Life in Florida informs author's most recent collection of essays

Author Sarah Gerard knows @_FloridaMan.

OK, not literally, considering he's actually a fictional creation attached to a Twitter account curating all the oddball stories emerging from the Sunshine State (a late-March posting linked to the story of a Florida man arrested for eating pancakes in the middle of a crosswalk). But Gerard knows the type, at least.

“There are lots of sensational stories that come out of Florida that people find funny or fascinating,” said Gerard, who will be reading at Spacebar on Saturday, May 13, as part of Flyover Fest. “And as somebody who grew up there … I have the benefit of having seen these people in real life and knowing what they're about. They're interesting characters to me for a different reason: They're actually characters I can approach and learn about.”

These characters are central to the author's most recent work, “Sunshine State,” an essay collection informed by her experiences growing up in a region often seen in GIF form being sawed off from the United States by a cartoon rabbit.

“I looked into my own life for topics to write about, with the idea the whole thing was going to be tied together by this idea of Florida,” said Gerard, who now makes her home in New York. “So I looked at my own childhood growing up there and things that stood out to me as being unique experiences, like my parents' time in Amway or in this marginal religious movement (New Hope). But then also topics that just seemed interesting while living in Florida, like wildlife or homelessness or development.”

The book also marks Gerard's debut with a large-scale publisher, Harper Collins, following the release of her 2015 novel “Binary Star” on Columbus-based publishing house Two Dollar Radio. Despite the difference in scale — the author referenced the publishing and marketing teams employed by Harper Collins — Gerard said little changed in terms of her approach, process or expectations.

“I've always felt free to do what I want as a writer; I don't think that my work would be very good if I did what I was told to do,” she said.

As far as process, “Sunshine State” arrived in the same manner as previous works: An idea embedded itself in Gerard's head and she couldn't find a way to shake it free outside of getting it on the page.

“When I was writing ‘Binary Star' I couldn't stop thinking about binary stars. ... And then when I finally sat down to write … it was obvious to me I had been thinking about this metaphor as a way of [addressing] anorexia and codependency, even if I hadn't yet made that connection in my mind,” she said. “I have a few other topics I'm fascinated by that are floating around in my head. I don't really know why yet, but I'm sure someday I'll get around to them.”

Photo by Levi Walton