Quickie Interview: Guest Michael Haskins

Michael Haskins is a former journalist and indie writer who enjoys sailing and the relaxed lifestyle at Key West, Florida, including sailing on a number of occasions to Cuba. I spoke to him about his series books with Mick Murphy, a burned-out journalist with a penchant for getting himself into adventures that place him and his friends in perilous situations.

Welcome Michael, perhaps you could tell our readers a little about your background.

I have worked in journalism since my teen-age years and came to Key West more than 15 years ago to be the island’s only daily newspaper’s business editor/writer. For more on my life, you can go to my website and learn more than anyone needs to; www.michaelhaskins.net

Give us the elevator pitch about your latest series book, Stairway to the Bottom.

Two types of criminal come to Key West, both looking for the man who called Mick Murphy, left him a body to discover and then disappeared. One group is a collection of old Cold War spies who thinks the man has more than $20 million in diamonds; the others think the man is a henchman of Boston gangster Whitey Bulger and knows where Bulger’s money is hidden. Murphy thinks the first group of over-the-hill agents is a joke and the second ruthless. His attitude changes as he is tortured and when it’s all over his life has changed for the worse, again.

Tell us about the hero of the story – what would readers like about him?

Mick Murphy is a burned out journalist that has lived and reported on the Central American conflicts and drug cartels. He left all that behind, but Karma being Karma, it has followed him and so has his military intelligence, black bag friend Norm Burke. They agree on nothing but the honesty of their friendship has formed an unbreakable bond. It’s about friendship and I think real friendship is at stake in today’s texting society. Mick and Norm talk to each other.

And the bad guys, who are they?

There are a lot of antagonists in Stairway to the Bottom, but I try to have fun with the Cold War agents when each group meets with Mick and Norm. I may never be welcome in some European countries after this.

How do you work on a story to bring the components like character and plot together into the final product?

Since there is little crime here, I find an interesting ‘event’ from a newspaper story – I read the local paper, the Miami Herald, the LA Times, Boston Globe – and when I find an oddity that I like, I need to find a way or reason it would happen in Key West. We may only be 150 miles from Miami, but we’re light years away from the crime of that city, or any big city. Once I have a way and a why of importing the crime to Key West, I figure out why Murphy is involved and it usually is his past, which then involves Norm. I don’t write a ‘who done it.’ It’s no secret, but there are secret bad guys in the mix of good guys and that is what Murphy, Norm and the usual suspects on bar hopping, boating, pals of Mick’s has to do to put an end to the crime. I stay true to the island lifestyle and businesses, so when I am at Schooner Wharf Bar, it’s the real thing. True of all my locations.

What is one thing that has helped you develop as a writer?

Reading, and my critique group. Ok, math isn’t my strong point, that’s two things. But I believe a writer has to read, almost as much as he/she writes. I tell my wife I am writing when she sees me on the couch with a book. Also, my critique group is small but makes up for it with a variety of writing styles. There’s no shortage of opinions. Going to family and friends for a critique of your writing won’t help your skin to thicken! Sometimes they are right on the money, other times I do it my way. In the end, when they’re right, they’re right and it makes my writing better.

What is the most successful thing you’ve done to get in touch with readers?

For my traditionally published books, I think it’s traveling to bookstores for signing. For eBooks, it’s getting as much exposure on blogs and because I write about Key West, there are trop-rock radio stations and groups and I use them to spread the word. As a tourist destination, I go to as many tourist events with my bookmarks and meet people. It is surprising how many civic groups ask for book donations for a fundraiser. I donate books and bookmarks and show up. Just last month I was a guest bartender twice and found myself on the wrong side of the bar, but I met a lot of people who asked where and how to get my books and they were on display, silent auction article, for all to look through. That boosted my weekend sales for eBooks.

Stairway to the Bottom is available at the Kindle Store (http://www.amazon.com/Stairway-Bottom-Murphy-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0065QYQBC/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1335127922&sr=1-1) on my website store and on Amazon.com, as trade paperbacks.

