Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Interview with: Marja McGraw

Please welcome Marja McGraw to the blog this week. Marja was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself and her writing and books. Keep reading to find out more about Marja and her mysteries.

1. What was your inspiration for Bogey Nights? 

I’m almost embarrassed to tell you. The Bogey books are a spinoff from another series. In The Bogey Man (Sandi Webster series), Chris meets Pamela and at the end of the story they open a forties-themed restaurant. When I started Bogey Nights I simply wanted to change the name of the restaurant, which was originally called Good Joe’s Honky Tonk. I have no idea how I came up with the original name. Anyway, I burned down the first restaurant, which led to finding a new location, which led to a corpse in the basement of an old house, and I was off and running. So my inspiration was the desire to change the restaurant name, wanting to include Bogeyisms so Chris could show off his forties personality, and that led to a cold case; a dead body dating back to the 1940s.

2. Of all the famous characters of the 40s, what made you decide on Humphrey Bogart? 

Bogart was a unique actor who made a wonderful detective in the old movies. His manner of speaking and his physical mannerisms were a bit different, and I figured a character could have a great time emulating him. I was right. I’m having a good time with Bogart and the Bogey Man.

3. The "Bogey Man" emulated Bogart in many ways, yet in the end did not become a PI. It's mentioned that he wanted to at one point. Why did you choose to take his character a different route in this first book? 

When I introduced the Bogey Man in my other series I felt I could create more humor by Sandi (a female P.I.) putting him through the wringer, showing him he wasn’t really cut out to be a detective. In the Bogey Man series he’s now a husband and stepfather. Somehow it didn’t feel right to make him both a family man and a detective. I also wanted his wife to become involved in the mysteries without making her a detective, and occasionally his stepson is involved to a much lesser degree.

The restaurant gives me the perfect place for setting some of the scenes. As the proprietor of this upscale restaurant, Chris is given the opportunity to again emulate Humphrey Bogart. It also gives the patrons a place to have a lot of fun.

And, finally, I simply didn’t want to write a second P.I. series. As an amateur investigator Chris can make more mistakes and get away with it. He can do and say things a cop or a private investigator couldn’t get away with, for the most part.

4. Pamela has a complicated background. How did you develop her character, and how did her situation impact the story? 

Pamela started out as a waitress at the Red Barn, a diner where Sandi Webster and her friends frequently ate lunch. She was a peripheral character until I wrote The Bogey Man, and needed her to come out of her shell and become a murder suspect. Initially she was a little frumpy, and frequently tired because of raising a son and working two jobs. Her uniform was a bit too large, she always had her hair pulled back in a ponytail, and she seldom wore make-up. She was a widowed mom doing the best she could after her husband died of cancer. I wanted her to have a happy ending after all she’d been through. Single mothers deserve a break, so I gave her one.

I’m not sure her situation impacted the story as much as it made her a woman with insight who understands people.

5. Even though this novel is set in present day, you draw on the 40s era quite a bit. What kind of research did you have to do for this book? 

Research of this type is a lot of fun. I watch old movies and make copious notes about the slang that was used and what can be seen in the background, like cars, furniture, or whatever speaks Forties to me. I’ve spent a lot of time in the library reading non-fiction books about the forties. I’ve interviewed people who were old enough to remember what things were like in those days, and my family members were born storytellers. I’ve read old newspaper articles and studied vintage photos. I listen to 1940s music from time to time, and it gives one a feel for the period. It was a romantic era in many ways.

6. How do you go about planning the mystery? Do you outline everything, or let it develop as you write? 

In general, I know where I want to go with the story. I tried outlining but it doesn’t work for more than about five minutes. After those few minutes I find myself wandering in other directions, so now it develops as I write. I wrote one book and knew who the killer would be, but it was way too predictable. I gave it a twist at the end which surprised everyone. I wouldn’t have come up with the twist if I’d followed an outline.

7. Two of the side characters are a female detective and a female reporter. Was there a reason you chose females for these roles? 

The reporter made her debut in the Sandi Webster series and I wanted someone young who would annoy the heck out of Sandi. A female was easier to create for the role. Sometimes women can overlook annoying men easier than a woman. 

 The female cop is kind of an opposite of the male detective in my other series. I also like the idea of showing that women can do it all. In Bogey Nights, Janet is a relatively new homicide detective and I wanted to showcase her to a degree. I also wanted someone whom Pamela could relate to and turn into a friend.

8. Who are your favorite authors? 

I have so many that I can’t list them all, but a sampling would be Beverly Connor, Stuart Kaminsky, Stuart Palmer (writer from the 1930s), Rhys Bowen, G.A. McKevett, and Tony Hillerman. I’ve enjoyed reading books from Dorothy Gilman, too. My all-time favorite author is Harper Lee. She only wrote one book, but what a book it was.

9. Do you have any interesting rituals or habits when you write? 

I’m so disorganized that it’s difficult to develop habits. I keep chocolate at hand and I can relate to Brenda’s chocolate habit on the television show The Closer. I have little pieces of paper all over the house with notes jotted down so I don’t forget details I’ve written or things I want to include. I even write down snippets of dialogue so I won’t forget what I want to have a character say, even if it’s something that will show up in a future book. If I get stuck on a scene, I go outside and walk around. For some reason ideas will come to me when I vacate my office.

I find the best time to write is in the morning, when I’m fresh. By afternoon I can’t concentrate as well because I’ve got other things on my mind.

10. Can you tell about your other books and any future projects you're working on? 

I’ve mentioned the Sandi Webster series which currently includes five mysteries, and I’m working on Number Six in which her first case comes back to haunt her. 

Oak Tree Press has the third book in the Bogey Man series, which hopefully will come out after the first of the year. 

I recently went to Vancouver, Washington, on vacation and the trip inspired all kinds of ideas. I keep a list of ideas for future books, but it seems like each new story isn’t something on my list.

***Thanks, Marja, for taking the time to answer my questions!

Bogey Nights is available now from Amazon in Paperback and EbookBarnes and NobleFictionwise, and Books-A-Million