Thursday, December 26, 2013

Spirit of Christmas

Whether someone is a Christian or not, this time of year we can all embrace the spirit of Christmas. There is the symbolism of this time of year, going back to the pagan tradition of celebrating the return of light after the longest night of the year. The lights, festivities and family gatherings bring about a feeling of inclusiveness and belonging. The gifts of the Magi portray giving rather than receiving.

And the bottom line is the teachings of Jesus to love. So we can celebrate this message whatever our religious heritage might be because this same message reverberates through all religions.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Importance of Choice of Words

As a writer, words make up a key part of my daily life. What we write or say can be ignored or can have a significant impact. It still amazes me that when I sit down at the keyboard in the morning to write, magic happens. Well not all the time. Some days it’s a struggle, and on other occasions the words flow.

I was reminded of the importance of words two weeks ago when I watched a program on the History Channel about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. After FDR was notified of the event, he prepared a speech to give to the American people. In the original version he had written, “a date which will live in world history.” This didn’t have much impact. He later rewrote it so when he gave the address, he grabbed people’s attention with the phrase, “a date which will live in infamy.” That one small change made all the difference.
Words. Choose them and use them wisely.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Housing Options for Seniors

Since most of my mystery novels feature older characters, I’m interested in topics that affect the older populations. Because of this interest, I volunteered to be on the Boulder County Aging Advisor Council a number of years ago. This year our council has been focusing on the topic of senior housing.

At our most recent meeting, we convened as Silver Sage, a senior cohousing project in Boulder. There are sixteen units built around a courtyard, ten market price and six affordable housing units. It’s an interesting combination of individual homes with a shared facility for events and some meals.

One of the goals of our council is to help elders age in place in our communities. Rather than being forced into congregate housing options, it’s important to have a variety of other options available as well. The cohousing model provides the benefits of aging in place among peers who support each other. It’s a great option for people who like working in community. This is not for everyone, and other seniors want to stay in their separate houses as they get older.

Another important option is a variation on shared housing. Picture a widow who lives in a five bedroom house, who needs financial assistance to pay property tax and maintenance. If she is open to the idea, she could rent out four rooms to other widows. They all benefit, those that are looking for a reasonably priced rental living option and the property owner who is looking for a means of offsetting expenses. Unfortunately, in many communities there are zoning restrictions on the number of unrelated adults who can live in one house. These types of restrictions need to be revisited and opened up for more flexible living arrangements.

One of the concerns is the number of parking spaces required if people share houses. Five older people in one house, some of whom may no longer drive, is no worse that a family with three teenagers and five cars. Solutions can be found. It takes looking into alternatives and providing a breath of solutions for senior housing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gratitude for Being Healthy and Alive

It’s so easy to take good health for granted. I was this way until the wakeup call two months ago in the form of a severe heart attack. I thought I had been living a healthy lifestyle but discovered there were still areas for improvement. Since then I have continued to watch my diet, maintain a good program of exercise and simplify my life to eliminate area where I had overcommitted, leading to stress.

I never expected a heart attack, but stuff happens. I’m now taking medication which will help minimize the change of another heart attack. And the best news. Three days ago I had an echocardiogram and the results showed no permanent damage to my heart. The combination of quick treatment and excellent medical care led to this positive result.

I am sitting at my writing desk grateful for the outcome and looking forward to the gift of each new day.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


This has been a year of ups and downs. I’ve been fortunate that members of my family have been healthy and that I’ve had three books published. On the downside I had a heart attack nine weeks ago, but even with that, I’m thankful to be recovering and getting back to writing, walking and giving presentations.

Right now I’m looking out my window at a perfectly blue sky with a section of the first Flatiron above Boulder in view and in the distance the snow-covered peaks of the Rockies. All the leaves are off the trees, which allows more of a panorama that during the summer. I’m alive and kicking. Life is good!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Do you ever struggle with setting priorities? Do you look at the dreaded to-do list and try to decide what’s important and what can wait?

In the last two months I have reassessed a number of my priorities. I always pride myself on meeting my commitments, but I’ve decided to not make as many commitments as I did before my wakeup call eight weeks ago. I have resigned from several positions and said no to several requests for my services. This is because I plan to focus on the important priorities in my life, but not to become overwhelmed by too many action items.

My top priority is my family. My wife and I just returned from a trip to see two of our kids and two grandchildren. I admit the trip was also for a one-day mystery conference, the always enjoyable Men of Mystery in Irvine, California, but there’s nothing wrong with mixing work and pleasure on trips.

My writing is also a priority, but I’m not going to put as much time into it as I did BHA (before heart attack). I’m going to allow myself to take naps and relax and not be as compulsive about my writing.

And I will continue to do promotional events. I enjoy giving presentations and will give talks as schedule permits, again keeping a balance so I don’t spend too many hours a day on my feet.

And exercise. I enjoy walking and will continue my regular walks, hikes and snowshoe expeditions, again for reasonable amounts of time. I don’t need to scale any mountains or complete endurance hikes.

Finally, I will continue my volunteer work in the world of elders.

