Monday, August 25, 2014

What Good is a Dog?

In honor of National Dog day, on Tuesday only (August 26, 2014), Bubba’s Ghost – A Sandi Webster Mystery, and Awkward Moments – A Bogey Man Mystery, are being offered for free in ebook format. CLICK HERE to take advantage of the free books.

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I’ve written about including animals in books in other posts, and some things are worth repeating. In my case, dogs take the lead. Bubba takes top billing in the Sandi Webster mysteries. Sherlock and Watson (male and female) inhabit the Bogey Man mysteries. Sometimes they play a peripheral role, and other times they’re up front and in the thick of things. It happens.

Dogs can be alert to things people miss. Their senses can take over where ours leave off. They can sniff out trouble or danger while we sit quietly hoping it’s going to be a quiet day.

There are working dogs who help the disabled, search and rescue dogs, and cadaver dogs. There are dogs used to locate drugs. They do all kinds of things. Did you know that dogs can become depressed over the jobs they do? And yet they keep coming back for more.

I could go on and on, but honestly? I’m not an expert. There are many authors who know a lot more than I do, but I enjoy including canines in my stories. 

 Bubba Smiling

Bubba (half wolf/half Golden retriever) has been protective of Sandi and will always be there for her. He has a very toothy dog smile that can set the bad guy’s teeth on edge, and strangers don’t know what to make of him.

Sherlock and Watson (yellow Labrador retrievers)… Well, Sherlock can be kind of a dufus sometimes. Watson watches him with interest, and if she were a person she’d probably shake her head and tell him what a dufus he is. When the need arises, they’ll be just as protective as Bubba.

In all honestly, they provide more comic relief than drama. We have two rather large dogs. To see them you’d think they’re brave, courageous and a threat to anyone who gets in their way. I have to laugh at that description. They’re so friendly the only injury you might receive would be from being knocked over as they greet you. And, get this, they’re afraid of the dark. A tarantula could crawl through the house and they’d try to play with it, but when the sun goes down? Oh, they have some interesting personality traits, to be sure.

One day my husband was out for a walk with the dogs and a coyote walked across the street from them, pacing them. Interestingly, the dogs wouldn’t look at him, and he responded in turn. He wouldn’t look at them. I don’t know if it was their size or the fact that there were two of them and a human. And they’ve been terrified of little barking ankle biters (small dogs). 

 Murphy & Sugar - Both have grown since this photo, but they still enjoy looking under the garage door

They love lying on the floor of the garage and watching the world go by from under the garage door. I guess they feel like if they can’t get out, nothing can get in. Such bravery should be rewarded. Uh huh.

They’ve learned a few things, like Leave It and Take It. If I put a treat on the floor, they have to leave it there until I tell them they can take it. It’s humorous to watch them because the female won’t look at the treat. She puts her head in the air and looks everywhere else but at the floor. The male? He tips his head down and won’t take his eyes off the floor. An earthquake could hit and his eyes would never waver. Of course, when I say Take It, he tries to grab hers, too.

Anyway, on National Dog Day I think we should take stock of our pets and maybe give them an extra treat for the day. Enjoy them. Give them some extra love and more pats.

Do you have a dog who deserves the best? Or do you have a funny story about your goofy dog? Like I said, I have one about being afraid of the dark, but I’ll probably wait and put it in a book. That comic relief comes in pretty handy sometimes.

Until next week, make the most out of life with a canine (or a cat). I hope one of them makes your day by making you laugh.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Old Cases, Cold Cases

Many people are fascinated by old murders. Think of Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper, The Black Dahlia, and think about the Lindbergh Kidnapping. You can look back on them and wonder if things were really as they seemed. It’s been said there’s new evidence in the Lizzie Borden case that indicates someone else killed her parents. Jack the Ripper? Do we really know, without a doubt, who he was?


What is it about old, cold cases that fascinates people? From a writer’s point of view, I think they’re somewhat easier to write about. I took stock of my own books and realized that five of my books involve murders that took place in the past. It wasn’t something I did intentionally, but after thinking about it I realized, in their own way, cold cases are easier to write about – especially fictional old murders that for some reason must be solved today.

