Florida Literary Legend Randy Wayne White, author of the bestselling Doc Ford mystery series for adults, has a new kid’s novel, Fins, a high-stakes, masterfully plotted story of courage, friendship…and sharks!
White was scheduled to visit the store Friday, April 3rd for his book launch, but due to the Coronavirus the store is closed. He graciously gave us an interview, which at the moment is going to have to suffice.
1. You are a “Florida Literary Legend,” and have been awarded the Conch Republic Prize for Literature and the John D MacDonald Award for Excellence in Florida Fiction, but Florida is not your original home. Where did you come from and what brought you to Florida?
A: My family is from Southeastern North Carolina. During WWII, my father was a member of the 101st Airborne, trained at Fort Bragg near Rockingham and Hamlet, NC, where most of my family still lives. My father became a State Patrolman in Ohio, so I was born there, but I spent every summer of my life in NC until age 16. We lived on a small farm east of Toledo (Pioneer, Ohio). I was in 4-H, raised all sorts of livestock, ran a trapline (a horrific thing that still makes me wince.) I played baseball, fished a lot and was a foggy, indifferent student.
My parents moved to Davenport, Iowa my sophomore year, lived there until I graduated from Davenport Central High. No college. As I tell people, there was no need because I went to high school in Iowa. I worked on a farm for two people I greatly admired, and they often raved about the beauties of Sanibel. Four years after graduation, in 1972, I moved to Southwest Florida. I was enthralled by the natural and social history. That has not changed.
2. We know you’ve been an explorer, a deep sea diver, a full-time fishing guide and a restauranteur. How did you decide to become a writer with such a colorful past?
A: Growing up in rural areas, boredom often left me stranded at various small town libraries. I fell in love with books. I came to hope that, if I could write a book, maybe I could become part of the magic I found in books.
It is true that, a few years back I was nominated and elected as a Fellow to the New York Explorers Club – a great honor. Also, sadly true, I have a terrible sense of direction. But I have made some on my greatest discoveries while lost.
In 1978, while I was a fulltime fishing guide at Tarpon Bay Marina, Rolling Stone founded a brilliant magazine, “OUTSIDE MAGAINE.” They had an incredible stable of writers: Thomas McGuane, Hunter S. Thompson, Edward Abbey, Jon Krakauer, Jim Harrison, Peter Matthiessen. I sold a major feature article to Outside, which was published that same year – the biggest break of my career. I worked very hard at writing. Still do. Good things happened, then incredible, unanticipated successes.
3. We’ve read you have a disciplined writing schedule of 4-18 hours every day. Can you give us an idea of what that day looks like? Where do you write and what inspires you?
A: With rare exception, I write seven days a week, no matter the circumstances or where I happen to be. Long ago, I realized that I had no control over my IQ, my antecedents, my gift of talent or lack of talent, but I had total control regarding my work ethic.
4. You’ve been active in Florida civic affairs and you were a co-founder of Big Brothers in South Florida. Did this involvement inspire you to write Fins!, your first young adult novel?
A: No. I have traveled to almost every Third World country, have seen and experienced some terrible things (as well as met an international list of good, friendly, decent people of all sorts) so am keenly aware of how lucky we are to live in the U.S.A. Giving back, doing one’s duty, is an honor and an obligation.
I spent four years as a layperson member of the Florida Judicial Nominating Commission. I spent an additional four years as a layperson appointee to the Florida Bar Association Grievance Committee. I am also a 32 degree Freemason.
As Freemasons we swear an oath to contribute (quietly) as best we can, to the well being of our communities, and to people in need. Few are aware of the massive charitable contributions made by Masonic lodges internationally – and that’s the way we want it.
5. Fins! Features Doc Ford and Captain Hannah Smith, characters from your mystery novels. What is it like utilizing your existing cast of characters in a new type of way?
A: It was more challenging than I anticipated. I've published twenty-six Doc Ford novels, and four Hannah Smith novels, and the destinies of these two characters are often intertwined. I know Doc and Hannah better than they know themselves. They are not perfect people. What I could not allow was to portray Doc and Hannah as flawless founts of wisdom of the sort too often used as devices in so-called "children's books." In FINS, the three main characters range in age from ten to twelve, yet they are not children. Not really. Few children are. Most possess an inner wisdom, albeit often not trusted due a lack of experience and self-doubt that is typical of people, no matter the age. My diaries ("Logs" I called them) remind me that the childhood years are complicated, often filled with a mix of angst and wild optimism. In FINS, the three children like and respect Doc and Hannah, but they also perceive some of their flaws -- and their occasional attempts at manipulation.
6. You have an amazing output of novels. How do you spend your free time?
A. Visiting the three, soon to be four, Doc Ford’s Restaurants is hugely fun. I love getting out on the water on my boat or paddleboard. I lease a 500 acre defunct gun club in Central Florida. I stopped hunting years ago, but have great fun exploring the cypress heads, and capturing wildlife on my many trail cameras. Also, I grow citrus trees from an archaic root stock that partners and I have patented through bio-tech attorneys. Our hope is to produce citrus immune or resistant to citrus greening, a devastating disease.
7. Finally, since we are a bookstore and we always want to know what folks are reading, what authors do you most enjoy reading?
A. I don’t read fiction. All non-fiction, mostly natural history, archaeology, and biographies.