Those are my top priorities. How about you?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Toxic Success

A friend of mine introduced me to the concept of toxic success. Some of the elements that struck home included: 1. Enough is never enough, and 2.Hurry to use every minute to make up for perceived inadequacy. I’ve been writing since 2001, and in 2007 I retired to write full time. I’ve had some measure of success: seven published novels with one more due in May of 2014, two nominations for The Lefty Award for best humorous mystery novel and twenty-seven completed novel-length manuscripts.

The challenge for me is finding the right balance. Part of my success has been my perseverance,  and a strong work ethic. I wrote every day and also dedicated time to giving presentations and promoting my books, but I definitely had become wrapped up in the two points of toxic success listed above. I put pressure on myself to always be doing more. Part of that led to more completed manuscripts, but I could also get compulsive about my writing.

My wakeup call was the heart attack I had seven weeks ago. My goal is now to keep my writing life in proper perspective. I will keep writing and promoting, but if I miss a day, take a nap, stop to chat with friends or just relax, I will no longer view these as taking time away from my “success.” As they say, “Stop and smell the roses.” I’m glad to be alive.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Amazon Kindle Programs

Now that I have put four of my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mysteries on Amazon Kindle, I’m participating in a number of different Kindle programs. The first book in the series, Retirement Homes Are Murder, is on Kindle Select. I’ve also placed all the books in the Kindle MatchBook program so they can be purchased at a discount in conjunction with purchasing a print copy.

The most recent program is Kindle Countdown. It starts today and Retirement Homes Are Murder will be priced at ninety-nine cents for a week.

The other thing I’ve done is to add hypertext links to all of these four books that point to the other books in the series including one put on Kindle by my publisher and my two paranormal mysteries, The V V Agency and The Back Wing, put on Kindle by other publishers.

I’ll be monitoring how these programs work.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Retire Into

I’ve been an advocate of finding something to retire into. This is the path I took in 2007 when I retired from 39 years in the computer industry into fiction writing. I still think it’s important to plan retirement and not be at loose ends.

This afternoon I went to a retirement party for a friend. He is my age and has also now retired from the computer industry. My advice to him was the same as I’ve always given. Make sure you have something to retire into. My second piece of advice from my recent heart attack experience is to not over commit in retirement and to allow time to relax, enjoy walks and take naps. I’ve recently become a big fan of naps.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Different Writing Genres

One of the interesting things happening in modern fiction is the blending of genres. It used to be there were distinct boundaries separating mystery, romance, science fiction, etc. Now with more experimentation through self-publishing and small press options, writers are more often melding genres.

I write mysteries but they include romantic elements. Because of this I joined Romance Writers of America as well as Mystery Writers of America.

I also have two published paranormal/urban fantasy mysteries published by small presses. With this new direction I recently attended the science fiction/fantasy Mile Hi Con in Denver. This introduced me to a new world of people in interesting costumes and a wide variety of writers and artists.

Like cooking, writing can blend a variety of genres. It leads to a delicious meal.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Looking at Clouds

Did you ever lie on your back on the grass and look up at clouds when you were a kid? I can remember doing this with friends as we commented on all the different shapes we saw: rabbits, cars, giraffes and expanding blobs.

Okay, now as adults have you looked at clouds? I don’t think I have for almost sixty years. It’s a good exercise, though. After my heart attack three weeks ago, I’m trying to unclutter my life and not rush so much. I’ve even spent time just looking at clouds again. A week ago, I sat in my office chair looking out the window and rather than rushing to the next item on my to-do list, I watched the clouds. They blew, bubbled and churned. Two days ago I lay in bed with the curtains open and watched the clouds at dusk as they turned yellow and pink. What a delightful experience.

Stop and sniff the flowers. Also stop and watch the clouds.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Learning to Procrastinate

I’m not a good procrastinator, but after my recent heart attack I’m learning to not try and do everything right away. It’s a matter of priorities. The big things need to be done, but don’t stress the little stuff. This is a good lesson for me. I tend to get too wrapped up in my “to-do” list.

In the last two weeks I’ve canceled a lot of activities, asked other people to cover for me and reassessed what are the important things on my list. The top include my family followed by walking, relaxation and writing. There are a number of other activities I’ll put off.
I enjoyed a character in John Vorhaus’s novel, The Albuquerque Turkey, named Vic Mirplo who had a saying, “Procrastinate later.” Well, rather than feeling I have to do everything immediately, I’m learning how to procrastinate right now.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Go left, Live: Go Right, Die

No, the title of this blog post is not a political statement. It refers to a life transforming event. I can add one item to my list of achievements: I’m now a heart attack survivor. I can assure you this wasn’t something on my bucket list. It wasn’t even an event on my radar as a possibility.

Why? Because I supposedly did the right things. I never smoked, I exercised every day, I ate healthy food. But Thursday a week ago as I returned home after playing platform tennis, I noticed a tightness in my chest. At first I thought it was indigestion. Then as I got closer to home, it felt like someone had punched me in the chest.
I faced a quick decision. I could turn right into my residential area to head home to rest or turn left toward the emergency room of our nearest hospital. I made the correct decision and drove into the parking lot of the hospital. I stumbled inside, told the receptionist I had chest pains and in moments they had me in a room with tubes attached. This hospital didn’t have the cardiac unit, so within minutes I was transferred to a gurney, put in an ambulance and taken to the hospital across town. Later I was told I was in the operating room within seventeen minutes of entering the first hospital.

