Monday, May 22, 2017

Nervous Laughter and Alfred Hitchcock

The other day I watched a rerun of an old Dick Cavett Show. His guest was Alfred Hitchcock, and it was a wonderful interview.

I’m probably one of only a few who’d never heard Mr. Hitchcock interviewed. He had an understated and droll wit, and I found myself laughing at his comments. I love a dry humor.

What amazed me is the insight he had into people and what makes them tick. For instance, he talked about fear and that people love to be frightened. He was right. He used a roller coaster ride as an example. People ride up and down at extreme angles and scream throughout the entire ride. When they get off? They’re laughing and giggling. 

Yes, people love to be frightened. Why else would they enjoy reading about haunted houses, ghosts and monsters, and secret rooms? Why else would they watch a horror movie and find themselves talking to the television, saying, “Don’t open that door!” “Don’t go outside alone!”

One time my mother was home alone and there was a scary movie on TV that she wanted to watch. So she called me on the phone and had me turn it on, and then she wouldn’t hang up until the movie was over. I had to laugh at that one, and so did she.

We write mysteries. We’re not directors or actors. However, we can write scenes that will keep the reading audience on the edge of their seats. Interestingly, we can write suspenseful and frightening scenes that will make the reader laugh, regardless of whether it’s nervous laughter or humorous giggling. Our characters can feel the fear that makes them giggle, just like real honest-to-goodness people, and we can include this trait in their reactions.

Like many people, I have a fear of spiders. I once lived in a very old house with a black widow issue. I was cleaning the entryway floor and wearing slippers, and all of a sudden a black widow dropped from the ceiling onto the toe of my slipper. I kicked, trying to throw it off, but as I backed up it followed me. I was being stalked by a black widow! And I started to laugh. I laughed so hard that I cried. Maybe it was really hysteria. Anyway, I finally realized that the spider had attached itself to my slipper with a web, and when I moved, it moved with me. That poor ol’ spider ended up as nothing but a grease spot on the floor. After all, I had two slippers. Maybe it’s not a good idea to mess with someone who’s scared.

Mr. Hitchcock also explained how certain scenes were filmed in his movies. I guess you’d have to call the procedure early special effects. We can include special effects in our books, too, through descriptions.

Remember the shower scene in Psycho? I know a couple of women who, to this day, won’t take a shower. Hitchcock knew how to terrify viewers.

Years ago I read a book written by an author who happened to use the area where I lived as her location. Because I recognized the places and streets she described in her book, it frightened me. It was familiar and scary, and it was about a serial killer who was stalking the small town where I lived. Maybe that’s one of the keys – using a location people can relate to.

Scenes that are too graphic generally don’t make me laugh. It’s the anticipation leading up to a frightening event that can make me chuckle nervously. I have to admit that I’ve read stories in the newspaper that were so bizarre and terrifying that they made me laugh.

How about you? Does fear make you laugh? Did Alfred Hitchcock know how to push your buttons?

Until next time, I hope you have a carefree week with no black widows or monsters to worry about.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Gone Fishin'

Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the week to do all the things we’d like to get done. Therefore, I’ve gone fishin’, in a manner of speaking. I don’t really fish, but I’m taking a break this week.

Or maybe I'm out pickin' posies.

Anyway, hope to see you next week!

Monday, May 8, 2017

The World of Fiction

The World of Fiction: What a great place for an author to live! We can make things dark and gloomy or light and fun. We can make it shine or rain, depending on our mood and fictional needs at the time we write a scene.

It’s too bad we don’t have the same choices in real life. In a way we do, but sometimes circumstances get in our way. Not so for our books.

We can turn our characters into anyone we want them to be. We have so much discretion at our fingertips when we sit down in front of our computers. Those who outline their book even have the option to change their minds about a storyline, scene or character on a whim.

We can create locations, buildings, houses and fictional streets. On the other hand, we can use historic locations to our advantage, especially if they no longer exist. There was a street called Easy Jeanette Street in Old Los Angeles, in the Red Light District. It was an appropriate name for a road in that section of town. I used it in a book that involved a cold case from the late 1800s – A Well-Kept Family Secret.

We can use the traits of people in real life to create fictional characters. I once heard an author asked if she’d ever run out of victims for her books. She said, and I’m paraphrasing, that as long as there were people in real life that she didn’t like, she’d never run out of victims or bad guys. Although I’ve met this author, I’m glad she doesn’t know me. I don’t want to be a victim or a bad guy.

Along those lines, can an author run out of story ideas? It’s possible. So far I haven’t had trouble with story ideas; however, I’ve been writing this blog since 2010 and sometimes I really struggle to come up with an idea. Then something will happen and I think, Oh, yeah, that might make a good topic.

The World of Fiction: Some writers find creating their books to be quite therapeutic. Your storyline can solve a problem that’s not solvable in real life. You may also become so involved in your story that you don’t even give reality a second thought. Fiction has its advantages. The reader can get lost in a story and forget their problems for a while, too, and sometimes it helps if there’s a character they can relate to.

Have you always wanted to create the perfect man or woman? Fiction will let you do that. It may not be realistic, but who cares? I’ve met many readers who live vicariously through fictional characters. I’ve met people who, if a character is well-drawn, feel like they know this person.

