Monday, August 29, 2016

Me and My Shadow

     The Shadow and The Me

In this case, Sandi Webster (of the Sandi Webster Mysteries) is the “Me” and I’m the “Shadow”, depending on your point of view. We’ll work with my point of view.

I’m sure readers often wonder if the writer of a series is part of the protagonist.  To some extent, it’s very possible. It’s often been said to write about what you know about.

I’ve also heard that readers want to know a little bit more about the author.

I shadow Sandi around during her escapades and add things I know about, such as being a chocoholic. I try to downplay it a bit, but I’ve always got chocolate within reach. She’s run out on occasion and since it’s her “comfort food,” that can turn into an issue.

Sandi is 5’3” and I’m 5’2”. While I don’t know much about being tall (unless I’m standing on a ladder), I do know something about being relatively short. If you’re a shorty, when’s the last time you tried to reach a product you needed that was placed on the top shelf at the store? I frequently have to ask another customer to reach things for me.

Sandi and her husband Pete drive a Jeep. So do I. Sandi has an imagination. So do I. Sandi’s a bit na├»ve. So am I.

She sighs and rolls her eyes frequently. I didn’t realize I do those things until my husband (God rest his soul) read one of my books and called it to my attention. “Why are you always sighing and rolling your eyes?” He knew I’d done those things long before Sandi did them.

That’s probably about where Sandi and I part ways. She’s a private eye and I’m not, although I probably would have enjoyed that type of work. She frequently deals with death. Thankfully, I don’t. She also has friends (Felicity and Stanley) whom she adores. I have friends whom I also adore, but Felicity and Stanley aren’t knockoffs of the people I care about. Sandi takes more chances than I probably would under the same circumstances. However, you never know what one will do when faced with a particular situation.

Sandi goes places and does things that I’ll never be able to do. I’d love to be stranded in a ghost town like she was in Old Murders Never Die and solve a mystery in the process.

Have I ever purposely included personality traits of someone I know in characters in a book? You bet. In Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery, I included traits of someone I know in three of the characters, and they were all good qualities.

After having said all of the above, I have to admit there’s a difference in the book I’m working on now. I needed to do a lot of research for the new book and found myself frequently running into a brick wall. Consequently, Sandi is having the same issues. There’s plenty of action, but she’s working on another old crime(s). With old murders comes research. In real life, if Sandi was real, she’d probably be standing next to me banging her head against the wall about now. Of course, stories need a resolution, and I’m sure she’ll prevail.

So when you read a Sandi Webster book, mentally look behind her and I’ll bet you’ll see a 5’2” shadow following her. Maybe, depending on the time of day, her shadow will have morphed into someone tall.

As a reader, do you enjoy learning tidbits about writers you enjoy? As a writer, do you include some of your traits and habits in your protagonist? The curious want to know. Or in this case, The Shadow wants to know.

Until next week, don’t be a shadow. Be the “Me” in your life, and have a great week.

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

Check out the book trailer for Old Murders Never Die at

Monday, August 22, 2016

Reading, Writing, but No 'rithmatic

I can’t decide which I enjoy more, reading or writing. It’s pretty much a tossup. So this week I come to you as a reader.

Over the past week I’ve read books whose authors I wasn’t familiar with, and I’m glad I did.

Someone recommended Victoria Thompson, and I tried her first book. I found that she’s a wonderful writer and I’ve already ordered her second book. She does a great job of portraying an earlier era, and setting scenes to remember.

Anyone who knows me knows that at this stage in my life my preference is something with a little humor. There’s enough real drama in everyday life already.  Some of my favorite authors write nothing but drama, and that’s okay. I’m already hooked on their writing.

While there was no humor in Thompson’s book, the drama grabbed me. So sue me. I read something with drama instead of humor.

Then I read a guest blog by Cindy Sample, and had to try her series. I think my daughter will try one of her books, too, because Sample kept me laughing. I’ll be ordering her second book, too.

Carolyn J. Rose has tickled my funny bone, too. Her Substitute Teacher books are quite entertaining. (Love the dog in the stories. His name is Cheese Puff, and the name fits.)

The characters in all of these books are memorable and leave me wanting more.

How some authors can be constantly humorous surprises me. There was an author, who shall remain nameless, whose humor really brightened my day. Unfortunately, he or she became quite repetitious after several books and began changing his or her style. He or she had her characters doing things, or they had things done to them, that just burst my bubble. (I handled not revealing the author’s name pretty well, I thought.)

There’s one itty bitty thing that really annoys me when I’m reading, and it has nothing to do with the authors named above. I’m annoyed with myself. Before I started writing, I seemed to miss typos and errors, for the most part. Since I began writing, I catch things that should be corrected. It takes a little of the fun out of reading.

I’ve also learned that it’s not always the author’s fault. You can submit a manuscript and somehow things change a bit in the transmission. Yes, I’ve found typos that seem to pop up on their own. Go figure. I even went back to check the original manuscript in one case and son-of-a-gun, the original didn’t have the error.

