Michael Haskins

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Summer thoughts

I had wrist surgery for tendonitis the middle of June and enjoyed the company of my twin daughters, Seanan & Chela, along with Seanan’s husband Paul and Chela’s fiancé Bryan and Paul’s friend Guy, a NYC cop, and his wife Jodi, while I recouped.

I did spend a little time editing the sequel to “Chasin’ the Wind,” “Free Range Institution,” during this time, but typing a few thousand words was out of the question.

Before the surgery, I wanted to reach page 200 and I beat it by one!

I see Dr. Collins (no relation to Padre Thomas Collins in my books) on Monday morning to have the stitches removed and I expect he will release me with no restrictions. So it will be back to the gym (and after the time off, I need it!) and the keyboard. I hope to have the sequel to “Chasin’ the Wind” done before the end of summer, let it sit for a month and when my grandson Shane comes in October for a couple of week I will use my mornings to edit/rewrite.

Now I am on my way to visit my sister Patty and her family in Malibu, California. I am actually using the trip to visit some of the bookstores I haunted while I lived in Southern California and pitch my book, in hopes they will order it and welcome me back for a signings in March or April.

I am also looking forward to seeing my long-time friend Norm Cote and his wife Annie while I am in LA. Norm and I share a lot of history, most of it exciting and revolving around boxing in LA and bullfights in Tijuana, Mexico. My other good West Coast friend Rob Murdock will be out of town while I am there, so I will miss the opportunity to swap lies with him.

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog and please take a look at my website – www.michaelhaskins.net – if you haven’t already. I will get back to keeping the blog as up to date as possible after July 4th.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Do characters really take on a life of their own?

I bought a new computer and it arrived (kind of) mid week. Kind of, because the monitor didn’t arrive. After two days of phone calls to Dell they accepted that the two packages they sent did not include the monitor; the second package held the fancy speaker for the monitor, but not the monitor. I am not computer savvy; I am probably not savvy in anything, but by knowing that about myself, I usually avoid situations where savvy is important or necessary.

I don’t name my computer, like some writers I know do. To me the computer is basically a fancy typewriter that corrects my spelling and saves me a lot of trouble when it comes to editing. Transferring files from the old computer to the new one took all Saturday afternoon and early evening.

With nothing to do but deal with my frustration, I went to the Hog’s Breath to hear my Texas friend Clint Bullard sing. He’s at the Hog’s mid shift – 5-9 p.m. – through June 15th, so go to http://www.hogsbreath.com/ and catch him on the bar’s live video-cam.

I was sitting there, enjoying a good cigar and some Jameson on the rocks when Art, one of the managers, came over and says he doesn’t believe I don’t control what the characters I write about say and do. He got that from one of my blog posts that mentioned characters sometimes take on a life of their own.

“You’re like God, you have total control and can do what you want with them,” he said, and told Julie my drink was on him.

I love Art and Andy and Patrick and Lori – the other bar managers – when they do that.

With all the time I’ve spent in Key West bars – not to mention bars I’ve enjoyed in other cities I’ve lived in or traveled to – I would not presume to tell bar managers how to do their job. I say something like that to Art.

“Yeah, but I have a real job, you just write stories, so you don’t have bosses or rules to follow,” he replied with the innocence of one-year old.

I didn’t feel it was my responsibility to explain the reality of writing to him, because he wouldn’t have believed me. Deal with editors and agents and deadlines, I wanted to say, but didn’t.

“Let me give you one cryptic example of how characters take on a life of their own,” I said instead, as I sipped from my iced Irish whiskey and let its flavor slide down.

“Why does it have to be cryptic?”

“Because I don’t wanna give away the story,” I had another sip. “If I do, you won’t be surprised when you read it.”

I relit my cigar, because of too much talking it had gone out. “Early on in the new book.”

“What’s this one called?” he interrupted.

“Free Range Institution,” I answer him.

Isn’t that the title of a Scott Kirby song?”

“Yes it is.”

“You’re stealing his song title?”

“Art, which topic do you want to discuss here, because the ice is melting and diluting my drink,” I chewed my cigar and blew smoke into the air.

“Go on,” he sat down, ready for a long story.

“Early on in the new book, there is a conversation about killing people . . .”

“Because you write murder mysteries,” he interrupted again.

“Yes, Art, because I write murder mysteries,” I agreed with him. “The topic is brought up between Mick Murphy, Padre Thomas . . .”

“The Jesuit, right?”

“Yes,” I sipped my Irish before it lost its taste. “And Mick’s friend Norm and Tita . . .”

“The spy and the girlfriend,” he smiled, proud of remembering my first book.

“Very good,” I chewed ice from my plastic cup. “You read the proofs.”

“Go on, I want to hear your explanation,” he rushed me.

“One of the characters mentions taking a life, for any reason has to have an affect on a person, even if that loss of life is justified . . .”

“Has to be Padre Thomas . . .”

“Art, I can’t tell you who,” I grumbled. “Let me finish.”

“Okay,” and he signaled Julie to refill my drink. Gotta love the guy!

“I wrote the conversation a few months ago, I am at least one-hundred pages more into the story when I begin to wonder about my ending. Someone has to kill the corrupt city commissioner . . .”

“Which commissioner is it?”

“It’s fiction, Art,” I tried to explain to him. “It’s not a real commissioner.”

