as I did when I was a kid growing up here. I also think it’s fair to say that the politics down here are just as corrupt as they were back then. There’s just as much greed, bribery and sleazoid backroom dealing. This isn’t unique to Florida, but we have a more egregious brand of it. On the positive side, voters today seem far more aware (and worried about) environmental issues. The Everglades, for example, are an apple-pie issue whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Whether all these politicians are sincere in their concern is another question, but who cares, as long as they do the right thing in the end?