ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Welcome to 9 Questions with…, an exclusive Spectrum Bay News 9 feature in which we get to know some of the Bay area’s movers and shakers a little better. It could be a politician, an artist, a first responder, a bartender—just about anyone, really. This week’s subject is bestselling nonfiction author, columnist and former Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman, whose new book, The State You're In: Florida Men, Florida Women, and Other Wildlife, comes out September 14. Is there someone you’d like to answer 9 Questions? Let us know!

What You Need To Know

  • Spectrum Bay News 9's series spotlights notable members of the Tampa Bay community

  • Veteran Florida writer and humorist Pittman has a book release event at Tombolo Books on Sept. 14

  • Check back every week for a new "9 Questions with..."

Are you a Tampa Bay native? If not, where are you from?

I've lived here since 1989, but I was born and raised in Pensacola and my first job was with the Pensacola News Journal. My ancestors arrived in the Florida Panhandle around 1850, looking for a good deal on waterfront condos. I'll always have a soft spot for the Panhandle, which has gorgeous beaches and produces some seriously crazy stories.

How would you describe your job or claim to fame?

I like to think of myself as a Florida storyteller. We've got about 900 new people moving here every day and nobody is there to tell them what they've gotten themselves into, so I figure that's my job. My career has had its ups and downs. Last year, the Florida Heritage Book Festival declared me to be a literary legend. A month later, I got laid off by the newspaper I'd worked for for 30 years. 

What’s your favorite Tampa Bay restaurant? 

The two that my family visits most often are the Fourth Street Shrimp Store and Joey Brooklyn's.  

Do you have a personal Tampa Bay “secret spot” and/or “hidden treasure”?

I don't think it's very hidden, but right down the street from my house is Lassing Park, and I make sure to visit it at least once or twice a week. I like watching the people there — I've seen everything from about 30 people kiteboarding to one woman in black leather cracking a bullwhip. And it's always fun to stare out across the water and wait for the mullet to jump. My kids used to speculate they were leaping in the air because of fish flatulence.

What is your favorite Tampa Bay tradition? 

The Times Festival of Reading. It's free, attracts lots of readers and authors, everybody is pretty nice to each other and occasionally something wacky happens. For instance, a couple of years ago an audience member leaped to his feet in the middle of an author reading a small portion of his book aloud to the crowd because, the guy said, "I want to read it myself!" When no one agreed with him, he stormed out.

What’s one thing many people don’t know about you that you’re willing to share with us?

I love to sing. From the second grade through high school and even college, I sang in school and church choirs. The part I sang is technically known as "monotone baritone."

If you could change one thing about the Tampa Bay area or your community specifically, what would it be?

I wish we weren't so car-centric here. I wish we had a good commuter rail system as an alternative. When my wife and I honeymooned in Washington, D.C., we traveled there via Amtrak and saw all the sights by riding around on what everyone there called "the Mickey Mouse Metro." Never had to worry about parking or putting gas in the tank.

What advice would you give to students seeking a future career in journalism?

I would say two things: 1) If you're going to write, you've got to read. Subscribe to a newspaper and read it every day.  2) The novelist Harry Crews used to tell his University of Florida students the only way to be a writer was to write, so his advice was to plant your butt in the chair, and I would second that motion.

What hypothetical courses might be required to earn a degree in Florida Manthropology?

First of all, what a GREAT two-word phrase that is. I think we'd have to include Machete-Throwing 101, Advanced Gator Wrangling, Road Rage Tactics and Techniques, Beer Holding in Theory and Practice, Fire Ant Bite Dance: Jazz and HIp-Hop, and of course Hurricane Party Mixology.