Hey Mom, Dad: I Wrote A Book in Tampa Bay

They are all around us, these writers.
They are teachers and students, socialites and social workers, retired cops and prison inmates.

They are corporate drones, reformed journalists, work-at-home moms and dads.

They are among us. And they are writing.

But who are they? And what, if anything, do they have in common, other than geography and the written word?

Tampa transplant and Valdosta, Ga., native Lisa Scherer has tried for five years to make sense of the Tampa Bay area writing scene through her blog.

Her conclusion: The region's writing community is one big, amorphous stew of quiet creativity.

 "I don't know that there is an identifiable personality, per se, or label or tag," Scherer says. "It's sort of a mix."

From the fevered imaginations of the region's sun-baked, sand-blasted writers have sprung loveably bumptious serial killers, crime-fighting baseball managers, post-modern vampires, hard-bitten private investigators, pioneers of interstellar travel and alien warfare.

And they are doing it right next door. Why here?

For one transplanted child of Alaska, the move to Florida 14 years ago meant one thing.

"My answer is actually ridiculously simple," says Jeff Strand, a corporate employee by day and a comic-horror writer by night. "It's pretty much the climate. I'm done with cold weather."

Discovering A Sense of Place

Strand's 15th book-length work, Dweller, is due out in April. The 39-year-old Bowling Green State creative writing graduate is one of those, like Michael Connelly (City of Bones, The Brass Verdict) and "Florida genre" author Tim Dorsey (Florida Roadkill, The Stingray Shuffle), who move among us with little fanfare.

In addition to the weather, Strand likes the blend of small-town sensibilities and big-market convenience.

"I like Tampa because it's big enough that you get all the cool arts stuff," Strand says. "Been to New York City, loved it. Been to L.A., loved it. But wouldn't want to live there."

Not that there's anything wrong with those big cities. They are, after all, the nation's centers of creativity – and of monetary gain in the entertainment industry.

"I would think that in the hierarchy of places for writers to live, a younger writer trying to make a living, there's New York City," says author and University of South Florida mass communications professor Rick Wilber. "But then after that, there's tons of good places. And Tampa-St. Pete is on that list of tons of good places."

Wilber's latest novel, Rum Point, was published in December. Many of the mystery thriller's settings are fictionalized versions of Wilber's stomping grounds in and around St. Pete Beach and Pass-a-Grille.

Wilber teaches as well as writes, which means he understands inspiration. Does he believe this region engenders particular creativity among writers?

"Only in the sense that every place engenders a certain kind of creativity," Wilber says. "You get certain sorts of things here. Generally, the association is with heat. Florida's crazy. For a certain kind of thriller, eco-thriller kind of writer, it's just a perfect location."

Dorsey's 12th novel, Gator-A-Go-Go, is due out Jan. 26. Dorsey, a former editor and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, has become the early 21st century's quintessential Tampa Bay area author.

Which is to say, his stories spring from his environment – this environment – as well as his imagination.

Speaking Of Crazy

"When people ask me about where you get your ideas, I just say I read the paper," Dorsey says. "That's the thing. There's a lot of material to mine in Tampa. And it's all sitting on the ground. You don't have to dig for it."

It's worked for Dorsey, who made fiction writing his full-time profession 10 years ago and has been published in six countries and several languages.

Many of his Tampa Bay neighbors aspire to that kind of writing success.

How many? In addition to the three major centers of student writing (USF, the University of Tampa and Eckerd College), there are a dozen formalized writers groups in the area that meet regularly.

During the annual exercise in insanity known as National Novel Writers Month (NaNoWriMo) this past November, 1,094 writers joined the Tampa and St. Petersburg groups on the 10-year-old organization's website. New York City had 3,921 group members; Los Angeles had 2,781.

Lisa Grace and Heather Trese of Clearwater met through the NaNoWriMo website's message board and decided to start their own, informal writers group.

Both went on to be accepted for participation in this month's Eckerd College Writers Conference: Writers in Paradise, an annual week-long gathering that features instruction from established writers like Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) and Anita Shreve (The Pilot's Wife).

Benefiting From Interaction

Grace's first novel, Angel in the Shadows, was published in December. Trese, a magazine editor and freelance writer, is at work on her first novel in the young adult genre.

Absorbed for several years in the solitary nature of writing, Trese only now has begun to discover the benefit of interacting with her fellow Tampa Bay area writers.

 "I think that once I started getting out there," Trese says, "I found that people are really a lot more friendly than I think you would find in other places."

Grace wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

"If you're going to be a starving young writer," Grace says, "what better place to starve than on the beach?"

Where are all these writers?

You've probably seen them, spoken with them, maybe even read them, without knowing it.

Perhaps you've brushed past them at Haslam's book store in St. Petersburg, or witnessed their intimate perusal of the shelves at Inkwood Books in Tampa.

Some of them can be found every other Wednesday at the Carrollwood Barnes & Noble, where the Tampa Writers Alliance gathers for support and commiseration.

"Not only do you have the writers groups to help push you along if you need to help," says former TWA president Michael Darling, "but also you've got the night life, the beach life, variety in the area. It's a good place to be."

Carter Gaddis is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist working out of his cookie-cutter Florida stucco home on a golf course in Lutz. He gave up on golf years ago, but can be spotted occasionally chasing his pre-K sons through Lowry Park Zoo and Busch Gardens. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Carter Gaddis.

Carter Gaddis is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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