Saturday, December 27, 2008

Geezer in training recommendations

As a geezer in training here are my recommendations on aging:
1. Do it. The only thing worse than growing old is to be denied the privilege.
2. Try to have a companion or friends on the journey with you.
3. Stay involved: volunteering, writing, painting, reading and nagging your children. As they say, old age is the period when a person is too old to take advice but young enough to give it.
4. Exercise: if your are able, walking is both a physical and mental boost. I also believe in alternative to the South Beach diet called the North Woods diet: eat less and exercise more.
5. Don’t be afraid to take naps. My favorite bumper sticker: “Consciousness—that confusing time between naps.”
6. Set your priorities: decide what is important for you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Author events

At some signing events I am the only author present and other times I’m part of a group event. At a recent group event with four other authors, I signed some books and discussed my novel and writing with a group of readers. But the other enjoyable part of the event was the dialogue with the other authors. We had a great give-and-take on issues such as what inspired us, what we first began reading and the roles of parents and teachers in inspiring good readers. Several of the authors as children read books under the covers at night with flashlights and we shared examples of teachers who inspired us, like my second grade teacher who got me back on track.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Through the Looking Glass

I recently attended a play put on by a group of senior actors that dealt with myths of aging. It was titled, “Through the Looking Glass.” The play started with a group of older people sitting on the stage in chairs. Then a young man went to the podium and announced that he was a doctor and would give them a lecture on aging. As he began pontificating, the older people stood up and told him what he was saying was a bunch of hooey and then proceeded to share personal stories on what aging was really like, the good and the bad. It was humorous and very entertaining. Most of the actors were between seventy and ninety years old.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Independent books store that require authors to pay for book signing events

One of the disturbing trends in my area is large independent book stores charging authors for holding book signing events in their stores. The largest independent book stores in both Denver and Boulder are doing this now. It’s described as a promotional co-op fee and for authors with large publishers who allocate promotional dollars, the publishers will cover this fee. But for those of us with small or medium-sized publishers where the promotional nickel is all ours, we have to step up to paying this fee. At the store in Boulder this fee is $200. This means I would have to sell approximately 100 books to break even. I’ve been to some very well-known author’s events at this store and they sign 50 or so books. This does not bode well as a financially sound opportunity for me. My dilemma is that I want to support independent book stores but they don’t seem to want to support me. I can hold an event at Barnes and Noble or Borders without paying a fee.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


This last week I received the advance reader copies (ARCs) for my upcoming novel, Living With Your Kids Is Murder. My publisher sends these to reviewers and provides me with additional copies that I can distribute to local newspapers and other reviewers I know. This is always an exciting time to have an early copy of a book in hand. The published book with be hardcover but the ARC is trade paperback size. Over the color cover picture is an overlay stating, “Advance uncorrected proof—not for sale.” Still ARCs do show up on Ebay. I guess some reviewers try to sell them or pass them on to other people who try to sell them. In any case, I now have something more concrete in hand, still awaiting the official publication in April, 2009.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I just finished reading a book called From Age-ing to Sage-ing. It describes some of the new roles for older people including mentoring. The thesis is that older people have wisdom to share with the younger generations. I can’t put myself yet in the realm of someone with wisdom but I do know that I have enjoyed the role of mentor. Last school year I mentored an eighth grade student who was writing a young adult novel for a school project. We met periodically during the year to review his writing progress. I looked forward to reading the next parts of his book and seeing how the story was developing. This was a worthwhile project for both of us.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Author Program at Retirement Homes

This last week I gave talks at two retirement communities. I continue to be impressed by the involved seniors I meet at these programs. On Friday during the question and answer session, several people described their memoir-writing group. One ninety-year-old woman came up to me and presented a copy of the manuscript she had written for her family. It’s a wonderful account of her life and experiences. This is something we should all do for our children and grandchildren.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Book Cover for Living With Your Kids Is Murder

Here's the cover for my second Paul Jacobson geezer-lit mystery novel, Living With Your Kids Is Murder, which will appear in April, 2009.

The Mature Mind

Yesterday as a member of the Aging Advisory Council for Boulder County, I attended a “Create Our Future” celebration. The keynote speaker was Dr. Gene Cohen, author of The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain. His talk countered the traditional view of only focusing on problems of older people by looking at the potential of what older people accomplish, not despite their age but because of their age. He had had an opportunity to interview George Burns and shared several stories about the comedian. When asked what his doctor said about his drinking and smoking, George Burns replied, “My doctor’s dead.” George Burns also quipped that he started asking for applause in advance. Gene Cohen described how the old view that the brain doesn’t produce new neurons has been dispelled as well as indicating that the brain continues to sprout new dendrites and form new synaptic connections. He described the “new senior moment” being not one of forgetting but one of doing something creative. He gave an example of his father-in-law who when faced with a snow storm and no taxis in Washington, D.C. had this solution. He went into a pizza shop and ordered a pizza for home delivery. He then asked that he be delivery home along with the pizza. Cohen also cited research that older people use both sides of their brain more than younger people. Older people may be slower at solving certain problems than younger people, but they possess something that is gained over years: wisdom.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Big Sur of the Rockies

On Halloween evening instead of donning a costume and giving out candy, I attended the Big Sur of the Rockies Children’s Writing Workshop. Although I missed out on candy treats, I filled my writer’s bag with lots of goodies over a weekend of intensive critique groups and writing. I workshoped by middle grade novel in progress, Jennifer Jacobson Private Eyeball, and received great feedback on things to do to improve the manuscript. Since children’s writing is new for me, I learned a great deal about the different forms: picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult. Over the weekend I participated in four critique group sessions where I read sections of my novel and received oral and written critique as well as giving feedback to other writers. On Saturday afternoon we had time to revise our manuscripts, and I pounded away on my laptop for two hours. Another key benefit was the opportunity to speak with agents, editors and other writers in a relaxed session. When we broke on Sunday afternoon, I was exhausted but went home with pages of notes to fuel the rewriting I will do over the next several weeks. Jennifer will be much more beautiful as a result of this workshop.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Getting Older

