University Press of Florida’s Q&A with Fringe Florida Author

Take a Walk on Florida’s Wild Side with Lynn Waddell

Posted September 17, 2013 by flpresspr in Arts & CultureAuthor InterviewFlorida HistoryFlorida TourismNew BooksPublication Announcement. Tagged: . Leave a Comment

Photo by James Harvey

Photo by James Harvey

 

Q&A with Lynn Waddell

author of

Fringe Florida: Travels among Mud Boggers, Furries, Ufologists, Nudists, and Other Lovers of Unconventional Lifestyles

“I can’t tell you how many times I heard something like, ‘Don’t use my name because my relatives don’t know I’m into this.’” – Lynn Waddell

University Press of Florida (UPF): When did you know that you wanted to write this book? What led you to this subject?

Lynn Waddell (LW): It was a long evolution. More than 10 years ago an editor asked me what I wanted to write about and I told him people with extremely focused passions; interests that they obsessively pursued, be they collecting hand towels or building a multi-billion-dollar casino empire. There’s no such beat in most, if any, newspapers and perhaps not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job.

Without realizing it, I began gathering string for this book not long after I decided to make my home in St. Petersburg, after graduate school in the late ‘90s. I wrote about a few of the book topics for a Tampa alternative newspaper. Since 2001 I’ve freelanced for a wide variety of national daily newspapers, weekly news magazines and travel publications, including Florida travel guides. During the course of my paying gigs, I stumbled across some amazingly interesting people whose stories never fit within the pieces I wrote.  The idea for the book grew from that frustration. It wasn’t until I met then-University of Florida Press Editor Jon Byram at a travel writers’ conference that I realized it could become a reality. He showed great interest in the idea.  I got serious and crafted a proposal.

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Available now!

 

UPF: How is your day structured when you write? What’s your writing routine?

LW: My work days vary widely depending on the type of writing I’m doing. I still jungle some freelance news assignments which disrupts my book work. News editors typically want stories the day before they assign them, so there’s little time to deconstruct a sentence or daydream about where to plant the petunias.

When it comes to long-term projects, I’m one of the world’s most unstructured working writers. I’m so skilled in procrastination that I’ve done taxes to avoid writing.  But that’s no way to complete a book, and I’d sooner stand on my head for 10 years than fail to complete a committed project.  With this my first book, I evolved to a state of time management just slightly better than a slug’s.

Having gained 20 pounds while working on Fringe Florida, I’m now incorporating exercise into my work day else I lose the ability to stand up.

 

UPF: Does Florida tend to lend itself to the fringe lifestyle more than other places? If so, why do you think that is?

LW: Most definitely. There are reasons unique to each lifestyle, but one common factor is the physical environment, the year ‘round mild weather and sunshine.  Exotic animals thrive here, so people who want to be around them move here. You can ride a motorcycle here year ‘round and Florida has more motorcyclists per capita than any state outside California.  Nudists can garden in the buff in Central to South Florida all year with only a few days of possible shrinkage. And on and on.

Florida is also the largest tourist destination in the world. Tourism hucksters have been selling it as a magical, exotic place to live your dreams for a century.  People come here to reinvent themselves and be whatever they thought they couldn’t be in the cloudier place they are from. I can’t tell you how many times I heard something like, “Don’t use my name because my relatives don’t know I’m into this.”

You also have to consider that two-thirds of Floridians moved here from somewhere else, which I theorize makes them more risk-taking, daring, than people who have spent their whole lives in Peoria or even the Bronx. It takes a special constitution to leave the people and places you’ve grown up with far behind.

 

UPF: How did you choose which Florida subcultures to feature in your book? How did you find out about them?

LW: I established strict criteria for including each subculture. First, it had to have prominence as compared to its cousins in other states.  Second, if it reflected a twist on iconic Florida such as the Holy Land Experience with theme parks and pony play with Ocala’s horse industry, even better. Third, each topic had to have a contemporary element and the ability to be experiential.

I came up with a list of about 20. Some didn’t pan out for various reasons. For instance, I spent a week in Miami trying to find an angle on drug culture. I ended up visiting a pill mill, which while interesting, didn’t fit within the tone of the book. I also probably over-researched the lifestyles that I did cover and ended up with such a wealth of material that I had enough for one book, if not a separate books on some topics. For the most part, I found the people through good old-fashioned reporting – going places and approaching them.

