Monday, August 13, 2018

Famous Like Dolly

A long time ago I saw Dolly Parton interviewed and I’ve never forgotten it. She said that way back when, she went to a recording company and told them she was going to be famous. She asked if they were with her or not. They were, and she is – famous, that is. Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but Ms. Parton’s enthusiasm is catching.

So right here, right now, I’m saying that I’m going to be famous one day. I hope. I sure can’t sing, and I’m no Mary Higgins Clark, but I definitely have my own style. Whew! Delusions of grandeur? I’m laughing at myself. No delusions, but a lot of hope and spirit. (Read to the end to find out what lesson I learned.)

Still paraphrasing, Ms. Parton said something to the effect that quirky people are many times the most creative. There ya go. I’m quirky, sometimes, although I prefer to call myself eccentric. Well, I probably just have some odd habits, especially when it comes to food. Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy chocolate. I also like nuts. However, I don’t like chocolate and nuts mixed together. My closet is color coordinated; all the blues together, yellows together, greens… Well, you get the idea. Maybe that’s not quirky. Maybe it’s compulsive?

Ms. Parton also said that she prays every day. We’re together on that one. So do I. There’s nothing more fulfilling than spending time with God.

Hmmm. Thanks to Dolly Parton, you’re learning more about me than I ever wanted anyone to know. I think she has a lot more self-confidence than I do though and she’s so down to earth. She’s an inspirational woman, whether she realizes it or not.

So I’m gonna be famous someday. I just hope it’s not for doing something ridiculous – like tripping in the grocery store and taking out an old lady in a wheelchair. Or being mistaken for a bank robber and going to jail until I can prove it’s a case of mistaken identity. Honestly, I don’t steal. I’m probably one of the most honest people you’d ever meet, except for those teeny tiny white lies many of us tell when we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. “Oh, yes, Edna. Yellow is definitely your color.” Yellow makes Edna look like an overripe banana, and a real friend would probably tell her, but I can’t stand hurting someone’s feelings.

How did I go from Dolly Parton to being famous one day to Edna looking like a banana? Maybe it’s part of the eccentricity; you know, the mind wanders. I’d prefer to believe that it’s just my brilliant mind leaping from subject to subject because I have so much to ponder and offer.

Back to Dolly. I admire this woman not only for her achievements, but also because she reminds me of someone with whom I could sit down and enjoy a cup of tea or a dessert, and with whom I could have a belly laugh. Doesn’t she have the sweetest laugh you’ve ever heard?

So, again, someday I’m going to be famous. And someday my wrinkles will miraculously disappear. Oh, I’m off topic again.

I’ll say this. I’ve never had more fun than when I’m writing a mystery, and that’s got to count for something. There’s nothing funny about murder, so obviously there’s some drama in my books. However, you’ll also find some humor between the book covers. I’d rather offer you a chuckle than add to your daily angst, and there's been plenty of that lately.

Well, Dolly made it and she’s famous, and she’s adorable, and she makes me smile. Maybe there’s still hope for me. I may not be adorable, but I do make a few people smile. There’s hope.

Until next time, do something adorable that makes people smile, and maybe one day you’ll be famous. If nothing else, at least you’ll be well-liked, and after all is said and done, that’s more important than being famous. (I may have just gotten my priorities straight - lesson learned.)

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Taking a vacation can lead to an unexpected case for private eye Sandi Webster-Goldberg.
Taking a vacation with your menopausal mother, an eccentric aunt, a pregnant friend and her husband, and a flustered husband can lead to total chaos.

Pete Goldberg and Stanley Hawks take a leisurely walk in the country, only to discover an abandoned house. When Sandi, her mother, Livvie, and her Aunt Martha decide to explore, they discover that the house isn’t quite as abandoned as previously thought.

A young woman and her baby are hiding out from unknown danger. She needs help, and the three women are more than happy to oblige her.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Making Characters Memorable

Think about your friends and relatives, and even the people you don’t care for – maybe even someone you saw on the evening news. Now picture them sitting on chairs in a circle, as a group. Is one of them tapping a foot? Maybe one is looking off into space, bored to tears. Is there a woman sitting up straight, knees held primly together, appearing expectant? Is one of them a killer? (Of course one of them is a killer because I write mysteries.)

Everyone has traits that make them memorable, whether the memories are good or bad. The same goes for fictional characters. Writing them so they’ll be remembered is half the battle. A good storyline is made even better by the individuals who carry the story.

I write two series. In the Sandi Webster Mysteries, Sandi sighs frequently, almost taking it to competitive levels. Her partner, Pete, is overly protective sometimes, and he shrugs things off (literally) a lot, but other than that I haven’t figured out his “tells” yet.

Who can forget Stanley Hawks and Felicity DuBois-Hawks, a couple whose clumsiness endears them to the other characters, and readers. Sandi’s mother, Livvie Brewster is menopausal and has all kinds of quirks.

Are these memorable traits? Readers asked for more of Livvie because they enjoy her menopausal antics and some say they can relate to what she’s going through. Felicity’s little “accidents” are humorous and readers asked to see more. I obliged the requests.

In The Bogey Man Mysteries, Pamela Cross rolls her eyes even though her mother once told her they might get stuck that way. Well, to be honest, Sandi rolls her eyes a lot, too. Chris Cross, The Bogey Man, bears a strong resemblance to Humphrey Bogart. He rolls his upper lip under, tugs on his ear and rolls back on his heels.

