Pulp City

"Damn straight," Mack interrupted. "Paperbacks are the ultimate."
"So anyway, I'm almost finished with my next one. It's set down here, too, in north Key Largo at a fictitious theme park. I had this notion: What if someone tried to do Disney World in South Florida? You know, we've lost all the family tourist business to Orlando, and we have this inferiority complex about it. So this is a cut-rate Disney World, with low hiring standards and animals that aren't quite trained. It's a murder mystery...you know, endangered species are real trendy right now. But I've been writing about that for a long time. I did a column once about portraits of Florida panthers. I saw an ad for them that left the impression the money would go to a fund. I called around and not one nickel had gone to any fund to help the panthers. I called the guy, and he says, well, there will be a fund, and a certain percentage of the profits...you know, perfect. This is Florida. It's called Native Tongue."

"Sounds great," Mack said half-heartedly. "Now, apart from having lived here all your life, what is it about South Florida that..."

"The material is so good down here," Hiaasen cut in. "What you see almost defies satire and fictionalizing. The challenge is to write fiction that surpasses the truth in South Florida. It's therapy for me. I get to write my own endings, which I can't do at the paper. Wish I could."

"I know exactly what you mean," Mack said. "I suppose we all could think of a commissioner or two we'd like to inject with potassium," he said, referring to the fate of Roberto Pepsical in Skin Tight. "And personally, I could imagine living out in Stiltsville, the way your parboiled detective, Mick Stranahan, did."

"There's no place quite like Stiltsville," Hiaasen said, pointing toward it from their spot at Mashta. "In the early morning, the houses rising out of the fog, and the characters out there.... Not to get terribly metaphorical, but this is the paradox of this tropical, unique place where Mick lived and there's this metropolis so close. Manatees, turtles, porpoises - a real tropical paradise, and humanity encroaching on it. This overpowering natural beauty you can't find anywhere else and a mass of urban glob behind it. You look to the east and you could be in the middle of the Caribbean, and you turn back and there's Mount Trashmore - now that was a great idea...Jesus Christ."

"You don't have to tell me," Mack pointed out. "I remember when the Everglades began around 107th Avenue and you could eat the bass instead of using them to make thermometers." Mack took another taste of the Jim Beam and passed the bottle.

"It's sort of universal," Hiaasen said, wiping his chin with the back of his hand. "I think there are some themes anyone can identify with, at least judging from the letters I get about my books. The place you grew up, you remember it a certain way, and then having it paved over...the sandlot where you played baseball, you come home, and there's a K-mart there. It hits a nerve."

A minivan full of pink tourists pulled up behind Mack's car and honked the horn sharply five times. For a moment, Mack thought Hiaasen was going to make a run for it, but when he didn't, Mack stepped out, opened his trunk, removed the gaff, and walked earnestly toward the van. The tourist daddy slammed into reverse and hauled ass.

Hiaasen was staring at the gaff. "I have one just like that. Except I use the sharp end."

"Do much fishing?" Mack was relaxed now.
"Not as much as I should. I go for bones, tarpon, permit. I grew up bass fishing. It's too dangerous now, not from the gators, from the maniacs. A lot of my friends are salt-water guides and professional fishermen. They're not politically active, but they sure appreciate what nature has given us. Imagine Soldier Key developed and 350 tourists splashing around in the water. I asked a bonefish guide, you know, if you chummed up with barracuda strips...there's bull sharks around here, right? Yeah, and lemons and duskies and blacktips. And they'd all come in to feed, right? That could happen, I suppose."

Mack was beginning to like Carl Hiaasen. "Go on, Carl."
"That's why I write about the Keys so much. If we manage to fuck up the Keys, if we manage to blow that one, then we have no prayer of saving the rest of this place. Who wants to pay good money to look at condos and shopping centers and get run over by a water bike?" Suddenly Hiaasen turned to face Mack. "Hey, by the way, what the hell is this all about?"

"The history of South Florida told by pulp fiction writers," Mack explained. "I'm trying to get to the bottom of it."

"I don't consider what I do pulp," Hiaasen said without sounding defensive. "They're not traditional thrillers because you know whodunit by page 90. They're more whydunit. There's more sarcasm and humor. You don't have a guy with a Weed Whacker for an arm in traditional pulp. Someone called them `eco-thrillers.' I think that's a bit on the lofty side. The truth is I can't escape from something that's important to me. This is a society that finds corruption not all that surprising, or even appalling. So I use lampooning and outright ridicule. It feels good to write it."

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