Dave Barry still gets to be funny for a living. It's just a little different these days.
Barry rose to fame in the '80s through a nationally syndicated column in The Miami Herald, followed by collections of essays and even a sitcom, "Dave's World," inspired by his life. These days he's still writing, but only occasionally for the Herald. He's found a niche in young adult fiction, writing the Peter Pan prequel, "Peter and the Starcatchers," which is set to be a movie.
"Insane City" is his first adult novel in a decade, following the capers of a young slacker about to be married in Barry's all-time favorite setting -- South Florida.
Barry will be one of several high-profile authors at the Savannah Book Festival to give special speaking engagements. (His, along with talks by James Patterson and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" writer Jeff Kinney, are sold out.)
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We talked to Barry about his new novel, Peter Pan and the craziness of Miami.
Question. What was the inspiration for "Insane City"?
Answer. This story came about because of a wedding. I attended a wedding on Key Biscayne overlooking the water. Very nice wedding in a beautiful setting. I got this image in my mind of a raft of immigrants showing up during a wedding like this. My son got married a couple years ago so I watched the whole process of a wedding play out. So I decided to set the wedding in Miami where everything goes wrong. It started as a comedy, but it does have this subplot with immigrants that gives it a more serious side.
Q. What is it about Miami that makes it so crazy?
A. We have people from around the world. They come here but not for serious reasons. They come to party, to get away, to retire. A lot of craziness goes on. Then you have the wildlife. You have snakes in your yard and escaped monkeys roaming the streets. It's got a weird feel to it.
Q. "Peter and the Starcatchers" was a change of pace for you. How did you get into writing young adult fiction?
A. I played with (author) Ridley Pearson in a rock band called The Rock Bottom Remainders (along with other writers, such as Stephen King and Amy Tan). We were not a good rock band. But we all became good friends. Ridley was reading Peter Pan to his daughter, and she asked him how Peter Pan met Captain Hook. I saw him that weekend, and he pitched the idea of writing a book about Peter Pan. We thought we'd write one book. It ended up being a 500-page book, and we ended up writing five.
Q. Do you miss working at a newspaper?
A. No (laughs). I did it for almost 30 years. I don't really miss the deadline pressure of always having a column due.
Q. What advice do you have for people who want to write humor columns?
A. It's harder than it looks. It should look easy. But most of the people I know who do it for a living really sweat over it. My advice: Don't beat a joke to death. I see that too often. But it's hard to teach someone to write humor. It's kind of hard to tell someone, "Hey, just be funny."
Dave Barry is just one of many high-profile authors coming to the Savannah Book Festival. We caught up with a couple more, as well.
Appearing: 1:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Jepson Center
Recent work: Young adult series "The Paladin Prophecy"
Famous for: Co-creator of "Twin Peaks," writer on "Hill Street Blues"; wrote a trilogy of books about the history of golf
On "Paladin Prophecy": The first in the series about a seemingly average boy who has remarkable powers came out to critical acclaim, and now he's working on the second in a trilogy. He's hoping it follows in the footsteps of "Harry Potter" or "Twilight," young adult series that have been adapted to the big screen. "I've always had the idea in the back of my head. Then my 9-year-old son came up to me and said, 'Dad why don't you write a book I'd want to read?'<2009>"
On golf: He grew up with a grandfather who told stories about famous golfers and matches. Frost's "The Greatest Game Ever Played" is based on the first amateur winner of the U.S. Open, Francis Ouimet. "I used to be a pretty good golfer -- five handicap, but when you have a young son you don't get out much."
On "Twin Peaks": Fans are speculating online that a third season might be in store for the cult series, nearly 23 years after it premiered. "At this point it's pure speculation. A lot of people are really hoping. (Co-creator David Lynch and I) hope so, too, but we both have other projects. It's well into the future if at all."
Appearing: Closing address Feb. 17 (sold out)
Recent work: "The Forgotten"
Famous for: Writing two dozen military/political thrillers, including "Absolute Power," which was made into a movie with Clint Eastwood
On productivity: Baldacci has three books coming out this year and is in post-production of an independent film based on his "Wish You Well." "I picked up my pace about five years ago when I said I wanted to try to write two books in a year. They both came out well, and I've just kept at it since. It's a fast pace, but not overwhelming. I don't worry about deadlines or pressure; I just pretend like I'm that 8-year-old again telling stories to myself."
On "Absolute Power": His first published novel was made into a movie. Shortly after, he gave up his job as a lawyer to write full time. "This came after 15 years of rejection -- screenplays that weren't made, books that weren't published. At that time, I was just happy to have an agent."
On the Wish You Well Foundation: Baldacci and his wife Michelle started the foundation to promote literacy. "So many of our societal ills are is tied to this skill. It's very difficult to be successful if you have poor literacy skills."