When I was a boy, I looked
forward to the day after Christmas as a time to play with the toys I had
received. As I got older and received books, I enjoyed skimming through to preview
the reading ahead..
Now that I have a 3-year-old
grandson who visits us almost every day, I can enjoy playing with him and his
new toys. This grandpa business is a lot of fun.
We live in a society where
someone is always doing something that offends someone else. Some of this is
warranted and some is trivial. Some recent examples:
-In Los Angeles a mural on a school wall was protested by Koreans
because the background had rays that reminded them of the Japanese rising sun
flag and the atrocities committed by Japan on Koreans.
-Listeners objecting to the song, Baby It’s Cold Outside,
indicating it supports sexual harassment.
-At Stanford University, campus locations using the name Serra,
referring to Father Serra, are being changed because of the treatment of
indigenous people by Father Serra.
-Confederate statues are being moved or taken down.
-Mystery Writers of America announcing Linda Fairstein as a
recipient of a Grand Masters award and then rescinding it after member protest
over Fairstein’s role in prosecuting innocent men
-President Trump has made offensive comments and gestures about
women, a disabled reporter, Mexicans, immigrants and people who disagree with
Here’s my take. The Mystery
Writers of America example is one that should never have happened. The Masters
Award is intended for people with a life time commitment to the principals of
Mystery Writers of America and their contribution to mystery writing. The
Mystery Writers of America Board didn’t do the appropriate due diligence and vetting
before selecting Linda Fairstein
The mural in Los Angeles was
going to be painted over and most recently was going to be allowed to stay. I
think this is appropriate. The reason: the intent of the picture was not to
glorify WWII Japan and its atrocities. The artist was using color and form for
artistic expression not to represent anything about Japan.
On the other hand, the
Confederate statues were erected to glorify the Confederacy and what it stood
for. This intent is a more valid reason for concern.
Baby It’s Cold Outside is
too trivial an example of being offended. There are definitely many valid
examples of sexual harassment that need to be addressed, but this is not one of
The Father Serra situation
is a difficult one since he did good as well as bad.
President Trump’s actions
are concerning because of his intent to intimidate, belittle, bully and
disparage. These go counter to values most Americans are trying to teach their
children and grandchildren to follow and respect.
Like most kids, I couldn’t
wait to get up on Christmas morning. I would wake up early and eventually make enough
noise to rouse my parents.
Living in Hawaii, we didn’t
have a chimney. My parents bought a cardboard chimney covered with brick-design
I enjoyed building model
airplanes and collecting airplane parts. My favorite Christmas present of all
time was a broken propeller from a Piper Cub airplane that my dad found. I kept
that in my yard for years, and it was the hit of the neighborhood.
After all the contention and gridlock in
Congress, there is one hopeful sign for the future:
46 new Democrats in House say, “While we have a duty to exercise oversight over
the Executive Branch, particularly when the Administration crosses legal lines
or contravenes American values, we must prioritize action on topics such as the
cost of healthcare and prescription drugs, our crumbling infrastructure,
immigration, gun safety, the environment, and criminal justice reform.”
My first book, Retirement
Homes Are Murder, was published in 2007. I now have fifteen books in print.
Over the course of the last eleven years, rights for nine of these books have
been reverted to me from three publishers. I’ve been fortunate to have all of
these books back in print now, eight of them through Encircle Publications and
Since seven of these were
originally published in hardcover, these are now available in trade paperback
at a more reasonable price of approximately fifteen dollars. The other two have
been reissued as trade paperbacks, again at approximately fifteen dollars.
Life goes on and publishers
change. I’m glad that readers can still obtain all of my published books.
Following up on my last
post, I’ve been thinking about our recent election and what we will have to
decide in two years. My though it that the service organization, Rotary, has a
Four-way Test that’s an excellent benchmark for determining who we should vote
for. Here’s my adaptation:
I’ve had the opportunity to
speak at a number of Rotary, Kiwanis and Optimist clubs recently. I’m always
struck by the combination of patriotism and willingness to help other people.
In this time of divisiveness it’s refreshing to be with people who strongly
believe in community service.
As an example, Rotary
believes in service above self. It’s Four-Way Test is a message we all need to
take to heart:
The publishing industry is
nothing if not dynamic. For ten years I worked with Five Star but approximately
three years ago they announced they would no longer publish mystery novels. I
had one final novel, Court Trouble, under
contract with them and it was released in July 2016. I had another mystery
novel in the pipeline with Five Star; it had been approved by the acquiring
editor but was not under contract, consequently this was never published by
Five Star. Fortunately, I found another publisher, Encircle Publications, who
published this novel, Death of a Scam
Artist, as well as republishing seven books that Five Star had reverted
rights for. In total Five Star published six books in my Paul Jacobson
Geezer-lit Mystery Series and three standalone mysteries before they exited the
mystery line. Five Star’s primary market was libraries so I benefited from the
increase in readership from hundreds of each of my books being in libraries
across the country.