After three days in the intensive care unit and two more days on the cardiac floor, I returned home. I am now recuperating, getting a lot of rest and adjusting my life style to a new reality. I haven’t done any writing and probably won’t for another week, but I will get back to it. In the meantime, I’ve watched some old movies on television, taken lots of naps and relaxed. It’s great to be alive.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Earth, Water, Air and Fire

After the flood destruction here in Colorado this month, I’ve been thinking about natural disasters. Ancients spoke of the four elements: earth, water, air and fire. My wife made a good observation the other day that I hadn’t consciously recognized before. These four elements also account for our natural disasters. It’s ironic that contracts often refer to “Act’s of God.” To me, disasters have nothing to do with God unless you hold with a vengeful Old Testament type of God who likes to punish people. Let’s take a look at the four elements.

Earth. An earthquake shook Pakistan this week and killed many people. If you live in California, this is always a possibility as well. I grew up in Hawaii where volcanic eruptions (a combination of earth and fire) occurred frequently.
Water. In drought, we seek it, in flood we want it to stop. There are also tsunamis, a combination of earth (earthquakes) and a resulting massive pulse of water. We’ve recently experienced a 100 year flood here in Colorado. After several years of drought, we broke all records for a day, month and year with one week of too much rain. The power of water carved the Grand Canyon. I’ve seen pictures of roads obliterated in canyons in the Colorado mountains in the recent flooding and witnessed the flood erosion on nearby hiking trails.

Air. Ah, those storms. Wind, tornados, hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, Chinook, Santa Ana whatever you choose to call them can wreck devastation. And some of them produce ocean surges and the accompanying rainfall, leading to flooding. Blizzards combine air and water as do hail storms. Dust storms (simoom, haboob) combine earth and air.

Fire. We have had too many wildfires in Colorado the last few years. These have caused damage to thousands of acres of forest and the houses built in these areas, and taken lives. A number of the wildfires were caused by lightning.
Thus, the elements that provide for our existence (earth, water, air and fire) also bring the risk of natural disasters. It’s just the way our world works.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Writing During a Disaster

With all the flooding in Colorado over the last week, I’ve managed to get some writing done, although it was hard to concentrate. We’ve been fortunate to have no damage to our house, but throughout Boulder and other parts of the state it’s been a disaster.

Many mornings I remained glued to the television to see what was happening. Then I started taking walks to survey the damage in my neighborhood and walkable locations nearby. Currently, the water in the creeks has subsided in Boulder, but driveways are full of carpet and water-damaged objects. The Open Space areas are still closed, so walking has to be limited to city streets and bike paths.
Insurance companies refer to an event like this as an act of God. I don’t think God had anything to do with it. Stuff happens and sometimes it’s Katrina or Sandy and recently it has been too much rain in Colorado after earlier drought and fires.

Our thoughts go out to all of those who have suffered through this tragedy. As Annie says, the sun’ll come out tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11

Nearly everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news about the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. For me there’s a back story.

Rewind to the summer of 2001. One evening sitting in an easy chair in my living room, I made the decision that I wanted to retire into fiction writing. As a result of this, I negotiated with my boss to work three days a week. This turned out fine for both of us since my primary responsibility at that time was negotiating contracts with customers and suppliers. A number of these entailed night phone calls to Japan, so I could set my own schedule and get the work accomplished in the equivalent of three working days. Then I could spend the equivalent of two working days jump starting my writing.
I also had learned that if you’re 55 or older, you can attend any course at the University of Colorado for free with the instructor’s permission. I availed myself of this program and signed up for a fiction writing class that began at the end of August.

Fast forward to the morning of September 11. I got up and didn’t turn on the television because this was going to be my first day to write all morning. I had an idea for a short story for my writing class and was excited to be able to dive in and spend an extended time writing.  I had just settled into the chair at my desk in my home office, when the phone rang. It was the president of my company asking me if I had watched the news that morning. Of course I hadn’t. I ran downstairs, turned on the television, and needless to say, I didn’t get one word written that day.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Skip Generational Characters in Novels

What are skip generational characters in novels? Basically, it means grandparents and grandkids who work together in some way. In my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, Paul and his twelve-year-old granddaughter, Jennifer, team up to solve mysteries. In our fast-paced, mobile society, we don’t have that many households where grandparents and grandchildren experience each other on a regular basis. This is a shame. I know I enjoy the time I spend with my four grandchildren, but since we live in different parts of the country, these times are infrequent.

In addition to solving mysteries, Paul and Jennifer also enjoy telling each other politically incorrect geezer jokes in the most recent book, Care Homes Are Murder. The further skip generational factor is that Jennifer’s mom (Paul’s daughter-in-law) thinks Paul is being a bad influence on Jennifer. This leads to Paul and Jennifer sneaking off to tell geezer jokes to each other. When they get caught by Jennifer’s mom, Paul admits that he’s the “ba-a-a-d grandpa.”

