A Conversation with: Marja McGraw
January 12, 2014
Mystery Author and Much More [i]
Today, I’m visiting with Marja McGraw. Like with so many author friends, I first “met” Marja electronically before meeting her in person. Most recently, at the 2013 PSWA Conference I spent time chatting with Marja—and we had a great time. “Simpatico,” (as the saying used to be) on so many writing thoughts and issues. She’s the type of person that re-energizes you—reminds you how much you love writing!
Thank you so much, Madeline! Honestly, it was my pleasure, meeting you. I greatly admire your Route 66 books.
Words to warm my heart… So glad we could get together for another visit, albeit electronic. I still have fond memories (and some pictures you sent!) from the 2013 PSWA conference in Vegas. One of my favorite conferences. As you know, I follow your blog, often commenting because you strike a “literary” cord I’m interested in. You’re a regular blogger, and appear disciplined and dedicated. On top of that, your topics are interesting and strong. Could you share what it’s like blogging regularly—things like where, how, and when your topics come to you? And is it hard or easy for you?
I don’t know about disciplined, but I’m tenacious. Sunny Frazier, from Oak Tree Press, talked me into starting the blog and, honestly, I went into it kicking and screaming. Now I love it and can’t thank her enough for suggesting it. I enjoy having guest bloggers, too, and I hope you’ll return soon.
Thanks for the invite!
Coming up with topics is the most difficult part for me. Once I decide what I want to gab about, it comes fairly naturally. There have been a few times when I just couldn’t come up with a good subject. Since it took a while to get the blog off the ground, I’ve gone back a couple of times and rewritten old blogs (the ones not many people have read). And once in a great while, someone will say, “Hey. Why don’t you write about (fill in the blank), and I’m off and running.
It’s kind of like having a big mouth and just wanting to talk all the time. (Just ask my husband if I love to hear myself talk.)
Also sounds like you have a lot of energy–helps, I think. On an off-shoot question—Trailers and U tube videos I linked to from your website—I’m so impressed. Not only that you’ve done them, but the quality. I really like the picture of Wolf Creek, the cowboy on his horse, and the old character photos. http://www.marjamcgraw.com/The_Books_Z6TR.html I’d love to hear more about the back-story for Old Murders Never Die (a favorite of mine), and some of the ins-and-outs of getting the pictures, then putting it all together. Was it hard? And any thoughts on their effectiveness? I know I liked them…
Thank you so much! The book trailers really are a lot of fun to put together. My husband and I have traveled with friends around Arizona and Nevada, and even a small part of California, and I’m always taking pictures.
The photo of the old house (on the book cover) actually inspired the story. Well, that and a story my Sergeant told me when I worked for the L.A. County Marshal. His cousin was hunting and ran across a deserted town in the mountains. People had just up and left, leaving their belongings behind. I was looking at the photo of the house one day and suddenly my Sergeant’s story came to mind. I wondered what it would be like to discover a ghost town and along came Old Murders Never Die.
As far as graphics for the trailers, some are photos I’ve taken, some are pictures I’ve found on the Internet, and I have a friend that draws some of the silhouettes for me. After I put the trailer for Old Murders up on YouTube, I discovered that in one of the frames I’d said, “And one last question”, and then I asked two or three more questions. By then I was too tired of it to go back and change it.
Continuing in the back-story vein, I’ve downloaded Mysteries of Holt House, but haven’t read yet—but soon! (need 48 hour days). But the idea of Holt House and Kelly Sanders’s adventure is so intriguing and immediately grabbed me. I’d love hearing the inspiration or circumstances behind Holt House.
Honestly, I don’t know what inspired it. I tried to think of storylines people enjoy reading. It seems like many people like a spooky old house, and I wanted it to be away from town where help wasn’t immediately available if something happened. Of course, in this case I had to include a circumstance allowing the protagonist to have money readily available for revamping the house. She went from legal secretary to homeowner and landlord at a boarding house.
I’m not a romance writer, but this book has a lot of romance included with the mystery. I’ve read a lot of stories where the protagonist spent too much time alone and didn’t seem to have any friends. I wanted Kelly to have a best friend. And I included a housekeeper who’s a little pushy but lovable. I don’t think I’d write this type of book again because I like concentrating on the mystery with just a little romance on the side.
