Friday, October 30, 2015

Author Mike Befeler on Rewriting History

Mike Befeler is our special guest blogger today here on Author Expressions. Mike turned his attention to writing after a 39-year career in the computer industry. He now resides in Lakewood, CA, with his wife Wendy. His published novels in the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series include: RETIREMENT HOMES ARE MURDER; LIVING WITH YOUR KIDS IS MURDER (finalist for The Lefty Award for best humorous mystery of 2009); SENIOR MOMENTS ARE MURDER; CRUISING IN YOUR EIGHTIES IS MURDER (finalist for The Lefty Award for best humorous mystery of 2012); CARE HOMES ARE MURDER; and NURSING HOMES ARE MURDER. Mike has two paranormal mysteries, THE V V AGENCY and THE BACK WING, and a theater mystery, MYSTERY OF THE DINNER PLAYHOUSE. Mike is past president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. He also is the author of a biography, FOR LIBERTY: A WORLD WAR II SOLDIER’S INSPIRING LIFE STORY OF COURAGE, SACRIFICE, SURVIVAL AND RESILIENCE, and his first historical mystery, MURDER ON THE SWITZERLAND TRAIL. And now, here’s Mike!

Rewriting History

I’ve had the opportunity to have nine previous mystery novels published, and all of these have been in current times. My first foray into historical mysteries will be available within a week from Five Star and is titled, Murder on the Switzerland Trail.

Why the title of this blog, “Rewriting History?” The answer is this: a historical mystery novel blends historical accuracy with the imagination of the author to add fictional events. Murder on the Switzerland Trail is set in 1919 in Boulder, Colorado, and the mountains outside Boulder. I had a wonderful time hiking the publicly available sections of what had been the railroad bed, researching that era, reviewing old newspapers on microfiche and reading books about the Switzerland Trail railroad.

Here is the quick summary of the novel: A Sunday excursion in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado, in 1919 leads to murder as intertwined lives play out a mystery on the Switzerland Trail railroad. Policeman Harry McBride must figure out who the murderer is before the train reaches the Boulder station on the return trip.

I have attempted to portray as accurately as possible the description of the towns along the route of the Switzerland Trail railroad in 1919, historical events surrounding the story and some actual people of that era. I use the background of the post World War I period, the signing of the peace treaty, the recent influenza epidemic and the struggle to keep the Switzerland Trail railroad in business. The fictional license taken includes the actual murder, the victim, the suspects and the investigator.

The Switzerland Trail railroad carried supplies for miners and passengers into the mountains and brought ore down to the towns below during the end of the nineteen and beginning of the twentieth centuries. The railroad went out of business shortly after the story takes place due to the struggle to keep it financially solvent, compounded by the rise of the motorcar as a means of transportation and a devastating flood, which wiped out many of the railroad trestles along the route. The story of the demise of the railroad runs parallel to the stories of the passengers who venture into the mountains one fateful day.

or contact your local bookseller. Enjoy.

Hi, this is Jacqueline Seewald again. If you leave comments for Mike, he will respond.
 Thanks for dropping by Author Expressions! We welcome all readers and fellow writers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Several other bloggers have raised the issue of revising already published books and asked other authors, would you do it? My answer is definitely yes, especially after a recent discovery that a book I thought was safely in the can had been altered without my knowledge.

The Dead Sea Codex, my second novel, was published in 2006. It’s the story of a two young archaeologists who find part of a first century AD codex, part of a Gnostic gospel written by a female disciple of Jesus, in the Dead Sea caves of Israel. Scholars compete with Christian fanatics to find the rest of the codex, either to publish it and or to destroy it. I had fun researching and writing the book because of the subject matter and the setting, the places I lived in and visited as a student in the 1970s.

 Both the print and e-book editions were edited and published, and I was happy with the “finished” book. Then the first publisher went out of business and a second one took over. At some point, the electronic files were converted to new formats, and all the quotation marks around my dialogue were removed. No one at the new company gave me a chance to review the new files, so the book was reposted for sale in two formats with the old cover. I had no reason to think my book might have changed during the switch from one publisher to another.
How did I find out? A comment from a friend and then two bad reviews on Amazon.

