John Henry Fleming wondered why it's hard to find Tampa Bay in fiction.
As an associate professor in the creative writing program at the University of South Florida, Fleming knows that the Tampa Bay area has a flourishing community of writers. But famous (or not so famous) fictional works set in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater or any of the area's other cities are few and far between.
A remedy is under way. An online collaborative novel called 15 Views of Tampa Bay, edited by Fleming, is now appearing, one chapter per week through Nov. 6, on the website of Burrow Press Review at burrowpressreview.com/tag/15-views-of-tampa-bay.
"I knew that Burrow Press did (a 15 Views novel) for Orlando," Fleming says, "to counteract that Mickey Mouse image and try to give it some other identity. I thought, I'd love to do that for Tampa Bay. It's not the Mickey Mouse thing, but it doesn't have a distinct literary identity."
So Fleming recruited 15 writers who live in the Tampa Bay area. Some are professors at area universities, some graduate students; some are longtime residents, others recent transplants; all are published authors. "It just worked by word of mouth," Fleming says. "I like the variety of the group."
He's an old Florida hand himself, having grown up in West Palm Beach. "As soon as I got old enough, the first thing I did was get the hell out of Florida. It's weird how you can despise a place growing up but then be happy to come back to it," as he did 11 years ago.
Fleming didn't write a chapter for 15 Views of Tampa Bay, but he has his own online novel-in-progress, a comic work called The Book I Will Write (atticusbooksonline.com/the-book-i-will-write-1). It began as a blog, but, he says, "I'm totally incapable of writing nonfiction, so it took on a life of its own" as an imaginary e-mail correspondence between a hopeful author and a woman who works at a publishing house.
For 15 Views of Tampa Bay, each writer had to connect his or her chapter to characters and plot lines in previous chapters, although each chapter has a different setting. Most are set in Hillsborough County: Picnic Island, the Taco Bus, the Thai Temple, a Riverview Starbucks, the Temple Terrace Golf Course and Hyde Park's Bungalow Terrace. Pinellas County landmarks appear as well: Fort De Soto, Philippe Park and Jack Kerouac's last home. And one chapter takes place in cyberspace.
"The more the story progresses, the more surprises there are," Fleming says.
The first four chapters are already online, and each chapter is illustrated. The first, written by Jeff Parker, director of the University of Tampa creative writing MFA program, is set at the Davis Islands dog beach in Tampa and features an aerial photo of the islands. Chapter 2, by St. Petersburg poet laureate Peter Meinke, boasts a drawing by Meinke's wife, Jeanne, of the Chattaway, a St. Petersburg landmark restaurant.
Clearwater YA novelist Tammar Stein set Chapter 3 at Philippe Park, illustrated by a spooky photo. Chapter 4, by Leslie Salas, a graduate student at the University of Central Florida, takes graphic-novel form, with a woman perched atop a USF parking garage.
Upcoming writers include YA author Alicia Thompson, poet Jay Hopler, fiction writer Karen Brown, poet Gianna Russo, poet and editor Ira Sukrungrang, poet Katherine Riegel, poet and fiction writer Enid Shomer, fiction writer and editor Darryl Richardson, poet and USF English department chairman Hunt Hawkins, fiction writer and columnist Mary Jo Melone, and novelist and USF creative writing director Rita Ciresi.
Burrow Press, a nonprofit press that supports literacy projects, will publish a print version of 15 Views of Tampa Bay in January.