Monday, July 30, 2018

Can We Successfully Combine Humor and Drama?

Can a writer combine humor and drama? The simple answer? Yes. I write two mystery series and they’re both light reading with a little humor. There’s a big “however” here. However, murder isn’t funny by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, the books contain some drama, too. I’ll never make light of a murder and generally the motives aren’t humorous, either.

Back to humor, you can find some humor in the characters solving the mystery and in the situations in which they find themselves. There’s so much drama in today’s world that I believe we need something to lighten our mood sometimes. Hopefully, that’s a need I’m addressing.

In the Sandi Webster series, she’s a female P.I., has a menopausal mother and an overbearing aunt, employs a formal acting yet klutzy guy and his wife, and she has a partner who always wants to watch her back, although he sometimes ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She frequently finds herself confronting quirky or eccentric people. These traits often equal humor, and they’re traits I’ve found in people in my own life over the years.

I mentioned both drama and humor. Sandi has a few situations where she runs into heartbreaking circumstances and needs humor to keep her balanced. That can be difficult in real life and in fiction. You can’t walk away from heartbreak and laugh at it. Sometimes you have to look for the humor somewhere else. As writers, we can provide that distraction.

I’ve worked in law enforcement (in a clerical capacity), part-time in a shoe store and a lingerie store, and for a state transportation department, among other jobs. Some of the things I’ve seen would boggle your mind. Of course, some of these things are only humorous after the fact – like the time I had to search a Ladies Restroom for a bomb, with no training. There was, after all, a time when you wouldn’t expect to find a bomb in a john. Then there was the time a woman was turned down for a job in law enforcement because she didn’t have the qualifications. Death threats followed, even though I’d only given her the typing test. Ah, those were the days.

My Bogey Man series features Chris Cross, who’s a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart, and who manages to walk the walk and talk the talk. Bogart is his muse, his hero and his idea of how a man should act. That is, the Bogey he saw in the movies. He’s very good at rolling his upper lip under like Mr. Bogart did. Chris is married and has a stepson, and they sometimes remind me just a little of a modern Thin Man family.

Humor keeps most of the characters going. We need a good laugh in our own lives once in a while, and so do fictional characters.

In both series the characters and their lives grow and change over time. So do we. Time seems to pass slowly in a series. Occasionally that would be preferable in real life, although there are other times when we wish we could speed things along. Either way, humor helps us and our characters get through the day.

Someone once sent me a joke which read, “Awkward Moments: When you’re digging a hole to bury a body, and you find another body already buried there.” Maybe that’s dark humor, but it gave me a chuckle and inspired an entire book, Awkward Moments – A Bogey Man Mystery. Humor can come from the most unexpected places.

There’s so much more that could be said about humor in mysteries, but instead of me saying more, try picking up a book with humor in it and see for yourself. Ask for recommendations from friends, family or your librarian.

Until next time, I hope something sparks a chuckle in your day. How about this? I recently discovered that my hundred pound yellow Labrador Retriever is terrified of a little bitty snail. Of course, this is the same dog who’s afraid of the dark. True stories.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (recently updated - almost completed)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

If you’re looking for something lighter, try the Sandi Webster Mysteries or The Bogey Man Mysteries.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Seen Any Good Movies Lately?

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie trailer that gave me a legitimate desire to see a new movie. Those that I have viewed? I was disappointed in most of them.

You might wonder why a writer would blog about movies. The reason is quite simple. I’d like to see a good old-fashioned mystery movie – one where “they” don’t concentrate on gore, sex or foul language. I’ve read so many good mysteries lately and thought, “Wow! That would make a great movie.”

An Old-Fashioned Movie

 Call me a prude – and you might – but I’m tired of hearing the “F-bomb” and some of the other offensive words. I understand they’re not offensive to everyone, but come on – do they really add to the story? Are they an integral part of the dialogue? Okay, sometimes it gives flavor to a bad guy’s character, but it’s not necessary in every other sentence.

