Monday, December 26, 2011

New Blog

I will now be posting on Mysterious Musings every second and fourth Mondays. Join me there as well with a fine list of mystery authors including Ben Small, Beth Terrell, Bill Kirton, Carola Dunn, Chester Campbell, Earl Staggs, Jean Henry Mead, Jonathan Quist, June Shaw, Leighton Gage, Mark Danielson and Susan Santangelo

Monday, December 19, 2011


I’ve had a good year giving talks to various organizations that are looking for speakers. I’ve been to numerous Rotary, Optimist, Kiwanis and Sertoma meetings as well as retirement homes. My objective is to provide an informative and entertaining speech, and I also bring books along for anyone wanting an author signed copy. So now I’m off for the rest of the year and will resume in January. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year to everyone.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


One of the things that keeps our country going is volunteering. As I give presentations to service organizations, I’m amazed at the work that is done in supporting young, elders and those in need. This morning I helped assemble holiday gift baskets for older people in our city and then delivered some of them this afternoon. It was a worthwhile activity, and the people receiving them seemed genuinely grateful.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I just finished reading a fascinating book titled, Generations: The History of America’s Future from 1594 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe (written in 1991). Like a number of books I’ve read lately, this was recommended to me by a person in the audience when I gave my presentation, “How to Survive Retirement.” When I speak on aging and writing, I get some great reading recommendations. This book shows evidence of four repeating generation cohorts over the course of American history. The four types are idealist, reactive, civic and adaptive. The authors demonstrate that these four have occurred in order except for one glitch during the Civil War. I’m in an idealist generation, labeled Boom, of people born between 1943 and 1960. Although I’m reluctant to agree with a sweeping generalization that all generations fit this four bucket rotating pattern, the evidence provided by the authors is compelling. They make some interesting predictions for the future some of which has occurred in the last twenty years and some of which has not. Well worth reading.

Monday, December 5, 2011

New Games Kind of World

When our kids were younger, we periodically invited a large group of people over for a New Games festival in our backyard. People of all ages, sizes and shapes would mix together and play a wide variety of unique games. We enjoyed many variations of tag: Octopus--where once people are tagged they become stationary octopuses, waving their arms and providing more obstacles to avoid; Flamingo--you’re only safe if you stand on one leg with your arm under your other leg and the hand of that arm touching your nose; Snake-in-the-grass--everyone gathers around the snake who on the count of three reaches out to touch as many people as possible who all in turn become snakes slithering around catching other people. We held races. An ameba race between teams of about ten people half of whom faced outward and linked arms while the others stood inside the cell wall with a nucleus of one person on top of their shoulders. Knots--groups of about six people would grab hands (couldn’t be two hands of the same person and couldn’t be a person standing next to you). The objective was to get untangled. When people first encountered New Games, many would roll their eyes, thinking the games silly or beneath them. Then after about ten minutes they would be enthusiastically involved and encouraging others to join. New Games provided an enjoyable release from the normal burdens of the day. Who could help but smile when an eight-year old explained the subtle strategy of “Killer” to a forty-year old. In Killer people walk around staring into each others’ eyes. The killer has been secretly selected by the gamekeeper and is unknown to everyone else. The killer kills by winking. When a victim has been “killed” she counts to three, then lets out a blood-curdling scream and falls onto the grass. The objective is to locate the killer, before everyone else is killed. At least three people must simultaneously say, “I accuse,” and point to the correct killer. New Games also provides a good model for life. There are only three rules: Play hard, play fair, nobody hurt. If we could only bring these rules into government, business, academia and use them for how we deal with people throughout the day. Think what we could accomplish and the fun we’d have along the way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Men of Mystery

We just returned from Southern California where I attended the Men of Mystery Conference, and my wife and I spent time with our kids and grandchildren. The conference is one of my favorites: 50 male mystery authors and approximately 400 mystery fans for an enjoyable day of schmoozing, signing and meeting new people. Each of the authors gave a one minute pitch, and we heard keynotes addresses from William Kent Krueger and Lawrence Block. In Kent’s speech he told how he had never read mysteries but became hooked as a writer because of the simple framework (something happens, investigation follows, it’s solved) that is broad enough to allow anything you want to put in a novel. To writers his advice was, “If you’re not enjoying it, you’re not doing it right.” Another comment he made: “Stories help us endure the chaos.” One of Lawrence Block’s quips I enjoyed related to writing being more than imagination: “With a fertile imagination you can produce no end of useless ideas.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Police Ride Along

After being in a citizens’ police academy, I had a chance to do a ride along with a police officer. During the four hours it was pretty calm. The main incidents were dealing with a drunk person who needed to be taken to the hospital and later the detox center and giving a ticket for a vicious dog that had bit a boy. While driving through a trailer park, the young children came out to ask for stickers that the police officer carried. At that age the kids like the police. Much of the job is checking neighborhoods and writing reports. Probably like being a right fielder in baseball—boring times with a few moments of sheer panic.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

