What adventure changed your life?
Just the experience of growing up on the edge of the Everglades shaped everything else – all the writing and the journalism. That whole experience of coming home from school and riding my bike out to the boonies. It’s all concrete now, but at the time it seemed like exotic wilderness, like the Serengeti. But even as a five-year-old kid in the late fifties, you could see the boom was happening, you could see these places disappear before your eyes. So it pissed me off at a very early age. And that anger never left me.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My dad and my grandfather were attorneys, so I sort of felt the pressure to grow up and join the law firm. But they said to me, “Do something you love and do it the best you can, no matter what.” My grandfather absolutely loved the law. He practiced till he was 90 years old. But my father did not, and it showed on his face every day when he came home. He was just so encouraging every time I wrote a short story or a poem and showed it to him.
At what age did you know you wanted to write?
It sounds silly, but I knew when I was five or six. I asked my dad for a typewriter, and he didn’t give me a funny look and he didn’t send me to a therapist. I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world to be able to write a story. My mom says I started reading the newspaper at about four. I’d read the sports section for my dad in the morning. I got to see the bylines. These guys got to go to the game for free, write the story, and get their name on the story. Are you kidding me? Is there a better gig than that?
Can you explain Florida to the rest of the country?
It’s so easy – it’s a place that was founded on greed. Florida was a real estate deal pretty much from day one. It’s just how many people can we cram in here, how much can we make them pay for a little sliver of land? After the 2000 election, everyone shook their heads, but I think people recognize Florida for the freak show that it is.
How does the state make its way into your fiction?
I’m certainly inspired by the world I live in and the real world I write about every day. But my big problem has been being ahead of the curve of weirdness with the novels. It’s hard to write something that won’t come true in Florida. Time and again, I’ve thought I’d come up with the most revolting and twisted scenario only to have it trumped by something in the ‘[Miami] Herald’ days later.
‘Dance of the Reptiles’ is a collection of ‘Miami Herald’ columns. What makes a great column?
You want people to read the column because it resonates with what they’re thinking – finally someone said what they’ve been thinking while sitting over their Cheerios. You’ve got to be an equal-opportunity son of a bitch and go after everybody. And if they screw it up, you call them on it!
What have you learned about work?
Maybe this is true for a lot of writers: The concept of not working is alien. I always laugh when I get the stuff in the mail about retirement. What the hell is retirement? If you’re a writer, you don’t retire. You keel over and die on the keyboard. Elmore Leonard was a friend of mine. He was 87 when he passed – and he was a couple chapters into a new book, which he would read to you when you called. What else was he supposed to do? And that’s how I want to go.
What should every man know about women?
Oh, God! The female characters in my novels always seem smarter and a couple steps ahead of the men. And that’s been my experience my whole life.