Monday, June 27, 2016

In the Heat of the Moment ( Or the Summer)

Yes, summer is actually here. I’m in Washington and a few days ago the temperatures were in the low sixties. Today we should get up to the eighties. Time to get out the Tan in a Can (my name for a fake tan so I can wear shorter pants).

Awhile back I wrote about the seasons and how they can pertain to a story. For instance, imagine your character chasing a bad guy on foot in the snow, rain or heat. They can slip in the rain or snow, and they can drop from heat exhaustion in the heat.

However, there’s more to it than just the logistics of chasing someone.

Heat can be your enemy in more ways than one. Tempers can flare easily when the temps are in the triple digit range. Heat-related health problems can play a large part in a mystery. Think Arizona when you think of heat. Trouble on the horizon? Very possibly.

Have you ever thought about the idea that bugs can be an issue? Different seasons bring out different critters. Mosquitos, flies, spiders and yellow jackets can be very annoying.

When it snows, people would often rather stay inside and snuggle up with a good book or a cup of hot chocolate and a movie. Others want to be outside where they can ski or ride on a snowmobile.

I live in Washington, and some people here suffer from sun-deprived depression. Yes, the stories about frequent rain in the western part of the state are true. We can go for days without seeing blue sky or the sun.

Spring and fall. What can I say about those seasons? Generally it’s not too hot nor is it too cold. Those are seasons to look forward to with joy.

Dogs want to be walked no matter what the weather has in store. Life has to go on despite the seasons. Our characters have to adjust to the time of year when the story takes place.

Often authors will use the seasons in a book about a specific holiday. I have a book (Mysteries of Holt House) which involves all of the seasons and several holidays.

I’m starting a new book this week, and right now both spring and summer are on my mind. The location will be Battle Ground, Washington. It’s a small, quaint town and the perfect place for a murder mystery. I haven’t decided if the weather will play a part in the story or not.

The weather can even send a nosey neighbor scurrying inside to get out of the heat/rain/snow. It might block their view while a crime is being committed. The neighbor might be sure a murder is taking place, but that danged blizzard got in the way and her binoculars were of no help.

The ideas about the seasons being involved in a story are endless. Actually, so are the ideas about what that nosey neighbor might see, but that’s off topic.

This week’s post is shorter than usual because I want to go enjoy some of the sunshine. My sun tea should be just about ready. My vegetable garden probably needs watering, and so do the plants. Having moved here from Arizona where there are really only two seasons (hot and hotter), the garden is fun and the growing season is… I don’t know about that yet. Guess I’ll find out. I put up a mini-greenhouse, so maybe that will lengthen the growing season. I hope so.

Until next time, think about the things you like to do and don’t like to do depending on the weather – then think about how your experiences might be used in a story.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

This week my guest is Jean Henry Mead, author of the Logan & Cafferty mysteries. Her latest book, Mystery of the Black Cross, took me in directions I hadn’t expected. She explains these directions in her post, and I think you’ll find it quite interesting.

Note: Jean has decided to give a copy of her new book, Mystery of the Black Cross, to one of the commenters for her post. Yea!

Thank you for being here this week, Jean!

Mystery of the Black Cross
By Jean Henry Mead

Terrorism has headlined the news all too often and is the underlying theme of my latest novel, Mystery of the Black Cross, released this month. Book seven of my Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series features two feisty, 61-year old amateur women sleuths who find a black cross painted on their front door, which they discover marks them for arson and murder as well as local terrorism.

I had originally planned to focus on laser surgery mishaps when Sarah’s face is badly burned, but I encountered historical research concerning the Teutonic Knights as well as the Heart Mountain internment camp of World War II, and decided to work both events into the book when Dana researches the origin of the black cross.

The Teutonic Knights, whose insignia was a cross embedded on a white chest shield, had been formed in the year 1190 to establish hospitals and escort pilgrimages to the Baltics and the Holy Land. The organization evolved, however, into anarchist splinter groups, abbreviated ABC, which still support political prisoners worldwide, including legal representation and clothing for those imprisoned in Siberia.

