Monday, July 27, 2015

It's Time to Lighten Things Up and Forget Political Correctness - Me and Porky Pig

Between the economy and the world being in a state of angst, just for this week I’d like to forget about those things. So silly is in.

If you could be any cartoon character you’ve ever seen, which one would it be? I have to admit I’d like to be Porky Pig, even though I’m a girl. After all, I write mysteries that are light reading with a little humor. Can you imagine Porky Pig trying to solve a mystery?

One of my favorite memories is of the aforementioned pig and Daffy Duck visiting a haunted house. As I recall, it was a dark and stormy night, and I have remember them standing on a dock watching a spooky old house. My memory may be faulty, but that’s how I recall the beginning of the story.

Imagine writing a human character with Porky’s characteristics. Not believable, huh? People stutter, and people become frustrated just like Porky. There are plenty of loud mouths like Daffy. If you think about it, maybe cartoon characters aren’t all that outrageous.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello could have been human cartoon characters. Some of the whacky things they did in the movies could rival Porky and Daffy.

Think of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse or Goofy. In all honesty, haven’t you known someone in your lifetime with similar characteristics? I have.

I remember once when I worked in law enforcement, I turned away from the counter to answer the phone, stepped in to a wastebasket and dragged it across the room with me. The people at the counter were feeling a little annoyed because I happened to be the only one in the office during the lunch hour and they wanted to finish their business and leave. After seeing my little incident, everyone calmed down, had a good laugh and waited their turn with good humor. That sounds like a Porky Pig moment to me.

People need to be able to laugh at themselves like I did that day. Characters in books need to laugh at themselves from time to time, too. I’m a big believer in looking for humor whenever and wherever possible.

In the Sandi Webster series there’s a character named Stanley Hawks. Stanley is a klutz. When Sandi and her partner, Pete, first met him they had two different reactions. Pete initially thought he was a loser. Sandi, on the other hand, found him to be endearing as he tripped over nothing when he entered the office. Initial reactions to someone can be so unfair. As Pete came to know Stanley, he found him to be a good and loyal friend, and the two men could laugh together over some of Stanley’s antics. I find it quite interesting to see how fictional characters grow and change, just like real people.

Stanley wasn’t based on a cartoon character, but a cartoon character could have been based on him. (Honestly, this klutzy guy is based a little on myself.)

Elmer Fudd has a speech impediment. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been quite as loveable and funny when he referred to that “wascally wabbit”. Yosemite Sam was in a class by himself. How about Foghorn Leghorn and Henry Hawk?

So back to my original question. What cartoon character would you like to be? Send real life on a well-deserved break and spend a few minutes thinking about my question. You can even choose to be Snow White or one of the dwarves. Prince Charming? How  about Tweety Bird or Sylvester?

Could you write your choice as a fictional character in one of your books? Or do you think you most resemble your choice?

Hopefully, this silly post took you away from your day-to-day cares for at least a few minutes.

Until next week, Th-Th-That’s All Folks!

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw's website
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In Bubba's Ghost - A Sandi Webster Mystery, Bubba the dog thinks the house might be haunted. You might want to check it out.

Monday, July 20, 2015

From One Extreme to the Other

I live in the Arizona desert and I’ve seen the temperatures get as high as 128 degrees. We don’t have much rain, although sometimes during the monsoon season we get more than you can imagine. Friday night there was a huge storm with high winds, thunder and lightning. The cleanup took a couple of days, with a smaller storm hitting in the afternoon and causing more cleanup duties.

My house is for sale and I’ll be moving to Washington state where it rains – a lot. I have no idea what to expect, but I’m looking forward to the move.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Arizona, but a new chapter has started in my life and I need some changes.

You may be wondering why I’m talking about weather and moving, when I write a mystery blog. How often, in mysteries, is there a chase scene? Or a scenario where someone is conducting a surveillance? How about trying to sneak around a location?

In a chase scene, you can’t just say, “He ran after the bad guy.” No, you’ve got to include what your character has to endure and face. Needless to say, this is a foot chase. Think about it. What if the chase needs to take place during an extreme hot spell? When you walk outside and the temperature is 128 degrees, it feels like you just opened an oven door and stood in front of it, hoping it would cool off. The ground is so hot you can feel it, or almost feel it, through your shoes. You might start to sweat profusely, or you don’t sweat at all until you walk back inside, and then you can’t cool off.  The sweat is running into your eyes and down your back and chest.

