Monday, May 30, 2016


Yes, life is full of surprises. When you least expect it, something out of the ordinary will happen.

 Case in point, yesterday I took Sugar (my ninety pound yellow Lab) to be groomed. The groomer is located in the back of the store. Halfway through the store Sugar took off running and boom! I went down. Surprise! I said a bad word and immediately apologized to those around me, and I was embarrassed. Today I’m stiff and sore, and I have a lump under my knee, and bruises. With some twists and turns, this episode might end up in a book someday. Thankfully, I was with Sugar, and not with her brother who weighs more than I do (but we won’t discuss the weight issue).

If you’ve read Bubba’s Ghost, there’s a skid-row type bum who harasses a young mother and her daughter. That’s based on something that actually happened to me. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door and found this man on my porch, telling me what he’d seen me do and who he’d seen visiting me, among other things.

I have a friend who, many years ago, climbed into her car in a bank parking lot and reached across to unlock the passenger door so we could leave and go back to work. Suddenly there was a man in her lap, screaming at her about being a Fed, and waving a fake badge in her face. Surprise! He was a mugger. He dragged her out of the car and they struggled on the ground. What stopped him? Me and my big purse as he looked up and saw it swinging in his direction. The look on his face was priceless. I still carry very large purses. Maybe it’s psychological. Oh, before I forget, that led to a scene in A Well-Kept Family Secret.

Maybe you’re sitting in a left turn lane, waiting for traffic to pass, and someone rear ends you. Surprise! Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to me.

Life is full of surprises. Some are actually a good thing, and others, not so much. We sometimes have to learn to take things in stride, even if we’d rather throw a tantrum. There are moments when even adults would like to stomp their feet and yell.

The other day I found out that I had to rebuild my website. The website builder I’d been using was going away, and I had to use a different program. The company, as it turns out, had been sending me notices, but they had my old email address. I was sure I’d sent them my new address, but apparently I was wrong. I spent most of last week building the new site. Surprise!

Twists and turns can turn some of our real life surprises into either scenes in a story or an entire book. I’ve done it and so have others. At least my life isn’t boring, although there are moments when I wish… No, I don’t. I wouldn’t have stories to tell if I led a boring life.

Pay attention to your life, and the lives of those around you, and file what you’ve seen in the back of your mind for future use.

By the way, Sugar is about to enter a stage of her life where she’s going to be learning new, and relearning old, commands. When I moved from Arizona to Washington, she and her brother, Murphy, seemed to lose all memory of any training they had.

And remember, no matter what happens, there’s often a funny side. Laughter really is the best medicine. Ask my daughter. She took a fall yesterday, too, and what did I do? I laughed, even though it wasn’t funny.  Two accidents in one day – like mother, like daughter.

Tell us about some of your good surprises. We can all use a lift. Here’s one. My daughter and I went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant to celebrate something, and before we’d finished eating the manager came over to tell us that another customer had paid for our dinner. We never knew who it was or why they treated us, but I think I’ll be paying that forward.

Until next time, watch out for crazy dogs, muggers and bums at your front door.

CLICK HERE to visit the new Marja McGraw website (Rebuilt recently)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

 Don’t forget that Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery is now available in both email and paperback.

If you ever receive an inheritance, you may want to think it over carefully before you begin sorting through antiques and mementos. They aren’t always as they seem.
Carrie McFerrin learned this the hard way.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mother Possum

I’m so excited to tell you that Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery has been released. It’s available in both ebook and paperback format on After the series I wrote about self-publishing, I’m happy to say I had a minimum of problems putting the book up. I only had to reload the manuscript about five times. I’m laughing as I say that. Once again, the issues I faced were created by me. (I have such a difficult time with Headers and Footers.)

What’s this book about?

“Mystery writer Carrie McFerrin has inherited an old family house and all of its contents from her Great Aunt Genny.

While taking inventory of the attic contents, she comes across an old wooden crank telephone. Thinking the old telephone would look perfect in her vintage kitchen, she hangs it on the wall by the back door, and an old, yellowed piece of paper asking for help falls to the floor.

The impossible happens when the disconnected old phone rings – three rings, a pause, and three more rings.

Carrie picks up the receiver, wondering what’s going on, and her life suddenly changes – forever.

Nothing will ever be the same.”

