Give us a little squeeze: A Q&A with Carl Hiaasen

Seira Wilson on October 08, 2020

Give us a little squeeze: A Q&A with Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen's latest novel, Squeeze Me, was a highlight of everything I read this summer and also an editors' pick for the best books of the month in mystery, thriller, and suspense. He's a magician when it comes to satire and I laughed all the way through this book.

Squeeze Me is the story of a bumbling President (code name Mastodon), a philandering First Lady, Burmese pythons, a group of Palm Beach socialites/presidential groupies who call themselves the POTUSSIES, and a wildlife wrangler named Angie Armstrong. After a founding member of the POTUSSIES is found dead (and during charity ball season, no less!), the President attributes her murder to the "rampaging immigrant hordes," but the real culprit is something else entirely.

Irreverent and clever, Hiassen, as usual, also seamlessly weaves a real life environmental issue into the hilarity—this time, an invasive species of snake that's been troubling Florida for years. If you are looking for an escapist read that will bring some much-needed laughter into your day, Squeeze Me is the book for you.

We asked Hiaasen a few questions about his book, the deliciously witty names he chose for places and characters, and the debut of protagonist Angie Armstrong.

Seira Wilson, Amazon Book Review: Squeeze Me was so much fun to read—was it a lot of fun to write?

Carl Hiassen: The concept of the novel was fun from the beginning, but the writing is always a struggle if you're doing it right. Some days you read the headlines and you just don't feel particularly hilarious. What keeps you going is knowing how much people need to laugh right now.

At what point during this administration did you start writing Squeeze Me?

I don't remember when I actually started writing, but it was well into Trump's first term. The fact that he spends so much time here in Florida—and is now an official, vote-by-mail resident—was inspirational for satiric purposes. My fear all along was that he would do or say something more comically outrageous than the fictional President in the novel, and often he did. Then I'd have to go back to a scene in the book and crank up the circus knob a notch or two.

I read that Florida has captured 5,000 Burmese pythons in the past three years—had you been thinking about making these snakes the wildlife star of one of your books, or did they come into the story later in the writing process? And have you ever seen a Burmese python in the wild?

The real python crisis has been unfolding here for years, so I knew that eventually they'd have a prominent role in one of the novels. I mean, this is Florida. Of course there's a giant snake in your toilet! I've been on two python hunts and never seen one. Ironically, a friend who's a vice president at Knopf (my publisher) brought his family down here on vacation last January, and guess what happens? Their Everglades guide leaps off his airboat and grabs a wild 12-foot python right in front of them. Totally legit, too. I saw the pictures.

You always have funny, clever names in your books, but you may have outdone yourself this time—Kiki Pew, POTUSSIES, Casa Bellicosa—which of these did you come up with first?  Did any of these names start out as something else?

Casa Bellicosa, the name of the presidential mansion, just popped into my head. The other names took some time to nail down. I always want them to be descriptive and memorable, so they stick with readers from the beginning. It's not uncommon for me to try out two or three different names on a character before deciding what fits the best.

Will we be seeing more of Angie Armstrong?

I grew very fond of Angie, which often happens with my female protagonists. Angie's a wildlife-removal "specialist," which is a real profession in Florida though not many women do it. She's so sharp and strong that I can see her showing up in another novel, but I don't know when. Not much planning goes into these books—they just sort of tumble out of my imagination. I don't always love my characters at the end, but Angie's a rock star.

Author photo credit: Elena Seibert

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