Monday, December 29, 2014

Where's That Note?

First and foremost, I wish you a happy and successful New Year!


Have you ever been driving down the street and suddenly thought of a line you want to use in a book? Have you ever been insulted and two hours later realized what you should have replied? Do you ever wish you had a better memory? Yeah, that’s me and a lot of others.

Last year my husband gave me a hand-held recorder. I’m learning to keep it with me, and when I have the chance, I write down the pearls of wisdom I record. I have a small card index file and every once in a while I go through my notes to see what I might have forgotten. Some lines are perfect for specific books. Others actually inspire a story.

Memorable titles are also something I tend to forget, so I write them down. Generally, I try to take the title from a line in the book, but that’s not always the case. I’m working on a book right now that has to do with purple cows and elderly spies. Figure that one out. The working title is, “How Now Purple Cow”. Remember the old line, How Now Brown Cow? Are you too young to remember that one? It was a line used to help with diction, demonstrating rounded vowel sounds. Now it’s a garbled version used as a book title.

One of my favorite titles is, “I Never Met a Chocolate I Didn’t Like.” It’s one of those small books you find in pharmacies or gift shops, and of course it’s about chocolate. I wish I’d thought of it first and I’d have used it as a line in a Sandi Webster story. Oh well, you can’t think of everything. Some of you might have noticed in other posts that I’m an admitted chocoholic.

Research is another area requiring copious notes. The smallest details in a story can make a world of difference, and if you’re including fact in your fictional story, you’d better get it right. If you don’t, someone who knows the facts will pick up on it. I have a friend who writes historical romance and she learned this the hard way. 

I heard someone give a talk at a conference about writing short notes on yellow stickies and attaching them to a board in chronological order.  I’d have so many notes I’d confuse myself. I’m just not that organized, even with written notes. I envy those who are. I do, however, type short reminder notes at the bottom of the manuscript I’m working on, and delete them as I use the ideas. Works for me.

I’ve tried to be organized, but somehow, for me, it takes the fun out of writing. We each have our own system. Mine would drive most people to drink. (I don’t drink, so it’s not an issue for me.)

Lists can be a big help, too. There’s not a whole lot I can add to that comment. When you think of a new book title, add it to a list. If you think of a new blog topic, add it to a list. I have a blog list, but unfortunately I forget to look at it, and when I do I tend to forget to cross out a subject after I’ve written about it. Forgive me if I repeat my blog topic from time to time, or you might think of it as recycling.  Hmm. Yes, recycling makes a good excuse for repeating myself.

I think everything I’m blogging about to day is something you already know, but it never hurts to have a reminder.

Of course, notes and lists apply to everyday life, too, not just books. I have a grocery list, a list of errands to be run, a list of birthdays (which I often forget to check), and notes about things I don’t want to forget. Sometimes we simply have too many things on our minds to remember all that we should.

Anyway, if these comments help even one person to remember something important, then I’ve done my job.

Uh, what was that job again? Only joking.

Until next time, have a great week and figure out what works for you so you remember everything you need to do. I’ve noticed cars that have yellow stickies stuck to the steering wheel or rearview mirror. Now there’s an idea.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw's website (which I hope to update soon)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to 

Don't forget that A Well-Kept Family Secret - A Sandi Webster Mystery, is now available in audio format at

Monday, December 22, 2014

Once Upon a Christmas

 Merry Christmas!

When I was a child we celebrated the birth of Christ at Christmas. We always had a visit from Santa Clause, too. It was a two-sided coin in our house.

My father and grandfather took me for a ride to see the beautiful decorations in Pasadena, California. Interestingly, when we arrived home, Santa had already been there. My mother and grandmother had seen him, but I always just missed him.

One year I heard him on the roof. Bells were tinkling and I just knew the sound came from bells hanging from Donner’s or Blitzen’s neck. My sister and I shared a room and I woke her to tell her about our visitor. She told me to “shut up and go back to sleep” because the bells were from something she’d been wearing that fell off her bed. Hmph!

However, the best story I heard came from my father. At around seven years old, my daughter decided there was no Santa. I mentioned it to my father and he sat her down to tell her why he knew there was a Santa Clause.

When he was a boy in Kansas, every year the family would take the buckboard through the snow to his grandparents’ house. The kids would sleep in the loft and await Santa’s visit. One particular year, while the other children fell asleep, my father was wide awake, tossing and turning.

