Monday, February 29, 2016

Writing as Therapy

I’ve always been a strong proponent of the thought that writing can be very therapeutic. Today, Sunday, is a good example.

The wind is howling outside and it’s pouring rain. The dogs delight in going outside to do their business and waiting until they’re back in the house to shake off the rain. 

The new (two months old) refrigerator is having motor problems. It sounds like the garbage disposal. It stops when you open the refrigerator door. Leave it open for a few minutes, and when you close it the noise stops. If you close the door too soon, the noise continues. Get yourself some ice cubes, and it starts screaming again. It’s Sunday. Who wants to call for repairs on a Sunday?

Thanks to the weather, Poop Duty has been put on hold. It’s an ugly job, but someone has to clean up the mess – daily. There are three dogs – two yellow Labs and a Chiwienie. For those who don’t know, a Chiwienie is half Chihuahua and half Dachshund.

After leaving the refrigerator door open for exactly four minutes and then closing it, the screaming has stopped. Step away from the ice cubes.

Can’t go outside for Poop Duty, so what’s left? The laundry is done and so is the vacuuming. I hear a book calling my name.

Sometimes we write a book that doesn’t hold our attention, much less the readers’. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I started one a long time ago about a nursing home. It hit too close to a real life situation and I couldn’t deal with the story. Not done, but gone.

Other times we work on a book that we enjoy, that grabs us as the writer and won’t let go. At those times nothing seems as important as the new Work in Progress (WIP). We lose ourselves in the story. The ideas are coming faster than we can type them. We don’t even want to break to eat, but we have to.

We get so wrapped up in the story that all of our problems seem to take a backseat, if only for a little while. I love that! None of my jobs over the years ever had the effect on me. If I’d only known, I would have started writing the day I left kindergarten. Really.

I’ve talked to other authors about this feeling, but unfortunately, when we get around to the subject of marketing and promoting, it feels like someone popped our Happy Balloon. One of the reasons is that no one seems to be able to come up with a new and unique promotional idea. You might write the Great American Novel, but it may not go anywhere because no one knows about it. (I’m not speaking of myself, by the way. Great American Novel? Ha! But fun, yes.) We’ve got to run ourselves ragged trying to get the Word out there.

I bought three new toys for the dogs yesterday. They’re exactly alike, and yet each dog wants the same toy – just like little kids. Let them figure it out themselves. I have a book to write.

There are some books that wrap us in their arms and beg to be written. Those are the ones that are therapeutic. For a little while, it’s all about us and our book. Nothing else matters. We can forget grinding motors, wet dogs and the celery that went limp before we could use it in the tuna salad.

Right now I’m writing a time travel mystery. The therapy I get from working on this WIP is worth far more than I could ever get from a paid therapist. Sorry, Doctor, but it’s the truth. The only thing better than writing therapy is chocolate. Hmm. Chocolate vs. Writing. That’s too close to call.

Ah. It’s time to get back to writing, and I think I’ll have some chocolate while I write. Perfect solution.

Has your writing ever helped you get through a rough day or some hard times? I sure hope so.

Here’s to happy writing days (holding chocolate in the air).

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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By the way, both the Sandi Webster Mysteries and the Bogey Man Mysteries can be ordered through your favorite bookstore in paperback. Just ask for them.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Thank you, Ms. Lee

I’m sure there are a lot of posts up about the loss of Harper Lee right now, and I decided to add my own. To Kill a Mockingbird is my all-time favorite book. I even named a dog Scout and a business The Mockingbird. That says a lot in itself.

I first read the book when I was young, and it was new. I’ve read that To Kill a Mockingbird is a controversial story. It wasn’t to me. To me, at the time, it was the story of a little girl and her brother, and the adventures they had as children. It was the demonstration of a wise and wonderful father who just happened to be a lawyer. I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want the story to end.

I finished the book and put it on the shelf, knowing I’d read it again one day. Five or six readings later, it’s still my favorite book. Each time I read it I take away something different.

To me, the characters were real. Ms. Harper’s writing made me feel as though I was right there with them, watching what happened first hand. There were characters I adored, and there were those whom I detested. There were people in the story whom I pitied, and others who simply made me feel good.

Let’s not forget Boo Radley. The mystery surrounding him in the children’s eyes fascinated me. Dill was an inspired character with all the flaws of his age and lifestyle. Tom Robinson was a good man whose circumstances would change the lives of many.

The storyline? I learned a lot from it. Having been born and raised on the West Coast, the story covered things I didn’t know about at the time of the first reading. It was an eye-opener, but somehow not shocking.

Most of us have probably read a book that has this appeal – a book we won’t soon forget. There are a few others for me, but To Kill a Mockingbird is still Number One on my Hit Parade.

