Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country. By Craig Pittman. Illustrated. 320 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $26.99.
By Julie Garisto, AliveTampaBay Correspondent
Native Floridian and Tampa Bay Times writer Craig Pittman says he never once considered living anywhere else.
His love for his home state informs all aspects of his writing, from his investigative pieces on Florida environmental issues to his latest narrative on the Sunshine State, Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country.
Last August, AliveTampaBay caught up with Pittman to delve into his writing process and his nonfiction hit of the summer, which has attracted the attention of NPR and major publications across the nation.
Now in its third printing, Oh, Florida! goes beyond being a fun compendium of trivia, providing insightful context for Florida’s escapist allure as well as its infamous boondoggles and colorful history.
ATB checked back in with Pittman to follow up on the success of the eclectic compendium and suss out what’s next for the Sunshine Statesman.
ATB: Please share some/one of your most interesting/humorous encounters and comments while on your book stops.
CP: Oh I’ve heard some great stories from readers who show up at my signings – people who discovered their neighbors were running an illegal nudist resort, for instance. My favorite, though, was an ex-teacher who had once assigned her students to write a new Florida state song. The top entry, she said, was so good she’d memorized it. It was set to the tune of “America the Beautiful”:
“What’s hot as hell
With a musty smell
And roaches big as cars?
Where love bugs swarm
And verdant farms
Are razed for topless bars?
Oh, Florida! Oh, Florida!
Thy mildewed breast doth heave
‘Neath traffic jams
And time-share scams
And tourists that don’t leave!”
She gave him an A+, and I would have too.
ATB: Do you have any plans for an Oh, Florida 2 or another book that uses content that didn’t make it into the first edition?
CP: I had to cut 100 pages out of the first draft because it was too long, so I certainly have enough material for an Oh, Florida 2: Electric Boogaloo. In addition I keep learning new things that I didn’t know before — for instance, the “happy little trees” TV painter, Bob Ross, was a Florida Man, and so was Herschel Gordon Lewis, the guy who created the horror movie sub-genre called “splatter films.” The question is whether I have a sufficient number of new topics that could be the focus of each chapter for 17 or 18 chapters, the way I did in Oh, Florida! At this point the answer is: I don’t know.
ATB: Any predictions about any “D’oh, Florida” (hey, there’s a title for your next book) situations that might arise in the future?
CP: Well I’m watching the 2016 election pretty closely…
ATB: Are we doomed as a state with so little political attention to climate change? What still can be done?
CP: Because so many people move to Florida and become new voters in between each election, it’s easy for Florida’s politicians to kick the can down the road and put off doing anything about serious problems. Plus our culture here in Florida is very much focused on living for today and not paying attention to the potential consequences coming tomorrow. But climate change is already manifesting itself as a problem that demands to be solved NOW. When you’ve got streets that at high tide have to be navigated by kayak instead of by car, that’s a sign that sea level rise is a problem for now, not for later. Smarter minds than mine have suggested ways we can adapt to what’s coming, and try to combat it. The question is whether anyone will listen before it’s too late.
ATB: Do you have your eye on any other projects or issues to delve into in 2017?
CP: I’m contemplating a book about a pretty serious environmental issue — but because it’s set in Florida, there’s going to be some wackiness involved too. For instance, there’s a cameo by the Skunk Ape.
Interviews may be condensed and edited for brevity, clarity, and style.