Monday, July 25, 2016

There are Herbs and Then There are Herb's

On Sunday my daughter and I went to the local Farmers’ Market. My first stop was a bakery counter where I bought the last five pieces of chocolate rugulah. Big surprise, huh? After that I had to stop and purchase some Royal Jelly because it’s supposed to be excellent for your skin. (Royal Jelly comes for queen bees, in case you didn’t know that little fact.)

After that it was on to check out the veggie displays. My favorite? Apricots, and I bought a few. They’ve become quite expensive.

I saw a young man making a delivery. He had a dolly with about six containers stacked on it. I laughed to myself because initially he couldn’t untangle his clipboard from the top of the stack. He then lifted about four of the containers and tripped on the dolly. He stacked the containers and turned for more, at which time he tripped on his own shoelace. The containers were emptied and he replaced them on the dolly. Lastly, when he was ready to leave he couldn’t get the clipboard to stay put on the stack. Okay, first of all he acted like this was his standard for deliveries. Maybe, like me, he’s a klutz. I could relate to his actions. Secondly, he reminded me of Stanley, from the Sandi Webster mysteries. It happens, and honestly, it lightened my mood.
 There were two more booths that grabbed my attention. My favorite color is yellow, and sunflowers seem so cheerful. Well, one booth had a very large (enlarged) photo of sunflowers. It cost over four hundred dollars. Not in my budget. The other booth had an eight by ten picture of part of a sunflower for forty dollars. Also not in my budget. I don’t mean to sound cheap, but I’ll grab my camera and take my own picture of a sunflower the next time I see one. Maybe I’ll grow some.


             Did someone call my name?

We were driving home when we passed a business I’d never seen before. The sign said, “Herb’s Acupuncture”, which struck me as an odd name for a business, but if Herb could do acupuncture, that was fine by me. I happen to believe acupuncture is great. It’s worked for me before with a shoulder problem I had for a long time. No more shoulder pain. It helped my dog, Sugar, with arthritis in her hip. Who knew it could be used on pets? However, here’s the rub. I mentioned “Herb’s Acupuncture” to my daughter, who’d also seen the sign. Uh, it was actually “Herbs and Acupuncture” – you know, like herbal plants. Herbs that are used for all kinds of purposes.

And, of course, that made me remember an episode on a long ago sitcom where (as I recall) a janitor saw a jar with herbs in it and thought it was Herb’s remains. Funny how one thought leads you to another.

We stopped at a large store where they offer mostly organic products. They carry some delicious frozen waffles that are gluten and wheat free. Now I’ve never had a problem with gluten or wheat, but these are better than any frozen waffle I’ve ever had before.

I stopped in the bakery. They had some fantastic looking unsliced cinnamon bread. Does anyone remember how in the “old days” when you bought a loaf of cinnamon bread it had a light frosting on it? It’s been years since I found a frosted loaf. I talked to the young woman in the bakery and requested she slice the bread. While she was doing that, I asked if they ever put frosting on their cinnamon bread. Nope. So, bless her heart, she gave me a container of the frosting they use on cinnamon rolls.

Yes, it was a good day and had nothing to do with writing, unless you count this post.

I love good days!

Until next time, visit a Farmers’ Market if there’s one near you. If not, try a store that’s new to you. Have an apricot, but make sure it was picked when it was ripe so it has all the wonderful flavor it should.

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

I must have done something right because I’m receiving glowing reports about my new book, Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery. Try it. You might like it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Reacting in Slow Motion

I read a post on Evelyn Cullet’s blog today about author, Connie Cockrell ( She shared an excerpt from her book, Mystery at the Fair. When her protagonist finds a body, her reaction stirred something in me.

Have you ever truly thought about how you might react to situations you put your characters in? I can think of a few moments when things happened and they truly felt like I was in slow motion, such as falling in a hole I didn’t know was there. It seemed like the fall, the pain, and my reaction were in slow motion. I was in shock for a couple of minutes before picking myself up and limping into the house.

Similar to the hole I refer to, thanks to a sweet dog (not this one). 
If we think about how we react to things, our characters might be just a tad more realistic in their reactions.

