Monday, June 26, 2017

Do the Shoes Fit?

There’s an old saying about never judging someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. That’s great advice. However, for a writer that saying can have a whole different meaning.
An author can write fictitious mysteries, and they can create all kinds of havoc and adventure. We can set the scene whether something is happening indoors or outside. We can tell you how a character is dressed, or how their hair is combed (or not combed), and we can make it believeable if we play our cards right.

There’s one thing that a writer needs to handle very carefully – people’s reactions and emotions. They can make or break a story. People need to react to a situation realistically, even if the reaction is somewhat inappropriate. If the reaction is inappropriate, then the author needs to convey why the character didn’t do what was expected.

I’ve made a number of comments throughout these blogs about observing people. As a writer, I figure this is one of the most important things I do. For purposes of this post, I’m going to use a funeral as an example. You might see so many different emotions. So let’s say that Cousin Gertrude passed on unexpectedly last week, and it’s time for the funeral.

Gertrude’s daughter may cry uncontrollably. The death was unexpected, after all, and mother and daughter were close. Gertrude’s husband may appear completely lost and a single tear may slide down his face. Hubby is lost because Gertrude was his best friend in life. He’s visibly shaken.

What about Cousin Gerard? Why does he have that smirk on his face? He never liked Gertrude, and they had a falling out a month before her death when he asked to borrow money and she told him no. He feels like she got what she deserved. He doesn’t know that Gertrude didn’t have the money to lend him. She didn’t share that with him.

Here comes Justine, Gertrude’s granddaughter. Her face is drawn, but her eyes are dry. Why isn’t she crying? She adored her grandmother. Could it be that she’s in shock? Or maybe she simply doesn’t want anyone to know just how badly she’s hurting inside. She may hang her head and not look anyone in the eye. There are also some people who simply don’t cry – about anything.

Gertrude’s best friend, Cynthia, is sitting in the rear or the church. A small giggle escapes her lips and she places her hand over her mouth. Ah, she’s the nervous giggler. Whenever disaster strikes, she begins to laugh. It’s her way of dealing with a crisis. She’ll jump up and take charge in an emergency – laughing all the while.

Buster is sitting next to Cynthia, fidgeting and not paying attention. Is he jiggling his knee? Pulling at the collar of his shirt? Repositioning his behind on the seat every few seconds? He finds Cynthia’s giggle annoying, and he wants to go home to watch the big game. Gertrude meant nothing to him. He’s only at the funeral for Cynthia’s sake.

Everyone reacts differently to each situation. That includes humor. What one person finds funny may make another purse her lips and make a tsk tsk sound. The lip purser may think the humor was in bad taste, while it’s just exactly what the doctor ordered for the laughing person.

So put yourself in someone else’s shoes and decide which reaction is appropriate to a particular situation and character. Even though you might curse and yell if you hit your thumb with a hammer, someone else might actually just say, “Shucks.” Yes, I’ve seen and heard that reaction, although it wasn’t me. Keep it real, but make sure the reader knows why someone is emotional, or emotionless, by their actions and reactions.

Until next time, if you read a book this week pay attention to the characters’ reactions and see if they make you feel an emotion in conjunction with what the character is going through. And have a piece of chocolate to see if it perks you up. Perking up is an emotion, too, and chocolate is my answer to everything.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Entrance to Nowhere – A Sandi Webster Mystery is in the works and nearing completion. In the meantime, you might try Having a Great Crime – Wish You Were Here, another Sandi Webster mystery.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sometimes a Big Mouth Can Be a Good Thing

Having a Great Crime - Wish You Were Here - A Sandi Webster Mystery (ebook version) will be free on on Friday, June 23, 2017 through Saturday, June 24, 2017.

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I was talking to a friend recently, also a writer, and we talked about – what else – books. We also talked about promoting said books and creating a buzz, something I’ve posted about in the past. Today I’m focusing on readers, not writers. Yes, most writers are also readers.

I firmly believe word-of-mouth is the best advertising. Think about it. How many times have you read a book or watched a television show because a relative or friend, or maybe a neighbor, said it was the best thing since sliced bread? They’re enthusiastic and want to share their excitement with you.

