Welcome to the one hundred and fifty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with mystery (with a touch of humour and romance) novelist Marja McGraw. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello Marja. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Marja: I have a background in both civil and criminal law, on a clerical level. There were no female deputies at that time (early 1970s), and I even had to search for a bomb in the Ladies Room once, without any training.
Morgen: Ah, the good old pre-health and safety gone mad days. Not that I approve of no training – don’t try that at home folks…
Marja: I’ve worked for a state transportation department and a city building department, and at one time I owned a combination tea room / antique store. I was a divorced mother of one and I raised a daughter by myself, and after thirty years I met and married my husband. It’s been an interesting life, and after that bomb experience, I’m glad I’m still here to enjoy it.
Morgen: Me too.
Marja: I became a writer because I’m a storyteller. In fact, I probably drive my friends and family crazy because I have a story for every occasion. It’s not really a big leap from verbal stories to written stories–at least it wasn’t for me–and I’m having more fun writing books that I’ve ever had before.
Morgen: Ah, that’s lovely to hear because that’s what it should be. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Marja: My logo is A little humor, a little romance, a little murder! I write mysteries that I hope will entertain the reader, because I enjoy reading for entertainment. I honestly haven’t considered writing other genres because there are too many mysteries just dying to be told. Sorry for the pun, but it fits.
Morgen: It certainly does and you’re allowed pretty much anything you like with me, I’m a soft touch (slightly softer after a rather large American ham salad I’ve just had). Back to ‘business’, what have you had published to-date?
Marja: I write two series. The Sandi Webster Mysteries are about a young female private investigator, and The Bogey Man Mysteries are about a man who bears a striking resemblance to Humphrey Bogart and who solves cases as an amateur sleuth. There are currently five books in the Sandi Webster series and the latest is Old Murders Never Die. This one is especially fun because Sandi and her partner, Pete, become stranded in a ghost town in Arizona. A mysterious cowboy and series of murders that took place over a hundred years ago keep the story moving.
Morgen: They do sound like fun. If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Marja: The first time I saw my books on the shelf was at a library. I ran home, grabbed my camera and drove back to take pictures. It drew an audience, so I got to point to the books and say I’d written them.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Marja: As much as possible. I spend more time marketing and promoting sometimes than I do writing.
Morgen: I know that feeling… sorry, I should interrupt (tell me off next time I do).
Marja: I belong to several groups which consist of readers and writers, and I contribute as often as I can (although not often enough).
Morgen: Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Marja: I write under my own name. I was trying to think of a good pseudonym and asking for opinions, and the general consensus was that my name, Marja McGraw, was unusual and memorable. I have my doubts about being memorable because most people have trouble even pronouncing Marja, much less remembering it. However, look how many people remember a name like Evanovich. Maybe I’m in good company.
Morgen: I think so. I’d guess at Mar-ya? Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Marja: I don’t have an agent and, no, I don’t think they’re for everyone. Whether or not to find an agent is definitely an individual decision. As frustrating as it can be sometimes, I’ve enjoyed finding publishers on my own. I have two, one for each series. The Sandi Webster series is with Wings ePress, and Bogey Nights is with Oak Tree Press. I’m very happy with both publishers and I’m actually glad that I found them on my own. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment.
Morgen: They do say that it’s harder to get an agent than a publisher. Oh, hold on, did you say ‘Oak Tree Press’? Yay! They’re a regular feature here. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Marja: One of my publishers is an epublisher (Wings ePress http://www.wingsepress.com), and the other traditional publisher (Oak Tree Press http://oaktreebooks.com) has my books up on Kindle and Nook. Both publishers make the books available in paper format. While I still prefer a paper book, I also enjoy using the Kindle, especially when travelling. My experience in the eworld has been positive, and I’m glad I took this route. I think ebooks are the wave of the future, but I don’t think paper books will ever go away. There are too many dinosaurs like me who enjoy holding the book and keeping it on a shelf.
Morgen: And me. No, I absolutely agree. I think most people favour books for home and eBooks for travelling and I really think it’s getting people reading more. You’ve mentioned what you’ve had published, can you remember your first acceptance? Is being accepted still a thrill?
Marja: My first acceptance wasn’t really an acceptance. I self-published my first book and I don’t generally talk about it because in my mind the book was only mediocre. I’ve come a long way since then, and learned a lot. Each book is a big deal for me when it’s accepted. Far behind all the thoughts about what a good book I’ve written is a niggling little voice saying, When is the publisher going to say, “Go away kid. Ya bother me.” And then I receive a fan letter and that little voice disappears.
Morgen: I think every author thinks that. If it’s any consolation, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Freda Lightfoot who’s on her 38th novel and she said the same. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Marja: I’d like to say I’m a suffering artist and I’ve had mega rejections, but I’m only a suffering artist. I’ve had three rejections, and after mumbling some nasty things about the publishers to myself, I picked up my manuscript and moved on to more fertile ground. A writer has to remember that not every book will be a good fit with every publisher. Just keep at it, and eventually you’ll find the right fit.
Morgen: Absolutely, a good way to look at it. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Marja: I’m working on the third in the Bogey Man series, and it involves a bestselling gothic author (fictional) from the 1950s who left a lot of secrets behind when she died. Chris Cross, who is the Bogey Man, has a wife, a son, two yellow Labrador retrievers, and in this story his eccentric mother and father make an appearance. The stories are actually told by his wife, Pamela.