In my just released paranormal geezer-lit mystery, The Back Wing, a skip generational relationship exists between the protagonist, Harold McCaffrey, and his teenage grandson, Jason. Jason comes to stay with Harold in the retirement home where he lives because Jason’s parents are off on a vacation. Jason thinks it will be boring being with his creaky grandfather and all the old people, but, boy, is he surprised. It turns out that the back wing of this retirement home is full of aging witches, vampires, werewolves and shape-shifters. Jason has an exciting time meeting vampires who gum people on the neck and helping to solve two murders.

I have one other manuscript (not yet published) that plays upon this grandparent and grandchild relationship.

Skip generational relationships provide ample opportunity for the young and old to come together, help each other and learn from each other. This is something we need more of in today’s world.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Fiction Writer Writing Nonfiction

Since I decided to become a writer in 2001, all of my published work has been fiction (seven mystery novels and several short stories). In my current writing project, I’m writing the biography of a World War II veteran. This has been a fascinating project and a real learning experience for me. So what are my observations on nonfiction versus fiction?

With my novels I always do at least a preliminary outline. This gives me a roadmap even thought I often take detours to admire the scenery. Since my nonfiction project has relied on recording interviews with the gentleman I’m writing about, I’ve let him tell me his stories and then I’ve pieced them together as I go over the recordings. I let him control the agenda of the early interviews, recounting what he remembered. Then as I began writing, I had a number of questions, so the later interviews have been me asking him questions to get things clarified and filled in.
What is similar between fiction and nonfiction? They both require a good story. I had written journal articles when in the business world, but writing a nonfiction book requires the same attention to story as does a novel. I began writing the episodes recounted to me and then began organizing them in a story arc. Although I first put things down in somewhat of a chronological order, I began diverging from this as I built the story arc. I’ve written 56,000 words, and I’m now doing a read through to see what I’ve got so far.

An interesting process.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Writing Hiatus

I’ve just completed a 2 ½ week break from writing—the most time away from writing since I began in 2001. But I had a very good reason. I spend the time with my grand kids. First, our son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons came to visit us in Colorado for a week. Then my oldest grandson stayed with my wife and me for a second week for Grandma and Grandpa Camp. We hiked, did sticker books, put on plays, went to the dinner theater, saw movies, watched butterlies at the Butterfly Pavilion, attended an air show and spent two days at the hot pools in Glenwood Springs. We wrapped up by flying back with him to his home and spending three days there before his school started.

I spent a few minutes every day checking email and a few social network posts but that was it. The rest of the time was doing fun stuff. Longest vacation I’ve taken in years!



Thursday, August 15, 2013

Photic Sneeze Reflex

After growing up in the sunshine of Hawaii and being outdoors at least some time during the day, most days while living in California and now Colorado, about ten years ago I developed a photic sneeze reflex. What is this you may ask? It goes by a number of names including photoptarmosis, sun sneezing, and my favorite, Autosomal dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst (ACHOO) syndrome.

Simply put, it’s sneezing when exposed to bright sunlight. It’s estimated that 18-35% of the population has this disorder. I say disorder only in the sense of it being irritating, but there is no serious problem with it unless you’re driving a vehicle and suddenly are wracked with sneezing.

I find that if I go from inside a car or house into bright sunlight without dark glasses and a hat, I will sneeze about three times. As mentioned above, I never had this when younger so don’t know why it started up as I approached geezerhood.

I’ve used this syndrome in one novel I’ve written.

Do you ever sneeze when exposed to bright sunlight?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mock Trial

The two lawyers completed their closing statements, the judge gave us our instructions and then it was up to us, the jury, to make a decision. For any of you who have been on a jury, it can be an interesting, boring and difficult job all rolled into one. As a mystery writer, I always want to be called to be on a jury, but because I want to do it, I’m never called. My wife recently received a letter indicating she needed to contact the county courthouse after five p.m. on a Friday to see if she would need to show up the following Monday to be a potential jurist. She did not want to do it, whereas I would have coveted the opportunity. When she didn’t have to go, she was relieved.

So to overcome my jury envy, I signed up to be a jurist in a mock trial. A friend of mine had signed up to serve on a mock jury and told me about it. I called and got the last slot. Under the wire. The organization putting on the mock trial was the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) located right here in Boulder, Colorado. It’s an organization that trains lawyers, and one of the training programs is to put on mock trials.

When I showed up and after being plied with sweet rolls and fruit, I was assigned to a room for the trial. Two teams of two lawyers each represented the plaintiff and defendant in a civil litigation case over a contract dispute. One company had accused another of violating a contract clause on exclusivity of technology. The defendant claimed that the exclusivity only applied to improvements to the original product and not a new product. So one item of dispute was whether the follow on product was an improvement or a completely new product. Then a second issue was over a right of first refusal. The company providing the technology had to provide the other company an opportunity to meet or exceed any offer made for a new technology. The technology provider contracted with another company, notified the licensing company, that company responded, but there was a dispute over whether this response met the offer or was a counter offer.

All this may sound boring, but since I negotiated contracts in the high tech world for a number of years before I retired to write mystery novels, I found the debate interesting. The lawyers presented their cases and called witnesses. The scenario was well-crafted in providing a situation that was not clearly in favor of one party or the other.