Let’s say you recently read a book that you truly enjoyed. Did you tell anyone about it? Here’s something I read, but at the moment I can’t recall where. Think about how many people you know. We’ll use the number fifty for today, including friends, relatives and acquaintances. You’ve read a book that was both entertaining and memorable. Now imagine you tell every one of those fifty people about the book. They read the book and enjoyed it as much as you did, and they tell every one of the fifty people they know about the book. That fifty reads the book and ends up telling all of their connections, and on and on and on. The word spreads like wildfire.

By the end of the week (or month or two) the author’s name could become a household word. I’ve read some really good books because of word-of-mouth. Honestly? I’d never heard of some of the authors until a friend told me about them.  Rhys Bowen is one of those authors and I can’t get enough of her books now. I heard about her through word-of-mouth.

Authors can be a Big Mouth about their own books, but unfortunately sometimes that can get old quickly. We do what we can to get the word out, from personal appearances to book signings to any event we can attend. We post on the Internet in as many places as possible. We talk to total strangers and find out we may have something in common with them. We make new friends along the way. Okay, I have to admit that I’m not above asking a clerk at the store or the receptionist in an office if they enjoy reading mysteries. If they do, I usually give them a promotional item with my website address on it.

A lot of personal connections happen at conferences. Many attendees go home and tell their relatives, neighbors and friends about what fun it was to meet a real live author. There are a few people I’ve stayed in touch with, and I’ve enjoyed the interaction.

I’m no different than anyone else. When I go to writers events I come home and talk about the people I’ve met and things I saw and heard. I can remember a few times when I’d come home and my husband’s eyes would glaze over, so I’d turn to someone else and repeat the stories. I’m excited, and without meaning to, I’m creating a buzz.

I’ve met some famous authors, which is exciting, and I’ve also met some relatively unknown or new authors whom I liked, and I soon found myself trying one of their books. They were enthusiastic and friendly, and that’s what generally makes me take a look at their work. (Don’t forget, readers, that there are conferences who welcome readers as well as authors.)

Let’s not forget reviews. If you really enjoy a book, write a review. It’s just another form of word-of-mouth. In the case of a review, you’re blabbing to strangers. It still creates a buzz, although I’ve heard that some people won’t even bother to read reviews. Personally, I tend to check them out. I’ve even read a few books that got bad reviews. The storyline sounded good, even if the review didn’t. So far, I haven’t been disappointed.

As a reader, what do you think about creating a buzz? Do you have a big mouth? Can you recommend a good book? I love it when I set a book aside and sigh, thinking how much I enjoyed it and what a satisfying ending the author created.

Until next week, if you’ve read a good book, start buzzing about it. Tell a friend, and have fun connecting with other readers.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (sorely in need of updating)
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If the idea of an elderly “hit woman,” the mob and a little humor appeals to you, you might give Black Butterfly – A Bogeyman Mystery a try.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Murder in the First...

…chapter, that is. I once talked to an author who said someone told her you have to write a murder into the first chapter of your book or the story won’t make it. The comments was also made that a mystery isn’t a mystery unless there’s a dead body in it. These comments made me sit down and think about writing. There’s no formula for a mystery other than the story the writer wants to tell.

Many mysteries need to build up to the crime. You can open the book with the murder, but many times you then have to tell a back story. Why did this crime happen? What led up to it? Who was the victim? Do I, as a reader, even care about the victim? I certainly haven’t learned much about him or her if they were killed in the first chapter. What made this person tick? Why would someone murder this person?

Many television shows seem to begin with the dead body, and then the investigator(s) have to learn the back story through leads and clues. They need to keep the viewing audience glued to the screen. Books can keep you interested by carefully laying the groundwork for what’s to come. Each chapter can include a cliffhanger at the end to keep the reader guessing and interested, even if the murder doesn’t happen up front.

Some victims are actually a bad person to begin with. By building up to the death, you can create a very unlikable victim – or you can make him sympathetic because he had a horrible background which molded him into a bad guy. Some people are victims of circumstance.

