Monday, November 24, 2014

Humor? What's That?

Let me begin by saying I hope you all have extraordinary Thanksgiving celebrations and that you come away with some funny stories. Sometimes holidays are the funniest times of the year.

 A few years ago I did a presentation at a library in California and when it was over a young college student approached me. He was a foreign student and I’m sure the idea of humor changes from country to country, and he had a question – a tough question. “What is humor? You say your stories are humorous, but what does that mean? What is humor?” What surprised me was that he was serious. Hadn’t anything ever made this young man laugh?

However, it was an excellent question, and I’m sure there are multiple answers, depending on who you ask. We sat down and had a chat. I’ve thought about his interest in humor for a long time.

To me humor means something that makes you laugh, or smile, or simply feel better than you did thirty seconds ago. It lifts you up and makes you feel good.

What may be humorous to one person might seem silly or corny to someone else. Actually, sometimes there’s no humor in what can make an individual laugh. I have a friend who laughs hysterically in an emergency, even knowing that what’s happening isn’t funny. She’ll react to the problem, but laugh until she cries while doing it. It’s nervous laughter and a release for her.

 I once saw my ex-husband walk into an orange tree and almost knock himself out because he wasn’t looking in the direction he was walking. He was too busy saying something sarcastic to me. Now that made me laugh until I cried. While is wasn’t really funny… Well, I guess you had to be there.

Some people find physical humor uproarious. Watch someone stumble down a step in a crowd and see how many people laugh. Have you seen a sitcom where someone walked into a door or a wall? Humor. Personally, I love a dry wit – the understated humor – and yet I thoroughly enjoy Abbott and Costello. Go figure.

Marley, of Marley and Me fame (John Grogan), had me falling off my seat while I read the book about his life. (For those who haven’t read the book, Marley was a dog; a Yellow Lab.) I have to admit I shed a tear a few times while reading the book. Even after reading about this incorrigible dog, what did my husband and I do? We brought two Yellow Labrador Retrievers into our home and family. They’ve created havoc from time to time, but in the end it’s easy to laugh about.

The one thing I can say for sure is that humor keeps me going. If at all possible, when something goes wrong I try to find a funny side to it. Sometimes it may be six months or more before I can see the humor in a bad situation, but it’s usually there if you look for it. And it’s in the telling. Some people are natural born comedians when telling a story.

In the telling? My books tell stories and they have some humor in them. Hopefully you’ll read one, and even more hopefully, it will brighten your day.

I’ve mentioned this before and I think it’s time to mention it again. There’s truly nothing funny about murder and I won’t write humor into the crime. However, the people solving the crime, and circumstances, can often lead to humor. A victim will just lie there, but the living character can create outrageous scenarios.

What makes you laugh? Anything in particular? The Labs make me laugh almost on a daily basis. My husband has his moments, too.

Until next time, I hope your week is silly and corny and full of laughter. You deserve to feel good about life from time to time and humor will send you in the right direction.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

A Well-Kept Family Secret (Sandi Webster Mystery) is now available in audio book format.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Marilyn Meredith, Guest Author

Today Marilyn Meredith is my guest author. This is a woman I consider a friend and whose books I thoroughly enjoy. What’s an author’s life like? Marilyn is about to tell you. Welcome, Marilyn!

The Author’s Life—Mine

If you are an aspiring author, don’t expect to hear what an exciting life I have, because for the most part it’s pretty normal.

In the beginning, the biggest milestone was getting published the first time. 

Long ago, when I knew mystery writing was the way I wanted to go, I went to a small mystery writing conference in northern California with many well-known mystery writers as instructors and attendees including Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton. Both were a big inspiration. 

For many years, hubby and I attended many big and small mystery conventions. We visited many parts of the country we’d never been to before, cities in Texas, Oklahoma, Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, Texas, Virginia, and one of our favorites, Omaha, Nebraska. We also met many famous authors, made friends with some—and made friends with many not so famous authors.

Because I’m getting older, I’m not traveling quite as far as I used to, flying isn’t that much fun anymore.

I’ve had the privilege of being a presenter at other writing conferences and libraries, something I love doing. I’ve also been on many panels with other mystery writers at libraries.