After the case was turned over to the jury, we discussed it and voted. A civil case requires a majority not a unanimous jury as in a criminal case. We voted for the plaintiff, deciding that the second product was an improvement and not a completely new product.

Then we had an opportunity to give the lawyers feedback. How many times do you have a chance to critique an attorney? They listened and took our feedback. But, hey, that’s why they were in the program—to become better lawyers. Much like we writers seek feedback from our critique groups. It all helps us improve.

An enjoyable day. I learned a lot, had a free lunch and even got paid for my time. Quite a concept—being paid to learn, while the lawyers were paying big bucks for their opportunity to learn.

Have you ever been on a jury and if so what was your experience?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cooking Up a New Type of Mystery Novel: Combining Geezer-lit and Paranormal Mysteries

For you chefs out there, do you enjoy cooking up  new recipes? In the world of writing I like trying different flavors. My main course has been geezer-lit mysteries with the five books in my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series.

Then I tried a zesty side dish of paranormal mystery with The V V Agency.

Now I'd like to offer up for desert, a paranormal geezer-lit mystery titled, The Back Wing. Widower Harold McCaffrey moves into Mountain Splendor Retirement Home with a group of strange residents -- witches, vampires, werewolves and shape-shifters. He bonds with his fellow denizens, especially the beautiful Bella. Things are looking up for Harold -- until he and Bella must use all their normal and extra-normal skills to solve two murders in this very unique retirement community.
As Edgar Award winner Rex Burns days, "Where else could one enjoy the image of being gummed on the neck by a toothless vampire with dementia?"

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Back on the Streets Again

On Monday, I was out on the streets again as a panhandler. Well actually I was in the auditorium of the Boulder High School auditorium reprieving my role as an aggressive panhandler to help train new Boulder police officers.

I attended the Boulder Citizens’ Police Academy a number of years ago and now participate in an alumni group that provides role-players for police training. I’ve been a hostage, hostage-taker, drunk, assaulter, bombing victim to name a few of the roles I’ve played.

In preparation, I received a driver’s license that had been confiscated from being in the possession of the wrong person, probably from having been used as an ID for an underage drinker. I had my hand drawn sign and then awaited the arrival of a trainee. Police dispatch signaled the trainee that a complaint had been made of an aggressive panhandler. When the officer arrived, I held up my sign and asked him for five dollars multiple times.

Boulder allows panhandlers but they have to back off after being told no once and can’t aggressively confront or touch someone. I acted insistent and obnoxious enough that I received a citation for aggressive begging. I would then need to appear before a judge and potentially be fined $250.

Over the course of the morning I put on my act four times, each time receiving a citation and once being handcuffed in preparation to being carted off to jail, because I refused to sign the summons and indicated I would not show up for the court date.

This is the second time I’ve played this role, I’ll have to be careful not to be type cast. The picture shows me with my sign outside police headquarters.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Working in Your Head, Working Outside

Writing can be very lonely. We sit at the keyboard, inventing characters, plots and settings within our heads, and then enter what we’ve come up with into the computer. Those who indicate their characters speak to them may not find this endeavor lonely. But it might be a very congested place inside a brain with all this dialogue going on.

That’s why I like the balance of writing in the morning, getting out to exercise in the middle of the day, and doing other stuff in the afternoon. I typically write until eleven or noon, and then either play racquet sports or take a walk. In either case, this gives me a chance to decompress from the writing, see some scenery and interact with real human beings.

Likewise, I enjoy giving presentations. While not naturally an extrovert, I’ve learned to give humorous and entertaining speeches and like meeting new people. The best part of a talk is the questions and answers session. There are the standard questions such as where do you get your ideas, how did you start and what’s your working day like. The first time I was asked the question, what actor would you want to play your protagonist Paul Jacobson in a movie, I had to pause. Now I would answer Clint Eastwood. I also get a kick out of stories and sayings that people share with me.

Here’s one of my favorites: A grandfather and a grandson go out in a crowded marketplace and become separated. The little boy begins crying. A kind woman comes up and asks what’s the problem, and he says he’s lost his grandfather. The woman asks, “What’s he like?” The little boy looks up at her and replies, “Wild Turkey and wild women.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jewish-Americans in German Concentration Camps in World War II

As I have been doing research for the biography I’m writing of a Jewish-American soldier who was an infantryman in World War II, captured by the Germans and repatriated by the Russians, I have been reading a number of books about World War II. One book by Deborah Dash Moore titled, GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation, recounts stories of American prisoners of war in Germany who had to deal with the threat of further mistreatment because of their Jewish heritage.

Dog tags during World War II had an H for “Hebrew” to designate the Jewish religion. Some Jewish GIs had to hide their dog tags so they wouldn’t be separated and possibly taken to concentration camps.
Another book, Forgotten Victims, the Abandonment of Americans in Hitler’s Camps by Mitchell G. Bard, describes how some Jewish Americans were in Europe at the time war broke out and ended up being mistreated by the Nazis.

Furthermore, a number of Jewish-American POWs were put in concentration camps such as Berga, Buchenwald and Mauthausen, and suffered through starvation diets, beatings, threats, illegal work details and death marches. When those who survived later told their stories, American officials at first didn’t believe them.

