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by Jeri Magg
LAUGHTER FILLS THE tiny front porch of the Sanibel Island Book Store. Author Randy Wayne White is making his third appearance on Sanibel to promote his latest novel, Bone Deep, and the audience cant get enough. Randy has just finished another whimsical tale about a few of his friends whose odd behaviors, many times, find their way into his books particularly Mack, Jeth, Tomlinson, and Duncan Fallsdown. Randy elaborates. Mack, a banker from D.C., was the owner of the Tarpon Bay Marina where the author worked as a fishing guide. Mack was known to hire folks who were a little different and believed in challenging everyone. A young man with a stuttering problem fit the bill. Mack put him in the fish market taking orders over the phone. The fishing guides hung around hoping the phone would ring. After he successfully stuttered through the list of fish of the day, the guides applauded in support. He is now frequently spotted at Deweys Marina in Randys novels.
Another friend, Bill Spaceman Lee, a former left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, claims hes Tomlinson. Randy admits that his Pine Island buddy has a phenomenal intellect, odd way of viewing reality and operates in a different biosphere. If Bill thinks hes Tomlinson, Ill let him, jokes the author.
His latest novel, Bone Deep, zeroes in on his buddy Dean Fallsdown, an Apache Indian. Randy tells how a real incident led to his latest plot line.
A couple of years ago he visited Sedona, Arizona. Randy explains, Some people there believe in the paranormal and that UFOs land in Sedona to refuel. Its a great place to meet characters. One night while consuming adult beverages in a local bar, he met Dean Fallsdown. While most folks in the town claim to be descendents of some Indian tribe, even if they are blond-haired and blue-eyed, Fallsdown was the real deal a Yapi Apache Indian medicine man. Fallsdown invited the author to participate in a ceremony at a sweat lodge on his reservation. Intrigued or feeling the effects of the adult beverages, Randy agreed. I was the only bald white guy there, he laughs.
Told by his new friend that this session was therapeutic, Randy was almost overcome by all the hot steam in the tent. But I survived, he says, until I learned that there were eleven more sessions! After each session someone in the lodge was asked to offer a prayer. For the final session, Randy was to give the prayer. I rattled off, God bless all children and got the heck out of there.
Years later Dean phoned the author asking for his help finding a couple of little people stolen from the reservation 55 years earlier. Randy, his quick wit in overdrive, suggested contacting the circus at Sarasota. Apparently, the little people were ancient stone carvings very important to the tribe. Now believing the carvings were somewhere in Florida, Fallsdown hoped the author would make a few inquiries. Randy doubted he could help, but made calls to the head archaeologist at the University of Florida and a few collectors. None knew the whereabouts of the carvings.
Eight months later Dean called Randy with another invitation to a ceremony at the reservation. We want to thank you because the little people carvings have been returned. Someone in Orlando had them, his friend stated. And that story along with Randys interest in the phosphate mines in central Florida is how the idea for Bone Deep was born
According to the author, a millennium ago, Florida had an inland sea where mastodons, saber-toothed tigers, giant sloths and other huge mammals lived. Layers of muck blocked the oxygen that caused decay helping to preserve the bones. In the late 1800s someone realized that the bones provided phosphate, a substance that all humans need, and thus began the phosphate industry in central Florida Bone Valley.
After touring the area the author began weaving his tale using a familiar cast of characters: the supposed nerd marine biologist, Doc Ford, the lecherous cannabis-growing anarchist turned Zen master, Tomlinson, a maybe ex-girlfriend Hannah and the newest character, Duncan Fallsdown, an Indian medicine man. And an elephant!
All are drawn into the search for the little people as Ford tries to outwit a brain-damaged psycho biker named Quirt, and outrun two fast boats at fifty knots across thin water. As always, Randys history lesson on Florida, this time phosphate mining, Spanish conquistadores and elephant rescues, adds to the intrigue.
Why did this successful fishing guide turn to writing in the first place?
When Rolling Stone magazine first published Outside magazine, Randy sent them a story about paddling a canoe from Pine Island to Key West. They didnt like that story, but asked me to write others. He quickly became part of their stable of writers. Id get up an hour earlier in the morning to write, and for a fishing guide thats pretty early!
Then his big break came from an editor in New York who had an idea for a thriller series but needed four different writers to complete four books. Forced to remain landed during of a bout of bad weather, Randy wrote the whole book in nine days. When he submitted it, the editor was so impressed she fired the other writers. Thus began his career as Randy Striker. Conceding that these novels were not his best work, he says The editor came up with the name Randy Striker, and Id hoped the books would never see the light of day again, but I just bought back the rights. His future changed when Tarpon Bay Marina closed. Looking for a means to support his family, he wrote Sanibel Flats as Randy Wayne White and the rest is history.
Most authors write about what they know. This is true for Randys interest in Cuba. His opinion of Fidel Castro and the treatment of the Cuban people is obvious when interlaced as story lines in many of his books.
As a member of the Free Masons, Randy sought to make a connection with the Masons in Cuba and first visited the island in 1978 on a dive trip. You dont want to dive with the Soviets, their gear is terrible.
In 1980 Castro allowed people to leave the island, especially those who disagreed with his politics, as well as many criminal types. They could go to the states if they signed a paper and gave up everything they owned, says Randy. However, many families were separated when Castro, in the middle of this exodus, closed the airport. Then the only way off the island was by boat.
A friend of Randys in Miami asked for the authors help to evacuate his family. Thus began another of the authors real life adventures. He captained a 55-foot grouper boat from Key West with a couple of friends. Before leaving he asked one buddy to pick up some supplies. He came back with 17 cases of beer, lots of cans of Vienna Sausages and bags of chips. I told him to start rationing the beer right away. Forced to wait in Mariel Harbor eleven days, the Cubans finally loaded 147 people on the grouper boat. Passengers and crew were allowed to go to the mouth of the harbor but forced to wait until sunset.
While crossing to Key West in the dark and through a ferocious storm, most on board were horribly sea sick and scared to death. Finally sighting the U.S. the refugees began chanting Libertad, Libertad. The harrowing voyage was quickly forgotten.
Randy remains committed to the Cubans fight for freedom by giving money and needed supplies to the Cuban Childrens Oncology Hospital. Dont believe anything good said about their health care system its a lie, states the author.
When not writing or dashing around Florida on one of his book signing tours, Randy hops aboard his paddle board to traverse the waters surrounding his home on Pine Island. He rarely fishes, only occasionally taking a fly rod to the beach during Tarpon season. I think Ive interrupted the life history of enough fish, he jokes.
For the author, this novel culminates a career that has allowed him to make a living doing what he loves. His ability to combine story plots with the history of Florida, keeps fans turning the page. Most would agree that in this novel Toby, the elephant, is one of the stars of the action.
And as usual, Doc Ford helps good prevail over evil, alludes to his connection with the government, and searches for that special woman who might truly understand him. Is it Hannah? And where did all those elephants go? Youll have to read the book.
stolen carvings along
with Randys interest
in the phosphate mines
in central Florida
is how the idea for
Bone Deep was born.
a former left-handed pitcher
for the Boston Red Sox,
claims hes Tomlinson.