The novel’s police chief and a rogue detective, who considers himself a latter day Don Juan, figure prominently in the plot, which led me to Wyoming's Heart Mountain internment camp for than more than 14,000 Japanese civilian prisoners during World War II.

I traveled to northwestern Wyoming to witness the former internment camp, which I consider a concentration camp. Four of the barracks where the internees lived are still standing along with a guard tower. The living conditions were deplorable, and I read interviews with some of the people who had lived there, which I included in the book.

When the war ended, each former prisoner was offered a train ticket back to the West Coast and $25 to begin a new life. And Congress finally allocated funds in 1988 and 1992 to compensate the survivors for the loss of their homes and livelihoods. The state of Wyoming also erected a monument to commemorate those who enlisted from within the camp to serve in the army during the war.

Working both histories into the novel was easier than I had anticipated. I included humor and a bit of romance to hopefully balance the seriousness and relevancy to the history we're producing today.

Mystery of the Black Cross is available at in digital and print editions.

Bio: Jean Henry Mead is the author of 22 books, more than half of them novels, which include mystery/suspense novels, children’s mysteries, Wyoming historicals and nonfiction books. One of them was used as a college textbook. She began her writing career as a news reporter in California, later serving as a staff writer/photographer for the Wyoming statewide newspaper while freelancing for The Denver Post. Jean also served as a magazine, news and small press editor. Her magazine articles have been published domestically as well as abroad.

Her web site:

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Monday, June 13, 2016

How Much Good Would a Website Do...

 How much good would a website do if a website could do good? That reminds me of the old tongue twister, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

Does a website really help a writer? What purpose does it serve? Is it worth the time and effort of keeping it up?

I recently had to rebuild my website and for a brief moment I thought about discontinuing it. However, I believe a website is an absolute necessity in this time of Internet marketing and promoting. Even if an author does nothing but personal appearances, the website still matters. If you’re an author without a big presence in the book world and someone sees you’re going to make an appearance, they’re likely going to try to look you up on the Internet. But what if there’s no website? They might find bits and pieces about you, but they won’t see enough. You may have just lost a potential fan.

Your website is your chance to tell readers about yourself, about your books, about your hobbies and interests, your publisher, or whatever you think the public should know about you. For instance, Sandi Webster, the protagonist in one of my series, enjoys vintage movies. Consequently, I added a Vintage Movie Page to my website. It not only gives me an excuse to watch old movies (mysteries, in particular), but it gives guests on my site something different to check out. I won’t put a movie on the page that I didn’t like, sticking with films I enjoyed. Even if a visitor tries one of the movies and doesn’t like it, at least it gave them something new (but still old) to try. And it’s a way to connect with people.

I enjoy photography, even though I’m an amateur. I’ve put a Photo Page on my website. I put up some of my photos, and occasionally I include historical pictures of interest taken by others.

I try to add things to my website that might keep people coming back to see what’s new. As you can see it’s not totally about books, although that is the main focus.

I’ve added a video on the Home Page that quickly shows the viewer all of my book covers, and on The Books Page I’ve included some movie trailers. I have to admit that I’m not a professional, but the trailers were a lot of fun to build. Also, not as a professional, I’ve taken to creating my own book covers. Also fun, and frustrating at times.

Is it worth the time and effort? It sure is. I don’t know that my website promotes the sale of my books, but I have had enough comments from visitors so that I know I’m at least entertaining and connecting with people.

I’m not a computer guru, nor am I an Internet expert, so building my website and updating it is time-consuming and takes a great deal of effort on my part. I just spent the better part of a week rebuilding my website. There were some frustrating moments, but I finally put it all together.

If you’re reading this post, please take a moment to check out my website at, if you haven’t already seen it. You might find it entertaining and informative. If you’re contemplating going to a book signing, check out the author’s website first. You can certainly learn something about the author’s style by the way they’ve prepared their site.

