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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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Press Talk: Words from a talented book author

By , Columbian Editor
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The art of great writing can transport you to places like beaches on Captiva Island.
The art of great writing can transport you to places like beaches on Captiva Island. Photo Gallery

CAPTIVA ISLAND, Fla. — Writers — the great ones — have the ability to place us in the moment they have created. You can feel it, you can hear it, you can taste it.

The human mind loves to be transported to parts unknown and there’s nothing like a good book and a great author to take you there. Randy Wayne White is one such author.

In his latest book, “Deep Blue,” Randy transported me to a spit of high-priced land off the coast of southwest Florida. It’s a place called Sanibel/Captiva. The main character in “Deep Blue” is Doc Ford. He hangs his hat here. And no matter where Doc Ford might be off to — in “Deep Blue” he is off to the Yucatan Peninsula — he always comes home. And it is here — on Sanibel/Captiva — where you can feel the quirkiness, the strange characters, the mangroves and — yes — the humidity, when you read Randy’s writing.

Randy is an old buddy of mine. We both navigated our way around IBM typewriters as daily journalists at the News-Press in Fort Myers. He became a New York Times best-selling author and is connected to several island restaurants that bear the Doc Ford name. I became — well — whatever.

• • •

I like getting back to Florida occasionally to recharge my frontal lobe. Sometimes I overdose on M&M’s in Vancouver and cleaning my mental palate is a necessity. But one thing I can never get too much of is great writing.

Whatever I know as a writer, I learned from others significantly better than me. Guys like columnist Mike Royko, Hunter S. Thompson and Randy Wayne White.

So earlier this month I found myself 3,000 miles from home on Doc Ford’s very island. It also happens to be where Randy lives. I didn’t see Randy on this trip — he was off on yet another adventure — but I had a copy of “Deep Blue” in my hand. Yes, Randy had already moved my mind here in his book, but it never hurts to move your toes in the sand, too.

Writing isn’t easy

As a writer, I appreciate that words don’t always come easily. I get that smooth, effortless reading often means a writer spent a lot of time massaging every word, every sentence.

I caught up with Randy by phone once I returned to Vancouver. I was curious about how much effort he puts into the craft. Curious about how difficult it can sometimes be.

“It’s a mysterious pain in the ass,” Randy said of writing. “It’s like being in a six-sided room with no doors and windows. And suddenly you see a small opening.”

I loved that description. I rewrote the column you’re reading now six times. I couldn’t find the right lead, couldn’t figure out the transitions to make Florida, Randy and writing come together. Eventually I saw a small opening and I took it. I’m not sure it worked, but it was the best I had.

For Randy, writing doesn’t mean long walks on the beach and a few hours every other day honing his craft. When he writes, it’s seven days a week. 

That’s work.

• • •

By day, Doc Ford is a marine biologist, by night he fillets felons and other assorted bad guys.

Randy takes readers on a somewhat twisted, exhilarating joyride, developing characters whom you both love and love to hate. And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out … think again.

For me, I found Doc Ford to be more human, more flawed in “Deep Blue” than in Randy’s previous books. Still, Doc is a guy who never quits and never puts himself ahead of those he cares about. If you’re with him, sleep well. If not, stay focused. You won’t be around for long.

• • •

Randy’s next Doc Ford novel will appear in March. It’s called “Mangrove Lightning.” He also has developed another character — Hannah Smith — and you can expect that book in October.

A labor of love

As noted, writing just doesn’t magically appear. It really is an art. A labor of love. You might not be able to recognize when you’re reading great writing but you can easily figure out bad writing. So I sometimes am miffed when folks tell me this column must be a piece of cake.

After writing about the mayor’s 117 percent pay increase, a prominent local businessman called me. 

“You’ve got the easiest job in the world,” he told me.

I’ve had similar comments after writing columns on all the stupid stuff county County Councilor David Madore has been involved with.

Look, I get it. There are plenty of stories for journalists to write. But this stuff doesn’t just fall from the sky onto The Columbian’s pages.

With the birth of social media, there are plenty of pretenders out there. But newspaper writers are the real deal. And it’s real work. Ask any journalist. Or book author. 

It ain’t easy, but we love it.

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Columbian Editor