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Fictional Florida: a look at 80-some writers with state roots, settings

STEVE MADDEN | Times
STEVE MADDEN | Times
Published Jul. 31, 2015

"Literary" is probably not the first adjective that comes to mind when you think of Florida.

Time to reconsider. The Sunshine State has attracted dozens of notable writers, as a place to live and a place to write about, and it shouldn't come as a surprise. Whether it's hurricanes (deployed to great effect by such writers as Zora Neale Hurston, John D. MacDonald and Peter Matthiessen), alligators (Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, Karen Russell et al.) or bizarre criminals (Hiaasen, Dorsey, Jeff Lindsay, Randy Wayne White and many more), Florida offers plenty of material.

We have bustling cities and vast expanses of wilderness, pristine beaches and gaudy tourist traps, not to mention plenty of universities with writing programs. It's no wonder that well-known authors can be found in almost every corner of the state — and that their work has depicted Florida as everything from paradise to hell on earth.

To compile this map of literary Florida, I first chose to limit it to fiction writers, living and dead. Florida can claim plenty of great nonfiction writers, poets and playwrights as well, of course, but I was aiming for a manageable number. Here are my criteria for this selection of novelists and short story writers: They have lived in the state at some point and have used Florida as a setting for their fiction.

Since it's a selection, I have also chosen to grandfather in one writer who doesn't meet both criteria. Jack Kerouac is one of the most famous literary figures associated with St. Petersburg and Orlando, having lived for a time in both cities in the 1960s. But he never, as far as I know, wrote about Florida in his fiction.

However, a letter by Kerouac that recently came up for auction reveals that he planned to do so. Dated Sept. 27, 1968, a time when he was living in St. Petersburg, the typed one-page letter to New York literary agent Sterling Lord outlines Kerouac's plans for his never-completed final book, the working title of which was Spotlight.

He begins, "Here's what I'll do with SPOTLIGHT. I'll use my public appearances on TV and lectures as rungs in the ladder of the narrative. In betwixt, I can throw in more private matters, such as my two physical beatings in bars ('Spotlight' indeed), and other things, but the main tale will be. I'll start with when I'm living on that backporch in Florida with my Maw in 1957, broke, arguing about what to buy for dessert because we have no money for meat, and suddenly Time Magazine comes in to interview me about the upcoming publication of ON THE ROAD."

The letter goes on to describe a wild, globe-trotting plot for a book Kerouac never finished. He died in St. Petersburg in October of 1969 while still living with his "Maw," Gabrielle, and his third wife, Stella.

Though Florida fiction remained out of reach for Kerouac, the more than 80 writers mapped out here have captured the state's beauty and despoilment, tragedy and comedy, human crush and primeval nature, each in their own ways.

A who's who of florida fiction writers

Authors are listed under cities where they have lived. Also included is each author's age (or years of birth and death), the genre in which he or she commonly writes, and the title of one book set in Florida. Many of these authors have multiple Florida books.

Aventura

Brad Meltzer, 45, thrillers, Book of Lies

Cape Coral

Jeff Lindsay, 62, mysteries, Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Clearwater

Lisa Unger, 45, mysteries, Black Out

Clermont

Kate DiCamillo, 51, children's books, Because of Winn-Dixie

Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1896-1953, literary fiction, The Yearling

Eatonville

Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960, literary fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Fort Lauderdale

Deborah Sharp, 61, mysteries, Mama Does Time

Elaine Viets, 63, mysteries, Shop Till You Drop

Gainesville

Harry Crews, 1935-2012, literary fiction, The Gypsy's Curse

Joe Haldeman, 72, science fiction, The Coming

Padgett Powell, 63, literary fiction, You & Me

Rick Yancey, 52, YA novels, A Burning in Homeland

Jacksonville

James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1938, literary fiction, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Charles Martin, 45, romance, Water From My Heart

Jupiter

Hugh Howey, 40, science fiction, The End Is Nigh

Key West

Ann Beattie, 67, literary fiction, The New Yorker Stories

Judy Blume, 77, children's and adult fiction, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself

Jimmy Buffett, 68, mysteries, Where Is Joe Merchant?