Carrie has to figure out a lot of things about life in general, and her place in the grand scheme of things, while visiting a time period she knows nothing about.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering about Mother Possum after reading my description. Her name is an unusual title for a post. Well, I needed an unusual character for this story, and my childhood provided her.

When I was young, an elderly woman lived down the street from my grandmother. When I say elderly, I mean in her nineties – maybe a hundred. I’m not sure. I often spent weekends with my grandparents, and Grandma walked down a hill to visit this elderly woman every day to see how she was doing. She’d take her snacks or a meal and straighten her bedroom and bed. The woman was bedridden for the most part. Yes, her name really was Mother Possum.

I’d go with my grandmother unless my grandfather and I were up to something.

I needed a character in the book, an elderly woman, who would sit out on her porch every day and watch the world go by. Mother Possum immediately came to mind, and in the book she smoked a pipe. She also knew a lot about the rest of the characters in the book. She was a great source of information, and let’s face it, her name is memorable.

A side note to this story is that my grandmother was in an industrial accident around 1915 and she lost her arm just below the elbow. She helped the elderly woman down the street, cleaned houses to earn a little extra money, and did everything that was humanly possible with only one arm. I grew up around an extraordinary woman.

Back to the book, I took a step away from my usual mysteries and tried my hand at a time travel mystery. Carrie McFerrin lives in the present, but something happens and she travels back to 1909 to solve a mystery. Interestingly, she’s a mystery writer and someone wants to use her expertise. Unfortunately for her, there’s a huge difference between putting a story on paper and actually living it.

I don’t know if I’ll ever write another time travel mystery or not, but this one was fun and I enjoyed bringing Mother Possum back to life, even though I didn’t truly know her. Her name stuck in my mind for all of these years and wouldn’t let go. I figured there was a reason, even if I wasn’t sure what it was. Now I know. She made a great character and she made me smile.

Doesn’t the title, Choosing One Moment, give you a feeling of time? Barring childbirth and the day you married, do you have an exciting moment in time that you’d choose to relive?

I do.

Until next time, I hope you have a week of special moments that will live on in your memory.

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

Note: If anyone is interested, my website will be completely rebuilt over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully I'll come up with something new and different.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Note to Self

Update: Choosing One Moment - A Time Travel Mystery is now available in both ebook format and paperback on

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Note to Self: Put the numerous Notes to Self in some kind of order and start paying attention to the important stuff.

There are certain things that come to mind when we’re writing that we don’t want to forget. Yellow stickies come in very handy. As a matter of fact, I have them pasted all over my desk, and it’s a fairly large roll top desk. I have stickies stuck to books, pieces of paper and to each other.

Will I ever get them sorted out? I tried it once, but it confused me when I tried to figure out what went with what. Was that sticky about a book or about taking the dog to the vet’s? Now I have folders that are filled with articles, papers, and of course, plenty of stickies. A lot of good that did. Now I have folders and loose notes everywhere. I’m almost thankful when one of the dogs gets his or her paws on a note and chews it up.

I also have a small handheld recorder where I record notes to myself. Unfortunately, I forget to listen to my verbal notes.

What hinders me even more is that many of my notes are about personal things, not writing. Did I have an appointment or did my character? When you write, you have so many things on your mind that sometimes it gets away from you.

The dogs bark and you don’t want to drive the neighbors nuts, so you have to go put a stop to it. Someone wants something and you have to drag yourself away from your Work in Progress (WIP) to take care of whatever it is. One look in the refrigerator and at the cupboards and you know it’s time for a trip to the store. Another look, this time at the mirror, and you realize it’s time for a haircut. And there’s always family to drag you away from your writing.

Housecleaning? What a joke. Ah, but when I finish a book I do a deep cleaning of the entire house – every nook and every cranny. It kind of makes up for my lapses while I was writing, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Sometimes I have to take an important note and move it because if I get used to seeing it in the same place all the time, I start to ignore it. This would include things like a note that says, “Headers and Footers”.  I’m quite good at forgetting to put those in my books and need a constant reminder. This is a note that stays up all the time.

I bought a new desk chair and the arms need to be tightened. I keep telling myself I’ll take care of it soon, but at this point I think the arms are ready to fall off. I’ll write a Note to Self when I finish writing this post – if I remember that long.

Do I sound disorganized? I am, but only to a point.