I had to create a circumstance that would set the killer off, so I made Kelly a dead ringer for the last woman who lived in the house. It’s one of the first books I ever wrote, and I’m not sure if I’d write it again, but readers seem to like it.
Switching topics—having “moved around” a couple times myself, from quite different climate and cultural areas of the US, I wanted to hear your thoughts on the various places you’ve lived—especially from Alaska to Nevada! What a difference. And how your differing stays have influenced your writing?
I started off growing up in California. Most of my family is still there, and we go back several generations in the Los Angeles area. Consequently, I chose Los Angeles as the area in both of my series. It’s an easy place to get lost in.
I moved to No. Nevada in the early 80s and it was a whole different world. I grew and so did my imagination. New vistas were opening for me. I learned a different way to live without the hustle and bustle of life in California. At some point I realized I needed a change and moved to Oregon where I worked in law enforcement and then opened my own combination tea room/antique store. The business didn’t work out.
On to Alaska, where I stayed with friends while I regrouped. I was only there for six months. Alaska is a place you either love or you leave it. I couldn’t take the cold and moved back to Nevada, returning to my old job, or a variation of my old job.
That’s when I met my husband (of fourteen years), and when he retired we moved to Arizona where the “chill factor” is “110 degrees”. That’s a joke on a bumper sticker, but it’s not all that farfetched.
All of these places showed me things and taught me things I can use in books. To keep my characters from becoming stale, I sometimes let them travel. And that’s when the fun begins and my experiences kick in.
Whenever I think about Alaska, I shiver. Not rational, I know. As you moved around and tried new things (just love that), one of the most interesting items in your biography for me is the antique store/tea room in Oregon. Sounds like it didn’t work out, but that should have been so much fun! And the most glamorous and exciting items to me were a Newspaper columnist, and being on TV. I’d love to hear more about all, or any of—what are to me—great adventures!?
Life is an adventure, isn’t it? I really enjoyed owning my own business, but my timing was terrible. The year I opened the store in a tourist town, tourism fell through the floor. Even stores that had been there for years ended up closing. It was a memorable experience though.
When my husband and I first married I took a part-time job at a senior center. It seems the newspaper wanted someone to write a column dedicated to the seniors, so I was off and running again. I did a lot of research and tried to write about topics they’d enjoy. It seemed to work. I tried to showcase a senior and their fascinating backgrounds each week, along with tips and humor.
My television appearances were related to my writing. I’ve been on local news shows in both northern and southern Nevada, and thankfully, these appearances led to appearing at some events. I’ve done a few radio shows, too. The key is, talk to the hosts the same way you’d talk to a friend. And this part is a biggie, they hate dead air. So don’t let the conversation lapse into silence.
Marja, this has been so much fun. But before you go, would love to know, what are you working on now? A new book? A new promotions angle?
I have a book titled, Death Comes in Threes (Sandi Webster Mystery) that will be released soon on Amazon. Also, Oak Tree Press will be releasing Awkward Moments (Bogey Man Mystery) in the future.
In the meantime I’m working on a new Sandi Webster book involving what was once a llama ranch, and the scene of a double murder and suicide in Arizona. Things aren’t always what they seem, and Sandi will soon figure that out. The interesting part is that friends of ours bought a house with a history, and that’s what inspired the story. The neighbors think it’s haunted, but I don’t believe it is.
Madeline, thank you so much for inviting me in today. This was fun and it brightened my day.
Okay, Marja, I’m energized to do some writing! Not sure about trailers or U-Tube though… Great visiting again!
[i] Marja McGraw—Marja McGraw is originally from Southern California, where she worked in both criminal and civil law enforcement for several years.
Relocating to Northern Nevada, she worked for the State highway department. Marja also lived in Oregon where she worked for the County Sheriff’s Office and where she owned her own business, a Tea Room/Antique store. After a brief stop in Wasilla, Alaska, she returned to Nevada.
Marja wrote a weekly column for a small newspaper in No. Nevada and she was the editor for the Sisters in Crime Internet Newsletter for a year and a half. She’s appeared on television in Nevada, and she’s also been a guest on various radio and Internet radio shows.
She writes the Sandi Webster Mysteries and the Bogey Man Mysteries, and says that each of her mysteries contain a little humor, a little romance and A Little Murder!
She currently resides in Arizona with her husband, where life is good!
And a few more of Marja’s covers…