Meg Cabot, 48, YA novels, Abandon

Jim Harrison, 77, literary fiction, Julip

Ernest Hemingway, 1899-1961, literary fiction, To Have and Have Not

John Hersey, 1914-1993, literary fiction, Key West Tales

Thomas McGuane, 75, literary fiction, Ninety-two in the Shade

Thomas Sanchez, 71, literary fiction, Mile Zero

Joy Williams, 71, literary fiction, Breaking and Entering

Stuart Woods, 77, mysteries, Blood Orchid

Merritt Island

Patrick Smith, 1927-2014, historical fiction, A Land Remembered

Miami

Diana Abu-Jaber, 55, literary fiction, Birds of Paradise

Chantel Acevedo, 40, literary fiction, A Falling Star

Russell Banks, 75, literary fiction, Continental Drift

Dave Barry, 68, mysteries and YA, Insane City

Edna Buchanan, 76, mysteries, A Dark and Lonely Place

Edwidge Danticaticat, 46, literary fiction and YA, Untwine

John Dufresne, 67, literary fiction, No Regrets, Coyote

Patricia Engel, 38, literary fiction, Vida

James Grippando, 57, thrillers, Cash Landing

James W. Hall, 68, mysteries, Silencer

Carl Hiaasen, 62, mysteries and YA, Nature Girl

Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013, mysteries, Maximum Bob

Paul Levine, 67, thrillers, Bum Rap

Karen Russell, 34, literary fiction, Swamplandia!

Les Standiford, 67, mysteries, Havana Run

Charles Willeford, 1919-88, mysteries, Miami Blues

Naples

Ben Bova, 82, science fiction, Death Dream

Orlando

John Green, 37, YA, Paper Towns

Susan Hubbard, 63, horror, The Story of S

Bob Morris, 65, mysteries, Bahamarama

Palm Beach

James Patterson, 68, mysteries and YA, Lifeguard

St. Augustine

Laura Lee Smith, 47, literary fiction, Heart of Palm

St. Petersburg

Mary Kay Andrews, 60, romance, Beach Town

Lee Irby, 51, mysteries, 7,000 Clams

Dennis Lehane, 49, mysteries, Live by Night

Jack Kerouac, 1922-69, literary fiction (see introduction)

Michael Koryta, 32, mysteries, Last Word

Kris Radish, 61, literary fiction, The Year of Necessary Lies

James Sheehan, 65, mysteries, The Alligator Man

Ian Vasquez, 49, mysteries, Lonesome Point

Sterling Watson, 67, literary fiction, Suitcase City

Wendy Wax, 59, women's fiction, The House on Mermaid Point

Sanibel

Peter Matthiessen, 1927-2014, literary fiction, Shadow Country

Randy Wayne White, 64, mysteries, The Man Who Invented Florida

Sarasota

Suzanne Brockmann, 55, thrillers and romance, Nowhere to Run

Tony D'Souza, 41, literary fiction, Mule

Stuart Kaminsky, 1934-2009, mysteries, Midnight Pass

Stephen King, 67, horror, Duma Key

John D. MacDonald, 1916-86, mysteries, The Deep Blue Good-by

Tallahassee

Janet Burroway, 78, literary fiction, Bridge of Sand

Robert Olen Butler, 70, literary fiction, A Small Hotel

Connie May Fowler, 55, literary fiction, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly

Bob Shacochis, 63, literary fiction, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

Elizabeth Stuckey-French, 56, literary fiction, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

Jeff Vandermeer, 47, science fiction, Annihilation

Kent Wascom, 29, literary fiction, The Blood of Heaven

Tampa

Ace Atkins, 45, mysteries, White Shadow

Karen Brown, 54, literary fiction, Pins and Needles

Michael Connelly, 58, mysteries, The Last Coyote

Tim Dorsey, 54, mysteries, Shark Skin Suite

John Henry Fleming, 50, literary fiction, Songs for the Deaf

Alissa Nutting, literary fiction, Tampa

Enid Shomer, 71, literary fiction, Tourist Season

James Swain, 59, mysteries, Grift Sense

Rick Wilber, 66, science fiction and literary fiction, Rum Point

Tarpon Springs

Lois Lenski, 1893-1974, children's books, Strawberry Girl

Vero Beach

Debbie Macomber, 66, women's fiction, A Turn in the Road

Wewahitchka

Michael Lister, 47, mysteries, Power in the Blood

Withlacoochee

Piers Anthony, 80, science fiction, A Spell for Chameleon

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.