The bottom line was that Hitler had no qualms about violating the Geneva Convention. It’s reported that when the end of the war neared, Hitler gave an order to kill all prisoners of war. Fortunately, this wasn’t carried out.
More lessons that we must never forget.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pen Names

Some authors write under a variety of pen names. A few do it when they experiment with a different type of literature and don’t want to initially expose their previously known name, e.g., J. K. Rowling (publishing The Cuckoo’s Calling under the name Robert Galbraith) and Nora Roberts (J. D. Robb). Others use different pseudonyms because their publishers want them to. My fellow Colorado mystery author Cricket McRae has series under the names of Cricket McRae, K. C. McRae and Bailey Cates.

I have two different types of mystery novels published, The Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series and a paranormal mystery, The V V Agency. Coming later this month is a third type of mystery, a paranormal geezer-lit mystery, titled, The Back Wing. These are through three different publishers, but I’ve chosen to use my same name for all three—Mike Befeler.
I suppose there are valid reasons why someone might use different names, for example, if you’re writing both children’s books and erotica, but for the most part, I think it’s kind of silly to use different names. Readers are smart. They’ll figure it out. And in many cases the bio at the end of the book identifies who the author really is anyway, so why do it?
What’s your opinion on authors using different pen names?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Modest Proposal Circa 2013

When I lose heart because Congress bogs down in intramural squabbling, posturing and spouting diatribes of the extreme left and extreme right, my mind wanders to A Modest Proposal.

How about this. If members of Congress can’t agree on issues that constituents want addressed such as the economy, jobs, the budget, debt, education, the environment and immigration, they should be given two months to reach a consensus. If they can’t, they all will be locked in an arena with a pack of hungry lions. If any legislators survive, they can complete their tenure. For the non-survivors, we elect a whole new slate, and they’re given the two month deadline or face the same consequences as their predecessors. I suspect we’d see some decisions if their lives depended on it.

With apologies to Jonathan Swift.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Finding Birth, Divorce and Death Records

In the research I’m doing while writing the biography of a 94-year-old man who was an infantryman in World War II, captured by the Germans, confined in Stalag IV-B and repatriated by the Russians, I’ve been trying to track down dates of birth, marriage and divorce in his life. He doesn’t remember the exact dates, so I’ve been contacting people in our country to find the records.

Locating marriage certificates turned out to be relatively easy. After two phone calls I found the right office and for a mere charge of $1.28 on my credit card, they sent me an email with the images attached.

Tracking down a divorce record has proven more difficult. The county clerk indicated that records were not retained from the 1950s and directed me to the Colorado State Archive Office. In speaking to a clerk there, he indicated they had the records from that period but would need a case number to find them. He directed me back to the county clerk. I called the country again and the clerk there is trying to find a case number.

Birth records are most difficult since they are not publicly available. A birth certificate can be ordered in person or online for $17.50 plus a service charge. I tried using the online ordering, but they wanted a birth date, which is exactly what I’m trying to track down. Catch 22.

Ah, well. I’ll keep working on this.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Paying for Plastic Bags in Stores

Our city passed an ordinance effective July 1, 2013, requiring customers to pay ten cents for a plastic bag in food stores. This is to encourage people to bring their own recyclable bags. I grumbled a little about this but supported the basic concept of trying to reduce plastics in the environment. So this last Monday when I went to the food store, I dutifully took a whole bunch of cloth bags to use. Checking out took a lot longer, and I had already heard the checkout clerks grumbling about the negative effect on their job.

Then today, I went to a pharmacy to purchase a knee brace, birthday card, hand lotion and candy. When I checked out, the clerk asked if I wanted to pay for a bag. This caught me by surprise, and now having earned my curmudgeon stripes, I asked, not in the most polite voice, what was going on since I thought this was only for food stores. No, I was informed, since the pharmacy also sells food, the new regulations apply to them as well. Not having come prepared to be an environmentally aware consumer in the pharmacy, I sucked it up and grudgingly paid my ten cents.

The first time I encountered this type of law was a year ago when I attended the Malice Domestic mystery conference in Bethesda, Maryland. I went to buy a tuna sandwich in a Subway shop and was informed that I would need to invest to obtain a plastic bag for my sandwich.

Ah, well. I guess I’ll have to stock the trunk of my car with cloth bags or feed the city coffers whenever I shop. C’est La vie.

What do you think of this type of ordinance?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Yorker Cartoon Gags

About eighteen years ago I read how cartoonist seek gags and pay a percentage of their proceeds for ideas used, so I began writing gags and sending these to cartoonists on 3’’x 5” cards. I did this as a hobby for about a year. It was a good diversion as I was going through outplacement, determining if I wanted to find a new job and eventually starting a consulting practice.

I sold probably twenty or so gags, making enough money to cover part of the postage for sending the ideas off.
The New Yorker Magazine has a cartoon contest. Online, they publish a cartoon, and gags can be emailed in to complete the picture. I’ve been sending ideas in for this over the last several years. I haven’t won yet, but it’s a good exercise once a week to dream up a gag for a cartoon. I discovered that fellow mystery author and Mystery Writers of America Board member, Hank Phillippi Ryan, does this as well. One of these days one of us will win.

