Michael Haskins

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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