Monday, September 29, 2014

Yippee! The Well Isn't Dry

I’ve been writing this blog for some time now. Every week I try to think up a new subject, and the well is running dry. At least that’s what I thought when I sat down at the computer. Then I realized that inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere.

My latest release, What Are the Odds?, was inspired by a house with a history. There really is a house with a history and it graces the book cover. However, the story isn’t about the house’s real history. I won’t even go into that. The book is pure fiction. The house, on the other hand, handed me several interesting scenarios.

I don’t want to give the story away, but I will say that the real house, located in the desert, has a hidden staircase, had a tarantula migration, and the rattle snakes seem to think it’s their house. There is a bullet hole in the screen door, but I had to add a fake one to the cover because the branch covered the real deal. The house needed some major work done on it, just like in the book. During the monsoon season, the real place had some flooding issues. Wind whistling through the crevices? Real and a tad spooky. A murder was committed in the real house, although that story and the one in the book are completely different. It was the house, not the history, that was begging to have a story told about it.

I obliged. How could I not?

Now I’m working on a book titled, How Now Purple Cow. What could a mystery possibly have to do with a purple cow? Two purple cows that sit on a bookcase and a dream about a couple who might have been spies during the Cold War wouldn’t let go of me. In about six months or so you might be surprised to learn how spies and purple cows add up to a story. I might be surprised. The characters in the book are certainly in for some surprises.

A Well-Kept Family Secret – A Sandi Webster Mystery has just come out in audio format. Inspiration for that story came from the Red Light District in Old Los Angeles. Who’da thunk? I grew up hearing stories about the area and the people.

I can hear one of my dogs, Sugar, snoring in the other room. It’s not the most feminine sound I’ve ever heard coming from a female yellow Lab, but then what would I expect? A dog snoring can offer material for a humorous scene in a book. The littlest things can make the mind a fertile ground.

Take one bum harassing a young woman, or an unexpected meeting with a woman who was a female P.I. many years ago and a story can be born. How about tales of a ghost town that was simply deserted many years ago? Why would people just leave the town without taking their possessions with them?

Listen to the stories people tell about their past, or the past lives of relatives. A simple one-line story can inspire a book. A dream about spies might give an author some interesting thoughts.

Until next time, look for story ideas everywhere you go. Listen to people talk about what’s going on in their lives. Inspiration is everywhere.

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

Sandi Webster books referenced in the above post:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Evelyn Cullet, Guest Author

NOTE: A Well-Kept Family Secret – A Sandi Webster Mystery is now available in audio format at, iTunes and

~ * ~

My guest this week is Evelyn Cullet who’s writing about choosing a setting, and she does it with humor. I think you’ll enjoy this post, and you just might find yourself chuckling throughout the day, thinking about reading the book.

How Did You Chose that Setting?

Editors and others, who shall remain nameless, often tell authors to write what you know. And that's how I chose my setting for Once Upon a Crime. This story takes place in Raven's Caw, Michigan, a hamlet so small you could probably drive right though town and have to turn back to find it. My protagonist's aunt lives in an old renovated school house near the summer cottages on Swan Lake.

This setting is a combination of two places. The lake setting is from my friend's summer cottage on Swan Lake in Michigan. The lake's name came from the fact that there are swans there in the summer, not from the Tchaikovsky ballet.

The school house and the small town were chosen for this novel because of an event I'd experienced in my early twenties. My niece, (who is two years older than me) was asked to stand up to a friend's wedding in a very small town in a nameless Midwestern state. She didn't want to go alone, so I went with her. We drove there, but went right past the town without finding it. We had to turn around and locate a gas station (there we no cell phones then) to call this girl's house for directions.

When we arrived, we were astounded to find that it was an isolated old school house in the middle of a forest, with nothing but a cemetery next door. Of course, the inside had been renovated…somewhat, and even though her parents had invited us, we didn't feel comfortable staying there so we ended up at a run-down motel along the roadside. We were the only two guests. The proprietor told us to make sure our door was locked and not to bring any food in because of the bears lurking around.

My niece's friend married a farmer, and while the wedding ceremony took place in a non-denominational church in the next town, the wedding breakfast was at his farm, outdoors at a long picnic table in the middle of a cow pasture. (I'm not making this up.) It was July. And yes, it was hot…there were cows... and mud…and flies…and other things. Having been born and raised in the city of Chicago, we both did a lot of eye rolling and facial gesturing.

The evening reception took place in the dance hall part of the local steak house. All the guests, other than myself and the wedding party, were wearing casual clothes. I was, of course, dressed to the hilt and spent most of my evening fending off several old men who were widowers, since all the young ones came with their wives.

Needless to say, my niece and I laughed a lot on the way home, mostly because it was so different from anything we'd ever experienced before. When you read Once Upon a Crime, I'm sure you'll recognize some of the places I've mentioned here.   

Thank you, Evelyn! That story is priceless. Marja

Evelyn Cullet has been an aspiring author since high school when she wrote short stories. She began her first novel while attending college later in life, and while working in the offices of a major soft drink company. After college, she continued taking writing classes. Now, with an early retirement, she finally has the chance to do what she loves best: write full time. As a life-long mystery buff, she was a former member of the Agatha Christie Society, and is a current member of Sisters In Crime. When she's not writing mysteries, reading them or reviewing them, she hosts other authors and their works on her writers blog. She also plays the piano, is an amateur lapidary, and an organic gardener. Evelyn and her husband live in a suburb of Chicago.

Book Blurb:
Love isn’t always a fairy tale…and Charlotte Ross has kissed her share of frogs, but that’s all behind her. Fleeing her life for a short break, Charlotte, along with her best friend Jane Marshall, find themselves at her aunt’s home in the sleepy town of Raven’s Caw, Michigan. Charlotte hopes to recover from another breakup with her fiancĂ©, and her friend Jane, a new mystery writer, is looking forward to somewhere relaxing. But life has different plans for the two friends and they find themselves swept up in a whirlwind of romance, mystery and murder.
Sparks fly between Jane and Charlotte’s attractive, Machiavellian cousin, Kenny. But is the attraction too good to be true or just a diversion from a mystery that has piqued her interest? Charlotte is pulled along on this roller-coaster of emotion when she meets up with her first love, as she and Jane discover links between a murder that happened twelve years earlier and a recent crime. Risking their lives and hearts, the friends race against the past in an effort to solve the crimes before one of them becomes the next victim.
Once Upon a Crime is available at:
Barnes and Noble :

Other links:

Website and blog:

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

If you enjoy audio books, please give A Well-Kept Family Secret a try. Thank you!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Tried, the True -- And the New

I once posted a blog about branching out and trying new authors. Well, they may not be new, except to you. Someone asked how to do this? How do you find new authors whose work you might enjoy?

I can only give you my opinion. In most cases I haven’t grabbed a book off the shelf and tried it. So how do I find new authors?

Word-of-mouth, in my opinion, is the best promotion out there. I’d never heard of Janet Evanovich until several years ago someone told me they thought she was funny, and I’m always looking for humor. She had about half a dozen books out at the time and once I tried the first Stephanie Plumb book I quickly moved on to the second in the series. And the third, and…

Your local bookstore should be able to help you find the type of book you’re looking for if you ask. The people at your local library will do the same. Join a group like Goodreads. There are “clubs” of people who enjoy the type of story you do, and reading their comments will give you some ideas. I understand that ebooks are all the rage now. (That sounded old-fashioned.)  Even so, I still love paper books, although I have a huge To Be Read list on my KIndle.

Anyway, I still enjoy browsing through the bookstore and library. I’m more inclined to read titles than look at book covers. Too many times the cover has absolutely nothing to do with the story. If the title intrigues me, I’ll pick up the book and read the back cover.

Honestly? Titles and blogs have led me to read new (to me) authors. I’m prone to jump to conclusions, but I’ve always felt a person’s blog is a showcase for their writing style. If I like their post, chances are I may try one of their books.

Don’t forget book reviews. I’ve heard several people say they never read a book review because they figure it was written by a friend or relative. That’s not always the case. You can tell a lot by a review.

Example: Marley & Me by John Grogan is one of my favorite books. I found it by reading a review before it became a bestseller. The book made me laugh, and it made me cry. Grogan had no idea what he was about to face when he brought Marley home, a Labrador retriever. And it means even more to me now that we have two Yellow Labs, Sugar and Murphy. They’re an interesting breed, and our dogs have some traits reminiscent of Marley.

So if you’ve read a good book, don’t be afraid to recommend it to someone either through word-of-mouth or a review. After reading the book they’re either going to say, “What were you thinking?” or ”Hey, thanks for the suggestion. Good book.” Either way, they’ve tried something new and so have you.

I just finished Murder on a Stick (police procedural) by S.L. Smith and No Substitute for Maturity (humorous mystery) by Carolyn J. Rose. My reading time has been very limited lately or I’d mention a few other books. Guess I’d better get busy and write a couple of reviews, and hope someone reads them.

And I’d better start reading another book. I love being entertained.

Do you ever recommend books to your friends? I hope so.

Until next time, enjoy a good recommended book. So many books, so little time. Sigh

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

COMING SOON (like in the next couple of days): A Well-Kept Family Secret – A Sandi Webster Mystery will be available in AUDIO format. It’s currently available on and will soon be available on and iTunes.