By: LAURA REINA
HE MIAMI HERALD’S Sunday magazine, Tropic, just completed publication of something “stranger than fiction” to generate excitement among its readers.
Tropic debuted “Naked Came the Manatee,” a serial, fictional story which ran from Nov. 12, 1995 to Feb. 11.
What made the project unique was each chapter was written by a different South Florida writer, and each chapter was an unplanned reaction to what was written previously. Each writer had the freedom to take the story in any direction he or she chose.
“Naked Came the Manatee” drew its talent from some of South Florida’s most popular writers, including Miami Herald staffers columnists Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen, crime writer Edna Buchanan and Tananarive Due. Others include Elmore Leonard, Les Standiford, Vicki Hendricks, Paul Levine, Carolina Hospital, James Hall, Brian Antoni, John Dufresne, and Evelyn Mayerson.
Barry set the stage by writing the first chapter, and Carl Hiaasen wrote the last chapter.
Tom Shroder, executive editor of Tropic, explained “Naked Came the Manatee” started partly when he was discussing last November’s Miami Book Fair with Barry, and how there are enough writers in South Florida to do something a little different and special.
The idea metamorphosed from there, with the help of Mitch Kaplan, owner of a local bookstore and chairman of the book fair.
“Readers have really enjoyed it,” said Shroder. “At the book fair, people were rolling in the aisles about this.”
Each chapter was comprised of approximately 2,500 words (although the last chapter was a little longer, explained Shroder).
In most cases, each writer was given seven to 10 days to come up with his or her chapter.
Each chapter ran weekly, and there were a few chapters written before the first one was published.
“It’s fun watching these guys work,” commented Shroder.
To get readers even more involved, they were invited to submit their own endings, and the best ones published after Hiaasen’s.
Shroder said that since the story began running, there have been a lot of requests for back issues. So far, only the Tropic has run “Naked,” but Putnam bought the rights to publish the story in its entirity. It’s likely to be published in the fall of 1996, and the authors will donate their book royalties to their individual charities of choice, said Shroder.
And after the final chapter ran on Feb. 11, the legacy of “Naked Came the Manatee” will live on in the Tropic. As a result of its popularity, each week the Sunday magazine will run “True Lies,” a 900-word short, fictional story based on a South Florida subject matter. All readers are welcome to submit their work.
“We haven’t run fiction in a long time, but now that this has been a success, we will,” said Shroder.