Recently, Midnight Ink
announced they would no longer publish mystery novels after 2019. This was
another blow to a large number of fine authors who became orphaned.
Oak Tree Press who had
published one of my books, The V V
Agency, also went out of business a month ago.
Because of acquisitions,
mergers and closing lines of business, sources for traditional publication of
mystery novels has declined. Self publishing and existing publishers still
remain options. All part of the world of publishing.
My recently released mystery
novel, Unstuff Your Stuff, features a
68-year-old protagonist Millicent Hargrove who becomes a professional
organizer. I’ve never been a professional organizer, but I did research by
getting to know a number of professional organizers and being an unpaid
assistant on some of their projects.
Watching then in action
helped me craft my main character and the situations she finds herself in. Millicent
has a mantra she uses in her organizing work. GRR—group, reduce, reorganize.
The professional organizers I met and my wife have helped me become a better
organizer as well.
I have a six book series,
The Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, and nine other published books. I
have under contract two books to come out next year that will be sequels to two
of these other books (The Back Wing and
Court Trouble). In the future I may
add additional books to the Paul Jacobson series or sequels to other books I’ve
What are the advantages and
disadvantages of series or standalones?
Many mystery readers enjoy
series because they like following a particular protagonist. But series also
run the risk of going stale. I’ve heard readers comment on how they followed a
series for a while but then became disenchanted. Some authors have also said
they became tired of their protagonist.
I have written a variety of
books because I’m interested in exploring different situations with unique
characters. Paul Jacobson and I spent many happy years together, but I also
wanted to try my hand at a non-fiction book (The Best Chicken Thief in All of Europe), a paranormal mystery (The V V Agency), a historical mystery (Murder on the Switzerland Trail), a
theater mystery (Mystery of the Dinner
Playhouse), a thriller (The Tesla
Legacy), and most recently a professional organizer mystery (Unstuff Your Stuff).
When I started the first
book in the Paul Jacobson series (Retirement
Homes Are Murder) I wasn’t thinking about a series but only telling a
specific story. But as I got into it, I discovered that it could bridge into
additional stories. All of my other novels lend themselves to becoming series,
but I also want to continue to pursue different characters and writing
That’s the beauty of
writing. There’s no one way to do it.
My latest mystery novel, Unstuff Your Stuff, is now officially
available. I have speaking events planned including six Rotary Clubs, an
Optimist Club, a men’s group, my bookstore launch at Gatsby Books in Long Beach,
CA, on Oct. 21 and the Men of Mystery Conference in Long Beach, CA, in
I have sent over 200
postcards to my mailing list and several thousand emails to my email list. The
email list is always interesting because I get bounce backs for a number of
email addresses that are no longer valid. This particularly happens for
bookstores and library contacts.
My upcoming mystery, Unstuff Your Stuff, features a
protagonist, 68-year-old Millicent Hargrove, who becomes a professional
organizer and amateur sleuth. She develops a mantra called GRR: group, reduce
and reorganize. This caused me to find some professional organizer jokes. Here
For people who dislike
chores, you can organize them into three categories: 1. Things you won’t do
now, 2. Things you won’t do later, and 3. Things you’ll never do.
You know you need a
professional organizer when you say, “I know it’s good for nothing, but I’m
keeping it until it’s good for something.”
As a speaker and author, I
give presentations to libraries, service organizations (Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist),
retirement communities, book clubs and other groups. Does size of audience
matter when giving a talk?
My objective is to give the
best speech I can no matter what the size of the audience, It’s always good to
have a large audience, but some of the best groups I’ve spoken to have had a
small number of attendees.
So what do I get out of giving presentations?
Some organizations pay an honorarium but most service organizations don’t have
a budget for speakers. My only condition is that I’m allowed to sell books at
the end of the presentation. The number of books sold may vary wildly. I
recently sold 24 books to an audience of 11 people. I have also sold only a
handful of books to large audiences. But there are secondary results as well.
Some people later order e-book editions. I’ve also had numerous follow on
requests for presentations from people who heard my talk. And by building
readership through presentations, word-of-mouth about my books gets around. Another
important aspect for me is that I meet wonderful people and give them a chance
to have a good laugh with my humorous and entertaining talk.
