Name: Marni Graff
Where are you from: Orginally Long Island, we’ve lived in rural coastal North Carolina for the past 19 years.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc:
My husband, Doc, and I met working at the same hospital when I was a nurse who wrote on the side. We share three grown sons and have 7 grandchildren. As I was winding down my nursing career I’d been studying literature and writing in different forms. That took me to a summer in Oxford, where I interviewed P D James for Mystery Review magazine. She became a mentor and friend until her death last year.
We live on a river that is part of the Intracoastal Waterway, filled with nature and perfect for a writer. We like to take walks with our Spinone, Radar, a goofy clown of a dog who loves to swim in the river.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’m excited to debut the first in my second mystery series, DEATH UNSCRIPTED, the first Trudy Genova Manhattan Mystery. My Nora Tierney English Mysteries, with three in print, have won awards and all take place in the UK, so this a departure. It was actually P D James who insisted I write this book, as Trudy is a nurse who does my favorite nursing job: working as a medical consultant for a movie studio in NYC. The book is dedicated to the Baroness and the Acknowledgements page describes what is real and what is fictional and how the story came to be written.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I was always a voracious and early reader, and started writing in school, poetry and storied, but wanted to be Julie Andrews when I was 12 and thought I would go into acting. Then I realized I’d rather by the person who wrote the stories those actors would say and tried screenwriting but navigated to crime fiction as those are the books I enjoy reading the most.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’d studied journalism in school and wrote for the school paper, and had very bad poetry published. But when I was studying writing and still nursing, I wrote for a nursing journal and had feature articles published. Seeing a legitimate byline was a thrill.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Once I left nursing for good I had the time to develop and research a novel. I’ve always loved the UK and when I visit I feel as if I’m coming home. It seemed natural to set my first series there and I’ve moved Nora around a bit. I created an Amereican writer, Nora Tierney, who is writing for a magazine and is transferred to England. When she gets a chance to write the children’s books she’s always wanted to, she jumps at it and decides to stay. THE BLUE VIRGIN takes places in Oxford; THE GREEN REMAINS and THE SCARLET WENCH take place in Cumbria. The one I’m writing now, THE GOLDEN HOUR, takes Nora to Bath, with a few scenes in Brighton and Oxford. I hope to get her to Scotland and Cornwall at some point!
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I love research and always choose my setting. Then I decide who will die (first) and who did it and why. That leads me to building up the world of the victim and the plot seems to flow from that. That fits both seires. Since my books are set in contemporary times, I do have British friends who check that my “Britspeak” is current for the Noras, not what I’ve gleaned from Agatha Christie and her compatriots. Since she’s lived in England for a while now, it’s natural that Nora would use some British expressions in her language, yet she’s still American at heart so there’s a mix in her dialogue that sets her apart. For Trudy in DEATH UNSCRIPTED, she’s a New York gal, and I decided to have her scenes told in first person from her point of view and how she feels about living in Manhattan after growing up on an apple orchard in the Catskills. The other POV is the detective on the case, in third person.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Trudy’s working on the set of a soap opera when the actor she’s working with dies during taping, but not before implicating her. It wasn’t how she expected her day to go at all, and I wanted to use “Death” as a recurring word in the series titles, since I use color in the Noras, so this fit. The next one in this series will be DEATH OF AN HEIRESS.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
For DEATH UNSCRIPTED I have a frontispiece quote by Auden: “Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our table.” The point is to not take anyone at face value as we are all capable of so much more, good and bad. This plays out with the murder, but also in a more subtle way between Trudy and Ned O’Malley, the detective on the case who she annoys.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic ?
Almost all of it, as it’s based on my real work as a medical consultant for a movie studio. In the Acknowledgements page I describe what is fictional, which is mostly the characters and their actions, but the way a soap opera functions in terms of rehearsals, blocking, taping, is all accurate, as are the medical parts from Trudy’s point of view.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
My mentor was undeniably P D James. I was blessed to know her for fifteen years and she became a friend as well as an enthusiastic supporter of my writing. For influences, early on I read the Golden Agers: Christie, Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Tey, and also Wilkie Collins and Daphne Du Maurier were all big influences on my writing.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I write a crime review blog, Auntie M Writes, and read about three books a week. I just finished David McCallum’s debut, ONCE A CROOKED MAN. He’s the actor most know from “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and we see here in the US now on NCIS, where he plays Ducky, the medical examiner. He’s written a wry thriller about an actor who inadvertently gets involved with the Mob. You can tell he had great fun writing it! And I just started a new thriller coming out next week by Colette McBeth, THE LIFE I LEFT BEHIND, which I’m already enjoying.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I’m a huge fan of Nicola Upson and Louise Penny, and this year found Sarah Ward. I adore Elly Griffiths, Elizabth Haynes, Kate Rhodes and Jane Casey.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m in the midst of the next Nora, THE GOLDEN HOUR, and already working on the plot for the next Trudy, DEATH OF AN HEIRESS. Besides the crime blog, I mentor new writers in a local writing group and often teach at workshops.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
That would have to be my personal critique group. I’m one of five women who meet yearly and go over the drafts of our works in progress. Each writer gets a day as we’ve read them the month before, and we go over our thoughts and suggestions, point out places where the pacing lags, that kind of thing. These women are supportive and kind as well as being great writers of different genres yet all give helpful critiques. We met at in 2003 at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Program and this will be our 12th year working together, online during the year and in person for that special week once a year.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Definitely, it’s my career now and how I see myself.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I’m pretty happy with it. I rewrite and revise a lot before it goes to print so I can feel it’s in good shape. That being said, when I do readings there are always times where I’ll think to myself, “I should have used a different word here or there” but every writer feels that way, as if it’s never really done and could always be improved.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It came out of being an early reader. I could read when I went to kindergarten and always had a book in hand. I admired the places I could travel to from my home and the stories I read, whether it was a fairy tale or a Nancy Drew mystery.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’m writing scenes where an art restorer at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford suddenly dies. I found a contact in their restoration department who helped me choose the right painting she might be actually be working on that suits my complicated plot. That’s all I can say about it right now without a spoiler but I will say that Nora is house hunting in Oxford and that will have an amusing outcome.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finding the tine to actually write! Marketing and promo are so necessary to reach new readers, and I enjoy connecting with them, which is why I write the crime review blog. And reading those books keeps me learning my craft. So finding the time to actually sit and write has to be something I deliberately make time for or a new book would never get done!