SWAT Role Playing

This morning I participated in a SWAT role playing scenario. I was a hostage in a church overrun by a radical environmental group. Hostages were taken to two parts of the church. Along with two other hostages, I was held in an interior children’s room in the huge church. The SWAT team located us, shone a light into the room through a window and negotiated with the hostage taker on a cell phone. Since the cell phone reception wasn’t that good, they delivered a landline via a robot, and one of the hostages picked it up and brought it into the room for further negotiations. Later, coffee was delivered outside the room. I went to pick it up and escaped, running screaming down the hall to where a SWAT member frisked me and cuffed me. I was then questioned about what was going on in the room. Once it was determined that I wasn’t one of the hostage takers, I was released.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Citizens' Police Academy Finale

For the final session of the citizens’ police academy, we learned about the communication center. Callers can be located when they call 911 from land lines or cell phones. The one problem is voice over IP (VoIP). If someone moves and doesn’t change the physical address in the VoIP account there is no way to find the new location when 911 is called. As an example if someone moves from Denver to San Francisco without changing the address, a 911 call will be picked up in Denver and not San Francisco. When a 911 call comes in from a cell phone, a signal can be sent back to the cell phone to triangulate its location if the cell phone is on and the battery is operational. One of the problems with cell phones is that the communication gets many false 911 calls when the call is accidently activated from a pocket or purse. The dispatcher has to listen carefully to determine if this is an accidental call or has been placed by someone who doesn’t want a perpetrator to know that a call has been placed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Citizens' Police Academy Latest

At last night’s session of the citizens’ police academy we learned about police communications, felony car stops and SWAT. In Boulder County a simple code system is used rather than the more complex systems in some parts of the country. For example, Code 0 is danger and code 2 is a traffic stop. Felony car stops involve arresting one or more people in a car who are suspected of committing a felony. Three police cars are placed in a triangle formation to cover the suspect’s car. One at a time people in the car are order out, handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car. Members of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) go through extensive initial and ongoing training (approximately 240 hours a year). In dealing with a hostage situation the priorities of life are in this order: 1. Hostage, 2. Witnesses/bystanders, 3. Other officers and support personnel, 4. SWAT members, 5. Suspect.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What a difference a day can make.

Tuesday was sunny and warm with the autumn colors shining in Boulder. Wednesday a blizzard hit with a foot of snow. Quite a contrast.

Friday, October 21, 2011


We all start encountering interesting blips of memory as we get older. Here was one that happened to me. I was in my home office updating my financial records with mileage traveled for an author event presentation that day but couldn’t remember the mileage, so I went out to the garage to look at the odometer. When I came inside, the phone rang and after taking the call, I returned to my office and began working on a writing project, completely forgetting about the mileage (this is what my wife and I refer to as the intervening thought). Twenty minutes later I saw my expense folder and recalled that I needed to update the mileage. But by then I had forgotten the mileage amount I had seen on the odometer, so I had to go back out to the car a second time to look at it. At least this time I recorded it while I remembered and before another event interrupted me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Citizens Police Academy - next round

Last night at the citizens’ police academy, we heard from a crime scene investigator. One interesting tidbit—a DNA profile can now be determined from as little as ten cells from a suspect. The second speaker covered animal control. An owner of a dog can be cited if a dog attacks or approaches in a menacing manner even if it doesn’t bite. The third speaker was a school resource officer. She described the importance of knowing the schools and the students. She deals with teenage drama all the time. A minor can be interviewed as a witness or a victim without a parent present, but there needs to be a parent present if a minor is a suspect and rights are read.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Break from Writing

I took a break from writing to go visit our son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons in Iowa. We visited an apple farm, bought goodies, went on a tractor ride and got a picture of the family with pumpkins. Now it’s back to writing in the morning.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Citizens’ Police Academy Part 2

Last night at the citizens’ police academy we learned about Driving Under the Influence (DUI) from a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). Some tidbits. Colorado has an Express Consent law, which means that by agreeing to have a driver’s license, we consent to taking either a breath or blood test if there is probable cause indicating we are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The instructor went through roadside tests performed if you’re stopped for suspected DUI which include tracking a light with your eyes, walking a straight line placing heal to toe and balancing on one foot with the other foot out in front. A suspect can choose either the breath or blood tests, which have to be conducted within two hours of first contact. For the second half of the session we learned about the K-9 unit, and two handlers and their dogs demonstrated catching a suspect and conducting a drug search.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Citizens' Police Academy

I started taking another citizens’ police academy. This is my third, and I learn new things every time. The session focused on use of force. There are very strict guidelines on the type of force that can be used in different circumstances. Police officers must make an instantaneous decision on what level of force to employ to protect themselves, members of the public and the person they’re dealing with. There are different levels of control the police can apply including:
- officer presence
- verbal direction
- soft empty hand control (physical contact to cause pain but not bodily injury)
- hard empty hand control (including baton, pepperball, taser, beanbag shot from shotgun)
- deadly force

We saw a video clip of officers in training being hit with a taser, and then the instructor demonstrated a taser on a mockup. A taser completely incapacitates the target person, but once it’s turned off the individual returns to normal. I can assure you, I don’t ever want to be the recipient of a taser shot.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I’m still recovering after returning yesterday from the Bouchercon Conference, the largest mystery conference in the US. Here are some of the sound bites that I enjoyed:
- When a bullet riddled body was found, someone in law enforcement commented, “I think he lost his will to live.”
- Dan Hawkins stated, “Humor, magic and mystery have in common that things go in one direction and then you’re yanked in the other direction.”
- Author Hank Phillippi Ryan commenting on her news investigation career mentioned an intern who asked, “Can you tell me how to skip the boring parts and just get to being famous?”
- On a panel about evil, a panelist commented, “You can choose the sin but not the consequences.”
- A panelist quoted Agatha Christie in saying, “An archeologist is the best husband; the older you get, the more interested he is.”
- A term I had not heard before: Thrillzy for a combination of thriller and cozy.
- A book publisher stated, “Amazon will find it a little more difficult to be a book publisher than they expected.”
- Author Brad Parks stated, “Writing is performing on the page.”
A great conference, but after conferences two weeks in a row I’m ready for a break. Oh yeah, I’ll need to wait one more week since I’m doing two book launch events next weekend.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference

This last weekend I attended a wonderful Rocky Mountain Fictions Writers Conference. I’m very loyal to this conference because I sold my first novel as a result of a pitch session there in 2005. Awards banquet speaker Bernard Cornwell gave an entertaining presentation. Here are a few sound bites. He gave a list of interesting book titles. These two caught my attention: Memoir of an Amnesiac and The Romance of Proctology. He quoted another author, “What a writer thinks of critics is like asking a lamppost what it thinks of dogs.” He also quoted James Joyce’s wife as saying to her husband, “Why don’t you write books people can read?” Farewell luncheon speaker Allison Brennan said she writes to entertain not save the world. A line that got a chuckle from the crowd was a quote from a psychologist, “Stories avoid insanity and dysfunction.” She quoted Stephen King, “Fiction is truth inside the lie.” She also stated that stories make us human. The conference provided an opportunity to attend workshops to hone my writing craft, catch up with friends and make new ones.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More Police Role Playing

Today I participated in another role playing exercise to train new police officers. In the first scenario I was a suspect in a sexual assault case. When the police arrived, I tried leaving the house, and when the police stopped me, I told them I was glad to see them because a berserk woman was screaming inside the house. I claimed to be a refrigerator repairman who had been called to a house, and then a crazy lady scratched me (there was fake blood on my hand). The officers had to determine if I was a victim or a suspect. I had a knife on my belt and the trainee didn’t notice it and remove it. The trainer pointed this out, and the trainee will never make that mistake again! Eventually, I was cuffed as a suspect. In a second scenario, I hid in a closet and was discovered when the police trainees practiced a house sweep. So my crime spree is over, and I’m back to being a mild-mannered mystery writer once again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Citizen's Fire Academy Part 5

This last Wednesday at the Citizen’s Fire Academy we learned about fire investigation and how the fire investigator coordinates with law enforcement when arson is suspected. We had a whole session on emergency medical services with demonstrations of moving a victim onto a board to be transported after stabilizing the neck and head, modern resuscitation methods (different from thirty years ago when I took CPR and learned mouth-to-mouth), and a tour of the ambulance. We also saw a demonstration of the arson dog. Shadow and his trainer Mike showed how Shadow could locate drops of 50% evaporated gasoline. Attached is a picture of Shadow and a photo of a classmate secured on a backboard.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Citizen's Fire Academy Part 4

Last evening in the citizen’s fire academy, we learned about the life of a fire. The stages include:
1. Incipient – ignition
2. Growth – fire load and oxygen
3. Fully developed – all combustible materials have been ignited
4. Decay – largest stage as fire burns down

Terms I’ve heard before that were discussed:
1. Flashover – material reaches auto ignition temperature and bursts into flames
2. Backdraft – hot unburned fire gases collect in unventilated space and when oxygen is added explode

For structure fires response includes: 3 engines with 9-12 firefighters, 1 truck with 4 people, 1 assistant chief and 1 ambulance with 2 crew members for a total of 14-17 people. Having experienced a fire in our home in January, I can attest to the speed with which the fire department responded and contained a fire.

A fire truck was set on its outriggers in the parking lot and we had a chance to go up close to 100 feet in the bucket attached to the end of an extended ladder.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Citizen's Fire Academy Part 3

Yesterday I attended the third session of the citizen’s fire academy, learning about fire prevention. We were given a checklist and then wandered through the fire station finding violations of fire codes that had been staged for us to find. Examples: two extension cords plugged into each other, blocked exit ways, combustibles stored close to a heater, uncovered electrical outlets, rugs over extension cords, portable space heaters within 3 feet of combustible material. The fire department conducts much education, having spoken to over 10,000 residents over the last year. Some interesting statistics cited: over 60% of smoke alarms in apartments don’t work; in 2009 in the US there were 3010 fire-related deaths, over 17,000 injuries with 86% of the deaths in residences, 1.3 million fires and $12.5 billion of damage. Then we had a chance to escape from a Fire Safety House, getting out through stage smoke. After having a fire in our house earlier in the year that was quickly extinguished, I really appreciate what fire departments do.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Senior Law Day

