What happens when a courageous widow, well-connected best friend and a compassionate publisher join forces to realize a late writer’s dream?
Rob Hiaasen spent nights and weekends for the better part of the last decade tweaking his masterpiece: a fiction novel.
Well-known for his unique feature stories, which highlighted the quirky nature of humanity, and then for mentoring young journalists to do the same, Hiaasen employed those skills behind the scenes at his Baltimore County home crafting “Float Plan.”
He pitched it to publishers a few times to no avail — despite receiving some encouraging feedback. He didn’t give up.
He wouldn’t, however, have an opportunity to see his beloved book through to the end. Editor and columnist Hiaasen — along with co-workers Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters — was killed in the June 28 shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis.
Hiaasen had submitted a draft to publisher Loyola University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press. Kevin Atticks, director of the student-powered publisher, had worked before with one of Hiaasen’s closest friends, Kevin Cowherd, renowned author and former columnist for The Baltimore Sun, and reached out to Cowherd about two days after the unthinkable tragedy. He had the copy — now he needed permission.
Cowherd approached Hiaasen’s widow, Maria, and gauged her interest. She thought it a no-brainer. Cowherd and Maria connected with the soon-to-be publisher, with her eventually selecting a cover and writing the forward and epilogue.
Apprentice House Press released “Float Plan” on Sept. 15. And just over a month later, those that made sure Hiaasen’s carefully crafted work came to fruition attended a public book launch, where they chose and read passages from his proverbial baby.
At the Eastport-Annapolis Neck Community Library on Friday, one message resonated above all else. “Float Plan” is Rob Hiaasen — the characters a conglomerate of all those dear to him, the landmarks mentioned a map of his observational strolls through Annapolis and the Maritime Republic of Eastport, the events undoubtedly recognizable to those close to him.
Maria, Cowherd, Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente — once an understudy of Hiaasen’s at The Capital — and Capital Gazette Editor Rick Hutzell read aloud the passages they’d selected from the narrative.
“Here’s the thing about this novel, even if they redacted his name from the cover … I would know that this book was Rob Hiaasen’s,” Cowherd told the audience. “I say this because Will Larkin, the selflessly romantic, self deprecating, big-hearted protagonist of ‘Float Plan’ is Rob Hiaasen.”
Cowherd spoke of the mystery that is how novelists get their ideas. In Hiaasen’s case, it was his own life.
Maria, a teacher at Dulaney High School, was his inside source for all teacher references related to Larkin, who is a high school algebra teacher in the book.
Larkin is a floating teacher in the novel; he has no classroom and keeps his teaching supplies in a cart. So was Maria. Larkin keeps a dummy stapler on his desk so his students don’t break his functional stapler — a practice Maria swears by to this day. Larkin won’t round a 89.2 percent to an “A.” Those are the rules at Dulaney High.
Maria also described Hiaasen as a romantic and a poetry lover.
When Larkin connects with eventual love Parker Cool, a veterinary tech, for the second time in “Float Plan,” they played a game: Who can write the other’s name better with their weak hand? So, too, did Hiaasen and Maria early on, she professed to the packed library.
The late writer had a wicked sense of humor, too.
Maria read a passage from a romantic scene, but pointed out that the next chapter highlighted Larkin’s incident with a snapping turtle and an ex’s umbrella.
“That’s classic Rob,” she said. “To go sappy and then funny.”
The mid-October night was about Hiaasen. His infectious personality reflected through his unique and identifiable writing style.
A beautiful occasion and celebration that reflected on his life couldn’t end without recognizing the unfathomable way he went.
“Let’s face it,” Maria said. “Rob should be here. He just should ...
“If he were still here, proceeds from his book would no doubt be going to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He loves this area and he loved nature. But he’s not here … If for no other reason ... buy the book to benefit Everytown for Gun Safety.”