Monday, October 27, 2014

My guest this week is Jean Henry Mead and she's going to tell us about her Logan & Cafferty series, a series I thoroughly enjoy. I think you'll be interested in what she has to say. Jean, welcome to my blog.


My Logan & Cafferty Series

Writing about two 60-year old women amateur sleuths has been fun, and I always attempt to involve them in social issues. Dana Logan, a mystery novel buff, and Sarah Cafferty, a private investigator’s widow,  inhabited my brain for a couple of years before they were given birth on my computer. Living in my home state of California at the time, I placed them in the San Joaquin Valley in the central area of the state, where dense Tule fog, agricultural sprays and bay area pollution have become health hazards. It’s also a place where a serial killer can hide and kill at his leisure.

I lived in the valley for more than a dozen years and envisioned a killer disappearing into the fog after taking someone’s life. In fact, it actually happened half a mile from where I lived in a rural area, when a young woman was strangled in her ranch house. It could have been me.

In A Village Shattered, the first book in the series, I placed my aging sleuths in a retirement village where their Sew and So club members are mysteriously dying alphabetically. When Dana and Sarah realize what’s happening, they suspect that their own names are on the killer’s list. The newly-elected sheriff—whose only previous experience was training police dogs—is bungling the case, so Logan & Cafferty decide to put their crime solving knowledge to work in order to not only save their remaining friends, but their own lives. Meanwhile, Dana’s journalist daughter shows up on her doorstep, complicating matters.

I had moved to the Casper, Wyoming, area and was working as a news reporter when I placed the widows in a motorhome in Diary of Murder, second book in the series, after they sold their homes in the retirement village. I had traveled extensively around the Southwest, driving a motorhome and listening to truckers on my CB radio, so I used my experiences to involve my amateur sleuths in another mystery. While vacationing in Colorado, they encounter a Rocky Mountain blizzard after learning that Dana’s sister, a mystery writer, has died. Her husband claims it was suicide but Dana knows her sister would never take her own life. When they arrive in Wyoming, they go through the sister’s possessions and find her diary, which details her husband’s infidelities as well as her unhappiness at having married him. Dana then learns that her former brother-in-law is involved in a vicious drug ring, and she and Sarah are nearly killed when they investigate.

They also learn that Dana’s murdered sister has willed her mansion to her and the two women take up residence in Wyoming. During a picture-taking trip to Gray Wolf Mountain, their Escalade is shot at, resulting in a rollover. An old man comes to their rescue in his decrepit pickup truck and they learn that he travels the mountain to find wounded wolves in order to nurse them back to health. Someone has been deliberately shooting them and has recently begun shooting people. Logan & Cafferty decide to help the old man, once again placing their own lives in danger.

In Murder on the Interstate, the two women are traveling in northern Arizona, where they discover the body of a young woman in her Mercedes convertible. Her killer shoots their motorhome tires and a trucker who calls herself “Big Ruby” McCurdy comes to their rescue. The three women follow the killer during torrential rain in Ruby’s 18-wheeler, and discover that the killer is involved in a homegrown terrorist group that plans to overthrow the government. While attempting to discover how the murder victim is connected to the group, they fall victim to a flash flood and, managing to escape, are captured by the terrorist group.

In my latest novel, Murder in RV Paradise, Dana and Sarah decide to vacation in an exclusive RV resort in northern Texas, where they find the body of a beautiful woman who, they eventually discover, has entrapped wealthy men in order to blackmail them. There are more than a thousand residents in the resort so anyone could have killed her. Interviewing the right ones seems insurmountable and the amateur sleuths themselves became murder suspects. During their investigation Sarah finds love with a retired rancher and Dana’s quest to maintain her friendship status with long-time pursuer, Sheriff Walter Campbell, is in serious jeopardy. When the sheriff is wounded, Dana rushes to his side and is persuaded to marry him. But will she?

The Logan and Cafferty series contains elements of humor, romance, mystery and suspense, and the protagonists have become old friends that I enjoy tuning into each morning when I sit down at my computer.

Bio: Novelist and award-winning photojournalist Jean Henry Mead has published 20 books, among them the Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series as well as the Hamilton Kids’ mysteries, Wyoming historicals and nonfiction books. She first served as a news reporter in California and Wyoming, and news, magazine and small press editor while contributing to the Denver Post’s Empire Magazine. Her magazine articles have been published domestically as well as abroad and have won state, regional and national awards.


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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Confessions of a Chocoholic

S.L. Smith and Jake are the winners of the audio version of A Well-Kept Family Secret. Carolyn Injoy, please contact me at Thank you all!

~ * ~

I admit it, I’m a chocoholic. Consequently, I turned (fictional) Sandi Webster into a chocoholic, too. It’s comfort food, and both of us use if frequently.

You might wonder what this has to do with setting the tone for a book. Well, frankly, I’m not talking about a tone for a story. I’m referring to how a reader perceives what an author has written in any given scene.

Sandi could say that she’s out of chocolate and misses her comfort food. That wouldn’t be very poignant, would it? In Old Murders Never Die, she was stranded in a ghost town, which meant no stores to run to, and she ran out of chocolate.

Here’s how it began:

“I reached for my chocolate. There was no more chocolate. I searched through my backpack, but it was all gone. My heart thumped a couple of extra beats and I wondered if this was the way a smoker might feel if they ran out of cigarettes and there were no more. Anywhere. Well, I’m a bigger person than that. I could live without chocolate. Piece of cake.”

Sandi can’t get the lack of chocolate off her mind.

“Chocolate is something you take for granted until you don’t have any. I always kept my cookie jar stocked with chocolate chip cookies, and I always kept some lovely light brown candy in a drawer in the kitchen. Chocolate ice cream sat waiting for me in the refrigerator at home. I sighed. That refrigerator was hundreds of miles away.”

Am I setting a tone yet? Keep reading as Sandi’s partner, Pete, realizes there’s a problem.

Looking up, I saw Pete watching me with curiosity. “Did you lose something, Sandi?”
“Chocolate.” Me without chocolate was something like my mother without her hormone pills.
He took a step back. He knew. If he had any chocolate, he’d probably run out the front door and toss it to me as he ran by, and I doubted he’d be back until I eaten every last bite.
I started to laugh. I’d just had a vision of my face with melted chocolate all over my mouth, and it wasn’t a pretty picture.
He followed suit and chuckled, although cautiously.

Is the reader now more involved than he/she would have been had Sandi just said she was out of chocolate? It’s becoming an issue in this context.

Pete finally asks Sandi what it is about chocolate that makes it so important to her. Her answer?

“I can’t explain it,” I replied. “If I’m in a bad mood, chocolate will perk me up. One time when I was frightened, I ate a whole box of Bordeauxs, a specialty candy. They kept me going. There’s a type of chocolate called ganache. It’s chocolate mixed with heavy cream, and it’s… It’s a taste that can’t be described. Chocolate is sweet, but not like other sugary candy. As it melts in your mouth, it leaves its own unique flavor bouncing off the tongue and back again. I’ve read that dark chocolate has some healthy attributes, but unfortunately I prefer the light chocolate. It’s kind of like a nerve tonic for me.” I put my hand to my mouth, checking to be sure there wasn’t a trail of drool on my chin.
Talking about it was stirring up the craving again. I closed my mouth and my eyes and tried to summon up the scent of cocoa, at the very least. I couldn’t do it.

You wouldn’t think chocolate would be so important, would you? Sandi could have been missing anything, but in this case it was the tasty treat. It set a tone for the scene. Even if you don’t enjoy chocolate, this should have made the reader realize how important it was to Sandi, and again, set the tone for those moments.

There’s a purpose to this post, and it’s more than just tone. Check out the picture below.

 If a competition took place between Fictional Sandi Webster
 and Real Life Me, I just won at a Hershey Store

Sandi and I have chocolate in common, but I get to set the tone for her issues. Writers have all the fun.

Have I made you run for a candy bar? If not, I haven’t done my job – that is, unless you don’t like chocolate.

Until next time, think about things before you say them or write them. Are you setting a tone for a conversation or a book?

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

If you enjoy audio books, A Well-Kept Family Secret is now available to listen to.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fact vs. Fiction Raises Its Head Again

Before getting into a story about reality vs. fiction, I have an offer to make. If you leave a comment, I’ll randomly select two to receive “gifted” copies of the audio version of A Well-Kept Family Secret. The blog will be up for a week and the winners will be announced on Monday, October 20th. Take a chance. Leave a comment.

~ * ~

Many times I’ve heard authors say if you find a current event that has something to do with one of your books, make the most of it. Well, the other night my daughter called and read me a headline she’d found on the Internet. 

“Hiker Discovers an Abandoned Town Inside Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” (Huffington Post) (

I immediately thought of Old Murders Never Die where Sandi and Pete discover a fictional ghost town in the mountains of Arizona, and where they become stranded. My next move was to read the article. There were a number of interesting similarities, and some definite differences.

Jordan Liles discovered Elkmont in May of 2013, a town built around 1912, in the Great Smoky Mountains. Wolf Creek, the fictional town in my story, is considerably older, but there were those similarities staring me in the face. By the way, the book was released in July of 2013.

There’s a river by Elkmont. Wolf Creek had a large creek nearby. The real town was located in the woods. The fictional town was located in the woods. The real town had a hotel, and the fictional town had a saloon/hotel. Many of the pictures Mr. Liles shared reminded me of my idea of Wolf Creek, including some houses that were overgrown with foliage.

One of the differences? Although the real town had buildings still standing, they weren’t in safe condition. I can understand that, being located in Tennessee with more moisture and humidity. The fictional town was located in Arizona where the weather is arid and dry. In the book, most of the buildings were relatively safe to explore. 

Another difference is that Elkmont had electricity. Wolf Creek didn’t because it was a much older town, abandoned shortly after 1880.

If this makes you curious about Elkmont, check out the video Mr. Liles made as he walked through the town. (  It’s quite interesting. Be sure to take a look at his website, too, at

Along these lines, I was contacted by a woman who’s been a steward for ghost towns for a long time. She said she was enjoying the story partly because the way I described Wolf Creek would be what you might actually find in a deserted town, with one notable exception. A real town would have been a lot dirtier. Well, I didn’t want Sandi to spend the entire story cleaning, so I downplayed the dirt and limited her to cleaning one house – the place where they would stay while stranded.

The background on the cover of Old Murders Never Die is actually Bodie, California. The house featured on the middle of the cover is an abandoned house found in Nevada. It has no special significance, except that it’s the basis for the Wolf Creek adventure. Hmm. So I guess it really does have significance.

Many people don’t realize how much unexplored land is still left in America. There are, I’m sure, other towns waiting to be discovered.

Take a hike sometime in an area where there’s not generally a lot of foot traffic. You never know what you might find. Another Wolf Creek, only the real deal, or maybe another Elkmont area?

Thank you Jordan Liles for sharing your story.

Until next time, check out some historic homes and sites in your area. You might find some fun exploring ahead of you.

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

Monday, October 6, 2014

S.L. Smith, Guest Author

This week S.L. (Sharon) Smith is my guest author. Sometimes one small detail will grab hold and won't let go until we find the answer to a question. In Sharon's case it was a name. Sometimes the the answer comes to us in the most unexpected way. Read on and find out how she found the answer to a niggling question. Also, Sharon is going to give a Commenter a copy of Murder on a Stick. Welcome, Sharon!

What Kind of Name is That? 

Culnane? What kind of name is that? Where in heaven's name did Pete, the protagonist in my mysteries, get his last name?

That's easy. From his dad, of course. And Pete's dad got it from his dad, and so on, and so forth.

Here's how I fit into the picture. When I was a small child, I'm talking three, four, five, maybe six, I had a babysitter. The only name I knew her by was Mrs. Culnane.

I loved that woman. She was sweet and kind. She was patient and loving. She was like a grandmother to me. By some miracle, Pete has her last name. 

The problem is, Mom couldn't tell me Mrs. Culnane's first name or how she spelled her last name. All of my efforts to determine that failed. 

Not quick to throw in the towel, I settled for the phonetic spelling.

As the number of books grew, and the years passed, my uncertainty over the correctness of the spelling I'd used grew. 

Too late, you say? Never!

I considered what I'd do, should I discover C-u-l-n-a-n-e was incorrect. I decided I'd have someone in Pete's family do genealogical research. Heaven knows, Pete could never find the time. I decided that person could discover that way back the spelling was changed from the spelling used by my babysitter to the spelling I'd erroneously used for Pete's last name.
Well, it turned out all of the worry and imagining how to rectify the error was wasted. This spring, a cousin asked if I'd like to see the guest book from my paternal grandfather's wake, circa 1964. Am I dating myself? Yup.

My cousin sent the book, and Mom read all the names to me. (I'm no longer able to decipher even legible handwriting.) A few pages along, Mom said, "Margaret Culnane. "
(Margaret Culnane wouldn't have known my grandfather, so she must have gone to the wake out of respect for my parents. Yes, that, too, is the kind of person she was.)

"Stop!" I exclaimed, unable to contain my excitement over what I'd just heard. "How did she spell it?"

I guess you have to be as crazy as I am, or have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, to comprehend how thrilled I was to finally have access to the correct spelling and to learn I'd spelled Pete's last name correctly. Heck, I'm still thrilled!

Aside from Pete and his partner, Martin Tierney, all of the character names in Murder on a Stick have something in common. If you've attended one of my book events, you probably know what that is. All of the people who correctly identify that commonality will be placed in a pool for a drawing for a paperback copy of Murder on a Stick.
Thanks, Marja, for providing this opportunity for me to talk about my writing.
Version 1:
A lifelong resident of Minnesota, I was born in Saint Cloud and attended Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul. The tall iron fence surrounding the campus provided a sense of security for this small-town transplant. Over the next four years, I grew to love the Twin Cities, in part because of the Minnesota Twins and my love for baseball. After graduating, I rented an apartment a few miles from Metropolitan stadium and rarely missed a home game.

During my thirty-two years with the state department of public safety, I worked with law enforcement and fire officials at the state, county and municipal levels. Those interactions assisted me with writing mysteries, but were just the starting point. Without the help of a friend who spent thirty-five years as a cop, I would never have ventured into writing police procedurals. He contributed to my understanding of the perspectives of my two protagonists, Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney Thankfully, this friend is still a resource. He proofreads each manuscript and performs a reality check on the law enforcement aspects.

Publishing family memoirs helped fine tune my research skills, and taught me to contact everyone in the book. I used that tactic on the first Pete Culnane mystery, Blinded by the Sight, and included those who assisted in the acknowledgments. That paid rich rewards as I worked on books two, three, and four in the series. An investigator in the medical examiner’s office provided a foot-in-the-door with the head of homicide at the Saint Paul Police Department, and with a retired investigator (detective).


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

A Well-Kept Family Secret - A Sandi Webster Mystery is now available in audio format on, iTunes and Stay tuned because next week I'll be giving away a free copy or two.