From the Introduction to 47 Stories (Mostly about Florida)
When I was a kid, out fishing with my dad—cane poles and minnows for speckled perch, mostly—my favorite thing to do, besides the actual fish-catching part, was reaching into the live-box and counting how many specks we had already caught.
At which point my dad would swat my arm out of the live-box and slam the lid shut.
“Don’t count ‘em, dammit!” He was nothing if not emphatic, especially when it came to fishing. “Bad luck.”
Because once you start counting, you stop catching.
I’M NOT THE FIRST WRITER to trot out the proposition that what I do for a living is a lot like catching fish. Both require some basic technique and equipment. Beyond that it’s mostly luck. You waste a lot of time just sitting around doing nothing. Still, you are always hopeful that something really wonderful is about to come along and make your day. Writers and anglers are hopelessly delusional.
Occasionally a good idea surfaces, like a redfish rising to a fly, and you set the hook and reel it in. Then it flops around in the boat and gets fish slime all over the place until you put it out of its misery.
Which is probably not the best direction in which to take this already thinly stretched metaphor.
Except to say that some days, no matter how much you chum the water, you wind up getting skunked.
I HAVE NO IDEA how many stories I’ve written. Newspaper columns, magazine articles, books of one sort or another, freelance gigs that took too much time and paid too little money, and plenty of stories that have either been left unfinished or will never (mercifully) see the light of day.
Factor in that I’m an old fart. And that I’ve now been in the writing game for two-thirds of my life.
So, yeah, a boatload of stories.
I couldn’t put a number on them if I wanted to. And even if I did, then what?
It would be that whole counting-fish-in-the-live-box thing. Bad ju-ju. The stories might stop biting. And then what am I supposed to do?
EVERY STORY I’VE EVER WRITTEN was dashed off to meet a deadline. Finish one, think up another. Repeat ad infinitum.
Like fish that come up short of the size limit (can’t help myself) some stories should have been tossed back and allowed to grow up a bit. Some fought hard, determined not to get caught, and wore us both out. And some, but only a few I hope, stunk up the garbage from the get-go.
A small number of stories have somehow managed to hold up over the years. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them timeless classics, but at least I can still bring myself to read them, maybe even allow myself a congratulatory, “Well, that one’s not so bad. No reason to get rid of it.”
SO WHAT YOU HAVE HERE ARE THE KEEPERS. Which is almost what I called this book. The Keepers. Except it sounded a tad too Stephen Kingish.
While there’s no particular theme at play, these stories fall into a few broad categories that I have mined relentlessly over the years. Stories about family. Stories about food. Stories about traveling to far-flung places. Stories about traveling to far-flung places and eating food with my family. And since there’s no escaping the fact that I’m a fourth-generation Floridian, stories that are tainted by that noble perspective.
So . . . like an angler insistent upon turning his marlin into a wall mount, I have performed the journalistic equivalent of taxidermy by preserving these stories in the pages of this book.
I’m told there are three or four dozen of them. I don’t know how many exactly.
But you are welcome to reach inside and count them for yourself.