If I want to see gore, I’ll drive to the site of an accident next time I hear sirens. Personally, and this is just me, I’ve seen enough blood and guts on television. It’s often worse in the movies. I hate to see kids, and adults, getting used to seeing this stuff. At the scene of an accident, are you going to say, “Oh. I’ve seen this kind of thing a hundred times on TV. Big deal.”

And then there’s sex. I don’t need to see the details of someone else’s sex life. (It’s actually sexier when ”they” leave what happens to the viewer’s/reader’s imagination.)

If I spend the money to go to the theater and watch a mystery, I want to see a mystery. And I want it to be a good one. Yeah, I know. Who cares what one person wants? Well, it’s not just me who would like to see a good movie, a classic mystery. It would be even better if it didn’t involve a serial killer. That storyline is becoming a bit old. Oops! I wrote a book that involved a serial killer. Bad me!

Oh, and to make the mystery movie even better, I’d love to see one that makes me laugh. Of course, in some mysteries there’s no room for humor. That’s okay, too.

I’ve read plenty of entertaining mysteries lately. When you finish a book do you close it and sigh, thinking, “Ahhh, that would make a great movie.” Instead of coming up with some good new material, it seems to be the in thing to remake old movies (and TV shows), and honestly? I’d like to see something new and fresh.

A screenwriter made a presentation at a conference I once attended. He made the comment that if your book is picked up for a movie, don’t hold your breath while you wait to see your story on the Big Screen. Just about everyone involved in making a movie has the right to ask for changes. The movie may end up not even resembling your story.

As an author, am I spouting sour grapes? No, I’ve never had anyone offer to make a movie out of one of my books. However, as someone who enjoys a good movie, a mystery in particular, for the time-being I’ll stick with the old black and whites.

Well, I guess I have to laugh a little. When someone got shot in the old movies there was no bullet hole and no blood. Someone just fell down. Period. But at least the bullet hole didn’t spurt something red and there wasn’t any brain matter flying across the room.

Okay, I’m stepping down from my soapbox now (again). All I’m really saying is there are a lot of good books out there that would make great movies, and I’d go to see them in a heartbeat.

I know some of you don’t have a problem with language, sex and gore. If that doesn’t bother you, what does? What are some of the issues with today’s movies that would prevent you from spending your hard-earned money on a theater ticket? I’m honestly curious.

Until next time, read a book this week that you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten around to, and decide if it would make a good movie nor not.

Marja McGraw’s website is in the process of being updated.
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

Old Murders Never Die – A Sandi Webster Mystery takes places in a deserted ghost town and this is the one that included a serial killer – dating back to the late 1800s.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Poke on the Arm

I post about the Sandi Webster series fairly often, but there is a second series. It’s The Bogey Man Mysteries. After five books I let the characters retire, but something is telling me I need to add at least one more book to the series. I’ve had a number of people ask me how I came up with the idea for these stories, and here’s the answer.
In 2006 a made-for-television movie titled, “Love Can Be Murder,” with Jaclyn Smith and Corbin Bernsen was released. In a nutshell, a female attorney wanted changes in her life and gave up her law career to become a P.I. She rented an office in an old building and discovered that back in the 1940s another P.I. had used the office. He’d been murdered while working on a high profile case. His ghost came back and wanted the woman to discover who killed him and to solve the other, more famous case, in the process.

The movie stuck with me. It was a fun story and, of course, a mystery. Smith and Bernsen were perfect in the roles they played. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the idea of the story out of my mind. I read some mysteries I enjoyed, and along the same lines, the ghost of a P.I. returned and worked on solving mysteries. The whole idea wouldn’t let go. It was like having a sibling who won’t stop poking you in the arm until he or she gets your attention, or more to his or her liking, they get you in trouble for shouting at them.

The thing was, I didn’t want to use a ghost in a story. I wanted the 1940s P.I., but no ghost. An idea began to take shape. It wouldn’t let me go any more than memories of the movie and the books. Poke, poke, poke.

Sandi, from the Sandi Webster Mysteries, has always loved the idea of the old gumshoes and their use of the 1940s slang. She grew up on old movies, thanks to her mother, and it finally struck me. She needed to meet someone who could fill a role in her life – someone who would remind her of old movies and old detectives.
The Bogey Man - A Sandi Webster Mystery was born. Someone was following Sandi and he bore a striking resemblance to Humphrey Bogart. As it turns out, he was taken with the same 1940s themes because of his resemblance to a  famous actor and he wanted to become a private eye.