Yes, I did use the “Look Inside” feature of Amazon, when the book was published the first time in 2006. It never occurred to me to check again, months and years later.

The good news is, I now have my rights back and am reissuing The Dead Sea Codex with Wings e-Press in December. This decision forced me to re-edit the original manuscript, finding several bits that could be improved, and updating the story slightly because it takes place in politically volatile Israel. My new editor is very savvy, finding still more things that need fixing. The result will be a better book.

I also posted a comment on Amazon, thanking the reviewer who found the errors and informing him a new edition is in the works.

The more things change, the more they don’t stay the same…

Friday, October 23, 2015

Throwback and Move Forward

For some who use social media, today is Throwback Thursday, a day when they  post photos from the past on their Facebook page to enlighten viewers of today. In a way, today's post has a similar objective. Although I retired from SUNY college several years ago, relevant teaching skills still abide in my mind.  Presently, I am creating a curriculum strategy, one I encouraged my college students to use during their practicum as student teachers.

This one has a personal goal. My book, THE  RED COCKADE, is a historical novel, intended for ages 12  and up, or young adults. The story takes place in the year 1776 as struggles begin for the farmers of Cow Neck, Long Island, when British soldiers occupy Long Island and New York. Fourteen -year- old Joseph Onderdonk yearns to join the Continental army with his friend, Martin Freer, but his father refuses to allow it. Vignettes of Martin's soldiering life are interspersed with Joseph's struggle to help the Patriot cause. His loyalty is tested when his father in imprisoned  for tyranny against the crown.

I have a plan to correlate Language Arts with History as Middle school students read The Red Cockade. I have chosen topics to use that are woven into the action and narrative of  the book. The topics students could research and write stories about are: The Great Fire in New York in 1776, Spies in the Colonies, and Prison Ships during the Revolution.

Conflicts of loyalty and trust that Joseph experiences are still identifiable by today's readers, and it is my hope that the true characters and exciting events in my book will inspire a real identity with the past. This prompts me to donate the number of Red Cockade Ebooks needed in the classroom to make my goal a reality. Hopefully, it will be an experience to help students move forward with  the knowledge of our nation's beginning. I have witnessed too many of today's youth, and adults who have little knowledge of The American Revolution or the  founding fathers of our nation. Perhaps this experience will help.

Friday, October 16, 2015

How do you stand out from the crowd?

Authors now days have it easier in some ways and harder in others. There are more publishing options than ever. With the addition of e-publishing there are more than 2 million novels being published globally on an annual basis. The numbers vary, depending on the source, but suffice it to say we are among millions.

How do we stand out? That really is the ultimate question. Some possible answers might be:
  • With a little luck and an awesome story our novels will sell well. 
  • Word of Mouth is a great sales tool. If one person tells another and they tell another then the potential for a best seller grows exponentially. 
  • Good book reviews sell books. Writers are also readers, so always give honest reviews of the books you read. 
  • Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. 
  • Social media helps with visibility. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, etc. Be there.
  • Give-aways and Contests help get your book out. is a great resource for authors. People love freebies and readers adore free books. Get your book in the readers hands, that's the key. 
  • Workshops and  Speaking engagements are a great way to meet and greet. Get the word out you are an author.
  • Authors must brand themselves in order to grown our audience. For example, Nora Roberts is synonymous with romantic mysteries. Stephen King is the king of the horror story. These author names are their brands. We have to somehow do the same with our brand - Bonnie Tharp, author of feisty family fiction
  • Tell a fabulous story, thoroughly edited and vetted before putting it out to the world. No one likes to read a book full of typos, repetitive phrases, run on sentences, etc.
  • Local libraries are a great way to make your books available. Not everyone can buy books. Libraries provide books to the masses. Readers will take a chance on an unknown author when borrowing the book.
  • Share good books with friends and family.
  • Find your niche audience. Does the heroine in your book knit? Then your story will appeal to other knitters.
What other ways can you recommend? Please, share.

Good luck, my author friends and don't forget to enjoy the ride.