What’s wrong and right with getting older? On the downside we get medical ailments, our friends die, we move slower, we forget things and we may need naps. But naps aren’t all that bad. I’m currently writing a geezer-lit thriller. The tag line is, “Saving the world between naps.” On the positive side as we get older we become seasoned veterans with a lot more experience than the young whipper-snappers. Let me give you an example. When I played tennis as a kid, there was one old guy named Winslow who drove us nuts. He was build like a fireplug and stood with his feet planted in the middle of the court with a cigar butt handing out of his mouth. He chopped and cut all his shots with no orthodox style whatsoever. We would blast the ball at Winslow and he would chop it back with a weird bounce that would cause us to overhit the next shot outside the court. We relished our youth and energy, but Winslow beat us with his experience and cunning. The need for elders goes back to our tribal heritage. The youth had the speed and power to track down game but the elders had the wisdom to know where the game would be.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Road Trip

My wife and I have just returned from a driving trip to Southern California to visit two of our kids and our granddaughter. While in Los Angeles I did some research for a geezer-lit thriller I’m writing, so in addition to visiting family members, it was a worthwhile trip. Also on the way there and the way back driving through the whole state of Utah, my wife took naps and I started plotting a future geezer-lit mystery novel in my head. Whenever we took a rest stop, I’d jot down my ideas in my notepad. By the end of my trip I had pages of notes and the last morning before we hit the road again, I got on my laptop and wrote an outline. Who says road trips can’t be useful for authors?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Police Training

I had a chance this last week to join in another police training exercise and participate in three scenarios. In the first I played the role of one of two complaining neighbor who hear a loud argument in another apartment. Two police officers arrived and we pointed to the apartment where we had heard the people fighting. The police go inside and find an angry belligerent person. Upon searching they also find in another room a person lying “dead” with a gun on the rug. The correct procedure is for one of the officers to calm down and interrogate the shouting roommate and to handcuff that person if violent and the other officer to search and find the “body” and remove the gun. In the second scenario I was part of a group having the Thanksgiving dinner from hell. Six of us were in a room arguing and shouting when the police arrived. The objective was for the police officers to calm us all down and separate us. In sitting us down there was a gun under a cushion on one chair which the person sitting in that chair draws. The officers need to either take that person down or “shoot.” One of the lessons learned involved checking the cushion before having someone sit there. The third scenario took place in a disco where a number of us were dancing and two people get into a fight. The police arrive to break up the fight. In all of this, no citizens were injured because all the “take-down” roles were played by police trainers with body-protection padding. The bottom-line for me seeing the police operate in these training exercises was the importance of being observant, using forceful language to move people who are causing problems and being prepared to act when a problem occurs.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Service Organizations

As a writer, I’ve had the opportunity to give presentations to a number of service organizations including Rotary, Kiwanis and Optimist Clubs. These are great organizations with missions to help others, primarily youth. The irony is that most of the members at the organizations I’ve spoken to are in their mid-sixties and older. Many of these organizations are struggling to build membership, particularly younger members. I’m reminded of a book that came out in 2000 titled Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. Putnam’s thesis is that people in the United States are no longer collecting in community as they once did. This is the same trend that can be seen in the decline of the membership in service organizations. There are several logical reasons for the recruitment challenge faced by service organizations. First, younger people are focused on their careers and families. I remember back to when we had three kids at home. Between the homework, concerts, plays and sporting events, my wife and I were extremely busy with kid activities. Now that the kids are grown and have moved away and we are retired, we have more time available for other activities. Some of the service organizations do pick up older members who join when they have more time to give. Second, I do agree with Putman that there has been a decline in the willingness to join in community projects. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who volunteer and make significant contributions to their communities. I just think that a larger percentage of people now are forgoing this opportunity to contribute.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Perspective

I took a week off from writing to visit our son, daughter-in-law and grandson in Iowa. It was a wonderful week exploring the world of an 18-month-old. Every day my grandson and I walked down to a bridge where he dropped black walnuts (“balls”) and sticks in the stream. This provided endless fascination for both of us (a good break from writing mystery novels). Another of his favorite game was knocking blocks over and saying, “Uh-oh.” His world is one of exploration while he points out dogs, butterflies, fuzzy caterpillars, leaves and, of course, any round object being a ball. On our walks he would find sticks and then proudly whack low-hanging leaves he could reach. Any sound of a bird or cricket would cause him to point toward the noise. I’m now back to writing with a fresh perspective on a true detective.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Critique Groups

As writers, it’s extremely important to have feedback from others to improve our manuscripts. I have belonged to a variety of different critique groups which are typically other writers. I have been in both in-person and online critique groups, and we meet anywhere from once a week to twice a month to review manuscripts in progress and give verbal or written feedback. But let me tell you about a fascinating critique group I participated in last Friday. I’m writing a middle-grade mystery novel for readers between the ages of eight and twelve. So my critique group was a class of fifth graders. Their teacher invited me in to the class, and I read the first two chapters of my novel, Jennifer Jacobson Private Eyeball. And what a group. They listened attentively, asked great questions and gave me feedback which I madly scribbled on a notepad as they spoke. They gave me positive feedback on finding the story engaging, but more importantly provided a list of areas for improvement including: a need to better develop several characters who had been mentioned as part of the back story, more description of a key event that had occurred before the beginning of the novel, stilted dialogue that wasn’t accurate for a twelve year old protagonist, and more character description. At the end of the time, one student raised a hand and asked if their class would be mentioned in the acknowledgement for my novel. I always list my critique groups in my acknowledgements.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Frame of Reference

