When Florida and the town of Naples appear in my latest novel, “The Dictator’s Children,” it is the ‘real’ Florida, not one of the fictional Floridas in which I set my other contemporary realistic work. Cully Beach, Ruby, Tamarind are all fictional towns, existing in versions of the state I created.
However, I attempted to make the Naples and Miami of “Dictator” as authentic as I could — as they existed in 1948. I grew up in Naples (largely) and knew some about its early days, when it was a unique place. Now, it is much like everywhere else in Florida.
The writing team of Mary and Jean James (my niece, ‘Mean Mary,’ and my sister) put out an action tale set in Naples a while back, “Sea Red, Sea Blue.” It was inevitable that a bit of that was in the back of my mind as I plotted my own book, and also that I would consciously try to avoid any similarities. It is the same town, even if set an half-century earlier, so there are bound to be some.
Will I ever return to Naples, the real Naples, in my fiction? I have no reason to set any other Wilk books there. “The Dictator’s Children” only passes through the town, so to speak, with the bulk of the story taking place in Havana, Miami, and Central America.
But Naples is a part of who I am. It is found in my poems. It exists, unnamed, in my other fiction. It is with me, even if it is nearly thirty years since I last saw the town or walked its beach. And it is probably better as a memory, revisited only in the words I write.