Now a monsoon storm moves in. You’re not only already worn out from the heat, but high winds and thunder inhibit your efforts to catch the murderer, thief, or what have you.

What about the surveillance scenario? You might sit in a car and watch someone, but chances are if you’re there for any length of time you can’t keep the engine running so you can use the air conditioning. Cars become very hot, very fast. I’ve climbed into a hot car during the summer in the desert and found I couldn’t sit on the hot seat. I couldn’t hold onto the hot steering wheel. (You learn to park facing away from the sun or you put a sun screen in your car window.)

A foot chase in the heat and during a storm? Either the good guy or the bad guy, or both, may drop from heat stroke, if they’re not struck by lightning.

At the other end of the spectrum, imagine trying to sneak around with pouring rain slowing you down. Imagine mud sloshing into your shoes, and imagine your clothing becoming soaking wet. Of course, the heat can cause the same clothing problem. Ahem. Let’s move on. Now our characters are wet and cold. The good guy sees the bad guy exit a building and the chase is on. You can add slipping to the list of problems.

Of course, if the villain slips and falls, you might be able to add a little humor to this scene. Well, even if it’s the protagonist, you can add humor and let the bad guy get away, to be sought on another day.

You climb into your car to chase the suspect. I wonder if your wet or damp hands might slip off the steering wheel. The sole of your shoe might slip off the brake pedal. Hmmm. That could aid the bad guy in getting away once again.

When you’re creating a scene that includes weather issues, you can go in any direction and you can make the effort more interesting with just a bit of description. The elements can add something scary to the scene, or it can add humor. Frustration is always a possibility, too. I’ve only touched on heat and rain. There’s always snow to make things more interesting. High winds can cause all kinds of issues.

When writing a mystery, the author needs to picture himself or herself in just such a circumstance. Imagine every possibility, or remember your own reaction to unmerciful weather. Did your power go out during extreme heat or cold?

Make it real, and the reader will feel like they’re right there with your characters.

How do you think you’d react to the stifling heat I’ve mentioned, or any other major weather?

Until next time, stay cool and stay dry. Enjoy your summer and create some great memories. And wish me luck on selling the house.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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If you like the idea of finding a ghost town before anyone else has seen it, give Old Murders Never Die - A Sandi Webster Mystery a try. You’re sure to find a mystery in an old ghost town.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lorie Ham, Guest Author and Publisher of Kings River Life Magazine

 This week my guest is Lorie Ham, author and publisher. She has an interesting story to tell and an enjoyable ezine to check out. I think you'll be glad you stopped in to learn more about here. Welcome, and thank you for visiting this week, Lorie.

How I Came to Write Mysteries
by Lorie Lewis Ham

I started writing as soon as I could put sentences together. The first things I wrote were stories about my stuffed animals, then I moved on to poetry. My first publication was a poem when I was 13. After that, I wrote poems, articles, and short stories for several years and saw some published. I also have written off and on for the local newspaper. However, in my mid teens I decided I wanted to write a novel and even tried writing a Star Trek one, but it didn't take long before I more specifically wanted to write a mystery novel. Believe it or not, Jessica Fletcher on "Murder She Wrote" was a big inspiration for that, and honestly when I need to feel inspired I still turn on an episode of the show.

Now I didn't grow up reading mysteries like my little brother did. I think he read pretty much every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book. I read books about horses and Star Trek books. But around the same time I started trying to write a book, my brother finally got me to read Sherlock Holmes. From there on I was hooked!

It wasn't until my early twenties when I joined Sisters In Crime that I ended up with an idea that worked. I've been singing gospel music my whole life as well and someone in the group said, "Hey why don't you write a mystery featuring a gospel singer?" So I gave it a try and everything clicked. I wrote and published four mysteries featuring gospel singer Alexandra Walters. They weren't Christian mysteries though, as they showed the bad side of that world as well.

Not long after I started to write my first book in that series, "Murder In Four Part Harmony," I also started attending a creative writing class. For some reason, which I still don't understand, my teacher insisted I write a Christian romance! To please her I did give it a shot--but let's get real, I ended up killing someone off anyway. I don't like romance novels, so how could I possibly write one? I think it is important that you like the type of book you are writing--otherwise how could you possibly put your heart into it? And trust me, readers will know if you don't.