Sandi made it her business to show him what the realities were, like going on a stakeout and drinking too much coffee or soda, and like being too visible because you dress like a 1940s P.I. In the process there’s a murder to be solved. Whether she liked it or not, the Bogey Man became involved.

People who read The Bogey Man liked this character so much that I knew he had to have his own series. However, I still wanted to do things differently, so in The Bogey Man I let the private eye fall for a widow with a young son.

Aha! A family mystery. What a great idea, and what fun it could be. The Bogey Man Mysteries ended up similar to The Thin Man with a Bogart-like character, a wife who has just as much fun as he does, and a son he calls Ace who manages to become involved whether his parents want him to or not.

Of course, a lot of younger people wouldn’t have any idea about private eyes from the forties and the slang they used, but it can be fun figuring it out.

Believe it or not, that’s the short answer about where the Bogey Man came from, and you can find a lot of forties themes in a current setting in these books.

That’s all I have to say. Short question, short answer. Readers like to know where ideas come from and I hope this answer is satisfying.

Believe it or not, I bought a couple of things to go with the Bogey theme – an old Derringer cigarette lighter, a gray fedora and a yellow trench coat. Let’s just call those purchases an eccentricity. Somehow these things just called to me.

Until next time, ask some of your favorite authors what got them started on a  particular theme. You might be surprised at their answers.

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

Try the Bogey Man Mysteries. You might find something you like in this family mystery series, and I just might come up with a new Bogey story in the future.

Monday, July 9, 2018

I Never Met a Chocolate I Didn't Like

Most people, both real and fictional, have something they’re addicted to, or maybe they consider it a habit. In the case of one of my characters, Sandi Webster, it’s a chocolate addiction. Sandi finds herself in a situation where she’s stranded in a ghost town and, horror of horrors, she’s out of chocolate. When her partner asks her what the deal is with chocolate, she says:

** “I can’t explain it,” I replied. “If I’m in a bad mood, chocolate will perk me up. One time when I was frightened, I ate a whole box of Bordeauxs, a specialty candy. They kept me going. There’s a type of chocolate called ganache. It’s chocolate mixed with heavy cream, and it’s… It’s a taste that can’t be described. Chocolate is sweet, but not like other sugary candy. As it melts in your mouth, it leaves its own unique flavor bouncing off the tongue and back again. I’ve read that dark chocolate has some healthy attributes, but unfortunately I prefer the light chocolate. It’s kind of like a nerve tonic for me.” I put my hand to my mouth, checking to be sure there wasn’t a trail of drool on my chin.

Does this, by any chance, sound like I understand Sandi’s addiction? Well, yes, I do. I wrote from experience and actually downplayed it.

 My Hero

Writers can give their characters all kinds of addictions or habits. As you can tell, candy can be one of them. However, a fictional character might also be fighting against an addiction to cigarettes or alcohol, or any number of other things. Some characters may be addicted to using certain words in their dialogue. It happens.

In all honesty, I believe having things they have to battle makes them more real to the reader, and maybe more relatable.

Before describing what she feels chocolate does for her, Sandi runs into a wall, figuratively speaking.

**I reached for my chocolate. There was no more chocolate. I searched through my backpack, but it was all gone. My heart thumped a couple of extra beats and I wondered if this was the way a smoker might feel if they ran out of cigarettes and there were no more. Anywhere. Well, I’m a bigger person that that. I could live without chocolate. Piece of cake.

When her partner, Pete, realizes she’s out of chocolate, he reacts.

** He took a step back. He knew. If he had any chocolate, he’d probably run out the front door and toss it to me as he ran by, and I doubted he’d be back until I’d eaten every last bite.

When we give our characters idiosyncrasies or addictions, the other characters have room to react and emphasize the problem. Many times the characters play off of each other. Chocolate may be a small thing to many, but it can help keep the story moving, as can other habits or addictions.