“Yeah, but I bet I can figure out who it is when I read it.”

Everyone in Key West sees themselves or someone they know as characters in books by local writers. Just ask Tom Corcoran.

With a deep sigh and fresh drink, I went on. “I am thinking about the ending when the earlier conversation pops into my head and I think ‘what if so-and-so kills the commissioner to save Mick’s life,’ and pow, I have my ending. I have major conflict and surprise,” I puffed on the cigar and sipped the chilled Jameson, proud of myself. “That was not anywhere in my plans for the book,” I explained. “It came from a conversation I never thought would have anything to do with the ending.”

“That’s your argument?” he sounded disappointed.

“Yeah,” I mumbled, smoked and took a good swallow of my drink. “It happened without my doing it. The character popped out with something from earlier in the book. Something I never gave a thought to, until I looked for an ending.”

“You didn’t have an ending before you began?” his disappointment was growing.

“I knew how I wanted it to end, but not exactly,” I said. “I had my notes, but they're only guides that usually get lost as the pages mount up.”

“You aren’t going to be mad at me, if I write a mystery, are you?” he stood up. “I can just plot something out and write it. I wouldn’t let characters tell me what to do. That’s why it takes you so long to write a book.”

“I tell you what, I’ll trade places with you,” I suggested. “You write the book and I’ll take your shifts managing the bar.”

“No, I am not sure you could handle real work,” he began to walk away. “But thanks for the insight, it was a lot of help.”

As Art walked away I could almost see him formulating his future novel in his head. I smiled to myself and wondered if God ever had days like this.

I sipped my drink and listened to Clint sing a few of his original songs and thought maybe I should become a songwriter; it sure looked easy as he performed on the Hog's outdoor stage, people singing along and yelling for more. Hell, how many words in a song? I can write short stories and novels, how hard can it be to write a song?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Writing and drinking, it's only a myth

A friend said my recent blog sounded like I drank and wrote (she doesn’t mind the cigar). She suggested I straighten out the misconception.

She’s right. I do not drink alcohol at home and then write. I drink alcohol at home and go to sleep! My days of trying to out do Hemingway are gone, and I am surprised my liver is still hanging on. Not to say I don’t enjoy a good stout or Irish whiskey. Most Friday nights I meet friends at Finnegan’s Wake for a few pints and some of the best chicken wings on the island.

Or I may meet friends at the Hog’s Breath and sip a Jameson on the rocks and listen to songwriters performing their music live. Over the years I have made friends with many of the singer-songwriters who play at the Hog, so when they’re in town I stop by. They are writers too, poets even.

After three beers or two Irish whiskies I’m drinking bottled water. I have too much going for me to get involved in a DUI; or worse, cause an accident that seriously hurt someone else.

What I do, sometimes, when I am sitting at the bar, or under my stilt house, with a drink and cigar, is to let my mind wander without the pressure of a blank screen staring back at me. Enjoy the drink and cigar and let my unconscious mind work for me, while consciously I am relaxing and enjoying myself, listening to live music or something from my CD collection. Of course, when people come up and talk to me, as happens in bars, my unconscious mind shuts them out and continues on with its search for the solution to my problem, while I go on being sociable. Great, ain't it?

Let’s look at this weekend. It is raining today, so maybe I get a stout at Finnegan’s, since the Hog is an open bar and heavy rain will keep the musicians off the stage and clear out the outdoor section of the restaurant. We need rain in Florida; I only wish it would take a break for a few hours.

I will get home sometime between 8 – 9 p.m. (wild life I live!) and probably read. I have Elmore Leonard’s new book and his dialogue is to kill for. I just finished Robert Gregory Browne’s book, Kiss Her Goodbye. Wanna read some intense writing that moves so fast it leaves you breathless? Check out Rob’s book or go to his Anatomy of a Book Deal blog, check my link section.

I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that writing includes a lot of reading. I read blogs, newspapers and books galore! My home office has a floor-to-ceiling bookcase made of 2-inch-by-12-inch shelving. Heavy, but I guess it’s a complex leftover from my years in earthquake prone Southern California. I made my computer desk the same way.

The shelves are full of books I’ve read and then stacked on their sides are more books I need to read; a few histories, but mostly mystery novels. In 1998 I lost about 2,000 books, mostly signed first edition when my floating home floated away in Hurricane Georges! Looking at my bookshelves now I wonder why the sucker didn’t sink from the weight of my books.

So, to me, reading is as much a part of writing as the pounding of keyboard keys. You need to read the masters, old and true (Chandler, Hammett) as well as people like Leonard for his ability at dialogue or James Lee Burke who can make you smell and taste New Orleans; Michael Connelly, who makes you step over the dirt and grit of Los Angeles and Robert Crais, whose mixture of the Hollywood Hills and tortured souls, helps you see the dirty little angels who survive there.

These writers are so damn good, I sometime want to hang up my keyboard. Of course, I can’t. As a writer I need to write, even if that’s only in my mind while trying to workout a problem in moving my story forward. I don't believe never writing has ever been an option in my life.

Think of how lucky I am, I get to roam Paradise, have a few drinks and good cigars, listen to great live music, talk to characters you would probably have to be locked up in a mental health facility to find anywhere else, go sailing and then sit down and find the words to explain it all without an alcohol haze in stories formed in my imagination.

I may never catch up to my writing heroes, but I am enjoying the hell out of the chase.

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