Monday, February 19, 2018

The Drama of It All

My tagline is, A little humor, a little romance, a little Murder!

There's absolutely nothing funny about murder, but the same can't be said for solving a crime.  Sandi, Pete, Pamela and Chris will take you places and introduce you to people and situations you'll remember for a long time, and they'll do their best to offer you a smile along the way. (A quote from my website.)

While my stories offer a little humor, there’s also drama. As stated above, there’s nothing humorous about murder. I’ve read a number of books that are funny from beginning to end, even though they involve violence of all kinds. While I enjoy them, that’s not what I want to present to the reader – to each his (or her) own.

Sometimes we need a little comedy relief in the middle of suspense and drama. It’s the same way in real life. When something traumatic happens in my life, I often look for a way to lighten the way I feel. Maybe it’s as simple as a funny memory from the life of someone who passed away. Maybe it’s finding something unexpected when you’re sorting through that person’s belongings. Sometimes even something touching can bring a smile to your face.

I realize that not everyone looks at things the way I do, but humor has gotten me through some rough times. I also understand that finding humor isn’t always possible, but more often than not I’ll find something humorous about almost every situation.

The other morning I woke up in a really, really bad mood. I don’t know why. During the morning I was in the kitchen and there was a sudden loud thud somewhere in the house. Of course, I just knew there was something wrong and I ran all over the house looking for tipped over furniture, an intruder, whatever.

Since moving to a different house, one of my dogs, Sugar, has taken to napping on my bed. When I checked my room, she was sitting on the floor looking like, “What the heck just happened?” Um, she fell off the bed. She’s a large dog. It made a very loud thud. And she made me laugh. Yes, she was fine. My bad mood disappeared in a flash.

I spoke to a woman who’d recently read Old Murders Never Die. She said she’d now read all of the Sandi Webster mysteries. I asked if any of them at least brought a smile to her face. She said that, yes, they made her laugh aloud. And she said Old Murders Never Die also made her cry, and that she appreciated the comedy relief in the story. She made my day.

This is also what made me think about the drama in the books. Real life is made up of drama, humor, sadness and joy. Shouldn’t books depict real life to some extent?

I look at it this way. There’s drama in life, however, when I read a book the drama is someone else’s problem. In a story, I get to see that drama resolved, and that gives me hope for life away from a book. If there’s a little humor in the story, too, that’s frosting on the cake.

When my time comes, I hope that rather than cry, people will remember funny stories about me. Easy to do because I’m such a clumsy person, and usually when I say something funny, it’s purely accidental. I’m not all that quick-witted. I do manage to make people laugh from time to time, and their laughter make me feel good.

Hmm. Maybe this is my subconscious telling me I need to start adding more humor to my blogs.

How do you feel? Would you rather read a book and laugh or cry, or both? Just curious.

Until next time, my heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims in Florida. I hope that at some point a sudden memory will bring a smile to them – maybe not laughter, but a smile.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (still in need of updating)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

COMING SOON: A preview of the new book cover for Gin Mill Grill – A Sandi Webster Mystery, and hopefully the book won’t be too far behind.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Mystery Writer Meets Mystery

Several years ago a friend and I had to put our detecting skills to work. After all, we write mysteries and we’d know how to do that.

I have two close friends, who for privacy reasons I’ll call Brenda and Jackie, who also write mysteries. The three of us live in different states and we’re spread from the west coast to the east coast. Brenda was moving to a new home and Jackie and I knew we’d be out of touch with her for a few days. Not a big deal, right?

Well, a few days went by, and then a few more days, and still no word from Brenda. We tried to call her on her cell phone, but it went straight to voice mail. Jackie and I began to worry, which is something we do well. We’ve had plenty of practice.

 Where's Brenda?

It suddenly struck Jackie and me that we write mysteries for a living. If anyone could track Brenda down it should be us, because after all, we know how to do these things. We write about them. We research them. We lined up our facts and moved on from there. We knew that Brenda had hired a moving company that was owned and run by women. We knew when and where she was moving to, although we didn’t have the new address yet. And we both knew how to use the Internet. It would be a piece of cake. Uh huh.

