Thursday, December 27, 2018

After Christmas

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.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

What Offends People

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 him.
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 them.
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.
What do you think?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Christmas Memories from Childhood

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 paper.

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.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Possible Positive Changes in Congress

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.”

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Christmas/Holiday Newsletters

Does your family send out a Christmas/Holiday newsletter? My wife and I have been doing this for years. Some people have changed to email newsletters, but we still send one out by snail mail.

We also enjoy receiving news from friends at this time of year. It’s good to read about kids, grandkids, trips and other significant events.

In our newsletter we focus on our family activities during the year, trips and the kids and grandkids. I also give a summary of books published during the year.

Best to all of you.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


With all the turmoil and political disorder, it’s refreshing to take a moment and count my blessings on this day of thanksgiving.

I give thanks for my family and friends, for the beauty of nature and for the joy of life. May this be a day of peace and happiness for all of you.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Reversion of Book Rights

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 one self-published.

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.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Applying Rotary Four-way Test to Elections

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:

The Candidate Four-Way Test

Of the things the candidate says or does:

-          Is it the truth?

-          Will it build goodwill?

-          Will it build better friendships?

-          Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Positive Message from Service Organizations

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:

“Of the things we think, say or do:
-          Is it the truth?
-          Will it build goodwill?
-          Will it build better friendships?
-          Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Demise of Mystery Novel Publishers

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.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Research for a Professional Organizer Mystery Novel

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.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Series vs. Standalone Novels

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 written.

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 challenges.

That’s the beauty of writing. There’s no one way to do it.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Promotional Activity for Book Launch of Unstuff Your Stuff

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 November.

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.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Professional Organizer Jokes

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 are two:
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.”


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Does Size of Audience Matter When Giving a Presentation

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.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Preparing for a Book Launch

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.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Upcoming Mystery Novel

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 Your Stuff, 68-year-old 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.  

Friday, August 31, 2018

A New School Year

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.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Indoor Playground

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.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Speaking at Service Organizations

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 presentation.

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.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A New Publishing Contract

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 2019.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Family Vacation

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

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Location in My Novels

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.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Some of My Favorite Characters in My Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series

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 marries Henry.

All of these characters contribute to the story and have their comedic elements.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Writing Quirky Characters

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 series.

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 protagonist.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Writing Humor

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 anyway.

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 types.

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.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Relearning an Old Skill

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.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Author Presentations

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.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Writing Short Stories

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.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Voting in California’s Open Primary

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?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Get Out and Vote (or Stay in and Do It Via Mail)

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 decisions.

Wherever you are and whatever your political persuasion, get out and vote (or stay in and do it via mail).

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reading Royalty Statements

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.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Single Issue Voters

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 one issue.

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 addressed.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Author Presentations

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 then.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Tribalism in US Politics

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 well.

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.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

An Author Expressing Political. Views

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.”

I “liked” 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.”

I 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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

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.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Do People on the Extreme Left or Right Have a Sense of Humor?

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 say literally.

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.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Triage Approach to Publishing

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.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Report from the Left Coast Crime Conference

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 Keith Tittle.

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 conference.

I am already signed up for next year’s Left Coast Crime Conference which will be in Vancouver, Canada March 28-31, 2019.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Why Attend Mystery Conferences?

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.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Writing Cycles of an Author

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 October, 2018.

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 my manuscripts.

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.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Writing in More Than One Genre

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 romantic elements.

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 like.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Gun Violence

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 violence.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Left Coast Crime Conference

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 year.

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.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Conflicting Emotions

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.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Similarities Between Novel Plots and Two-Year-Olds

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.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Speaking at Libraries

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.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Life of a Two-Year-Old

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 lifestyle.

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.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

You Know You're Getting Older When . . .

Many of my published books feature older characters. I also like collecting saying about growing older, which I often use when giving presentations. Here are a few of my favorites.

You know you getting older when. . .

Your back goes out more than you do

You find your favorite childhood toys in antique stores

A postage stamp costs more than a movie ticket did when you were a kid

You stop lying about your age and start bragging about it

A policeman pulls you over, and you ask for a senior discount

Your actions creak louder than your words

Your spouse says you’re hot, but it’s because you use a heating pad

Thursday, January 11, 2018

New Book Contract

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.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Physical Aspects of Aging

Many of my mystery novels include older characters. I guess that’s appropriate because I am now an older character.

For all of you young ‘uns and even the oldsters, here’s what I’ve learned about the physical aspects of aging.

1.      It happens. Get used to it.

2.      Things 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.

3.      I 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.

So there are changes as we get older. But as my stepdad used to say, it sure beats the alternative.