Sleaze! Sex! Suspense!

South Florida writers live the life

She continued sailing too through the Bahamas, picking up a few bucks selling magazine articles for $75, maybe $125, and attempted a novel "so bad and so all-over-the-place" that by the end, its characters didn't even have the same names. But it wasn't until 1993 that she buckled down on what would become her first novel, Surface Tension. With James and young Tim, she sailed to Venezuela and through the Caribbean. They ran the generator for an hour a day, allowing her to type on her Macintosh.

In too-brief succession upon their return, she and James divorced, and he died of complications from a congenital heart problem. He was hard-headed, she says, and refused a surgery that would have allowed doctors to clean out an infection. "For a while there, I had guilt because I thought he would have been alive if we hadn't divorced," she says. When at last she finished the book and found an agent who could help revise it to a shoppable form, she says her cover letter explaining that she was a certified boat captain with 20 years' sailing experience helped get her into print. Surface Tension was published in 2002 with the dedication: "Tim, this one's for your dad." The advance, she said, came to about half the salary she made as a teacher.

"In living on land, so to speak, she seems to really get antsy," says Tim, now a film student at the University of Central Florida. "It's almost like she wants to go out and live these adventures just so she can write about them."

If you're a guy, read one of Vicki Hendricks' books sometime and see if the good parts don't make you feel like a creep.
Colby Katz
If you're a guy, read one of Vicki Hendricks' books sometime and see if the good parts don't make you feel like a creep.

Her heroine, Seychelle Sullivan, is Kling's answer to MacDonald's McGee, resident of a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale, "salvager" of stolen goods. Through Seychelle, a female tugboat captain, Kling elegizes a fading Florida. "You have to look past the Chili's to the Downtowner," she says of the changes in Broward, while sitting outside the latter, on the edge of the New River. "These places still exist here."

Formative experience: When she was 17 years old in Paris, she hitchhiked with a 15-year-old friend. They accepted a ride from two Algerian men who drove from the main street onto a dirt road and stopped the car. The man in the passenger's seat turned around and began to unbutton the younger girl's shirt.

"I just remember going," and here the author mimes a haymaker punch, "BAM! as hard as I could at this guy, right on his face. He just turned around and looked at me and went" -- she motions another punch here -- "BAM!

"And he said, 'Get out! Get out!' We scrambled out of the car, in the middle of nowhere, in the mountains, but we were OK, other than an eye that got black." For anyone who considers Seychelle reckless, Kling points out that her heroine doesn't do anything Kling herself wouldn't.

The critics say: Nice things, including a little outside Florida. The Cleveland Plain Dealer liked Surface Tension, as did the Omaha World-Herald: "She writes a tight, fast paced yarn." The St. Petersburg Times called Surface Tension "an amazing debut novel," which seems warranted, if a little generous.

Why you don't know her yet: She's still a new writer, with only two books out. And maybe she is straddling traditional genres. Women don't typically go nuts for sailing, she figures, and men don't buy many books by women. "Now I say, 'What was I thinking?'" Kling says. "I'm screwed on both counts."

Working on: Putting a down payment on a Caliber 33 sailboat that can take her back to the high seas. And a book tentatively called The Wrecker, another Seychelle novel.

VICKI HENDRICKS

Broward Community College English teacher

Published: Miami Purity (1995), Iguana Love (1999), Voluntary Madness (2000), Sky Blues (2002).

Fiction muse: Noir pioneer John M. Cain.

Trademarks: Strong female leads, a focus on character rather than plot, an amount of graphic sex that borders on enough.

Excerpt: "The concrete was cool but hard, so I got him flat on his back with his hands behind his head. I held on to his biceps. I watched his slick dick move in and out while I squatted over him. I must've come three or four times real fast." -- from Miami Purity

The skinny: Hendricks, a thin blond with a quick laugh, taps into something that natives and stale transplants forget once they've endured even one summer of swamp heat: that South Florida is innately sexy. She grew up around Cincinnati, transferred college twice, got her master's in English from Florida Atlantic University in 1979, and has taught English at Broward Community College more or less since 1981.

Her master's thesis ten years ago became her first published book, Miami Purity, about an ex-stripper who goes to work at a seamy dry cleaner's. (Naturally, she took her circa-$300,000 advance and bought a 30-foot sloop that she then lived aboard in Fort Lauderdale for about a year.) Hendricks followed with Iguana Love (heroine goes in deep with dive instructor), Voluntary Madness (heroine stakes love on dying man), Sky Blues (heroine falls for skydiver), all with strong female leads and a narrative voice that, best Hendricks can figure, she distilled from listening to her Kentucky relatives as a kid. Devour it or trash it, Hendricks specializes in putting the reader inside women who don't behave. Such stories don't need to be set in South Florida, but it doesn't hurt.

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