I recently read a fascinating book titled The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. This is a story from the viewpoint of an autistic boy. The most compelling part of the book is putting the reader into the frame-of-reference of someone with autism. It’s easy to dismiss a person who we think acts strange, but the main character’s actions absolutely make sense once you’re in his head and see how he thinks and acts. The protagonist, Christopher, has amazing math and science skills but can’t interpret the expression on someone’s face. This is the way his brain operates. Just like someone “normal” finds it easy to read an expression on a face but can’t solve a quadratic equation in his or her head. Christopher doesn’t like to be touched and screams and hits when this happens. We all have our sensitivities, but his are more acute. He dislikes anything the color yellow or brown. This may at first seem strange, but he has his own logic on why this is so that once you hear it makes sense. We all have our personal preferences, but again, Christopher’s are more extreme. This book was also meaningful to me since I write about a character who has short-term memory loss, and I’ve needed to put myself in the perspective of someone who can’t remember what happened to him the day before. Before we judge people who are “different” it’s extremely important to live in their worlds.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Advantages of Growing Old

There are some definite advantages to becoming a “senior citizen.” I’ve started ordering from the senior menu at restaurants and find that the portions which are supposed to be smaller are very adequate and much less expensive. We took our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter to a water park this summer. Their admission fee was $38 but my wife and I got in for $5 each. What a deal. And at the University of Colorado people over the age of 55 can audit any course for free with the instructor’s permission. I did this when I first started seriously writing. I audited two fiction writing courses over two semesters, wrote a series of short stories and immersed myself in fiction writing. And finally, the best deal of all. At the age of 62 you can purchase a Golden Age Passport for $10 which allows free entrance for the rest of your life of your car full of people into any National Park in the United States.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I just returned from a week in Estes Park, Colorado. When on vacation I don’t write or blog and only briefly check email. My wife and I reunited with three other couples from California, Oregon and Georgia (the guys all went to graduate school together and we’ve been friends for forty years). This was a wonderful time to catch up on kids, grandchildren, health (a topic that comes up for people our age but wasn’t an issue forty years ago) and to see beautiful scenery. We spent a good deal of time hiking and driving within Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way we saw deer, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, marmots, pika and the ever present squirrels and chipmunks. My wife even had part of a sandwich snatched out of her hand by an attack duck. After a long day on the tourist trails, one of our friends raced into the house where we were staying and informed us, “Give me my tea and no one gets hurt.” The punster in the group upon hearing about a section of the mountains that gave eerie and haunting sounds when the wind blew said that it was called Peak-a-boo. We haven’t been together as a group for several years, but picked up right where we left off. Beautiful mountains, good health and great friends. What more can you ask for.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Television Interview

Yesterday I was interviewed for a program on a local television station. Along with fellow Colorado author, Beth Groundwater, we answered a number of questions about our novels and our writing experience. Although I have given numerous talks, this is the first time I’ve been interviewed on television since I was sixteen and beat the seventh ranked tennis player in the country in my age bracket. Yesterday, at first I was nervous, but since it wasn’t a live broadcast, any mistakes would be edited anyway. I talked about geezer-lit mysteries, by octogenarian protagonist Paul Jacobson and the juvenile mystery I’m now writing. I felt it went well but will have to see once I can view it. Ten years ago as an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, I taught a business course that was videotaped. I hadn’t watched myself give a presentation for a number of years and was surprised at the “ums” and “ahs.” It gave me great feedback on improving my presentation skills. It will be useful to watch this interview when it’s aired to see how I can continue to hone my speaking ability.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Juvenile Mystery Novel

Who says families and writing don’t mix? This weekend our son, daughter-in-law and eight-year-old granddaughter visited, and in addition to the water park, swimming pool, movie, hide-and-seek and other great activities, I had a chance to read part of my juvenile mystery novel draft (for middle grade readers eight to twelve years old) to my granddaughter. She was my first listener and gave me terrific feedback. She found two errors that I need to correct and picked right up on one of my clues. Now that they’ve headed home, I’m ready to jump in to begin revisions tomorrow.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Retirement Homes Are Marvelous

Last week I spoke at two retirement homes and had a great time talking with the residents who attended. Before the presentation started, we chatted about where everyone previously had lived, and they shared how they had converged on Colorado from all over the country. This makes sense because, as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Colorado is ranked as the state with the fifth highest growth in population of people sixty-five and older. At one of the retirement communities after everyone had recounted their various locals of previous residence, we discovered that three people had lived in Waterloo, Iowa. This was intriguing to me since my son lives in Iowa, but of more interest was that the three didn’t know this before. They had a great time comparing notes. One of the most animated people in the audience came up to me afterwards, and in further conversation, I found out she was ninety years old. Another attendee was 102, laughed at my jokes and shared some of her experiences. As you would expect, most of the people attending were women. Also, they tended to buy the large print edition of my book.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Author Loses Forty Years and Two Fingers

If you’re in your sixties like me, how’d you like to lose forty years in exchange for two fingers? I had this opportunity in a simulated way, when I participated in a SWAT team active shooter scenario yesterday. Here’s the setup: a man walks into a hospital emergency room, upset in thinking that his wife (a nurse) is having an affair with a doctor. He goes berserk and starts shooting people. I’m playing the part of a twenty-two year old emergency room technician and get shot, losing the fourth and fifth digits of my right hand. Blood (Halloween special) is all over my hand and I sit there in simulated pain, while the SWAT team bursts into the emergency room with weapons drawn and take down the shooter. Then the hospital staff shifts into gear to triage the wounded and take us off for treatment. This was all an exercise to train the SWAT team on how to handle a hospital active shooter event and to train the hospital staff in dealing with a major crisis.