With my next mystery novel, Unstuff Your Stuff, about a professional
organizer being released in October, I’m preparing for my book launch. This
includes lining up speaking and signing engagements at bookstores and service
organizations such as Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs. I also have information
to be sent to my email list of readers and a postcard produced to be sent to my
regular mailing list of readers. I will also be putting out social media
messages about the new book.
My next mystery novel, Unstuff Your Stuff, will be released by
Encircle Publications in October, 2018. It’s always an exciting time when a new
book comes out. Along with the release of this novel, I will develop a new
presentation to give at book stores, service organizations and libraries.
This mystery features a
female protagonist. Here’s a snapshot: In Unstuff
Millicent Hargrove must deal with the murder of her husband as she begins her
new life as a widow and professional organizer. She escapes attempts on her own
life and figures out the mystery of the cryptic messages left by her husband.
She discovers how to organize people’s stuff while sorting through the clutter
from the secret life her husband led.
This book takes place in Boulder, CO,
where my wife and I used to live. In doing research for the book, I had an
opportunity to tag along with two professional organizers and experience the needed
service they provided.
Some kids hate going back to
school and others look forward to it. I remember it being an exciting time to
see school friends again, meet new teachers and have an opportunity to learn
new things. I also had a feeling of trepidation on entering the unknown.
For us this is a milestone
year. Our first grandchild is going off to college.
In our community, there is
an indoor playground facility. On hot days, this is an ideal place for our
three-year-old grandson to play. His favorite activity is a ball pit, where he
can jump into a mass of plastic balls. They also provide plenty of places for
grandparents to sit while the grandkids romp and have fun.
This is an excellent break
for me from writing as I can enjoy his excitement as he plays.
I enjoy speaking at service
organizations such as Kiwanis, Optimist and Rotary clubs. These organizations
provide needed services in their communities, and the club members are
enthusiastic about helping in their cities.
I recently gave two
presentations and have two more scheduled within the next few weeks. The
typical meeting includes a meal, organizational business and then the guest
speaker. I plan a twenty minute talk followed by about ten minutes for
questions and answers. My current presentation is titled “Becoming an Author
Has No Expiration Date” about my experience starting to write later in life and
writing about older characters.
Many members of service
organizations are older and appreciate my humorous and entertaining
Service organizations do
have a challenge. Their members are aging, and some clubs have difficulty
recruiting younger members. Some of this is understandable since many younger
people are consumed with jobs and raising families. With retirement comes more
time to dedicate to volunteer activities. But there is another symptom. I read
an interesting book a number of years ago called “Bowling Alone.” The premise
was that people are doing more things in isolation rather than in community. We
can see this also in the obsession with smart phones rather than engaging with
other people in person. Declining service clubs membership numbers may also be
attributed to this factor.
I hope we see a reversal in
this decline. These are excellent organizations, provide needed services and
are full of outstanding people.
I have just signed a
contract with Encircle Publications for the publication of the sequel to my
sports mystery, Court Trouble. The new book is titled, Paradise Court, A
Pickleball Mystery. It features the sport of pickleball, the fastest growing
sport in the country. I played competitive tennis as a kid and in college and
later in life switched over to platform tennis (the sport featured in Court
Trouble) when living in Colorado. When my wife and I moved to Southern
California three years ago, I switched once again to pickleball. For those of
you not familiar with pickleball, it’s played with a paddle and a wiffle ball
on a small court.
Paradise Court takes place
on Maui with lots of island intrigue and is scheduled for release in May of
We just returned from a
family vacation. My wife and I, our three kids and their spouses, and our five
grandkids ranging from three to eighteen went to Disney’s Aulani on Oahu. It’s
like a private water park for hotel guest with water slides, a lazy river,
splash pads, pools, hot tubs, a beach, snorkeling, a luau, a Disney character
breakfast and many family activities.
My wife and I celebrated our
50th anniversary with our close family members. During this trip, I
did no writing. Family and relaxing were the whole agenda
Location plays a key role in
my novels. I tend to use real locations (only one of my mystery novels, Mystery of the Dinner Playhouse, has a
fictional city although thinly disguised for Boulder, CO).
In my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit
Mystery Series, books take place in Hawaii, Colorado, California and on an
Alaskan cruise. These are all locations I’m familiar with. Since Paul Jacobson
is a crime magnet, I move his around to different locations so that he doesn’t
decimate the population in any one locale.