I checked online for moving companies in the area we were interested in that were owned by women. I found one, and only one. Remember, this was a long time ago and not every company showed up online. Well, I called the company, but they said they’d never heard of Brenda and they said that they were the only female-owned company in the area. It never dawned on me that they might say that because they didn’t want me checking with the competition. That was one of my bigger Duh Moments during this caper.

I checked a map and the Internet for the small town that our friend was moving to, and called both the local police station and the county Sheriff. They couldn’t help me because I didn’t have enough information.

Then Jackie hit on something. She’d saved some emails from Brenda and she thought maybe the recipients of those notes could help us locate friends or family. She was right. The address line held names that had become familiar to us from stories Brenda had shared.

We began emailing people who’d probably never heard of us. As it turned out, Brenda had mentioned us, so they were great about helping with the search. A friend had received a phone call from Brenda, but the connection had been terrible. At least she’d heard something.

As it turned out, Brenda didn’t have good phone service at the new home, and no Internet connection was readily available – the woes of living in a rural area. On top of that, her electricity had gone out during a storm.

Where did we get our information? Her ex-husband had received one of our emails. What a guy! He’d been in touch with her.

So Jackie and I ended up feeling pretty good about our deductive reasoning skills, and maybe this little exercise would help us in telling some of our stories. In the meantime, we were grateful that our friend was okay.

The point of this story? Sometimes it takes a writer’s mind to figure out a mystery without the aid of a private eye or the police. If this had happened today, you can bet we would have taken even more steps to find our friend, but in the meantime, we patted each other on the back – figuratively speaking, since we lived in different states.

Until next time, wishing you a fun little mystery of your own and the skills to solve it.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (To be updated soon)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

Monday, February 5, 2018

About a Diary Snob

When I started writing, I didn’t want to include diaries in my stories about old crimes. It seemed too cliché to use them. Instead, I used things like old letters, photographs and word-of-mouth. I have those things. My grandmother was a pen pal to a few soldiers during World War I. She kept all the letters. She also left me a huge trunk filled with old photographs. We had several conversations about what things were like for her as a child and the things that changed her life. When she was fourteen or fifteen, she was in an industrial accident and lost her arm below the elbow. That was definitely life-changing, but she dealt with it. The letters and our conversations were quite revealing. We talked about what things were like in Old Los Angeles. I won’t bore you with more, but you get the idea.

I figured I could get by without the use of diaries and journals for information in my mysteries.

How wrong I was. Well, using things other than diaries was fine, but diaries were a large part of people’s lives. They chronicled what was going on, even if it was simply to write about what they had for dinner on a particular night. In among the references to meatloaf, there are often little jewels of knowledge. There are insights into what life was like during certain periods of time. They’re also a good way to learn the slang used at the time the diary was written.

I’m not sure if diaries are used as often today as they used to be. With the Internet, I guess people use other means for keeping track of their lives. If we were to suddenly lose the use of the Internet, a lot of memories would be lost forever. The written word will last forever, assuming the diaries aren’t thrown away like mine were. Mine were just too corny to live.

Diaries and journals have existed in one form or another all through history. Think Dead Sea Scrolls. They’ve chronicled ocean voyages, trips across the country in wagons, people’s reactions to historic events, and some have even been known to hold deep, dark secrets.

So was I a diary snob? I guess I was. What brought me out of this was my cousin finding many diaries that one of my grandmother’s had kept. Many years ago I found one lonely little diary that my other grandmother wrote in, and one that my mother had kept her thoughts in when she was a teenager.

Now I’m working on Gin Mill Grill and I’ve introduced some old diaries. Since this story is based on a crime from the 1930s that needs to be solved today, and most of the characters are either dead or very, very old now, the diaries may be invaluable. Honestly? I haven’t decided just how they’ll play into the story, but in one way or another they will have a part.

