Mystery Author Marja McGraw is my blog guest this week. She shares Bogart-inspired background, a little expertise, and insights into some characters in her published work.


by Marja McGraw

I write two series. One is about Sandi Webster, a young female P.I. The other series is about Chris Cross, who bears a striking resemblance to Humphrey Bogart, and whom people refer to as the Bogey Man. They’re both interesting characters, but it’s their stories that were inspired, not the characters themselves.

In the late 1800s, two men ran the Red Light District in Old Los Angeles. One of those two men happened to be my great-great-grandfather. I grew up hearing stories about him and the times. When I started writing, I added a third man and a murder to the Red Light District, and wrote A WELL-KEPT FAMILY SECRET. Interestingly, there was an older man that I used to see at a local restaurant on a regular basis. His mannerisms were perfect for the character I created. He was Hispanic, and he’d sit back with his arms folded across his chest, twisting a ring around his finger, and looking down his nose at everyone. People treated him as though he was a celebrity, and he very seldom smiled or responded to anyone. These two men, my great-great-grandfather, and a stranger, inspired the story. Sandi has a very menopausal mother (inspired by me), and Mom wants Sandi to solve a family-related murder that happened in Old Los Angeles, over one hundred years ago. The past and the present were a good match.

Sandi’s next case took her to a small town in Southern California. A young widowed mother was being harassed by a Skid Row-type bum. This story was based on something that actually happened to me as a young divorced mother. The bum kept leaving me “gifts” on my porch, he’d come to the door and talk about what he’d seen me doing and who he’d seen coming to visit, and he even made his way into my basement at one time. Fortunately, there was a heavy washing machine sitting on top of the door in the floor, and he never got past that door. He was very frightening and very persistent, and oddly, the police could never catch him. I worked in the court system at the time, and when he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly, they put him away for a time. I moved while he was in jail. That’s the short version. BUBBA’S GHOST was born out of that situation. By the way, Bubba is a dog who thought Sandi’s attic was haunted. Confused? Try reading the book.

PRUDY’S BACK! came about after I met a woman who’d been a P.I. during the 1970s and 80s. After talking to her, I knew I had to have a female character who was a private eye during the 1940s. And Prudy came to life, wanting Sandi to solve a murder that occurred during WWII. Prudy put on an old shedding fur coat, pulled up her cowgirl boots, popped a long black cigarette holder in her mouth, and insisted on being in on the action. She was a lot of fun to write, and she was truly inspired by the female P.I. whom I so enjoyed talking to on the phone.

Now, I’ve always been a big Humphrey Bogart fan, and I like nothing more than sitting down and watching an old mystery on TV. It wasn’t much of a leap to come up with Chris Cross, who could be the actor’s double. Chris decided he wanted to be a gumshoe, and he began dogging Sandi’s steps. When a real murder took place at a costume party, Chris began to learn that investigating wasn’t all he thought it would be–with a lot of unusual help from Sandi. So, in this case, Bogey was my inspiration for THE BOGEY MAN. Sandi’s menopausal mother again makes an appearance in this one.

Well, readers liked the Bogey Man (Chris) so much that I started a new series with him as the protagonist. However, he’s now married with a son and two yellow Labrador retrievers, and he’s a reluctant amateur investigator. His first adventure in the new series takes place in BOGEY NIGHTS, which just happens to be the name of the restaurant he and his wife own. While renovating a 1920s brick house into a new restaurant, the Labs discover a body in the basement. It’s been buried there since 1942. You see? The mystery just about dropped into his lap.

I love the past, and you’ll find a little history in most of my books. Along those lines, I’ve always had a secret desire to discover a ghost town that no one has seen since the Old West was the Old West. And that was the inspiration for OLD MURDERS NEVER DIE . This is another Sandi Webster Mystery, and it will be out in July, 2011. Sandi and her partner, Pete, become stranded in an old ghost town whose only inhabitants are a mysterious cowboy on horseback and the records of the old-time sheriff telling the story of a series of murders. This one is a great adventure for Sandi. Trust me, you won’t be able to put it down.