Several interesting things happened. There was only one shooter, but in the heat of the battle, word accidently was communicated that there were two shooters. Once the shooter was down, the SWAT team then went room to room to try to find the second shooter (who didn’t exist). I was sitting on the floor watching this. They neglected to check a restroom where a victim was locked in. If there had been a shooter in there instead, it would have been a real problem (this was discussed in the debriefing afterwards). The major lesson learned by all parties was the need for better communications. The scenario had the head nurse in the emergency room being shot, and there was confusion after that about who was in control there. Then emergency phones didn’t work within the hospital, and there was miscommunication between the SWAT command post outside the hospital and the hospital staff. During the event an amber alert for the emergency room was issued over the loudspeakers in the hospital, meaning no one was to enter the emergency room. Needless to say, several hospital staff members came moseying in while the shooter was still “alive.” Fortunately, this being a simulated event, these problems now are being addressed. As a “victim,” it took half an hour before my wound was assessed. I was classified yellow while the red victims were carted off to surgery. Since I could walk, I was led to a room in the day surgery area with other yellow-classified victims, where hospital staff came to treat us and determine when we could go to surgery if required. After another half hour I was led to a room but the staff there was confused about what to do with me. (Another opportunity for improved communication). Overall, the SWAT team and the hospital staff operated in a very professional fashion and now know where to work the kinks out of their various communication systems. After the debriefing one of the other victims told me that he had started acting obnoxious, been taken off for a psychiatric evaluation and then given a meal to calm him down. With my “two missing fingers” I never was given anything to eat. Afterwards I scrubbed the fake blood off, my fingers magically reappeared and I was happy to be my age again, thank you.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Author Goes Undercover

Last Friday I had an opportunity to spend most of the day with a detective. I experienced a typical workday that included paperwork and investigative activity. From this episode I can share my perspective on some of the characteristics that make a good detective:
1. A good judge of human nature – Understanding what motivates people, how they operate, how to get information from them and how to follow up with them.
2. Excellent analytical skills – There is a lot of analysis both of computer-based information, interviews and in-person encounters.
3. Intelligence – Knowing how to approach problems, having the mental tools to tackle a difficult situation and the ability to uncover alternative possibilities.
4. Multitasking – A linear person could not survive in this environment. The detective I worked with had 29 cases on his backlog and these have to be worked concurrently with constant switching of tasks as priorities change. These ranged from a cold case murder in 1954 to two escaped fugitives that he had received information on that morning.
5. Sense of humor – You’d go nuts being around murderers, fugitives and the problems in society being dealt with unless you can laugh at yourself and the situation.
6. Good communication skills – The ability to ask the right question, listen to the answer, keep someone engaged and write clearly. He also spoke Spanish which helped in one interview.
7. Ability to turn off the job at home – We talked about this while driving to track down a work release fugitive. He was a dedicated family man and although his family knew what he did and he told them about what he was working on, he had learned to be present when on family time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

One Writing Approach

As I’ve met other writers, the one thing I’ve learned about writing approaches is that everyone is different. I’m a morning person and like to write early in the day. While I had a full time job, I came across The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Julia describes a concept called “morning pages” which entails writing three handwritten pages first thing every morning. This is a way to jump start your creative juices. These morning pages can be anything: a shopping list, your journal, or whatever you choose to write. I used this technique to write three pages of whatever novel I was writing at the time. I’d review where I left off the day before and then write the next three pages before going to work. That evening when I got home from my day job, I’d enter them into the computer, doing an editing job along the way. The three handwritten pages became two typed pages. If you stick with this technique and do the math, in 150 days you’ll have the rough draft for a 300 page novel.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

What I'm Writing Now

So what am I writing right now? I’m trying something different—a juvenile mystery. I’m using a character from my published novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder—my protagonist Paul Jacobson’s granddaughter, Jennifer. So Jennifer now is the protagonist in her own juvenile mystery. She is twelve years old and sets up a detective agency at the end of the summer before going into seventh grade. I have been reading juvenile mysteries and adapting my writing to a different audience—eight to twelve year olds. Other recent writing projects have included a geezer-lit thriller titled Reset, with a tag line of “Saving the world between naps,” and a mainstream novel based on the company that was the Enron of the 1980s.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reviewers and Other Interesting Characters

As a new author, I’ve paid close attention to reviews written about my geezer-lit mystery novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder. Fortunately, the reviews have been positive. But let me tell you a story I read about a reviewer who got in hot water for writing a review of a book that had not been written. Reviewer Kristian Lundberg claimed a book by an author named Mattsson had a weak plot and poor characterization. Unfortunately for the reviewer although the book had been listed in the publisher’s catalogue, the author had not yet written it. When confronted with this little fact, the reviewer admitted, “I got worked up in advanced about Mattsson because I detest her so greatly. But let’s hope the book is published so I get the chance to say it for real.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Author Goes Criminal

Two days ago I received three traffic citations, was tested for DUI, got frisked and handcuffed. No, I’m not really a scofflaw but was helping as a volunteer for police training. Last fall I graduated from the citizen’s police academy in my community, and the police department asked for volunteers for new officer training. So at eight in the morning we gathered to stage domestic violence, vagrant and traffic stop scenarios. I was the driver for a simulated traffic stop. I acted like I was out-of-it, tried to get out of the car, called my lawyer on my cell phone, didn’t have my registration and had an expired insurance form. They trainees called in the information on their radios, checked me out and in one case found an outstanding warrant on my fake id (I’m not 24 years old). I learned how an officer needs to approach the driver’s side of the car, standing behind the driver to block the door if the person tries to get out and staying out of range if the driver reaches for a weapon. They were trained to ask, then demand and then take action if the driver became belligerent. Police work entails a lot of repetition with the infrequent dangerous encounter. They have to be ready for normal people and the crazies so I had a chance to represent both.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Book Returns