On Saturday I went to the second annual Boulder County Senior Law Day. The keynote address by Dr. Jay Want provided some excellent insights into the subject of health care reform. United States medical costs are higher and growing faster than other developing countries, even when expressed as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. Jay stated that we got in this mess by paying people to do more rather than paying for better results. For people under Medicare, one in five comes back to the hospital within thirty days. By monitoring a patient after hospital release and providing in home assistance, many of these return admissions can be mitigated. The key is to reward improved health outcomes. In another session I attended, a physician described how he is now providing house call services to seniors. He can treat only half the patients of a doctor in an office, but he can improve the patients outcome particularly for older patients who may become worse by going through the trauma of going to a doctor’s office, waiting and then getting back home. Under Medicare 10% of the patients account for 50% of the cost, and these are primarily the frail and elderly. By looking at creative approaches, better service can be provided for a reduced cost. I also attended sessions on dementia (I have to keep up on this since the protagonist in my mystery series, Paul Jacobson, suffers from short-term memory loss). Paul suffers from vascular dementia, which, according to the presentation, accounts for only 17% of all dementia (dominated by Alzheimer’s at 70%). I also attended a session on scams, which ties in to another mystery I’ve written titled, Death of a Scam Artist. A day of learning that has given me new ideas for my writing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Citizen's Fire Academy Part 2

This week at the citizen's fire academy we learned about urban search and rescue. The Longmont, Colorado, Fire Department is part of one of twenty-six teams in the United States that can respond to local or national disasters. They have participated in the aftermath of 9/11 and hurricane Katrina. These teams were originally formed to address natural disasters but after the Oklahoma City bombing adjusted their mission to include human-caused disasters as well. During our class, the team demonstrated cutting through steel, breaching concrete, lifting two tons of material with inflatable air bags, repelling down a building to rescue a stuck window washer and stabilizing an overturned automobile. Particularly impressive with their equipment: 117 pound per square inch air pressure can be used to inflate a bag to lift up to seventy-two tons.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Citizen’s Fire Academy

I’ve attended both a police department and sheriff’s department citizen’s academy to learn more about law enforcement. Last night I attended the first session of an academy put on by a fire department. Some of the things I learned:
- The fire triangle of heat, fuel and oxygen—you need to eliminate at least one to put out a fire.
- This fire department works shift of 48 hours on and 96 hours off. They feel that this schedule is more efficient and leads to less sleep deprivation that 24 hour shifts.
- 73% of their calls are medical and only 5% actual fires.
- If a family member has a Do Not Resuscitate legal document, you need to show this to paramedics otherwise they will take all actions to resuscitate when called.
- Getting a fire fighting job is extremely competitive and once hired requires an extensive amount of ongoing training.
- A fitness exam must to be passed every year to continue as a fire fighter, so there is an emphasis on constant physical conditioning.
More next week.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Random Thoughts

Here’s what happens when you wake up in the middle of the night with a strange idea and then expand upon it in the morning. I’m sure I’ve heard some of these before but here goes:

She was a podiatrist who put her soul into her work.
He was a carpenter since being a little shaver.
She was a doctor with no patience.
He was an electrician who showed a spark from an early age.
She was a very structured architect.
He was a lawyer with attractive suits.
She was an author of few words.
He was an executive who knew how to execute.
She was a programmer who followed a strict code.
He was a plumber who showed much aplomb.
She was a teacher with large pupils.
He was a trucker who kept on truckin’.
She was a dentist pulled to her profession.
He was a principled principal.

You can add your own to this.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mystery Writer Learns More

I use any opportunity I can to learn more about law enforcement for my mystery writing. Today I attended a dedication ceremony and tour of the new sheriff’s department building in our county. Some interesting tidbits I picked up include the following: There is a soft interview room for friendly discussions with witnesses. It is truly soft with comfortable couches in a cozy setting. Across the hall is a hard interrogation room with hard chairs and an institutional table. Both rooms do have one-way glass and video capability. There are also two sleep rooms where sheriff’s personnel can crash if they need a few hours sleep after all night duty and have to appear in court in the morning or if there is bad weather and they would have a long commute home. Compared to the old facility, this is spacious with a large number of meeting rooms. It definitely provides an improved atmosphere for the people working there. All the evidence had to be moved from the old building to the new, maintaining the chain of custody for every single item of evidence. This took months to complete.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Writing Mind

Do you ever have the experience of waking up in the middle of the night with some wild idea or are of taking a walk and some thought strikes you out of the blue? Well, after years of this happening, I began writing them down. Now I’m turning them into short stories and novels. I have a manila folder full of these thoughts and ideas. I’ll never run out of material to write about. And the best part. Who needs a therapist when you can be a writer?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dedication Versus Compulsion

As anyone in the writing profession knows, it’s a lot of work, difficult, frustrating, lonely and disappointing. On the other hand, it can be the most rewarding and fulfilling avocation possible. As I continue on the writer’s journey, one of the aspects I struggle with is dedication versus compulsion. Here’s the dilemma. Writing requires constant diligence, focus and perseverance. I try to write every morning I don’t have meetings or am not traveling. Then there’s all the promotional aspects: Facebook, Twitter, my blog, my web site, the fourteen Yahoo email loops I belong to, speeches, book signings . . . the list can go on. I’ve been fortunate in being able to follow the advice of John Vorhaus’s character Vic Mirplo in the book Albuquerque Turkey to “procrastinate later.” My challenge is the voice in my head that says, “You need to do more.” This is the voice that says, “Write for another hour,” “Send five more query letters,” “Post more messages on Facebook,” “Call six more organizations to set up presentations.” This can be a never ending battle that consumes all day and night. So what’s the answer between sloth and hyperactivity? I feel it’s necessary to remain dedicated to my writing career, but I need to find a balance that avoids compulsiveness. I’m trying to ask myself what needs to be done? If I have a deadline, work on it to complete a commitment. Prioritize my to do list and focus on the “A” items. There is always more that can be done, but there is a time to stop, get some exercise, spend time with my wife, and read a good book. This also relates to perseverance. I sold my first short story on my 112th submission. What if I had quit at 111? Again the answer is balance. I need to keep going but pace myself. I’m currently seeking a new agent. I’ve been sending off query letters regularly. I’m not going to quit, but I’m not going to pull an all-nighter trying to send as many as I can either. The best answer I can come up with is to seek the golden mean—be dedicated without becoming compulsive.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My Life of Crime

