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

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