Monday, September 28, 2015

The Hot Ol' Computer

There’s a saying about women “slaving over a hot stove”. They’ve worked hard to provide meals for a hungry family. It was also said because they’d worked hard all day to keep things going. 


Well, I’m talking about slaving away over a hot computer. I’ve always said that I’ve never had as much fun as when I’m writing, but I tend to leave out the part about it being hard work.

Some writers are prolific and crank out books frequently. That doesn’t mean each book wasn’t a lot of work. It means they’ve got it together and they’re probably pretty organized, and maybe they’re a lot smarter than someone like me. (I’m smiling when I say that.)

A few writers have commented on life getting in the way of writing time. It happens. In the meantime, that Work in Progress (WIP) sits and waits for the story creator to get back to it. In my case, my house is for sale and I’m spending a lot of time packing, cleaning, and working on my yard. Oh, and I can’t forget about the garage. It’s a three-car, boat deep garage and it’s jam packed with stuff. Gotta love “stuff”. Of course, the dogs want a lot of attention, too.

Frankly, I can’t wait to get back to my current WIP. And reading. Oh, how I miss reading. I have very little time for that lately, too. Maybe when I move things will get back to normal – whatever normal is.

I know that some people write as a hobby, or they have only one book they want to get out of their system. That’s good and their book is a worthy project, but there are others who are writing as a career. As a career, the author has to not only create a good story, but they have to market, promote, try to come up with some unique ideas to get their names out there, and hope people enjoy what they’re offering. While they’re doing all of these things, that hot ol’ computer is sitting patiently, waiting for them to return and put in some long hours.

I have a wonderful friend (and you know who you are) who does everything she can to promote my books. Everything she does makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. She wouldn’t go to great lengths if she didn’t like my writing. We all need a friend like this who cares so much.

Shout it from the rooftops

Word-of-mouth is the best advertising. When you read a book that you enjoy, stop and remember that the author has put a lot of hard work into her/his story or you wouldn’t be thinking what a great book it is. Tell a friend. Tell two friends. Three is even better, and hopefully they’ll read the book you recommend and tell their other friends.

Okay, let me tell a friend. Right now I’m reading “The Silver Sleigh” by Dorothy Bodoin. I’m also reading “Murder Run” by Shelly Frome. It’s slow going because of my current busy life, but I’m enjoying both of them. I hope I reach a point where I can simply sit down and read to my heart’s content.

Hmm. That’s it for this week. I simply wanted to remind readers that a book doesn’t just happen. It requires hard work.

Have you read a good book lately? Did you happen to think of what it took for the author to produce this piece of entertainment? Have you ever wondered about the process? Think about it – and then tell a friend about the great book you just finished.

Until next week, I hope you have the reading time you desire and that you make the best of it.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Remember, you can ask for specific books at your favorite bookstore if they don’t carry what you want. Just an afterthought.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Promo Planning, A Necessary Evil, or is it?

Today I’m pleased to welcome my friend and a terrific author, Marilyn Meredith. You’d do well to listen to her advice about promotions. She has a knack for finding what works. It’s good to hear from you again, Marilyn, and congratulations on the new book. Be sure to read about the "character naming contest" at the end of this post, too.

 Once in a while, I’ll see a post or comment where an author says all I need to do is write a good book, I don’t have to do all this promo stuff.

My answer to that is, really? How on earth is anyone going to find out about your “good book” if you don’t tell anyone about it? Even the big names still do promo—William Kent Krueger who won many mystery awards for his amazing Ordinary Grace still does promo including book tours. 

When you are an unknown or little-know author, you sure better let people know about your book. And you better get your name out there so people have a clue who you are.
Not all manner of promotion works for everyone, and my best advice is to do that which appeals to you and you enjoy doing.

When should you start? Before the book comes out. Yes, that’s what I said. Start posting to Facebook what you’re working on. You don’t need to write much, just enough to make readers curious. You might do the same on Twitter. 

Speaking of Twitter, I know I don’t use it to the best advantage, but for some authors, that’s their main promotion. 

If you want to do a blog tour—obviously one of my favorite marketing tools—you need to begin before the book comes out because it takes time to secure the bloggers willing to host you, arrange the calendar, and then write all the posts. Be sure that each post is unique and has all the necessary information included. Yes, you should get started before you have a cover and links to buy. You can plug them into your posts later. 

