Thursday, April 29, 2010

Literati Glitterati

This is another in a series on celebrity authors.

Years ago, my friends Jim and Cuzz Gekas and I were going up to Michigan to see a football game at the University of Michigan. We decided to read a book prior to the trip and cast it into a movie on the ride to pass the time. Jim and I stumbled around a bookstore and eventually came across Bahamarama, a mystery (and debut) novel by Bob Morris. Clearly, this was a case of serendipity.
Bahamarama starts with Zack Chasteen being released from a Florida prison after serving about 2 years on trumped-up charges. Chasteen attempts to go to his love, Barbara Pickering, but his journey is derailed by the man who framed him before. The rest of the book is filled with fast-paced action, colorful characters, interesting plot twists and even some humor.
As I was finishing Bahamarama, I was already hoping for another adventure with Chasteen. Fortunately, there have been four more novels in the Chasteen series, including the recently released Baja Florida. Each one is new and exciting, but comfortable and familiar at the same time, as we continue to learn more about the complex character of Chasteen.
Chasteen's creator Morris is an interesting person. Morris is a fourth generation Floridian and grad of the University of Florida. He worked for a number of newspapers and now is a freelance writer and editor.
When I asked Morris when he started to think about writing his first novel, he told me, "I always wanted to write books, especially mysteries, from way back when I was a kid in journalism school. John D. MacDonald, the godfather of all Florida mystery writers, was a giant influence. Heck, I even named our younger son Dashiell MacDonald Morris after JDM and Dashiell Hammett. But I had to make a living and journalism (then) seemed the best way to get a regular paycheck. So I thought about the books and the character for years and years, and then when our sons were finally out of the house and in college I figured it was a good time to go after it."
Thinking and developing the character for so many years might be the reason that Chasteen has so many layers. He's not your average P.I. Morris continued, "No, he's not a P.I. at all. He would bristle at that notion. He's an amateur sleuth, a guy who just seems to step in shit wherever he turns. I was walking down a beach on Harbour Island, Bahamas, one afternoon and the idea of a series set on different Caribbean islands just sorta popped into my head. Went back to my cottage and started writing and Zack Chasteen just started talking to me. Guess I was off my meds..."
I had to laugh at the line about his meds, but the key line for me was that Chasteen would bristle at being called a P.I. That is one of the things that gives him some depth and color. He didn't solve one crime and suddenly hang a shingle and become super human. Chasteen is very human.
Having read the first four books and looking forward to the latest, Baja Florida, I asked Morris about long-term plans for Chasteen. He told me, "Well, there's a real arc to his character. When we first meet him in BAHAMARAMA, he's just getting out of prison and trying to connect with his girlfriend, Barbara, in the Bahamas. Now he and Barbara are married and have a daughter, Shula. So that arc will continue wherever it might lead."
Will it lead to a movie and who could capture the true essence of Zack Chasteen? According to Morris, "First two books have been optioned but who the heck knows and I don't put money on anything that originates in Hollywood. My wife wants Jeff Bridges to play Zack. A good fit, I think..."
Who am I to argue with Morris or his wife? Bridges sounds good to me.
I really want to thank Morris for his wit and wisdom. I also want to thank Morris for Zack Chasteen and all of his friends and foes. They have brought me much enjoyment as I have followed their lives. These books have everything you could want in an action-mystery novel, including an author who is just as entertaining.
Bob Morris in Florida-late 2000's.

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