Two days ago I was arrested six times and handcuffed five times. No, my mystery writing has not led me to a life of crime. I volunteered to be a role player for training new police officers of the Boulder Police Department. We assembled at a local park, and I received my props and took a position in one part of the park. My role was to be a disgruntled employee who had a pipe bomb. When the police officer showed up, I acted erratic and complained that I had been unjustly fired but would get back at them. Several times I had the simulated pipe bomb lying under my pack and others times it was stashed in the pack. The officers interviewed me, kept me away from my pack and once they found the pipe bomb arrested and handcuffed me. I learned several things from the trainers when they debriefed the officers in training. The police can’t open a backpack without the owner’s permission. Once permission is given, if they find something threatening they can take action. If there is an open backpack on the ground, they can look inside but can’t open it further. Once a bomb is found, the best procedure is to take the suspect away from the bomb, preferably at least three hundred feet and to remove anything from the suspect that could be a detonator such as an automobile car door opener, cell phone or even pen. Even though the suspect is unstable, the suspect would be taken to jail first, not to a mental hospital. From jail if a mental evaluation is deemed necessary, that can then be orchestrated. I was impressed with the new officers. They used a firm commanding voice to take charge but did so in a polite manner. I learned a lot and hopefully helped the new officers prepare for a situation when they encounter someone wackier than I am.

Friday, July 8, 2011


As a kid I was introverted and painfully shy. Over the course of a business career and now being an author, I’ve come to enjoy speaking. I give talks to service organizations, retirement communities and writers groups. I recently came across a youtube video of a presentation I gave to the Denver Rotary Club titled, The Secret of Growing Older Gracefully. You can see it at:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Grandkids Round Two

After spending six days with our other set of grandkids, I’m now completely fluent in two-year-old-speak. I’m also an expert on fire trucks, tractors, and any other vehicle that makes noises. With our four-year-old grandson, I learned how to build airplanes, helicopters and giraffes out of TRIO building blocks. I never knew a grandfather could be so versatile. Now it really is back to writing before the launch of my third Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit mystery novel, Senior Moments Are Murder, in August.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Enjoying the Life of a Two-year-old

My wife and I spent the last week visiting and taking care of our two-year-old grandson. What a treat. I’m now an expert on animals. My grandson and I spent hours talking about animals whether on matching cards, in books, stuffed or real. I learned you don’t need to say it exactly right as long as you’re enthusiastic. Some of the translations: monkey was “buddy;” lion became “ion;” sheep, “ship;” and dog, “goggie.” After a day of learning the words, we communicated clearly. What I found interesting is the learning process. An animated cat or a photograph were identified immediately as “kitty.” I also experienced what, in a positive sense, could be considered tenacious or in a negative way be called stubborn. With a cut on his finger, “boo boo,” he constantly then wanted “car,” which was a Disney Car movie band-aid. Whenever one band-aid fell off (five minutes after attaching it), he immediately said, “boo-boo,” followed by “car.” Grandparents learn as quickly as a two-year-old, and he soon had us trained. The other thing that has changed since we raised our kids—every piece of plastic in the house spoke or sang. I’d bump into a plastic farm set and it would immediately serenade me with “Farmer in the Dell.” When we travel, I take time off from writing. Now I’m reenergized and back to my normal writing schedule. That is until our next grandkid trip.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tags When Writing Dialogue

As a writer I’m always trying to improve my craft. One thing I’ve learned is to develop a balanced approach for using tags in dialogue. The simple and most direct is to write she said as in:
“It’s time to go to the movie,” she said.
Common practice is to use this rather than an exaggeration such as he expostulated. Dialogue can also be identified by movement or idiosyncrasies of a particular character:
“Make my day.” Sam raised his shotgun
Tags can be underused. I’m in two online critique groups, and once in a while I read a manuscript where dialogue goes on for a number of paragraphs with no tags, and I lose tract of who’s speaking. On the other hand, not every element of dialogue needs a tag. Robert B. Parker is a wonderful writer, and I enjoy his stories but listen to one of his novels as an audio book. Nearly every line of dialogue ends with he said. After fifteen minutes of listening, this grates on the nerves. As a result, I always read my manuscripts out loud on my last editing pass. There is nothing like hearing what you’ve written.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Ah, it’s reunion season. In the last two weeks I’ve attended two reunions for companies I used to work for. The problem is, I will see someone who looks familiar but can’t place them. At a reunion yesterday, name tags helped, for those who wore them, but with my eyesight I still had to squint at someone’s chest to see the name, and this wasn’t always well-received by the women. Once I was able to match a face with a name, most of the time I could remember how I knew the person, and we had a change to gab about old times. My forty-fifth college reunion takes place this year, and then in 2012 I’ll be going to my fiftieth high school reunion. Before then, I’ll have to review my high school year book and hope that the reunion organizers use large name tags.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