Have you ever written a gag for a cartoon?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cover Art for Next Book in Mystery Series

The sixth book in my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series will be published in May, 2014. In this novel, Nursing Homes Are Murder, Paul Jacobson is in a nursing home in Honolulu. He hasn’t degraded to that point but is asked by the police to go in undercover to assist with a sexual assault investigation.

I just received the cover are and am pleased with what the publisher did. They’ve taken my basic ideas each time and adapted them in good designs. Take a look:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Serendipity and the Internet

When doing research on the Internet, I never know what I’m going to find. Sometimes nothing, but most often some lead to follow. Once in a while there is a big surprise.

I’m currently writing the biography of a 94-year-old man who was a soldier in the Battle of the Bulge, captured by the Germans, spent time in two German prisoner-of-war camps before being liberated by the Russians.

While interviewing him, he mentioned the high school he had graduated from in 1937. I decided to do some research on the school, googled the name and found a Wikipedia article. I read through it to get some background, which coincided with what I had been told.

Then I noticed four references in the article. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Three referred to the graduating class of 1937. When I clicked on these references, up popped a class picture, a banner with pictures of all the students and teachers, and the program from the graduation ceremony.

I’ve printed these, and he’s going to be surprised when we next get together.

What examples of serendipity have you experienced?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Geezer Literature

When I give presentations as an author of geezer-lit mysteries, occasionally people in the audience recommend other good books with older characters. One of these I’ve recently read is The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. Set in Japan, this is the tale of a retired mathematics professor who has a rolling eighty minutes of memory. A housekeeper hired through a placement agency comes to help him. She discovers that if she runs an errand under eighty minutes the professor will still remember her, but if she returns after eighty minutes he doesn’t know who she is. The professor takes a liking to the housekeeper’s son and the threesome become friends, given the limitations of the professor’s memory. He keeps notes attached to his suit coat to remind him of people and events. I enjoyed this story immensely.

In my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery series, Paul Jacobson has a memory that resets overnight, so he experiences the same problem on a daily basis. He keeps a journal much like the professor relies on notes.

Have you dealt with a person who has short-term memory loss?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Genealogy Research

I’ve never done much genealogy research. I had a cousin on my dad’s side of the family who did extensive research on that part of the family and passed the results on to me. My mom did some research on her family, and I have those papers as well. My wife inherited some genealogy analysis done by one of her relatives. She then assembled genealogy books for each of our three kids and ourselves, so we have the collected information.

I’m currently writing stories that have been told to me by a 94-year-old World War II veteran, who was a prisoner of war in Germany. Along the way, I’ve done a little research of his family. I’m now intrigued by this line of research. It’s one of those things that you can put an unlimited amount of time into. There is always one more name, one more database, one more piece of evidence to track down.

What’s been your experience with genealogy research?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book Signings

When my first novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder, was published I did quite a few signings. With the release of the fifth book in the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series Care Homes Are Murder, I’m doing two launch signing events: Who Else Books, Broadway Book Mall, 2 PM Saturday July 13, 2013, 200 S. Broadway, Denver, CO, along with Liesa Malik, author of Faith on the Rocks and Boulder Barnes and Noble, 11 AM- 2PM, Saturday, July 20, 2013, 2999 Pearl St., Boulder, CO.

I now do fewer pure book signings. Typically, I give presentations to libraries, book clubs, service organizations (Rotary, Optimist, Kiwanis, lions, Sertoma, NARFE), and retirement communities. The current speech I give is titled, “Rejection Is Not a Four Letter Word,” and discusses rejection that everyone encounter, whether new writers or famous authors. At the end of my talks I sign books for people who want author signed copies.

I have a bias against doing “readings.” When I go to hear an author speak, I like to hear about their writing life and their work, but don’t enjoy listening to an author read part of one of his or her books. I can read the book, but I want to know more about the author.

What do you think of book readings versus presentations?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Halfway Point to Hawaii

I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, and after moving first to California and then to Colorado, I’ve returned numerous times, visiting my mom and stepdad when they were still alive and since for family vacations.

When we’ve flown on United Airlines, the crew often has a contest for passengers to guess the time the plane will pass the halfway point to Honolulu. They provide the takeoff time, total expected flight time and anticipated wind speeds for the first and second halves of the trip. From this information passengers can  make their calculations and turn in their estimate on a sheet of paper given to the flight attendants.

I’ve tried this for years. I go through all kinds of elaborate calculations and have never won. Then last summer when we went to Hawaii on a vacation, I decided to not do any calculations but wing it with a gut estimate. Wouldn’t you know it, I won. I became the proud owner of a Hawaii travelogue book, which I did use during the trip.

Have you ever entered this type of contest, and if so, what happened?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Racquet Sports

I played competitive tennis as a kid and in college. Afterwards, I retired to social tennis. Then about twenty years ago, I started playing another racquet sport called platform tennis. It’s played on a court a third the size of a tennis court and surrounded by a wire mess fence. It’s tennis rules except you only have one serve and you can play the ball off the screen, using a paddle.