Other victims are good people. Maybe someone was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a reader, I’d like to know how that person ended up in the wrong place, and why he or she had to die. I’ve heard people say there are no coincidences. I don’t believe that. Sometimes things just happen, for no apparent reason (like in wrong place, wrong time). There are all kinds of scenarios.

Then we come to the comment that a mystery isn’t a mystery unless there’s a murder. Not so, I guarantee you. I’ve read some great mysteries where no one was killed. A missing person can be a mystery. The neighbor in a book might think that Fred Smith from down the street is acting suspicious – and his wife hasn’t been seen in two weeks. So maybe the neighbor sets out to see if Fred murdered his wife and buried her body in the backyard. It makes sense to the neighbor because she never did like Fred anyway. He always came across as an off-putting man.

Sometimes suspicious acts can be misconstrued because that’s what the observer wants to see, and in that scenario lies a mystery. It could turn out that Fred is hard of hearing, or painfully shy, and this makes him come across differently than he really is. And it could also turn out that his wife left suddenly, during the night, to take care of a sick relative. In the meantime, it was a mystery until the facts were revealed. The snoopy neighbor is either going to be embarrassed for her suspicions, or she’ll feel good that she found out the truth.

Just to add a twist, what if the neighbor began digging around in the neighbor’s backyard and found bones that had been buried there for a very long time, as in an historical murder that happened long before Fred was even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes? A twist always adds to the fun.

With all of this said, I have to admit that a few authors have hooked me in the first paragraph or two with a dead body, but not often. You can hook a reader without a corpse, too.

So, if you enjoy a good mystery, don’t worry about when the person dies, or when the body is discovered, and don’t worry if there isn’t a body. Just enjoy the trip that takes you from Chapter One to The End, whether you’re the reader or the writer.

Until next time, I hope you have a good week and that no bodies show up in your neighbor’s backyard.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Give them a try, please. They might surprise you.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Marcia Rosen, Guest Author

My guest this week is Marcia Rosen, who's offering some advice about marketing our books. Marcia writes the "Dying to Be Beautiful Mystery" series as M. Glenda Rosen. I haven't read her books yet, but I hope to soon. They sound fascinating. Welcome, Marcia!

What’s Best For You?

As authors, we are inundated with marketing options and opportunities to sell our books. Many are not worth the time or money. Sometimes it feels like we’re being asked to sell our souls in order to sell our books. That’s never a good idea!
Book marketing strategies are an ever-changing challenge for authors, with traditional options available such as book signings to today’s endless array of social media offerings.
It is most helpful to have a marketing plan, your personal roadmap, for promoting and selling your books. To reach a wide and diverse audience, most traditional and self-publishers will agree: You need to market your book.    
No matter how wonderful, interesting and compelling your book might be, you still have to let the reading world know it exists!
            It would be difficult and costly to pursue all of the marketing options available to you, especially since new ones appear practically daily. The choices should depend on what you may be willing to do from the perspective of time, energy and costs. Select ones you consider the most practical, plausible and affordable for you.
Ask others, trust your own instincts while valuing others’ experiences.

Branding yourself as an author—highlighting the types of books you write—can help you increase book sales. Create a campaign message and write a synopsis of your book tailored for marketing and PR activities in order to create buzz about your book.

Book Marketing Tips

Determine your goals and vision
Know your reader markets
Be as specific as possible
Know what options and opportunities are available
Be organized: Keep an ongoing calendar
Plan ahead
Promote your next book prior to publication, especially if the book is part of a series
Be flexible: Add new ideas as your marketing campaign progresses
Keep track of your actions and responses
Note best and worse marketing actions
Avoid expensive actions with proven little response
Be cautious: Ask other writers what works for them
Attend one or two writers’ conferences a year
Ask people to review your book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads
Be willing to ask for help and support

For list of suggested resources email:

                                                                        Marcia Rosen

Thank you for some sound advice, Marcia. I  hope you'll return soon!

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw's website
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