 

From Ch.4 "The Other Wild Kingdom." As evidenced by this bunny's bondage wear, sometimes one fetish is not enough. Photo by Lori Ballard.

From Ch.4 “The Other Wild Kingdom.” As evidenced by this bunny’s bondage wear, sometimes one fetish is not enough. Photo by Lori Ballard.

UPF: Craig Pittman recently made a list of theweirdest places in Florida” for Slate Magazine. If you had to make your own list of the weirdest places in Florida, which would be in your top 5?

LW: My focus is more on people who are extremely passionate about unusual things. I must add that for the most part I discovered that those people are pretty conventional in other aspects of their lives.

With very little digging and looking through a different lens, I’m sure you can find fringe anywhere in Florida. Fringe doesn’t respect city boundaries or state lines for that matter. I just argue that Florida has larger concentrations of it than most other states.

 

UPF: What was the craziest thing that happened during your explorations and research for Fringe Florida?

LW: Without spoiling the book, I’ll just say the pool scene at Swing Fest. Although I tried to prepare myself for it, there really is no way for a Vanilla to prepare for such things.

 

UPF: You were a research assistant on the movie Showgirls. Was that experience part of what got you interested in the offbeat and unconventional topics you gravitate toward covering?

LW: That certainly increased my interest and prepped me for exploring Tampa’s adult entertainment industry, but upon reflection, my interest in unusual characters and lifestyles probably drew me to Las Vegas, which, like Florida, has no shortage of fringe. I did learn quite a bit from working with screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. Watching him hang out with and smoothly guide conversations with dancers that I had already interviewed was reaffirming because I’m also not a confrontational interviewer. Despite Joe’s reputation as a hard-nosed reporter and sometimes difficult screenwriter, he was very disarming and fluid with his interview subjects. I also had a front row, and sometimes uncomfortable seat to the power plays in movie making, but that’s a whole other story.    

 

UPF: What do you hope readers will enjoy the most about your book?

LW: I hope that they not only have fun experiencing the unconventional side of Florida and getting to know people who do things that they may never do, but also enjoy learning the history of how these lifestyles grew here. Most of all, I hope that their awareness evolves with mine, that people aren’t always who they seem. Real people not so different than them live behind the late night punch lines.

From Ch. 3 "Sisters of Steel." Leather & Lace MC Founder and president Jennifer Chaffin takes a break from overseeing her club's weeklong gathering to show her bike.

From Ch. 3 “Sisters of Steel.” Leather & Lace MC Founder and president Jennifer Chaffin takes a break from overseeing her club’s weeklong gathering to show her bike.

 

UPF: What are you currently reading?

LW: I’m re-reading Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road as part of a great citywide book club called “Keep St. Pete Lit.” Kerouac lived and died in St. Petersburg. On the suggestion of a friend, I’m also reading something totally outside my normal library: Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam.

UPF: Who are your favorite authors, and how have they influenced or informed your own work?

LW: I’m a big fan of Tom Wolfe, his fiction and non-fiction. He brilliantly captures personalities and situations representative of broader social phenomena. He’s so spot-on in his fiction that I’ve woken my husband to read him passages and say, “I know this person!” I wouldn’t embarrass myself by attempting to mimic his style, but I read everything he writes in hopes that some of his talent magically dusts off on me.

Being a child of the South, I’m a naturally big fan of Southern novelists. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book. I can dine on the irony of O. Henry.

I have no aspirations of being another Hunter S. Thompson or David Foster Wallace and would never compare my work to theirs, but I’m working on loosening my writing and find reading theirs helpful.

At the beginning of my research on Fringe Florida I read Evan Wright’s Hella Nation: Looking for Happy Meals in Kandahar, Rocking the Side Pipe, Wingnut’s War Against the Gap, and Other Adventures with the Totally Lost Tribes of America, and Warren St. John’sRammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip to the Heart of Fan Mania (I am guilty of being an Alabama football fan).  I found both particularly helpful in introducing first person without being intrusive and mocking of those they wrote about. I struggled greatly at the beginning of writing Fringe Florida with allowing myself to be in the book and on how to introduce humor without coming across judgmental of the people I had encountered.Rammer Jammer was an especially enjoyable example of how to accomplish the later.

 

UPF: What are you working on next?

