Remem­ber Stiltsville?

Author Susanna Daniel kindly left a com­ment on that post, and agreed to answer a few ques­tions about Stiltsville, her first novel, and Stiltsville, the place.

Photo of Stiltsville the book

What was Stiltsville like when you went there grow­ing up?

I think that even for those of us who spent a lot of time at Stiltsville, there was always the sense that it was a mag­i­cal place. Here we were just miles from down­town Miami—we could see the sky­line from the stilt house porch—and yet iso­lated in a very real way. As a young kid, I didn’t real­ize what a trea­sure it was, of course. I assumed that my whole life there would always be a place where my fam­ily could retreat, an island get­away (lit­er­ally or fig­u­ra­tively). Of course that’s not true. As a teenager, I’m ashamed to say I resisted Stiltsville because it took me away from par­ties and friends, but as a younger kid I loved every­thing about it. Even the food—at Stiltsville, we ate things we never ate at home, like white­fish spread and arti­chokes with mayonnaise.

Photo of Stiltsville

I’m fas­ci­nated by Stiltsville logis­tics: Was there a lot of social­iz­ing between houses or did fam­i­lies stick to one place? Did you spend nights there or just go for the day?

We always went for at least one or two nights, and some­times came home early Mon­day in time for school. My fam­ily knew a lot of other Stiltsville fam­i­lies casu­ally, but for the most part we didn’t social­ize while we were out there. I think my par­ents con­sid­ered Stiltsville a place to be together as a fam­ily. Maybe once a week­end there was a party at another house and we’d watch the boats pull up, and we could hear the music. But we didn’t host big par­ties our­selves. But my friends were always invited to come with us to spend the week­end, and most week­ends we had one or two guests.

Is there any­thing left of your grandfather’s orig­i­nal stilt house?

Noth­ing. After Hur­ri­cane Andrew, there were still a few pil­ings, but there was no dock and no house. Now even the pil­ing have been removed.

Photo of Stiltsville

Why did you decide to set your novel in the past, and par­tially at Stiltsville?

Miami has changed a lot in the years since I’ve lived there. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t set a novel in Miami in the year 2010, but I wanted to write about what it was like to live there in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s— dur­ing the years when Miami was really grow­ing into the city it is today. I wanted to write about the tumult and cri­sis and excite­ment of that period—this was the time of the Mariel boat lift and the McDuffie riots and the cocaine cow­boys, and of course Hur­ri­cane Andrew.

As for Stiltsville, I knew I wanted to write a quiet fam­ily drama, a domes­tic story of a marriage—and Stiltsville is really the per­fect loca­tion for fic­tion. You put your char­ac­ters on an island and make them stay there, together, for any period of time, and some­thing inter­est­ing is going to come out. I think the iso­la­tion of the place gives oth­er­wise sub­tle fam­ily dynam­ics a lit­tle more urgency and heft.

Photo of Stiltsville

You’ve lived in Florida and now call the Mid­west home. What do you love and hate about each locale?

Well, what I love and hate about both places is the same: the weather. I live in Madi­son, Wis­con­sin, where the nat­ural world is basi­cally forced into sub­mis­sion for nine months of the year—and then for three months every­thing is so lush and ver­dant that really the city looks more like Miami than one might think. I don’t hate the win­ter, but it’s long, and every year when we have our first really cold day, I feel enor­mously sad for just a lit­tle while. Then I go walk­ing on the frozen lake near my house, and light a fire in the fire­place, and set­tle in for the long season.

I will say that some­times I feel more com­fort­able in Miami because it’s such a quick, vibrant, chaotic place, whereas Madi­son moves at a slower pace, and is more sub­dued in gen­eral. I don’t think it’s uncom­mon for a per­son who has moved to another part of the coun­try to feel like a bit of an alien from time to time, but the peo­ple here in Madi­son are kind, thought­ful, and incred­i­bly gen­er­ous, and I’ve found a sec­ond home.

Hammock photo with house in distance

Describe your ideal day in Miami. What are the things you have to do when you are here?

I love going to the beach, though some­times I think this might be more from nos­tal­gia for my youth—and the days I spent at the beach as a teenager—than any­thing else. Now, I’m likely to fret about sun­screen, snacks for my kid, that sort of thing—for me, it’s a lot more dif­fi­cult to relax as an adult than it used to be, though that doesn’t seem to be the case for other Miami­ans, who seem to live like life is a vacation—which is envious.

Stiltsville photograph

I often hear peo­ple say that “nobody is from Florida—everyone is a trans­plant from some­where else.” Since you’re a native who’s since left, why do you think this is? Is Florida some­place you envi­sion return­ing, or are you happy to have left?

It’s funny, because I don’t have a ton of friends from high school who still live in Miami, but I know quite a few peo­ple from col­lege who have moved there. Where I live now, pretty much every­one is from nearby. But when I do tell peo­ple I’m from Miami, as often or not peo­ple say that they’ve never known any­one from there. Which is incred­i­ble to me, of course.

One thing about writ­ing this book is real­iz­ing how many peo­ple out there, all around the coun­try, have a strong con­nec­tion to Miami, even if they don’t live there cur­rently. I’ve heard from so many peo­ple who say they lived there for a short time, or trav­eled there fre­quently, or have rel­a­tives there and trea­sure their vis­its. It seems to me that Miami is a place that inspires peo­ple to talk about their time there, almost as if it’s got­ten under their skin. I don’t think every city has that kind of pull and power, and I am proud to call myself a native.

Susanna, thank you so much for tak­ing the time to answer my ques­tions. All of the above pho­tos are from Susanna’s family—I think I would like to step back in time and live in all of them! Stiltsville is out now and can be found at your book­seller of choice. Locals, be sure to check out Susanna’s sched­ule, as she has sev­eral read­ings planned for the area.