Michael Haskins, author of the Mick Murphy Key West Mystery series

To Beat the DevilWhat is To Beat the Devil about?

Mick Murphy’s search to find Russian gangster Alexei, the man responsible for the murder of his fiancé, the sinking of his boat and almost taking his life. The book has two parts. It opens in part one, in Murphy friend’s voice – Norm, the black ops guy in Murphy’s life from book one.

While chasing down leads to Alexei’s whereabouts, Murphy and his friends get hold of Alexei’s journal and it leads them back to Key West, where the journal indicates a terrorist attack is about to take place.

What inspired you to write the book?

I became inspired to write the book after talking repeatedly with my military intelligence source about safety in the USA. I discovered, with other sources to verify, that cruise ships are not really protected on international waters or in local ports. What little protection offered in the port of Key West could not stop a plane attack on a docked cruise ship, any more than the TSA security at the airports stops terrorists. They do, I believe, give passengers a sense of security and that is its main purpose.

Who is your most unusual character?

I think that would have to be Padre Thomas, a Jesuit who sees and talks to angels. Not all the characters believe him, especially Norm and Bob, but Mick does because in past books the padre’s foresight of things has saved Mick.

How much of a story do you have in mind before writing your book?

Most of my books start when I have a beginning, middle and end. How I get to those last two locations is always surprising and often the characters take over and what I thought was going to be the middle or end changes. The changes the characters bring to my story are usually better than what I had in mind.

Did you do any research?

Research is an interesting subject in fiction. I believe the reader today knows a lot, some true some untrue if it’s taken from CSI shows on TV. But if one reader is disappointed in your facts, you’ve lost a reader for good. I have a military intel officer I run my ideas through, as well as weapons. Since most of my story is set in Key West, I do personal surveillance at local bars and restaurants, to get the facts straight!

Has your background influenced your writing?

My background as a journalist helped me do research as well as look for details. I gave many of these traits to Mick Murphy, so I a way I know him better because we share the same background.

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

I like to write in the mornings, but to finish To Beat the Devil, I began setting time aside in the afternoons and that often went on into the knight. Now that I realize I can write most anytime, I might be able to finish the next book in less than a year!

What is a one sentence synopsis of your current work?

Art forgery takes Murphy to L.A., N.J. and Ireland to discover why his cousin, IRA fugitive Cecil Fahey was the front man for the sale to a Miami drug lord.

What do you like to read?

I am a believer that writers must read almost as many hours as they writer and, of course, you must read the genre you write to see what the competition is doing.

Do you have a saying or motto for your life or your writing?

I have a number of sayings hanging in my home office, but I think Einstein sums it up:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited while imagination embraces the entire world.”

Where can people learn more about your books?

I have sample chapters of all my books on my website – http://www.michaelhaskins.net – and of course you can read chapters on Amazon and buy the books and eBooks on Amazon.

Michael Haskins, Author of “Stairway to the Bottom”

Welcome, Michael. What is your book about?

My book, Stairway to the Bottom, is about greed. In this story, there are two cases of greed. One case, federal agents believe a man who vanished from Key West on a Jet Ski knows where Boston gangster White Bulger’s hidden fortune is, now that Whitey is in custody. They want it and feel after all these years they deserve it. The other case involves retired and not so retired Cold War agents who think the Jet Ski escapee is the agent that walked off with more than $20 million in diamonds as the Berlin Wall came down. They want the diamonds. Sometimes it’s comical. Other times, as the ending approaches it becomes deadly serious.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

I think the most unusual character in the series is Padre Thomas Collins, as Jesuit who talks and sees angels. He lives with survivor’s guilt because the angels told him to leave his Guatemalan rectory days before government soldiers came and massacred the residents. He’s an off-the-wall character that some of the regular characters don’t like or trust, but his angels have kept Mick Murphy, my main protagonist, alive.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

I spend time in the bars of Key West observing tourist and locals. There are some strange mannerisms people have in bars and on vacation. I try to put some of these to use in my characters. These traits separate my characters.

How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

I know the beginning, middle and end of a story before I begin. How I get to the middle and end is the fun part. As I write the things I knew or wanted in the story sometimes change, including the end. In Stairway to the Bottom, I didn’t like the ending and added one more chapter. I hadn’t totally thought of that way on ending the story, but as I re-read it, I knew it need a little more than I planned on. I think the ending found me.

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

I thought I was writing stories about good times in Key West, until a local friend and critic asked me about why my character was such a stickler for justice. I thought about the books in my Mick Murphy series, the ones from California/Mexico and the Key West ones and realized justice was the driving factor. Justice doesn’t always come from the people who have that responsibility. Bad guys don’t have rules and good guys do. The law has rules to follow and sometimes those rules keep the bad guys on the streets. At least in my series, Murphy’s rule is to be true to friends and see that justice is reached, no matter what.

