Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Golden Age of Mystery: Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mary Roberts Rinehart is often considered as the American Agatha Christie. However, she was sixteen years older than Dame Agatha and began her writing career before her. Some people say she was the creator of "The butler did it" phrase but apparently she never used it. According to Wikipedia, "She is considered to have invented the "Had-I-But-Known" school of mystery writing."

My favorite novels by Rinehart are The Red Lamp and The Wall. Many years have passed since I read The Red Lamp and I had to research the novel to refresh my memory. It is a seemingly supernatural story, eerily suspenseful. I read The Wall in recent years and was impressed by its clever plot regarding the murder victim who was beautiful and devious and hated by apparently everyone. This past year I read The Bat, "a costumed super criminal", which, according to Wikipedia was one of the sources of inspiration for Batman although I couldn't see a connection at all.

In 1907, she wrote The Circular Staircase, the novel that made her famous. I remember reading it during a visit to Cuernavaca, Mexico many years ago. I must have found it in a bookstore that sold used books to tourists.

Luckily, I have not read all of her books and have many hours of pleasurable reading ahead of me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Interview with Marja McGraw

My guest this week is Marja McGraw, mystery author. Welcome, Marja, and please tell us something about yourself.

Good morning, everyone! I’m delighted to be Pat’s guest today. I write mysteries that are lighter with a little humor. I write two series; The Sandi Webster Mysteries and the Bogey Man Mysteries. Sandi Webster is a female P.I. who’s constantly learning and growing, and for some odd reason dead bodies keep showing up on her radar. The Bogey Man is actually a man named Chris Cross who’s a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart, and he’s a family man. He seems to have the same radar problem as Sandi, but he has a wife and young son who want in on the action. And there will be more action in February, 2012, when the Bogey Man’s latest adventure is released. Watch for Bogey’s Ace in the Hole from Oak Tree Press.

1) What kinds of books do you like to read?

I enjoy mysteries more than any other genre, but I’ll read just about anything that’s humorous, too. One of my favorite books is Marley & Me by John Grogan because it made me laugh, and cry, and then laugh again. Occasionally I read biographies and other non-fiction books, but you’ll usually find me with a mystery in my hands.

2) Who are your favorite authors, past and present?

Harper Lee tops the list. There are so many. Rhys Bowen, Janet Evanovich, Mary Higgins Clark, Clive Cussler, Dorothy Bodoin, Elizabeth Peters, Marilyn Meredith, W.S. Gager, Beverly Connor… The list is so long that I can’t list everyone. I’m hooked on Stuart Palmer from the 1930s. I just finished one by Stuart Kaminsky and started one by Carolyn Hart. Rita Lakin, Earlene Fowler and James Harriot. Oh, I don’t know where to stop. I used to read only the books by big name authors, and finally branched out. I’m discovering some wonderful writers that I would have missed if I hadn’t started paying attention to what’s new and who’s new. You’re a great example.

3) Are there any authors who have inspired you to write and, if so, who are they?

Harper Lee in particular. Her characters felt so real to me. Also, any author who creates characters I can relate to and any author who includes humor in their stories inspires me. A reader has to like the characters as well as the story or it just isn’t memorable, in my opinion.

4) How do you choose your characters’ names?

Interestingly, for the most part I wanted names which people could relate to, because (and this is just me) I can relate to a character named Susan easier than I can relate to a character named Esmeralda Hickeltoff. Okay, the story behind that is when I was a kid my sister and brother convinced me they went to school with a girl who had a tail, and her name was Esmeralda Hickeltoff. Siblings! Although, you’ll notice I never forgot the name.

5) Do you plan your novel from beginning to end either in your head or by outline or jotting down notes? Or, are you a “pantser”?

I’m more of a pantser. I know the general direction I want to go, but I always have to figure out as I go along how I’m going to get there. I do keep copious notes as I write or I’ll forget details. I always know the beginning and ending, but I have to figure out what comes in between.

6) What kind of writing schedule do you have?

Generally I work about five to six hours a day, seven days a week, but that includes marketing and promoting. Occasionally I remember that I have a family who’d like to see my face once in a while, so I come up for air. Lately we’ve been taking trips out into the desert on an All Terrain Vehicle. That’s both a fun and interesting trip to make.

7) How do you choose your titles? Do you have a title in mind before you start writing or does something occur after you have begun to write or after you have finished?