LW: I’m revising a Las Vegas mystery/parody novel that I wrote a few years ago calledDesert Fish. It’s about a young, Southern, female casino beat reporter who investigates the murder of a casino executive and uncovers the biggest story of her fledging career. It’s actually not as autobiographical as it sounds.

 

UPF: Do you have one sentence of advice for new authors?

LW: Marry someone who loves and believes in you enough to feed you meat on a stick while you write and not complain about it.  

 

UPF: Were you tempted to adopt any of the lifestyles in Fringe Florida?

LW: Mentally and even emotionally, sometimes I could follow people down the rabbit hole and get a peek at things through their eyes. It’s intellectually intoxicating but not to the point that I couldn’t leave.

I’m not a joiner by nature. However, as I spent more time with the ladies of Leather & Lace Motorcycle Club there were moments when I forgot that I can hardly ride a bicycle and wished I could be a part of their tribe. But I can’t deal with regular meetings and must-do anything, except for my writing.

Lynn Waddell is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the Daily Beast, Budget Travel, the Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times. Follow her on Twitter @FringeFlorida

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Fringe Florida in Demand

My friend, Cathy Wos, a Hillsborough County Librarian, shared that there are 10 requested holds for my book Fringe Florida, and it’s not even in stock yet. libraryphoto

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Fringe Florida now on Bookstore Shelves

I saw a copy of Fringe Florida on the shelf at Inkwood Books in Tampa last night. Strange, I didn’t have the euphoric, giddy response from seeing my first book in a bookstore that I had anticipated. Of course, that probably has a lot to do with just having listened to National Book Award-winner Bob Shacochis read from his latest, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul. Nothing is more humbling to this writer than listening to the words of a great one. Add to that, the falling-off-a-cliff fear of knowing that less than a month from now I’ll be the one sitting on the wooden stool explaining my book and all the humanity and strangeness it entails – the nuances of furridom, 1%er biker wars, swinger conventions, orb tours, and a long list of  other seemingly disparate things found in Florida.

Catch me floundering at Inkwood on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 7 pm.  IW_exterior

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Fringe Florida Swamp Buggy Builder Rolls Onto Travel Channel

When I spotted Mike Cox’s swamp buggy masterpiece online I knew I had to connect with him. It wasn’t just that the amphibious vehicle’s tires were taller than me, or that it listed for $100,000. It wasn’t even because the buggy was pimped out like a luxurious RV with swivel captains chairs, stereo, flat screen TV, and wet bar.  It was more the strippers airbrushed across the back,  the unforgettable name, Redneck Royalty, and the three young woman in Daisy Duke shorts posing along its ladder.  

Here was someone who embraced redneck culture like a favorite drunk uncle and apparently spared no expense to do so.

Mike says his Swamp Buggies of Florida is the largest swamp buggy builder in the world and that he’s built more in recent years than all other Florida buggy builders combined. His family builds the towering vehicles for hunters, law enforcement, park services, eco-tourism operators, and recreational users, which I discover is a growing market.

Mike hooked me up with Redneck Royalty’s owner for an adventure at the Redneck Yacht Club Mud Park outside Punta Gorda. Details of the trip and more about Mike are in my book Fringe Florida.

I knew a hungry cable channel would eventually discover Mike and make him a bigger star than he already is at Florida’s mud parks. He’s featured in the “Swamps, Space, & the All-Terrain” episode of Red, White & New airing at 9:30 am today on the Travel Channel. If you miss it, you can catch it later online.

 

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Fringe Florida Arrives At Last

Copies of my book Fringe Florida arrived over the weekend, allowing me to enjoy Labor Day for the first time in years. No mud park excursions, backyard zoo visits,  or blazing hot crucifixion reenactments. Most of all, no more revisions, at least not of this tome. Instead this year James, Sandy pup, and I lazed on the couch with a good book.

The book Fringe Florida has arrived.

The book Fringe Florida has arrived.

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For the Love of Feet

Photo by Victoria Pickering

Photo by Victoria Pickering

Today’s Broward/Palm Beach New-Times‘ piece about South Florida women selling their dirty socks to foot fetishists on Craigslist caused me to flashback to an underground fetish party in Fort Lauderdale. Stationed in the ladies restroom, the otherwise ordinary-looking middle-age man begged passing women to let him lick their feet. Without hesitation a young woman pulled off a knee-high, patent leather boot and let him suckle her sweaty toes while she talked to her girlfriend about eye liner.

