The annual Palmer Trinity Book Fair features spectacularly creative table designs and a big-name author as a keynote speaker. This year’s keynoter, Carl Hiaasen, was a top draw, selling out the event.
Hiaasen is well known for his often scathing columns in the Miami Herald and the twisted humor in his adult novels. But 10 years ago, someone suggested to his agent that he write a young adult novel — the result was Hoot, which won a Newberry Honor.
His latest book, Chomp, already is atop the New York Times Bestseller list for children’s chapter books. It features another zany cast of characters and centers around Wahoo Cray, the son of an animal wrangler. Wahoo is not named after the fish, but that famous Florida wrestler and Miami Dolphin, Wahoo McDaniel.
In his speech, Hiaasen said that when he was first asked about writing for kids, his reaction was that the suggestion came from someone who obviously had never read one of his books. His second was, she must not be a parent!
“But my agent said ‘kids love humor and they especially love it when you make fun of grownups!’” Hiaasen said.
He said he already had a newspaper column where he delights in making fun of grownups who are politicians.
“And my wife reminded me emotionally I’d never progressed past adolescence,” he said.
Hoot, his first book for kids, was ripped out of a page from his childhood.
“It was totally experimental,” Hiaasen said, adding that he had his two-book contract written so that if Hoot was a stinker, he could get out of writing the second book.
Before Hoot, the kids in his family wanted to read his books and he always said “no.”
“Being a dad, there are things that are disturbing to grownups and to psychiatrists. We’re not going there,” he said.
“They all loved Hoot.”
Hiaasen talked a bit about his childhood in rural West Broward, where he often would come home with snakes, raccoons or other things that could bite or carry rabies. His mother would tell him “we’ve got to get rid of this before you father comes home!”
But he would sneak the snakes or turtles into his room and then have to scramble when they would escape. He would ask his siblings for help but most of the time they’d rat him out or his mother would discover the errant creature and let out a shriek.
“I can’t say it was a normal childhood but it was a great childhood,” Hiaasen said.
Because of his love for the environment, Hiaasen often is incensed by what happens in Tallahassee during the legislative session. He bases his bad guys on some of them and kills them off in odd ways. He sometimes is waylaid by people who think they know on whom the character is based. Hiaasen said it amazes him that they don’t recognize themselves.
“This is a beautiful kind of innocence,” he said.
Hiaasen is a Leonard Elmore, seat-ofyour- pants type of writer who does not know the ending of his book even three fourths into one.
“Nothing would bore me more if I knew how they ended,” he said. “I want the ability to kill off a character. In a novel, if a character starts to bore me, I can have them step off the curb and get hit by a Metrobus. It just tidies up the plot lines.”