I’ve written a mystery novel with platform tennis as a central part of the mystery. This manuscript has not been published yet.

A number of years ago when I was visiting my daughter in Venice Beach, California, I played paddle tennis, which uses the same type of paddle as in platform tennis but with a tennis ball, deflated by sticking a nail in it.

Recently, I’ve started playing another racquet sport called pickleball. It also uses a paddle on a small court but with a waffle ball. You serve underhand and there is an area six feet from the next that you can’t step into to hit a volley.

What various racquet sports have you tried?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Forty-fifth Anniversary

Tomorrow my wife and I will have been married forty-five years. As the saying goes, the first forty-five are the hardest.

In addition to being a wonderful wife, mother and companion, Wendy is my first reader and first editor of my manuscripts. After I complete my dozen or so editing passes of a completed manuscript, she reads it through and finds every grammatical error and inconsistency.

Although the thought had not occurred to me forty-five years ago, it’s a good think I married an English major.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Historical Walking Tour of Boulder

Yesterday I took a walking tour of part of Boulder led by a local historian. We saw houses of different eras and heard stories of residents.

We stopped at the Sink, a local joint near the University of Colorado. Boulder instigated Prohibition in 1907 and it lasted into the 1960s. The Sink was the second place to serve 3.2 beer after Tulagi’s. The Sink also had a distinguished employee in the sixties, Robert Redford. When President Obama visited Boulder in April, 2012, he added his signature on the wall (it’s the portion of the picture below covered with plastic).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Care Homes Are Murder

My latest geezer-lit mystery, Care Homes Are Murder (ISBN 978-1-4328-2692-5), will be released by Five Star, an imprint of Gale/Cengage Learning, on June 19, 2013. This is the fifth in the Paul Jacobson geezer-lit mystery series, following Retirement Homes Are Murder, Living With Your Kids Is Murder, a finalist for the 2009 Lefty Award for best humorous mystery, Senior Moments Are Murder and Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder, a finalist for the 2012 Lefty Award for best humorous mystery of 2012. I also have a published standalone paranormal mystery, The V V Agency.

In Care Homes Are Murder crotchety octogenarian Paul Jacobson returns to Hawaii for a vacation with his family and becomes involved in a series of crimes, while struggling with the problems of his short-term memory loss. He faces a number of strange coincidences involving acts of vandalism, drug dealers and two murders. Paul puts all the pieces together, escapes a watery grave, and with the help of his friends, solves the murders.

Care Homes Are Murder is available on and or contact your local bookseller.

What others say about Care Homes Are Murder:

“A Hawaiian vacation goes awry for memory-challenged Paul when a death at an assisted-living facility seems suspicious. Enjoy the laughs as he tackles his fifth case.”—Library Journal

“The lighthearted fifth Paul Jacobson mystery takes the crime-solving octogenarian and his family to Hawaii . . . this combination of travelogue and Keystone Kops humor, with a geezer joke or two thrown in, will appeal to most cozy fans.”—Publishers Weekly

“An older man continues his sleuthing streak. Despite the fact that Paul remembers very little, someone thinks he knows too much. It will take family, friends and a lot of luck to keep him alive . . .often amusing.”Kirkus Review

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Meet Christy Dyer of Oak Tree Press

My guest today is Christy Dyer who is working at Oak Tree Press (OTP), the publisher of my paranormal mystery, The V V Agency. She’s a recent college graduate from Western Illinois University and majored in English, with a minor in Professional Writing. Most of her free time is spent reading for pleasure (mostly fantasy novels), writing, and watching movies (loves animation movies). During her time at Oak Tree Press, she has met wonderful authors who have given her great advice about the publishing world. While at Oak Tree Press, she’s also looking for work as an editor.

Mike: What is your interest in the publishing industry?

Christy: I am a huge reader, even when I was little, and I always wanted to work with books no matter what. I have entertained the idea of being a writer, but that would require me to actually have time to write down my ideas. So I thought about the publishing houses and helping authors get their stories out to the readers.

Mike: What are your responsibilities at Oak Tree Press?

Christy: I am the Acquisitions Editor. I read over people's queries and manuscripts to see if they would work well with OTP.

Mike: How did you make a connection and get an internship at Oak Tree Press?

 Christy: I found OTP by Google search, saw an email, and decided that I should give it a shot. I have already tried several publishing houses in Illinois, and they all told me that I needed experience. I was very surprised that Billie Johnson of OTP contacted me back. After that we met and discussed what I would be doing. And that is how I got the internship!

Mike: What should my blog readers know about you?

Christy: After college, I am trying to live in the "real" world, as many people put it. I am also interested in editing, so I will be working as one separate from OTP. I will read everything and anything!

Mike: What's the most interesting thing you've learned so far with the internship?

Christy: Reading fast is a must! Seriously though, there are many queries that come through us and I have to read them all, including the manuscripts, so I'm learning how to read faster than I normally do.

Mike: What are your career goals?

Christy: I am hoping to continue working in a publishing house, possibly as an editor since that is what I studied in school, and maybe try to write my own stories.

Christy, thank you for joining me and best wishes with your new career. Anyone who wants to reach Christy can contact her via email: Facebook:  or Twitter:  pixiedust5791