Tag Archives: nonfiction writing

The Greatest Chicken Thief in All of Europe … by Guest Mike Befeler

Befeler_For LibertyI wasn’t planning to write a non-fiction book. But all that changed in May of 2013 when I met Ed, a 94-year-old World War II veteran.

Here’s the back story. At the time I was on the Boulder County Aging Advisory Council and gave a ride to another council member. She told me about this fascinating man who lived in her senior residence. Later that day she introduced me to Ed, and he told me stories of fighting as an infantryman in Europe, becoming a prisoner of war and being liberated by the Russians. He got to one point and said, “At one time I was the greatest chicken thief in all of Europe.”

Unfortunately, I had to leave at that time for an appointment. Two weeks later I gave a talk for the book group at this senior residence, and Ed was in attendance. Afterwards, I pulled him aside to hear the rest of the story. He recounted this experience of stealing rabbits and chickens to regain the 40% of his body weight lost as a prisoner. Given his impish sense of humor, he had me laughing out loud. Although Ed expressed no interest in writing his life story, he agreed to work with me, and our collaboration began.

We met approximately once a week, and I took notes and recorded the sessions. In writing Ed’s biography, I learned that fiction writing prepared me well. Ed’s life has been full of pathos and humor, attributes I have put into my mysteries. Along the way I learned a tremendous amount about World War II. As an example, Ed mentioned the name of the captain of his company, and through Internet research, I was able to locate a write up describing how Captain Batrus had been awarded a silver star.

Some highlights of Ed’s life: He experienced an unusual early education, attending an anarchist school, and suffered through the depression. As an American of Jewish heritage, he chose to fight Hitler, and in the Vosges Mountains of France faced a number of life or death encounters with the enemy. On New Year’s Eve 1944, he was a forward observer when the Germans’ last initiative on the Western Front, Operation North Wind, overran his position. He survived behind enemy lines for two days before being captured. He spent seven days and nights in a crowded freight car with no food and the only water being from snowflakes caught on his fingers through slats in the side of the railroad car. In Stalag IV-B, he survived by trading cigarettes for food on the black market, tried to escape but was recaptured.

After being freed by the Russians and although he hated Germans, he saved four German refugees. When he returned to American command, he was almost killed in a back alley in Paris, before shipping back to the States where a medical authority informed him he would be lucky to live into his early fifties. Suffering from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, he almost killed himself, had a disastrous first marriage, lost custody of his son and struggled to support himself. Pulling himself out of the depths, he found his true wife, who helped him rebound and run a successful business.

An example of Ed’s puckish sense of humor. His second wife was a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. One night at a reception, he was introduced to a pompous academician who looked down his nose at Ed and said, “What do you do?” Ed replied, “Oh, I sweep the floors and clean the equipment at a machine shop,” (not mentioning that he owned and ran the business). The man raised an eyebrow. Ed then put his arm around his wife, Sonia, and said, “And this wonderful woman taught me how to read and write.” Afterwards, he got an earful from Sonia.

For me, one of the highlights of this project, was locating the son from his first marriage, whom Ed hadn’t seen in fifty-seven years, and facilitating a reunion that took place in October of 2013.

The working title for the book is For Liberty: A Soldier’s Inspiring Life Story of Courage, Sacrifice, Survival and Resilience, and it will be published this spring. And Ed is the greatest chicken thief in all of Europe.

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Mike BefelerMike Befeler has six published books in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, the most recent being Nursing Homes Are Murder. He also has two published paranormal mysteries, The V V Agency and The Back Wing and a theater mystery, Mystery of the Dinner Playhouse. His first historical mystery, Murder on the Switzerland Trail, will be released in October. Mike is past-president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

To learn more about Mike and his novels, visit his website and blog. He can also be found on Facebook.

Have You Ever Considered Writing Nonfiction?

By Liesa Malik

Gasp! As storytellers and novelists, the word "nonfiction" can sound very constraining.  It conjures up all sorts of nasty images, like:

  • Deadlines
  • Pressure
  • Talking to, or interviewing total strangers
  • Taking notes when people talk too fast
  • Maybe even boring topics to write about.

But after over twenty years in marketing, and with a degree in journalism, I have to say that writing nonfiction is a terrific occupation for those of us who aspire to becoming published authors. Here's what I mean.

Many Great Fiction Authors Started in Nonfiction Work

Ernest Hemingway started his writing career as a reporter for the Kansas City Star, and his work in the Spanish Civil War generated the background for his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Stephen Crane never participated in the Civil War. Instead, his experience covering the Spanish-American War for the New York World led him to create The Red Badge of Courage.

And these are not the only journalists-turned-novelists. Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, E.B.White and many more learned the craft of writing through their reporting of the day's news before launching successful careers in fiction.

Writing Nonfiction Improves Your Research Skills

My granddaughter once told me she likes writing fiction because "you don't have to get all the stuff right." As experienced writers we know this isn't true. You cannot put your protagonist at a gold mine located in Limon, Colorado, because a little research will tell you that Limon is a flat, prairie town named after a railway man, and gold mining had little to do with the formation of the municipality.

But research can become a rabbit warren of wasted time without a plan. When it comes to writing nonfiction, writing several small articles on a topic of interest turns it into the background you may need for your next novel. Often, the response to one well-developed question will result in a full article of, say, 1500 words.

Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote several travel essays as he explored his world, and through the experience developed the knowledge that would help him write such great tales as "Treasure Island" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

If you write science fiction, your research naturally lends itself to writing science. If you haven't the expertise to write deeply on a subject, you can still write for children's magazines and grow both your knowledge and your credentials from there.

If you write murder mysteries, police magazines may be a great place to both soak up the atmosphere and give you a venue to write up information you garner on investigating murders.

After all, it is said that writers often write to learn.

Writing Published Nonfiction Will Help Your Author Platform

Today, the author platform is all about you being a real person to your readers.  Unfortunately, while you and I know we're "real" we may not be "real-well-known" in the areas of literature we want.

But, when you start building a reading audience by guest posting on friends' blogs about topics you are expert in, you'll build demand for your work.

Let's say you have an elephant for a main character in your book (don't laugh: think "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen). A couple of trips to your local zoo, and a few articles written based on your growing knowledge will help others to see you as the expert you're becoming.

You'll also gain more audience from people who are interested in elephants.

And can you hear them now? "So-and-so wrote a great article on elephants for  Zoo Lovers' Digest. Now they have a novel out with elephants in it. Maybe I should give it a try."

Writing Nonfiction Adds a Positive Effect to Your Bottom Line

We are all engaged with the "starving artist" image. But do you really want to go through life without the funds you'd like, just because you write for a living? Writing nonfiction articles placed in magazines, newspapers, blogs or even your own corporate business news can pay good money. Carol Tice writes a great blog on writing commercially. She has enough business that she can even afford to turn some down.

In his book, The Freelance Writer's Bible, author David Trottier posts these popular nonfiction writing prices:

Case Studies . . . $50-$60 per hour
Ghostwriting . . . $25 - $60 per hour
Business Article . . . $.75 to $1 per word

This all adds up to great opportunity, if you're willing to use nonfiction as your stepping stone to fiction writing success.

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Liesa MalikLiesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Beldon and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection. A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications,

Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website.