Michael Haskins

Friday, July 31, 2009

Writing, politics and business planning . . .

What can a writer learn from small-town politics and businesses? When it comes to writing our books, a lot. For one thing, if you follow politics, you know nothing is etched in stone. Nothing.

The example I thought of today, while having breakfast with my son Alex at Banana Café in Key West, had to with do how, only a year or two ago, the chamber of commerce and many business and political leaders decided the city needed to cater to upscale tourists. Shorter stays, more expensive hotel rates.

The business leaders and politicians figure to be rid of the family tourist and go for those that spend big. Hell of an idea and it gets you to fill your coffers and streamline your business and government.

There is a section of the island, when you drive in, called the triangle. Along the triangle, there are four or five motels/hotels (six or one, half dozen of the other) and the plan by the owner of the property was to tear them down and put up condos, one upscale hotel, and a convention center. Great plan, since the economy was booming (or we were fooled into believing it was).

It reminds me of mentally mapping out my second novel. I had a beginning and an end and soon pieced together what was needed to go from page one to page three-hundred. Now, all I had to do was write each day and my story would end on page three-hundred, as I planned it.

Like the plans of the property owner, it didn’t work out as planned.

For him the economy went into the toilet, so he didn’t demolish the property. The motels/hotels stayed open. That was a good thing for him, since he didn’t have a large payment on empty land to make.

However, other businesses on the island were counting on all those rooms to be off the books and that would allow them to raise prices! Oh yeah! In their business plan for the year, some counted on the new rates. Well, they didn’t come.

In writing, for me, sometimes a character says or does something that changes were I am going and I have to adjust. Sometimes, the story takes on a life of its own because of words or actions that I thought I controlled, but in reality, the story flows on its own and all I do is record it!

Of course, as the writer, I could scrap where the story seemed it wanted to go and I could stick to my sketchy outline; I needed to get to the end, which I know, so follow the plan.

My personal belief is if you follow the plan, the story isn’t as strong because the characters are not as strong. Go with the flow and adjust.

Businesses were caught short, because the rooms didn’t go off the market. Some lowered their prices, got ride of mandatory five-night stays and survived. Others kept to the plan, laid off employees and survived, but not as strongly as those that adjusted their prices.

A bad book is not better than no book. A business that survives is not as good as a strong business.

How do politics get involved in this, you ask.

Well, if room rates go way up, upscale visitors come to the island and there is more money and more money equals more tax revenue and that helps the city. Local politicians were in favor of that, but it didn’t happen.

Now, this year’s budget hearings are suggesting higher tax rates, but most property owners are homesteaded and their taxes cannot go up but a certain percentage. So, the part-time resident and business owner have to make up the money.

I am glad all I do is write and can adjust, because if my characters had the opportunity to vote me in or out, like a politician’s constituents, I might lose the election.

Today, at breakfast, I saw four families with children in the café. Two families had infants with them. It is the weekend, people with families can’t afford to fly to many places, so they take thee-day trips to Key West. Maybe once a month. It is not what the businesses wanted, but many are more than happy to put their heads in beds.

Moral of all this: as a writer, plan, in pencil, and when your characters want to make changes, erase and let them fill in the blanks and just remember to record it correctly. It will be a better story.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Don't pay the ransom. I've escaped!

It seems like forever since I’ve sat down to blog. I guess a few months is forever to some. Would you believe that I was kidnapped by members of the MWA Florida board of directors and held on bread and water until I agreed to join them?

If you knew Jim Born, president of the chapter, mystery writer, FDLE agent, and all around scoundrel, you’d believe me. Honestly.

Thanks to some board members, namely Diane Stuckart, Linda Hengerer, Miriam Auerbach, Rhonda Pollero, Deb Sharp, Rick Wymer, and Neil Plakcy, I was allowed to spend part of the summer with my family (supervised by the heavily armed Born). My advice to you, Google these names, you will find some talented writers.

When my family had left, Born water-boarded me into submission. So, I am now on the board of the Florida chapter of MWA. What does that mean? I drive once a month, usually, from Key West to the Deerfield Beach Hilton (4 hours) and then home. The chapter holds its monthly luncheon meeting there and the board usually meets prior. Due to the threat of more water-boarding by board members, I ignore the fact that I have to be on the road by 6 a.m. to make the board meeting.

Of course, I kid about the water-boarding. Jim Born didn’t really do it. He did use the threat of doing it (and some other interrogation techniques he has learned from Republicans in the old Bush White House. Rumor is, Jim taught Chaney to duck hunt.)

When Neil Plakcy called and asked me if I would be interested, I said yes. It has given me a chance to be active in what the chapter does and doesn’t do and as a first-time novelist that’s important to me. I share many of the same problems other first-time novelists have and I have not forgotten the hell of a climb it was to get here – level one.

What has really been amazing is discovering that the chapter’s established writers haven’t forgotten those days. The whole purpose of our SleuthFest gathering the end of February, is to help everyone, the pro, the newbie, the wannabe and let the fan/reader get up close and personal with their favorite writer and maybe discover their next favorite writer.

Are you in that mix? Check out the SleuthFest website. It is still building, but it will give you some ideas. Check out www.mwaflorida.org and you will learn about the chapter and SleuthFest. It is a few minutes well spent. Come SleuthFest in February 2010 and see if what I am saying about Jim Born ain’t true! I can’t promise he won’t want to water-board you, but I can guarantee you a great three-day weekend.

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