In author S.V. (Shirish) Dáte's just-published fourth novel, "Deep Water," Orlando is caught in the grip of the Waldo Whipple Corp., a family-entertainment giant that values profits over ethics -- or even human life. Whipple's money-mad CEO, Lew Peters, masterminds a nefarious scheme that involves altering the water levels in Serenity, the picket-fence community the company has erected adjacent to its theme parks.
The likeliest candidate to expose the skullduggery is Ernie Warner, a senior reporter for the area's daily newspaper, the Orlando Advocate. Trouble is, the Advocate is an insipidly written, high-gloss shill sheet that holds the bottom line and the lowest common denominator in equal regard. And it rewards big-bucks advertisers like Whipple with glowing puff pieces, not probing expos?s.
These writers. Where do they get their wild ideas?
"I pulled them out of thin air," Dáte lies, laughing. "The fact that I worked for the Orlando Sentinel certainly had nothing to do with it."
From 1988 to 1996, Dáte did indeed toil for the daily, covering the NASA, Daytona Beach and higher-education beats in succession. During a one-year sabbatical, he wrote "Final Orbit," the first in his series of novels with Central Florida themes. After leaving the Sentinel, he worked for the Associated Press for one year, then went to the Palm Beach Post, where he is now Tallahassee bureau chief.
His Orlando days loomed large enough in Dáte's memory to inspire his latest tome (released last month by G.P. Putnam's Sons), a fast and funny Florida mystery that owes an obvious debt to Carl Hiaasen -- and reveals Dáte's lingering distaste for irresponsible corporations and the big-bucks media that coddle them.
"Too often, [a] newspaper becomes beholden to those entities it ought to be covering for the sake of its readers," he says. "Look back at the Sentinel's coverage of the theme parks over the last decade."
One wonders which was a bigger motivator for Dáte: exposing real-life wrongs via satire or settling personal scores. The vapid editorial meetings and corporate pep talks Ernie Warner endures smack of stultifying reality.
"This could have been written without any of the venting," Dáte allows. "It was just a lot more fun to have it in there." He also reserved the right to exaggerate in spots.
"I don't believe that Michael Eisner would use physical violence," he says, referring to the gun-toting antics of Peters, who behaves like a more-capable cousin of Austin Powers' Dr. Evil. "But my goal is an entertaining read."
Speaking of Powers, Dáte says he welcomes the idea of a major studio paying him to put his words on the screen. (I bet it won't be Touchstone.) But for now, his marketing aims are humbler.
"If I can get every disgruntled Sentinel employee to buy a copy, I'm already on a second printing," he says.
Dáte's promo tour for "Deep Water" includes a Sunday, Nov. 4, appearance at the Borders Books & Music store in Winter Park and a Friday, Nov. 2, lecture at Rollins College. There, he'll share the stage with Rick Fogelsong, a political-science professor at the school and the author of the socio-historical treatise "Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando." The title of the Rollins session makes its agenda plain: "Deconstructing Disney, or What Happened to Orlando When a Mouse Got Into the House."
How does Dáte feel about criticizing Disney in front of a live audience, now that President Bush has all but equated park-hopping with patriotism?
"What happened [on Sept. 11] was horrible, and it happened to all of us," Dáte stresses. "It didn't just happen to Disney. This ought to be time to rethink where Central Florida is going, rather than rally around the Mouse."
"Behind" the curve
Be on the lookout for "Behind the Indie Camera," a 30-minute documentary about independent filmmaking in Central Florida. And when I say "be on the lookout," I mean "run the other way as fast as Doc Marten will take you." As revealed in an Oct. 21 screening at Moodswing Cafe, the short is ineptly conceived, shot and assembled -- an alleged advertisement of our area's film-producing formidability that instead broadcasts the message, "We haven't a clue what we're doing here."
So, I was all the more alarmed to hear director John Vizzusi announce that local film commissioner Kathy Ramsberger will be using "Behind the Indie Camera" as an audio-visual aid to attract out-of-state business. Say it ain't so, Kathy!
It ain't so. According to Ramsberger, the Metro Orlando Film and Television Commission merely accepted Vizzusi's help in compiling clips from locally produced films, for use in a three-minute streaming video that was planned for www.filmorlando.com, the commission's website. The half-hour monstrosity I saw -- which includes almost-unwatchable talking-head interviews with directors, film-school faculty and other luminaries -- is wholly "his work, his production company, his story and his energy," Ramsberger clarifies.
"I don't want to disenchant his efforts as a champion of the local film industry," she says. "[But] he knows I will not be using that piece. We've had this discussion almost every week for the past month."
Muse it or lose it
To promote its upcoming production of The Tales of Hoffmann (Nov. 16 though 20 at Carr Performing Arts Centre), the Orlando Opera is sponsoring a "Name Your Muse" contest. Respondents are asked to identify the forces that light the fuses of their creativity. The first-prize winner receives two tickets to any opera in the company's 2001-2002 season and a dinner for two; second-place winner gets the tickets only. Deadline is Nov. 14. Fax submissions to (407) 426-1705, or e-mail to email@example.com. There was a time when I would have openly acknowledged my own muses as amaretto and Marisa Tomei, but both have let me down so badly since then.