Mary: Where do you find your ideas? Does something trigger them? Do you carry around a notebook incase inspiration strikes?
Marja: Although my books are fiction, some of the storylines were inspired by life events. When I was a young, divorced mother, a Skid Row-type bum started harassing me and became more aggressive with each visit to my house. Interestingly, the police could never find him. Very long story better left for another time. That incident inspired Bubba’s Ghost. Sometimes just a scene is inspired by true events.
I find cold cases to be very interesting, and so I’ve created a few of those, too. Imagine trying to solve a murder that took place circa 1900, or in 1880. The cold cases actually allow me to use a little more imagination, although I have to do a lot of research, too.
Most importantly, I try to think what the reader might enjoy. Spooky old houses are always a winner, and even a vague possibility of a ghost works. For the most part, I like to create mysteries that will take the reader away for a while and let them forget the problems of the day. Adding a bit of humor helps, too. Really, I can write whatever I want, but I prefer to create something the reader can become involved in.
Mary: Where did you grow up? And how did that inspire your writing?
Marja: I grew up in Southern California, the Los Angeles area. When I was a child there were no freeways and lots of orange groves. I watched the state grow and thrive, and it outgrew me. I moved to Nevada, away from the crowds. However, looking back I can see that because of the population in California, it’s a bit more believable that a private investigator could run into so many dead bodies. (Well, that sounded kind of cold, didn’t it? Sorry.) Los Angeles is also a great place in which to lose yourself. Lots and lots of people. Consequently, I decided to use Southern California, Los Angeles in particular, as the setting for both my Sandi Webster series and the Bogey Man series.
Occasionally the characters go out of town and have adventures in Arizona, and maybe sometime they’ll visit Nevada.
Mary: How do you research for your books?
Marja: Research takes many forms in my case. The library is always a great resource, as is the Internet. I’ve also done research regarding my family history and found that old City Directories and newspapers can be quite helpful. Several years ago I found some very old city maps and had the opportunity to make copies. Documentaries on television can be quite helpful, and interviewing is priceless because talking to people is probably the most entertaining way to research.
If anyone reading this still has elderly relatives, talk to them now, while you still can. I recorded conversations with relatives and not only did they tell wonderful stories, but I can still hear their voices if I want to.
Mary: Are the characters in your books, people you know?
Marja: I’m glad you asked this question. Good grief, no! You can’t imagine how many friends or relatives have thought certain characters were based on them, and they weren’t necessarily happy about it. Well, I can say in all honesty, my characters are not people I know. No way, no how, nope. We all have certain characteristics that we think define us, but while Jane Doe may blink rapidly and cough when she’s nervous, Mable Marvelous may have the same characteristics. I think most writers pick and choose from a lifetime of people to combine characteristics into a fictional character.
Let me backtrack just a little. I do have one character in the Sandi Webster series, an elderly neighbor named Dolly, who’s very loosely based on my grandmother. My grandmother probably would have loved to be involved in a mystery, and now she is in a way.
Mary: Can you tell us where people can find you? Web site, social media, blog, etc.
Marja: My website is at www.marjamcgraw.com/ , and my blog can be found at blog.marjamcgraw.com/ . I’m on Facebook, although I have to admit I’m not very active there.
Mary: If you could visit a place for research, where would it be?
Marja: I’m afraid I’d have to visit an era instead of a place. If I could travel in time, and someday I hope to do a time travel book, I’d like to visit the 1940s. Between the people, lifestyles, music, dances, and the state of the world, I think it would be a trip to be remembered. It was a more romantic time in so many ways, although I don’t mean actual romance. I mean the differences from today. I even like the styles of the time.
Mary: What is your work in progress? And when do you plan to have it done?
Marja: Bogey’s Ace in the Hole was released in March, 2012, and now I’m working on another Sandi Webster book. Sandi’s first case involving a murder is coming back to haunt her in the form of a killer who’s escaped from prison. This book will allow the readers to learn a bit more about Sandi’s past and the people in her life. The working title is Death Comes in Three’s, and although it contains humor, it’s also rather suspenseful.
At the end of this tour two names will be randomly selected from those who've left comments and they'll each receive a copy of Bogey's Ace in the Hole. Be sure to leave your email address.
Mary, thank you so much for having me in for a visit today. I’ve really enjoyed myself.