Hiaasen’s ‘Skink’ is back in a young adult novel

SHARE Hiaasen’s ‘Skink’ is back in a young adult novel

Author Carl Hiaasen will be at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville Friday, talking about his new young adult novel, “Skink — No Surrender.”

Author Carl Hiaasenagain has turned to his quirky Skink character — the one-eyed, roadkill-loving ex-Florida governor who has appeared in six previous Hiaasen novels — but now has him as a central figure in a young adult book, “Skink — No Surrender.” Hiaasen, also a longtime Miami Herald columnist, will be at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville at 7 p.m. Friday, as part of his nine-city national book tour.

Q: You obviously move from books geared toward adults to kids’ books to those appealing to the young adult market. Why do you think your Skink character appeals to readers no matter their age?

A: I’ve wondered about it. That goes back to 1987 and “Double Whammy,” which was the first time. He was literally supposed to be just a walk-on character. I needed a hermit kind of guy for a couple of chapters, and I thought he’d be on and off the page. Yet, one of the great joys is when a character surprises you, and you end up liking him or her more than you thought. So I let him hang around, and he ultimately took over the novel.

What’s interesting — I don’t go for recurring characters all that much. I try to be different in each book. But I think with Skink there was something special. My youngest son is now in high school, and he’s at an age where he can read the grown-up novels, because he’s heard everything there is to hear in school already so there’s nothing to protect him from. He had read a couple of the novels that had Skink in them and thought he was a great character, so I got to thinking maybe kids my son’s age would dig this guy.

He’s sort of a guy who is just outside the law, but his heart is in the right place. He really does provide sort of a moral compass. Kids like characters who are willing to lay everything on the line, as well. He’s sort of a ragged hero that I think kids can dig.

Q: Of course he does appeal to your older audiences as well, right?

A: At any age, we’re looking for heroes of any kind.

Q: Yet, speaking of heroes, don’t you think people have become more realistic about heroism — accepting that many heroes have personal flaws like the rest of us?

A: I think my generation in particular was a little more reluctant to accept that. Most of us who were around when John Kennedy was assassinated — there was nothing written or recorded at all about his extracurricular romances. Yet it’s all been picked over and prominently written about now. Yet there’s still in this country an incredible admiration for him as president. So, I think in those days you just didn’t talk about it. You didn’t talk about the fact Mickey Mantle was lighting up a cigarette in the dugout or getting drunk off the field. Now, with the Internet, people are used to hearing things like, “Yeah, he’s a great ballplayer, but he got a DUI.” I don’t think people today expect perfect heroes. I don’t think this generation of kids does — and I think it’s healthier that they don’t.

Q: You have turned out a great amount of work — the novels, plus your column for the Miami Herald. Can I assume you have a great work ethic? Are you very organized?

A: Boy, I wish I were! It’s funny, I still struggle with it. I had back surgery about 10 months ago; up to that point, it just hurt to sit down. That was tough, since my whole life is about writing. I’ve been trying to train myself to write standing up, because I have a desk that elevates. However, as you know, as a writer we have a certain rhythm to our work, and if something comes along like back problems, that throws you off, it affects your process. Pain is not a good thing! Plus I didn’t get into any heavy meds. I might have written more if I had — but likely not as coherently! [Laughs]

Q: Do you find writing comes easier to you at this point in your life?

A: I have to laugh. I think it gets harder and harder. That’s because you still want to get better at it. So, you’re hard on yourself. You’re tough on yourself.

Q: What are your thoughts about the media business today?

A: To me, I’m kind of old-school, so there’s kind of a sadness about it. I was in the Herald newsroom as a reporter working on investigations at sort of the height of the business in that post-Watergate era. Plus we were in Miami, one of the crookedest places in America. So every day was a new pallet of scum and corruption there for us to be faced with and uncover. As a young reporter to be there was fantastic.

Now the newsrooms have shrunk, and along with them the investigations at many newspapers — not all, but still quite a few. It’s one of the things they first start cutting. What I fear most in watching this is the damage to local reporting. We can all get the news from Baghdad or Syria whenever we want on our iPhone. But you can’t find out what your city commission did last night if there was nobody sitting there with a notebook in their hand for your local newspaper. The same goes true for the local zoning board when they give deals to their pals late at night. Politicians are getting away with a lot more than they did when there were reporters around.

In Florida, like Chicago, these people will go hog wild if they know there is no scrutiny, if they know the newspaper doesn’t have a reporter in the room at 2 a.m. when they take the vote on the zoning change that they’ve all been paid off to do.

You can go on the Internet and easily discover what designer shoes Jennifer Lopez was wearing on the red carpet last night, but not whether they’re going to put up a new fire station in your neighborhood, and whether the brother-in-law of the mayor got the contract to build it. That’s the tragedy of all this, because you need an informed electorate if you’re going to have a fair and effective democracy.

Q: Clearly your journalistic background has had a major impact on your fiction writing. Your thoughts on all that?

A: There is a spillover, which is inevitable, especially living in a place like South Florida, where I lived for many years. You have the same thing in Chicago, where you have an abundance of characters and an abundance of corruption and nefarious activities. In my case, it’s sort of therapeutic. You spend so many years in a newsroom writing stories that for the most part don’t have a happy ending or a just ending. At least with the novels, I can say, “OK, I’m going to write the story, only this time it’s going to turn out like it should turn out.” Especially if you’re writing sort of a satiric thing, you can take that energy and channel it.

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