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Carl HiaasenFame & Fortune: Novelist Carl Hiaasen

Novelist Carl Hiaasen always kept his day job

Carl Hiaasen isn't one to sit idly by while fat-cat developers, corrupt politicians and fast-talking flimflam artists despoil the land, water and wildlife of his native Florida just to sell paradise piecemeal to sun-starved tourists.

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Had he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, who established the first law office in Broward County in 1922, or his father, also a prominent Fort Lauderdale attorney, Hiaasen might have fought the encroaching blight through legal channels.

Instead, he recycles the stranger-than-fiction news stories from his longtime day job as a columnist for the Miami Herald into biting satiric novels that pummel the eco-marauders with the one weapon for which they have no counter: public ridicule.

Sure, he's changed the names to protect, well, Hiaasen for one. But you don't need a scorecard to recognize the corporate weasels (or rodents) that use any means necessary to extract the juice and pulp from the Sunshine State.

Hiaasen is beloved not only for his righteous anger and moral equilibrium, but also for the artful and fitting way he exacts vengeance on the self-serving depredators. In his 1986 debut, "Tourist Season," he dispatched the baddies with a rubber toy alligator down the throat. In subsequent outings, dung beetles and even an amorous dolphin were put to creative uses. In his latest, "Skinny Dip," let's just say you won't look at those roadside shrines to traffic victims the same way again.

Bankrate checked in with Hiaasen by phone at his home in the Florida Keys, where he lives with his second wife Fenia and their two children (Hiassen's first son, Scott, is a reporter for the Palm Beach Post).

Bankrate: As the son of a son of a lawyer, were you expected to become an attorney?

Carl Hiaasen: I don't think it would have disappointed my father or my grandfather if I had become an attorney. I think they would have been thrilled. But it was pretty clear from a very young age that I loved to write and I didn't really see where that ambition intersected with the law. My grandfather was a trial attorney and he loved the drama of the courtroom and practiced until he was 90. My dad, on the other hand, was a different personality and practiced probate and corporate law, and he didn't look like he was having any fun anytime, so I don't think I ever had law school on the radar.

Bankrate: Did you work as a kid?

Carl Hiaasen: I started working pretty young. I started as a janitor at a veterinary clinic when I was 12 or 13, and a little later I worked as a janitor at a day care. I would rather work at the veterinary clinic than the day care, I can tell you that. I also worked as a bank teller for a couple of summers.

Bankrate: Money responsibilities came at a very young age for you, right?

Carl Hiaasen: Yes, I was 17 when we got married, and I had a kid when I was 18. That will teach you fiscal responsibility real quick because there's formula to buy and diapers. There's not a lot of party time. I had to finish school and I borrowed money from my father to do so. As soon as I went to work as a reporter, I started putting a little aside to pay him back. I always tried to send him a check every month, even though he didn't want me to; I felt that was the responsible thing to do. Working at Cocoa Beach, I think I was making about $150 a week, back in 1974. You didn't have any frills or travel or anything, but you went to work in journalism knowing that. Anybody who thought they were going to get rich in journalism was a moron, and that's true today as well. You go into it knowing you're going to be underpaid, overworked and abused at almost every level of the profession.

Next: "You always kept your day job. ..."
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