So give authors a break when you read their material. Please. No, this has nothing to do with me, but with books in general. I hate being so gnit gpicky, or is it knit kpicky, or is it nit picky(?) when reading.  Okay, I’m chuckling to myself. It’s nitpicky or nit-picky. Take your pick.

Being nit picky doesn’t stop me from reviewing books; however, I won’t review every book I read for two reasons. The first is that if I don’t like a book, I won’t review it. I have a large To Be Read stack, so if I haven’t done a review, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book. It means I probably haven’t gotten to it. And, if I see that an author has plenty of reviews already (in the hundreds) I probably won’t review the book. It’s already been done many times. Well, maybe I’ll add it to my reviews on Goodreads.

So that’s it for this week. I’m a reader first. Hmm. Maybe I’m a writer first. Maybe there’s a tie. Maybe I’m too picky. Maybe I should try changing my reading habits.

I’m sighing loudly now, and ready to get back to reading.

Are you picky as a reader? As a writer?

Until next week, read a good book, review it, and enjoy your next book, too.

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

Just a suggestion, but you might want to take a look at the book trailer for Old Murders Never Die at . The music is haunting and so is the story. While it’s not a new book, it’s still worth a look.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Amy Reade, Guest Author

My guest this week is Amy Reade. She has an interesting take on naming characters in books, and it made me stop and think about the process. I generally use names that are fairly common and proper for the time period of the story. Maybe I’d better rethink that. A name really could make a difference.

Welcome, Amy!

 The Subtlety of Names

Of all the fascinating steps that go into writing a book, I always tell people my favorite is research. And a big part of research, at least for me, is naming characters. I know there are some authors who don’t agonize over names, but I’m not one of them. I pore over name books and websites. I scour newspaper articles, immigration lists, and census findings. I keep a running list of names I hear when I’m out and about and I find interesting. I put as much care into naming my characters as I do into researching the climate, culture, and physical attributes of my book’s settings.
            I do this for three reasons: first, I want to make sure the names I choose are appropriate to the time and place of my story (this is a no-brainer). Second, I like to choose names that have a particular meaning to me or to the story. I like to choose names that every Tom, Dick, or Harry (or every Jennifer, Jessica, or Ann) doesn’t have, and looking for interesting names is a fun exercise for me. And third, I like names that are uncommon and, therefore, memorable.
            When a character has a meaningful name, it can add a whole different level of interest and even intrigue to a novel.         

            Here’s an example: in my third novel, House of the Hanging Jade, the main character is named Kailani Kanaka. The story is set in Hawaii and Kailani is from the Island of Hawaii (or, as it’s often called, the Big Island).
            If you type the name “Kailani” into a search engine, you’re likely to find that it means sea and sky in Hawaiian. My Kailani is a nature lover. One of her favorite activities is kayaking, and there’s an important scene in the book that takes place in a kayak. I needed to find a name that fit her personality and interests.
            Here’s another example from the same book: one of the main characters is the head of a surf clothing company called Kaimana. It took me a long time to come up with that name. I wanted a word that reflected the surfing lifestyle and the spiritual connection between surfers and their world. “Kai” is the Hawaiian word for ocean. And “mana” is a Hawaiian word meaning power or spiritual energy. A company with the name Kaimana would be one that respects the earth, is a positive force for good, and is in harmony within itself and with others.
            In my story, the owner of Kaimana is a man who tries to embody many of these characteristics.
            I’ve also been known to give readers a tiny clue about the whodunit questions that swirl around in my books, and names are a highly subtle way for me to do that. Take, for example, a character in my work-in-progress. His name, which I’m not going to share and which is of Norwegian origin, means darkness. Is he the killer? I don’t know yet. But he will play a troubling role in the story.
            My fascination with names comes directly from reading Phyllis Whitney’s books. She never failed to come up with character names that were out, but not too far out, of the ordinary. I remember one character named Ysobel. Never mind that I couldn’t pronounce it correctly when I read the book- the point is that I never forgot it. There was another character in a different Phyllis Whitney book named Hollis. It’s an uncommon name (and a very pretty one, in my opinion) that jogs my memory of the whole story every time I think about it.
            That’s an important point. A really good character name, one that is thoughtful, meaningful, and perhaps a little uncommon, is memorable. And don’t we all want our characters to be memorable? Remember the Nancy Drew books? Nancy had two good friends named Bess and George. I recall thinking, “George? That’s a girl’s name? How cool!” I think George’s name is the reason I remember so many of the scenes with her in them.
            Next time you read a book with an interesting character name, look up its meaning. You just might find that the author is trying to tell you something about that character and his or her role in the story. And if it’s a name you find interesting or intriguing, you might just remember that story long after you reach “the end.” 

Thank you so much for stopping in, Amy. I really enjoy your books, and it’s interesting to learn the process you use, plus a little extra.

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