Preview of the Cover

I just finished “Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery” and now I’m editing it. I hope to have the book available in a couple of weeks. More about that in a future post. Anyway, that’s when it will be time to deep clean my office and maybe put some of the notes in order. Of course, half the fun is when I come across a note I can toss because the book is done.

I have friends who write and they’re much more organized than I am. I envy them. I’m not good at spending my time wisely, and at my age (none of your business) I don’t care as much as I used to.

Maybe I’m rebelling and I just don’t realize it. When I worked full-time there was a place for everything and everything was in its place. Things got done without a lot of confusion. I was on top of my game. I was somewhat of a perfectionist. Hmm. I don’t miss those days.

How about you? Can you put me to shame because you’re so organized or, in the reverse, because you’re worse than I am?

Oh, well, at least the book is done and will be out there soon.

Until next time, organize your notes and do some spring cleaning. Think of the cleaning as good exercise.

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lessons Learned - Part V

This is the last part of a series on self-publishing, written by a non-expert, non-techie author. I can only share what my experiences have been, and I hope it’s helpful to a few of you.

This week I’m writing about paperback self-publishing. There are a number of companies out there, and once again you have to do your research to decide which company is right for you. I use CreateSpace, which is linked to Amazon. It’s worked well for me.

If this is your first self-pubbed paperback, start at the beginning (like I needed to tell you that). You’ll see tabs for everything from an Overview, Cover, and Interior to Royalties and buying copies of your own book. By the way, buying your own copies is affordable, at least in my opinion. There’s even a button to click on to “Talk to a Consultant”.

As I’ve mentioned before, be sure you read everything. It’s up to you to prepare the best book possible.

Are you ready to create a book after reading all of the information? The first page will ask for the name of your project. What’s your book title? You can click on the type of project, which in my case would be Paperback.

It will then ask you to choose a Setup Process. I still use the Guided Process. I’m simply not techie enough to use the Expert Process. A lot of this is filling in the blanks.

After you Save and Continue, you’ll be asked more questions about your title and the author’s name, Edition Number, if it’s part of a series, and so forth.

The next step will be obtaining the ISBN number. If you recall, in another post I mentioned that the ISBN number is to a book as a social security number to a person. It’s an identifier specific to each book. Ebooks and paperbacks use a different set of numbers. You can’t use the same number for each version of your book. As with the ebook, you can purchase your own ISBN number or obtain one from CreateSpace.

The next step is the Interior. You have your choice of page colors. I like using cream colored pages because they seem to be easier on the eyes. Here you’d also choose the size of your book. These are trade paperbacks and 6x9 seems to be the standard size these days. On this same page, you can click to add your book file, or manuscript.

They offer professional design services, which you would pay for. I prefer to do my own work, which is no cost to me.

Next is your book cover. You can choose a matte finish or a glossy finish for your book. You can create your own cover (which I do), pay to have it professionally done, or build your cover online. I do a combination. I create my cover and then use the Build Your Cover Online function.  I use the Launch Cover Creator and when covers come up, I choose one called “The Palm”. It’s a cover that allows me to load my own cover instead of being pre-created.

When all is said and done, you can review and proof your manuscript. I suggest you look at it carefully. I’ve found, when my book is printed, that there are indents where there shouldn’t be any, and I can only blame myself. I missed something. If you find an error, you can go back to your original manuscript, fix it, and upload the book again.

The next step is Distribution. Again, fill in the blanks and read everything carefully. It covers Channels, Pricing, additional information, and a few other pertinent settings, and you can find out which book distributors will make your books available.

There’s even a portion that will offer marketing ideas, and if you don’t want to go through the hoops for a Kindle edition, you can do it from there.

That’s it in a nutshell. I’ve probably made it sound simple to some and confusing to others. Follow the steps provided by whatever company you’re using. Be sure to bring your patience along for the ride. If need be, ask for help. Most of the publishing companies are very helpful and easy to work with, trust me.

That’s it folks. It’ll make more sense when you’re actually taking the steps instead of reading about them.

I just finished a new book, the Time Travel Mystery I’ve been mentioning. I’m currently creating the cover, and then I’ll go back for more editing. After that, I’ll be following my own advice. I’d tell you the title, but at the moment I’m torn between two.

Until next time, I wish you the best with your self-publishing efforts. It’s not for everyone, but it sure works well for some of us.

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