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’d say P D James and Daphne Du Maurier. James spends a long time delving into the psychology of her characaters, showing readers who they are beneath the face they present to the world. Du Maurier has a strong sense of setting James shares, and knows how to keep a reader flipping pages.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I travel on book tours when a new book comes out, from my NC home to Maine and back. There’s a route I’ve developed that takes me through places where I have relatives and friends I can stay with to cut down costs and I speak and sign books at libraries and bookstores. I try to get to England every other year for setting research and enjoy getting to St Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Conference. In the US I try to get to one or two big conferences each year. This year I attended Bouchercon in Raleigh and in the fall I was at New England Crimebake, where I took a Masters Class from Elizabeth George, another author whose work I admire.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Giordana Segneri does my Nora covers with the color washes. They are a mix of our ideas and the photo for The Green Remains is actually one I took on my last trip to Cumbria. Beth Cole helped with the cover for Death Unscripted as I wanted readers who might know the English series to immediately know they were going to be in Manhattan, so that marvelous nighttime view of the Brooklyn Bridge going into Manhattan just seemed right, more an Art Deco look.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Probably weaving the fictional plot into the reality I knew from working in that industry. And trying to make certain I was keeping this new and separate from the English series. I had to rewrite Trudy’s voice a lot to find her as at first she sounded too much like Nora. Once I’d filled our her ‘bible’ fully—her backstory—I had a better idea of who she was and I changed her scenes to first person point of view and that did the trick.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that I can write in different points of view and enjoy the process. In the English series, they are all third person and whilst Nora and Declan are the two main points of view, we are also in the heads of other characters from time to time. In the Trudy series, all the scenes are either Trudy or Ned; hers in first person and his in third. It was a fun challenge for me to do it that way and another way to distinguish the series.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
READ in the genre you want to write in. You learn what you like, what’s good and bad that way. ALWAYS carry a small notebook, too, to jot down ideas, snippets of overheard conversation, the scent of a place of a description you can use. BE a sponge and soak up details. And always let your mind roam when you play the “What If?” game of inventing a plot!
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Just that I hope they will take the time to read any of my books. All four are also in Ebooks and the Noras are in Audible, that’s new. And that if you do read a book you enjoy, please take the time to write a brief review on either Amazon or Goodreads. That’s the way others find a writer whose work you’ve enjoyed.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
My mother had bought me a set of Childcraft books and she read nursery rhymes to me every afternoon, over and over, until the words became familiar. When I was four I picked up that book and could read those Mother Goose rhymes and fairy stories myself.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My emotions are close to the surface and I don’t do a good job of hiding them. Any kind of injustice or abuse to children or animals, especially, can make me cry. I can laugh at a good movie, or a child enjoying nature. I like to think that despite writing about murder and thinking of ways to kill people, I’m actually an optimist!
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Probably Agatha Christie. She had an interesting life and I was fortunate to visit her Devon home, Greenway, a few years ago. She actually trained as a concert pianist but was too shy to play in front of large audiences, and turned to writing instead. She knew a lot about human nature and I think we would have tea together, although her favorite drink was straight heavy cream!
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
She got to to what she wanted to, maybe. I always wanted to be a writer and I feel blessed to do it now.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I love to do jigsaw puzzles! They help me relax when I’m plotting.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I make Doc watch all the crime shows he can stand so I can stay up to date with forensics. We are huge Doc Martin fans and I love old black and white movies, anything with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, etc. A different era then.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I enjoy pizza, crusty bread, scones and a good steak. Blue and green, especially together with a bit of lilac would be my color palette. I like classical, used to play piano, and Standards of the American Songbook. I listen to Chet Baker, love Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and the newer singers who keep those songs alive like Michael Feinstein, Michael Buble and Harry Connick, Jr.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I think I would have liked to be a set decorator for the theatre. I love details and we watch a lot of Home and Garden shows.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Amazon Author page is: www.amazon.com/-/e/B0085N79XU
Thanks, Fiona, for the chance to talk to your readers about my work!