Monday, February 24, 2014

Mystery Author Marja McGraw: The Hand of Fate?

I am delighted to welcome Marja McGraw to Write Away today! I met her at a Public Safety Writers Conference last July and immediately connected with her warm personality and terrific sense of humor. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more cheerful demeanor in any room! And guess what? No surprise that persona manifests itself in her books. The cover of the latest is here. Check her out in the links at the bottom. You will be delighted with your find!

 Many years ago my young daughter and I lived alone due to circumstances. We were living in a small apartment, and there had been several instances of prowlers lurking and mysterious occurrences, like keys disappearing from apartments. Everyone in the building was on the lookout for each other.

One night I was awakened when I felt someone’s presence in the room. Surprisingly, I was sleeping soundly that night and it took me a moment to wake up. I was trying to figure out why I thought someone was in the room when I realized my hand rested on that of someone else. Mind you, I was very sleepy. I wondered if I was dreaming.

I started to feel the fingers of the hand. Yes, someone was definitely in my room. I wanted to jump up, grab my daughter from the next room and run, but I was so groggy.

I touched one more of the intruder’s fingers and suddenly I was wide awake! I was on the verge of screaming, when all of a sudden I realized… I was feeling my own hand. My head rested on my right arm and my hand had gone to sleep. Needless to say, my right hand had no feeling and didn’t know my left hand was touching its fingers.

The point of this story is, there are so many things that happen to us in real life that we can twist and turn until they’re fodder for a mystery. Think about your life. You must have had something odd happen at some time in your personal history. Use it.

A few years after the hand incident I’d moved and lived in a very old house. There was a local bum/drunk who watched my house, unknown to me until he began arriving on my doorstep. He’d tell me the things he’d seen me do, and he’d leave little “gifts” like a soft drink or a bag of potato chips on my porch when I wasn’t home. Without going into detail, he was a scary guy who really wanted me to let him in. Interestingly, I’d call the police and somehow they could never find him. There’s a story behind that, but it’s better left for another time.

When I wrote “Bubba’s Ghost”, I used the bum/drunk as a basis for the story. I created twists and turns galore and ended up with a pretty good murder mystery.

You can create a scene or an entire book out of one instance in your life. No one has to know your story or scene is based on something that really happened to you, or that you saw happen to someone else. Real life can become fiction, although sometimes it needs a little help.

That fickle finger of fate can actually cause the direction our lives are taking to turn down a side road. The same thing can happen to our protagonist or other characters in our books. Sometimes we can even turn a traumatic occurrence into a funny scene.

Don’t get me wrong. Not all of my books are based on real life experiences, although a menopausal woman takes down a mugger in “A Well-Kept Family Secret”. That scene was based on something that happened to a friend and me when she was mugged in a bank parking lot several years ago.
Hmm. I’ve lived kind of an interesting life. Maybe I was meant to be a mystery writer. I sure have enough life experience for it.

As a reader, I hope you enjoy what mystery writers write, and I hope you can relate to some of the lighter parts of stories. I don’t want anyone to relate to the dark parts, but things happen.
As a writer, I hope you’re watching and remembering. I hope you’re using memories as well as your imagination.

If anyone can relate, readers or writers, it might even be a little therapeutic. One can always hope.
Thank you so much for letting me share a little about turning reality into fiction, Sharon. You have a lovely site and I enjoyed visiting.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Do I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

There’s something about writing murder mysteries that rubs me the wrong way. At heart, I’m a non-violent, make-love-not-war kinda guy. Until you put a blank document in front of me with one of my delectable culinary mystery titles at the top. Tequila Mockingbird. Roux the Day. Romeo and Julienned. Glazed and Infused. Berried Alive. You get the drift. How can you not write to one of those titles? {Speaking of which--did you get your copy of Mission Impastable yet?}

When the blank page pops up, I can’t help myself. I recall grisly details of murder methods and motives. I tap into my files of devilish dyings. I scour the Internet for undetectable poisons. I make note of various ways to die--advertent and inadvertent--in books I read. Think about it: an inadvertent death can be used as a plot point or red herring in a murder mystery.

I write cozy mysteries. In cozies, you protect the sensibilities of the reader by killing off-stage, mostly. You don’t let them see the blood and gore of grisly death, mostly. Cozies are analogous to the old movies where they are clutched in embrace, move as one to open the door to the bedroom, and the scene fades to black. You know what happened, but you don’t live it real-time.