I try to include some humor in my books, too, and it’s more difficult when writing about current crimes. There’s nothing funny about death, but you can find humor in the people solving the case and circumstances surrounding the event, especially if they’re working on something from the past.

Does it seem too coincidental when a protagonist finds old letters or clues that have been hidden away for a century? It’s not, and I’ll tell you why.

My family has always loved taking photographs. My grandmother, thankfully, never threw any photos away. They date back into the 1800s. I have family photos galore.

I have a relative who was in the Navy from 1904-1907. He took pictures of all kinds of things from the officers on his ship to the Great Wall of China.

Something unexpected happened. I was going through the family photos, they fill a large trunk, and something caught my eye. In the midst of the family photos was an unusual and disturbing one my relative took while overseas. It was a picture of a firing squad shooting people – not the kind of thing you expect to find in among family photos. I can’t even imagine how he was able to take it. There was an officer on horseback with troops standing nearby. You could actually see the smoke coming out of the guns, and… Well, I don’t want to get too graphic. My point is, you never know what you might find mixed in with family things. If I’d put that in a book, and the photo had significance in a case, no one would believe it. By the way, I had an expert look at the photo and according to him it was a foreign situation, not Americans doing the deed.

Cold cases are different from current cases because you don’t necessarily think of them in the same way. Old crimes are almost more like a legend, and in some cases, that’s what they are.

When writing about old cases the author has to do research, too. The reader needs to know what things were like in the “old days” to understand what those in the past were dealing with to solve a crime. 

With today’s technology we can do a lot more with clues than they could back in the day. Imagine trying to solve a murder back in 1880, or even 1926. You’d have to rely on circumstances much more than you would today. It could become very sticky. Today you can look at DNA, fingerprints, videos and so much more. The technology is mind-boggling.

So, again, what is the pull to cold cases? They involve looking back in time instead of looking over your shoulder. They involve more imagination. They involve a lot of “what ifs”. Things weren’t laid out in an A-B-C easy-to-read format.

Do you enjoy old cases? Do they stimulate your imagination more than current crimes? What case, solved or unsolved, has kept your interest over the years?

Until next time, look ahead, but look back, too. See if you can figure out some of the answers about Lizzie Borden or Jack the Ripper, or any other cold case. Think about what you based your conclusions on, even if you’re not sure you’re right.

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NEW AND FUN: What Are the Odds? – A Sandi Webster Mystery
OLD AND FUN:  Old Murders Never Die – A Sandi Webster Mystery
TRIED AND TRUE:  Awkward Moments – A Bogey Man Mystery


Monday, August 11, 2014

Laughing at Yourself

The most difficult part of writing, at least for me, isn’t the writing. It’s the promotion. Where do I go? What do I do? I was an extremely shy child who evolved into a fairly outgoing adult. I’ve tried to use the changes in myself and sometimes I probably come across as a bit eccentric. That’s okay, because I like that word.

When we’re out selling our books, we have to sell ourselves, too – not always the easiest thing to do. A reader will be much more likely to buy our books if they like us. That can be a little tricky, but it can be done, especially if we’re just ourselves. No putting on an act.

How do you sell yourself? For one thing, if you’re doing a book signing, don’t sit behind the table and wait for people to come to you. Stand up, smile even if it hurts, and look people right in the eye. Say, “Hi.” Easy to say, but many people will immediately turn away. They don’t always want someone to look them in the eye. If you’re shy, this makes it doubly difficult. It might make you feel like you’ve been rejected, but it’s all part of the process. Grin and bear it, and smile at the next person. Eventually it does become easier. Trust me on this one.

I’ve talked about doing presentations on another blog site. It’s time to talk about them again. If you’re not comfortable with public speaking, pretend you’re talking to your best friend. Public speaking was very difficult for me at first. Then it dawned on me that for the most part the people in the audience were just like me. They’d rather be anywhere except in my shoes. I found they can be very forgiving if you stumble over a word or make a mistake. If you need to, go ahead and correct yourself. Make a joke out of your mistake.

I remember one presentation in particular, at a library. I had a small carryall with wheels that I used to transport my books. I lifted it out of the car and a wheel fell off. The librarian brought me a library cart to use. I walked inside the room for the presentation, and half the audience was already there. I still needed to set things up, which included climbing up a few steps. I tripped and fell on the steps.

