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As a sharp-tongued 27-year columnist for the Miami Herald and the author of nearly two dozen novels rife with South Floridia socialites, lowlifes, and profiteers, Carl Hiaasen has become the de facto chronicler-in-chief of this twisted subtropical Eden we all call home.
Of course, it helps that he was born and raised in paradise. And that he watched it get screwed firsthand.
Hiaasen was born in Fort Lauderdale and raised in Plantation when it really was a cow town.
"It was basically cow pastures... The big excitement was the opening of the very first convenience store in town," he laughs. "It was just a terrific childhood. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
But that doesn't mean Hiaasen hoped to spend his entire life in South Florida. In fact, after leaving home for college, he planned to stay the hell away. Forever.
"When I was a kid, the place was on the cusp of a massive population explosion," he recalls. "Then it just boomed — condos, townhouses, malls."
Hiaasen knew he wanted to work at a newspaper, but he wasn't sure he could deal with chronicling the decline of his home state. "I absolutely hated what was happening to the South Florida that I loved — the complete, insane, corrupt engine of greed that was paving over every square inch of the places that I cherished."
Eventually, though, after a two-and-a-half-year stopover at a small Central Florida paper, Hiaasen finally circled back to South Florida as a new recruit at the Herald's Broward bureau. And soon his newspaper work was fueling after-hours fiction.
"The reality of South Florida became the tinder for the novels," he admits. "There's so much about the place that I loved and still love. So many good people came here with a vision and an ideal and a hope for a certain way of life. They came because of the natural beauty of Florida. But that was under threat. And the level of corruption was so fantastic."
So Hiaasen's native land ended up being the perfect place to chronicle corruption — both as a journalist and a novelist.
"If you're doing vampire novels, you can write them in Scranton," Hiaasen cracks dryly. "But if you're writing contemporary, real-time, real-life novels, there just isn't any more drama, conflict, or diversity than you can find in South Florida."
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