I’ve been asked which of the
characters in my mystery novels I like most. In my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit
Mystery Series there are a number.
First of all is the
protagonist, octogenarian Paul Jacobson. He comes across as a curmudgeon but
underneath has a heart of gold. In spite of short-term memory loss, he becomes
an amateur sleuth and even has a romance with a young chick in her seventies.
Second is Paul’s
granddaughter, Jennifer. She helps her grandfather solve crimes, and in later
books in the series, they tell each other politically incorrect geezer jokes.
Next is Henry Palmer. Henry
is on the autism spectrum, lacks social graces, and has a keen sense of
observation. Paul and Henry have a running insult fest.
Finally, introduced in book
five of the series, we have Madeline Hightower. She is a force of nature and
All of these characters
contribute to the story and have their comedic elements.
One of the things I enjoy in
writing mystery novels is to introduce humorous and quirky secondary
characters. They can contribute to solving the mystery, get in the way or
provide comic relief.
In my first published novel,
Retirement Homes Are Murder, I
originally planned to kill off one of these secondary characters. My editor,
Deni Dietz, intelligently pointed out that I might want to keep this character
around for future books in the series. She was right. Instead, he suffered a
heart attack but survived for another day to keep up the banter with my protagonist.
Readers liked that this character continued to be present in other books in the
Quirky characters sometimes
have a life of their own. They appear and then start playing more of a role in
the story. This is fine just as long as they don’t usurp the position of the
I enjoy reading humorous
books and writing humor in my mystery novels. Humor fits in well in mysteries
because good humor surprises the reader, and mysteries are all about surprises
I’ve been fortunate to be a
finalist twice for The Lefty Award for best humorous mystery. These were two
books in the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, Living with Your Kids Is Murder and Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder.
Along my writing journey, I’ve
learned several things about writing humor.
First, you can’t force it.
It has to be natural and fit into the story.
Second, certain characters
cry out to be humorous. Once they get started, you can’t change them into stodgy
Finally, as a writer it’s a true
joy when something humorous comes out of my keyboard and causes me to laugh. This
keeps me going.
The saying goes that you
never forget how to ride a bicycle. Not so for all skills. I’ve had two
experiences in the last six months with relearning old skills.
The first case: tennis. I
played competitive tennis as a kid and in college. As I aged and my joints
began to suffer from arthritis, I gave up tennis to play similar sports on
smaller courts, first platform tennis and most recently pickleball. I learned
to play these sports, but I didn’t return to tennis. Recently, I went out to
hit some tennis balls with a neighbor. The court seemed huge and the longer
racquet presented problems for me. I improved a little over an hour’s time, but
realized my skill level was abysmal. To regain a reasonable skill level I would
have to really practice.
The second example:
juggling. Thirty-five years ago I taught myself to juggle. I got fairly
proficient, but then life intervened, and I didn’t continue. Recently, I decided
to see if I could still juggle. The answer was a swift, no. Since then I have
been practicing. I have been making very slow progress. The muscle memory isn’t
there, and I have to revive it. With aging, my timing isn’t what it used to be
and I get tired. Still, I’m going to stick with it. I have to see if I can get
good enough to entertain my almost three-year-old grandson.
Having now been a published
novelist for eleven years, I enjoy giving presentations about writing and
mystery novels. This wasn’t always the case. As a child, I was shy and even as
an adult always placed on the introvert side of the introvert/extrovert scale.
Now I welcome the opportunity
to interact with audiences. My presentations include humor as do my books. The
question and answer section at the end of the talk is always enjoyable to find
what’s on people’s minds and to craft meaningful answers.
I develop a new presentation
whenever one of my books is released. My current presentation discusses
starting to write late in life and writing about older characters, in
conjunction with my latest mystery novel, Death
of a Scam Artist.
I’m already collecting ideas
for my next presentation, which I will give after my next mystery about a
professional organizer, Unstuff Your
Stuff, is published in October, 2018.
When I began writing in
2001, I started with short stories. Then I bridged into novels, but I still
occasionally write short stories. I’ve had a few published in anthologies along
the way, but my main focus has been longer manuscripts.
For a mystery writer there
are a number of excellent sources for publishing short stories. These include
magazines such as Alfred Hitchcock
Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen
Mystery Magazine. Other good sources are anthologies including those
published by Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
I had an opportunity to vote
for the first time since returning to California in an open primary. In this
process, you vote for a candidate in a particular race, and candidates from all parties are lumped together. The top two then go on to the general election
in November. The implication is that it’s possible that in November you could
be deciding between two Democrats or two Republicans rather than one from each
party as results from more traditional primaries.
