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Paparazzi Take Center Stage In Hiaasen's 'Star Island'

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Paparazzi Take Center Stage In Hiaasen's 'Star Island'

Paparazzi Take Center Stage In Hiaasen's 'Star Island'

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Since it is the middle of the beach season, we thought it a good time to talk to a man who has been writing about Florida for almost three decades. Carl Hiaasen, author of 11 novels and a long-running column in The Miami Herald, has a new novel set in his home state.

In "Star Island," he creates his usual collection of oddball characters, including a vacuous pop singer and her double, the hygiene-challenged freelance photographer who stalks her, corrupt land developers and, yes, there is even an altruistic, if flawed, hero.

Mr. Hiaasen, welcome to the show.

Mr. CARL HIAASEN (Author, "Star Island"): Good to be back.

GONYEA: So tell us about the title, "Star Island."

Mr. HIAASEN: Well, "Star Island" is an actual place in Miami Beach, and a lot of celebrities live there. It's an island in Biscayne Bay, between the mainland and South Beach. And it's also sort of a double meaning because the star, this young singer, is isolated and detached in a way that she might as well be on an island. She's not very connected to reality anymore.

GONYEA: You called her a singer. Her name is Cherry Pye.

Mr. HIAASEN: That's her stage name that her thoughtful mother dreamed up. And she's one of these - you see them everyday if watch "Inside Hollywood" or "Hollywood Access," or "Access Inside" or whatever those shows are called. I mean there's just a parade of them, and they become faceless after a while, but its part of the machinery. You know, we crank out these celebrities and wait for them to implode.

GONYEA: So it's safe to say she's a wreck.

Mr. HIAASEN: She's a complete train wreck.

GONYEA: All with questionable talent?

Mr. HIAASEN: No talent. No talent. No talent whatsoever.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HIAASEN: Thats what part of the book is partly about is this - America has always been fascinated by celebrities. Oh, let's listen to Mel Gibson's latest rant, or let's look at some video of Lindsay Lohan melting down in the courtroom. I understand that as a fleeting sort of diversion.

What I dont understand is the obsession that has generated this huge industry and the amount of resources and time and talented people who are devoted to chasing celebrities around, when there are a lot more important things going on in the world. So thats some of whats being lampooned in this novel.

GONYEA: So let's get to the other lead character, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist named Bang Abbott.


GONYEA: A tainted Pulitzer.

Mr. HIAASEN: Yes, of course. I mean, you know, novelists are attracted; we're drawn to sort of lowlifes and bottom feeders. They're such interesting characters, and they're fun to write about, and they're fun to bring to life on the page. And I'd been wanting to write about a paparazzo for a long time.

The industry now is bigger than ever. The industry of chasing celebrities around is huge in this country. The monies to be made is big, and so I wanted a character like that in the book. And so he is the villain and he's also, you know, for me as a writer, fun to write.

GONYEA: Early in the book, you take us into his world by giving us a glimpse of his BlackBerry...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: ...which is probably his best friend in the entire world, this BlackBerry.


GONYEA: Page 32.

Mr. HIAASEN: All right.

As soon as he walked off the flight from Miami, he checked his BlackBerry for overnight messages. A valet from the peninsula had called to say Katie Holmes was table dancing in the bar. Next, a dry cleaner in Westwood had phoned to say Johnny Depp had personally dropped off a cummerbund for laundering. Then a waitress at Hugo's had breathlessly reported an unpleasant encounter with Star Jones, involving a decaf triple latte.

Only the Katie sighting sparked any interest from Bang Abbott and he suspected the tip wasnt true. The source was so hopelessly nearsighted that he'd once mistaken Lyle Lovett for Anjelica Huston.

GONYEA: So these are all tips from people...

Mr. HIAASEN: Tips.

GONYEA: ...he bribes...

Mr. HIAASEN: He pays.

GONYEA: ...he pays them.

Mr. HIAASEN: Yeah. He corrupts them and co-ops them in any way possible, because information is the coin of the realm - who's staying at that hotel, who's he with, is he - you know? I mean, they live and breathe on rumor and gossip, and Bang is right in the middle of it.

GONYEA: You bring back a recurring character from several of your earlier books, the former governor of Florida. Your loyal readers know him as Clinton Tyree.

Mr. HIAASEN: Yeah, he goes by the nickname of Skink. And he's a character that I get more mail and more questions about than any other. He was governor, very briefly, of Florida. He was actually honest and incorruptible, and therefore he didnt last very long at all in Tallahassee. He went completely stark, raving nuts and tore his clothes off and disappeared into the mangroves.

I'd always had a fantasy of turning Skink loose on South Beach, one of the more pretentious, silly places you could go, and colorful and interesting. But nonetheless, it would be such a collision of values that I thought I've got to find a way to get him to South Beach. And so this novel seemed, this story, seemed like a good way to do it.

GONYEA: There's a passage where you give us kind of the back story on Skink.

Mr. HIAASEN: Right.

The cherished wild places of his childhood had vanished under cinder blocks and asphalt, and so, too, had the rest of the state been transformed - hijacked by greedy suck worms disguised as upright citizens. From swampy lairs, Skink would strike back whenever an opportunity arose, and the message was never ambiguous.

GONYEA: Is Skink your alter ego in this book? Is he what you might be if you were a totally deranged madman?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HIAASEN: What do you mean if I was a totally...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HIAASEN: I've said in the past, I mean, in every novel there are characters who I think say and do things that I wish I could say and do and get away with. And he certainly shares my political views of what's happened to Florida. And I think he certainly shares my views about the shallowness of the culture. But I don't know that he's an alter ego. I mean, I think in some ways he's more grounded than I am.

GONYEA: Well, as a writer of satire, how do you stay ahead of the curve when reality is giving us Lindsay Lohan and Levi...

Mr. HIAASEN: It's very - yeah. It's very - it's so hard to do it. I mean, I -everyday I read the paper and I - you know, if youve written a passage that has really reached some new height or depth of depravity and you pick up -especially The Miami Herald, there's a headline in there every day that just, you want to - you slap your head and you say, you know, I can't get ahead of the curb, because the reality is too weird.

I mean, all you could do is try and then hope that it doesnt - whatever you write doesn't come to pass between now and the day that it's published.

GONYEA: We've been talking to Carl Hiaasen. His new book is called "Star Island." He joined us from Bozeman, Montana.

Thank you, sir.

Mr. HIAASEN: Thanks a lot, Don. It was great talking to you again.

GONYEA: And you can read about the lengths one paparazzo will go for a photo of the famous Cherry Pye, spelled P-Y-E. It's on our website,

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Don Gonyea.


And Im Renee Montagne.

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