Tricksters, Crackers, and Gods

The Unpublished Run-On Preface

While writing my first novel, O Little Central Florida Town of Bedlam, reality seemed to mimic some of the chaotic scenarios in my book. It should have come as no surprise then when shortly after my completing a first draft of the preface for my follow-up novel, Tricksters, Crackers, and Gods (Roy and Judd’s Inferno and Florida Odyssey), coincidence left its calling card again. The original unpublished preface, eventually shortened from 6 to 2 pages, touched on a trip in my youth to the West Coast of Florida, specifically to Naples and Sanibel Island. Around the time I began to begrudgingly edit the piece, Hurricane Ian—the deadliest such storm to wallop the state of Florida since the 1935 Labor Day hurricane—began to form and take aim at the same areas. 

I look at some of the pictures of the horrific devastation the storm produced and they give me pause to reflect on the chaos in my own life. You see, for the past 2 years I’ve been homeless. In fact, this next novel was written in one country, edited in another, and finalized and published in yet another. And, in that span of time I went from Greece to the UK, back to Greece, back to the UK, and then finally bottoming out back in the USA, where I was born. Rebuilding is the name of the game, both in respect to myself and the victims of Hurricane Ian. Speaking personally about my own Odyssey, I’m thankful I’m alive and still have the energy to complete this project despite the continuing fallout of my own crisis … but back to the preface of my novel. 

Clearly it was too long in its original state, because the publishing mavens balk at a preface that exceeds 2 pages, so like George Washington’s cherry tree, I chopped it down, figuring I would publish it in full here as a lead into the release of the novel. Here it is in its full verbose, stream-of-consciousness glory:

The first time I traveled to the West Coast of Florida, I was about 6 years old. In fact, it was the first time I had traveled to the west coast anywhere. My family braved the trip across the Everglades National Park via Tamiami Trail, the more southern alternative to Alligator Alley.

Along the way to Naples (not Italy), we saw the smallest post office in the continental United States, but failed to see any alligators or skunk apes. We saw a lot of roadkill, however, as well as empty beer cans on the side of the road. We also saw pickup trucks pulling boat trailers, some of them laden with airboats—a flat-bottomed boat propelled by an airplane propeller and rudder. These swamp craft were iconic to anyone living in South Florida. A guy on our suburban block even had one in his front yard.

Arriving in Naples (not Italy), I saw the Gulf of Mexico for the first time; I immediately appreciated why Chevrolet had named one of its automobiles after Biscayne Bay, which is located in Miami. The small town was under construction and in the process of redefining itself, but it was still eons away from the concrete jungle that Miami was becoming. And yet, somehow, it was familiar to me. There were slight tropical shades of old Miami, but culturally speaking it had as much in common with my birth town as Twin Peaks, Washington does with, say, Manhattan.

Moreover, folks on the East Coast of Florida, especially in the South (deeper than the Deep South), had a different social complex. Regardless of whether they were blacks or whites, rednecks, carpetbaggers, retired snowbirds, Miccosukees or Seminoles, Jews, or Cubans, most Miamians had other preoccupations at the end of the 1960s.

The people of Naples (not Italy) seemed to have a different set of priorities and, in 1969, were looking to attract wealthy, retired, and most probably whiter-than-white snowbirds looking for their last hurrah and place to die in the sun. I haven’t been there since, but I’m pretty sure it was aiming to be what Gulf Breeze in North Florida—on the state’s panhandle, way up and over to the west—eventually became. They needed a gimmick, however; enter Gasparilla, the pirate.

West Coast residents of the state have always had a fascination with the history of the area’s pirates—and why not? The allure of finding buried treasure was good for tourism. In Miami, you might only find a buried potato knish, and in Orlando, a buried mouse. At least, that is what the thinking must have been. Moreover, no one ever really believed that Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth in Miami was real—and if you had seen the polluted state of the Miami River in the 1960s, you would understand why.

As such, even at my family’s first stop in Naples (not Italy), a gas station and grocery store, we were soon regaled with imagery and swashbuckling tales of Gasparilla. I even believed that if I looked hard enough, I might find some of his buried treasure on the beach, or at least a few golden doubloons laying around. Then, we hit Sanibel Island.

It was evening by the time we headed north, crossed a bridge, and landed on the east coast of a larger chain of coral-rock formations, which also includes Captiva Island on its western side. It just figured to me that somehow we would end up again on an eastern coast on our trip west.

We pulled into the Jolly Rogers Motel much too late to swim, but my sister and I quickly went tearing off to see the beach. We were first hit by the horrendous smell of ammonia and decay. Then, we noticed the water, lit only by the moon; it was awash with the carcasses of dead fish and unrecognizable crustaceans. There was no surf, just sludge, and the dead marine life seemed like a floating abscess with an old, rotten fishing net thrown over it, holding the oozing scab in place. In the distance, I heard the voice of a harried mother of another family with small children holler out in a New England accent, “Don’t put your lips on it!”

It was only in the morning sun of the next day that we understood what red tide was. The sight, genocidal to say the least, was biblical in nature; it was the red plague all over again. It was like someone had dumped into the water a truckload of canned sardines in tomato sauce, as well as the mysterious kind of canned seafood parts you can only find in Greece. I remember thinking it was as if Hell had regurgitated all this up, sans flames. To this day, I can honestly say it is still one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, we swam in the motel pool that day.

Now, the wonderful thing about chaos is the eventual realization that denial is bliss. I call this, “therapeutic denial.” In my creativity, there is certainly a lot of chaos, and a lot of it seeps in from real life, as I described above. Survival of my psyche means my learning to swim in the pool of zeitgeist to find patterns and run with them. The sense of motion, at least, is comforting while I long for stability. Some sense of permanence always comes and goes, victim to the wayward winds of folly, manipulation, and divine providence.