He finally sat up and peeked out the window. The snow on the ground had a blue cast caused by the moon. It was so bright out for nighttime. The trees waved their branches slowly back and forth, but there was no sound of leaves rustling. The leaves had fallen off the trees earlier in the year, of course. He could see the wagon sitting beside the house, and he thought he heard the horses snort even though they were in the barn.

He watched as a rabbit ran across the snow, hoping there weren’t any critters lying in wait. The rabbit made it safely into the brush and my father let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

That was when he heard a noise. It sounded like horses gently stomping their feet in the snow. He turned and glanced at the barn, but the doors were closed and there wasn’t a horse in sight. Slowly, very slowly, he raised his eyes toward the ceiling. The sound was coming from the rooftop. He knew with all his heart that Santa had arrived. He lowered his head to his pillow, closing his eyes tightly, hoping Santa would think he was asleep – and he waited. He didn’t hear a thing again until there was a whooshing sound from outside.

Jumping up he looked out the window and saw what looked like Santa in his sleigh with reindeer pulling it, just as it passed by the blue moon. He knew no one would believe him, but he also knew he’d been privileged that night to see Santa Clause going about his business.

Well, of course my daughter’s Grandpa wouldn’t make anything up, so she went to bed that night in anticipation of a visit from the Jolly Old Elf.

My dad and I talked later and he said he didn’t know what he actually saw that night, but whatever it was, it really looked like Santa and his reindeer.

I thought about Christmas and what it means to me before I wrote this, and then I remembered my favorite decoration. It’s a figurine of Santa Clause, hat in hand, kneeling and showing his love to the baby Jesus.

 So when you tell your children about St. Nicolas, be sure you tell them about the real meaning of Christmas first. Tell them about the child who came to teach us, to love us, and to care for us.

Talk to them about caring for each other. In these difficult times, it’s warmed my heart to hear about people paying for other people’s layaway items without asking for recognition. They just wanted to help someone who was having a difficult time. I watch when people drop money in the bucket outside of stores, and as others pull names off a Christmas tree in a store to buy a gift for a child they don’t know. Toys for Tots? Awesome! Food delivered for Christmas dinner? Someone – many someones – helped out again.

Until next time, unpolitically correct Me wishes you a Very Merry Christmas, and please, remember the real reason for the season. He loves you, and so do I.

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

On behalf of all authors, remember that books make great Christmas gifts!

Monday, December 15, 2014

I Have No Idea...

…what to write about today. Christmas is right around the corner, and as we all know, that means we’ve all been busy. I suppose I could try to come up with something involving Christmas shopping and writing, but that just doesn’t float my boat, nor does it put a hem in my skirt. Aren’t some of the sayings some of us use kind of silly.

Anyway, we went to a gun show yesterday. That could relate to writing. Between the concept of a gun show and some of the interesting people who attended, it could provide fodder for a scene or a book. But, no, I don’t want to go there either.

In “What Are the Odds?” I included a house with a history that’s located out in the desert. The fictional house in the story was based on a real house and some odd things about the place. Friends own the real house and we drove out to visit them after the gun show yesterday.

They have horses, dogs, and they have/had five pregnant goats. One of the goats had two babies on Friday. Another one had two babies on Saturday morning. I’m including a picture of me holding one of the two-day old kids. They are adorable! And, obviously, there are more to come. Get this. At two days old, the kids were already playing with each other. How cool is that?

Two-day old baby goats

 There’s another small (adult) goat named Moonbeam who follows the owner around like a puppy. I never knew goats have personalities. Each of these goats does. There’s another large brown goat named Jack. He smiles the biggest, toothiest grin you ever saw, especially when you scratch behind his ear. Unfortunately, my camera chose the moment Jack smiled to go on the fritz. Oh well… Another time.


Although not very Christmasy, it was a fun day. One to be remembered, believe it or not.

Of course, the things that happen to us in real life can serve as a scene in a story, or they might inspire a whole book. I guess it’s all in the way we look at life and the things in it.

Shopping at Christmastime can be quite an experience, especially if you’re brave enough to shop on Black Friday. I tried it once. Never again. However, if you watch people and how they act under those circumstances, you can probably come up with some great characters for a mystery. People aren’t always themselves when it comes to shopping during a huge sale. Mrs. Jekyll can definitely turn into Ms. Hyde during a holiday sale. And people can make or break a story, even if they only have cameo roles.

