As promised, here is Part-Two of our interview with the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in England and premiering in the Spring of 2015, her new Manhattan series called, Death Unscripted, featuring nurse Trudy Genova, a medical consultant for a New York movie studio; Mystery Writer, Marni Graff.
Ms. Graff will be one of three panelists for our morning presentation of Launching Today’s Writer. She will also present a workshop titled, Tying You to Your Readers: Using Social Media, Readings, Book Tours, in one of our breakaway sessions. This workshop should prove helpful for all those in attendance.
Now for Part-Two 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
A. Other writers who influenced me growing up would be the Golden Age gals: Christie, Sayers, Tey, Marsh and Conan Doyle. I adore Wilkie Collins and Daphne Du Maurier, all that gothic goodness gone wild. As I contemplated being a writer, it was P. D. James who I admired, for the importance of setting, and for the psychological depth of her works and the intricacies she built into her stories, always about the human heart.
Q. Are there any new authors that have especially grabbed your interest? Why?
A. I like stories with complex characters who keep me flipping pages with interesting stories. There are tons, as I read about 3 mysteries a week for my crime review blog, Auntie M Writes (www.auntiemwrites.com). I’ve read and continue to enjoy Peter Robinson, Peter Lovesey, John Harvey, Ruth Rendell and Francis Fyfield, Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Barry Maitland, M R Hall, Ann Cleeves and Minette Walters. I’ve discovered Aline Templeton, Mark Billingham, Stephen Booth and adore Michael Robotham. Huge Louise Penny fan, too. Some newer authors I’m reading and enjoying are Sophie Hannah, A D Garrett, Harry Bingham, Sharon Bolton, Jane Casey, Alan Bradley and especially Elizabeth Haynes and Elly Griffiths, Kate Rhodes, Christopher Brookmyre and Louise Voss & Mark Edwards.
Q. If we were to glimpse a peek into your writing life, what would your writing process look like? (Do you set daily/weekly/etc. goals; do you write using a pen and paper, laptop/computer or a combination of both?)
A. I always have some kind of small notebook in my backpack for jotting down ideas, snatches of overheard conversation, a scent or a smell I might want to remember. I take copious notes in a notebook longhand and have a three-hole binder I use to keep information I collect during the research and plotting phase. That’s also where I keep the character bibles for each book, and these go beyond their names and physical descriptions. They might encompass a bit of social/family history for a character who has a bigger part in the book down to a sketch of a few lines for those who are very minor. These help me decide how that person would act and what they would say when I’m actually writing them by making those decisions and crafting them into people I recognize.
When I actually start writing the text, it’s on a laptop and stays there in its various drafts. I write in the afternoon, when errands and house things are done, the dog has been walked, the emails answered and the marketing bits of writing are done and I feel the weight of those responsibilities off me. It’s when I’ve found my brain is most alert and ready as I’m a night owl and stay up very late reading so mornings are not my best brain power time. I had to learn this about myself and I think each writer has to learn what schedule works best for themselves that actually allows them the time to sit at the page and write.
Q. Is there a new book or story that you are working on?
A. I’m coming down the wire to bring out DEATH UNSCRIPTED, the first Trudy Genova mystery. That’s out to final beta readers and will get one more polish revision after that based on their comments. It’s cover is being designed right now and will be vastly different from the English series, which always have a color in the title and a color wash that corresponds on the cover. I’m hopeful it will be in print in May or June. As that wraps up I’m working on the first draft of THE GOLDEN HOUR, the fourth Nora Tierney Mystery. At times when I can’t sleep I’ll add notes to the storyline for the fifth book, and know where the sixth will be set and have visited the area, Cornwall, on my last trip to England, always thinking ahead. So there are lots of balls in the air being juggled.
Q. If you could do it all over, is there anything you’d do differently? Why? (Maybe something you’ve considered, but never attempted.)
A. I think I should say I’d have started writing mysteries earlier. I was a nurse for thirty years who wrote ‘on the side’ while I studied writing and honed my regular skills writing for a nursing magazine. But it was always my intention to write novels, and I knew they would be mysteries because those are the books I enjoy reading the most. But then I wouldn’t have had the time to study or the resources to meet the people I’ve met who have influenced me, so that’s a double-edged sword. I was fortunate to be accepted to two writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, studied six different summers at The University of Iowa, and one summer at Oxford University. That summer I was also writing interviews for Mystery Review magazine, who set up an interview for me with my hero, P. D. James. That meeting turned into a fourteen-year mentorship and friendship I wouldn’t trade for the world. It was James who insisted I had to eventually write a mystery on a soap opera set because readers love behind-the-scenes looks at worlds they don’t know. So the long-winded answer is NO, I wouldn’t change a thing!
Q. What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
A. P D James told me: “The real writing gets done in revision.” I repeat this constantly to my writing colleagues. Your story and original idea is like a lump of clay that subsequent revisions will hone and polish. She taught me to embrace rewrites and revisions instead of looking at them as drudgery. I’ve heard my husband tell people he doesn’t know how I can rewrite the books several times over, but to me, the hardest part is the first draft. After that the real fun sets in as I carve out what doesn’t belong, add in what should be there, and add texture and shine.
Q. Is there a publisher or press you work with? How did you get involved with them?
A. I have a lovely and impressive NY agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd, who has never been able to sell any of my books—yet. He lives in hope. I decided I wanted my stories in print and use an author’s cooperative, Bridle Path Press, which is a non-profit organization designed to help authors get their books in print. It was started by a member of my novel critique group (the Screw Iowa Writing Group), Lauren Small. After working with her for the past few years I’ve become the Managing Editor of the press as its grown and help to shepherd new authors through the process. We help authors find printers, copyeditors, book designers, cover designers, obtain ISBN numbers and Library of Congress applications, etc. And the beauty of it is that except for a very small website fee, shared by all the authors, we have no financial input except to our own work and keep all of the profits when a book is sold. It’s a community of authors spread out across the country who support each other, so if Kathleen Asay in California does a book fair, she takes along copies of my mysteries to sell. And when the Press does a book fair, all of its author’s books are sold.
Q. Do you have an amusing story or something about you’d like to share that people might not know about you?
A. I adore putting jigsaw puzzle together! I always have one in process. They relax me and force me to focus, good training for when I get stumped on a plot point!
Thank you very much for this opportunity to reflect and share. I look forward to seeing writers and talking more about the craft of writing at the Pamlico Writers Conference!
by Kaylene Wilson
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