How has your background influenced your writing?

My background is in journalism, old journalism, before computers. Murphy’s background is journalism. Murphy covered Central America, I worked in Boston, so the similarities stop. We also enjoy Jameson and Cuban cigars. I kept him close and that allows me to be more flexible with the other characters.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

I try to write every morning. To finish Stairway to the Bottom, I found myself writing through the afternoon and sometimes into the evening. It was an interesting experiment and I found I could do it. Usually, I would have brain freeze before noon. I also have days when I re-read and self-edit and re-write what has come before. I find this slows my writing process down, but when I’ve completed a book I am usually more happy with it than friends of mine who bitch about Major re-writing.

Does writing come easy for you?

When I am not writing, I love writing. Most time I’m having a good time, but there are those times the story takes off on its own and I have to keep up. I think writing is like anything, if it comes too easily you won’t take it seriously. It has to offer the writer challenges and that’s one more thing to love about writing.

What do you like to read?

I read mysteries. I read because I like the author and want to see what he/she is doing. Sometimes I discover something new in their writing style and think I can use it. We all steal from each other, it’s a great community.

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Anyone that wants to write has to read, read and then read some more. A writer has to know what has been done, what is being done and figure on a way to make it better or more interesting. After all, love & greed are the two driving forces behind a good mystery and finding a more interesting way to tell your story maybe hidden in the pages of someone else’s book.

Where can people learn more about your books?

I have written seven books in the Mick Murphy series. Car Wash Blues will be released in Aug. 2012. Free Range Institution came out in Feb. 2011 and are both hardback books. Stairway to the Bottom is a trade paperback on Amazon and on Kindle and Nook, as are some of my other books. To find out the whole story, check my website: http://www.michaelhaskins.net. More there than you ever want to know.

Michael Haskins, Author of “Car Wash Blues”

What is your book about?
Two Mexican drug cartel gangs come to Key West looking for my protagonist Mick Murphy, thinking he has stolen $20 million. Murphy is innocent, but has been set up by his friends in the shadows.

How long did it take you to write your book?
It takes me less than a year, but I spend a year on each book, editing and rewriting as I go along.

Did you do any research for the book?
I have to find a way to bring the crime/bad guys to Key West. I use a shadowy government agent as Murphy’s friend and check with a friend of mine in military intel to check my facts, especially firearms and they way drug cartels work. He is now an unrepentant contractor.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
I think that goes back to writing a Key West mystery because crime like you find in big cities, Miami, NYC, etc. doesn’t happen here. I find an item that interests me in news reports and then have to come up with why that incident would happen in the Keys.

What’s your writing schedule like?
Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day? I try to write in the morning and do a quick edit/rewrite in the afternoon. I keep a record of my daily writing. It helps with my continuity. I write the day it is in the story, time of day, and location. I avoid mixing up days and times in my writing. I am happy to write 1,000 words a day, but some days have to accept 250!

Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write?
Not before, but as I begin, the fist thing I do is re-read what I have recently written. That usually brings some rewriting but lets me know where to continue. I try to clear my head in the evening. Notice I said try, because it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes my story is rattling around in my head 24/7.

What are you working on right now?
I am almost finished with “Stairway to the Bottom,” continuing my Mick Murphy Mystery series. My plan is to get it as an eBook and trade paperback on Amazon for the holiday season.

How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?
As mentioned, I am almost done with my next book and the ending is a big surprise – or I hope it will be – and ends with a lot of lose ends. I did that on purpose because a follow idea come to me as I thought of the ending. To put it all in one book I’d need to write like Steven King, 1,000 pages. I decided to make it two books.

What is the easiest part of the writing process?
Oh that’s easy, turning on the computer!

Does writing come easy for you?
Now, that’s not so easy. The ideas come easy, making the idea work is difficult. As I said, some days I write 1,000 words and other days 250. Sometimes a whole chapter falls in place and I may exceed the 1,000 and finish a chapter in one day. Other times, getting the words to work is like pulling teeth without Novocaine. But I feel privileged to be able to write and have people read my books. I love it.

What do you like to read?
I read mysteries. Keep up on the competition! I am a firm believer that a writer must be a voracious reader. I learn something from every book I read. Sometimes it’s what doesn’t work, so I don’t make that mistake and other times I learn how to twist a phrase. There’s always a new technique out there.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?
Any book by James Lee Burke! I think Heaven’s Prisoner was one of his best. I would like to have written that or someday have someone compare my work to Burke’s.

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?
Write everyday and read afterwards.

Where can people learn more about your books?
At my website: http://www.michaelhaskins.net and by checking Amazon.