Monday, July 27, 2009

Some Florida in your Summer Reading

from James Grippando

“There ought to be a law against Florida fiction writers setting any more scenes in Stiltsville.”

Those words are from a recent book review, and even though it wasn’t my book being skewered, the reviewer had a valid point. Many authors live and write in South Florida, and even more use South Florida as a setting, and readers are seeing too much of the same old stuff.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Stiltsville. It’s a uniquely Miami collection of wood cottages about a mile offshore that—as the name implies—sit up on stilts above glistening Biscayne Bay. No phones, no electricity, no distractions. Some have been lost to hurricanes. Others have survived since the Prohibition era. Environmental and other concerns ensure that no more will ever be built. From a book lover’s standpoint, it would be hard to imagine a more idyllic place to do your summer reading or writing.

But that reviewer was right: There’s so much more too see here.

That’s why I take readers alligator hunting in Born to Run. That’s the reason I chose Overtown — a village rich in jazz history, once known as Miami’s “Little Harlem”—as the backdrop for my Last Call. That’s why Jack Swyteck’s favorite Miami restaurant is inside a Citgo station off U.S. 1, where you can enjoy world class wine at bargain prices with tasty tapas, and then buy Twinkies and a Lotto ticket on your way out.

There are eight novels now in the Jack Swyteck series, and in each of them, I take readers to places they might not visit, which often leads to the question: Is that a real place?

I received one of those e mails recently about the Citgo station. The reader (a Canadian who was planning a trip to Miami) also wanted to know about Cy’s Place, the amazing Coconut Grove jazz bar owned by Jack’s friend Theo Knight. Here’s the scoop. Yes, the restaurant inside the Citgo station is real. “Cy’s Place,” on the other hand, is totally made up.

I could go on and on with the list—“Real, or not real?” — but here’s a rule of thumb for James Grippando novels. If there is a dead body on the floor or bug in the food, it’s definitely not a real place. (Can you say "libel"?) If there is any kind of criminal activity going on, it is probably not a real place.

I say “probably” because this is South Florida, after all, and that certain strip club mentioned in Beyond Suspicion is indeed real, as is the back story about the United States Attorney who went there after losing his biggest trial ever and took care of his frustration by downing a bottle of champagne, biting a stripper, and then paying the tab (and revealing his identity) with his credit card.

Like I said: this is south Florida. Some things I can’t make up.

Thanks for reading. Patty will be naked in her usual slot next week.


  1. I live in South Florida and love your venues. (JamesO also!!) What really irks me, and I'm sure all readers, is when an author places a scene in an area that we know well, and then makes up most of the discriptive content. Yeah, maybe he/she puts in a random street or building, but you know it's not "real." It's more about the flavor of the area, anyway. I've never been to New Iberia, LA, or Montana, but I sure know what they look like in my mind. I think a great writer can make any place, no matter how many times it's been used, come to life.
    Thanks, Jim.....great post.

  2. Welcome back, Jim!

    Darn, I've been looking for "Cy's Place."

    I used to windsurf from Matheson Hammock to a Stiltsville House owned by a friend who threw some pretty good parties in the 80's. In one of the Lassiter books, Jake had a romantic encounter there. Early 90's, so I think I made it within the Statute of Limitations for Stiltsville scenes.

    Miami has so many great venues, it's not necessary to make anything up, unless -- as you say -- it's for legal reasons. My problem, living on the Left Coast, is to make sure I'm current and not set any scenes at the dog track on South Beach.