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my own personal mysteries is a photo I found in that big trunk I mentioned. In among the old family photos dating back into the 1800s, I found a picture of a firing squad doing what they do. You can even see smoke coming out of the rifles. This is not a photo you’d expect to find with pictures of great-great-great-grandma. I sent it to a Naval historian who had a few ideas, but I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure what was going on. My grandfather (much older than my grandmother), was in the Navy from 1904-1907. I have a photo album with pictures he took around the world, and the firing squad photo looks very similar to the quality and type of pictures he took. I wish he’d kept a diary.

So, while I started out with letters, photos and word-of-mouth (meaning memories), I’ve now added diaries and journals.

Is there something that you think is too cliché? Are you a snob about something used in mysteries? As for me, I need to keep an open mind.

Until next time, read some of those old diaries stashed away in boxes in the attic or garage. You just mind find something interesting.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (To be updated soon)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

Monday, January 29, 2018

Back and Raring to Go

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been absent for a while. I’ll make a long story short.

My dog, Murphy, had to have surgery on his knee. There were complications, mostly from the medications he was on.

In the meantime we sold our two-story house and bought a one-story house. That meant packing, moving and unpacking. There were a few complications there, too.

It seemed like everything dragged on and on and on. Thankfully, we had a great Realtor who made things a little easier for us. (Thanks, Todd!)

Just to add to the issues, my daughter caught that nasty virus that’s going around, and I caught it from her. My heart goes out to those who are going through the illness.

During this time I did no writing and no reading. By evening I was tired and my eyes wouldn’t focus on book pages.

I had a dozen chapters done on my Work in Progress (WIP) and had to set it aside a few months ago. Now I’m back and I’ve picked up where I left off, and I’m having a great time.

Before the dog and house situation, I picked up a book of old newspaper headlines which were actually the first page of news. None of the headlines inspired me, but one story at the bottom of the page caught my eye and I read an account from many years ago, or at least part of it. It was continued on another page, and this book was only headline pages.

Anyway, there was a story about a man who was murdered in his home. When the police entered the residence, his brother (whom they believed to be the killer) had mysteriously disappeared. I didn’t do further research on the story. I didn’t want to know if the brother was the killer or how he disappeared. The general information from this article inspired “Gin Mill Grill,” my WIP.

As I sometimes do, I’ve created an old crime that has to be solved today. I kind of like Sandi Webster not having to walk in on a current crime and a, um, fresh corpse. Although, along those lines there are a few surprises in this story.

Just to add to the excitement, an artist, Dori Pendergrass, has already painted the new book cover. I’ll share it in the not too distant future. I’m totally taken with the cover, and the original painting will be proudly displayed on the wall in my office.

I live in Washington state, where it rains frequently. I’ve been so wrapped up in the new story that I haven’t really noticed the dark and dreary skies or the rain-soaked surroundings, except when I go outside. I glance skyward and think, Really? It’s cold and raining? When did that start?

Many of you know how it goes, but I’m still unpacking and setting up the house. Where do I hang this? Where do I place that? What can I give up without having fits? Two-story to one-story really puts a crimp in what there’s room to display and that includes both furniture and decor. Looks like there might be a yard sale come spring.

So, I’m back and happy to be here.

I don’t know that I’ll keep up with a blog-a-week, like I’ve done in the past, but I’ll do my best. In the meantime I want to get back to the book I was reading when this all started. I’ve missed my reading time as much as I’ve missed my writing time.

Have you ever noticed how things seem to happen in rapid succession? You take care of one issue and another pops up? Hopefully, things will turn around now.

Until next week, if you’re moving, my heart goes out to you. If your beloved pet is having surgery or any other issue, my heart goes out to you. If you’ve got the flu or the latest virus, get in to see the doctor quickly. I hope that from now on, things go smoothly for all of us.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (In dire need of updating)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

COMING SOON, or as soon as possible, Gin Mill Grill – A Sandi Webster Mystery. In the meantime you might want to keep up with her in Entrance to Nowhere – A Sandi Webster Mystery.