To find out more about Bonnie Tharp go to

Friday, October 9, 2015

Censorship: Pro and Con by Jacqueline Seewald

When a reader/reviewer of my novel The Inferno Collection asked if inferno collections actually exist, I responded that not only did inferno collections exist in the past but still exist in more sophisticated and subtle forms today.

I am not saying that we should anticipate a burning of the vanities as with Savonarola's followers in the past, nor do I believe as in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, that the firemen of the future will feel compelled to burn and destroy books.

It is a fact that librarians have viewed themselves as gatekeepers. For example, libraries such as Boston Public at one time found it necessary to maintain separate inferno collections of banned books considered inappropriate for general public display and reading. Often these were books deemed salacious such as James Joyce’s Ulysses. Another example is the Robert Winslow Gordon "Inferno" Collection in the Archive of Folk Song, Library of Congress, consisting of material separated out because of bawdy and scatological subject matter. Paul S. Boyer in his article “Boston Book Censorship in the Twentiesobserved that Boston’s censorship began with the very first governor of the Plymouth colony, William Bradford, but became notorious in the 1920’s when the phrase “banned in Boston” took on new meaning (American Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Spring, 1963), pp. 3-24). William R. Reardon observed that the first American book burning took place in Boston during the year 1654 (“The Tradition behind Bostonian Censorship,” Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2 (May, 1955), pp. 97-101).

As Americans we take pride in our constitutional right to freedom of speech. Yet in 1873, the Comstock Law, or the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, was passed. The law stated that “whoever, within…the United States...shall have in his possession for any such purpose or purposes, an obscene book, pamphlet…print picture or drawing...of immoral nature…shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof in the court of the United States…he shall be imprisoned at hard labor in the penitentiary.” Under the law, books like The Canterbury Tales by William Chaucer and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata were banned.  American masterpieces such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass were also outlawed.

Did narrow attitudes end with the Victorian era’s sensibilities and prejudices? Apparently not. In the 1950’s, Senator Joseph McCarthy instigated one of the most notorious waves of censorship the nation has ever experienced. Because of McCarthy’s ‘Red Scare’, classics like Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, which encouraged men to peacefully protest unjust laws, was pulled from the shelves of the State Department’s overseas libraries. It was one of more than 300 titles McCarthy had banned or burned.

J.D. Salinger's 1951 classic coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye, has been the object of challenges nationwide for decades because of its language, references to violence and sexual content. According to the American Library Association, the book was the 13th most frequently challenged book in the country's school systems from 1990 to 2000.

In 2005, the Metropolitan Library Commission of Oklahoma City overruled recommendations made by library staff and established a special collection of children’s books with gay themes. The collection would be accessible only to adults. The Oklahoma debate began when a state representative worried that children would have access to books about gay marriage and sponsored a resolution to segregate all library books with gay and/or adult themes.
The list of “condemned” banned or censored books boggles the mind; a good source of information on this subject can be found online at:

It is not only governments and libraries that have chosen to ban books found objectionable for various reasons. Materials are often deemed unacceptable for political or religious reasons or are considered profane, pornographic or sexually too explicit for youth. Publishers and booksellers make these decisions and determinations as well.

A majority of book challenges come from concerned parents and are related to young adult fiction. GalleyCat spotlighted an article which provides detailed statistics on this topic:

My most recent YA novels are with Clean Reads Press. THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER is a romantic book with a serious underlying theme, appropriate for teens thirteen and older.

STACY’S SONG returns in a completely rewritten, re-edited edition on October 27, 2015, also appropriate for teens thirteen and above.  Here is the new cover reveal:

July Blume, who like me writes for children, YA and adults, doesn’t believe in any form of censorship and opposes “trigger warnings” (Time Magazine, June 8, 2015 Interview). I don’t agree with her on this. I think that there need to be some indicators—especially when the author writes for diverse audiences. For example, in the case of my latest adult romance novel
DARK MOON RISING, I have made it clear that the novel is for mature readers. I suggest it for no one younger than eighteen. I feel such distinctions are needed.

