Michael Haskins

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Writer's Courage: Patry Francis

Mystery and thriller writers vary in age, sex, religion, political persuasion, hair color, as well as lack of hair, and in so many areas, I’d better stop here, but you get the point. So many differences, that it is amazing we are, more often than not, quiet-living, loving people, eager to help fellow writers, who are our competitors in a field that narrows almost daily.
While most of us writers sit down alone and face the cold, blank page on our computer screen, our characters also share a trait. Alone, and against overwhelming odds, many of the characters in mysteries and thrillers search out justice and they have to face outrageous situations that make them draw on an inner courage that we, as readers, have to wonder about. Would we find that courage in ourselves, under the same circumstances?
Do you, as a reader or writer, know anyone really like Jack Reacher, Elvis Cole, Dave Robicheaux, Alex Rutledge, John Cuddy, Max Freeman, Thorn, Harry Bosch, or one of your favorite author’s characters? Do they even exist off the written page?
I doubted if real people existed that were like those characters, but a few weeks ago, I heard about a courageous woman, who, as only befits the twists and turns of any good mystery, is a mystery writer.
Patry Francis’ book "Liar’s Diary" comes out in paperback today, Jan. 29, but, unlike many of us writers – me included – who would be eagerly signing copies of our book in stores on its release date, Patry won’t be. She is fighting cancer, instead.
I probably relate better to what she is going through than some, because I am a cancer survivor and though it’s been more than 30-years since I heard those frightening words, I remember them, the operation and six-months of cobalt treatments as if it were only yesterday. Facing ones mortality head-on has to be one of life’s most terrifying experiences.
Patry could have withdrawn, could have given up, could have survived for a while on sympathy, but, instead, she faced the bastard head-on and continues to fight the good fight. She blogs almost daily and shares the many complicated facets of her struggle and talks about writing.
If you want to meet a real hero, go to her blog http://www.simplywait.blogspot.com/ and see what an amazing and courageous woman Patry is.
To learn more about Patry, visit her website, http://www.patryfrancis.com/. If Patry’s website or the synopsis piques your interest, please buy or order a copy of "Liar’s Diary" today.

Liar’s Diary

What would you do if your best friend was murdered—and your teenaged son was accused of the crime? How far would you go to protect him? How many lies would you tell? Would you dare to admit the darkest truths — even to yourself?Jeanne Cross is an ordinary suburban wife and mother with a seemingly "perfect" life when Ali Mather arrives on the scene, breaking all the rules and breaking hearts. Almost against her will, Jeanne is drawn to this powerfully seductive woman, a fascination that soon begins to infect Jeanne's husband as well as their teenaged son, Jamie.Though their friendship seems unlikely and even dangerous to their mutual acquaintances, Ali and Jeanne are connected by deep emotional needs, vulnerabilities, and long-held secrets that Ali has been privately recording in her diary.The diary also holds the key to something darker. Though she can't prove it, Ali is convinced someone has been entering her house when she is not at home-and not with the usual intentions. What this burglar wants is nothing less than a piece of Ali's soul.When Ali is found murdered, there are many suspects; but the evidence against Jamie Cross is overwhelming. Jeanne's personal probing leads her to the question none of us would ever want to face. What comes first: our loyalty to family—or the truth?"

Friday, January 18, 2008

Here a Muse, there a Muse, everywhere but with me, a Muse

Writers’ block. What is it? And, do I have it?

I am probably within 50 pages of finishing my sequel to “Chasin’ the Wind,”Free Range Institution – and haven’t written in weeks! I have re-read the manuscript twice, making changes in it and I know where it’s going and how it ends; I know who the good-guy that turns out to be a bad-guy is. I like it and think it’s good.

I sit and stare at the screen that holds two pages of the chapter I can’t seem to finish, even though I know what happens. I have never had this problem before. Oh, I’ve been stuck because I’d written myself into a situation I couldn’t get out of. But not this time. I know where it’s going, but that ever-important next sentence won’t come.

It’s Friday and I am afraid to go home and face the computer screen. Key West has been my Muse for more than 10 years and she has blessed me. Where is she now? Is this a form of depression? Is there a Muse pill I can take? Is there a shrink who can explain why she left and let me know if she’ll come back?

I escape to my refuge, the Hog’s Breath Saloon, in Old Town. Everyone’s friendly. Bruce Issacson is playing alone for the second time since Red died from a heart attack during the holidays. Many local musicians will show up and sit in with Bruce. We all loved Red. He and Tim Carter are the best fiddlers whoever came here. I would’ve paid money to watch Red and Tim fiddle together. It won’t happen, now.

I sit with my back to the parking lot, the stage to my left. Boston Frank is the bartender and he brings me a Jameson on the rocks.

“Can I have bottled water, Frank?” I ask, taking the drink.

Frank brings me the water and an ashtray. I smile my thank you and listen to Bruce as he tunes up, alone on a small stage and he looks small, up there alone. Locals have filled the outdoor area and yell encouragement to him.

This is a refuge because I observe talk and characteristics in people – locals and tourists – that will find their way into my writing. I make rapids notes as some half-drunk tourist tries to pick up a girl. She’s with friends and I wonder what would happen if he was successful. I make a note on the page: what would happen if . . .

There’s a guy across the bar I’m watching. He inhales his cigarette smoke, exhales, takes a sip of beer, and then scratches his nose. Does the beer tickle him? He does it each time he drinks. Inhale, exhale, drink, scratch.