As humans we always like to categorize things, so here’s my take at one type of classification. I think there are two kinds of people: those who enjoy crowds and those who don’t. Earlier today, I volunteered to help at the Boulder Police Department booth at the Boulder Creek Festival. My duties including popping popcorn that was given away and encouraging people to buy raffle tickets and donate to the Special Olympics. After my tour of duty I strolled through the acres of attractions, food stands and booths that sold and promoted every imaginable product and service. I like to walk an hour a day and I got that in just making the rounds of the festival. I even brought my notepad in case an idea struck me for the current novel I’m writing. As I headed back to the car, what did occur to me was a visceral reaction to being confined in wall-to-wall people for an hour. I enjoy speaking with people, but the mob scene wasn’t for me—too noisy, too crowded, too much pushing and shoving. I would have preferred to be hiking in the mountains. You can tell where I fit in the crowd classification.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

After the End of the World

With today being the predicted rapture by certain religious group, it brings to mind what happens to someone who has bought into one of these predictions.

Put yourself in this situation. You expect the end of the world to occur on the stroke of midnight. In preparation you have set your life in order and have gone out in your backyard to await the event. You gaze up toward the Milky Way, say a prayer and take a deep breath. A car backfires and you jump, your heart racing faster than the winner approaching a NASCAR finish line. You check your watch. 11:59. The second hand approaches the top of the dial. You countdown like when the ball descends at Times Square on New Years Eve. 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . You scrunch your eyes shut and then open them. Your oak tree still stands where you last saw it. The knot hole in your fence is still there and, in fact, your whole fence has not been incinerated by a fiery explosion. You regard your neighbor’s house. Still standing, not demolished by a blast of hot air. You look around. Your house looks the same and your patio devoid of furniture that you donated to the Salvation Army remains immaculate. You check your watch again. 12:01. You tap the dial. Can it be correct? Maybe it’s set wrong. Then you remember an hour ago you synchronized it with the atomic clock at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado.

What are you going to do now? You’ve given away all your possessions, deeded your house to your alienated son, told all your friends that the end is coming. When you stumble out the door in the morning to pick up the newspaper, your neighbor Fred will laugh and say, “You’re still here. Didn’t happen did it?” Oh, yeah, you forgot. You discontinued the newspaper. You won’t have to face Fred, but you won’t be able to hide in your house for long. Your son will show up to take possession and be delighted to kick you out. You decided not to sign up for Social Security or Medicare since a stipend and health care wouldn’t be needed after the end of the world. You gave all your savings to the bearded prophet in the flowing robe who convinced you doomsday was approaching. Now what?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

How True Crime Cases Differ From CSI on Television

Several years ago I attended the Boulder Citizens Police Academy. As a mystery writer, I found this program extremely useful in learning about police procedures and the incredible contribution that the police department makes in our community. I’m now vice president of the Boulder Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association, and we meet once a month to hear a presentation on some aspect of law enforcement. This last week we heard from a detective regarding a homicide case that took over ten years from the time of the rape/murder until the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

One of the key attributes of writers is patience and perseverance. This is equally true of police detectives. Although the perpetrator’s DNA was collected from the victim and entered into the national database, there was no match for over a decade. The perpetrator had been arrested and was in prison in another state, but the DNA was not entered by law enforcement in that state for seven years. One DNA analysis along the way determined the racial background of the suspect, but this couldn’t be taken any father until a matching DNA sample was found. Another piece of evidence was a fiber that was identified by an expert as coming from a particular model of car. This became useful for later corroboration. After the DNA match was made, the police department needed to produce significant information for the trial including over 14,000 documents during discovery and an extensive chain of evidence list of everyone who had handled DNA samples over the ten plus year period. The reality of police work is much different from the quick resolution during a CSI television episode.

One other intriguing aspect of the case. The ER doctor on duty when the female victim was brought in insisted that she had not been raped. Fortunately, two ER nurses saw evidence of rape and stood up to the doctor and insisted that a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) be brought in with a rape kit. Semen was recovered, producing the DNA sample eventually leading to conviction of the rapist/murderer (the victim died a day after the rape and brutal beating). If these nurses had not stood up to the doctor, the perpetrator never would have been brought to justice.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Elders and the Future of Our Country

Given that I write about older characters, I’m always interested in information about the aging population. An article appeared in our local newspaper this week stating that Americans 45 and older now account for the majority of the voting population. The aging populations has grown rapidly with a 43% increase in people aged 55-64 from 2000 to 2010 and a 33% increase in the 85 and older segment. Of even more political interest is the statement based on actual election turnout that people 45 plus represent 60% of the voters in national elections. So in addition to being an increasing percentage of the population, older people actually exercise their votes more than younger people. Let’s use this voting power to steer our country away from the polarized rhetoric of the extreme right and extreme left, to vote for and bring into office politicians who forego the distracting symbolic issues of both extremes and focus on the real needs of the economy, jobs, environment and health.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Mantra

I just finished reading The Albuquerque Turkey by John Vorhaus. It’s an enjoyable romp through the world of con artists. One of the characters, Vic Mirplo, has a saying that can be applied to all writers: “procrastinate later.” I’m going to adopt that as my mantra. I do my writing in the morning and will stick to it. When I want to procrastinate, I’ll do that after I’ve done my writing for the day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Writing Discipline

