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Miami Herald columnist and satiric author Carl Hiaasen (Skin Tight, Strip Tease) is certainly no stranger to environmental issues; and he'll express his views with humor and passion when he speaks at "Magic Under the Mangroves," to benefit the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, on March 2. (Call 262-0304 or 261-6800 for ticket information.) Here's a sneak peek.

Q. Is public speaking something you do a lot of?

A. Not really. Most requests I turn down. I'm still not that comfortable with doing talks, but it's a necessary evil. And in the case of the Conservancy, it's for a good cause. Also, I figure that if you're lucky enough to have fans, it's a good thing to meet them sometimes.

Q. What is your writing schedule like on most days?

A. Usually I have one day a week for my newspaper column, and then if I'm in the middle of a book I write on that every day. My office is at my home in the Keys, and I get up early and start. But I don't have a set number of hours or words as some writers do.

Q. Does your family let you alone to work at home?

A. They do for the most part. And I'd much rather be here than stuck on I-95 driving to Miami. I now have a 13-year-old stepson and a four-year-old [in addition to a grown son and two grandchildren], so I'm trying to be more involved with them than I maybe was when I was younger and spent so much time commuting. Now I seldom have to go north of the Snake Creek Bridge, and that's fine with me.

Q. Did you ever panic about making the leap from newspapers to books?

A. I started out with ghostwriting and then had a co-writer on my first three, so I never doubted that I could get a book written. It's nothing but sweat and blood to write the manuscript. But you never know if you're going to get published. If you're a writer, it's just this itch you have to scratch. You've got to write and not worry about how many books you'll sell or if you're going to fail.

Q. Did it take a long time for you to discover your voice?

A. From my first book, Tourist Season, I've used the way I look at things, which I wouldn't say is warped, but is dark and twisted. So there's no struggle there. Juggling the story and the humor is the trickiest thing. It's not easy to be funny. Whether you're an airplane pilot or work in a tire factory, there are days when you don't want to work.

Q. Lately you've branched out to children's books.

A. Yeah. It's fun to do these without adult language or situations. I go back to being a kid again-the smart-ass that I was at 11 or 12. And kids are a terrific audience. They're frank, passionate, idealistic. They're still at the point where they really think they can make a difference, and they know the difference between right and wrong. They'll have that beaten out of them by college. We all get confused the older we get.

Q. When you talk to environmental groups like the Conservancy, what is your approach?

A. I'll warm them up with some laughs, I hope; then I get more serious. I don't pull any punches. I'm not on a mission, but I draw on my own experience of growing up in South Florida and seeing it turn into the abysmal parking lot that it is today.

There are hopeful things, programs that are getting important parts of Florida preserved. But, for example, down in Key West, we now have the joy of watching cruise ships completely block out the sunset on Mallory Square. It's just greed, and that's the story of Florida.

-Kay Kipling

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