Monday, October 8, 2018

BEHIND THE SCENE: Writing a Personal Organizer Mystery: Guest post by Mike Befeler

BEHIND THE SCENE: Writing a Personal Organizer Mystery

The saying is “write what you know.” This is good for a beginning writer. But it’s also important to “write what you don’t know.” This is called learning.

Mystery writer Elaine Viets took jobs so she could learn the occupations for writing a mystery series.

There’s a debate, and some authors have been criticized for writing characters that are of different races than they are.

So can we write about people in jobs we have not held or other races or different genders?

Here’s my experience:

Most of my protagonists have been men, but in my latest mystery, Unstuff Your Stuff, it’s a sixty-eight-year-old woman. I’ve been sixty-eight, but I’ve never been a woman, so how can I write about one? By listening, observing and putting myself in her position. I’ve also benefited from the feedback from my wife and women critique group partners .

Three of my mystery novels are set in Hawaii and have some Asian characters. I’m not Asian, but I grew up in Hawaii and have many Asian friends from high school days.

I have a historical mystery set in 1919. I’ve never lived in 1919, but I learned a great deal about 1919. How? Research: Studying the time period and reading microfilm copies of newspapers from that era.

I have a scene in one book from 1895 New York. Again, the secret is research.

I have a book set on an Alaskan cruise. I had to take an Alaskan cruise with my wife and daughter for research.

I’ve never been in law enforcement, yet I write about police. How can I do this? Research: I attended three Citizens’ police academies and participated as a volunteer role player to help train police officers. A hostage scene in Unstuff Your Stuff is loosely based on my role playing a hostage for SWAT training. In addition to a hostage, I’ve played roles involving illegal camping, traffic violations, drunk and disorderly, spousal abuse, assault, victim of an active shooter in a high school and hostage taker.

I’ve never murdered anyone, yet I write mysteries that have the villain being a murderer.

Regarding my latest mystery novel, Unstuff Your Stuff, that features a professional organizer, here’s my disclosure: I’ve never been a professional organizer – I’m a professional disorganizer, but my wife has been squaring me away. Here’s a typical conversation:

My wife: Throw away that threadbare shirt.

Me: It’s just getting comfortable.

My wife: You have plenty of other shirts but look at it.

Me: You can almost make out the LA Ram’s logo.

My wife: But the holes.

Me: They’re only half an inch in diameter, and there are only three of them.

My wife: It goes!

So what gives me the ability to write a professional organizer mystery? Answer again: research. At the time, I belonged to an organization of people providing services to seniors. I met several professional organizers who were kind enough to let me tag along on some of their gigs. One example that I loosely included in Unstuff Your Stuff was an estate that included an extensive doll collection. When I say extensive I mean that every surface in a multi-bedroom house was covered with dolls. The estate agent estimated that the owner had spent over two hundred thousand dollars on dolls, but the estate would be lucky to recoup ten cents on the dollar.

In Unstuff Your Stuff, my protagonist has a mantra: GRR—group, reduce, reorganize. This is the philosophy I’ve learned from my wife and professional organizers.

The litmus test of needing a professional organizer is when someone, says, “I know it’s good for nothing, but I’m keeping it until it’s good for something.”


Mike Befeler is author of fifteen books including six books in the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series and recent books The Tesla Legacy, Death of a Scam Artist and Unstuff Your Stuff. On most days he can be seen taking his three-year-old grandson to the park or library. He resides in Lakewood, CA, with his wife Wendy.