Randy Wayne White once scrounged for couch change after losing his job as a Florida fishing guide. His 21st Doc Rivers book says he’s recovered just fine
Bestselling mystery writer Randy Wayne White may well be America’s buffest, toughest, YOLO literary lion since Earnest Hemingway.
RANDY WAYNE WHITE, AUTHOR,
Randy Wayne White used to spend 300 days a year on a fishing boat, but these days he’s launching books. “Bone Deep,” which debuted in March 2014, is the 21st novel featuring the adventures of his Floridian fictional creation, Doc Rivers.
Randy Wayne White photo by Wendy Webb
Both fled Midwest upbringings (White from Davenport, Iowa; Papa from Oak Park, Ill.) for the lure of the sea. Both worked as newspaper reporters: White for the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press; Papa for the Kansas City Star. Both went on to live outdoor lives filled with conviction, adventure and occasionally danger. And both channeled their travels into exciting works of both fiction and nonfiction.
In fact, it’s a good bet that White, who spent 300 days a year on the water for 13 years as a light tackle fishing guide on Florida’s Sanibel Island near where he still resides, would have fit Papa’s criteria in a fishing buddy to a muscle-ripped T.
So OK, they probably would have parted ways over “Downton Abbey.” But more on that later.
White, a competitive football, baseball and springboard diver in his day, is particularly proud of his 21st Doc Ford mystery, “Bone Deep,” because it equals the number of Travis McGee novels published by the father of iconoclastic Florida fiction, John D. MacDonald.
“Bone Deep” pits Ford, the former NSA operative turned marine biologist, and his hippie sidekick Tomlinson against black marketers in illegal artifacts and Florida’s powerful phosphate industry.
Suffice to say, in Florida fiction, all bedfellows are strange.
Q: Word has it CBS plans to bring Doc Ford and Tomlinson to TV at long last. True?
A: I’ve sold many options. I truly have no idea why this is a big deal. To paraphrase my editor Neil Nyran at Putnam, “Don’t trust them until the series has gone into reruns and you have already spent the money.” So who knows? If they do it, great; if not, I write books. I’m doing fine.
Q: While seeing Doc Ford onscreen would no doubt delight your legion of readers, the guy they’re most looking forward to seeing would probably be Tomlinson, right?
We are a self-indulgent and, in many ways, a humorously and sadly naive bunch.
A: Yeah, people love him, they just love him. I really have my wonderful friend Bill Lee (famed Boston Red Sox pitcher 1969-1978, nicknamed “Spaceman”) to thank for that; just his attitude. He’s wired so differently. His official voting residence is my house on Pine Island. H was recently there for three or four weeks, he just left, and he always leaves these cards. He left me a letter one time about why Thailand is the spiritual home of the Boston Red Sox, which would guarantee they would win the World Series, and they did that year. He lives in Vermont. We’re going to do a house trade.
Q: In “Bone Deep,” Doc Ford once again tackles an environmental issue, this time phosphate mining. You’ve always viewed environmental issues from a global perspective. How are we doing as planet stewards these days?
A: I like to think of myself as a rational environmentalist, rational meaning I look at the data and think for myself. I’m well aware — sadly aware, too powerfully aware — that the first casualty of a failed economy is the environment. If private enterprise does not thrive, there is no money to pay to protect the environment, which is a very expensive proposition. Look at Vietnam. China. Throughout Southeast Asia, Indonesia. Cuba, with what has happened there with the sugar cane. Africa.
There are no gates out there. If people are drilling oil in the Bering Sea — and they certainly are, with essentially no limitations whatsoever — and if the Chinese are sending out factory fishing ships with zero limitation and actually robbing from the national waters of other nations, if they’re stealing everything, us maintaining a true snook fishing limit doesn’t have a hell of an impact worldwide. We are a self-indulgent and, in many ways, a humorously and sadly naive bunch.
Q: Your previous life as a fishing guide, while hardly hand-to-mouth, wasn’t easy.
A: No, I knew I had to work 300 days a year, and I think I made around $50,000 a year, which was quite a bit actually. But then you had boat breakdowns and those things. I did pretty darn well for a fishing guide. But when the Tarpon Bay Marina (on Sanibel) closed to powerboat traffic in 1987, they gave us two months’ notice. So I was out of a job, and I had two young sons, 5 and 7. I do remember, that September, looking under the couch for change, and we had yard sales. We were really hard up for money.
Q: How did you make ends meet with a young family?
I do remember, that September, looking under the couch for change, and we had yard sales.We were really hard up for money.
A: I was writing for Outside magazine and Playboy. Those were good gigs. Outside, even then, was paying me $7 a word, I think, so a 1,000-word piece, I’d get $7,000 or $8,000. But still, if you could do two or three of those a year, you were doing good, they were so time-intensive. I actually think it’s as hard writing one first-rate magazine article as it is to write one first-rate book, I really do.
Q: Do you sometimes look back on that time and wonder how you got here?
A: Yes, I have reflected on that recently because, for whatever reason, two or three writers who are very good writers and whom I like can’t find publishers. One bad book, one crabby conversation with an editor, one missed deadline can often become huge. I’ve worked very, very hard but I’ve also been very, very lucky. It truly is dreamlike. The fortunate conglomerations of things that have occurred to me are amazing.
Q: Is it weird to be considered one of the “old masters” now?
A: It’s certainly never gotten easier. I’ve never gotten to the point where I just go flying through things. But in terms of an “old master,” well, I paddle surf and do the VersaClimber and I do the Navy SEAL Frogman Swim across Tampa Bay every year. I mean, if some young f— wants to challenge me to those three, I’ll take them on (laughs).
Q: You’re not an extravagant guy. Do you ever splurge?
A: In certain ways. One fun way of splurging is being able to help my peripheral family. That’s a really great thing for me. I try to help the Cuba Freemasons. I had a really cool car but I sold it and bought a truck, which I just love. I have leased the old Babcock Ranch gun club, which is 500 acres and a gun facility in central Florida and it’s just me, no one else. I can go out there and shoot and write and no one can find me.
Q: No South Seas vacations? Maybe a Bali getaway?
One fun way of splurging is being able to help my peripheral family. That’s a really great thing for me.
A: No, I spent much of my life traveling in third world s***holes, so I’m not interested in doing that. I like staying here. I do want to buy a small farm, because I do miss and would like to have some cows.
Q: How is Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille faring these days?
A: Phenomenal! I own the franchise and we have three Doc Fords now: one at South Seas on Captiva (Island), another at Sanibel and another at what we call Fort Myers Beach, on the waterfront. They’re gourmet sports bars. The New York Times Sunday Magazine did a 2-1/2-page spread on just one original dish we have there. It’s always swamped. We couldn’t even get in there last night.
Q: So if your series makes it onto the CBS lineup, who would you cast as Doc and Tomlinson?
A: I really don’t know. I haven’t had my TV up in maybe forever, but certainly not since my boys were little. We don’t have a TV, but on computer every night we watch Netflix, but it’s usually “Downton Abbey” or some chick flick that I really don’t give a shit about, but it is amusing. We like the British things like “Upstairs Downstairs.” And “Doc Martin” — my God, we love that series! I think the Brits invented civilization, and for all their ills were probably the most decent, honorable people on earth, and now they’re funny as shit.