Born and raised in Southern California, Marja worked in both criminal and civil law enforcement for several years. Later, a divorced single parent, she got “a fairly well-rounded life education.” Eventually relocating to Northern Nevada she worked for the Nevada Department of Transportation. Taking a break, she lived in Oregon where she worked for the Jackson County Sheriff and owned her own antique store/tea room. She then moved to Wasilla, Alaska, and back to Northern Nevada where she met and married her husband. Marja says, “All things seem to happen for a reason, even when we can’t see it at the time.”

Sharon, thank you so much for letting me visit today. I’ve enjoyed talking about where the story ideas come from, and I hope this will intrigue a few readers.

Marja’s Website:

Marja’s Blog:

Sharon is guest blogging today with Mystery Author Anne K. Albert at


About sharonervin

I write novels for and about women. I work half-days in my husband and son's law office. A former newspaper reporter, I have a B.A. in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. I have four grown children.
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21 Responses to MYSTERY WE WRITE Blog Tour

  1. Vivian Zabel says:

    I’m growing more interested in Marja’s writing with every post I read. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Bogey Nights is a fun read!

  3. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    I’m a Bogart fan myself. When I read The Maltese Falcon, I realized how perfectly they’d cast Bogey as Sam Spade. He was a bigger than life actor. Congrats on your mystery novels!

    Jacqueline Seewald

  4. Marja McGraw says:

    Vivian, I’m glad to hear the posts are doing their job and creating interest.
    Marilyn, Since you’ve read the book, your comment is soooo welcome. Thank you.
    Jacqueline, If you like Bogey and you like subtle humor you might give the Bogey Man a try.
    Thank you all for stopping in.

  5. sharonervin says:

    Thanks, everyone, for visiting and commenting. You make this worthwhile.

  6. Jackie King says:

    What a fascinating background for your book. This is a must-read for me.

  7. Pat says:

    I think it’s fascinating to learn where stories come from or what sets off the imagination of a writer. And I always enjoy Marja’s books.

  8. Pat says:

    I think it’s interesting to learn where and how authors get their ideas. And I thoroughly enjoy Marja’s novels.

  9. Judy Lang says:

    Hi Marja, I enjoyed reading what you had to share with your “fans” that I’m going to re-read “Prudy’s Back” once again. I’ve read each of your books at least three times.

  10. Marja says:

    Thank you, Jackie! I think you might like the books. I hope. : )

  11. Marja says:

    Judy, You just made my day! Thank you so much for stopping in. I’m glad to know that I’m entertaining someone, because that’s what it’s all about.

  12. Will you and your new book be at the PSWA conference in Vegas in July, or is that release date just a coincidence? It sounds like the perfect book for me to read while I’m in Vegas for the conference and my kids and husband look for a Nevada ghost town for us to explore in our down time.

    Holli Castillo
    Gumbo Justice
    Jambalaya Justice, coming July 2011

  13. Fascinating where and how each author gets her inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing, Marja. Your books are definitely on my TBR list!

  14. Marja says:

    Thank you, Anne. I’m so glad you stopped by. True, inspiration can come from anywhere, and when we least expect it.

  15. Marja says:

    Hi Holli, I don’t know if I’ll have the book in time for the conference or not, but I sure hope so. I’m looking forward to seeing you there and meeting you in person!

  16. Sharon Ervin says:

    This is one of several comments from high school classmates, and that was a long time ago.

    Just checked out your blog–good stuff there. I read through some of the posts, also–loved reading through some of the personal notes from you writers back and forth. And…I enjoyed your personal sharing.

  17. Marja says:

    Thank you for sharing, Sharon, and thank you for allowing me to visit your blog. It’s been a lot of fun!

  18. Jake says:

    Always fun to learn new insight into favorite author. Bogey Nights is a classic Marja mystery. Await newest with impatience.

  19. I loved your article, Marja, as well as your original Bogey Man. I’m looking foward to reading Family Secrets and the rest of both series.

  20. Marja McGraw says:

    Thank you, Jean! I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue saying it–writing is the most fun I’ve ever had doing something that resembles a job. Well, it is a job.

  21. Pingback: MYSTERY WE WRITE Blog Tour – Week 5 | Sharon Ervin's Blog

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