Sleaze! Sex! Suspense!

South Florida writers live the life

He returned from his sailing voyage to find a different editor at Putnam and his fiction career slightly adrift. So he focused on the NASCAR haven of Daytona Beach and tried to do his best Hiaasen impression in Speed Week.

The state remained the star in later novels that sent up the state's Big Tobacco settlement and Disney. The money, he says, is just good enough that he can send his two young sons, Orion and Rigel, to public school and stash money for their college. If anything, novelizing has helped his reporting contacts. "Generally," the 41-year-old says, "the people who may or may not have been models for the villains in my novels probably have not served as great sources for me anyway."

His latest novel, Black Sunshine, focuses on a pair of shrub-like political brothers, one of questionable intellectual stature, and a brittle, jagged, female Florida Secretary of State who undergoes plastic surgery to hold a smile on her face. It prompted one reviewer on Amazon.com to extol Katherine Harris' virtues and demand that Date be deported.

"Maybe in places that have relatively clean government, you can't have these type of [novels]," Date says. "This is still the Wild West. In a sense, we were settled after California, and everything goes here.

"You think you're going to change the world for the better," he says of newspaper work, "and in fact, you're just making a very small paycheck. So you write novels in which the bad guys are eaten by carnivores."

Formative experience: The transatlantic sailing trip. They braved storms, caught their suppers, learned languages, made repairs, and consorted with the international gallery that crossed their path. It also helped him write. No one can sail across an ocean in 24 hours; it's impossible. But 100 miles in a day -- that can be done. He accomplishes a book in the same increments. You write two pages a day for 150 straight days...

Critics say: One of the harsher criticisms about Black Sunshine came from an Orlando Sentinel writer who disliked only the copious nautical detail; indeed, Date's prose reads dense. Otherwise, the papers love him. A representative Tampa Tribunereview said he's "in the Carl Hiaasen-level of Florida fiction."

In his day job, he's more polarizing. "He has a very aggressive, take-no-prisoners style," says Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo, a friend and former Post colleague. "In the process of reporting politics, you need to be political. Sometimes, he hasn't been as mindful of that."

Why you don't know him: By now, you probably should; his books are enjoyable and germane enough. He still hasn't had his Striptease moment, in which Demi Moore's breasts make him a household name. Bob Graham did him no favors by being the first Democrat to pull out of the 2004 primary race -- five months before Date could even get the biography to bookstores. He enjoys dubious local fame for the 2002 episode in which then-House Speaker Tom Feeney barred him from the House floor after some unflattering stories.

Working on:Another nonfiction book, this one about Jeb Bush. He's also cranking on another novel, tentatively titled Foul Ball, in which the owner of a South Florida pro baseball team has, after years of trying, finagled a spiffy, retractable-roof stadium out of the state Legislature. The only catch is that a clause in the deal requires that the team not make the playoffs for five years. When the baseballers start winning, the owner starts executing his roster. "Any similarities to any actual owners in South Florida," Date says, "naturally are coincidental."

CHRISTINE KLING

Educator, periodic vagabond

Published: Surface Tension (2002), Cross Current (2004), Bitter End (due in September).

Fiction muse: Lionized drunkard Ernest Hemingway.

Trademark:Nautical action and themes of old Florida.

Excerpt:"[T]he city commissioners decided, in all their wisdom, that no tourists were better than the drunken, debauching variety. They used the cops to drive away the spring-breakers, and with their business gone, slowly the small mom-and-pop motels closed, nailing plywood over the windows and putting up For Sale signs in the dry, unkempt grass. Corporate America went on a buying spree then... The Fort Lauderdale Strip would soon have as much character as any middle-America shopping mall." -- from Surface Tension

The skinny: Kling has light hair, sapphires where her eyes should be, and a curious, mirthful smile that makes her right eye squint as though she were imitating a pirate; or perhaps that appears to be the effect because boats and wanderlust have been her life. She was the middle child of three and grew up in Southern California with a yearning to live in Gertrude Stein's apartment in Paris and canoodle with Pablo Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald. As a teen, she lived in Paris for a spell, hitchhiked around Europe, then returned to California. She dropped out of college at age 19 to traverse the Baja Peninsula on a ten-speed, and again, near her 21st birthday, to move to Maui and sail.

It was in Hawaii that she met her eventual husband, James, who picked up the self-described "hippie chick" as crew, never expecting she would last through trips to French Polynesia and New Zealand. They returned to California and, in 1982, struck out for the Caribbean to run a charter service. When she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Tim, in 1984, they followed her love of John D. MacDonald's Fort Lauderdale-based Travis McGee novels and struck out for Broward County, where they lived aboard their boat, in Hollywood. With a kid to support, she returned to school, finally completing her bachelor's in English education. In 1988, she began work at Miami Carol City High School; later, she taught in Broward County schools.

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