Florida is a mad place. The tacky picture of it can grate like the ringing noise of a cheap carnival. People may live here, but they never seem to be actually from here when you ask them. Everyone is racing around on highways built over swamps and a new sinkhole is just another Wednesday.
Hometown pride feels harder to come by than theme park tickets.
A story comes out about a guy trying to barter for beer using his pet gator and people shake their heads cause they know it was us.
When others think of the south and all its gracious charm we’re that crazy cousin they all joke about kicking out of the family.
No, but seriously.
And yet, I love this place and can’t imagine writing about anywhere else.
My manuscript HURRICANE DAUGHTER takes place in a town I put together with the sunburnt pieces of the towns I’ve known. My make-believe Nova Creek hums from the interstate traffic that drives right past as tourists escape to the beaches or theme parks. It’s a place whose life blood runs with citrus and spring water. Everyone might not necessarily know everyone, but they’re only one person removed from remembering you. It’s rusty and humid and the train tracks were abandoned years ago, the mosquitoes are blood thirsty, and the sand cranes sometimes block in your car.
I was born in Miami and lived in Homestead, but we moved away after Hurricane Andrew blew a tree into our house and my dad needed a transplant that would be performed at Emory in Atlanta. Late in my junior year of high school my family packed up their stuff and moved back to Florida bound for Kissimmee and Abuelo after we lost Abuela to cancer. I was a pissed off teenager who was mourning and found no love for this stupid hot place and sandy, noisy high school.
And then I met a boy with blue eyes and sweet smile.
And we went to college.
And I fell into a deep love with a place called Gainesville.
The ground below me had a name and from there I grew roots that tangled with this swamp. My blood sang as it mixed with this blue and orange and I stood in a stadium and shouted for my team. I walked beside the old brick buildings, beneath oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and I fell in love with words and books.
I drank in the heat. Welded myself together with it.
We grew up and moved back to Central Florida and bought a house older than us a few blocks from the lake. Ancient oaks covered in moss give us shade and sand cranes wait with us at the bus stop. My kids climb our grapefruit tree and I pray every summer that the central AC never goes out.
My summer babies are spoiled with theme park trips because of a dad who works at Disney.
I belong to the heat and this horizon. The warm water and breezes that feel like blessings. I was built stronger by hurricanes and know to expect a thunderstorm every afternoon like an old friend. My fight with our eternal summer is like two old women barking across the fence at the other, but we’re good at it.
I’m drafting another story that is coming together by heat and salt water. A coastal, blue-collar place on the gulf built by fishermen and artists. Whose orange juice is maybe delivered by a grove just down the road. This is a town bright with the noise and music of locals who wake with the sun and stop for turtles in the road. It’s a place where three tight-knit Latinas are growing up and making the choices that come after high school. They’re pissed off and laughing and bursting with mistakes while falling in love and drinking in the heat.
Using it to weld together all their pieces.
It’s a mad place that claimed me and its from this heat that my stories are written.