 However, it is well to keep in mind that good books often do stir controversy. They are designed to question and make people think. That is not something to fear or repress but rather to admire and respect. As Voltaire, author of the banned satire Candide, once stated: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” Today the internet is an unrestricted location to find information, including the subject of banned book collections.

If librarians continue to see themselves as gatekeepers, then it is imperative that they attempt to provide a variety and diversity of materials for public consumption. As a teacher and librarian I feel strongly about this. As to inferno collections, are they a thing of the past? Knowing human nature, it is indeed doubtful.

Your thoughts and opinions welcome here!     

Friday, October 2, 2015

What's in a Book? by Susan Oleksiw

I have been slow to switch to an eReader for a very specific reason. When I’m asked why I don’t have a Kindle or other device I give various answers—hard on my eyes, hard to learn to use the devices, or something similar. But the real answer is that I discover books by handling them.

In a bookstore I pick up a book and study the title, feel the cover paper, and read the back. Is it filled with blurbs by other writers, excerpts from established or unknown review magazines, or a photo of the writer? Does the cover match what the story seems to promise? Sometimes the clues on the cover of a mystery novel never show up in the story. If there's a leopard on the cover, there should be a leopard in the story. How does the cover feel? Is it embossed, matte, glossy? What kind of paper is used for the text? And what else is there, beyond (or before) the text?

In the dark ages, when I was young and a graduate student, a nonfiction book arrived with a discussion of ideas to change the world and enough supplemental matter to buffer the onslaught of the opposition. A scholarly or any other serious nonfiction work contained a half-title page, title page, copyright notice, dedication, preface, foreword, introduction, introduction to the revised edition, table of contents, text, endnotes (if no footnotes), index, and bibliography. There was no separate biography of the author, since his or her qualifications were most likely indicated in the preface or introduction as part of an explanation of the origins of the book.

When I was considering buying a nonfiction book I could flip through the supplemental material and evaluate the scholarship partly on what was present, or absent. I learned something of the topic in the process and knew more about what I was getting into if I decided to buy—and spend time with—this book. I can’t do that easily online.

Also back in the dark ages, a crime novel might contain a half-title page, title page, copyright notice, dedication, brief note if the story was based on a true crime, list of chapters, and novel. Some novels included a map and list of characters. Many novels closed with lists of the publisher’s other books available for sale. The front matter was a way of easing my way as a reader into another world, an unknown one, warning me that with the turn of another page, things would be different.

The copyright page tells me something about the publisher. The standard the statement declaring this story a work of fiction is the least of what I expect to find. I look for information on the printing, such as font, or the quality of paper. I can usually tell by touch, but sometimes the publisher has gone so far as to state this is permanent paper, or printing is in accord with certain library standards. And then there's the Library of Congress cataloging-in-data. Sometimes the choices announced here are enlightening, a way of seeing the book through another's eyes.

I’ve described a lot of supplemental material. Is anything missing? Yes, if the novels I’m reading today are any guide. The novel I just finished reading ended with a five-page list of acknowledgments. Five pages! And this is not unusual. Many of today’s novels contain almost a summary of the entire research and writing process. I do find this interesting, but I’m not sure it belongs in the novel. In my third Mellingham mystery, Family Album, I included an Acknowledgments page with one paragraph of five lines, and a bookseller told me it was “excessive.” I wonder what she thinks about the current practice.

In my 1926 copy of Agatha Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the book includes a half-title page, title page, copyright notice, dedication, table of contents, and text. There is no biography of the author anywhere, and no acknowledgments of assistance or guidance. Not even the book jacket has a bio on either flap. Most of today’s books have “best-selling author” slathered across the cover, but this edition of Ackroyd has only a few words across the top: “A Baffling Detective Story.”

As if to make up for the lack of hype and biographical information, the bottom of the front flap contains this charming notice: “The issuance of this new edition at a reduced price is made possible by (a) use of the same plates made for the original edition: (b) acceptance by the author of a reduced royalty.”

If I switch to an eReader, I will miss these details and the process of discovery that comes with picking up a book in a bookstore and flipping through its pages, discovering how it’s organized and how the writer thinks about the topic. Publishers may not announce their royalty practices on a book flap anymore, but there are other discoveries to be found there.