Authors Julia Bricklin and Jennifer Younger read from their short stories from the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter anthology, FATALLY HAUNTED.
Mike Befeler: Becoming An Author Has No Expiration Date
by Laura Brennan
At the age of 57, Mike Befeler, author of Paradise Court, Unstuff Your Stuff, and more than a dozen other novels, decided he would “retire into writing.” He began by taking fiction writing courses at the University of Colorado while he was still working, and he started writing. Persistence paid off: he made 112 submissions before his first fiction sale.
“If I’d stopped after 111 rejections,” Mike said, “I wouldn’t be here today.” He believes in the Stockdale Paradox, which can be distilled to having complete faith in a positive outcome while also being brutally realistic about how difficult your situation is. He focused on doing everything he could, from getting better as a writer to getting out and meeting people at conferences, and at the same time, he never expected the road to be easy.
His plan was to focus first on craft. He did this by taking university courses which not only helped him become a better writer, but forced him into a critique group experience, giving him a chance to learn from others. He also started going to conferences, and once again, decided which conferences to attend based on where he was in the process. First, he went to conferences focusing on craft. After his writing improved, he started going to conferences which taught how to sell your novel. Finally, he goes to conferences with tracks on PR and marketing, as he works to build his audience.
It worked! Mike sold his first book to Five Star at a pitch session at one of the writers conferences. He met another publisher through LinkedIn. His current publisher, Encircle Publications, was started by someone he’d met at Five Star, who branched out into publishing when Five Star cut back on its mystery imprints (it now focuses primarily on Westerns, with some historical mysteries). Encircle is now publishing all of Mike’s backlist in Trade Paperback.
Finally, Mike talked about marketing. He promotes his books by giving talks, meeting people, having an author website, building an e-mail list, and sending postcards to his snail mail list of friends and fans.
Mike demystified the process and proved his point: you can start writing at any age and become a published author. Keep the right attitude, expect obstacles, but plan for success.
Authors from the FATALLY HAUNTED anthology continue to make appearances in various locations in Los Angeles County. Have you attended one of the panels? Many of them are at local libraries, such as the one that will be at Hyde Park on August 17th, 2019.
A special signing for our chapter anthologies took place as part of California Crime Writers Conference 2019, held June 8th and 9th in Culver City, CA.
Authors and editors of several titles – including FATALLY HAUNTED and LAST RESORT – signed books purchased at the event.
Thank you to the organizers of California Crime Writers Conference 2019 to give signing time not only for these short story anthologies, but other short story anthologies with stories by authors on the conference’s story story panel – many of whom also belong to our chapter – as well as supporting a panel on demystifying short story writing.
A set of discussion questions to accompany the book has been developed by one of the included authors, Georgia Jeffries, who submitted the anthology for consideration.
LAst Resort , a collection of 16 noir stories by both veteran and first-time SinC authors, offers a wonderful opportunity for Book Club members to share their favorite take on the glamorous Los Angeles underbelly of illusion, a place where true redemption hovers somewhere in the dark beyond the Hollywood sign.
1) Which was your favorite story and protagonist? Why?
2) Have you — or has anyone you know— ever been tempted by the Los Angeles dream of fame and fortune?
3) What do all the story protagonists have in common?
4) Which story (or stories) do you think could be expanded into a full novel? What would you like to see happen to the characters?
5) Which story (or stories) have sufficient drama to be adapted into a movie or TV series? (These are L.A. tales so that might be the next step!) Who would you cast?
You can order LAst RESORTat retailers such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or check with your favorite bookstore.
FATALLY HAUNTED, the anthology from Sisters in Crime/LA, released on April 29, 2019! Get it at independent bookstores like Vroman’s and Mysterious Galaxy, or from other major booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Also, be sure to check with your own local bookseller, as they may be able to stock it!
The anthology contains stories from fourteen Sisters and Misters that belong to the Los Angeles chapter, with their different takes on what “fatally haunted” might mean.
FATALLY HAUNTED could be a great fit for local book clubs too. See our suggested Discussion Questions on our Anthologies page. Los Angeles County area libraries with Book Clubs can also inquire with our Speakers Bureau about bringing some of the authors to the library as part of an event.