A Writer’s Life: Trial of the Century

I went to court yesterday, to watch the cross-examination of Mr Vijay Singh, the father of three murdered siblings, in what is becoming known as Queensland’s trial of the century. In this one day’s proceedings there was enough salacious detail for an entire John Grisham novel. Or maybe an Ian Walkley novel.

Max Sica, former boyfriend of the eldest daughter Neelma (24 at the time of her death), is on trial for the triple murder. The crown alleges he killed the Singh siblings and dumped them in the spa, returning the next day to “discover” the bodies.

As a father of two girls and a boy, I immediately felt for a father who has had his children murdered, and who was now having to undergo cross-examination of events leading up to their death by defence counsel, while the accused murderer sat at the back of the courtroom.

My sympathies were tested, however, as evidence emerged about Mr Singh’s admitted physical assaults on his wife and daughters, including bashing Neelma with a pool cue for talking with a boy on the phone, that left her so badly injured she could not go to school for several days.

Singh denied further allegations, reported to the Police by the Principal of Sidhi’s school, that he molested his youngest daughter.

This alleged behaviour was in addition to Singh’s admissions about affairs with numerous women, sex with his nephew’s wife, and “swinging” activities with his wife and prostitutes, and others.

At Mr Di Carlo’s prompting, Mr Singh agreed that he had only been violent towards the women in his family, and had never hit his son, Kunal. This despite Singh’s statement that in his culture women were regarded highly.

Other evidence included:

  • An email from Neelma to Max Sica, in which Neelma asked Max Sica to have her father bashed.
  • A recording from Mr Singh’s answering machine in which two man, thought to be Fijian, made threats to rape and kill his wife and daughters in retaliation for Singh destroying their family. Mr Singh said he did not consider the tape message to have been a serious enough threat to inform the police. Not long after, the Singh siblings were murdered.
  • Singh accused Sica of “brainwashing” his wife and children against him. Sica had caused Neelma to lie to Singh about their relationship, he claimed.
  • He claimed that Sica had held Neelma against her will at Bribie Island when she was supposed to be in Dubai.
  • He threatened to hit Sica with a brick. Sica, he claimed, responded with threats of his own.
  • A transcript of a police tape secretly recorded before the murders, revealed a family argument and confrontation between Singh and Sica, said to be one of a number.  Sica called Singh a paedophile after coming over to the house at the request of Sidhi in order to protect the women from Mr Singh’s violence. Defence counsel put it to Singh that he had assaulted his wife and pushed her to the ground. Singh denied doing this and said that his wife was drunk.

Mr Singh had razor sharp recollection of certain events, down to the number of minutes between two telephone calls. But on other details that were reflecting on his own behaviour, he was at times evasive and frequently asked Mr Di Carlo to repeat questions. This was not helped by Di Carlo’s waffling and tendency to ask double- or triple-barrelled questions.

Singh’s evasive and aggressive manner in responding to the defence counsel’s questions, together with his admitted indiscretions and alleged behaviour, did little to provide respect for him as a responsible, caring father.

The family was clearly dysfunctional.

The judge in the case, Justice John Byrne, allowed certain damning evidence to be presented after a long-winded attempt by defence counsel, Mr Sam Di Carlo, to overrule an objection from laconic prosecutor Mr Michael Byrne. The repartee between Justice Byrne and Mr Di Carlo was something worthy of an episode of Boston legal. The trial was not a “roving Inquisition”, said the judge, but a criminal trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant, and defence counsel needed to be clear about whether he was intending to suggest to the jury that someone other than the defendant was the likely killer.

In other tactics, the defence counsel tried to suggest that a member of the Police Force, also named Singh, involved throughout the investigation, was a family friend, which presumably was intended to imply some conflict of interest. Di Carlo also asked why the Police had not asked for the tape of a second threatening phone call which later appeared to have been erased.

It will be disappointing if the defence chooses not to allow Max Sica to take the witness box to declare his innocence and allow himself to be cross-examined.