Harper Lee’s writing inspired me in many ways, but the fact that her characters came across as so down-to-earth and real was the biggest inspiration.

I waited for years for her to write another book that would entertain me the way the first one did, as did many other people. It didn’t happen until Go Set a Watchman came out recently. I just started reading it last night. So far it’s not grabbing me the way the first book did, but I’m only into it a few chapters.

I will say that from discussions with my family and older people I knew in my youth, I believe the story represented the era fairly realistically. While we can’t change the way things were, we can learn from them.

Good-bye, Harper Lee, and thank you!

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Monday, February 15, 2016

 After a Sunday Hike

Yesterday I had one of those moments. I didn’t realize it was Valentine’s Day. For some reason I thought it was on Monday. So Happy Belated Valentine’s Day to those who did remember. I hope it was a special day of romance.

I have to be honest. I don’t care for romantic novels. My grandmother, bless her heart, loved romances with a little spice. She used to say that at her age (nineties) she could do or say whatever she wanted and get away with it. I should be so lucky.

However, give me a good mystery with a little romance and I’m happy. I still prefer a story that will leave some of the romance to my imagination, but that’s just me. Maybe when I reach my nineties I’ll look for a little more spice in my reading material. After all, I take after my grandmother in so many ways. Thankfully I have a very long time to go before I reach that stage of life. Nah, I think I’ll do or say whatever I want to right now. Why not?

My husband was a romantic, although he wouldn’t admit it. Maybe that’s why I spaced Valentine’s Day. He passed away last May. I’m entering a new chapter in my life, which has both pros and cons. Sometimes, in life, there just aren’t any do-overs. One of his favorite sayings? “Nut up and get on with it.” I hope that doesn’t offend anyone. Maybe I should have rewritten it to “Man up,” but I preferred to quote him – exactly.

I’m working on a time travel mystery right now, and I’m including a little romance along with the mystery. It’s part of life, after all. If all goes as planned, there will be a few little surprises along the path to 1909. I guess I gave away the era when my story takes place. Oh well…

Romantic writing can be tricky, at least in my opinion. Does the author want to be graphic, or are the sweet moments in life his or her choice? Can the author create a conflict that will please the reader? Romance isn’t as easy to write as I used to think, but then, it’s not my shtick, so what do I know?

Yesterday my daughter and I went shopping in Portland, Oregon. I observed several couples out shopping together. Is love about the gifts given on Valentine’s Day? Maybe it is to some people, but if I were to judge by the facial expressions I saw, true love is more about the thought behind the gift, not the present itself.

Maybe that’s one of the keys to romance writing. Let the reader get inside of a character’s head to learn why they do the things they do. The same can be said for a mystery. The reader needs to know why things are happening, or the story can become one-dimensional.

This week’s post is relatively short, but since I’m not a romance writer, I’ll leave the wise thoughts about love to the professionals.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with these two links. There are so many romantic songs out there, but these two, at least to me, are particularly romantic. I hope they inspire you to let Valentine’s Day become a two-day event, or even better, a lifelong event.

That Sunday That Summer – Natalie Cole

You Make Me Feel Brand New – Johnny Mathis

Until next time, have a great week and tell someone how important they are in your life.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Putting the Little Things in a Story – Part II

Last week I wrote about putting the little things in real life adventures (trips) into stories. I’m back to tell a little more, and hopefully this will entertain you.

One thing I wrote about is how large my dogs are and the fact that they needed help getting into my Jeep. Sugar is large and she has hip problems. Murphy is bigger. He weighs almost as much as I do, and he really doesn’t like riding in a car. I have a ramp that they can climb, but neither one of them would use it on the trip. So, getting in and out of the Jeep involved placing their front paws on the rear bumper and simultaneously lifting their rear ends, and a lot of laughter. When you consider their size, this was no easy task. They required a number of potty breaks, so that made it even more interesting.

Now, imagine you’re on a long trip with a friend. You’ve been driving all day and the sun has disappeared, leaving you in the dark. You’re extremely tired and hungry. Ah! You spot a drive-thru burger joint. Just the ticket, right? You enter the lot and pull in behind the last car in line at the drive-thru. You wait. And you wait. The line isn’t moving. You’re so tired and hungry, and you can’t figure out why the line isn’t moving. You know there’s a burger in the joint with your name on it.

You’ve reached a point where you want to yell at the cars in front of you, or anyone, just to get things moving. Patience isn’t a virtue in this case. You have none.

And then it strikes you. You didn’t pull up to a moving line. You pulled up behind a parked car. One of the employees is watching you out the window, apparently trying to figure out what you’re doing. You laugh until you cry, while your passenger sits and watches you like you’ve lost your mind.

Another adventure, or at least that’s the way I’ll remember it.

