This week it’s my pleasure to welcome another author published by Five Star/Cengage. Michael Haskins has worked as a newspaperman, photojournalist, and public information officer in locations from Boston to Los Angeles to Key West. He now lives in and writes about Key West, mostly Mick Murphy mysteries, and enjoys sailing when he’s not writing.
Learning to Write by Michael Haskins
I’m 100+ pages into my next Mick Murphy Key West Mystery and, because I’m writing it darker and differently than the other book in the series, it has been a lot of fun having past incidents threaten to change characters’ character.
Often, at signings or casual meetings with fans, writers are asked a few stock questions. How do you come up with ideas? When did you decide to be a writer? (By the way, btw for you tablet freaks, writing chooses you, you don’t choose writing). How did you learn to write? So, speaking for one, we have come up with stock answers.
Since I’m writing a sequel, I’d like to dwell on the last question. How did I learn to write? It’s a many-sided answer. I know there are great writers out there that went to Harvard and other colleges and learned to write there. Then there is a dwindling of old-school writers that learned to write by being journalists, think Ernest Hemingway.
I had my feet in both ponds and I’ve often said I learned more from seasoned journalists while an office boy (not PC, but that’s what I was back then) at the Boston Record-American/Sunday Advertiser. Warren Walworth and the Gilhooley brothers taught me more about putting sentences together that would keep a reader reading than any college class ever came close to.
I should point out that I’m not talking about journalism today. Sadly, what existed in the ‘50s and ‘60s has all but died and it was the greatest school available to a kid who flunked high school English but loved books and writing.
So, you could say, my learning to write began back at the old newspaper with guys who drank too much, smoked too much and loved their work too much.
When I left Boston, I still loved to read. Reading is the best school for writers, since journalism is dying. What got me to thinking about this has a lot to do with what I’m writing now, tentatively titled Key West Latitude. My critique group of writers doesn’t like the title, but it’s a working title and I can worry about a new one when the book is finished.
When I’m writing I like to read other writers that I respect for their story-telling habits. I’ll read Robert Crais, Tom Corcoran, Don Bruns, James Hall, Bob Morris, Dennis Lehane or James Lee Burke. Well, as luck would have it, Burke has a new book out, Creole Belle. I began it and read it carefully, enjoying his prose and dialogue, as well as his plot.
Of course, I read many other writers but don’t waste my times on writers I don’t enjoy and there are a few of them out there too. I write mysteries, as we all know, so I read in the mystery-thriller genre. I read for enjoyment but also to learn and I learn a lot from Burke and the others. I learn what works and sometimes what doesn’t work. You read Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series and even if you’re stuck in a Montana snowstorm, you find yourself swatting at imaginary mosquitoes attacking your neck! He’s that good.
How do these writers do what impresses me? That’s what I try to figure out while wondering if whatever that is will work in my writing. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But reading has taught me to try various things that impressed me.
Crais turning his Elvis Cole books into Joe Pike books gave me the idea of opening my book in progress from Norm’s voice. The book is darker and a sequel to Stairway to the Bottom and, if you’ve read it, the ending leaves Mick Murphy’s life changed forever. I knew how I wanted to the book to open but couldn’t see Murphy telling the story. Because I am a fan of Crais, I’ve read all his books and thought about changing POV. It took me a while to get it straight, believable, but once I did, I was off to the races.
If you want to write, you have to read and know why you like what it is you’re reading or what makes you dislike it. The good stuff you make work in your style, the bad stuff you remember not to use.
Thanks for an excellent post, Michael. As a diehard book lover, I can’t get enough of good books and authors like the ones you’ve mentioned here.