The other implication in
this particular primary was the large number of candidates to decide between. Twenty-seven
candidates ran for Governor and thirty-two for US Senator.
It was an interesting
experience, but I haven’t decided if this is better or worse than the more
traditional approach. What do you think?
Where I live, it is primary
season. I greatly appreciate that I can vote by mail. This gives me a chance to
peruse candidate information, do research with the actual ballot in front of me
and have the time to fill it in on my schedule.
There are many candidates
and many races. I can’t imagine someone going to a voting place unprepared and
having to spend the amount of time in front of a voting machine to make these
Wherever you are and
whatever your political persuasion, get out and vote (or stay in and do it via
One of the constant
complaints I hear from fellow authors is how difficult it is to read royalty
statements from publishers. I concur.
I have been with one of my
publishers for eleven years, and I think I finally can decipher the royalty statement.
I think. And this will soon become academic since they are exiting the mystery
line so I won’t be publishing any further books with them.
Here are some of the
challenges. First, there are up to three different editions for each book
(hardcover, large print and e-book), and these are differentiated by a cryptic
code. Second, not all of the editions for one book are grouped together on the
royalty statement. Third, there is nothing on the statement that allows one to
verify royalties earned. You have to know the retail price of the edition and
then do the calculation. Fourth, there is a category called unspecified. After
much study, I determined this included prior returns.
Over the years, I have
caught a number of errors. The publisher did correct these. One time there was
an error in my favor, but I never would have found this since it represented an
erroneous sales figure, higher than actual. My concern: if this occurred,
what’s to say that underreported sales didn’t occur as well? Without invoking an
audit provision in the contract, I will never know.
I’m finding that some small
publishers are addressing this to make things easier for an author. This is a
simple as showing the number of units sold (or returned) by edition, the basis
for royalty calculation, percentage paid to author and amount paid to author.
The author can then quickly calculate if the royalty is correct.
In today’s polarized
political environment, I’ve been thinking about single issue voters. These are
people who feel so passionate about one issue, that they ignore all other
stands taken by candidates and only focus on voting for people who support that
Some of the topics that seem
to drive the single focus include abortion, guns and immigration. Clearly,
voters can chose any reason to vote for who they choose. Unfortunately, the
world is not black and white, and there are many issues that need to be
I enjoy opportunities to
present to groups of readers. Upcoming, I have scheduled two library events, a
church group and the Men of Mystery program, in addition to attending The Left
Coast Crime Conference next year.
Whenever one of my books
comes out, I develop a new presentation so people who have heard me speak
before won’t have to listen to a repeat. I currently have a speech I give in
conjunction with my most recent mystery novel, Death of a Scam Artist. My next novel, Unstuff Your Stuff, an amateur sleuth mystery, featuring a
professional organizer, will be published in October so I will have a new talk
There have been several
books written lately and a lot of discussion about tribalism in US politics.
The symptoms are that many people solidify their positions and then only listen
to others with the same viewpoint. I think this is a sad situation. I feel
it’s important to share my opinions but to also listen to opposing opinions as
We face serious issues
including immigration, gun control, climate change, jobs, the economy,
education and human rights to name a few. To improve things we must seek
positive change. Dialogue and exchange of views without name calling is needed.
I’m on Facebook and often
express my political views, as well as posting about writing, my grandkids and
walks I take. I follow people who also share their political views. As an
author, this can be a two-edged sword. Some authors find that they lose
Facebook “friends” who disagree with their views. I had this one response
recently that I will share here: “I really like your books. I had wanted
to follow you on Facebook, but was kind of worried when I saw you live in
California, then I saw your posts. You can keep Nancy Pelosi and we will keep
Trump! I do like your books, just wish I could like you.”
this post because I enjoyed the comment but to set the record straight also
responded with this reply: “I like people of different political persuasions,
just ask my son-in-law who often posts opposing opinions. That's the great
thing about our country: we have different views. It would be too dull if we
all thought the same way. I'm glad you enjoy my books.”
then sent a friend request to this person. I don’t know if it will be accepted,
but what I stated is how I feel.
It’s that time again. On
Saturday and Sunday April 21-22, 2018, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
will take place on the USC campus in Los Angeles. I’ll be signing on Sunday from
noon to one in the Sisters in Crime Booth #376 and from two to three in the
Mystery Writers of America Booth #377.
This is an amazing gathering
of writers of all genres with the added excitement of a street fair. My
favorite from last year was Morrie Marcoff who was there signing his very first
book, Keep Breathing, which had just
been published. Morrie was 103 at the time.