Do you want a more exciting adventure? How about looking in the rearview mirror and seeing headlights coming at you at a rate of at least twenty miles an hour over the speed limit. You can’t change lanes because of traffic. Uh oh. Eeeeekkkkk!!!!!!!!! (I’m still here, so it worked out.)

So far, everything could go in a book with a few good twists.

Maybe you need to stop at the Rest Stop, but you find it’s closed. The dogs can get out, but you’re up a creek. On to the next Rest Stop which, unfortunately, is also closed. You make one more try at a service station. You may bounce from foot to foot while you read an Out of Order sign.

See? You can use almost anything as a scene in a story.  The character’s reaction to the rest stops and service station could be a good cry, a temper tantrum, or whatever you want it to be. I’m thinking in terms of a female. The outcome might be very different with a male.

Right now I’m working on a time travel mystery. My character will travel back in time.  As I write, I have to stop to think what we have now that they didn’t have back in the day. How would I react with no radio, no television, no cell phone, or no car? How would my character react? What about other things, like an electric can opener or an electric mixer? Many of the things that we take for granted would make a huge difference in a different era.

Rest stops? There weren’t any. Service stations? Maybe they don’t exist during that time period.  A drive-thru burger stand would be unheard of around the turn of the century. Can you picture a horse and buggy pulling up behind another horse and buggy and “parking” while an historical character waits for food to go?

When you write a book, there’s so much to think of, and to research.

Remember, the little things often make the difference.

Until next week, let some of the little things in life make your day. If you can, laugh at them.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Using the Little Things in a Story - Part I

We’ve all taken trips and we all have stories. Here’s a brief overview of my trip from Arizona to Washington and how it might involve storytelling.

The trip started with me loading my two large dogs, Sugar and Murphy, into the back of my Jeep.  Neither one can jump that high, and Murphy hates to ride in cars. My Realtor took pity and sent her husband to help me. We had to put their front paws on the rear bumper and then lift their hindquarters the rest of the way. Needless to say, Murphy resisted this procedure. In the meantime I’m pretty sure my neighbors were quite entertained.

To put that scene in a book, I wouldn’t have to embellish the story, but I might go into a little more detail.

I drove to Las Vegas, just me and the dogs, to pick up my daughter, who’d flown in to travel with us. Another adventure. Let’s just say the dogs were wound up.

The trip took three days, so we had to stay at motels for two nights. I headed for the Jeep to load my suitcase the second morning, and a woman was leaving the building at the same time, with two very tiny Chihuahuas. Cute little dogs, right? Uh, one of the dogs took one look at me and leaped into the air, biting my leg. His teeth were like needles. I put my bag in the car and turned around, and the woman and her dogs had quickly disappeared.

In a book? There was one very large and particularly nasty looking dog who didn’t appear to like people in general. The protagonist tries to back away and manages to trip over her luggage. The owner was able to pull the big brute back before he did any damage, but by the time she pulled herself up, they were gone. She had the feeling the man had been watching her. She made a mental note to remember what he looked like, which wasn’t much better than his squirrely dog’s appearance.

As we closed in on Oregon, we ran into a snow storm. It’s been years since I’ve driven in snow, so I pulled behind a large truck and followed in his tracks. Easy peasy.

In a book? The protagonist is driving late at night on a lonely road, and a blizzard moves in. There’s no other traffic, with the exception of headlights she can see far behind her, and she’s on her own. Of course, in the book, she’s never driven in snow before. She slams on her brakes when she approaches a hairpin curve and slides right off the road and into a field. Heart pounding, she slowly pulls back onto the road.

Once we passed through the snow storm, it rained all the way to Washington. They were having almost record-breaking rain and it was an interesting ride. I think, if I remember correctly, they said on the news that the county I live in had over 20 inches of rain in December.

Back to my protagonist. She’s still driving late at night and she’s made it through the snow with her nerves on edge but intact. Can she now handle the rain? Probably, but there’s a sound like a gunshot and she has a flat tire. She pulls off to the side of the road, climbs out of the car, and guess who’s right behind her. You guessed it, the squirrely looking dog and his master. Before she can climb back into the car, the dog runs over, jumps up and licks her like a popsicle.

Take some of the little things that have happened to you while traveling and turn them into a scene in a book. The smallest thing (like a Chihuahua, she said laughing) can turn a humdrum scene into something spectacular.

Speaking of laughing, what if your character has a traveling companion and something strikes them funny. They might laugh themselves right into a ditch. You know the kind of laughter I’m talking about – the kind that makes tears run down your cheeks.

Until next week, don’t let life pass you by without paying attention to the little things, both the good and the not so good. They make for great stories.

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In the works: A Time Travel Mystery. It will be a standalone story, and hopefully it will be worth the wait.