As a reader, how do you feel about websites? Do you feel they add something to the author’s promotional efforts?

Now I need to check out a site because I’m contemplating attending a book signing soon.

Until next time, wishing you a week of good reading and interesting websites.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Remember, Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery, is a mystery, and has time travel added for flavor. Hmm. Maybe I’ll do a book trailer for this story. That might be fun.

Proud American

Monday, June 6, 2016

Call to Action

Writing an action scene can be kind of tricky for some of us. Our first inclination is to write it just like the rest of a book, commas and all, but such is not the case. If you want your reader to feel the action along with your characters, you need to let go of some of those commas and long sentences and start clipping and chipping away at your words.

Let’s say you’re writing a chase scene. Put yourself in the driver’s seat. If you were chasing someone, or heaven forbid, being chased by someone, how likely is it you’d be carrying on a conversation with your passenger? Not likely at all.

Your passenger, on the other hand, might have plenty to say – or not. Grace and her mother were out for a quiet Sunday drive when she looked in her rearview mirror. An ax murderer had threatened her life and he was in the car behind her. He had one hand on the wheel and held up an ax with the other.

Does Grace say, “Mother, check your seatbelt and make sure it’s securely fastened. I’ll be driving rather fast and I don’t know what the outcome will be. We’re being chased by a man with an ax, who just happened to threaten my life.”

More likely, the action scene would be something like the following:

“Hang on!” Grace yelled. Her foot pressed metal to the pedal.
“What? What are you doing? Why are you driving so fast? What’s the matter with you, Grace?”
“Behind us,” she said. Her eyes traveled between the rearview mirror and the road. “Ax.”
Her mother looked over her shoulder. “Hit it!” she screamed.
There was no more conversation. Grace slipped in and out of traffic. On to the freeway. Check the speedometer. Eighty. Ninety.
He followed closely.
Tires squealed.
Horns honked.
Mother hyperventilated.
Lights flashed behind Grace. She breathed a sigh of relief, pulling over.
The ax murderer waved his weapon at her while he slowed and passed her.

Notice that in most of this chase scene, sentences are short and clipped. That denotes action. Asking her mother about her seatbelt and explaining the situation doesn’t. Keep it short, keep it clipped and keep it simple for the best action. Sometimes a one word sentence can tell most of the story.

Let’s say Grace and her friend, Thelma, are being chased and they’re on foot. Is it likely they’re going to be able to talk while they’re running? No. It’s more likely they’d be out of breath and panting, and maybe pointing at a place to hide, or a shortcut to lose the ax murderer. When they do stop running, they’re going to continue panting and try to catch their breath, not discussing the madman who’s chasing them.

Grace finally catches her breath. “Did you see where he went?”
            Thelma shakes her head, panting.
            “Right behind you, lady,” the madman says breathlessly. His shaky, ax-wielding hand drops to his side.

The point to all of this is that when you’re writing action, write so it feels like action. Let the reader (mentally) run right behind the chase and feel they’re a part of it. Keep it short. Keep it brisk. Keep it lively. Keep it real. Let yourself imagine what it would feel like if you were in your character’s shoes.

Actually, since we’re talking about an ax murderer, I’d rather not be in Grace’s shoes. But, really, he’d sure make people move to action.

Also, remember that for the most part this same thing would apply to a fight scene, whether it’s verbal or physical. (Yes, people can become winded if they’re yelling.)

One more thought. Sometimes when things are becoming dicey in a story, but it’s not an action scene, commas can slow down a sentence just as well as they can in the action scene. “I think we’re in real trouble. Let’s get out of here.” vs. “I think we’re in real trouble, so we’d better be moving and get out of here.” It’s subtle, but there is a difference.

Until next time, I sincerely hope you don’t find yourself mixed up in a real life action scene unless you’re running in a foot race for charity. Have a great week, and enjoy a chocolate bar, my cure-all for everything.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (Recently rebuilt and updated)
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Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery is available in both ebook and paperback format. Looking for a different life? Try time traveling.