So basically, I write mysteries for the same reason I read them--I love the puzzle, and I love exploring why people do the things they do. You can be certain that I will NEVER write a romance novel. Over the years, I have become a fan of fantasy novels as well, and I did try my hand at writing a vampire one, and who knows maybe that will happen someday. But my heart belongs to mysteries!

I am currently working on the first book in a brand new series featuring an entertainment and pet blogger. You will also find me at the online magazine I publish, Kings River Life Magazine. There we publish all sorts of things, including some wonderful articles about animal rescue. But pretty much half of every issue is mystery related--mystery book reviews, giveaways, short stories, articles and more. Because as I said before--my heart belongs to mysteries! You can check us out at

Lorie Lewis Ham has been publishing her writing since the age of 13 and singing since the age of 5. She worked for her local newspaper off and on for years, and in 2010 became the editor-in-chief and publisher of Kings River Life Magazine She has also published 5 mystery novels--you can learn more about her mystery writing on her blog

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Bad Guys and Bullies

I’m offering you a rerun this week. It’s been busy and I couldn’t pull my thoughts together to come up with a new topic, so I took a look at some old posts. This goes back about five years. I hope you enjoy it and maybe take something away from it.

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Mysteries generally contain at least one bad guy or bully. If there’s been a murder, then chances are there’s a rotten apple hanging around somewhere. Right? 

 Sugar - The Bully Turned Sweetie

I had occasion to give this some thought this week, but not for the reasons you might expect. We have an eighty pound yellow Labrador retriever named Sugar. While she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, she does believe she’s an alpha dog. She’s been this way since the first day we saw her, as a small puppy. She tries to dominate everyone and everything, including bigger dogs, little dogs, and my husband and me.

 Murphy - The Good Ol' Boy

Well, she’s met her match. Yesterday we brought home a ten pound yellow Lab puppy named Murphy. No matter how hard Sugar tries to dominate him, he’s not having it. If dogs could laugh in your face, that’s what he’d be doing. “Alpha dog? hahaha I don’t think so.”

Watching the interaction between them has been a learning experience, as well as amusing. In less than twenty-four hours, Little Miss Alpha has gone from boss to mothering. The most he’ll let her get away with is “herding” him. Ten pounds vs. eighty pounds, and the ten pounder wins?

When you’re writing a bad guy or a bully into a story, chances are he’s pushy, either physically or verbally. Stalking is bullying, and so are anonymous phone calls, emails or letters, along with comments on the Internet. It doesn’t have to be a face-to-face confrontation.

Picture a really big guy standing with his arms folded across his chest, a take-no-prisoners expression on his face, and his feet are spread apart. He’s standing very straight, almost leaning back a little, and he’s looking down his nose at a smaller man or woman. He’s being a bully; trying to intimidate this other person. Now let’s say the other person places their hands firmly on their hips, spreads their own feet apart and looks up at the bully with disgust. One of several things could happen, but the two that come to mind are that the bully will punch the other person in the face, or he’ll lower his arms and go look for someone else that he can intimidate. Of course, he could just go to the closest bar and have a beer while contemplating where he went wrong and wondering if he’s losing his touch.

Years ago a woman started receiving obscene phone calls – another form of bullying. By the third phone call, this woman decided she wasn’t going to be intimidated. When the phone rang again and the caller made his newest lewd comment, she innocently said, “What?” He said it again, louder, and she said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you.” He repeated his comments, almost yelling by this time. She said, “Is there something wrong with you? Speak up!” After a couple of nasty words, the caller hung up, apparently frustrated. He never called again.

Yeah, that was my mother. She used common sense and words to end the harassment.

I guess my point is that there are all kinds of ways to deal with bad guys and bullies. Some of the most unique confrontations take place in fiction. However, some of the really good stories take place in real life. No, we can’t always get rid of a bad guy in the same ways that were mentioned above, but in a book we can do it any way we like. As an author, I can write any result I want to, and I can make it work. Whether or not it’s realistic depends on an author’s writing style.

Do you have a bully or a bad guy in your life? Use your common sense when dealing with that person. Simply walk away if you can, but don’t give them (figuratively speaking) the ammunition to shoot you unless you’ve taken leave of your senses. No, I’m not talking about physical ammunition. I’m talking about playing into their hands. Don’t do it.

Until next time, I hope you have a good week and that no bullies step into your path and block your way.

(By the way, Sugar is now 90 pounds and Murphy is 112 pounds. She still rules the roost, more or less, but he ignores her. They’ve become something akin to best friends. Their pictures are on most of the Bogey Man book covers.)

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