I just listened to a National Public Broadcast report on book returns. It addressed a subject I’ve been concerned about since my first book was published last year—the unique aspect of book publishing where retail outlets can return any book to a publisher for credit. Coming out of the computer data storage industry where I worked for thirty-nine years, this is a very strange concept to me. Apparently, it started in the depression era when book publishers instigated the policy to encourage books retailers to keep ordering books. I’ve seen examples of this when I order books from my publisher. On several occasions I’ve received a signed copy of my book that was returned from a book store. The NPR report said that 25% of books are returned. When you look at the transportation expense that will only increase as oil prices escalate, this policy has a significant cost to the whole book selling infrastructure. As a relatively new author the positive benefit is that bookstores order my book. The downside is that’s it’s impossible to get a good reading on how many books have been sold, and the royalty statements and checks are delayed and reduced to account for returns. As the economics of print run size versus transportation costs change, I expect to see more small print runs and print-on-demand processes to address a just-in-time inventory approach as exists in other industries.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Retirement Home Visit

Yesterday I visited a retirement home nearby and was impressed by the active and interesting seniors living there. One 96-year-old resident showed me the large-type copy edition of Tony Hillerman’s Skeleton Man she was reading. In the lobby when I arrived, groups of residents were competing at a game of beanbag baseball, throwing beanbags through the holes in a wooden box to score hits and runs. Upstairs in the lounge a gray-haired lady played WII golf, accurately teeing off and in four shots sinking her final putt. I was reminded of 102-year-old Elsie McClain, who I referred to in an earlier post, shooting a hole in one at real golf. One of the resident managers told me of a resident who complained one time of grasshoppers being in her room. No one could figure out how they got there, until she was seen one day trapping them outside and bringing them into her room.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Demographics of Aging Continued

Behind Florida, the state with the second highest percentage of people age 65 and older is West Virginia, followed by Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Iowa, Maine, South Dakota and Rhode Island. It’s easy to understand why Florida is the leading state because so many retired people move there. These other states share a common characteristic. As the population ages, the older people stay in-state while many of the younger population immigrate elsewhere. But the states with the fastest growth in aging population include Nevada, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Living in Colorado I’ve seen that older people move here to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle and often to be near children and grandchildren.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Demographics of Aging

What are the demographics of the aging population in the United States? First of all, older men are significantly outnumbered by older women. For every man 85 or older, there are 2.2 women in the same age bracket. Over the age of 100, the ration becomes 5:1. Above the age of 65 there are four times as many widows as widowers. Florida is the state with the highest percentage of people 65 and older at 17%. Care to venture a guess on which state has the second highest percentage of people in this age group? In my next blog entry, I’ll give you the answer.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


As we age we all start forgetting things. But there’s a big difference between this normal memory loss of the aging process and dementia. As a specialist said at a talk I heard two years ago, there’s nothing wrong with forgetting where you put your reading glasses, but when you find them in the refrigerator, then you need to start to worry. 28% of the population age 85 and over has some form of mental disorder. This includes a variety of forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s. The brain is a strange and wonderful instrument. A recent article in National Geographic Magazine (November 2007) describes the extremes. On one hand a man who suffered brain damage from a herpes simplex virus can’t remember anything new after it happens. He lives a moment and it disappears. A similar case was described in a New Yorker article (September 24, 2007) about Clive Wearing whose wife Deborah wrote a memoir “Forever Today.” Clive lost brain function as a result of a herpes encephalitis infection. He can’t remember anything after it happens, but has retained his ability to play classical music on a piano.
The other extreme described in the National Geographic article is a woman who remembers everything that ever happened to her. She can recall an event for any particular time and date in her life. So take your choice. Would you rather remember too little or too much?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Aging Sleuths - Geezer Lit Mysteries

In the May issue of AARP Bulletin (page 6), there is an article about aging sleuths that mentions mystery novels by Cynthia Riggs, Parnell Hall, Rita Lakin and me. Harlan Coben, president of Mystery Writers of America is quoted as saying, “We’ve just scratched the surface on so-called geezer lit. It could be the next big frontier in crime fiction.” I heartedly agree. With the aging of the population and the fact the many readers are older, there will be an increasing appeal of older protagonists in amateur sleuth/cozy mysteries. All the authors mentioned above have wonderful older sleuths—75 year old Gladdy Gold who is a self-proclaimed private investigator living in a condo in Florida (Rita Lakin), 92 year old poet Victoria Trumbull on Martha’s Vineyard (Cynthia Riggs), gun-totting Cora Felton who won’t divulge her age in the Puzzle Lady series (Parnell Hall) and 84 year old Paul Jacobson who suffers from short-term memory loss (me). Also check out the email loop on Yahoo called Senior Sleuths Forum. The participants are readers and writers who are interested in aging sleuths.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Here’s a little exercise you can do to gain some insight into your priorities. Take 100 points and divide them between four categories: activities, relationships, thoughts and things. I’m an activity type of person but not interested in things, so when I do this exercise I come out activities – 40; relationships – 30; thoughts – 30; and things – 0. Give it a try and see what you come up with.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Malice Domestic XX

I just returned from Malice Domestic, a wonderful mystery conference with over 400 readers and writers of the mystery genre in attendance for the celebration of its twentieth year. While there, I also had an opportunity to do a signing at a local bookstore with fellow Five Star authors Michael Allan Mallory, Marilyn Victor, Maria Hudgins and Beth Groundwater. Beth was also nominated for an Agatha award for best first novel. Although she didn’t win, she will still always be able to say she was an Agatha nominee, and we got to cheer for her! One of the events at the conference is called the Malice Go Round. Readers sit at fifteen tables and then authors spend six minutes pitching to the attendees at each table before moving on to the next table. I enjoyed the chance to speak with over a hundred people as I jumped from table to table. By the end, my voice was ready to give out. Good panels, great people and a fun time mingling with other crazy mystery readers and writers.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Audio Books

As I give talks at retirement communities, I am often asked if my book, Retirement Homes Are Murder, will be available as an audio book. Many older people are suffering from macular degeneration and can no longer read. While pursuing this as an additional publishing option to complement the hard cover and large print paperback editions currently available, I recently found out about another service offered for sight-impaired readers through the National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped (NLS). NLS provides cassette players and books recorded on special cassettes that can be checked out. Because of the special recording format this does not infringe the copyright and provides book access to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to read. Within Colorado there is also the Colorado Talking Book Library that records local authors’ works. Although this doesn’t provide royalties to authors, it is a terrific service to address a need and to provide more exposure to an author’s writing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Services for the Aging Population

