| Q. Now that NATURE GIRL is done, do you plan on writing any more novels for young readers?
That's the next project, after the golf debacle. I don't yet know what the book will be about, but I'm looking forward to starting it.
>Writing for young readers is a tonic for me.
Q. Have you been surprised by the success of FLUSH?
Totally surprised. I thought HOOT was a pleasant fluke, but now FLUSH has been on the New York Times children's bestseller list for more than a year.
It's very gratifying, because in some ways FLUSH is structurally a more complete novel. But, still, I never expected it to keep pace with HOOT.
Kids are extremely loyal readers.
Q. Which of your novels is your favorite?
That's like asking a mother which of her children she loves the most. It's an impossible question. I'm still fond of all the novels, but there are things I'd change about each of them if I had to do it over again. For sentimental reasons, Tourist Season is probably the closest thing to a favorite of mine, because it was the first and because it was downright subversive at the time. Not many writers can get away with feeding a blue-haired old retiree to a crocodile, and expect you to root for the crocodile.
Q. How did you come up with Chemo, the hit man with the Weed Whacker attached to the stump of his arm?
I always felt sorry for tall guys who never played basketball, because they spend their whole lives getting asked where they played basketball. I wanted Chemo to be one of those guys, because I wanted him to have both a striking physical presence, and an attitude. In Skin Tight, Chemo's regular job was as a bouncer in a punk club. After he lost his hand in an accident, I wanted to give him something useful, something that would make an impression with the kids in the mosh pit. A Weed Whacker seemed ideal.
Q. How did you come up with the character of Skink?
Skink, who first appears in Double Whammy, the bass-fishing novel, was conceived as sort of a wild hermit who avenges crimes against Nature. He needed an interesting background so I decided to make him a former governor of Florida, an honest guy who went mad trying to cope with the corruption all around him. One day, in the middle of his term of office, he suddenly bolts from the governor's mansion -- disappears into the woods, where he lives off roadkill and calls himself "Skink."
Originally, he was supposed to be sort of a walk-on character. I didn't imagine keeping him around for more than a couple of chapters, but then I found myself liking him tremendously. In a way, he became the moral compass of Double Whammy. Now, whenever his services are needed in another novel, I bring him out of the mangroves to raise hell. I love him because he hasn't mellowed one bit.
Q. Putnam recently published a second collection of your newspaper columns in a book called Paradise Screwed. Wasn't it weird to look back at columns you wrote so long ago?
The weird part is how little things have changed -- Florida is as screwy now as it was in the 70s and 80s. Look at the Elian Gonzalez story, or the presidential recount fiasco. I mean, Florida is the only reason that George W. Bush is in the White House - 16,000 people here managed to vote for the wrong candidate on election day.
My main concern about the anthology is that it exposes me for the sneaky poacher I am -- all those readers who thought I dreamed up the crazy ideas for my novels will now realize that I simply ripped them out of the headlines in The Herald. Nothing that happens in my books, no matter how twisted, transcends the reality of South Florida.
Q. You were close friends with the late Warren Zevon. Is it true he came up with the title for Skinny Dip?
Absolutely. After he finished his final album, “The Wind,” he asked to see the book manuscript I’d been working on. He was very sick and I didn’t want to burden him, so I’d only send five chapters at a time. And I kept getting these phone calls saying, “Send more right away!” He knew I didn’t have a title for the novel yet, so one day he sheepishly asked if he could suggest something, and of course I desperately said yes. He came up with “Skinny Dip,” which I thought was perfect. My agent and editor loved it, too.
And Warren was so thrilled we were going to use it. It was really very touching. Here’s a guy with all these brilliant songs and incredibly clever lyrics, a guy who’s literally running the last mile of his life, and he was high as a kite about giving me the title for my novel! I’m just sorry that he didn’t live to finish reading it – the last two chapters were on the Fedex plane to L.A. on the afternoon he died. I didn’t write fast enough to get the book done in time for him, which I’ll always regret.
Q. In the first chapter of Skinny Dip, where’d you get the idea for the husband, Chaz, pushing his wife off the cruise ship?
There have been some cases of tourists disappearing off these ships in the middle of the ocean. Most are probably accidents, but if it were a crime it would be almost impossible to solve – no dead body, no witnesses. Chaz is such a sleazeball, it seemed like something he would try. Of course he never planned on Joey surviving the fall.
Q. The menacing old hermit who leads Chaz into the Everglades on his final journey might seem familiar to some of your readers. Is there a reason you didn’t use his name?
None of the characters in this particular novel would have known who he was. So it was just for me and the readers to figure out.
Q. What did you think when saw Janet Maslin’s review of SKINNY DIP in the New York Times?
I thought I must have mixed up my medications again. I was totally blown away that she liked the book so much, that she completely dug the satire and what I was trying to say. To be compared to Woody Allen and S.J. Perelman – it doesn’t get much better than that.