Morgen: Wow. That’s some imagination you have there. This sounds like a bit of a redundant question but what’s your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Marja: This hasn’t been too much of an issue. There are always at least one or two chapters I struggle with in a book. I just keep writing, putting anything on the page, and then go back later and “fix” it.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Marja: I almost hate to admit it, but I get an idea and run with it. My characters seem to have their own minds about things, so to speak, and they take the story where they want it to go. Once you give your characters personalities, there are things that fit and things that don’t. That’s what directs the story.
Morgen: I love that, how they just take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Marja: I create the characters by picking out traits which will best fit the story, and because they fit the story, they become down-to-earth and believable. I try to keep the dialogue believable based on the way I hear people speak both in private and in public. For the most part, I generally try to use fairly common names because I’d like people to relate to them.
Morgen: I love people-watching and recently bought a tshirt that said ‘Careful or you may end up in one of my novels’ but I’ve only worn it in front of writing friends so far and they know they’re fair game. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Marja: First person is my preference, and I let the main character tell the story. I don’t want to narrate because I’d like my characters to have their own voice. Since I’m a storyteller, I’d like my character to be the same.
Morgen: Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Marja: If they’re relevant to the story, then I like them. Sometimes prologues lead you right into the story. I want to know what happened to everyone after the story is over, but I don’t care if it’s done as a last chapter or an epilogue.
Morgen: If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Marja: That people like my books. Who knew? I liked them, but I didn’t know others would.
Morgen: That’s never a guarantee but it’s lovely when they do and deep down, I think it’s what we’re all here for. What do you like to read?
Marja: I read mysteries for the most part, but if I see a humorous book I’ll pick it up and give it a go, too.
Morgen: My two favourite genres. Is there anyone you could suggest reading?
Marja: There are so many authors I could recommend, but I’ll only mention a few here, and these are based on books I’ve read recently. I enjoy Dorothy Bodoin, W.S. Gager, Beverly Connor, G.A. McKevett, Michael Orenduff, and Shirley Kennedy. There are so many more authors I’d like to recommend, but it would take up the whole interview space.
Morgen: That’s OK, I have a long home page. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Marja: Although I’m not a professional, I enjoy photography. I live in the desert, and there are all kinds of critters around here to focus on. We also go boating on a local lake, and we take trips out to the desert on an all terrain vehicle (ATV). I love reading, and occasionally we take in a movie. However, most of my time is spent writing, marketing and promoting.
Morgen: Me too, live and breathe. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Marja: I’m in Arizona, USA, and I live in a small town. It would be a hindrance if it weren’t for the Internet and a willingness to travel to larger cities. I don’t think it’s the country I live in that can slow things down, but the area. It’s quite a drive to the next large city.
Morgen: But as you say you have the internet… Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Marja: I’m on several, and I believe they’re invaluable. It gives me places to connect with readers and other writers.
Morgen: It does, it’s great – and I think how we ‘met’. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: And what a lot on your blog you have. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Marja: I can give you a one-word answer. Excitement. We live in interesting times, and things are constantly changing in the world of books.
Morgen: Absolutely. I totally agree. I’m excited. Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
Marja: Yes. You’ve been so generous with your time and efforts in creating this blog. What made you decide to do this?
Morgen: Thank you, it’s a pleasure. I love it when an author says “yes” or “please can I?” then when they follow it through and send their answers back (some don’t… or at least haven’t for two or three months… I live in hope. I’d started the blog back in March 2011 because I’d heard it was a great way of getting your name out and I thought it would be fun, and with a writing group that I gathered information for, I thought I had plenty to say. I started these interviews because I had been asked to do a couple and really enjoyed them. I started at one a day because once I’d put word out (on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook) I was getting about that many responses but soon it grew and by day three, I was posting two a day. Unfortunately that left no time for anything else and on some days (I still have a part-time day job) I was struggling to get them out so after a month I reigned it back to one a day, although I now add author spotlights, guest blogs or flash fiction in the evenings but they’re less input for me so I just about manage to keep up.
I decided on the format of the ‘fireside chat’ for these interviews to make the Q&A a little more personal and, although it’s still hard work, I have an average of 150 hits a day so it’s working. It’s exposure for the other authors (who I really enjoy ‘meeting’) but it’s also, I hope, building an audience for me when my eBooks are ready to roll (I’m hoping by the end of this month).
Marja: Morgen, thank you so much for letting me visit your site. I sincerely appreciate what you’re doing here, and I hope someday you’ll reciprocate and do a blog for my site.
Morgen: You’re so welcome. And absolutely – just let me know what and when.
I then invited Marja to provide an excerpt of her writing and this piece takes place just before Sandi Webster and her partner discover a ghost town.
“You never know. Higher elevations can hold all kinds of surprises. And I know how much you like surprises.”
I shifted in my seat, turning to Pete. “I could go for the rest of my life without another surprise and it wouldn’t break my heart.”
My name is Sandi Webster. Peter Goldberg and I are private investigators who work out of Los Angeles, California. We’ve worked on a number of interesting cases. During my short career I’ve received a few unwanted surprises–like dead bodies. Most of my cases involve working for insurance companies, but like Homicide Detective Rick Mason has said, I’m like a dead body magnet. I don’t want to investigate murders, but they kept turning up, right under my nose.
Now we were on vacation and we’d left all of that behind. I could enjoy a trip with my fiancé, Pete, and forget everything else. We seemed to be in the middle of nowhere without towns or people, so that meant no deaths or broken bodies. Just me, Pete and Bubba. Oh, yeah, Bubba is my bear-sized dog, half wolf and half golden retriever. What more could a girl ask for?
Indeed. Well, as it turns out Marja did reciprocate and you can read her interview of me here.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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