How I Write: Carl Hiaasen
Published: May 9, 2003
|Bestselling novelist Carl Hiaasen acknowledges having an imagination twisted enough to deserve clinical research after he's gone, but also credits his native Florida--"a place just crawling with characters"--for his ideas. In nine comic mystery novels, Hiaasen has gained a devoted following for people and situations whose wackiness is matched only by his satirical bite, aimed most often at various despoilers of Florida. Among his memorable creations are a Republicans-only hooker and Chemo, a hit man with a Weed Whacker attached to the stump of his arm. Hiaasen's latest book, a children's novel titled Hoot, won a 2003 Newbery Honor. An award-winning reporter at The Miami Herald, Hiaasen, 50, continues to write a weekly column for the newspaper. He lives in Islamorada, Fla.|
Credits: Works include novels Sick Puppy (1999) and Strip Tease (1993); three earlier novels as coauthor; and two collections of columns.
Why: I know I wanted to do this from a very young age and I was lucky in that sense, that I knew early on that I enjoyed writing and getting a reaction. I think it's some sort of extension of being a class clown--that if you could write something and make somebody laugh, it was a good gig to have. I think there was an element of psychotherapy--it was a legal outlet for some of the ideas I was wanting to express as a kid.
When: I try to write in the mornings, starting by about 8:30 or 9. I may knock off at 2 if the weather's nice or I may write till 4 or 5 o'clock, depending on how it's going. I don't set a number of pages or words; if it's not going well, I see no point in writing a thousand mediocre words. If I'm not traveling, I write seven days a week.
Starting a novel: Both [the entertainment and political satire elements] are necessary. I've got to be interested in these characters and find them entertaining, and they have to be bent in a way that I can live with them for the next 18 months and not get bored at the same time. To even begin writing, I have to be ticked off about something; I have to have some sort of burr under my saddle before I can get rockin' and rollin' on these things. I have to be sustained by more than just an entertaining cast.
Technically, the way I start is usually with, one by one, a cast of characters I'm sort of fiddling with in the back of my head and then on paper--characters I'd like to get on stage and see what happens.
Outlining: When I got out of college, I promised myself I'd never outline anything again in my life. I consider an outline a handcuff. I want to be surprised by my characters; I want to be able to change direction; I want to be able to eliminate characters if they're boring me. Having said this, I understand the value of an outline for a writer whose mind works that way. For some types of novels, it's probably essential.
I can be two-thirds of the way into the book and not know how it's going to end up. I can tell you when I start what the tone is going to be at the end, but in terms of the choreography of the ending or who exactly is left standing and who is in shreds at the end, that I'm not sure of.
Influences: Joseph Heller; Kurt Vonnegut; John Irving--some of his early books are amazing; John D. MacDonald--he was a revelation for me.
Keeping up his column: I continue writing the column because it's not just a privilege but an opportunity to make a difference in a place where I was born and raised. Florida is very much a character in my books, and it often plays a similar role in my columns.
On writing for children: In my case, it was simply being able to transport myself back into my own childhood and how I looked at the world when I was 10 or 12. Once I was able to do that, it went pretty smoothly. One pitfall I could have easily fallen into is writing down to kids, but I had a terrific editor watching over me. I found myself aiming higher than I do for my adult audience. In terms of content and message and characters, all of it has to be very finely tuned for kids; I found myself working just as hard, if not harder, on the structure and characters and everything.
--Posted May 9, 2003