Historical fiction novels are a captivating blend of history and creative storytelling. Authors in this genre take real historical events, settings, and figures and infuse them with fictional characters, dialogue, and narrative. This fusion creates a story that not only educates readers about the past but also engages their emotions and imagination. Paul Wilborn’s novel, Florida Hustle, is a prime example of historical fiction novel where compelling storylines and fascinating characters keep you on the edge of your seat, while providing insights into a time and place that resonates today.
Reagan Era’s Impact: Movie Obsession and Today’s Politics
The Reagan era – covering most of the 1980s – was a vibrant and transformative time period that left a great mark on American history and culture. The world experienced an extraordinary convergence of cinematic fascination intertwining with real-life events. It also foreshadowed the conservative political movement of today. And Reagan was the first, but not the last, celebrity president. Early in his first term Ronald Reagan was shot by a young man obsessed with a film star, and the boundary between fiction and reality blurred.
Reagan’s Attempted Assassination, a Merging of the Culture and Politics
In 1981, John Hinckley Jr. fired six shots at President Ronald Reagan, hoping his act would impress actress Jodie Foster. Reagan was wounded but survived.
Florida Hustle, by Paul Wilborn, tells the story of another young man obsessed with a film star, and in the days after Hinckley’s act, Michael Donnelly is mistakenly considered potential killer, not just an obsessed fan. The novel also captures an era when Hollywood made more than 350 slasher films in a brief period, all trying to recapture the box office success of the films Halloween and Friday the 13th. Michael’s obsession with a slasher film “scream queen” and the film she is shooting near his home in Florida, tells the larger story of movie-making during this period.
Florida’s Everglades as a Cinematic Backdrop:
With Dawn Karston, the B-movie starlet known for dying in a string of slasher films, comes to the Florida Everglades to shoot Swamp Fiend 2, the vast “River of Grass” becomes a character in Florida Hustle. Michael’s obsession with Dawn draws him to her film set, setting off a string of exciting and sometimes hilarious adventures. As Michael moves closer to his girl and his goal, “real life” and “reel life” collide. Readers get a compelling portrait of the landscape of this magical part of Florida and insights into the inner working of a B-movie producer, churning out cheap horror films destined for video or drive-ins. This is historical fiction at its best, bringing people, places and cultural highlights to life.
In case you forgot to read: Historical Fiction vs. Historical Non-Fiction
Florida Hustle: A Glimpse into Mental Health Issues of Today
With today’s string of mass shootings, crimes often perpetrated by isolated young loners, many innocent and non-violent young people find themselves identified as “dangerous potential mass killers” by law enforcement and mental health institutions. In Florida Hustle, this modern issue is explored through Michael Donnelly, the young protagonist. His obsession with a film star, and the story boards he sends her depicting creative ways she should die, has Michael’s family trying to send him to Palmdale Haven, which one character calls a treatment facility for “the rich and deranged.” Here again, historical fiction novel provides a picture of today’s cultural and mental health isues.
Cultural Shifts: Horror films, Fanaticism, and the Dawn of the ‘80s
With the success of the fright films Halloween and Friday the 13th, the early ‘80s became known as the era of the “slasher film.” From 1981 to 1985, Hollywood producers made more than 350 slasher films, many of them cheap B-movies headed straight to video or drive-ins.
To Florida Hustle’s Michael Donnelly, a student of horror films, those movies are boring and predictable, and in many ways, bad copies of groundbreaking films from the 1960s, like those by Italian horror director Mario Bava. Bava, often called “The Fellini of Gore,” was a visionary director who continues to influence horror and genre film directors. Michael believes his favorite scream queen, Dawn Karston, deserves “Bava-like” material and thinks he is just the guy to do that.
Through this exciting and often comic novel, Paul Wilborn captures a period when horror movies were more than entertainment — they were a huge part of the culture life of the era.
Sunshine State Shenanigans: Florida’s Role in this Fugitive Tale
Florida, a state known for its unique beauty, kitschy settings and wacky characters, provides a perfect backdrop for Michael’s Donnelly’s adventures in Florida Hustle.
Florida Hustle takes readers on a wild ride through 1980’s Florida. Mixing adventure with humor, Florida Hustle travels from the plush landscape of Palm Beach to the swampy depths of the Everglades.
Captivated by a B-movie scream queen, Michael Donnelly breaks away from the confines of his family’s opulent mansion and embarks on a journey to the Everglades, where Dawn Karston is filming Swamp Fiend 2. Teaming up with an aging con man and his ambitious girlfriend, Michael finds himself caught up in a mire of competing cons and hustles.
Paul Wilborn’s engaging writing style, quirky characters, sharp descriptions, and funny one-liners make this one of the best examples of a “Florida novel.” Critics have compared Wilborn’s writing with the books of Carl Hiassen and Elmore Leonard. In a “starred” review, Kirkus called Florida Hustle “an irrepressible Florida frolic filled with lost dreams, forlorn love, and horror movie lore.”
Florida Hustle is also a compelling piece of historical fiction novel, transporting readers to a time when Florida was morphing from a land of beaches and roadside attractions into a mega-state. It’s also a snapshot of B-level Hollywood in the early 1980s, when the success of the horror films Halloween and Friday the 13th spawned hundreds of copycat slasher films, many made on the cheap in Florida. While not a horror novel, Florida Hustle immerses readers in the world of horror filmmaking.
Paul Wilborn short story collection, Cigar City: Tales from a 1980s Creative Ghetto, won the gold medal for fiction in the Florida Book Awards. As a journalist, Wilborn won multiple awards from the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.