Today we present Part-One of our interview with Mystery Writer, Marni Graff. Ms. Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in England.
The Blue Virgin introduces Nora, an American writer living in Oxford. The Green Remains and The Scarlet Wench trace Nora’s move to the Lake District where murder follows her. Ms. Graff is currently working on her fourth in the series called, The Golden Hour, set in Bath.
In the Spring of 2015 she will be premiering her new Manhattan series called, Death Unscripted, featuring nurse Trudy Genova, a medical consultant for a New York movie studio.
Among Ms. Graff’s many talents she also co-authored Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques. She writes crime novel reviews at www.auntiemwrites.com and is Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, and also runs the NC Writers’ Read program in Belhaven, NC.
Ms. Graff will be one of three panelists in our morning presentation of Launching Today’s Writer and later in a breakaway session workshop titled Tying You to Your Readers: Using Social Media, Readings, Book Tours. You won’t want to miss this workshop as it should prove helpful for all those in attendance.
Without further delay, here is Part-One of our interview:
The Nora Tierney Mysteries:
The Blue Virgin: A Nora Tierney Mystery (Oxford)
First Place Winner: Mystery and Mayhem Award for British Cozy, Chanticleer Book Media
The Green Remains: Book 2 (Lake District)
The Scarlet Wench: Book 3 (Lake District)
A. What a great question! I have a love-hate relationship with a short story I wrote—and rewrote—and rewrote called “The Good Eye.” It’s a coming of age story about a 12 yr old country boy who gets his first rifle for his birthday, and goes into the cornfield and up into a tree to kill a squirrel. He promptly kills his neighbor’s cat instead. One of these days I’ll pull it out and rework it. I love that story and some of its parts, but as a whole I’ve never been satisfied with it and it needs more work. I can write poetry, clipped photographic snapshots, or novels, where I have the luxury of creating characters and the expanse of pages for explanation. I find short stories the most difficult format to write.
Q. When writing, how extensive is the research you put into bringing your books to life on the page (Nora Tierney series & Trudy Genova)?
A. First, I always have a real live person in the area of each book who knows the background and whom I can contact as I’m in the process of writing. For the Nora Tierney’s, it has been a retired policeman in the Lake District; in the book for that series that’s in progress, THE GOLDEN HOUR, it’s a friend who lives in Wiltshire just outside Bath, where the book is set. For Trudy’s debut, DEATH UNSCRIPTED, I have the good fortune to have remained friends with Marilyn Chris, an actor I met on the set of “One Life to Live” when I did the nursing job that Trudy does, working as a medical consultant for a movie studio. Each of these contacts reads a finished draft and points out errors.
But before the writing even starts, I’ve done extensive setting research. Trudy was easy: I lived on Long Island and worked in the city and the studio where the soap was filmed. For the English series, I have visited the places I’ve chosen at least twice over the years and have photos to fall back on, plus maps and other flyers and information I’ve kept. I believe setting functions as a character in itself and I invest a lot of time and effort to get it right.
Then there are the plot things that might have to be researched and that all gets done before the writing start, too. For instance, for THE SCARLET WENCH, the plot revolves around a theatre troupe staging Noel Coward’s farce, Blithe Spirit, at Ramsey Lodge in Cumbria where Nora currently lives. The action mirrors accidents that happen in the play, and I wanted to use lines from the original for the chapter epigrams. That meant applying to Coward’s estate, finding the agent who represents them, and getting (and paying for) permission to use them. To my delight, his estate asked for a copy of the book for its archives.
For THE GOLDEN HOUR, a biologic agent is pivotal at one point, and that idea I’m using came from an off the cuff chat with the Infectious Disease specialist treating me when I had meningitis last year! She also recommended a great book which I bought and the first chapter overview alone gave me all the information I needed to sort the plot points out in my mind before plunging into writing.
During the writing, I’ll stop and Google many things to be certain I’ve gotten them right, and I also use a copyeditor, whose job it is to fact check for me.
Q. What made you choose to write your Nora Tierney book as a series instead of a stand-alone book?
A. I liked the idea of creating a character that readers would want to follow on her life’s journey. Nora has to make many important life decisions in the course of solving those pesky murders that keep falling in her path. I’ve made her a very modern woman with modern issues she faces, even though the books are written in traditional English mystery style. I wouldn’t rule out a stand-alone down the road, but I think I see that as more of a suspense thriller.
Q. Do you have a favorite chapter (or part) you’ve written? Why?
A. When I read a section out loud, it’s difficult to find an excerpt from a long book that makes sense to the audience when they don’t know the entire story. So I’ll choose a scene and what it describes and hope they ‘get’ it and they usually do. One of the scenes I always had tremendous comments on was a scene from THE BLUE VIRGIN, where Nora’s best friend Val, who has been accused of murdering her partner, comes home from a tough police interview to her empty flat and must face the things she’s accumulated with Bryn, the dead woman, and this leads her to think about how she will face life without her. I tell audiences that this passage is about grief, and I’ve had people cry when I’m done reading. That ability to move a reader is one reason I write.Q. What sort of Starbuck’s coffee would your characters order? Simple coffee, complicated soy-non-fat-extra-espresso-half-caff-nightmare?
A. Nora is an American living in England and is true Anglophile. She orders Earl Grey tea for her daily drink or a chai tea if she were splashing out. And shortbread on the side. Trudy likes her coffee dark and sweet and often goes for a mocha with that hint of chocolate in hers. But she hates paying Manhattan prices would probably get her coffee from the corner coffee shop instead of Starbucks…
Q. Is there one character (in either the Nora Tierney or Trudy Genova series) you would most/least consider inviting to dinner? Do you think he/she would want to hang out with you (his/her creator)? Why?
A. I think I would like to have dinner with DI Declan Barnes (Nora) or Det. Ned O’Malley (Trudy) and see if either man comes across as sexy yet reserved as I’ve painted them. They are both intelligent, of course, alike in some ways yet different in many others. Either would make a good dinner companion and I certainly hope they’d enjoy meeting me, but that’s every writer’s hope! It would be interesting to see how they’d think I’ve gotten them wrong, wouldn’t it!
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