There are all kinds of new services for the aging population. One I recently found out about is Trip Nurse. This company, founded by Andrew Fallon and Suzanne Brandler, offers nursing assistance to people who want to travel but require medical assistance. The company’s motto is, “Have nurse will travel.” This idea is very appealing since, as the population ages, there will be more people with various disabilities and medical conditions that require assistance but who still want the quality of life associated with traveling to visit relatives and to see new parts of the world.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Aging In Service Organizations

I was struck recently how service groups are aging. I gave a talk at an Optimist Club two weeks ago and all the members were in their sixties and above. I will be speaking at another Optimist Club this coming week and when setting it up, the president of this chapter also indicated that all the members were in the retired aged category. Since this service organization supports youth, it is interesting that there are no young members in these two chapters. Yesterday I spoke at a book club that has been in existence since 1925. It was a very lively and articulate group, but only one person there was less than sixty. I wonder if they will be able to keep this rich tradition alive without some new, younger members.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


As I have spoken to groups at retirement homes, I’ve met of a number of people who are writing their memoirs. At a meeting about services for older citizens, I recently encountered two individuals who also help older people with documenting their life stories. This is a great practice to leave a legacy for one’s offspring as well as a good mental exercise. When my mom could no longer see to write, I interviewed her over the phone to write down her recollections. I wrote this up and gave a copy to my kids. I know I wasn’t that interested in my parents’ stories until the time my wife and I had our first child. Something about the step forward made me more interested in where I came from.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Printed, Electronic and Audio Books

What will be the future of printed books? Printed book readers tend to be older citizens as the younger generation has become enamored with electronic forms of entertainment. Many forays into electronic books have been tried including those by Sony, Net Library (acquired by OCLC) and most recently’s Kindle. As people age and have difficulty with eye sight (macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma), two variations of standard print books appeal to older readers: large print editions and books on tape/CD. Although I can still read standard print with my thick glasses, I thoroughly enjoy audio books which I listen to whenever I’m driving by myself. Although I don’t drive a great deal, I’ve found that time for the normal commute (when I worked before retiring), errands, etc. adds up. Over the last five years, I’ve averaged listening to a book and a half a month while driving. In addition to the enjoyment of a good story, I’ve found my driving to be less stressful. Instead of cursing drivers ahead who won’t merge and lamenting getting stuck in traffic, now I sit back and listen to a good story. In our world of multi-media, I expect to see all forms of “reading” continue. This will include electronic books, audio books and print.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Left Coast Crime Conference

At the Left Coast Crime Conference in Denver last week I had the pleasure of introducing twenty new mystery authors. All of these published their first mystery novel between February 2007 and March 2008. These are excellent works take place throughout the United States and Canada. Here are the demographics of the settings:

6 in the East
4 in the South
2 in the Midwest
1 in Colorado
3 in California
4 in the Pacific Northwest

These novels run the gamut from outrageous comedy to dark suspense, so whatever your reading tastes you will find excellent reading in this list. So here they are:

Laura Benedict, Isabella Moon
Bill Cameron, Lost Dog
Toni McGee Causey, Bobbie Faye’s Very Bad Day
J.T. Ellison, All the Pretty Girls
Dana Fredsti, Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon
Michelle Gagnon, The Tunnels
Jack Getze, Big Numbers
Barbara Graham, Murder by Serpents
Beth Groundwater, A Real Basket Case
Rosemary Harris, Pushing Up Daisies
Gabriella Herkert, Catnapped
Ken Isaacson, Silent Counsel
Marc Louis Lecard, Vinnie’s Head
C.J. Lyons, Lifelines
Cricket McRae, Lye in Wait
Sharon Rowse, The Silk Train Murder
Susan Arnout Smith, The Timer Game
Patricia Stoltey, The Prairie Grass Murders
Terri Thayer, Wild Goose Chase
Richard Thompson, Fiddle Game

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Police Citizens' Academy

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in two citizens’ police academies. Last fall I attended the Boulder Police Department Citizens' Academy and I’m currently in the Boulder County Sheriff Citizens' Academy. These are excellent programs that inform citizens about law enforcement activities and procedures. Subjects covered include: crime analysis; laws of arrest, search and seizure; bomb squad; professional standards; traffic and accident investigation; SWAT; street patrol; drug and narcotic investigation; identity theft; liquor enforcement and DUI; victim services; crime scene processing; municipal court; jail tour; criminal and death investigations; officer safety; gun range; animal control; domestic violence investigation; restorative justice; K9 handling; role of DA; defensive tactics; forensic cyber investigation; gang crimes; and internal affairs. As a mystery writer this has been invaluable in helping me improve the accuracy of my writing. Anyone can attend who is not a felon. Take a look in your communities to see if similar programs are offered.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Another Retirement Home Event

I did another presentation at a retirement community yesterday. Since I used a microphone, most of the people could hear me. Afterwards during the question and answer session, we got into a discussion of geezer romance. One resident questioned the unique circumstances of Paul Jacobson (my protagonist) having a romantic tryst. One of the ladies in the back piped up and said, “Aw, that’s nothing. After my grandmother died, my octogenarian grandfather who lived in West Virginia used to walk five miles into town every Saturday night for a woman. Then afterwards, he’d walk five miles back.”

