Monday, September 24, 2018

A Brief Moment

A brief moment can change our lives, much as a brief moment can change the lives of characters in books.

You’ve probably heard stories about someone who was caught in a traffic jam and missed a plane, only to find out later that the plane crashed. I have a friend whose mother got up during the night to get a drink of water during a heavy wind and rain storm. Her husband got up to see if she was okay. While they were in the kitchen a tree fell, crashing through the roof and landing on their bed.

True stories, and yet if you read them in a book you might think they’re not realistic. Strange things happen, and they can change our lives. You know the old saying about truth being stranger than fiction.

I remind myself of these things when I’m writing. If I want the characters’ lives to be realistic, then I need to remember that circumstances can change the outcome of a story, even if that circumstance only lasts for a brief moment.

Timing can be everything. What if Jane Doe hadn’t bent over to pick up the olive she dropped on the floor in the kitchen? The killer hiding outside her window would have fired his gun and hit her. However, since she did bend over, the bullet would have missed her and rammed harmlessly through a wall. What if Jane had been heading for the airport I mentioned above? She could have been on the plane that crashed.

I dropped my comb one morning while doing my hair and found a favorite earring I’d lost. I never would have found it if I hadn’t dropped my comb. It had landed in an odd spot. Many years ago I had an expensive piece of jewelry sitting on my dresser. It sat there for three weeks. One morning I was about to leave for work when I suddenly decided I should hide it, and I did. That day, while I was at work, someone burglarized my home, but they didn’t find that piece of jewelry. True story.

On her way to town, Minnie decided to take a new route to the store and missed a major accident. She couldn’t tell you why she changed her normal routine and route.

Yes, Virginia, coincidences do happen, probably more often than we might think. A brief moment can change the course of a person’s life, a sudden thirst during a storm might save a life, and dropping on object might lead you to find a lost treasure.

I know someone who was working on her genealogy. She came from a good, fine, upstanding family and was quite surprised to find out her ancestors were thieves and killers. Fortunately, she had a great sense of humor and found the light side to her discoveries. The fact that they were in the distant past certainly helped.

There are so many things that happen in real life that can be used in stories. It’s all a matter of deciding how to present the incident as fiction. Does life imitate fiction? Or does fiction imitate life?

Sometimes we have to tread lightly. Other times the incidents in a book should be as bold as possible. This is where common sense steps in.

How do you decide what might make a good scene or idea for a story? As a reader, do you sometimes wonder if there’s any truth in the mystery you’re reading?

A number of my books have at least a modicum of truth in them. It’s up to the reader to try to guess what’s true and what’s not.

Until next week, I hope a special brief moment or coincidence visits your life and brightens your week.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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I can’t recall if I mentioned it or not, but Bubba’s Ghost – A Sandi Webster Mystery is now available in audio format.

If you haven’t read it yet, One Adventure Too Many – A Sandi Webster Mystery was recently released.

Sandi’s mother and her aunt are ready for an adventure. Unfortunately, their idea of an adventure involved a dead body and a young woman in hiding.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Being the Unexpected Guest

A number of years ago my husband and I attended a charity auction. We bought an item that had been contributed by a very wealthy man, and in the process we met this man. He invited us to his penthouse, which was an impressive home, to put it mildly. By the way, you’ll get no hints as to who this man is.

During our visit with him, he invited us to see a second home, but we’d have to travel by helicopter to see it. The look on his face said, “Trust me, you’ll want to see this.”

This was the beginning of an interesting story.

We met him on the roof of the building where he lived and took his helicopter from there. I’m terrified of flying, but my thought was a helicopter ride wouldn’t be the same as an airplane ride, and it wouldn’t involve going through the airport process. Silly me! I could see all around the helicopter as we flew and within moments I’d grabbed hold of what I thought was probably a safety strap. My shoulder, arm and hand hurt for a few days after this trip. I mean, hurt. I thought I wore a poker face during the trip, but my husband knew. Oh, he knew me so well.

Our pilot took a circuitous route to what turned out to be a “secret” home. It seems this wealthy man had decided he wanted to be prepared for any coming event. The interesting route we took was to keep us from ever finding his home again. As an ex-cop, by husband was an observant man, and even he couldn’t figure out where we were. All I can tell you is that we were in a mountainous area.

We landed on a pad that couldn’t be seen from the air until you were right on top of it. It had been camouflaged, along with almost everything on the property. We were met by a security guard who lived there. Although the man was friendly, he took his job seriously.

Our host excused himself, and the next time we saw him he was wearing camouflage (camo) clothing, right down to his socks and shoes. The jeep on the property was painted as camo, and even the tires were camo.

 Fake Rock

We walked around the property and he showed us fake rocks that hid… Well, who knows what? Almost everything we saw was fake and served a purpose. My guess was electronics or some such thing, but I guess if The Big One (whatever that might be) ever happens, electronics would be useless. From the air and any vantage point, you couldn’t see the home.

