Monday, August 31, 2015

Think Before You Click

It’s been very busy around here lately. My house is for sale and I’ve started packing my things – positive thinking – and I’ve had a few things I’ve had to repair. I even replaced a pond pump. Easy peasy. My air conditioner went out on a 115 degree day. I couldn’t fix that myself. I wish I had the skill to fix it. Who’s going to buy a house in the desert with no AC? Thankfully, it’s been repaired. 

However, in the midst of this I received a Google Alert. A site was offering to download some of my books for FREE in PDF format. Huh? I wanted to see who was doing this, so I clicked on the link. Dumb move, but I think I caught myself in time. There was no actual site. It just started to download my book. It didn’t feel right, so I clicked out of there as fast as I could.

This has happened a few times in the past. I clicked on a link and actually went to a site. Here’s what I learned, again clicking out because it didn’t feel right.

I made a call to a computer tech and he explained that there are two basic things going on. Some of these sites want you to “join” their site and they ask for pertinent personal information. Red flag! Don’t give out your personal information. Fortunately, I knew better, and I’m sure most of you do, too.

The second thing is that sometimes these sites will give your computer the flu (a virus), or plant something in your computer like malware.

Either way, if you get sucked in by thinking you’re getting a free book, you just might end up with more computer problems than you can handle, and that’s not generally a free situation. There are some legitimate sites where you can obtain books, but I haven’t taken them up on their offers. Actually, I’ve only heard there are legitimate sites, other than places like

Forewarned is forearmed, right? Sometimes we’re in too much of a hurry to think things through. Make the time if you’re headed to a site for free books.

Speaking of sucked in, today I had to run to the store to buy a special light bulb. Uh, it cost $10.00. For one light bulb? Come one, gang. But, then, prices are going up on so many things lately.

Sorry, but I moved off topic.

Think about writing books. Can your protagonist have a day when everything seems to go wrong? Of course. Just think about one of the “off” days in your own life. Real life can certainly be used to come up with a scene readers can relate to. I’d rather not use reality to think up a scene or scenario, but sometimes a bad day can be quite inspirational. Imagine your character is out in the desert in 120 degree heat. Or maybe your character is in Alaska and it’s 60 below. Ah! Maybe your character visits a questionable Internet site and receives a virus as a Thank You. Maybe your protagonist has a neighbor or friend who does this and he/she needs to help them out of a tight situation.

As I reread this post I realized how one topic leads to another. The same thought patterns can lead your protag to solving a mystery, too.

There are so many things in real life that, with a twist and a turn, can become part of a mystery. It goes far beyond temperatures. Have you been through an earthquake or a tornado or hurricane? Let your character react the way you did, or the way you wish you’d handled things.

Have you had an experience with any of these ugly websites?  Have you lived through one of nature’s misadventures? Have you ever been mugged? Robbed? Burglarized? Attacked? Writing about it as fiction can be quite therapeutic.

Until next time, be careful where you click, and enter an Internet site at your own risk. Careful is the word of the week.

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

I was working on a new book titled, “It’s What I Do”, but circumstances have made me put it on hold for a while. In the meantime, you might give “What Are the Odds?” a try. Sandi Webster is about to turn a corner in her life, along with those closest to her.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's All in the Telling

My apologies, but there is no new post this week. Thank you for stopping in.

In the past I’ve written about all kinds of things, including where in a mystery the murder(s) should take place (anywhere in the book, for the most part), dogs adding humor to a story, humor in general, and that life has enough drama without adding more.

However, as I say on my website, there’s nothing funny about murder, but you can find humor in the characters and situations involved in solving the crime. I love reading a good book that’s lighter with some humor. However, the simple fact is that not everything is, or can be, funny.

In Old Murders Never Die, you’ll find Sandi Webster and her partner, Pete, stranded in a ghost town along with her half wolf/half Golden retriever dog, Bubba. Being stuck in a ghost town actually does leave room for some humor, but in the process of discovering this town, Sandi also discovers some old crimes – and they aren’t at all funny. In fact, they’re heartbreaking. So how does a young, female private eye solve old crimes and move from drama to humor? Carefully, but I guess you’d have to read it to figure that out. Who’d like to visit an old ghost town that no one has laid eyes on in over a hundred years? Me, for one.