I’m not a screamer. I don’t remember screaming in my entire lifetime. I might gasp, or moan, or yell, but I don’t scream. Some people do. Depending on your scenario, what might your character do? Some people scream about everything – a spider, a bee, an unexpected moment, or maybe an intruder. My preference would be to suffer in silence, but that’s probably not typical.

When you write, think about how you might react to something momentous. Think about how Aunt Suzie might react, or Jane Smith from next door. Which person more closely resembles your character and how they might react?

Aunt Suzie might fall into a hole like I did and jump right back up before realizing she’s injured herself. Things might actually speed up in her mind instead of slowing down. After all, she’s a go-getter who never takes anything with a grain of salt.

Jane Smith might fall into that same hole and scream before calling out for help. She might be afraid to move, just in case she injured herself.

I have a friend who deals with emergencies through nervous laughter. She’ll handle whatever happens, laughing all the way through it. Have you ever watched a scary movie and laughed nervously instead of cringing in horror? Or maybe it’s in addition to cringing in horror. Maybe it’s hysterical laughter, I don’t know.

I know that sometimes I become repetitive, but once again, put yourself in your character’s shoes, or put her or him in your shoes. Okay, put this person in Aunt Suzie’s shoes, or Jane Smith’s shoes, or Uncle Fred’s shoes.

It’s a guy thing (I think), but often men try not to react, at least noticeably. However, in my Sandi Webster series a character named Stanley Hawks reacts to almost everything. And he screams like a girl. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it sets him a bit apart from the other characters. In fact, it makes him lovable. It endears him to the other characters (and hopefully the reader). Imagine what he feels when he finds himself standing right in the middle of a tarantula migration. (What Are the Odds? - A Sandi Webster Mystery)

It’s difficult for me when I read a book in which the female protagonist, who happens to be about five feet tall and weighs maybe ninety-five pounds, reacts to everything as though she expects people to call her Wonder Woman. Nothing stops her and she can fight off ten men at a time without losing her breath. She can then move on to another action scene and do it all over again, never even breaking a fingernail. I’m talking about books that are mysteries, not super hero books. And, honestly, I’m not referring to a specific book. This is just one of my over-imaginative examples.

I enjoy fiction as much as the next reader, but I’d like at least a little reality in the story. How people react to situations often gives a realistic feeling to the story.

Let’s say you’re being interviewed by a reporter in a restaurant setting. Would you sit up straight and answer their questions without hesitation? Hmm. You might stumble over your words while you pick a paper napkin to shreds. Then again, you might feel insulted by a question, jump out of your seat and stomp out of the restaurant.

And my point is? Mix some reality through actions in with fiction. Let the reader feel like they’re sitting at the next table watching the action. Let them relate to reactions.

I guess I’d better pay closer attention to my own advice. I know what I like to read, so maybe I’d better apply that to what I write.

Until next time, think about something from your past and how you reacted to it. You might surprise yourself.

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

Reality? Do you believe in time travel? Even if you don’t, you might enjoy Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Walking in Fictional Shoes

I thought about something this morning that’s never come up before, although it might have been lurking in the peripheral parts of my brain. We often walk the same path as our protagonists without realizing it.

I just started writing a new Sandi Webster story. She’s going to try to solve a crime that occurred in the 1930s. The incident took place in what was a small farming community at the time. My plan is to use a real town, not a fictional location.

This is going to involve plenty of research. So far I’ve had trouble discovering some of the history that would be pertinent to the story and town. I can find all kinds of information involving the late 1800s and early 1900s, but not much about the 1930s.

When we research, we need to come at things pretty much the same way as our protagonists. Obviously, Sandi is going to have trouble finding information, too.

For instance, I’ve already discovered that there was no police department in the town during the time period I’m interested in. The town wasn’t incorporated until 1955, which is when the department came on the scene. Who would have investigated the crime in the 1930s? Where could Sandi find records, if they still exist? I’ve heard through the grapevine that there were five Marshal’s in the area. Now I have to determine if that’s true, or if the County Sheriff would have handled the matter, and if there would still be records available to peruse.

