Q: The snake issue is just the tip of the iceberg in South Florida, which is getting a national reputation as a place where weird things are always happening. Why is that?

A: I don't think there's a unified theory of why, but there are a number of factors. Start with our climate. It's tropical, so whatever grows anywhere else, grows a lot more here. So there's just kind of a natural, musty, teeming-with-life feel to the place. Plus you have no kind of coherence whatsoever in terms of the population. People aren't from here; everybody's from somewhere else, and they liked that place better, so they're still driving according to the laws of whatever place that was. There's a vast diversity of cultures, so a lot of people don't speak the same language as the other people.

You also have a long-standing criminal culture here, going way back. People like Al Capone came here to escape the law, knowing that laws of all kinds, including zoning, are laxly enforced. So it's kind of this swarming stew of weirdness. Strange people show up here and do strange things. After a while, you just accept it. We had a guy who died a couple of months ago in a cockroach-eating contest sponsored by a pet store. The prize for eating the most cockroaches was a snake.

Q: A lot of the weirdness in "Insane City" has to do with a wedding. You've been married three times, so you know all about it.

A: Yes, but my weddings were nowhere near as elaborate as the one in the book. And of course they get smaller and smaller as you go along. I did attend a wedding at the Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne not too long ago, and there was a gazebo looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. I had this image of a rafter showing up during the wedding, because that does happen here. Every now and then, rafts just show up with people on them. So I thought, what would happen if a rafter showed up during an elaborate wedding? Most of the rafters are Cubans, but I changed it to Haitians because under the law now, if Cubans get ashore they can stay; but if Haitians show up, they can't. At least as of this moment. The law keeps changing. Anyway, it becomes an ethical dilemma for Seth, the groom, who encounters the rafters and has to decide what to do.

Q: Your readers are going to think, "He's making all this up. Miami can't be that weird."

A: The events I describe are unlikely to happen at one time to the same person. But, really, nothing that happens in the book is any weirder than things that happen all the time here, although to different people over a span of time.

Q: What's the difference between writing a newspaper column — as you still do from time to time — and writing a novel, other than the difference in scale?

A: With columns, I was always just thinking jokes. Joke joke joke. I didn't really care, because it was only going to be 800 words anyway, whether there was any kind of arc or deeper meaning. I just wanted to make people laugh for a few minutes. I never wanted to change the world.

Q: It's interesting you would say that, because when you won your Pulitzer for column writing, they cited you for using humor for serious purposes.

A: Well, they had to say something if they were going to give the Pulitzer to someone who mainly writes booger jokes.

Q: OK, but a novel is different.

A: Sure. With a novel, you have the reader with you a lot longer, and you owe him a lot more. Obviously you have to have a plot — I say "obviously," although I think a lot of fiction doesn't, and nothing seems to happen. But to me, there should be something that happens, and it should be at least vaguely plausible. And because the readers are going to be with these characters for a long time, you have to get to know them and like them and want to know what happens to them. And I'm not saying I don't have any points to make in this novel. I do, but not in the sense of, "Here's what you should think about immigration." I mean it in the sense of, here's a guy, Seth, who's never really given any thought to anything much in his life, and certainly not about big issues. But he gets involved, almost against his will, in a big issue. He has to decide what's the right thing to do, and it turns out that it's not the convenient thing to do.

Conversely, his fiancee, Tina, who does spend a lot of time thinking about big issues, has to confront whether her principles really mean anything. Or is it easy to have principles when they don't interfere with your glorious, wonderful personal life, specifically your wedding?

I'm sounding like a pompous author here, I know. Anyway, I wanted there to be a center to the book, and that became it.

Q: Weddings are very zeitgeisty right now, especially in the movies.

A: Sure. "Bridesmaids" and "The Hangover" and all that. Weddings are crazy. When you get right down to it, a wedding is a party, and not an important party, really. But for young people, it becomes the biggest thing in their lives. After it's over, they realize it wasn't that big a deal, but boy, leading up to it —

Q: There's the Bridezilla phenomenon.

A: I actually watched a few episodes of "Bridezillas" when I was writing this, just to remind myself of what happens to the women. They kind of go nuts, and they know it while it's happening. My daughter-in-law freaked out over their engagement party, which we had at our house, because it rained that night. She's this really smart, funny, together sort of woman, and she cried because it rained.

Q: Was it supposed to be an outdoor party?

A: Part of it, but we just fit everybody inside. When it was over, I took her aside and said, "See, it was just a party and it was great, even though it rained. Because you know what? It wasn't really about the weather." She agreed, and I said, "Just remember this on your wedding day, because it might rain then, too." And of course she didn't. But you know, men have no cause to criticize women about the way they are about weddings. Because men are like that about sports, but it never ends. At least women, after the wedding, say it wasn't that big a deal and they're never going to look at the DVD again. Men never stop being crazy about sports.

Q: Do you have certain unreasonable enthusiasms?

A: No. I am a superior form of human and I have absolutely no quirks or irrational impulses of any kind. The closest I get to that is when I watch my daughter play soccer. Even there, I can't begin to compare with my wife. Not that I would bring her up in this.

Q: I hope you're not one of those parents who coach from the sidelines.

A: No. No. I'm one of those people who tells my wife, "No coaching from the sidelines."

Kevin Nance is a Chicago-based freelance writer whose work appears in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Poets & Writers Magazine and elsewhere.

"Insane City"

By Dave Barry, Putnam, 341 pages, $26.95