You might wonder how a “cozy mystery” can even be called a “murder mystery”? I mean, doesn’t that seem a contradiction in terms? Cozy implies safe. Murder is far from a safe state.Why do we authors continue to kill people? Are all authors just psychopaths masquerading as normal? Could we authors really be Dexter, with just a nudge?

Oh, I hope it is not mere sublimination. Rather, the puzzle to be set then solved is the attraction for most mystery writers, I suspect. It is satisfying to plot out the puzzle with myriad clues and red herrings (perfect for culinary mystery, eh?).

Back to the case in point: how many ways can you kill people? There is some weird stuff out there, by the way, in case you go investigating “ways to kill people”.

And, as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to kill people. Think about it. I’ll give you a moment to jot down ideas.
<Jeopardy music softly in background>

How did you do? Did you find it’s easier to enumerate if you think about killing in categories?

Deprivation of oxygen: plastic bag over head, pillow smothering, drowning, fire, strangulation, bury alive, and so on.

Traumatic injury: electrocution, car accident, bludgeoning, stabbing, shooting, hack off limbs, pierce the brain, sever artery, freezing, mauling, and more.

Chemical: drug overdose, toxic household items, toxic plants, acid, inhaling 100% oxygen, paralytic drug so systems shut down, radiation, viral, etc.

Then of course there’s the mass murder and serial murder. So many options for a writer. The only answer for us, of course, is to keep writing books and use up all the ways there are to do somebody in.

But, why do we choose murder? Can’t we just have some theft, a little B&E, nobody gets physically hurt, and call it a real cozy?


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Writers: Sell That Real Estate

I had a fun weekend at the Glendale, AZ Chocolate Affaire. Every February, around V-Day, about 100,000 people visit the various tents of food and crafts, listen to music, and buy books from local authors.

Our local branch of romance writers has had a tent from the first year of this event. This year about 40 authors sold and autographed books over a three-day period. Not everyone was selling romance--me, for example--but the romance writers embrace the big tent concept.

I would have sold romance, if I could have, but STREETWALKER (my Angelica French persona) is only an e-book so far. Hopefully, it will appear in print later this month. But, more on that later.

I did sell copies of my just-released culinary mystery, MISSION IMPASTABLE. What fun! Buyers got the pen I signed with, too. What a deal!

But I hawked more than I sold. That’s typical. Who comes to a festival thinking to buy books? Well, some do. Those are our regulars who show up every year hunting for fave authors. But most people I conversed with didn’t even know we were local authors.

So what did I hawk? Real estate.

No, not that kind of real estate.

The blank back of that business card you paid for, that space is real estate, and it cries out for information from you. And I don’t mean here’s how to reach me. That’s on the front.

On the back, I gave people a reason to keep my cards. A reason to keep them from tossing them in the trash or in a drawer. Out of sight, out of mind. I want to be on their mind.

So far, I have two books in print, so I have two business cards. I can see consolidating down the road, but for now, two is good.

The front of each card has contact info and my great book covers on a clean, white background. Very eye-catching. No clutter with cutesy graphics.

On the back, I give content. Content I hope they will find intriguing, or helpful, or just plain funny.

For STREETWALKER, my erotic romance, I include advice from my protagonist, Carrie, as "Carrie's Top Ten Sex Tips". People laughed out loud when they saw what I handed them!

And what better to put on the back of the business card for MISSION IMPASTABLE, my culinary mystery, than a recipe from the book, "Lasagna Roll-Ups"?

Now, I have to tell you, I did--briefly--consider including ways to poison people on the back of the MISSION IMPASTABLE business card, but I feared the NSA would show up. I don't need that kind of trouble. A recipe? Safe.

Waving my MISSION IMPASTABLE business card, I asked, “Like to cook?” to get people to my spot. One woman shook her head “no”. I held up my STREETWALKER business card and asked, “Like sex?” She laughed and came over so I could give my spiel.

What content is in your book that you could extend so people don't toss your business card? If you write romance, you might include dating tips. If you write historical fiction mysteries, share little known facts about the era or a person. If you write medical mysteries, include some factoids about the disease in your book. Perhaps, for a cozy craft mystery, you could include crochet instructions for a scarf. You get the idea.

You have specialized knowledge. Use it to extend the value of your 4¢ business card. You might make a sale worth many, many times that.