AND TROPICAL BUMS LIKE US
In 1988, after more than a decade as a full-time fishing guide at Tarpon Bay Marina, Sanibel Island, the federal government decided to close our bay to powerboat traffic – permanently.
I was out of a job. Worse, I wasn’t qualified to do anything but drive a boat. As the father of two young sons, spooked by the financial disaster that loomed, I put my boat on a trailer and continued chartering from local hotels. By night, I sat at an old Underwood typewriter and bushwhacked my way toward a new path – that of a novelist.
“Don’t quit your day job,” a prospective agent warned me, unaware that I no longer had a day job.
It wasn’t the first time I’d made a bumbling decision and pushed ahead without a safety net, nor would it be the last. In truth, I’d been working at the craft of writing throughout my fishing career, and I’d had some luck. I’d sold a few articles to major magazines. I’d written a bunch of potboiler thrillers under pennames. But now the welfare of my family was at risk. Failure was not an option.
Six months later, I finished Sanibel Flats, the first novel which I felt was good enough to attach my real name. I packed the manuscript in a box and mailed it off to New York, unaware the fictional world I had created would fulminate, grow and expand over a period of three decades, and transform my life in a way that seems the stuff of dreams or incredibly good luck.
Both, I now realize. It is a rare day I do not wake up psyched to get to work. Twenty-five Doc Ford novels later (soon to be twenty-six) I marvel at how the small fishing community I came to love during my years as a guide has, in the semi-fictional form of Dinkin’s Bay Marina, blossomed into a living, breathing universe for thousands of Doc and Tomlinson kindred.
Yep, for better or worse, we are kindred. I see the spark of common sensibilities – and deviltry, too – in the faces of those who brave my book signings. We are, by nature, tropical bums, whatever our day jobs might be. We prefer wilderness and empty beaches to fantasy resorts. We’re aware that, on the road, screw ups, goof ups and a faulty sense of direction often lead to adventure which is, in fact, what we seek – to hell with the destination. Destinations are always overrated. We have an affinity for cool t-shirts, hats, handmade marketplace curios and military-worthy travel gear. We’re outsiders with a ready smile, notebooks handy, and a pack fly rod on our shoulders, rigged and set to go.
The only downside to this cerebral linkage is that, on the book tour, and at the restaurants, too, I meet people I’d like to get to know better, but can’t due the constraints of time and social protocols.
So, let’s get to know each other better here. I’ll visit a couple of times a month and post something new: writing tips; recollections of past adventures and links to interesting articles. The only taboo is politics and self-righteousness. There’s enough of both in the world, and not welcome within the laid-back confines of Dinkin’s Bay.
WHAT’S NEW IN DOC FORD’S WORLD
I am currently working on the 26th Doc Ford novel. The working title is SALT RIVER (that might change) and it will not be released in late spring, as usual. I’ve pushed back the pub date because of a series of young adult novels I’m doing for Macmillan Publishing, and I am stoked. Doc Ford plays a central role, as does Hannah Smith, but the real stars are three kids.
Books in this new series will appear under the banner, SHARKS INCORPORATED, but each will have a stand-alone title. FINS, the first in the series, will be released in the summer or fall.
Here is a summary: Three children are hired to do odd jobs by Florida marine biologist, Doc Ford. As the kids prove their worth, they also learn about boats, fishing and marine ecology – but painlessly, always part of a fast paced plot. As a team, they become adept and catching and tagging small bay sharks as part of a research project. Thus the name: Sharks Incorporated.
Two of the children have appeared in previous Doc Ford novels. Their names will be familiar to fans, as will several primary characters in this new series, including fishing guide Hannah Smith, protagonist of her own four book series. The kids are sisters, Maribel and Sabina Estéban, young Cubans who came to Florida on a raft – with Doc’s assistance. The third is a quiet, troubled farm boy from the Midwest, Luke Smith, who thinks of himself as a not-too-smart misfit until a lightning bolt changes everything. Literally. Are his abilities to see and hear what others cannot the result of this near-death experience? Or were his gifts always there, cloaked by a sense of doubt, and the bullying of a stepfather who shipped Luke off to live with his “real” family in Florida.
These are not cookie-cutter characters. Maribel Estéban, at 13, feels a weight of responsibility that comes with being the eldest in a poor, single parent family. Sister Sabina, age 11, is a romantic firebrand and a constant source of trouble. The girl says what she thinks, no matter what. She reads and writes melancholy poems, and her favorite escape in Havana was the Voodoo shop that catered to “the Women in White" who are practitioners of Santeria. Sabina is a self-styled witch and mind reader with imaginary powers. Or are they sometimes real?
Readers will judge for themselves.
Conflicts in the books arise from their interactions with the sea and the islands, and their own cultural differences. As in life, the demarcations between right and wrong are often a muddied grey. Doc Ford and Tomlinson, of course, are there to occasionally clarify (and sometimes confuse) matters.
For a sample chapter of FINS, go to this link: