Monday, January 26, 2015

I grew up hearing a legend about my great-great-grandfather burying treasure so his brother wouldn’t find it. Long story, but that’s what we heard. He was one of two men who ran the Old Red Light District in Los Angeles, California. 

Several years later, when I was working on family history, I found out that it wasn’t just a family legend, but it was a story that had made the rounds in Old Los Angeles. After his death, the family tried to find it in the early 1900s. Nothing.

He and his legend inspired A Well-Kept Family Secret - A Sandi Webster Mystery. Although this story took place today, it involved the 1800s. There was a lot of research to be done. I discovered an old newspaper article about the treasure while researching. As late as the 1940s, people were still searching for it. Interesting?

I read an article in the newspaper back in the 1990s about an archaeological project in Los Angeles, and it involved the area where my great-great-grandfather did business. Fascinated, I contacted the archaeologist in charge. He sent me a great amount of information which included so much more than I’d expected. He has no idea how thankful I am.

I included a buried treasure in Awkward Moments - A Bogey Man Mystery, too. Interestingly, not long after this book was released, there was an article in the newspaper about a couple taking a stroll around their property, and lo and behold, they found a buried treasure. I think I mentioned this in an earlier post.

Wow! Reality mimicking fiction? It happens.

Recently I found another interesting article in the newspaper. In the remote mountains of eastern Nevada, someone discovered an old Winchester rifle resting against a juniper tree during an archaeological survey. The serial number was still visible on the gun and it was determined it was manufactured in 1882. It’s possible the rifle has rested against that tree since the late 1800s.

Herbert Houze is the former curator of what became known as the Cody Firearms Museum in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which is located in Cody, Wyoming. After looking at photos of the gun he said it blended in so well with its surroundings that it wasn’t surprising no one had found it until now. Someone on the project apparently just happened to look at the tree in just the right light, at just the right moment.

The wooden stock on the rifle is cracked but still intact. The barrel is rusted. I can’t help but wish I’d been the one to find it.

One would have to wonder who left the gun leaning against the tree, and why they never went back for it. Did he get lost? Was there a bear attack? Was he injured in an accident? This is a mystery that may never be solved, but please, someone take the idea and run with it. Write a mystery revolving around the rifle. It would be a book I’d like to read.

I went on a trek with a few other people a few years ago. We were accompanying a gentleman creating an archaeological map for a new area about to be studied. We found all kinds of Indian artifacts (which we left onsite), and it amazed me when I realized we were seeing things no one had laid eyes on in hundreds, or quite possibly, a thousand years. Exciting stuff!

When you least expect it, you might find an article in the newspaper that grabs hold of you and won’t let go. Legends can grab you, too. So can a simple walk down a trail.

I know some people don’t care much about history, but I do and these articles put a hem in my skirt. Well, I generally wear jeans, but you get the idea.

Until next time, if you’ve ever made a discovery, please share it with us. You could stir up someone’s imagination and a good book might be born.

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

COMING SOON: How Now Purple Cow – A Bogey Man Mystery. What could purple cows and elderly spies possibly have to do with each other? Ask the Bogey Man.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Choosing Your Battles

Every once in a while, in real life, we find ourselves jumping into the middle of a situation with both feet, and then wondering why we did that. Some people think everything through, but others instantly react instead.

Circumstances certainly make a difference. If it’s a matter of safety, by all means, react. If someone makes a snarky remark, do you really need to jump up and down and pitch a fit? Can you shrug and let it go? Would it further your situation to react? Not always.

I have a friend who got up one morning and dropped bread in the toaster. The toaster chose that moment to go berserk, and the toast was burned to a crisp. She spilled coffee on her white pants and quickly changed. She figured she could stop on the way to work and grab some fast food, but when she tried to start her car, it was broken, too. What a morning. And she had to be at work by five o’clock.

She took her purse back inside her house when the strap broke. Since she’d have to walk to work, she decided she didn’t need the purse. She shoved a couple of bucks in her pocket and picked up a book bag, stowing some paperwork and books inside, along with a sack lunch.

It would be a long trek to work, but she wasn’t about to call in and say she wouldn’t be there. She had responsibilities. However, she knew a shortcut she could take through an alley. By this time she was angry and frustrated enough to spit, but she’s too much of a lady.

So there she is, walking down the alley in the early morning hours, and suddenly two figures step out of the shadows. Two young men start circling her and making snarky remarks. “We want your bag. Give it up or we’ll hurt you, ol’ lady.”

They continued to circle her.

What would you do? What would you have a character in a book do? Her response might surprise you.

She slammed the book bag on the ground and stood with her hands on her hips. “You want my books? Take them! You want my lunch? Take it! You want to do my paperwork? Be my guest! You want to hurt me? Give it your best shot!” She actually started bouncing from foot to foot.

The two young men were so surprised that they walked away, laughing.

And there was no money in the bag,” she yelled after them.

Yes, I realize things could have ended quite differently. In a book, they might have.

As writers, we have an advantage when we’re setting up a scene. We have a choice about whether our character reacts or thinks things through. We can take our time about picking a battle. My friend simply reacted. I happened to see her later that same morning and she was still frustrated and furious; so much so that I took a step back. The look on her face made me feel that she wanted to smack someone, and I decided it wouldn’t be me.

The look on my face made her laugh, and she calmed down.

Sometimes the best reaction is not to react at all. Sometimes we have no control over what we do. Keep these things in mind when you’re creating a scene for your character, because sometimes a surprising reaction works the best.

By the way, this was a true story. I didn’t make it up. Life hands us some unexpected trials sometimes, and we do the best we can, while hoping for the best. I take that back. There are times we simply don’t have time to hope for a good turnout so we simply react.

Oh well…

Until next time, I hope you don’t have to pick a battle this week. If you do, I hope it will be a small one.

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

Gentle reminder: A Well-Kept Family Secret – A Sandi Webster Mystery is now available in audio format.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Abandoned but Not Forgotten

I read two blogs today that made me think about history and abandoned buildings. You might want to check out Marilyn Meredith’s post at about an abandoned house and M.M. Gornell’s blog at about the Barstow-Daggett Airport.

A couple of years ago I visited my daughter in Washington state. We went for a drive in the mountains because she wanted to show me an abandoned grist mill. On our way back to town I saw a path leading into the woods, and I wanted a picture of it. Washington is a beautiful state and this was a picturesque trail. I talked her into stopping so I could take my picture. I walked a little way and took a few pictures. As I turned to the right, to head back to the car, I saw an abandoned house. You couldn’t see if from the road and if I hadn’t wanted a picture of the path, we would have missed it.

I seriously thought about climbing through the overgrowth to explore it, but something moved. Well, I have no idea if Washington has snakes in the mountains so I decided against it. I suppose it could have been a mountain lion or something, but whatever it was, this Chicken Little wasn’t taking a chance. One day the house may go in a book. You never know.

The Path

The Abandoned House
The cover of Old Murders Never Die is interesting, too. The background is buildings from Bodie, California, a ghost town. However, the picture of an abandoned house in a frame is actually from Nevada, and the house, along with some old stories I’d heard about an abandoned town inspired a whole book.

Not all abandoned buildings are part of a ghost town. You find them when you least expect it. Nevada has buildings in the Middle of Nowhere, so to speak. So does Arizona. I’ve never understood why people would build a house in the wilds of the desert, and I do mean in the desert – not in a town.

Of course, both states have mining as part of their history. Who knows? Maybe the houses were built to be lived in while someone searched for gold, silver or copper. That’s a more romantic theory than assuming they were loners and didn’t want to be bothered by other people. I guess there could be a story in that, too, though.

I can’t help but wonder who might have lived in these houses. I wish I knew the history and I wish there were people to talk to about the buildings. Unfortunately, not only are the people long gone, but so are any clues to who they were and what they were doing so far away and alone.

In Old Murders Never Die I added a history where there was none. Many years ago I worked in law enforcement and I recalled a story my Sergeant told about his cousin. He went on a hunting trip in the mountains. All of a sudden, in the Middle of Nowhere, he found an abandoned town. People had left in a hurry. Everything was still in place, with dishes on the tables, pots and pans on the stoves, and clothes in the bedrooms. Furniture, although falling apart, still sat in the rooms.

This cousin was astonished. He made his way back down the mountain and made the mistake of going to a local bar where he imbibed a bit too much and bragged about what he’d found. Uh oh. A few days later he returned to the abandoned town, thinking there must be some valuables there, only to find someone had beat him to it. Someone, apparently from the bar, had cleaned the place out.

My husband and I once took the truck and camper and traveled through the deserts of Nevada with friends. We found a one-room house built out of rocks, and surprisingly, the ceiling consisted of roots. I don’t know what kind of roots they were, but still… Roots?

So when you travel, be sure to have your camera handy. Any of these things can inspire a story. Add a little history to your mystery and season it with supposition. You never know where your imagination might take you.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve run across quite by accident?

Until next time, if you can’t travel, then read. You’ll visit all types of interesting places through the eyes of the author.

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

Whatever Happened to the Forties?

Here we are in 2015, and I hope the year is starting out well for all of us! The holidays are over and things have calmed down. Right? Nope. Still busy, busy, busy. So, with your indulgence, I’m reposting an older blog that I think/hope you’ll enjoy.

What’s one of the best things that can happen to a mystery writer? Well, to come up with your own personal mystery, of course.

Thanks to some book trailers I made some time ago, I needed to find photos from the 1940s. Not an issue because I have a huge old trunk my grandmother gave me, and it’s chock full of old photos ranging from the 1800s through the 1970s. This trunk has three layers and enough photos to last a lifetime. You can find a photograph to suit just about any occasion.  The trunk also includes vintage greeting cards dating back to the early 1900s and plenty of vintage postcards.

In addition to family photos I’ve found pictures of a train wreck, vacation photos, and to my horror, a photo of a firing squad shooting people. (How would you like to find that stuck in the middle of your family photos?) Since the officers are on horseback, it’s a pretty old photo. There are even “posed” photos of a fight and a marriage proposal. Anyway, I even have an entire album of pictures from my grandfather’s service in the Navy from 1904-1907. Fascinating photos from around the world. He served on the Elcano and he was part of the Yangtze River Patrol.  By the way, Grandpa was quite a bit older than Grandma, so draw your own conclusions as to my age. (Good luck with that.)

This trunk is so full that every time I go through it I find things I’ve missed before. I found a small diary, and a pad of paper on which my grandmother tried her hand at writing poetry. I’m very family-oriented so these things are important to me.

By this time you’re probably wondering what the big mystery is, right? I was looking for candid photos from the 1940s to use in book trailers, remember? I found some group family photos, but that’s not what I was looking for. Eventually l found an old family album resting in the bottom of the trunk. It was full of old greeting cards from the forties and I knew I’d found what I was looking for. Eureka! Oh, really? The cards were followed by page after page of those little black tabs people used to use to hold down the corners of photos – and that was it. There were lots of tabs, but no photos. They’d all been removed.

Picture me looking perplexed.

Now, I come from a family of photographing fools. They took pictures of everything they could aim a camera at, including a buggy being pulled by an ostrich and my great-aunt trying to look sexy in a woolen bathing suit (1915 or so). This is an aunt I mentioned in an earlier post whom I saw drinking out of a perfume bottle on Thanksgiving one year. Yes, she had a bit of a drinking problem and hid her, um, liquor in the bottle.

Okay, I had group shots from the forties and pictures of my siblings and me, but that wasn’t what I needed. So what happened to the 1940s? Why are all the other photos gone? Most of the people who could answer that question are gone. Those who are left don’t have an answer. A whole era is missing. How can you lose ten years of photos?

Maybe I’ll never know the answer to this little mystery. Or maybe I’ll find something informative in the trunk the next time I go through it, although I have overwhelming doubts. Or maybe I’ve just stumbled on an idea for a new mystery. Ideas come from the darnedest places.

You’d think a mystery writer could figure this one out, wouldn’t you? Not necessarily.

Until next time, I wish you a New Year of good health, prosperity, and… Well, maybe a little mystery of your own to solve. They can be so much fun.

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

CLICK HERE to see some of the book trailers on my website. Scroll down The Books page.