A another guy sits with his back to the bar and stares into the parking lot. Who is he waiting for? His wife, a girlfriend, a buddy with money from the ATM? He fondles his beer bottle and sips. He’s wearing an obscene T-shirt from one of the Israeli T-shirt shops on Duval Street.

I make notes on all this.

“No cigar,” Frank asks, noticing no cigar and that my drink appears untouched because the ice has melted and replaced what little I drank. “Is it Lent already?”

During Lent, I often give up either drinking or cigars. One year I gave up both. Friends told me later that I was a holy terror for 40-days and 40-nights! I thought I’d done well. I can give up drinking easier than giving up my cigars, but today, without my Muse, and maybe with writers’ block, I had no desire for either. I wanted to write.

“Naw, Frank, I’m tryin’ to keep a clear mind for the long weekend,” I lie.

“I’m in the next book, right?”

“You’re in the first one,” I lie again.

He smiles and leaves to wait on a customer.

“Finding characters?” Art, the manager asks, as he stands behind me and looks at my notebook.

“Something like that. How’s the writing going?”

A few months back, Art read one of my short stories and decided if I could write and drink at the Hog, he could probably write better than me.

“I think I have writers’ block,” he frowns and sits down. “You ever get it?”

“Not me.” I assure him.

“I just can’t get my idea from my head to the computer screen.”

“Finger exercises,” I say and drum my fingers on the bar as if I was typing. “It loses them up.”

“Really?” Art types on the bar.

“That and read and work on your notes.”

“Not enough time in the day,” he says and types. “Puts a little feeling into the fingers.”

“Exactly,” I say and smile.

“You make it look easy,” he says slowly. He stops typing. “You’ve got one book published and you’re done with the second one. I don’t know how you do it. Where do you find the time?”

“You make it,” I grin. “You get up an hour early, you take your notebook to lunch, you skip your favorite TV show at night. You do it, because it’s more important than sleep or food or TV.”

“Sounds like you give up life,” Art mumbles. “I didn’t know about all that.”

“You trade one life for another, Art. But, if you need to think about it, maybe it’s not what you’re supposed to do,” I tell him. “If writing isn’t what drives you, you’re not a writer. It’s not about sales – though sales are good – it’s about writing, turning that idea in your head into words.”

“I won’t bother you,” he says and stands up. “I know how important those notes are. Thanks for the advice.” He walks away.

I put money on the bar and walk out through the T-shirt shop. I want to go home and write. I’d find her, my Muse, she was just playing hard to get, but I’d find her.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ending 2007 and SleuthFest 2008

It’s a New Year, but I’d like to mention the last days of 2007.

Celine, Alex, and I left Key West and flew to a freezing New Jersey for my daughter Chela’s New Year’s Eve wedding. It was colder than a witch’s tit – especially for someone from Key West, where I put an electric blanket on the bed when the temperatures fall below 75!

But we braved the weather and enjoyed a week with my pregnant daughter Seanan (pronounced Shannon, but spelled in Gaelic) and her husband Paul Carpino.

It was a little hectic, as you can imagine the days leading up to a wedding are supposed to be. The wedding was beautiful, and, of course, the bride was too! The groom, Bryan Papaccioli, and Chela have dated since high school. His father, Lou, and mother, Colleen (yes, a good Irishwoman) are great people.

This has nothing to do with writing, but it is the reason I didn’t do any writing during the holidays, and it was a great way for me to end the Old Year and bring in the New Year with my daughters, their husbands, Cline and Alex, my sister Patty Bolter and her family and a large group of my ex-in-laws from California.

Imagine, if you can, a hall half-filled with Italians, ¼ filled with Irish and ¼ filled with Mexicans! Now that’s a party!


The Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America will hold its annual SleuthFest event in Deerfield Beach Feb. 28 – March 2nd. Lee Child will be one guest speaker. I hope you have read at least one of Lee’s Jack Reacher books. The second guest speaker is Dr. D.P. Lyle, the forensics specialist. His book, “Forensics for Dummies” is mandatory for any writer’s reference library and his website – http://www.dplylemd.com/ – is well worth checking into.

And, finally, I am going to meet Florida writer Bob Morris at SleuthFest. We have used emails and the internet to form a friendship and were supposed to meet in Key West during Jimmy Buffett’s ParrotHeads’ “Meeting of the Minds” festivities, but the unexpected death of a friend kept him away. Check him out – http://www.bobmorris.net/ – you won’t be disappointed. He was also nice enough to read, “Chasin’ the Wind” and he gave me a nice blurb for it.

Bob and I are on SleuthFest panels, but not the same one. Bob, along with Don Bruns and Phillip Cioffari are on a panel called “The Devil Made Me Do It,” at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 29th. (Yeah it’s a Leap Year). I have the Friday afternoon panel, right after our luncheon, at 2:15 p.m., titled “Write a Better Blog.” As of right now, I am the only panelist! But, officials assure me there will be others.

Not having a lot of faith in authority, I have already put together a handout list of blogs I read for whoever attends. If I am the only panelist, I have to use up about 45 minutes and, in a pub that wouldn’t be a problem, after a full meal and listening to Lee Child speak, I am not sure how much into blogging I am going to be!

I am hoping that you might respond to this and give me the name and web addresses of some blogs you enjoy going to. It might help me expand the list and give me somethting more to talk about.

Thank you and let me end with wishes to you for a Happy New Year.

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