Once your blog tour begins, then you have to let people know each day where you are visiting by notifying all the lists you are on, Facebook, Facebook groups you belong to, and yes, Twitter. Be sure to respond to each person who comments on every blog post.
Set up some in-person events. If you have bookstores close by, arrange book signings. For some, bookstore signings are great—for others not so much. In most cases I like to find other venues to sell and sign my books such as giving talks to writer and service groups, book and craft fairs, and holiday events at churches, art galleries, etc.

If you can, go to conferences and conventions, make friends with readers. Sure it’s fun to hang out with fellow writers too, but making a friend of a reader might turn that person into a fan. And because word-of-mouth is powerful promotion, if a reader likes your books, he or she will tell others.

So my answer in a nutshell is, yes, promotion is necessary—and it’s not really evil at all.
And of course this blog tour is about promoting my latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, 
Not as it Seems.

If you have other ideas about promotion, please leave a comment. 
--Marilyn Meredith

Sage advice, Marilyn, and thank you for generously sharing your thoughts. Marja

Not as It Seems Blurb:

Tempe and Hutch travel to Morro Bay for son Blair’s wedding, but when the maid-of-honor disappears, Tempe tries to find her. The search is complicated by ghosts and Native spirits. 

Character Naming Contest:

Once again, I’ll name a character after the person who leaves a comment on the most blogs.

Tomorrow I’ll be stopping by Paty Jager’s blog to tell Why I Write Mysteries and in Particular the Deputy Tempe Crabtree Mystery Series.


Marilyn Meredith now lives in the foothills of the Southern Sierra, about 1000 feet lower than Tempe’s Bear Creek, but much resembles the fictional town and surroundings. She has nearly 40 books published, mostly mysteries. Besides writing, she loves to give presentations to writers’ groups. She’s on the board of the Public Safety Writers Association, and a member of Mystery Writers of America and three chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Central Coast chapter.

You can check out Marilyn's blog at
See her website at

~ * ~

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Ask a Friend-- And Then Do It Yourself

I enjoyed writing about research last week and thought I’d carry it a step farther this week. I once asked a friend for her best tip on researching. She said, “Find someone who likes it and give them money.” Yeah, right.

Why is research so very important? It’s simple. Your credibility as an author is at stake. If you don’t research, you may end up embarrassing yourself or actually hurting someone else.

People read a book, listen to a presentation or watch a TV show and many walk away believing what they’ve read, seen or heard. They depend on you to know what you’re talking about, and you’re the expert, right? If you’re simply offering an opinion, or you “think” something is correct, then be sure to let it be known that it is only an opinion or a thought.

Fiction is exactly that – fiction. However, there’s often a thread of truth somewhere in your story.

Let’s say you’ve created a fictional town, a small place called Poker Run City, in Northern Nevada, as the setting for your story. You’ve set this fictional city somewhere near Reno or Carson City. Remember, Northern Nevada and Southern Nevada are like two different worlds. These are some of the facts you’ve included in your book:

            Palm trees line the streets of Poker Run City (Maybe in Las Vegas, but not in Northern Nevada because it can be quite cold and snowy)
            The terrain is flat, barren desert (It’s high desert and there are plenty of mountains)
            It almost never snows and the temperatures are mild (I’m laughing at this because it snows frequently and the day we moved to Arizona it was 17 degrees in our little town up north.)
            Reno (or Las Vegas) is mentioned in your story as the State Capitol (Carson City is the State Capitol.)
            You mention the many, many casinos located in Poker Run City (Probably not more than a couple, since it’s a small town, and if you write about the casinos you’d better know the ins and outs of casinos.)

What’s wrong with the above picture? Everything. If you created this description in your story, you’ve just lost the readers who live in Northern Nevada. They’ve figured out you’re not familiar with their favorite place – home. They’ve lost interest in your story. When a couple from Podunk, Montana, visits Reno or Carson City, they’re going to be very disappointed because they’re not going to find what they were expecting, thanks to your book. You let the tourists down, too.

Don’t try to “fake people out”. They’ll see right through you; if not now, then eventually.

Know your facts. Don’t make them up as you go along, unless you have a character who’s a pathological liar, or who’s trying to get out of a fix. If your protagonist discusses the weather in Colorado, you’d better know what the weather is like in Colorado.

