by L.J. Sellers
When the protagonist is eighty-four, cranky, and has short-term memory loss, telling the story with a sense of humor is a necessity. Author Mike Befeler also throws in some thrills with Senior Moments Are Murder, the third novel in his series featuring Paul Jacobson. Publisher’s Weekly calls Paul a “formidable sleuth” and says, “Mystery fans of all ages will welcome Befeler’s third humorous cozy.” The series has also earned high praise from Mystery Scene magazine and Kirkus Reviews and was a finalist for the Lefty Award for the best humorous mystery of 2009.
Befeler says his best moments as a writer are “when readers send me emails saying that my novel has entertained them, made them laugh, and given them a more positive outlook on aging.” He says his writing influences come from John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. Befeler adds, “His humor and quirky characters before and after World War II in Monterrey have truly inspired me.” Here, the author tells us more about the series and his writing career in his own words.
After a career in technology marketing, what inspired you to write your first novel?
I started writing when I was 56. I looked back over things I had enjoyed over my life and decided to pursue fiction writing. I wanted to retire into something rather than away from my day job. My first published novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder, was inspired by people I met when my mother and stepfather lived in a retirement community. I witnessed the pathos of the aging process but also the vitality and sense of humor of many of the residents. The book actually started as a relationship story about three men and three women in a retirement home. At the same time I was writing a collection of mystery short stories with either the victim or the perpetrator being an older person, and the novel manuscript morphed into a mystery.
Did you model your character Paul Jacobson on anyone you knew? Is he somewhat autobiographical?
Paul has characteristics of people I know but isn’t modeled after any one person. My stepdad had short-term memory loss, my natural father told puns, and I hate taking pills—so Paul inherited that characteristic from me. But beyond that, everything else is unique to Paul—he likes to cuss, hates going in the ocean, detests lawyers, and doesn’t want to have anything to do with computers. So I use snippets from people I know, but the majority of his characteristics are just what seems right for him.
Your novels fall into several subgenres: cozy mystery, geezer lit, humorous mystery. Did you think about a target audience before you started the series?
When I started writing this series, I just wrote what interested me. After the first book was published I started investigating my target audience and learned that my demographic is any mystery fan who enjoys humorous mysteries, but older readers particularly like Paul and his sidekicks. I find younger readers also buy the books to give to their parents and grandparents (but often read them first). I like writing intergenerational relationships, and readers particularly enjoy the interaction between Paul and his twelve-year-old granddaughter.
How did you develop the plot for Senior Moments Are Murder?
Paul moves to Venice Beach, California as a result of what takes place in the previous book, Living With Your Kids Is Murder. My daughter lives in Venice Beach, and I’ve had an opportunity to spend a good deal of time there. Things that intrigue me in Venice Beach are the canals, the beach scene, the graffiti wall, Abbott Kinney Boulevard with all the art galleries, and the contingent of homeless people hanging out near the beach. All of these elements played together in forming the plot for Senior Moments Are Murder.
What else would you like readers to know about the story?
Paul is a crime magnet. To get away from the Jessica Fletcher Syndrome where too many people die in one town (Cabot Cove in Murder She Wrote), I move Paul around. People can read my books in series order or read this book as their first one. It continues Paul’s story but stands alone in its own right. It also sets the stage for book four, which is under contract to be published December, 2012, and is titled, Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder (taking place on an Alaskan cruise ship).
Have you noticed recurring themes in your work?
In addition to the mystery elements, I write about three themes: 1.) Aging: I try to deal with aging in an evenhanded way showing the problems but also that older people can be vital, contribute to society and laugh, 2.) Short-term memory loss: Paul suffers from short-term memory loss, but in spite of not remember the day before, he becomes an amateur sleuth and even has a romance with a young chick in her seventies, 3.) Relationships: Love and romance can still continue in the older years but may require some wisdom to pull it off successfully.
What is the pitch for the novel or project you’re writing now?
Back Wing—A Harold and Bella paranormal geezer-lit mystery in which aging witches, vampires, werewolves, and shape-shifters use their special abilities to solve two murders in a very unique retirement community.
What was the last book you read that made you think: I wish I’d written that?
The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser. It’s a combination of historical, mystery, romance, and paranormal, set in the part of Colorado where I live. Wonderful characters with the paranormal element that a woman about to be married and her grandmother trade places, one knowing the future and the other knowing the distant past.
In the May, 2008, issue of the AARP Bulletin Mike Befeler was identified as one of four authors in a new emerging mystery sub-genre. Harlan Coben, president of Mystery Writers of America stated, “We’ve just scratched the surface on geezer-lit. It could be the next frontier in crime fiction.” Mike turned his attention to fiction writing after a career in high technology marketing. Mike is co-chair of the Boulder County Aging Advisory Council and vice-president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. He grew up in Honolulu and now lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, Wendy.
To learn more about Mike, please visit his website.