Bestselling mystery writer Randy Wayne White may well be
America's buffest, toughest, YOLO literary lion since Earnest
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
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.
"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
Suffice to say, in Florida fiction, all bedfellows are
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?
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
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?
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
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"
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?
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
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.
Author C.J. Box takes his outside chance at
Dave Barry: a perpetual adolescent looks at