As a “pre-release” event for FATALLY HAUNTED, six authors from the anthology appeared at the annual Authors Forum for the Donald Bruce Kaufman Brentwood Branch Library in Los Angeles. Many thanks to Mary Ann Garvey and the Friends of the Library for not only asking Sisters in Crime/LA to appear, but also for asking authors from our prior anthologies to be part of this event.
The forum moderated by Chapter President Anne Louise Bannon showcased authors Julia Bricklin, Tony Chiarchiaro, B.J. Graf, A.P. Jamison, Gobind Tanaka and Jennifer Younger.
Copies of the anthology, with a wide release date to the public of April 29th, were available for sale and signing. Attendees appreciated the chance to get to hear and speak from those who were part of our anthology.
Roger Cannon is one of the authors that will appear in Fatally Haunted, Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles’ upcoming 2019 anthology.
STORY TITLE:“Strands of Time”
Rev left his hometown ten years ago, but an old grudge lives on. Too late to save an old flame, he’s on a mission to find her killer.
Q: What intrigued me about the theme of Fatally Haunted that led to my story?
Back in my scufflin’ days, I was a student at an international summer session at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. I signed up for a Contemporary European History taught by a professor from The London School of Economics. He told us about a different way to consider history. He said, “Think about those heavy ropes seamen use to secure their boats. The rope consists of many strands of fiber that wind over and over again, from one end of the rope to the other. The strands disappear from sight and reappear further down the line, more weathered with different tensions and appearance.”
The professor continued after this image had sunk in. “Now, think of history as strands of time. Some threads run through history, and many are repeated over and over again. Texture and circumstances change, but many surface at a later time, often with negative outcomes. However, if we can learn from our earlier efforts and strengthen the (moral) fiber, history can change for the better. The theme of this anthology reminded me of how our pasts can haunt us, and if change isn’t made, then we’re doomed to repeat the past. My professor’s imagery of “strands of time” has been with me for decades, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to weave it into a contemporary story.
Q: Is my story a who-dunit, a why-dunit, or a how-dunit? Why did I make that choice?
My story started as a who-dunit because there were three possible suspects in a murder. By throwing a clock in the mix, urgency drove the story into a why-dunit.
Q: What is different about writing a short story? What did I learn from this experience?
I had finished my first draft of Fresh Pursuit, my next book. My writing mentor, Jerrilyn Farmer, advised me to leave it alone for a month or two, so I could approach my rewrites with “fresh eyes.” My writing group colleagues – Cyndra Gernet, Lori Dillman, and Mary Marks mentioned this contest and encouraged me to submit a story. I’d never written a short story before, but I had a window of time to try something different. I learned to chunk the story down and try to keep it moving. Working with a lot of Latino street gang kids and the graffiti crowd as a continuation school teacher in Montebello gave me rare access to these insulated worlds – fertile ground for a writer of crime fiction. I expected a rejection, but my colleagues pushed me to give it a go. I knew I’d get good feedback for this genre at the very least. That’s what I wanted as my takeaway. It would make me better for the next time. It’s inspired me to start writing vignettes from my life. Like Dan Poynter once wrote, “I don’t want people to die with a book still inside them.” That’s me. This experience encourages me to produce condensed stories whenever I have time. btw – I submitted a little story about meeting Sugar Ray Robinson on Christmas eve in 1970 to The Daily Breeze in my area and they printed it a few days before Christmas. What’s the worst they can say? – No. What else can they say? – Yes! My learning is – Submit your work!
Q: How did my editor help me improve my story? What insights did I gain from working with her?
Sheila Lowe is a gifted editor. Her comments about strengthening the inner life of my characters made perfect sense. I agreed with 95% of her comments and made the adjustments. The other 5% (or less), I would counter back with my reasoning, and then we had a dialogue. Firm, but fair. This inclusion and thoughtful discussion about moot considerations allowed us to reach a finished product to our mutual satisfaction. I’d recommend her to anyone.
Q: What’s next for me? What am I working on?
I intend to have a polished version of my current book completed by August, 2019.
I’ll try to get an agent or publisher interested.
I will have a knee replacement Jan 2. It’s impetus for me to return to Portugal in November, 2019 and walk the 200 mile Portuguese Way trek from Porto to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I walked the 500 mile Camino de Santiago, “the French Way,” four years ago. It’s inspirational on so many levels. Two of my best friends will join me on this three-week adventure.