Thursday, February 21, 2008


What will be one of the major challenges of the twenty-first century? In addition to global warning, it will be the need for services for the aging population. The baby boomers are entering their golden years, and medical science is keeping more of us alive longer. By the year 2030 the U.S. population of people 65 and older is expected to grow to 71 million of which 9 million will be 85 or older, a doubling of this population from the year 2000. On a worldwide basis the median age today is 26, but by 2050 it is forecasted to be 36. And a major issue worldwide will the shift of people into the retired age bracket. In 1950 there were twelve people in the working age group for every person in the retired category. By 2000 this ration had shifted to 9:1 and by 2050 it is expected to drop to 4:1, putting tremendous pressure on systems such as Social Security and Medicare. Our political system will need to step up to this reality.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Guest Blogger: Maryann Miller on Book Signing Experience

We've all encountered good and bad experiences at author events. I'd like to welcome guest blogger Maryann Miller describing her worst experience at a book signing.

Whenever I travel I like to try to do a little book promoting when I can, so a couple of years ago I arranged a signing at a senior center where my mother lives and one at a nursing home where my mother-in-law lived. I contacted the activities directors at both facilities well in advance to schedule the events, and both assured me that there were lots of avid readers among the residents and they would love to meet an author.

At the senior center about fifteen people stayed after lunch to hear me speak, and I even sold a few books. My mother was thrilled to introduce her daughter, the writer, and it was a fun afternoon. The residents were eager to talk about books and writing, and seemed equally thrilled to meet a writer.

Two days later, I made my appearance at the nursing home. I was scheduled to follow the late-afternoon bingo game when folks would already be assembled and willing to stay since dinner would immediately follow the talk. I stepped to the microphone the bingo caller left live for me and introduced myself to the audience of about twenty.

They were not an easy crowd.

I knew I was starting to lose them when a gentleman sitting up front asked if I was ever going to get the glass of water he’d asked for an hour ago. Then three women got up and left, muttering loudly that they must be in the wrong place since dinner wasn’t coming yet and it was past time.
In an effort to salvage something – anything – I abandoned my prepared speech and tried to engage the rest of the audience on a more personal level. I asked if they liked to read. One woman said she couldn’t read but she liked to sing. I told her that was nice and tried to engage someone else, but she interrupted to ask if I’d like to hear something. Before I could respond, she launched into a lusty version of You Are My Sunshine.

The other residents cheered when she was finished, so I took the hint. We spent the rest of the hour in a sing-along.

I guess I should have taken my guitar instead of my books.

Maryann Miller

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Use of the Term "Geezer"

I received an email after my last blog posting expressing concern that the term “geezer” was off-putting. The person felt it was okay for older people to use the term about themselves but not appropriate for younger people to call older people “geezers.” I guess this is like certain young persons of color using the “N” word among themselves but it not being appropriate for a person of paleness to use the term. My intent is to use the word “geezer” in an affectionate way. My protagonist Paul Jacobson calls himself a geezer, old fogy and old fart. I’m only a geezer-in-training at age 63. As posted last month, I have come across references to many unique geezers and my definition of geezer is “an interesting older character.” But I’d like to hear from others. Do you find the term “geezer” appropriate or inappropriate?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Author Events at Retirement Communities

Author events at retirement communities are good venues for writers whose books appeal to an older audience. For my geezer-lit mysteries, I’ve found this a good fit. I’ve spoken at nine retirement communities with four more scheduled and have learned what works well for the audience and speaker and what doesn’t. For authors planning to speak at retirement communities here are some useful hints:

  • You can find a list of retirement communities in the yellow pages or other listings. Make sure you contact independent living facilities and not care homes or nursing homes. Call and ask to speak with the activity director. This is the person who schedules events. Start with upscale communities as these are the folks that can afford to buy books. Since my book comes in hard cover, I want to do signings where people can afford twenty dollar books. Some retirement communities have book groups. Several times I’ve been directed to a resident who heads up a book group and schedules programs. Some of the people in these groups will buy books ahead of time.
  • Offer a program, not to exceed an hour. I never charge a fee but do insist on being able to do a signing. My program is a twenty minute presentation, approximately twenty minutes for questions and then twenty minutes to sign books. You will find that some retirement communities will not allow programs where products are sold to their residents. I’ve experienced this restriction at about twenty percent of the organizations I’ve approached. Say thank you and move on. It’s their loss of a good program for their residents.
  • If you have a large print edition, bring copies to sell. Since my large print edition came out, I’ve sold approximately half large print and half standard hard cover.
  • Understand the set up of the room you’ll be speaking in. I have spoken in auditoriums, meeting rooms, the lobby and the dining room. I always ask for a large table or two small tables for my books, bowl of candy, bookmarks, postcards and display poster. Sometimes a lectern is available and sometimes I roam. For large rooms see if they have a microphone. At the retirement community I visited two days ago, they had a sound system and provided earphones for residents with hearing difficulties. This was a big plus.
  • Once a program is scheduled, work with your contact on promotion. I’ve sold anywhere from two to forty-seven books at these events and the main difference is promotion ahead of time. Make sure notices are posted throughout the facility, published in the newsletter if they have one and even mailed to outside parties. The retirement community where I sold the most books had an outreach program to bring people from the community in to see the facility, and they promoted my event to contact outsiders as well as residents and staff. One enlightened marketing director even purchased twenty-five copies of my book as a promotional give away. I also promote the event and have brought people from the outside community in to attend.
  • Follow up a week ahead of time to reconfirm. I learned my lesson at one poorly attended event, when I found the event coordinator had neglected to put a notice up that day.
  • Always arrive a half hour ahead of time to set up, scope out the room and meet residents. I usually cruise the lobby or dining area handing out book marks and inviting people to the program. Several retirement communities I’ve spoken at had libraries. That’s a good place to find interested residents. Also see if the facility wants to buy one or more books for the library. Some facilities have public address systems, so ask to have an announcement made fifteen minutes before the program begins.
  • Have fun. You’ll meet great people who ask good questions and are engaged. As I like to say, all my programs have been successful—no one fell asleep and no one died.
  • Send a thank you to your contact person afterwards and keep the information on file for your next book.