As I tell aspiring writers,
it’s never too late to start.
Here's a question I’ve been
thinking about: Do people on the extreme left or right have a sense of humor?
As a mystery writer who uses humor in my writing, I also post parody comments
on Facebook. These comments sometimes get attacked by people who take what I
I believe this is a symptom
of extreme thinking when people have made up their minds and have no intention
of discussion with people who hold a different perspective. I also think there
are few extremists who are capable of laughing at themselves—they take their
views too seriously and won’t step back to look at themselves.
Humor can be used to diffuse
difficult situations, but it is also part of human nature. Most of us enjoy a
good chuckle. I think it’s important to take positions on key topics, but let’s
not take ourselves too seriously in the process.
One of the most helpful
pieces of advice I was given when I started writing was once I finished my
first novel-length manuscript to start writing the next one. It was important
to continue new writing while editing the completed manuscript. This has served
me well as I now have fourteen published books, another due out in October,
2018, and other manuscripts that I am in the process of getting published.
The basic concept was to
build a portfolio of manuscripts. This allowed me to write what I wanted to
write while seeking publishing opportunities. With this approach it’s possible
to pursue a triage strategy to publishing.
Some manuscripts are
mainstream and lend themselves to working through an agent to reach a large
publisher. A second group of manuscripts that may not be what large publishers
are looking for can be sold to small or medium-sized publishers who take
submissions directly from writers. A third set of manuscripts that are outside
the mainstream will lend themselves to self-publishing.
This triage approach allows
the writer to pursue three different simultaneous paths to publication.
This year’s Left Coast Crime
Conference completed this last Sunday. Here are my highlights:
I moderated the Meet the New
Authors Breakfast and had the opportunity to introduce 21 new mystery authors.
I have done this over the last eleven years. I particularly enjoy meeting these
enthusiastic new authors and tracking their careers.
I also moderated a panel on
writing multiple genres. We had a lively discussion on the subject of branding
books that cross genres and branding authors who write more than one genre. The
outstanding panelists were Maegan Beaumont, Daryl Wood Garber, Phoef Sutton and
Another highlight was at the
awards banquet where I sat with guest of honor William Kent Krueger and his
wife. He presented each of the people at the table with one of his books and a
can of Spam (from his home state of Minnesota). Here is Kent addressing the
I am already signed up for
next year’s Left Coast Crime Conference which will be in Vancouver, Canada March
First of all, what are
mystery conferences? These are annual gatherings of mystery fans and mystery
writers to share our mutual love of the mystery/suspense/crime/thriller genres.
They range in size from three hundred to two thousand attendees.
As an author, I attend
anywhere from one to three of these a year. Upcoming is The Left Coast Crime
Conference in Reno, Nevada.
I don’t sell a whole lot of
books at these conferences, but they are a great opportunity to connect with
avid mystery readers and schmooze with fellow writers. I always attend a number
of the panels, which give me new ideas for my writing and help to re-energize
me. At The Left Coast Crime Conference I have volunteered for the last eleven
years to moderate the Meet the New Authors Breakfast. Through this event, I meet new authors and then have the
opportunity to track their writing careers. This year I will also moderate a
panel on writing in different genres. This is a subject dear to my heart
because I write geezer-lit mysteries, paranormal mysteries, theater mysteries,
historical mysteries, sports mysteries, thrillers and biographies.
Next post I'll share some
of my experiences at this year’s conference.
By way of background, I began
writing in 2001 when I was 56 years old. I made the decision that writing would
be something I would retire into. At the time I was still working, but I
learned that if you’re 55 or older you could attend any course with the
instructor’s permission at the University of Colorado near where I lived. I
availed myself of this opportunity and took two semesters of fiction writing
courses where we wrote short stories and critiqued each others’ work. In
addition to mingling with young writers, this gave me a start on my writing.
My next step was to get
something published. I began sending short stories off to magazines and
anthologies, and I’m happy to report that on my 112th submission, I
sold my first short story, Never Trust a Poison Dart Frog, in an anthology
titled, Who Died in Here?
Then I bridged into novel
length writing and began seeking an agent and publisher. As a result of pitches
to two agents and two editors at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference
in 2005, I sold my first book, Retirement
Homes Are Murder. This was published in January, 2007, and in August of
that year I retired into writing.