I had to laugh to myself as we walked around the property. Our host pointed out a few real rocks and plants and said if I wanted to take one as a souvenir, to feel free. I thanked him but said no.

It really was a home, although not as spectacular as the penthouse he lived in. The difference was that there was a door which could be closed to protect the occupants, and it was made of what I would guess was reinforced steel. If you didn’t close the door, that wall was all windows with a gorgeous view. The house was functional, and yet elaborate.

He showed us cabinets and cupboards filled with long-lasting food (25-year shelf life), first aid items, and things to entertain himself with, along with extra tires in the garage, and the list went on and on. He mentioned weapons, but we didn’t see those.

When we left we had to take the helicopter to get back to the city. It took every bit of gumption I had to reboard. If I could have, I probably would have walked home.

We never saw this very wealthy man again, but it’s a day I’ll long remember. It was also the inspiration for “Entrance to Nowhere – A Sandi Webster Mystery.” After all, how could you spend time with someone like this, in a secret place, and not put the experience to work.

I’ve often said to watch what goes on around you and look for inspiration. Listen to people. A writer has to be at least a little nosey, right? You never know when you’ll have a once in a lifetime experience that won’t let go of your imagination. Although, come to think of it, a lot of things happen in our lives that are one-of-a-kind.

Until next time, make the most of unusual experiences. Enjoy the memories that come with them.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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One Adventure Too Many is the latest Sandi Webster mystery, but you might want to find out what happens at a secret mansion in Entrance to Nowhere, too.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Family Curse

I have two friends who’ve been talking about their family curses. Yes, sometimes bad things happen to good people, and it seems like these things usually happen in multiples and around the same time. Fortunately, they’ve both maintained their sense of humor.

 I think this cat has looked into the face of a family curse.

“My son wrecked the car yesterday, but he’s okay. Hahahaha” “A car drove through our living room wall last night. The fool missed all of us because we were in the back yard barbequing. hahahahaha” “The roof caved in last night. Fortunately, we weren’t home. Hahahaha”

Okay, maybe it’s not as much a sense of humor as it is shock. Some people laugh at the things that scare them the most. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Oh, and those things didn’t really happen to my friends, but they have had their hands full lately.

Things happen to characters in books, too. Mysteries might be a little boring if something didn’t go wrong. Take my Sandi Webster series. Sandi tries to go her merry little way, but something always leaps right in front of her, like her menopausal mother or her eccentric aunt in One Adventure Too Many where they want to be in on the action. Do they care if they might be kidnapped? They wouldn’t believe it could happen. After all, they’re menopausal and eccentric.

Even the bad guys can be goofy sometimes. If you read a lot of mysteries, you’ve probably laughed at some of their antics. It’s all in the way you present them.  Of course, there are bad guys who are just plain bad.

Chris Cross, of the Bogey Man series, has his own crosses to bear. His mother is quirky and has her own agenda, while his father is quiet with a smile that resembles a grimace. Chris bears a close resemblance to Humphrey Bogart and too frequently emulates the real Bogey’s mannerisms. His wife, Pamela, has way too much fun becoming involved in mysteries, and his precocious son is too smart for his own good. Chris also has some close encounters with a gaggle of Church Ladies. (Think Snoop Sisters who go to church.) Let’s not forget Grandma Tillie. She’s nuttier than his mother, and she’ll be putting in an appearance in the next Bogey book.

Do these characters think in terms of a Family Curse? Not really, although Sandi once wondered if it’s her lot in life to be involved with elderly people and dogs.

Speaking of dogs, they can be just as nutty as people. Just ask Sandi or Pamela, Chris’s wife.

Sandi has a half wolf/half Golden Retriever who’s the size of a small bear and who smiles a lot. Bubba is big, and he has some irrational fears including what appears to be a ghost in the attic. His doggy smile frightens people because it looks like he’s baring his teeth at them. Sometimes that can be a good thing. She recently added a small Chiweinie to her household. This dog is a nervous licker and she has irrational fears of coughing, sneezing, and of course, loud noises like thunder. Both dogs are based on dogs I know. The Chiweinie is my daughter’s dog.

Chris has two Yellow Labs with issues of their own. Sherlock, the male, seems to take too many chances and Watson, the female, seems to think he’s an idiot. These dogs are based on my own Labs who have more than their share of issues. They’re both afraid of the dark, and I once saw the large male cowed by a snail. (That one’s going to have to go in a story.)

So, yes, sometimes fictional characters might feel like they’ve been cursed, but they keep moving along. Maybe we’d be better off if we followed their example. Needless to say, there are situations we can’t laugh off, but let’s keep it light when we can.

How are things going for you? Well, I hope. Can you relate to some of the characters you read about in books? Has a book ever helped you wade through bad times?

Until next week, keep smiling and try to laugh a few things off.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Now that I've mentioned family curses and One Adventure Too Many - A Sandi Webster Mystery, you might think about giving it a try.