When you make a presentation to a group, make sure you know what you’re talking about and that you’re able to back it up. As I mentioned last week, don’t rely on one single source for your information.

I discovered that I actually enjoy researching. In many ways it’s like solving a mystery when you find information that’s new to you. Sometimes you have to follow the clues to reach that fountain of knowledge you’re seeking.

Some tried and true sources for research include, but aren’t limited to:
            Newspapers (including old ones)
            Interviews (These can be interesting and lead you to unexpected places, and maybe a different storyline.)
            City, County, State and Federal sources (Be prepared to be patient.)
            Historical societies
            Of course, the Internet (Be careful there.)

 Don’t give up if the information you’re seeking is elusive. There’s more than one source. Do whatever it takes. Old-fashioned maybe, but write a letter. It might actually gain more attention than an email. Make a phone call. With luck and persistence, you might reach a human being instead of a recording.

What other sources can you think of to use for research? Have you ever found your information in the last place you looked?

Until next time, start interviewing people and pay attention to each detail they share with you. Elderly relatives are a great place to learn about what things were like “in the old days”.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Monday, September 14, 2015

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Do I look like the relative of
an infamous man?

Research is so important, even when you’re writing fiction. There have been many blogs written about the topic, and they all make sense. I’m going to touch on another aspect of research.

Double check your facts if your information is coming from research done on the Internet.

Bartalo (or Bartolo) Ballerino was my great-great-grandfather. On a whim, I looked him up on the Internet and found more than I bargained for. He wasn’t a pillar of the community, and in fact, while he started out as a farmer, he and Theobald Bauer, an ex-boxer, ended up running the Red Light District in Old Los Angeles. He was notorious throughout the southwest, but it wasn’t for the reasons I found in my wanderings.

According to a few websites he was Italian and a big, bad Italian mob boss. Uh, he wasn’t Italian and his real name wasn’t Ballerino. He wasn’t part of Little Italy, and he wasn’t a crime boss for the mob.

Actually, he arrived from Chile and assumed a new name –  Ballerino. No one knows what his true name was, although I do know what county he was from (in Chile). However, we (family) do know of his line of work. He inspired the book, A Well-Kept Family Secret, which is fiction but which includes some facts relating to the time period. He and my great-great-grandmother eventually became naturalized American citizens.

Am I defending him? Not really, and yet, in a way I am. He wasn’t a stellar citizen, but he wasn’t a mob boss either. Yes, there are legends about him, but they don’t relate to The Mob. There are stories passed down through my family, but again, they don’t relate to The Mob.

Do I have documentation about him? You betcha!

By the way, there is a family legend about him hiding gold in Old Los Angeles. I used that as part of my storyline. For years, both family and strangers searched Los Angeles for the gold. It was never found, to the best of my knowledge. If it was found, no one ever stepped up the plate and held up their index finger, saying, “Yoohoo. I found the gold.”

So why would I use this relative as an example of researching? Because what’s been posted about him isn’t true. It’s one of those rare times when I actually know what I’m talking about. When you research a subject you might find some really exciting information on the Internet, but take a deep breath and do a little more research. Make sure you have the facts, as much as possible, especially if you’re going to write about an historical figure.

I noticed that the person(s) who posted information about Ballerino made a point of saying they didn’t have his date of birth or death. Hmm. I do. I did some honest research and didn’t make assumptions. I know a lot about him, his life, and his family.

In Old Murders Never Die I needed to include appliances that were used in the late 1800s. I researched those before writing the book. It sounds like a small thing, but if a writer gets it wrong, someone will call them on it. I needed a stove that would have been used around 1880, not 1915, or 1920. I included an ice box, not a refrigerator. Appliances were just the beginning of the research.

Sometimes we need to examine even the smallest things. Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts. Don’t make things up, which I’ve seen done many times. Know what you’re talking about. By the way, some readers will take the fictionalized facts as… Well, fact. Your readers need to trust you.

What are some of the things you’ve had to research that were different, or odd? What type of research gave you the most trouble? Did you do your research online or at the library, using a book? The curious want to know.

Until next time, visit your local library and look for the facts, ma’am (or sir). And remember, relatives are just a little drip in the big gene pool of life.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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What Are the Odds? is based on a real house where I was able to do firsthand research. The story is fiction, but the house is real and described the way it really was, including a hidden staircase.