At the time it didn’t surprise me. Possibly because I had just watched a fetish performer pull a string of beads from her vagina and toss them into a crowd all too eager to catch them. Although after a few months of exploring the kinkiest of sexual fetishes for my book Fringe Florida, even that didn’t shock me. A certain numbness sets in.

Perhaps it’s only appropriate that the penis-shaped state is home to a massive kinkster community — practitioners, performers, models, filmmakers, and actors.  The Fetish Factory superstore in Fort Lauderdale is a key player in the international glam fetish scene. Their Alter Ego event spin-off  has hosted an annual fetish weekend for 18 years and owners claim to have held monthly, strict-fetish-dress-code parties longer than anyone else in North America. Their Alter Ego online community is a Facebook of kink. On the sign-up you’ll find a drop-down menu of sexual proclivities as long as your foot, including turn-ons by Saran Wrap and toilet training.  You must choose one when registering. As a Vanilla, I opted for the shoe fetish (what woman doesn’t love footware?) and voyeurism since journalists are observers of the human condition, albeit not necessarily sexual.

Soon after signing up a handsome semi-pro baseball player in Southwest Florida messaged me. He was into gaining and feederism, fetishes for watching yourself and others become engorged. That online encounter is a story for another day.

As for dirty socks being sold on Craig’list, well, as the New Times also notes, people have been peddling such things on Ebay for years. Most likely on Craigslist, too. Podophila is one of the milder and more common among the broad spectrum of kink.  Orlando, family vacation kingdom, even has foot fetish parties.  As a super heroine wrestler told me at one Fetish Con in Tampa, there’s a sexual fetish for everything, even something as ordinary as a puffy coat. For obvious reasons, that one isn’t particularly popular in Florida.

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On Scientology

Some have asked why I didn’t focus on Scientology in my book chapter on Florida’s unusual religions and practices. After all, it was founded by a sci-fi writer. It uses an electropsychometer, a device which looks and sounds like something from a 1950s b-movie, to help “clear” practitioners of implanted “spiritual disabilities.”

1024px-Scientology_-_The_E-Meter

The church’s outreach group is called Sea Org and upper ranks dress like naval officers. And most germane to Florida, it owns about half of downtown Clearwater. The Gulf coast city is home to Scientology’s spiritual headquarters, or Flag, as the church calls it, being short for flagship. These are just a few of the church’s, shall I say, unconventional attributes. Solidly fringe material.

But Florida has so many faiths that fall outside the norm. I gravitate to irony, so I juxtaposed one of Florida’s oldest religious communities which holds séances and orb tours with the Disneyfication of Christianity at Holy Land Experience.  Little evokes “Florida!” more than a theme park.

That’s not to say I didn’t consider Scientology. During my Florida travels, I stumbled upon a Scientology gathering at one of their multiple buildings in downtown Clearwater. I got an e-meter demonstration by a Flag member wearing gold lipstick. I watched the church’s slickly produced, ambiguous videos on large HDTVs while the same Flagger watched me. I took their personality test, which another Flagger said showed I was depressed. (She told my friend the same thing.) My unplanned visit was quite enlightening, but after reading about the church’s response  to press and the South Park parody, I decided it best to leave in-depth coverage of Scientology to those with a legion of lawyers on retainer.

This week’s article, In Texas lawsuit, judge orders Scientology and its leader to stop harassmentby Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin in the Tampa Bay Times reminds me of my wise decision.

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Fetish Con Revisited

It’s only appropriate that near the release of my book I return to where I began the adventure, Fetish Con. Yes, this is a convention with a trade show floor, conference rooms and all the trappings of bourgeois commerce, except Fetish Con vendors push everything from super hero porn to shock wands. Kinksters attend seminars on age play (think men in diapers) and how to safely beat their partner. The downtown Tampa Hilton (formerly the Hyatt) has hosted the kinky event since 2004, so long that leather-clad fetish models in platforms and a man dressed as a bumble bee standing outside the hotel don’t get second glances from the passing suits on lunch break. It was here in 2009 that I discovered that my state is a beacon in the dark world of sexual fetishes. No state outside of California, of course, matches Florida in kinkiness or business enterprises that supply the goods, be they fetish models, latex clothing, or human pony tack.

For the Bubba Rubberist.

For the Bubba Rubberist.