People in retirement homes often come up and share interesting stories. I’ve incorporated several ideas in to the book I’m currently writing. Last Friday I was told about a woman who was a widow and took a chance on marrying a man in the retirement home who had never been married before. A month later she went to the retirement home director and said she wanted a divorce and to have a room to herself again. When asked why, she said, “All he wants to do is fondle, fondle, fondle.”

Monday, February 4, 2008

Mystery Novels with Older Protagonists

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is the classical example of an aging mystery protagonist. As I have attended writers’ and mystery fan conferences, I’ve met a number of other geezer-lit mystery authors. Here’s a sampling for your consideration: Rita Lakin’s protagonist is 75 year old Gladdy Gold, a self-proclaimed private investigator living in a condo in Florida. Rita’s mysteries include Getting Old Is Murder, Getting Old Is the Best Revenge, Getting Old Is Criminal and Getting Old Is To Die For. Nora Charles writes the Kate Kennedy senior sleuth mystery series including Who Killed Swami Swartz? Parnell Hall has the puzzle lady mystery featuring the incorrigible, gun-toting Cora Felton. Cynthia Riggs writes the Martha’s Vineyard Mystery Series starring 92-year old poet Victoria Trumbull. All of these have enjoyable and interesting senior sleuths, so add these to your reading list if you haven’t already.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Where Do Writing Ideas Come From?

What inspires ideas for writers? They may come from anywhere: life experiences, people we’ve met, events we’ve witnessed, dreams or quirks of our imaginations. I often take something from real life and then brainstorm, expand it or take it to an extreme. As an example my protagonist, Paul Jacobson, in Retirement Homes Are Murder has short-term memory loss. My stepfather had short-term memory loss so I saw first hand the issues associated with dementia. But Paul has completely different symptoms than my stepfather had. Paul remembers thing fine during the day retaining the excellent memory of his youth, but overnight everything goes blotto. As Paul says, he still has a photographic memory during the day, it’s just that overnight someone removes the film. People with short-term memory loss need to devise methods for dealing with their problem. Through the encouragement of people around him, Paul starts keeping a journal. This becomes his memory aid. With Paul there is one circumstance when he can remember things from the day before. He uncovers this accidently but unfortunately it isn’t something he can activate every day. I’ll leave it to the reader to also discover this little idiosyncrasy of Paul’s strangely wired brain.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Older Readers and Email

A portion of the readership of my geezer-lit mystery, Retirement Homes Are Murder, consists of seniors. A lot of older citizens don’t use computers. In fact only 35% of households headed by people 65 and older have computers and only 29% use the Internet. Yet, some of the older people who do use the Internet have sent me email messages about my book. Here is a sampling of the ones I have enjoyed:

"This book realistically covered a lot of the issues that seniors face but no one wants to talk about. I felt like I personally knew all of the characters and hated for the book to end."

"Now I am only 76 so it is hard to relate to those old fogies; but I am close enough that the symptoms are appearing. Like, my buddies and I play hard tennis twice a week; but, sometimes, after a heated point, nobody remembers what the game score is. Nevertheless your book kept me laughing, many times out loud. It was a wonderful read and I will pass it along to all my buddies."

"Thank you so much for the joy you gave me in reading your book. Paul Jacobson is my new hero. Whilst I am traveling towards the twilight zone myself this book makes me feel so good about myself, that I can rest easy in the knowledge that all is not lost."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Write At Any Age

“I’d like to write, but I’m too old to write.” I’ve heard this statement many times from seniors who I’ve spoken with at retirement homes. The truth is you’re never too old to write. I published my first novel at 62. Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first Little House book (Little House in the Woods) at age 65. And then there is Helen Hooven Santmyer who published And the Ladies of the Club at age 87 while in a nursing home. This was later rereleased and became a best seller. Better yet, Millard Kaufman published his first novel Bowl of Cherries at the age of 90. So don’t let age either young or old get in your way (I’m mentoring an eighth grade student who is writing a novel for a school project this year). There are two prerequisites: the desire to write and the perseverance. Writing skills can be learned through critique groups, classes, reading books about writing and lots of practice. If you want to write, pick up that pencil or pen or go to your keyboard. Don’t put it off. You never know what will happen.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What is a geezer?

So what is a geezer? As my protagonist, Paul Jacobson, in Retirement Homes Are Murder would say, a geezer is an old fart who is still kicking. Some of interesting geezers include the following: 82 year old Gus Jones of Seattle who while walking down the streets of Seattle in early 2007 was attacked by a berserk man who tried to throw lighter fluid on him and set him on fire. Gus whacked the guy with his cane and escaped. The crazy man went on to set two women on fire, fortunately only singeing their hair before he was subdued. The picture of Gus in the Seattle Times showed him smiling and holding his cane high in the air. Or another example that isn’t the typical picture of a tottering gent. In Ohio an 89 year old man was arrested for driving around naked. And there is the British rock group the Zimmers who debuted at #23 of the British rock chart. Their average age is 79 including lead singer Alf Carretta who is 90 year old and another band member Winifred Warburton age 99. Recently featured on NBC today was 100 year olf Legrand Nielson who runs races, swims, bikes and retains a great sense of humor. And one of my favorites is a “geezerette,” 102 year old Elsie McClain, who shot a hole in one while playing golf.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Geezer-lit Mystery Blog

This is the Geezer-lit Mystery blog. It is dedicated to a variety of subject: writing, mysteries, issues and opportunities of aging and memory. With the publication of my first novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder, I have spoken with many writers, seniors and people facing questions of aging. My protagonist, Paul Jacobson, is an octogenarian with short-term memory loss, a sense of humor and a love of life. He accepts his “geezerhood,” solves a murder mystery and enjoys a romance along the way, even though he can’t remember what happened to him the day before. So I’d like to kick off this blog with this statement: Moments unite through time and individuals through love. What more is happiness than living and loving each moment.
Mike Befeler