Dead silence.

I turned around to the audience and the lens fell out of my sunglasses, which I hadn’t taken off yet. I started to laugh at my own misfortune, and the audience laughed with me, instead of at me.

More people filed in and since we were all laughing, it set them at ease.

We finally got to the presentation. The librarian had set me up with a podium. Unfortunately, there was a trash can sitting next to it. Since the audience couldn’t see behind the podium, I lifted my leg and rested my foot on a lower shelf. I talk louder and more comfortably if I can move around. It was time to talk and walk at the same time. I lowered my foot and stepped into the trash can, dragging it across the stage with me.

A few other things happened, but we’ll let those go for now. It was a memorable presentation and I actually sold several books. To this day I don’t know if it was pity or the fact that I said my books were even funnier than me that caused sales.

Laugh at yourself and others will relax and laugh with you. And it will give them a good story to tell when they’re at home again.

Here’s another tip. If you’re doing a radio or Internet interview via phone, don’t do it in your pajamas or with bed hair. Put on something fresh and comb your hair. Stand up and stand straight while you talk, rather than sitting. It actually comes through in your voice.

Make the most of every situation. Just be you (unless you’re a cranky person who doesn’t want to promote).

Until next time, if you do something goofy this week, laugh at yourself and others will laugh with you. If they don’t, then it’s their problem.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Don’t forget that What Are the Odds? – A Sandi Webster Mystery is available in both ebook and paperback formats, and just waiting for you.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Reality Meeting Fiction

People were having trouble trying to leave comments on this blog. I think I’ve fixed the problem, so give it a try.

 Also, a new Sandi Webster mystery is now available in both ebook and paperback format. “What Are the Odds?” is an entertaining new addition to the series.

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Now, down to business.

Many of us have little habits that can be annoying, and they usually show up when we’re angry, frustrated, disbelieving or at inappropriate moments. Sometimes they may show up when something strikes us funny. A person comes to mind who snorts when she laughs. In this case, it’s not annoying but makes everyone else laugh harder.

In the Sandi Webster series, Sandi has a bad habit of sighing. As a matter of fact, she’s pretty much brought it to an art form. In the Bogey Man series, Pamela rolls her eyes frequently. It’s her way of making a statement without speaking. She remembers her mother telling her not to do it because her eyes might get stuck that way. Anyone remember their mother telling them this scary little story? I do, and I never realized I was rolling my eyes until Mom called it to my attention.

And then it happened; a news report about a woman who both rolls her eyes and sighs, and the possible consequences.

In July of 2010, in Elmhurst, Illinois, a woman was ejected from a public meeting for excessively rolling her eyes and sighing. Local officials were looking at the possibility of creating a “disturbance and disorderly conduct” violation because of this individual’s annoying attitude and performance. The City Attorney was going to look into it, but I never heard the results.

Who says fiction is too unrealistic sometimes? Not me. I know many real life stories would be scoffed at if they were found in a piece of fiction, because (to use a cliché) life really is stranger than fiction.

Of course, there’s more to the story than what I’ve mentioned, but I’m not a reporter and this isn’t a newspaper.

If Sandi and Pamela were real people, they’d probably be outside the meeting place marching and carrying placards – and sighing and rolling their eyes.

In the meantime, their counterparts, Pete and Chris, might be standing on the sidelines  pretending they didn’t know them or saying things like, “I wonder who those screwy women are” or “I’ve never seen that woman before in my life.”

I hate to admit it, but I had to roll my own eyes when I heard this story.

Personally, food is one of my issues. I’m a picky eater, I snack a lot, and I have a chocolate ice cream cone and a spoon of peanut butter every single night. How could I forget, I’m a chocoholic. I’m tenacious, and sometimes that can be a bad habit. Sometimes I speak my mind when I should just sigh or roll my eyes.

Think about it for a moment. Do you have an annoying habit(s)? Do you think you could break yourself of that habit? Most importantly, do you want to stop doing whatever it is that you do? I don’t care what anyone says, I’m not giving up chocolate.

Until next week, enjoy people’s habits instead of letting them annoy you.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website.
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