Carl Hiaasen: Still chasing the crazy side of Florida

Carl Hiaasen’s newest collection of Miami Herald columns is proof, he says. Proof he’s not crazy and that Florida truly is as bizarre as he paints it.

“This is one way to authenticate the fiction,” says the author of such dark comic novels as Tourist Season, Double Whammy, Star Island and Bad Monkey. “But it doesn’t even begin to catch up with the weirdness of the truth.”

Dance of the Reptiles (Vintage, $15.95 in paper) — which Hiaasen will talk about Tuesday at Coral Gables Congregational Church — takes on all things Florida, from dirty politicians to troublesome pythons. Such material frequently makes its way into Hiaasen’s fiction. Consider Stormy Weather. In the novel, tourists visiting Orlando leave the safe, manufactured joys of Disney World for the wreckage of South Florida, which has just been struck by a killer hurricane.

“Police actually had to issue an alert after Hurricane Andrew to tell people to stay out of South Florida,” he says. “All these geeks in cars said ‘Screw Disney,’ and lined up to take vacation footage, and it had to be addressed publicly. So I take that one little story out of the Herald and spin it into the plot line, and people say: ‘You are one sick S.O.B.’”

The news just keeps providing fodder, such as the Big Pine Key guy who legally built a gun range in his yard.

“The worst thing about that story is it’s going to generate all these backyard gun ranges now,” Hiaasen laments. But maybe it will generate a column or two as well.

So do we truly have a disproportionate amount of crazy in Florida?

We do have this vortex of depravity in Florida. Strange things happen all over the country, bizarre and disturbing things. But Dave Barry will tell you the same thing: The sheer weight and volume of weirdness is unique to South Florida and now really all of Florida, all the way up to the Panhandle. If you’re a writer, a novelist or journalist, it’s an absolute treasure trove of material. But if you’re trying to live a normal life and raise your family and have a peaceful existence, it’s unsettling. It can be jarring to the soul.

And now, in the Internet age, we can share the crazy with everyone.

Before the Internet, the stories became apocryphal. Now people can look up a Herald or Tampa Bay Times story and realize, ‘Holy crap, they’re not kidding.’ Look at the toxic tush case: You have a transgender person posing as doctor going from house to house injecting Fix-a-Flat into people’s asses because they want to look like the Kardashians. It’s a comment on the whole culture. ... If you’re willing to have Fix-a-Flat injected into your butt to look like a reality TV star, that goes way beyond Florida. We’re in some cosmic death spiral.

Yet you still live in Florida. Why?

The only answer you can give is you care about the place, and you love the place, and you want to stay and fight for it. If everybody who loved it bailed out, then you leave Florida to the human predatory element. Just look at what we’ve got: We lead the country in Medicare fraud, identity theft, mortgage fraud, public corruption prosecution. You think: ‘Oh my God, what a hideous place to live.’ But 30 minutes out of Miami, you’re sitting in a boat in the Everglades without a single human in sight. ... There are not many places to live where you can be reminded so quickly of why you came and why it’s worth fighting for and ranting and raving about.

So what gives you hope for the future?

The letters I get, especially from kids who read the kids’ novels I do. There’s just this great energy and great sense of “We have to save what’s worth saving.” I don’t mean to be corny, but they’re smart and funny, and they get the jokes. My grandson Jack, who’s in the seventh grade, picked up this book of columns and read it cover to cover and sent me an email about how much he liked it. ... This whole generation of kids has absorbed a lot of information, and they’re reading at levels I don’t think kids were reading at 30 or 40 years ago. There might be hope for the world. These kids are going to be running the show in a few years. They can’t possibly screw it up more than my generation did.

Carl Hiaasen appears at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Coral Gables Congregational Church, 3010 De Soto Blvd.; free tickets required; eventbrite.com