Up to this point, I had
completed a number of novel length manuscripts and kept writing. In retirement,
I wrote every morning and then dedicated afternoons to editing and promotional
activities. This was a very productive period for me, and as a result I now
have fourteen published books with a fifteenth scheduled for release in
I have a portfolio of
completed manuscripts that I intend to have published over the next few years.
My main attention currently is on our two-year-old grandson. My wife and I
spend time with him almost every weekday. My writing focus right now is on editing
I feel fortunate that I had
a career and time with my kids while they were growing up and then the
opportunity to write after my kids left home and into my retirement.
As I mentioned two posts
ago, I will be moderating a panel at The Left Coast Crime Conference this month
titled, What Kind of Fool Am I? Writing in More Than One Genre. I imagine I was
selected to moderate this panel because my published books include seven
geezer-lit mysteries, two paranormal mysteries, a theater mystery, a historical
mystery, a sports mystery, a thriller and a non-fiction biography of a World
War II prisoner of war.
I have had discussions with
other others about writing multiple genres. The basic issue is one of branding,
and there are two dimensions to the branding topic. One is if you write a book
that includes multiple genres, how do you brand the book? As an example, one of
the authors on the panel has a book that includes mystery, history, time travel
and romance. On the panel we will explore the question of where this book
should be on a shelf in a library or bookstore. For me, my geezer-lit mysteries
include romance. I was a member of Romance Writers of America for a time as
well as Mystery Writers of America. I classify these books as mysteries with
The other dimension is
writing books that represent different genres. Then the question becomes branding
the author. One of the other authors on the panel writes romance novels and
suspense novels. Some authors tackle this difference by writing under different
pen names. British thriller author, John Creasy, wrote crime, science fiction,
western and romance novels. He wrote his romance novels under his wife’s name.
Another author on the panel writes cozy mysteries and suspense. She writes some
of her cozies and suspense under her real name. Does this cause confusion for
the reader? My contention is that readers are smart and don’t need to see two
different author names for different genres. Just as long as the information
about the book is clear, readers will chose authors they like or genres they
I have stayed away from
political topics in this blog, but there is one issue I can no longer ignore
and must speak about: gun violence. By way of background, I have no problem
with people owning properly obtained handguns and hunting rifles. Although I
have not been in law enforcement, I have had the opportunity to attend three
citizens’ police academies and to help train over 100 law enforcement officers
(local police, sheriffs’ deputies and FBI) as a role playing volunteer. I have
been involved in law enforcement training exercises as a hostage, hostage
taker, and shooting victim in an active shooter scenario at a high school. I
value the dedication and courage of law enforcement officers who put their
lives on the line daily.
But it is time to make
serious changes to the use of assault weapons in our country, We need
legislation to improve background checks, eliminate bump stocks, improve mental
health services and ban assault weapons. I have enjoyed shooting guns on a
range, but there is no need for semi-automatic and automatic military-style
rifles to be readily available. Sure, it’s a thrill to shoot a semi-automatic
rifle, but I am happy to give up the thrill for the safety of our children in
schools. The second amendment allows us to bear arms but it doesn’t indicate
that we need assault weapons just as you wouldn’t want other than the military
to have rocket launchers.
It’s time for common sense
to prevail and for effective changes to be made to reduce the risk of gun
One of my favorite mystery conferences
is coming up: The Left Coast Crime Conference in Reno from March 22 through
March 25. This is a wonderful gathering of mystery fans and writers to exchange
ideas and explore the world of mystery/crime/suspense/thriller novels.
I will be moderating the
Meet the New Authors Breakfast where we will introduce, at current count,
nineteen authors who have published their first mystery novel within the last
I also have the opportunity
to moderate a panel titled, What Kind of Fool An I? Writing in More Than One
Genre. Panelists include a group of terrific writers: Maegan Beaumont, Daryl
Wood Gerber, Phoef Sutton and Keith Tittle. During this panel we will explore
the idea of branding a book that covers multiple genres and branding an author
who writes in multiple genres.
As I watch my two-and-a-half
year old grandson, it brings back memories of my childhood. He loves playing
with balloons. We play balloon catch, balloon volleyball, balloon soccer and
balloon baseball. But balloons also scare the dickens out of him when they pop.
When he comes over weekday mornings, he will go over to a bin that has a
balloon in it and say, “Balloon pop.” He’s
always hesitant at first to play with the balloon until he gets into the game.
I remember a similar
reaction I had as a small child. My dad belonged to an Elks Club. In a storage
area near the parking area was stored a stuffed elk. When we went there I was
always afraid of what I called “the dead horse” but had to go look at it. It
was both terrifying and exciting.