I maintain a regular writing schedule, writing every morning I’m at home and don’t have a breakfast event scheduled. Over the ten years I’ve been writing, I’ve completed twenty novel-length manuscripts plus numerous short stories. But when I’m traveling, I rarely write. On our recent trip to Iowa to visit kids and grandkids, I didn’t write at all, preferring to spend time with our grandsons every possible moment. I view it as a vacation from writing, but once I’m back home, I’m back on my morning writing schedule.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Publishing Options

This new world of publishing presents both challenges and opportunities for authors. This last Thursday we had a panel of booksellers discuss the state of the publishing industry at the Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America meeting in Denver. E-books clearly present an interesting change in the industry. Booksellers as well as authors are struggling to sort out the proper role of e-books in the publishing spectrum. Myself, I now have my two published novels out in hardcover, large print, book club paperback, audio book, Kindle, Nook and now Smashwords. Readers are selecting different ways of interacting with an author's work, and my strategy is to offer as many options as possible to meet the varying needs. My wife and I recently went on a Panama Canal cruise and shipboard I saw many e-book readers as well as the various types of paper-based products. Paper and electronic editions will continue to coexist for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

More About Left Coast Crime

While in Santa Fe at the Left Coast Crime Conference, I tried to attend as many panels as possible. Here are a few of the tidbits I picked up. Nancy Atherton speaking about her Aunty Dimity series said she doesn’t do specific research into the location but instead goes to a place to experience it. This hit home as I always like to get a feel for a location in my writing. I go a little farther in that I often take photographs so when I get home, I can bring up visuals images of where I’ve been.

John Vorhaus spoke about scams and cons. He described the pigeon drop where someone leaves a wallet on the ground and when someone picks it up that person gets conned. As someone aware of this con, he almost fell victim to a variation of this when he was in Russia. He says the problem is with what he’s learned, he’s suspicious of everyone. Fear, greed or the desire to be a good Samaritan are the typical emotions that a con artist plays upon.

There was a lot of discussion about the expanding e-book market. I came back with a number of ideas I plan to pursue to expand my market beyond my current presence on Kindle and Nook.

One of my favorite quotes heard, “A mule will work with you for ten years for the opportunity to kick you once.”

This year’s award winners were:
-Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead - The Dilys
-J. Michael Orenduff, the Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein - The Lefty Award
-Jacqueline Winspear, The Mapping of Love and Death - The Bruce Alexander Memorial Award
-Margaret Coel, The Spider’s Web - The Hillerman Sky Award
-Craig Johnson, Junkyard Dogs - The Watson Award

Monday, March 28, 2011

Left Coast Crime Conference

Over the weekend I attended the Left Crime Coast Conference in Santa Fe. This is my fifth LCC, and I enjoyed catching up with old friends and attending interesting panels. I moderated a New Writer Introduction breakfast with an excellent group of debut mystery writers including the following authors with the title of their books:
Avery Aames - The Long Quiche Goodbye
Wayne Arthurson - Fall from Grace
Joel Fox - Lincoln’s Hand
Susan Goldman - Hollywood Forever
Patricia Gulley - Downsized to Death
Reece Hirsch - The Insiders
Darynda Jones - First Grave on the Right
Andrew E. Kaufman - While the Savage Sleeps
Rob Kresge - Murder for Greenhorns
Jeanne Matthews - Bones of Contention
Patricia Morin - Mystery Montage
Colin T. Nelson - Reprisal
Kath Russell - A Pointed Death
Cindy Sample - Dying for a Date
Susan Shea - Murder in the Abstract
Valerie Stocking - A Touch of Murder
I also moderated a Unusual Crime Scene panel with Deb Baker (Hannah Reed), Ruthie-Marie Beckwith and Margaret Tessler. We had fun sharing how dead bodies appeared in our books as well as other locations we had heard of. At the conference there was a lot of discussion about e-books with more authors going the electronic route. Next year the conference will be in Sacramento, and I’m already signed up.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Panama Canal Cruise

We just returned from a fifteen-day Panama Canal cruise. The only downside—I got no writing done for almost three weeks. The highlight of the trip was going through the canal and seeing how the locks operate. I remember learning about the Panama Canal in grade school, but it only hit home when I saw it from a ship being lifted and lowered. We entered from the Pacific side and the ship was raised to Gatum Lake and then we sailed about eighty miles through the lake until we reached the Pacific locks and were lowered back to sea level. Going from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Panama Canal actually entails traveling from West to East. This is hard to believe, but if you look at a map, you’ll see this is the case since the Isthmus of Panama is curved. We also swam with the dolphins in Cabo San Lucas. The experience of touching these graceful animals and holding on as they pulled us through a salt water pool was incredible—something everyone should try once. Now it’s back to reality—catching up on three weeks of email.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Waiting for Superman

