Monday, December 20, 2010
Marja McGraw is an author of mysteries that are lighter with a touch of humor. Her newest work will soon be available from Oak Tree Press.
What is the name of your latest book? And how did you come up with the title?
The most recent book is titled Bogey Nights, A Bogey Mystery, and it’s the first in a new series. It’s a spin off from The Bogey Man (pictured at the right),the latest in my Sandi Webster series. Most of my titles come from something within the book. In this case, it’s the name of a restaurant with a forties theme.
What is Bogey Nights about?
Chris Cross, also known as the Bogey Man, is a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart and he plays the part well -- when it suits him. He wanted to follow in Bogey’s cinematic footsteps and become a private eye until he discovered just how difficult the job could be. His wife, Pamela, tells this story, and their seven-year-old son and two yellow Labs add to the humor.
Chris and Pamela lose their 1940s-themed restaurant in Los Angeles when a fire destroys the building. Deciding to change course, slightly, they buy a 1920s vintage brick house to convert into the new home for their restaurant, Bogey Nights. Before work can even begin on the remodeling, their two Labs discover a body buried in the cellar. The remains have rested there since 1942.
When the Crosses are approached by a relative of the victim, they begin to investigate the man, the house and the people who lived there in the forties. And then another body turns up, along with the action.
What books have most influenced your life?
Definitely To Kill a Mockingbird, along with every mystery I’ve ever read. I love creating the puzzles for readers to try to solve while the characters are doing what they do best. Solving crimes.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Harper Lee. With To Kill a Mockingbird, she taught me how to write in first person and make my characters true to themselves and down to earth. She made me realize that the characters make the story, not the other way around. She also made me see that children can add a lot to a story because of their innocence, and at other times because of their different take on life. She only wrote one book, but it’s a story that I will long remember. Coincidentally, I believe that this year is the 50th Anniversary of this book.
What are your current projects?
I just finished a Bogey story that involves a gang of older Church Ladies. At least, that’s the way Chris seems to think of them. It was a lot of fun to write, and I think it will evoke a few chuckles from the readers. I’m about to start a new project; another Sandi Webster story. This one will involve a ghost town.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Coming up with new and interesting characters. Well, that and time. Between marketing and promoting books that are already published, keeping my website fresh and writing a blog, and trying not to neglect my family, time runs short. Although I do have a lot of nervous energy, that doesn’t always keep me going. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Actually, I do. The first piece of advice that I give everyone is grow a thick skin. No matter what you do, not everyone is going to like what you’ve written. Let it roll off your back, but don’t ignore the pearls of wisdom that might pop their little heads up from time to time. A few years ago there was a woman who critiqued my work. She’d rip it to shreds, but I always found some small thing in her comments that made absolute sense and that made my writing better. She’s moved on, and so have I.
Before you submit your book, reread it one last time, word for word. You know what it’s supposed to say, and that’s how you read it the first few times. You may have missed typos, so again, read it word for word. This is the voice of experience speaking. You want to submit the cleanest manuscript you can.
Lastly, read authors who write the same type of book that you write. You can learn a lot about format, characterization and all kinds of things by reading the work of others.
“You know your day has taken a turn for the worse when you buy a vintage house to convert into a restaurant, and you find a vintage body buried in the basement.
Chris and Pamela Cross learn that their 1920s building was a boarding house during the 1940s, and they’ve got more suspects than they bargained for. Never deceive yourself into thinking seniors can’t be dangerous.”
“Max,” I said, “I noticed a door outside, near the rear of the house. Where does it lead to?”
“There’s a cellar back there, but it was never finished. It’s pretty dirty down there. Do you want to see it or would you rather wait until you’re dressed for dirty?”
I laughed. “Now is good.”
Chris and Max walked outside and around the house with me. I lifted the door and two large dogs raced past me and flew down the stairs.
“Hey, you two. Come back here!” I had no idea what was in the cellar, but images of spiders and mice ran through my mind’s eye.
“There’s a light down there,” Max said, “but the electricity isn’t on right now.”
“I’ve got a flashlight in the car,” Chris said. “Be right back.”
A cellar would make a perfect place to store things once we finished it off. I wondered how much work it would require. I envisioned shelves for storage and maybe a section for wine and other liquors. It would need sturdier doors though.
“So you and your husband want to convert this house into a restaurant?” Max asked.
“That’s the general idea,” I replied. “It seems like we’d have an awful lot of work to do to make that happen though.”
I waited impatiently while Chris was gone, worried about Sherlock and Watson. I felt really antsy when I heard Watson begin to whine.
“What’s going on down there?” I called, wishing they could answer me. It was too dark to climb down the stairs.
Chris returned with the flashlight and turned it on, carefully climbing down the stairs. I followed closely behind him. “What’s wrong with the dog?” he asked.
“I have no idea, but let’s get them out of here.”
Chris turned the light on the dogs and Watson was scratching at a patch of cement in the corner of the cellar. There was a large old barrel sitting on top of it. I wondered if something might have leaked out of the bottom. I noticed another patch on the other side of the cellar. It appeared that at some point in time someone had thought about finishing off the cellar.
“Watson, leave it,” Chris ordered. Leave it was a command we’d learned when training them, along with take it. It was a good lesson in patience for them.
Not only did Watson ignore Chris, but Sherlock began whining, too, and the scratching continued.
“Out,” Chris ordered. “Right now!” He was using his authoritative voice, but the dogs weren’t listening. He grabbed Sherlock’s collar and pulled. He repeated his command and the dog reluctantly obeyed, heading for the stairs. Watson was more stubborn, but finally obeyed and followed Sherlock.
I felt like all the time and energy we’d spent training them had been a waste, but they truly usually obeyed us.
“I wonder what that was all about,” I said.
“Probably a dead body buried down here,” Chris said.
“Not funny, Bogey Man.”
He smiled at my use of his nickname. “I was joking. Those dogs are always getting into things. If we buy this place I’ll get rid of the barrel and that should solve the problem.”
“I hope you’re right,” I said.