I’ve had the experience. I’ve read books that made me feel like I could sit down and have lunch with a protagonist or any other fictional person in a book. Or maybe it’s just that the person reminds me of someone I actually know.

The Wonderful World of Fiction: A place where anything can happen, and it usually does.

If you find an author whose work you enjoy, read more of their books. Oh, and don’t forget to review them. I’ve got two I need to review right now. I shouldn’t put it off.

Until next time, as I always say, read a good book this week. Let it take you away for a while.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (Sorely in need of updating)
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Black Butterfly – A Bogey Man Mystery is waiting for you, as is Having a Great Crime - Wish You Were Here – A Sandi Webster Mystery. From a hit lady to the death of an old-time actress, these books have it all.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

F.M. Meredith, Guest Author

This week I'm pleased to have F.M. (aka Marilyn) Meredith as my guest. One of my favorite authors, Marilyn is a prolific writer and a good friend. Her books will keep you on your toes and entertain you. Welcome, Marilyn!

Why a Blog Tour?

Blog tours are a lot of work, especially if you plan them yourselves, which I’ve been doing for a long time. The first thing is to find hosts willing to have you as a guest, next comes juggling the schedule—what dates will you appear where. Then a unique post must be written for each blog. Sometimes the host wants a particular topic, other times you have to come up with something on your own.

Of course, you have to send the post along with all the important information, a jpg of the cover and one of you to each person in plenty of time for the host to schedule it.

When the time comes that the post is going to appear, it’s necessary to promote it everywhere you can think of so people will visit the host’s site and read what you have to say. Yes, it’s a time consuming process.

The main reason I arrange blog tours myself is because I want to have hosts who like mysteries with followers who do too.

What is the benefit of a blog tour? For me, it’s getting information about my latest book out to as many different people as I can. Often, I can see the results in the fact that people have actually bought the book on Amazon by watching the numbers and of course, when reviews appear.

Another reason I do blog tours is I really like to write. For me it’s fun to think up new things to say about my writing and the latest book.

I love having visitors on my own blog too. It’s a great way to showcase authors and their new books.

F. M.  aka Marilyn Meredith

#13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Unresolved Blurb:

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

Copies may be purchased from Book and Table by emailing with a 10% discount and free shipping as well as all the usual places.

Bio: F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at and her blog at

And tomorrow, May 5, I wrote about Putting a Blog Host in your Mystery.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Learning from Sugar

Does anyone remember Walt Disney’s Ferdinand the Bull? Long story short, when the bull fighter wanted some action, he found Ferdinand sitting and smelling the flowers. I have a dog, Sugar, who sometimes reminds me of Ferdinand.

She’s a barker, and I’m sure she drives my neighbors to distraction. So I go outside and tell her to hush up, or shut up, depending on my mood. Sometimes I find her lying on the patio, barking at nothing. I guess, like some people, she just wants to hear her own voice. If she’s having a rough day, I tell her to come inside.

This is where her Ferdinand side comes in. She looks at me and casually starts wandering around the yard, sniffing every blade of grass and every flower, trying to look innocent. “Who me? I wouldn’t bug the neighbors.”

Actually, I get it. Sometimes we’re so wound up in personal problems, or writer’s block, or the other neighbor who has a barker, that we forget to smell the grass – or like Ferdinand, smell the flowers.

There are times I feel like plopping myself down next to her to simply watch the world go by. Unfortunately, I have a house to clean or a book to write, or the phone rings. The doorbell might chime. There’s always something. Also, since it rains here so often, I’d end up with a wet pair of jeans and a mess to clean up.

I’ll give you one guess about who’s the calmer of the two of us, me or Sugar. You guessed it. Sugar can lie down anywhere, any time, and fall asleep. (She snores quite loudly, by the way.) She may be a barker, but it seems to help her feel fulfilled. Go figure.

Sometimes, no matter how busy or wound up you are, you need to be a Sugar. Sit down and smell the grass, the flowers, or whatever makes you happy. Have a glass of iced tea out on the patio and watch the world go by. Actually, on the rare occasions I do that, some of my best ideas come to me. I’ve seen a lot of people who open their garage door and pull up a chair, and just quietly watch the neighborhood. Have you noticed how many men will watch construction projects? There’s something fascinating about the process to them and they forget their cares, too.

The answers to personal problems sometimes come as an epiphany during those quiet moments, too.

 Murphy's greatest love is food

Clementine despises the camera

What happens next? Sugar sees a bird in the tree and she’s off and barking again. About that time, her brother, Murphy, and her stepsister, Clementine, pick up on the attitude and bark right along with her.

My point is, take a break and smell the grass (figuratively speaking), and learn to let go for even a few minutes. Sometimes it’s worth leaving everything behind for a few minutes.

Uh oh. There goes Sugar. She must have known I was writing about her. Oh. She stopped. She must be sniffing again. Maybe I should have named her Ferdinanda.

Until next time, take a break. Enjoy your day and don’t let things get you wound up. It’s just not worth it.

Come back on Thursday, May 4, for a visit from Author, F.M. Meredith.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Black Butterfly – A Bogey Man Mystery, is just what you need up during those quiet moments.