In addition to my writing,
my major focus in the last two plus years has been getting to know my grandson
(now two and a half). I’ve learned a great deal watching and interacting with
him. Here are several of the lessons that apply equally to writing novels.
My grandson loves playing
with his toy train, which he pushes by hand over wooden tracks. He enjoys a
specific track configuration for several days, then wants to change it. Equally
true of novels. Readers don’t want the same plot over and over. They want new
twists and turns.
My grandson will run the
train along the track for a while, but this is too easy. He will then remove a
piece of track so the train can’t proceed and say, “Oh, no.” Often he will
replace it with a different piece of track. Other times, he will put toys on
the track to block the train. As in writing novels, there need to be obstacles
and conflict to bring the story alive. We don’t want a boring story where
everything is fine with no challenges to be overcome.
It’s fun to watch him
construct his own stories as he plays with his train.
I have enjoyed the opportunity to
speak at libraries. In January, I co-taught a class on short story writing with
fellow author, Gayle Bartos-Pool, at the main library in Glendale, CA. This
week I met through a Skype call with a group at the Nederland, CO, library. I
gave a brief presentation and then answered questions. I particularly enjoyed
talking with this group because I used to live in Boulder, CO, and visited
Nederland many times on my way up Boulder Canyon for hikes on trails leading to
the Continental Divide. With tools such as Skype, it now makes it possible to speak
with book groups all over the country.
I’ve been learning a lot from our
two-year-old grandson. Hopefully, I’m teaching him a few things as well. My
observations come from being with him almost every day, actually spending more
time with him than I did with any of our three kids when they were this age
because back then I was working full time rather than my current retired
One of the things I’ve enjoyed
watching is how he responds to friendship. He has one good buddy who he plays
with at the playground. They see each other several times a week. My grandson
is always excited when he first sees his friend again. They run up to each
other, jabbering excitedly. But most of their time together is parallel play,
each doing his own thing with a truck or shovel. They also like to chase each other,
and sometimes one of them wants to tackle the other. Occasionally, one wants a
toy the other is playing with, and this leads to a tugging match, once resulting
in a broken toy cement mixer.
Usually, my grandson doesn’t want
to leave the playground, but once in a while he climbs into the stroller to
indicate he’s ready to head back to our house for lunch and a nap. In either
case, he waves to his friend and we’re off.
Signing a new book contract
is always an exciting event, no matter how often it occurs. It represents a
milestone along the path of conceiving an idea, writing it down, editing it
into an improved form and gaining the acceptance of a publisher.
This week I signed an
agreement with Encircle Publications for my fifteenth book, Unstuff Your Stuff, for publication in
October of this year. Here’s a brief preview:
Millicent Hargrove must deal with
the murder of her husband as she begins her new life as a widow and
professional organizer. She escapes attempts on her own life and figures out
the mystery of the cryptic messages left by her husband. She discovers how to
organize people’s stuff while sorting through the clutter from the secret life
her husband led.
of my mystery novels include older characters. I guess that’s appropriate
because I am now an older character.
all of you young ‘uns and even the oldsters, here’s what I’ve learned about the
physical aspects of aging.
happens. Get used to it.
that used to get done quickly, take longer. Bending, lifting, moving all take
more time than in the past. I also find I get distracted more. My wife refers
to this as the intervening thought. I go into a room to get scissors, notice a
magazine I haven’t finished and forget the scissors. I leave the room and then
realize I need the scissors. Much slower that doing it the first time. My
morning routine of getting up, grooming, eating breakfast and doing my
stretches now takes close to two hours. Part of this is because of my slower
pace. The other part is that after shoulder, neck, back, hip and knee pain, I
have more stretches and exercises to do.
played competitive tennis as a kid and in college, but now my main exercise is
walking. The joints can ‘t take jogging any longer, but I enjoy an hour walk.
It gets me outside, I get my sunshine vitamin D, and I can enjoy the scenery
while getting a good workout.
there are changes as we get older. But as my stepdad used to say, it sure beats
Mike Befeler is the author of the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit mystery novels: Retirement Homes Are Murder, Living With Your Kids Is Murder, Senior Moments Are Murder, Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder, nominated for the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery of 2012, Care Homes Are Murder and Nursing Homes Are Murder. The series features octogenarian Paul Jacobson who suffers from short-term memory loss. He's also author of two paranormal mysteries: The V V Agency, and The Back Wing. Recent publications include Mystery of the Dinner Playhouse and a biography, For Liberty: A World War II Soldier's Inspiring Life Story of Courage, Sacrifice, Survival and Resilience.