One of the most difficult parts of writing a lighter murder mystery is moving from humor to drama and back again. For the most part, the motive for the crime isn’t going to be funny. Frankly, I wouldn’t want it to be. Life is too precious to laugh at the loss of someone’s life.

In Bubba’s Ghost, Sandi discovers some deep, dark secrets about the victim, the killer, and another character. After she learns about the background of some of the people in the story, she has to deal with it and then try to get on with her own life. She does so, I think, with grace. In some professions you have to grow a thick skin or you won’t last. Sandi’s working on it, but she still feels sorrow over sad stories. She bounces back with help from the people in her life.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. If you’ve ever seen Steel Magnolias, there’s a scene at the cemetery where five women are quite upset. One of the women talks about being so angry because of the death of her daughter that she’d just like to slap someone. Another character pushes one of the other women forward, offering her as the sacrificial lamb. It was so unexpected that it was funny. That was a good example of moving gracefully from drama to humor.

I’ve read books where the manner of death, or where the body turned up, was humorous. It can be done if it’s handled correctly – it can also be the death of the book if it isn’t. Sometimes authors walk a fine line, and we have to be very careful about how we write humor.

In the meantime, Sandi and Pete tend to look at the lighter side of life as often as they can.

In the Bogey Man series, Chris and Pamela are amateurs when it comes to solving a murder, and that leaves plenty of room for mistakes which can elicit a laugh from the reader. Their latest adventure, How Now Purple Cow, involves senior spies and purple cows.

It’s all in the telling of the story.

Until next time, I hope you have a week full of laughs, and that no drama stealthily creeps into your life.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Monday, August 10, 2015

Charley Cooked my Tookies

 The subject line of today’s blog is food for thought. Right? Sometimes the things that come out of our mouths aren’t what we meant to say. I’ll give you a couple of examples.


Sugar, my female yellow Lab, is having problems with her rear legs. She loves to swim and she needs the exercise. So the other day I let her swim. No problem. Uh, she couldn’t get out of the pool. I tried to bribe her with her favorite treat. It didn’t work. You have to understand that she’s a ninety pound dog, and I’m a… Well, we won’t go there. Let me say I’m not a big, muscular woman and I’m not in my twenties anymore, and I had to lift that dog out of the pool. The circumstances warranted my lifting her. I called my daughter later and told her that “the legs in my muscle” were as sore as could be. Now that didn’t come out right.

You’re wondering about Charley’s antics? When I was very young I was at work and had a box of sugar wafers on my desk. I was away from my desk for a few minutes and when I returned, they were gone. Charley had hidden them. Being a sweets freak, I looked everywhere for them. My boss was also away from his desk. He came back and found me searching everywhere. When he asked what I was doing, I replied, “Charley cooked my tookies.” He looked at me like I was nuts. Just to make things crazier, it turned out Charley had hidden them in a filing cabinet under “S” for sugar.

I’ve often talked about making characters real – and funny. Sometimes all it takes is a misspoken word or sentence. Once in a while a comment can further the story if it can be misconstrued. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “That’s not what I meant. Let me start over.” Unfortunately, there are moments when people won’t let you correct yourself.

When my daughter was three-years-old (her age now is another place we won’t go), we had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii. On the flight home, the stewardess (that’s what they used to be called) gave her a small blackboard and some chalk so she could draw a picture. Boredom on an airplane can be disastrous. The stewardess returned after a few minutes to see what my child had drawn. The drawing consisted of a few squiggly circles. The woman gave me a funny look and asked her, “Oh, did you draw a ghost? Have you seen one?”

Okay, my daughter could have replied that, yes, she’d drawn a ghost just like the one who was sitting in the seat across the aisle. That might make a good storyline in a book. In reality, she replied, “No. It’s spilt milk.” No mystery there, but you never know what a child is thinking. Sometimes they can make or break a scene or a story. By the way, “spilt” was her word, not mine.

I’m going to step back into the days of Charley again. We worked with a woman who was engaged and her military boyfriend was being sent overseas. She was a nervous wreck, to put it mildly. She was telling me about him when the phone on her desk rang. She answered her stapler instead of the phone and kept repeating, “Hello? Hello?” I had to take it from her and hand it to her while I answered her phone. It never dawned on her that the phone kept ringing after she’d “answered” it.

