Words from the Wise
(April 5, 1991)
Some of our summer authors talk about the inspirations, challenges and (they hope) pleasures of their new books.
What appealed to me most about Maximum Bob was the idea of writing about a judge. A couple of years ago in Palm Beach Country I got to meet one who was full of stories, and I thought that this was too good to pass up. But my judge had to be a particular kind, and I came up with the idea of a hanging judge called Maximum Bob. He’s a racist, a bigot, a woman chaser, but he can be funny and fun to watch. And somebody is trying to kill him.
After coming up with the judge, I had to develop a character with a different point of view. I decided upon a probation officer, Kathy Baker. Seventy-five percent of the probation officers in Palm Beach Country are female and young. They’re like little schoolgirls associating with a lot of bad guys. It’s hard work. It’s hectic. And there’s some danger, prowling around tough neighborhoods at night to see if the guys are complying with their paroles.
My whole idea is telling the story in dialogue. When I started 40 years ago, I was reading these ponderous novels and wondering how I could ever write all those words. Then I made a discovery about Hemingway. There was all this white space between the lines that wasn’t being said.
My first books were westerns, and I outlined them all in advance, sometimes on 3” X 5” index cards that I taped to the wall, plotting scene by scene. It was a very mechanical process. Now, I would rather make the plot up as it goes along. Ending are easy. The middle is what’s hard.
This is my 29th book. Five or six have been set in Florida. My next one will be too. Its central character is a bail bondsman. I’va already done process servers. I like to do characters whose images aren’t that presentable.