Sunday, September 16, 2012

Down Island with Michael Haskins

Maybe it’s the sun, or the heat, or the quirky characters that people the streets, but Key West has inspired storytellers since the days of Ernest Hemingway. And for mystery writer Michael Haskins, the city plays a central role in a series of books he describes as “a great tourist guide for visiting the Keys.”
According to Haskins, a Massachusetts native who moved to Florida 15 years ago, living in the Keys has provided a wealth of story material.  He calls Key West “a treasure trove of things you can spend a lifetime looking for; a place where you can observe people from all over the world letting their hair down.” Key West is the setting for Haskins’s “Mick Murphy Key West Mysteries,” a series of novels centered around the exploits of Key West journalist Liam “Mick” Murphy.
Haskins’ literary success must come as a shock to his tenth-grade English teacher, Mr. Carlin.  A less than an ideal student, Haskins was assigned to a study class for problem kids. One day, out of prurient curiosity, he picked up a copy of Hemingway’s Men Without Women. Mr. Carlin snatched the book away, telling Haskins he was too stupid to read it. “I took that as a challenge,” Haskins says. He became hooked on Hemingway and decided he wanted to write just like him. Fortunately, Haskins’ 12th grade creative writing teacher recognized and encouraged his talent.
Haskins’ real writing education began when he took a weekend job in a newspaper office.  “Most of the writers back then didn’t have a formal education,” he recalls. “They were like characters right out of Damon Runyon. It’s where I truly learned journalism.” After high school, the paper put Haskins through an editorial apprenticeship. Later, he left Boston for Los Angeles where he worked in television and as a freelance photojournalist. While there, he took journalism courses at UCLA.  He also married and became the father of twin girls.
When Haskins “got fed up with Hollyweird” and moved to Key West, he became a writer for the Key West Citizen. He also spent five years as the city’s public information officer. These jobs gave him an insider’s look at Key West. This became the catalyst for a short story that grew into his first novel, Chasin’ the Wind (2008). The story has “Mad Mick” Murphy embroiled with federal agents, Cuban exiles, and a motley crew of Key West characters as he tries to avenger a friend’s murder. In the sequel, Free Range Institution (2011), Murphy uncovers a plot to smuggle a cheap, lethal drug into Key West. Stairway to the Bottom, released in Dec. 2012, pits Murphy against Boston gangsters, FBI agents, and Cold War spies.  The latest book in the series, Car Wash Blues (August 2012), has Murphy being hunted by two Mexican drug cartels. Haskins is currently working on Key West Latitude, the sequel to Stairway to the Bottom.
In spite of the danger and suspense in his stories, Haskins admits that it’s hard to find crime in laid-back Key West. He hopes his readers will share his passion for this unique city. “If you’ve been here, I hope the books will help you recapture the experience,” he says. “If you’ve never been, I hope you’ll want to come down and experience the Key West I love – a place that’s strange but friendly.”
For more information about Michael Haskins, visit his website at

Next: Sherryl Woods - Tales of Family and Friendship

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bill Chastain - Chronicling America's Favorite Pastimes

Bill Chastain has what most sports fans would call a dream job. He’s spent most of his adult life covering sports stories for publications like the St. Petersburg Times, SPORT Magazine, and the Tampa Tribune.  Currently, he covers the Tampa Bay Rays for, an online site dedicated to major league baseball. Each year, he gets to spend spring and summer with the team. For Chastain, a lifelong baseball fan, it’s a dream come true.
Chastain played a lot of baseball while growing up in South Tampa. When he wasn’t playing, he was reading about sports. He fell in love with writers like Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford, a man Chastain calls his hero. While attending Georgia Tech, Chastain enrolled in a course titled “Sports in Literature.” “I had to write three columns a week,” he explains, “and this planted the seed. “ After graduating with a business degree, Chastain continued writing. He began submitting articles to smaller publications, gradually working up to some of the heavier hitters. At the end of six years, he had an impressive portfolio of clips, so he decided to apply for a job at the Tampa Tribune. He spent 12 years there working as a columnist and sports reporter. He even spent some time as a correspondent for Sports Illustrated like his hero, Frank Deford.
During this same period, Chastain started writing books. His first, The Streak, is a novel about a baseball player trying to rebuild his life. Chastain then switched to non-fiction with The Steve Spurrier Story. This was followed by Purpose and Passion, the authorized biography of Bobby Pruett, coach of Marshall University’s championship football team. Chastain followed this with seven more non-fiction sports books. His latest, Hack’s 191, tells the story of prohibition-era Chicago Cubs slugger Hack Wilson, a man whose season record 191 RBIs still stands today. The book gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the life of a player whose hard-hitting batting style mirrored his hard-drinking lifestyle.
Despite Chastain’s success in journalism and non-fiction, his favorite work is a novel. Set in 1977, Peachtree Corvette Club is the coming-of-age story of Truman Forbes, an introspective Georgia Tech engineering student who emerges from a broken romance determined to try life on the wild side. Led by Bone, his thrill-seeking friend and fraternity brother, Truman embarks on a journey where he is free to enjoy the privileges of adulthood without the responsibilities or constraints. Chastain enjoyed writing this story that brought back memories of his “Pink Floyd college era.” He admits that his protagonist is “a little piece of me and a composite of others” whose exploits are based on the college stories Chastain amassed during his days at Georgia Tech.
Chastain’s next book will be the sequel to Peachtree Corvette Club. Toys and Games will follow Truman Forbes into his adult life as a sportswriter. The title comes from the nickname given to a newspaper’s sports department. “It’s funny how many people wish they were sportswriters,” Chastain says. “I want to take people into that bizarre world with its weirdo characters.”  
The thing Chastain likes best about his dream job is the creative process. “I’m not a tortured writer,” he says. “I enjoy spending time with my characters. And there’s nothing like waking up the in the morning and reading something you wrote the day before that you really like; something that will entertain readers and make them want to turn the page.”
For more about Bill Chastain, visit his website at

Next: Down Island With Michael Haskins