I belong to the Public Safety Writers Association and served as the program chair for many years and now I’m the newsletter editor. Through this group I’ve met and become friends with many law enforcement professionals who’ve been great about answering questions and giving me ideas for plots.

I also belong to three chapters of Sisters in Crime. I’m most active with the nearest one, the San Joaquin chapter, though I do a lot of events with the Central Coast group. I’ve participated in the Los Angeles Times Book Festival with the L.A. chapter, and been on a couple of panels with members.

One thing I’ve learned is that as much of the author’s life is spent on promotion as on writing.

Hearing someone say, “I loved your book, when will the next one be out?” is one of the rewards of being a writer. 

Most of my relatives have never read any of my books. 

Though I sit in front of my computer for a large chunk of most days, I still have to do the laundry and cook most of our dinners. We have a big family and I love spending time with them. I have other jobs outside of the writing life. 

Being an author, is just one part of my life.

Blurb for River Spirits:
While filming a movie on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, the film crew trespasses on sacred ground, threats are made against the female stars, a missing woman is found by the Hairy Man, an actor is murdered and Deputy Tempe Crabtree has no idea who is guilty. Once again, the elusive and legendary Hairy Man plays an important role in this newest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and 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

Buy link:  CLICK HERE

Contest: The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during the tour.

He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.

Tomorrow you can find me hanging out with Lesley Diehl at
She wants to know how real Tempe and Hutch are.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website

CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

Monday, November 17, 2014

Look Up, Look Down

Amy Reade won a copy of Susan Holmes audio book, and Jake won a copy of my audio book. Congratulations!

Recently I lost my glasses. I looked everywhere I’d been in the house. Nothing. I was frustrated and needed them, and I suddenly remembered some advice Pete gave Sandi Webster in Old Murders Never Die (The Sandi Webster Mysteries). “Look up, look down, look all around.” Actually, that was advice my husband gave me that he remembered from the Police Academy. I use a rather tall roll top desk. I stood up and there were my glasses, on top of the desk. Duh.

Actually, the advice we hear in real life often comes in handy in a mystery, or any other genre. The more realistic we can make our stories, the better they are. Even if someone offers bad advice, it can work in a book.

I said realistic stories, but that’s only partially correct. Fiction wouldn’t be fiction if it didn’t have the characters make some unrealistic mistakes. These errors often move a story along. So we have to find a good combination of reality and Uh Oh Moments.

Maybe Jane Doe hurries into the house, sets a bag of groceries on the kitchen table, drops her purse with everything spilling out, and the dog or cat immediately begins begging for food. (Let’s make that both a dog and a cat, and the dog is a Miniature Toy Poodle.) The phone starts ringing, and someone knocks on the front door. Jane grabs a cookie to tide her over until she can fix dinner, and as she races for the phone, the heel brakes off her shoe. In the process of trying to take care of everything, she forgets to lock the back door. Uh Oh Moment. The knocking on the front door stops and she remembers the unlocked back door just as she answers the phone and drops it in a sink full of cold dish water left from the morning.

She hears a noise at the back door and remembers it isn’t locked. She looks up, looks down and all around, trying to find something to defend herself with but when she races to the drawer with kitchen tools in it, the lights go out.

A dark figure quietly enters through the back door before she can lock it. Will the dog or cat save her?

In my other series, The Bogey Man Mysteries, Chris Cross had several Uh Oh Moments. He enjoys using 1940s slang, which can be fun, but he used slang words and phrases too often. Writers learn through their characters mistakes. The character has settled down and uses words like “bullet bait” (target) and “cheese it” (run away) less all the time.

By the way, Jane knows she may now be bullet bait and she’d better cheese it to the front door before the dark stranger can overtake her, but she trips over the dog and falls to the floor.

I’m sure glad my name isn’t Jane.

Listen to advice when people offer it. You can take it or not, your choice, but either way you might be able to use it in a fictional story. Sometimes being a good writer means practicing good listening skills.

We’ll talk about the skill of observation in another post. We need to listen to advice, opinions, and general conversation in order to hone our own writing skills. Needless to say, our characters should do the same thing, unless it will further the story to have them miss something.