I watched the documentary movie, “Waiting for Superman,” last night. It's an excellent treatment of what’s wrong with public education and some of the solutions that are emerging. The United States used to be a leader in public education but we have fallen behind numerous developed countries. One particular fact mentioned struck me. When kids drop out of school they are more likely to commit crimes and go to prison. The cost of incarcerating someone in prison for four years is more that the cost of twelve years of private school education. Another comment in the film was that kids in the middle get hurt more. I’ve seen this. The top students have gifted, advanced placement and International Baccalaureate programs, and the bottom students often have remedial or special education types of programs, but the kids in the middle often get left behind. The main theme of the documentary is that the problem is the adults—too much fighting over turf and pet programs rather than doing what’s right for the kids. Some of the successful charter programs in the country provide excellent teachers, forward thinking leadership and longer school time (more hours during the day and more days of education during the year). I recommend watching this documentary.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


We’re still dealing with chaos in our house after a fire. We’re living in half of the downstairs with no kitchen or family room. Things are slowly being repaired and new cabinets will be installed in the kitchen next week. I’ve become used to cooking with a microwave in the dining room, getting food out of the refrigerator in the entry way and going upstairs to wash dishes. In all this chaos I have been trying to get some writing done. Right now I’m rewriting a cozy mystery I started over a year ago. Some days I get in no writing, and others I’m able to break away for several hours to work. I don’t have to worry about writers block. I have home repair block.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

How We Cope

As we are getting our house back together after a fire, I have discovered I cope with the situation erratically. Sometimes, I’m resigned to how long it takes to get repairs completed and sometimes I get frustrated at the seemingly slow process. I was dealing pretty well with things until last night when, while fixing dinner on the microwave, the power went out. It took several phone calls to track down what to do, but finally we got power back on. I had visions of being in the dark with our furnace out on a cold winter night. Our cat has her way of coping. Whenever anyone besides my wife or me enters the house, she hides under the bed. I can identify. There I times I want to hide under the bed, but being a “responsible adult,” that’s not in the cards.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


I’ve learned a lesson recently on adaptability. Writers like to have a writing routine and stick with it. Unfortunately, we had a house fire that damaged part of the outside of our house and knocked the kitchen, family room and downstairs bathroom out of commission. On the positive side, no one was hurt. For nine days we camped out in a motel, and now that we’re back in the house, we’re cooking with a microwave in the dining room and have our refrigerator in the hall by the entryway. My writing office was unaffected, but with people working on the repairs and restoration, the house has been in a state of chaos. With all that needs to be done, I find it hard to concentrate, particularly when I realize that we won’t have our house back the way it was for many weeks. Somehow, I was able to complete a first round of editing on a manuscript, but my amount of writing time is much less than I had planned. Someday we will look back on this and . . . but not yet.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Left Coast Crime Conference 2011

The 2011 Left Coast Crime Conference will be in Santa Fe from March 24-27. This will be my fifth year attending, and I look forward to seeing the mix of mystery readers and writer who attend. I’ll be moderating a panel titled, “Unusual Crime Scenes,” with panels Ruthie-Marie Beckwith, Hanna Reed (Deb Baker) and Margaret Tessler. I’ll also be moderating the New Writer Introduction breakfast. I’ve had the opportunity to do this for the last three years and thoroughly enjoy reading first published mysteries by the next wave of mystery authors. Santa Fe, here I come.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dealing with a Crisis

The last three days have been pure chaos. We had a fire in our house, and we’re all fine, but there’s a lot of repair work to be done. For two days I was in crisis mode dealing with the house, coordinating with the repair crew, talking to insurance agents, while still trying to maintain a commitment to speak, a Boulder County Aging Advisory Council meeting, and a Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers meeting. Then yesterday with no commitments, it all hit me. Originally I had planned to write most of the day, but after fifteen minutes, I lost all motivation and took a nap. I’m sure I’ll eventually look back at the absurd events that let up to the fire and laugh, but not yet. The only positive part is that it has inspired an idea for a short story. This is how writers deal with bad situations: everything is material for writing, which provides our form of therapy.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Earlier today I tried something new. I went on a birding excursion. I had read in our newspaper that a reservoir used for a cooling pond for our local power plant would be open for people to come view gulls and other birds that remained in the area because of the warm water. So I packed my backpack, put on my hiking boots, grabbed my binoculars and went to join the avid birders. Knowing practically nothing about birds, I found the experts helpful and willing to locate and identify specific birds with their high powered telescopes. Over the course of several hours I saw numerous species of gulls as well as a night heron, a blue heron, three bald eagles, a golden eagle, two ferruginous hawks, a Cooper’s hawk, horned grebes and a tundra swan. Along the way I saw other wildlife included carp, deer and a coyote. In addition I had an opportunity to get in a good hike and see scenery that is not normally open to the public. My friend, Christine Goff, writes a bird watcher’s mystery series, and when I see her at the Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America meeting this week, I’ll be able to tell her I now understand why people get hooked on birding.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tidbits from Recent Books I've Read

Happy New Year! My next book is titled, Senior Moments Are Murder, and will be published in August of this year. I recently read a book titled, I Remember Nothing, by Nora Ephron. Relative to the subject of senior moments, Nora stated, “The Senior Moment has become the Google Moment and it has a much nicer, hipper, younger, more contemporary sound.” So enjoy your Google Moments. In my geezer-lit mystery series, my protagonist Paul Jacobson likes to cuss. I also recently read Dave Barry’s book, Big Trouble. In the forward Dave makes a statement that is exactly how I feel about Paul swearing, “Some of the characters use adult language. I did not necessarily want the characters to sue this type of language; some of them just went ahead and did.”