James Hall on Writing Mean High Tide


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I returned to Thorn in Mean High Tide. A student of mine at the time, Dennis Lehane (now a quite successful novelist himself) asked if he could help me in any way with my next novel. I gave him the assignment to find some environmental aspect of south Florida that might be both colorful and had some lucrative aspect to it. I had in mind the search for some kind of rare and highly sought after seashell, perhaps, or some other marine creature. In the back of my mind was a story about Thorn traveling into the Caribbean Islands on some kind of mission. But it didn’t work out that way.

Dennis came up with a fish, the tilapia, that met all my requirements. I had never heard of the fish, but I saw right away that this creature had potential. It was a strange and highly fertile fish that was being used in Florida fish farms. Because the tilapia reproduced in such abundance it was a perfect fish to farm. But the danger of breeding the fish in Florida is that the environment is so hospitable that if the fish escaped into the rivers and bays of Florida they might easily crowd out the natural species and cause a major ecological disaster.

This became the central subject matter of Mean High Tide along with Thorn’s passionate quest to find the killer of the woman he loved. One of my favorite aspects of this novel was the character Sylvie, an amoral and sexy young woman who lured men into trying to kill her father. I also enjoyed trying to capture in language some of the beauty and mystery of undersea life along the coral reefs of the Florida Keys.