By the way, Jane’s boyfriend will never let her forget this little adventure. He adds it to his list of Priceless Jane Stories.

Until next time, if you lose your glasses or your keys, now you know the best way to look for them.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

Monday, November 10, 2014

Susan Holmes, Guest Blogger

My guest this week is Susan Holmes whose first audio book was recently released. Loved the book and can’t wait to listen to the audio version. Susan is here to give us her take on audio books. Please welcome Susan, and if you leave a comment you’ll have a chance to win the audio version of DeadlyTies.

 Heard Any Good Books Lately?

I love books. I love the look of them, the feel of them, and the world they open. They’ve nourished my soul and fueled my imagination since I was given my first library card. Whenever I moved—be it to different states or different countries—the packing crates were always full of books.

Then came digital. It took me quite a while to consider a Kindle or a Nook a real book. If Santa hadn’t given me a Kindle, it might have taken me even longer to catch on to the practical advantages of reading ebooks. But now I’m hooked and love the convenience of having dozens of books at my fingertips.

When my third book—and first novel—Deadly Ties (A Waterside Kennels mystery) was published last year, fans clamored for an audio edition. I’ll confess: I was skeptical at first. How could a stranger possibly match all the voices I heard in my head? And what reader would trade the joy of lingering over the page (printed or digital) to listen to a narrator with no emotional connection to the words? 

Fans and voiceover artists soon set me straight. Here’s what I learned from them that changed my attitude about audiobooks and have me shopping at Audible and Amazon as often as I go to my local bookstore.

Audiobooks add a new dimension to the novel. When I opened auditions for Deadly Ties I was amazed at the response. Some of the top producers at Audible auditioned for the chance to narrate my novel. (What a thrill!) And although everyone was offered the same script and basic character notes, no two auditions were alike. Perhaps most fascinating part was the way each narrator interpreted the characters, and the marvelous variety of voices they brought to the story. The oh-so-talented Robin Rowan captured the voices in my head and transformed a manuscript into performance art. 

Audiobooks can go where other versions can’t. Fans tell me they prefer to listen to audiobooks instead of music when they’re working. One mystery lover said she listens to a half-dozen books every week while working on the assembly line. (Who knew?) And yesterday, a friend told me she typically listens to three audiobooks at any time. One goes with her for her hour-long daily commute, another is reserved for her time on the treadmill, and she keeps one in her office desk to enjoy at lunch. 

Audiobooks are the “value-added” answer to chores. Laundry, dishes, and dog-walking can take up hours of our time. Multitaskers tell me those pesky daily chores go a lot faster when their minds are engaged. And since you can load audiobooks on all sorts of gadgets and adjust the narration speed to boot, you can enjoy a great book just about anywhere.
So it’s official: you can add me to the group of diehard audiobook fans. Professional narrators bring a new dimension to the printed word and offer book lovers another way to enjoy books. And let’s add authors to that list, as well, because I found myself enthralled as I listened to Robin narrate Deadly Ties. Unlike some narrators who prefer to read the entire book before they begin, Robin wants to experience the story just as the reader does. Remember what I said about emotional connections? Imagine my delight when she sent me this note:

My heart was pounding—POUNDING—at the end of Chapter 41! Wow! I’m riveted!!!

Now here’s your chance to get your own heart racing! Listen to a sample at  and leave a comment for a chance to win your own copy of Deadly Ties.

Dogs. Family. Friends. Treasure. Stories and rumors from the past. Secrets and lies. They’re all at the heart of this story. When trouble begins at the kennel, Maggie will have to dig into the past for answers if she wants to have a future. Because her search just might lead to murder. 

Visit Susan’s website:
Listen to a sample & get the Audible edition:
Buy the Kindle edition: & add narration for just $1.99
Find trade paperback at Indiebound:
Follow on Facebook:

CLICK HERE for a visit to Marja McGraw’s website
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

My book, A Well-Kept Family Secret – A Sandi Webster Mystery, is also out in audio book format. In the spirit of today’s blog, if you’ve read this far I’m offering one free copy of my book, too.  Add the word “Secret” to your comment and you’ll be in the running.