Unfortunately, when I write about Sandi and her chocolate, I find myself developing a craving. Consequently? I keep a candy dish on my desk with goodies in it.

Now that I think about it, I don’t recall giving Pete an addiction, other than he likes to keep busy. The same can be said about many men and women. I think some women react differently to things that keep them motivated. Curiosity will keep women motivated and, whether they’ll admit it or not, many men are the same way.

The point is, think about keeping your characters real. Maybe a specific color will play a part in their lives. It doesn’t always have to be an addiction to a specific thing. Can you become addicted to a color? (I’m shrugging my shoulders.) I love yellow. It’s cheerful. There’s a lot of yellow in my life. I even have a yellow trench coat.

Watch the people around you and pay attention to your own habits. You’ll begin to see things that fit a character in your book, even if it’s a character who only plays a part in one book.

Think about it. What addiction or habit might make your characters memorable? Peanut butter? Ice cream? Jelly beans? A particular car? A song? Maybe a cranky attitude. What might endear your character to readers?

Until next time, try to give something up and see how well you do. Of course, in my case chocolate will be the exception.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (Sorely in need of updating)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

Is Gin Mill Grill – A Sandi Webster Mystery about an addiction? Probably not, but you might give the book a try.
 Yes, that is a mummy sitting in the chair

Monday, July 2, 2018

Patricia Gligor, Guest Author

This week my friend Patricia Gligor joins us to discuss her new book, Secrets in Storyville. I'm about halfway through the book and it's very different from her Malone series. I'm really enjoying this new standalone mystery 

Thank you for visiting today, Pat!

What inspired me to write Secrets in Storyville?

As a reader, I’ve always loved a good mystery. Most of the books I’d read were standalone mystery/suspense novels. But, several years ago, I picked up a cozy mystery, which took place in a small town, and I was hooked on cozies. Now, I still love a good suspense novel but I find that I read more cozies than any other mystery sub-genre. Some are standalones and some are part of a series.
As a writer, I never know where inspiration for a story will come from. But it’s always from people, places and things that have crossed my path. Sometimes they’re recent and other times they emerge from my memory bank.

When I finished writing my fifth Malone mystery, Marnie Malone, I wasn’t sure what my next book would be. I’d spent so many years on the series and had become so involved in the lives of the characters. I knew I’d miss the Malones but I also realized it was time to end the series and to do something totally different.

My Malone mysteries are all written in the third person and they are set in real locations, places that really exist. An old Victorian in my neighborhood was the inspiration for the series.

For a long time, I’d wanted to write a cozy mystery in the first person and set it in a fictional small town. Now I had my chance. Secrets in Storyville is completely separate from and different than my Malone mysteries but the books have one thing in common: an old house inspired me.

 As it turned out, I didn’t use that house (photo below) as the main setting in my new book but it is a secondary setting and important to the plot. 

The other elements of the book came to me in the usual way – bits and pieces that somehow eventually coalesced to form a book. A book that was so much fun to write!
I hope you enjoy reading Secrets in Storyville as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Kate Morgan, a single mother, lives in the small town of Storyville, Ohio where she grew up. A want-to-be author, she works as a sales clerk in the town’s only department store doing what she describes as “a job a monkey could do.” Although she’s bored with her job, she’s reluctant to consider making any major changes in her life. However, she’s about to find out that change is inevitable.

When Kate’s ten-year-old daughter, Mandy, tells the family she plans to do a family tree for a school project, the negative reaction of Kate’s parents and grandmother shocks her but also arouses her curiosity. Why are they so against Mandy’s project? Surely her family is too “normal” to have any skeletons in their closet.

Kate decides to support her daughter even if that means defying her parents. As she searches for the truth, she discovers some long buried secrets that, if she decides to reveal them, will change her life and the lives of the people she loves - forever.


Patricia Gligor is a Cincinnati native. She has worked as an administrative assistant, the sole proprietor of a resume writing service and the manager of a sporting goods department but her passion has always been writing fiction. 

Secrets in Storyville, a small town mystery, is separate from her series.
Her books are available at:  


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