What about other peripheral characters? How do people react under stressful circumstances? Their traits will tell you whether they’re nervous or not. Someone picking at a napkin in a restaurant, a twitching eye, or even that tapping foot can tell you how a character is handling a given situation. A woman rapidly tapper her fingernails on a table can be annoying, and yet telling.

Remember the people you had sitting in a circle? Let’s take a look at them. Watch Aunt Ivy. She’s looking everywhere except at the other people. She’s drumming her fingernails on her knee. She puffs air into her cheeks until she looks like a chipmunk, and then releases it slowly. Her right knee begins to bounce. She keeps glancing at the exit. Does she have something better to do than sit with this group of people? Is she annoyed? Or is she avoiding looking at the others because she has a secret? Or maybe she knows a secret. Maybe she wants to leave so there’s no chance she’ll spill the beans.

Fred, the man who lives down the street, keeps swallowing like his mouth is too dry. Is he nervous? He’s pulling on his shirt collar, too. Maybe he just doesn’t interact well in a group. He could be self-conscious. Then he says, “Hey! When are we gonna get this show on the road? I’ve got a football game to watch.” Oh, football. I get it.

Frieda keeps rubbing her arms, like she’s cold. When she’s not rubbing her arms, her fingertips pat a rhythm on her chest. Her eyes dart from fact to face. What’s her story?

Sam is staring at his hands. He’ll look up when someone speaks, but then his attention goes back to his hands. He keeps sniffling, and his eye twitches. Or is he winking at Frieda?

So when writing characters, give them habits and mannerisms. What they do is as important as what they say and where they are. It makes them come to life for the reader. Let them be clumsy or nervous or snooty or funny, or even a little eccentric. Any trait or mannerism you give them can make them memorable.

Uh oh, look out! Fred just made a break for it. He’s out the door and gone. He’s got a football game to watch and nobody’d better get in his way. I sure hope he wasn’t the killer.

Until next time, watch the people around you, but not to the point where they think you’re a little weird. Study their mannerisms. Even if you don’t write books, it can be very entertaining.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (recently updated)
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COMING SOON: One Adventure Too Many – A Sandi Webster Mystery (More on this soon)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Can We Successfully Combine Humor and Drama?

Can a writer combine humor and drama? The simple answer? Yes. I write two mystery series and they’re both light reading with a little humor. There’s a big “however” here. However, murder isn’t funny by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, the books contain some drama, too. I’ll never make light of a murder and generally the motives aren’t humorous, either.

Back to humor, you can find some humor in the characters solving the mystery and in the situations in which they find themselves. There’s so much drama in today’s world that I believe we need something to lighten our mood sometimes. Hopefully, that’s a need I’m addressing.

In the Sandi Webster series, she’s a female P.I., has a menopausal mother and an overbearing aunt, employs a formal acting yet klutzy guy and his wife, and she has a partner who always wants to watch her back, although he sometimes ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She frequently finds herself confronting quirky or eccentric people. These traits often equal humor, and they’re traits I’ve found in people in my own life over the years.

I mentioned both drama and humor. Sandi has a few situations where she runs into heartbreaking circumstances and needs humor to keep her balanced. That can be difficult in real life and in fiction. You can’t walk away from heartbreak and laugh at it. Sometimes you have to look for the humor somewhere else. As writers, we can provide that distraction.

I’ve worked in law enforcement (in a clerical capacity), part-time in a shoe store and a lingerie store, and for a state transportation department, among other jobs. Some of the things I’ve seen would boggle your mind. Of course, some of these things are only humorous after the fact – like the time I had to search a Ladies Restroom for a bomb, with no training. There was, after all, a time when you wouldn’t expect to find a bomb in a john. Then there was the time a woman was turned down for a job in law enforcement because she didn’t have the qualifications. Death threats followed, even though I’d only given her the typing test. Ah, those were the days.

My Bogey Man series features Chris Cross, who’s a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart, and who manages to walk the walk and talk the talk. Bogart is his muse, his hero and his idea of how a man should act. That is, the Bogey he saw in the movies. He’s very good at rolling his upper lip under like Mr. Bogart did. Chris is married and has a stepson, and they sometimes remind me just a little of a modern Thin Man family.

Humor keeps most of the characters going. We need a good laugh in our own lives once in a while, and so do fictional characters.

In both series the characters and their lives grow and change over time. So do we. Time seems to pass slowly in a series. Occasionally that would be preferable in real life, although there are other times when we wish we could speed things along. Either way, humor helps us and our characters get through the day.

Someone once sent me a joke which read, “Awkward Moments: When you’re digging a hole to bury a body, and you find another body already buried there.” Maybe that’s dark humor, but it gave me a chuckle and inspired an entire book, Awkward Moments – A Bogey Man Mystery. Humor can come from the most unexpected places.

There’s so much more that could be said about humor in mysteries, but instead of me saying more, try picking up a book with humor in it and see for yourself. Ask for recommendations from friends, family or your librarian.

Until next time, I hope something sparks a chuckle in your day. How about this? I recently discovered that my hundred pound yellow Labrador Retriever is terrified of a little bitty snail. Of course, this is the same dog who’s afraid of the dark. True stories.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (recently updated - almost completed)
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If you’re looking for something lighter, try the Sandi Webster Mysteries or The Bogey Man Mysteries.