My next book, The Red Squeeze, will have two of my protagonists from earlier work. It’s set in Scandinavia and involves breaking up a Red Mafia smuggling syndicate. I’ll spend time in Stockholm after the Camino to do research with the local police where I have very good contacts.
Q: What does my writing space look like?
A three-piece computer desk with a big monitor and good light behind it is my operational choice. I’ve got a printer and scanner atop a two- drawer filing cabinet. I have three wire racks atop 9 bankers’ boxes with research for upcoming projects. I love research! Beyond them are two 8’ high bookshelves with a potpourri of my favorite reads and reference books. I’ve set up my bookshelves and file cabinets for easy access to each project’s research as needed. My office floor is filled with piles of highlighted papers, story ideas, and critiqued work. I must have been a musician in a past life because I often come alive at seven or eight in the evening and will work until midnight or one. I like music in the background – oddly enough, I’m not distracted by the lyrics – it just relaxes me. I focus so well when I’m in my writing world: door closed sans phones, e-mails, or texts.
Cyndra Gernet is one of the authors that will appear in Fatally Haunted, Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles’ upcoming 2019 anthology.
STORY TITLE:“The Funnel of Love”
A twenty-something carney worker accused of a crime in Arizona flees to the assumed safety of California.
Q: What intrigued you about the theme, Fatally Haunted ?
I write lots of short stories and many have a haunting quality. In fiction, as in life, people say things or take action they later regret. If the words or actions are extreme enough, they lodge in a person’s conscience and don’t let go.
I was delighted when my story, The Funnel of Love, was chosen for this anthology.
Q: Is your story a who-dunnit, a why-dunnit, or a how-dunnit?
My story is a bit of all three. The reader doesn’t know the answer to any of these questions until the end of the tale. I didn’t really make the choice to use all the dunnits so much as the developing story required them. I am a no-outline writer who lets the story lead me and often don’t know where it’s going until it’s there.
Q: What’s different about writing a short story? What did you learn from this experience?
For me, the difference between short story writing and novel writing is great. Short stories are a comfortable fit for me, novels are not. I tend to get lost and stuck when writing a novel, but with the short story form, I’m free to just fly. I love to get in there, paint a mood, develop a character, and move on. Perhaps it comes from being a Speech Pathologist who sees students for only a half-hour at a time before the next group arrives. When I took my first yoga class and when I wrote my first short story, I felt the same way; “You’re so familiar. I know you. I’m home.”
Q: How did your editor help you improve your story? What insights did you gain from working with her?
My wonderful editor Sheila Lowe was so generous with her time, attention to detail, and her compliments. She offered several suggestions for clarification or expanded descriptions, always in an upbeat manner. If I ever edit anyone’s work, I will use her positive attitude as a model. I was touched that when she met my family, she praised me as a writer.
Q: What’s next for you? What are you working on?
I just finished another short story that isn’t crime related. In fact, it’s a love story, a love letter to a house I used to live in that I am finally missing after ten years. What’s next for me should be the business of submitting my stories to agents or editors. I find that aspect of writing very difficult so probably what I’ll really do is just write another short story.
Q: What does your writing space look like?
The space where I write can be anywhere I carry my laptop. I have written in my backyard, in libraries, parks, my living room, my bedroom. I have no permanent space or even a desktop computer. My favorite place to write is atop the bed in the den, propped up on pillows, my two mini-dachshunds beside me.
Likewise, I have no writing schedule. I am not disciplined. I know it is better to be so, but I have finally ‘owned’ my writing style which is write when it moves me or for class, quit when something inside says to, and choose to ignore most writing advice.
If I can manage to be a writer with this approach, so can you.
Sisters in Crime/LA sends appreciation to all Sisters and Misters who were a part of the LA Times Festival of Books event.
This year proved specifically exciting as we offered the chapter’s new anthology, FATALLY HAUNTED, for sale on pre-release before its wide availability on April 29th of this month. Several anthology authors, including A.P. Jamison and Tony Chiarchiaro pictured below (right side of each photo), were on hand to actually sign the anthology and make the experience even more special for purchasers.
Whether you took advantage of a signing appearance, volunteered at the booth, or just came by to support, we thank you.
Photo credits: member Shannon Muir Broden with assistance from Kevin Paul Shaw Broden