by Marja McGraw
Sometimes a story is practically handed to you. What’s the old saying? Never look a gift horse in the mouth? Such was the case with What Are the Odds?
I have friends who bought a house in the desert that had been empty for quite some time. The house had a history that included murder. A house with a history can be compelling to a mystery writer. To make it even more interesting, it’s an unusual place. It has three levels and separate sets of stairs throughout the home.
I saw the house before it was renovated, and had a confrontation with a rattlesnake and black widows. Oh, so many black widows. My husband was there during a tarantula migration. A box fell and knocked a hole in the garage wall, and there was a hidden staircase behind that wall. It seemed like every time we visited or talked on the phone, something new and odd had happened. There’s a barn and stalls and, well, so many unusual things. I wish I’d taken a picture of the hidden staircase, but it didn’t happen. The book cover shows the real house, and would you believe, there’s a bullet hole in the front screen door? I had to include a fake hole because the branches I shot the photo around covered the real one.
Do I have your attention yet? No? Read on.
One of the neighbors thought the house was haunted, but I have to disagree. Now that it’s been renovated, it’s as homey as any house can be. Nothing other-worldly happened to anyone. The neighbor was rather high-strung to begin with, so she had her own ideas.
The house begged to be in a story. Most of what you read in the book that has to do with the house is true. However, all of the characters and the crimes are fictional. Believe it or not, there’s humor in the story, too.
The house called my name and wouldn’t stop nagging. This strange building was, after all, in the desert and not something I’d expected to come into contact with on an average day.
Research was easy because the place was in disrepair and I got to watch or help with some of the little things that needed to be done. The big things were left to others. All I had to do in this case was observe the house and what was going on around me.
The only problem I ran into while writing the story was trying to fit fiction into reality instead of the reverse.
If you’re a fledgling writer, or an old hand at it, observe everything out of the ordinary. Write notes to yourself so you don’t forget even small details. You can build a story around almost anything if you put your mind and imagination to it.
I’ve filled you in on some of the background I used for the story. Hopefully you’d like to know how I put it to work. Here’s a summary of the story:
What are the odds of buying a house with a history to turn into a bed and breakfast, and discovering it’s the house that just keeps giving - and giving, and giving? Sandi Webster’s parents, Livvie and Frank, are about to find out.
Sandi and her partner, Pete Goldberg, have finally taken the leap and married. It’s an interesting wedding, and things don’t go quite as planned – neither does the honeymoon. Instead of going on a trip, they drive out to her parents’ recently purchased house in the Arizona desert to help begin renovations, where they discover there’s more to the home than meets the eye.
Stanley Hawks and his new wife, Felicity, go along for the ride and Stanley has to face some of his worst fears. The desert hides all kinds of critters and bugs, and they aren’t necessarily cute little lady bugs.
A triple murder and suicide occurred in the house about twenty years earlier. Upon Sandi’s arrival a blonde woman starts dogging her steps. Who is she and why can’t Sandi, a private investigator, identify her? How does the intruder disappear so easily, and what does she want? Why doesn’t anyone else see the blonde?
Sandi doesn’t believe in ghosts. Will she be proven wrong? There are plenty of questions with answers just waiting to be found.
Thank you for having me in today, Jean. This book was a lot of fun to write and I love talking about it.
Marja McGraw worked in both civil and criminal law for fifteen years, state transportation for another seventeen years, and most recently for a city building department. She has lived and worked in California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and Arizona.
Shewrote a weekly column for a small town newspaper in Northern Nevada, and conducted a Writers’ Support Group in Northern Arizona. A past member of Sisters in Crime (SinC), she was also the editor for the SinC-Internet Newsletter for a year and a half.
Marja has appeared on KOLO-TV in Reno, Nevada, and KLBC in Laughlin, Nevada, and various radio talk shows. She says that each of her mysteries contains a little humor, a little romance and A Little Murder! Books include both the Sandi Webster Mysteries and The Bogey Man Mysteries.
She and her husband now live in Arizona, where life is good.