Yet, some patterns, like red tide, are a bit mind-boggling. Whether it’s behavior patterns or weather patterns, confusion reigns supreme. For example, I grew up in Miami, only to leave it and to end up writing about it. I lived in Greece for 26 years, only to leave it and to end up writing about Greek gods and goddesses. Of course, it was a Greek goddess that prompted my leaving Miami, as well as another one that offered me a respite from Greece.

Regardless, these two themes, behavior and weather patterns, came together for me creatively in the South of England, of all places. Interestingly enough, I’m from the South, and for the months I wrote this novel, I stayed in Canterbury, which is well known in literature for its tales told by pilgrims competing for dinner. There, I lived with and was nurtured by said Greek goddess who, thankfully, is obsessed with the structure of stories, dinner notwithstanding.

Presently, I’m back in the United Kingdom, again in the South, in Chichester, which is where I ended up editing this novel and writing this foreword. Coincidentally, lots of wealthy Brits also come to die in this cathedral and bedroom community. Here are the current weather conditions: the sky is blue and there is a heatwave on; it reminds me of Miami, except it’s not as humid and there is a lesser risk of flooding.

Nevertheless, there is an algae-ridden pond in a nature reserve called Brandy Hole Copse (not corpse). The pond, a prehistoric fishing hole of sorts, not unlike Broom Pond of my first novel, brings new color to the term, “pond scum.” Such a hue of green, I have never seen in nature, except for in the infected phlegm I might cough up in a bad chest cold. What they are preserving there in the copse, I am unsure of, but it is no doubt way past its expiration date.

Like my other work, this novel is full of satire, but also, as I like to say, it is based on any number of true stories. Some people will call the genre, “climate fiction,” which itself is problematic because the climate crisis is very real and no laughing matter. Yet, there are those in denial about global warming and even of our culpability for creating the climate-changing Anthropocene epoch we live in. Absurdly, they are consistent. The same industries that are most responsible for bringing about environmental chaos to our planet, are the very same ones that now bang on the gong about resiliency efforts. Congratulations! We’ve reached a new low: a high level of hypocrisy.

Therefore, my writing of this novel is my form of climate action. Like my other related works, this book represents a cautionary tale, to one degree of another. It’s also very personal. There are a number of references here to old Miami, areas of which I remember, and others that were already long gone when I was younger—but still left their indelible mark in local history.

Miami has always been in a state of flux, its history being an ever-shifting hurricane of construction booms, social upheaval, skyline change, urban sprawl, blue-skies tourism, and demographic turnover. Things change; what was familiar is long gone, and in its place, just another temporary placeholder for a prefabricated false testament to permanence and denial. It’s absurd. As absurd as building a nuclear power plant, Turkey Point, in the middle of a marine nature reserve, and then drawing natural water from the area to cool its reactors, as opposed to just building isolated cooling pools like everywhere else in the world. Thank you Florida, Power, and Fright; thank you very little.

The overconfident nature of man is very fickle. He thinks so little of the planet. To him, it and the rest of its inhabitants are just consumables. However, Mother Nature knows better and that’s why Miami has both hurricane and monsoon seasons.

Speaking of consumables, did I mention that the traditional English breakfast is not that different from the standard American variety. Apart from the staples of sunny-side-up fried eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast, the main difference is that instead of good-old Southern grits and pancakes thrown on top, you get baked beans and black pudding (blood sausages) on the side. Either way, my Florida Cracker and alter ego, Judd Jugmonger, would say, “That thar is good eatin’!”

See what I mean—behavior is hard to figure out. This book, like my others, is about climate crisis and how it brings social crisis. My first novel, O Little Central Florida Town of Bedlam, was also a cautionary tale for climate change and also established the absurd and satirical world I’ve based my stories in. This novel is not a sequel but more of an extension. I hope to write and publish a third novel in this series which, in part, will be set in the future, once most of Florida is probably underwater, as per the predictions of many climate scientists.

Between writing and editing this novel, I ended up back in Greece for 6 months, where I wrote and published a collection of absurd short stories related to the climate crisis. That book, Climate Riot, takes “social crisis” to a new level, but that is pretty much my point.

In part, this novel is also a tribute to some really epic literature. From Homer’s Odyssey, to Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and of course Dante’s Inferno (or Hell), the 1st part of his Divine Comedy. These heady classics are all testaments to the modern road trip that I wanted to put two of my favorite characters through—themselves being such clashing case studies in contrast and similarity, especially in terms of their behavior and motives. Indeed, throwing them together was a great creative exercise I knew would herald social conflict, over and above the doomsday plot to destroy Florida and the Underworld.

Mark Twain, the famed American author and humorist, once quipped in his notebook that one goes to, “heaven for the climate, hell for the company.” For my inclusion of the ancient Olympian deities in this mess, I have no doubt that Hesiod, the ancient Greek poet and author of Theogony, would be very confused, if not irate. Were he my travel agent, he would surely suggest I go to the latter.

– Jay Leonard Schwartz, Chichester, UK, August, 2022

PS. I like tarot cards. I threw them in here, too. At the very least it gives credence to the notion that this absurd satirist, and proponent of therapeutic denial, may not be playing with a full deck.

Tricksters, Crackers, and Gods is available on Amazon in both (digital) Kindle format and paperback at the following link:

An e-book in ePub format is also available directly from me, the author, at a reduced price below or at the following link:

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