Maybe my stories aren’t all that funny to anyone except me, but you get the idea. Sometimes we need to lighten a particularly dramatic scene with humor. In real life, it’s one of the things that helps us through a difficult time. The woman who answered her stapler laughed and relaxed a bit while she waited to hear from her fiancĂ©.

Have you ever put something like this in a book? Would you? Do you have a funny story about misspeaking or answering something other than a telephone? I’ve often said we need to look for the funny side of a tragic or dramatic situation. There isn’t always humor, but if there is, it can help. I have a friend who laughs long and loud when tragedy strikes. She’s not unfeeling, but laughter helps her through situations. It’s a nervous reaction, one I almost wish I had.

Until next time, think before you speak. Never mind. You might lose the humor if you think first.

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

Looking for a little humor with your drama? Think about trying either The Sandi Webster Mysteries or The Bogey Man Mysteries.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Gun Totin' Mama

For the sake of argument, remember that I’m talking about fiction.

With that said, what might happen if a mugger approached your protagonist and she was carrying a weapon in her purse?

He might say, “Gimme your money or lose your life!”

Is she going to hand over her purse if there’s a weapon in it? Probably not, because it could be turned on her.

She could say, “Hold on a sec, sweetie, while I fish my gun/pepper spray/ knife/ mace out of my purse.” Not a good move on her part. Maybe, instead, she could say, “Hold on a sec, sweetie, while I fish my heart pills/hormone pills/inhaler/ lipstick (lipstick?) out of my purse. You can have everything else.”

Of course, many of today’s bad guys are worse than in years past, but we’re talking about fiction. The antagonist can be as good or bad as the author wants him or her to be.

I know I’m repeating myself, but a long time ago a friend and I went to the bank on our lunch hour. As we were leaving, she was mugged. Long story short, they were struggling on the ground when I raised my purse to hit him over the head. He glanced up and saw what I was doing and took off. I’ve always carried large purses, and apparently he feared for his life when he saw the monster I carried. By the way, the only weapon I carried was the purse itself.

Chances are that in real life the woman would just hand over her purse. Although… If the victim was carrying some kind of weapon, she might actually try something like I’ve mentioned.

I once read that your keys are a good weapon. Carry them with a key sticking out between your fingers. You might be able to poke someone in the eye or some other sensitive spot.

There’s a thought. Step forward to hand over your purse and in the process lift your knee quickly, hitting the bad guy’s Family Jewels.I guess that’s not such a good idea if he’s pointing a gun or a knife at you, though.

I’m making light of the situation, but remember, I’m talking about fiction. You can ask yourself what you might do under those circumstances, and you can write your character out of a tough situation. Just make it at least somewhat real.

In A Well-Kept Family Secret, Sandi Webster’s mother was waiting for her in a parking lot. She saw a mugger approaching and, surprise, surprise, she was carrying a large purse. As he rushed her, she swung the purse and hit him upside the head. In fiction, she got the drop on him like I’d wanted to.

Sometimes truth is so much stranger than fiction. Without going into it, a woman was recently attacked and she grabbed a rake. When the really, really bad guy tried to take the rake from her, he dropped his gun. She grabbed it and shot over her shoulder, killing him. Or so the story goes. It turned out, last I heard, that he may have been a serial killer. If you read that in a book, would you believe it? Yes, it happened in Cincinnati.

I remember reading one of Dorothy Bodoin’s books where the main character grabbed a salad bowl and dumped it on the killer’s head, leaving lettuce, salad dressing, and all the other ingredients running down the person’s face and into her eyes. Ingenious. I never would have thought of that, and it worked. It also made sense.

Have you ever surprised yourself by taking unexpected actions in a crisis situation? Sometimes our minds go blank and sometimes they kick into gear when faced with a horrendous situation. In fiction, we can make sure our protagonist thinks quickly and takes action. Please make sure it’s realistic, something that could really happen.

A salad bowl could really happen.

Now, sweetie, give me a sec to think up a new scenario. Nope. That’s all I’ve got to say on the subject.

Until next time, have a great week and walk with a key sticking between your fingers if you’re alone in a parking lot or walking down a dark street.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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If you read What Are the Odds? – A Sandi Webster Mystery, remember that everything about the house in the story is true. The rest is pure fiction. Isn’t that what they call a teaser?