I met my first ponygirl at Fetish Con along with an international pony play champion. They weren’t around during my visit this past weekend, but I did find evidence of the champ’s handiwork. A pony play newbie from Deland was wearing some of his hand-crafted leather tack complete with a real horse-hair tail.

Gene and his new ponygirl at Fet Con 2013. Gene is sometimes a pony, too. Photo by author.

Gene and his new ponygirl at Fet Con 2013. Gene is sometimes a pony, too. Photo by author.

Holding her reins, Gene B., formerly of Florida, said he said he’s a switch, which in pony world means that at times he’s a pony and at other times, a pony trainer. His business card says he’s also into tickling, human pets, and human furniture. Like a good submissive, the vinyl-hoofed pony was quietly under her trainer’s control (pony play is an extension of BDSM). Plus, she had a bit in her mouth which makes pronunciation virtually impossible. When I asked if she liked being a pony, she managed a light whinny. Gene said he’s adding her to his stable of human pony trainees. Never mind that he now lives in Texas. Ponies will travel for the right touch. For that matter, kinksters of all flavors travel to Florida to fulfill the fetish fantasies. This Jersey/Virginia couple has been planning their annual vacation around Fetish Con for 10 years. They say it helps their marriage.

William and Karen keeping it unreal at Fetish Con 2013. Photo by author.

William and Karen keeping it unreal at Fetish Con 2013. Photo by author.

Fetish Con 2013: Not clear if Williams sees himself as the bee on his back or if it's more like a Wanted poster.

Fetish Con 2013: Not clear if Williams sees himself as the bee on his back or if it’s more like a Wanted poster.

Bernie Bondage Bunny of Orlando was also on parade. I first saw him bouncing up and down the aisles of the vendors selling dildos and leather whips back in 2009.  My only surprise is that it took until now for Fetish Con to make him the official mascot.

Bernie Bondage Bunny at Fetish Con. Photo by Lori Ballard. All Rights Reserved.

Bernie Bondage Bunny at Fetish Con. Photo by Lori Ballard. All Rights Reserved.

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Welcome to Fringe Florida

Florida is as much a state of mind as a place on the map.  Billed as a wonderland, a paradise, an escape, people come here to be whatever they think they can’t be in the cloudier places they are from.

As a journalist,  I’ve immersed myself in some of the stranger and more iconic lifestyles for the book Fringe Florida: Travels among Mud Boggers, Furries, Ufologists, Nudists, and Other Lovers of Unconventional Lifestyles that is being released by University Press of Florida on Sept. 17, 2013.

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Contemplating Nude Biker Camping

It’s going to be all about talking, getting drunk and having sex- James says.

My husband isn’t looking forward to camping out with a bunch of bare naked bikers at a Pasco county nudist resort, (and I use the term “resort”  loosely. From what I’ve seen it’s a rustic campground with a pool and small pond filled with lilly pads, a baby gator and ramshackle houseboat).

I’m not ecstatic about it either. In fact, I’m questioning if I have the fortitude to witness things like a naked middle-age woman with sagging breasts on the back of a Harley grab a dangling hot dog with her mouth. The photos from a past Butt Naked Biker Bash at the Riverboat Nudist RV Resort Campground paint a pretty bawdy image of the event. Not to mention that it’s going to be hot 90 degrees  and we’re going to have no place to retreat to other than a second-hand tent I picked up at a yard sale last weekend.

Oh yeah, least I forget there’s the whole thing about walking around totally naked in front of strangers, not that walking around nude in front of friends would be any easier. I’m not so modest that I can’t walk around the house naked in front of my husband or strip down in front of other women at the gym, but even the idea of being naked in front of my husband and women at the gym is just too weird. Fortunately, we’re not required to go au naturale for the event, but we’ll probably stick out like an unwrapped Ken and Barbie in a sea of nude GI Joes and cabbage patch dolls. Not that we’re skinny or even slim, at least not me. But I don’t want to advertise my middle-age flabbiness to the world. Keeping it covered at least gives me the illusion that I’m hiding the ring of fat around my waist, to myself more so than others.

So, why are we doing this? The intrepid gonzo journalist (professional voyeur) in me must see it, talk to these people and try to understand their motivations. I want to know why anyone would put their bare ass on a leather seat above a hot engine, expose their most sensitive body parts to the possibility of asphalt burns, and, as if those weren’t puzzling enough, at the same time try to snatch a dangling hotdog with their teeth?

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