I usually find the title somewhere in the book. For instance, in A Well-Kept Family Secret, at one point Sandi comments on something being “a well-kept family secret”. Occasionally my husband comes up with a great title, such as Old Murders Never Die. It was perfect because that particular book was about a ghost town and its murderous past.

8) Do you base your characters on real people or are they completely from your imagination?

I wouldn’t say they’re completely from my imagination, but I don’t base the characters on real people either. I find myself looking at traits in people I’ve known over the years, and then I mix them well and serve them up as a whole new personality.

9) Have you used real life experiences in your novel or is everything from your imagination?

I’ve actually led a relatively interesting life, so many times I call on experiences on which I can base a scene or story. I used to be extremely shy and learned the great art of listening. Sometimes the stories are based on things I’ve heard about. And, occasionally, my imagination runs away with me. I did a lot of research for the ghost town book I mentioned, but the story didn’t come from anything I’d ever heard about. Bubba’s Ghost, about a woman who’s being harassed by a bum, was loosely based on something that happened to me many years ago.

10) When did you realize that you wanted to write novels?

I honestly can’t answer that. I’ve always loved writing letters and notes and telling stories in those letters, and suddenly it just seemed like the thing to do. Well, in all honestly, one of the women I used to write letters to talked me into trying my hand at writing because she said the letters entertained her. I enjoyed writing and now it’s a huge part of my life.

11) Where can readers find your books?

I have two publishers. My Wings eBooks (Sandi Webster) can be found on the Wings website, and, and just about anywhere else where ebooks are sold. They’re also available in paper format, not just ebook format.
The Oak Tree Press Books (the Bogey Man) are available on the Oak Tree website, Amazon, on the Barnes and Noble website, and any bookstore can order them.

Pat, Thank you so much for having me in for a visit today. I really enjoyed the questions you asked. It’s been a lot of fun.

And thank you, Marja, it's been a pleasure having you here. I am looking forward to reading Bogey's Ace in the Hole.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Reading is one of my greatest pleasures. My goal every year is to try and read at least one book by my ever-growing list of favorite authors. I have between 80 and 90 favorites right now although some have died and I have read all their works. As I finish reading each book, I list it in a notebook of books read each month and list it again under the author’s name in another section of the notebook. In another notebook, I write reviews of each book read and give them a letter grade. At the end of the year, I make a list of all the A+ books that I had enjoyed greatly.

I didn’t read as many books as I had planned in 2011 but I did have more A+ books than any other year. In the past I would list the top ten books and sometimes I had a hard time reaching at least 10 A+ books. But last year was different. I counted 25 A+ books out of only 64 read! (My goal each year is to read at least 100 books but I don’t always reach it.) And there was no way that I could determine which one was better than another. In years past, my favorite book of the year would be number one, of course, and so on. But not in 2011! I enjoyed each of the 25 books for different reasons.

My favorite genre is mystery: all kinds of mysteries from cozies to police procedurals to detective stories to bloody slash and stab to international intrigue, etc. In other words, all the sub-genres that fall under mystery. But I do read other genres, especially ones written by author friends: romance, paranormal or supernatural, historical. I prefer fiction but do read an occasional nonfiction.

Of the books read last year, only one was nonfiction: The Autobiography of Agatha Christie. And what a book it was! It was the second nonfiction book of hers that I had read and my main complaint with her was that she didn’t always bother with dates, making it difficult at times to figure out when certain episodes in her life took place. But in her case, that was a minor complaint. Her life was extraordinary and so much different than what I thought it was. While reading her many, many novels, I always pictured a lady with leisure time sitting at an old manual typewriter pecking out her manuscripts. Nothing could have been farther from the truth!

Although many of my favorite books of 2011 were by my traditional favorite authors (Stuart Woods, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Sue Grafton, Carola Dunn, Jack Higgins, Marja McGraw, Clive Cussler, Elmore Leonard, Janet Evanovich), last year I discovered new authors also or rather new to me: Wanda Luttrell, Stieg Larsson, Suzanne Forster, LJ Sellers, Kate Morton, Jasper Fforde, Pat Bertram, Beth Anderson, Jean Joachim, Marilyn Levinson.

My goal in 2012 is to read at least 100 books. When I was younger I could read a book a day but now my eyes cannot handle that much reading. I am looking forward to reading my favorite authors and discovering new ones. In other words, I hope this will be a greatly enjoyable murderous year!