Well, I guess Christmas shopping can put a hem in my skirt after all. Who’da thunk? Come to think of it, I never would have thought I could include a gun show, baby goats and Christmas shopping all in one post.

One of the pitfalls of shopping is that the older I become, the less I like crowds. This does not mean I’m over the hill! Well, not all the way – yet. Crowd watching can be fun if I’m not right in the middle of it. People say and do the darnedest things; things they’d never dream of during the rest of the year.

What all of this tells me is that every part of our lives can become inspiration, given the right circumstances.

When you read a book, do you ever wonder if what you’ve read has really happened in someone’s life?

When you write a book, do you ever include real life experiences? Even though you’re writing a fictional mystery?

Life is good! And it can be so much fun.

Until next time, happy shopping! Buy yourself some little treat while you’re buying things to make others happy. Remember, books make great gifts.

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

Just a reminder (one of many) that A Well-Kept Family Secret is now available in audio format.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Never Judge a Book (Or the Author) By It's Cover

When I meet people and they find out I’m an author, the first question out of their mouths is, “Oh. Do you write children’s stories?” When I reply that I don’t, inevitably they say, “Then you must write romance novels.” Uh, no. These questions send me to the mirror to see what it is about my appearance that doesn’t say Mystery Writer/Writer of Evil Deeds. What is it about me? (Please don’t answer that; it’s a rhetorical question.)

I write mysteries that are lighter with a little humor. Some parts of my stories can be pretty intense, too, but I try not to dwell on those parts. In fact, there’s really nothing funny about murder, but I find humor in the characters who are trying to solve the crime and their situations. (I know. I’ve mentioned this in other posts.)

Now, believe it or not, this blog isn’t about me. It’s about book covers.

I overheard someone in a bookstore comment to a friend, after picking up a book and putting it back, “That’s the dumbest book cover I’ve ever seen. I’m not wasting my money on that book.” Huh? A silly cover might indicate that it’s a funny story, or maybe it’s just light-hearted. Maybe whoever designed the cover didn’t “get” the storyline. They might not even know what the story involves. Who knows why the cover ended up looking odd?

Either way, a title will catch my attention before a book cover will. Title, then cover, and on to the blurb on the back of the book to find out what it’s about. I would have missed some terrific stories if I’d depended solely on the cover and put the book back on the shelf.

I’ve heard a few discussions about book covers and I feel compelled to state an opinion. Check out the synopsis on the back cover before deciding the front cover tells the story. One of my favorite authors (who shall remain nameless) has the most ridiculous covers and I almost put her book back on the shelf the first time I saw one. Something made me take another look, and I’m glad I did. I now have all of her books.

Okay, so don’t judge an author by his or her appearance, and don’t judge a book by its cover.

Now I’m going to go a step farther. Don’t judge an author by the publisher. I’ll bet you weren’t expecting that one. I write two series and I’ve had two publishers. I’ve now moved on and publish my own books, along with several other authors. There really are some excellent self-published books just waiting to be read. No, I’m not talking about my own books. You have to come to your own conclusions about the Sandi Webster series and the Bogey Man series. The fact is, I’ve read some wonderful self-published books over the past few years.

By this time you might be wondering what my point is, although I thought I was rather exacting about that. Judge a book by the quality of the writing, not the cover or the publisher, and certainly not the appearance of the author. I mention this because I once read an article in a newspaper about readers basing their choices on the appearance of the author. Can you believe that? I don’t want to argue the point, but what does appearance have to do with ability?

As a reader I know exactly what I want to read, and the book cover, the author’s appearance, or the publisher who’s releasing the book have nothing to do with my choices. Also, as a reader, if I have the opportunity to meet some of my favorite authors, I’m going to enjoy them, warts and all. Okay, so maybe they don’t have warts, but that’s a figure of speech and I’m sticking to it.

What do you base your choice of books on? The curious among us want to know.

Until next time, pick up a book and read the blurb on the back. Take a chance, no matter what the cover looks like. Keep an open mind. Enjoy a good story.

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

If you enjoy audio books, you might try A Well-Kept Family Secret (A Sandi Webster Mystery).