Many stories include diaries or letters to give the protagonist needed information. I’ve used letters in a story, and I used a journal kept by a town lawman in another. But those things wouldn’t always be available in real life.

So our character has to do some imaginative research and sleuthing, especially if the crime was committed so long ago that there are no longer any witnesses to question. Hopefully, for this story there will still be some old timers still hanging around the area.

Coincidences? Yes, sometimes a coincidence can lead the character to a resolution, but in real life this would be fairly rare – which leads back to hard work and a lot of digging.
Old newspapers can be extremely helpful. You can find out what people were like and what was going on in the period you’re interested in. I plan to talk to someone at a local newspaper this week, and hopefully they’ll have copies of old news.

Sandi would have to do the same things I’ll be doing. She won’t be walking into a house where someone is waiting to hand her a list of answers. She’s going to have to work for a resolution.

Why on earth would she feel the need to solve an old crime? In her case, she has a reputation for solving old murders. Oh, yes, she’s solved current crimes, too, but there’s something challenging about the crimes of the past.

If you enjoy the Sandi Webster mysteries, keep a good thought for me. So far I haven’t been able to find much of the background I need for the story. I’d much rather include facts where they’re necessary rather than make things up for convenience.

Walk in your protagonist’s shoes and solve things along with him or her. You’ll meet some new people and have a good time putting the story together.

Yes, you can do a lot of research at the library and on the Internet, but some things just aren’t at your fingertips. Sometimes you have to work for every tidbit, just like your character. Hopefully you’ll have a good time doing it.

Until next time, read some old newspapers. You’ll be surprised at how different life was in other eras, and how much it can sometimes be similar.

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

The two books referenced above are A Well-Kept Family Secret and Old Murders Never Die

Choosing One Moment - A Time Travel Mystery is just waiting for you to read.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Fourth of July

A lot of books have been written that include holidays. Christmas probably tops the list. While I love Christmas stories, I also enjoy books that include America’s (land of the free, home of the brave) independence and patriotism.

While I might not agree with everything that happens in the United States, it’s my home and I love it. I remember how different things were when I was young, and I recall the stories my parents and grandparents told about growing up here. Those memories, and yours, can often be used in a story. There’s nothing wrong with being patriotic.

We’ve been listening to fireworks for four days (five by the time you read this), and it makes me wonder how many people love the fireworks and tend to forget what they represent – what we’re celebrating.

Just me, but I think it’s important to remember why we celebrate the 4th of July. Independence as a country is huge in the grand scheme of things. I support our military, I salute the flag, and I loved Mom’s apple pie. Songs from World War II were often patriotic. There’s one called “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer” by the Song Spinners that can bring tears to my eyes ( America, The Beautiful has the same effect.

My husband once bought a sign that he hung in our garage. It said, “A Patriotic American and His Little Miss Liberty Live Here”. I loved it.

The men and women of this country, both military and just plain citizens, have done everything possible to keep us safe and free. Independence comes at a price that equals nothing else.

Save those fireworks for the 4th of July. Let them mean something. Let them remind us of what we’re celebrating – The American Independence Day. Visit a park and sit on the green grass while you watch a fireworks display. Hang up your American flags. Join your neighbors for a barbeque topped with friendship (like we used to do, in the “old days”). Sing the national anthem. Give thanks for what we have.

I’ll end this with a funny story. You’ll have to visualize this one. My daughter has a twelve pound Chiwienie (half Chihuahua and half Dachshund) who’s terrified of certain noises, fireworks being one of them. When she hears the crack or the boom, she literally climbs up my daughters chest, onto her shoulder, and up onto her head. Wish I had a video of it.

I wish you all a safe and fun Fourth of July!

Maybe I should sign this Little Miss Liberty. Nah, these are just some thoughts from Marja the mystery writer (whose characters also believe in patriotism).

Until next time, enjoy life.

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

What were things like in 1909? Try Choosing One Moment - A Time Travel Mystery with character. Not your usual time travel story.