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?