When one thinks of the classics of pulp fiction, certain things -- gruff, amoral antiheroes, unflinching nihilism, and a certain melodramatic self-seriousness -- inevitably come to mind. However, the novels of Carl Hiaasen completely challenge these pulpy conventions. While the pulp of yesteryear seems forever chiseled in an almost quaint black and white world, Hiaasen's books vibrate with vivid color. They are veritable playgrounds for wild characters that flout clichés: a roadkill-eating ex-governor, a bouncer/assassin who takes care of business with a Weed Wacker, and most recently, a failed alligator wrestler named Sammy Tigertail. Furthermore, Hiaasen infuses his absurdist stories with a powerful dose of social and political awareness, focusing on his home turf of South Florida with an unflinching keenness.
Hiaasen was born and raised in South Florida. During the 1970s, he got his start as a writer working for Cocoa Today as a public interest columnist. However, it was his gig as an investigative reporter for The Miami Herald that provided him with the fundamentals necessary for a career in fiction. "I'd always wanted to write books ever since I was a kid," Hiaasen told Barnes & Noble.com. "To me, the newspaper business was a way to learn about life and how things worked in the real world and how people spoke. You learn all the skills -- you learn to listen, you learn to take notes -- everything you use later as a novelist was valuable training in the newspaper world. But I always wanted to write novels."
Hiaasen made the transition from journalism to fiction in 1981 with the help of fellow reporter Bill Montalbano. Hiaasen and Montalbano drew upon all they had learned while covering the Miami beat in their debut novel Powder Burn, a sharp thriller about the legendary Miami cocaine trade, which the New York Times declared an "expertly plotted novel." The team followed up their debut with two more collaborative works, Trap Line and A Death in China, before Hiaasen ventured out on his own. With Tourist Season, Hiaasen was free to fully indulge his off-beat imagination and individual sense of humor. A series of murders marked by the oddest of evidence (a fez washed up on Miami Beach; a victim found with a toy alligator jammed in his throat) sets Private dick Brian Keyes on the trail of a most unusual murderer.
From then on, Hiaasen's sensibility only grew more and more comically absurd -- and more and more socially pointed. Double Whammy took on the unlikely target of corruption in the fishing world. Skin Tight rolls out a host of wacky murder suspects, including a shaky plastic surgeon, an ambulance-chasing lawyer, and an obnoxious TV host. Native Tongue pivots on the heist of several rare blue-tongued mango voles from an amusement park. Strip Tease features a showdown between a stripper and a crooked congressman. Stormy Weather, which hones in on the greed and iniquity that emerges in the wake of a devastating hurricane, reveals Hiaasen's strong environmental concerns.
In 1998, Hiassen turned his attention to the Disney Conglomerate, exposing the world-dominating aspirations of the cartoon empire with typical hilarity in Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World. The following year, he released his first compendium of journalistic columns titled Kick Ass. Following Sick Puppy and Basket Case, two more irreverent explosions of crazed humor and convoluted crime, and another selection of columns called Paradise Screwed, Hiaasen took yet another very unexpected turn. Hoot was his first novel aimed at the young adult market. "First, it was something I'd never done before, and it's important for writers to take chances," he explains on his website. "Secondly, I really wanted to write something that I could give to my nephew, nieces and stepson without worrying about the salty language or adult situations. They've all been asking to read my other novels and I've been trying to stall them, at least until they hit the teenaged years." Without sacrificing his trademark wit, Hiaasen deals with the plight of Florida's native burrowing owls and the danger they face at the hands of avaricious land developers.
Environmental concerns once again come to the fore in Flush, which deals with illegal sewage dumping off the Florida coast. With his unique blend of comedy and righteousness, Hiaasen conjures one of his most powerful novels. As he once said, "I can't be funny without being angry," and nowhere is this more prevalent than in Flush. Hiaasen's latest comic masterwork, Nature Girl, continues in that vein. It's a screwball comedy replete with an alligator-wrestling Seminole, a hapless telemarketer, and a tireless schemer bent on saving the world. Once again, Hiaasen has crafted a singularly imaginative winner, furthering his socially conscious agenda and -- as Kirkus reviews once said -- depicting "the Sunshine State as the weirdest place this side of Oz."
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Perhaps in keeping with his South Floridian mindset, Hiaasen keeps snakes as housepets. He says on his web site, "They're clean and quiet. You give them rodents and they give you pure, unconditional indifference."
Hiaasen is also a songwriter: He's co-written two songs, "Seminole Bingo" and "Rottweiler Blues", with Warren Zevon for the album Mutineer. In turn, Zevon recorded a song based on the lyrics Hiaasen had written for a dead rock star character in Basket Case.
In Hiaasen's novel Nature Girl, he gets the opportunity to deal with a long-held fantasy. "I'd always fantasized about tracking down one of these telemarketing creeps and turning the tables -- phoning his house every night at dinner, the way they hassle everybody else," he explains on his web site. "In the novel, my heroine takes it a whole step farther. She actually tricks the guy into signing up for a bogus ‘ecotour' in Florida, and then proceeds to teach him some manners. Or tries."
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|Carl Hiaasen Home
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|In Our Other Stores|
|Carl Hiaasen Movies
Signed, First Editions by Carl Hiaasen|
|Powder Burn, 1981|
|Trap Line, 1982|
|A Death in China, 1984|
|Tourist Season, 1986|
|Double Whammy, 1987|
|Skin Tight, 1990|
|Native Tongue, 1991|
|Strip Tease, 1993|
|Stormy Weather, 1993|
|Lucky You, 1997|
|Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World, 1998|
|Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen, 1999|
|Sick Puppy, 2000|
|Paradise Screwed: Selected Columns, 2001|
|Basket Case, 2002|
|Skinny Dip, 2004|
|Nature Girl, 2006|