Carl Hiaasen

Everybody's airport-reading favorite flies high again.

Illustration: Rob Kelly

Carl Hiaasen is a Floridian. That's perhaps the best way to describe the novelist and columnist for The Miami Herald. A lifelong resident of the Sunshine State, his novels (among them Double Whammy and Striptease) have always addressed the state's ecological and social ills with scathing satire, ironic comeuppance and an ever-evolving sensibility. Recently, Hiaasen, 53, has been writing books for children (Flush, Hoot), but his latest work, Nature Girl, returns to more grown-up themes.

Carl Hiaasen is a Floridian. That's perhaps the best way to describe the novelist and columnist for The Miami Herald. A lifelong resident of the Sunshine State, his novels (among them Double Whammy and Striptease) have always addressed the state's ecological and social ills with scathing satire, ironic comeuppance and an ever-evolving sensibility. Recently, Hiaasen, 53, has been writing books for children (Flush, Hoot), but his latest work, Nature Girl, returns to more grown-up themes. This time, Honey Santana, a bipolar earth-friendly do-gooder, is dead set on civilizing a rude Texan real-estate telemarketer named Boyd Shreve, who calls and disturbs her dinner. In hilarious Hiaasen fashion, Honey turns the tables on the detestable Boyd and lures him to Florida for a phoney ecotour. TONY called the prolific author at his home in Vero Beach to discuss the motivation behind his fictional mayhem.

Did anything specific inspire the plot of Nature Girl?

No, not really. Over the years I've compiled clippings about these telemarketers. It just seemed to me a fairly pathetic way to make a living, and I'd always wondered what sort of person ends up in that kind of dismal, soul-grinding job of trying to sucker people day in and day out. From there I sort of ran with the character of Boyd. But the plot is really just some typical revenge fantasy that I extrapolated into a book somehow.

Will Boyd make a comeback in some future novel?

If he does it'll be in a bad way, a comeback in order to be vanquished. I don't know. I mean, there are so many bad guys to pick from. You read the newspaper every day down here and you see a new contender for asshole of the month. And if you're a novelist looking for a villain or some scalawags, there's just an endless supply to pick from.

He seems to represent everything that's wrong with people who come to Florida.

Let me clarify: Some tourists don't seem to visit for the right reasons. It's like going to the Grand Canyon to throw a beer can off the edge to see if you can hear it land. You're always going to have that churlish element, and that's what Boyd sort of represents to me. These guys have to come to Florida. They can't help themselves.

I heard you speculate on that at one of your lectures in Orlando. It was right after O.J. moved to Miami.

It was totally predictable. I think Texas is running second, but generally speaking, if there's any sleaze migrating toward the equator, it ends up somewhere in Florida.

Any words on Mark Foley?

[Laughs] My only words are, why couldn't he have been from Iowa? Not only is he from South Florida, but he's from the same place where they screwed up the butterfly ballot and you had ten or twelve thousand people accidentally voting for Pat Buchanan. It's all part of the grand comedy of this place, but what he was doing wasn't funny.

Many New Yorkers read your Miami Herald column online—do you read any New York columnists?

Yeah, I'm a big fan of Maureen Dowd and Bob Herbert. I've known Michael Daly for many years. Denis Hamill, Jimmy Breslin—one thing that can be said of all of them is that they're never dull. But I love reading the New York papers because everyone in South Florida has a New York connection. When I'm in New York doing book signings, almost anybody in the audience can get up with a Florida story that can top mine. Either their grandparents or their uncle lives down there, or they go on vacation. It's one of the great cross-migrations.

You've been pretty scathing about the Disney corporation. What would you do if they wanted to adapt one of your novels?

I'd laugh. It would depend on which division of Disney we're talking about, but I'd certainly talk to them. I'd be the most surprised person on the planet. Let me put it like that.

Do you see yourself doing for Florida what Woody Allen does for New York?

I've spent most of my life trying to scare people away from Florida.

But the love comes across.

Oh, yeah, there's absolutely no doubt that my heart is here, and my roots. I couldn't leave if I wanted to.

Nature Girl (Knopf, $25.95) is out now.