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Author on the Couch: Marni Graff - Abbie Roads
This week’s Author on the Couch is… Marni Graff! *Marni is giving away an autographed copy of The Golden Hour.* Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life. Marni: I was studying Gothic Literature one summer at Oxford and writing interview articles for “Mystery Review” magazine. They arranged for me to train down to London to interview PD James, the Queen of British Mystery and a writer I idolized, whose work was a huge influence on my decision to write mysteries. I gulped and swallowed my nerves and spent a wonderful time interviewing her at her Holland Park townhouse. As I thanked her and prepared to leave, she asked me if I wanted to stay and have a coffee in her kitchen. We chatted more casually then about my planned writing and by the end of the afternoon, I felt a connection to the Baroness. She remained my mentor and friend for 15 years, until her death. While she approved of my British mystery series, which evolved to The Nora Tierney Mysteries, she also insisted at some point that I write a second series featuring a protagonist who had my favorite real nursing job, as a medical consultant for a movie studio. She said readers would enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at a profession most wouldn’t know about. I started The Trudy Genova Manhanttan Mysteries last year and the first, Death Unscripted, is dedicated to James. Having her in my corner gave me tremendous confidence, and I miss her dearly. Me: What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author? Marni: I’m fairly observant and think I’m pretty organized, which may stem from being a nurse for 30 years before writing full time. I’m a compulsive note-taker and keep my eyes open in daily life for things that will inform my writing or add texture. The facial expression of someone; a personal tick; a way of speaking—all add resonance to characters. And then there’s always that line of dialogue that sounds too good to pass, and I’ll jot those down, too. Keeping track of two series in progress at different points of publication means I need that organizational gene kicked into high gear, too! Me: What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author? Marni: My great ability to procrastinate. Not having a firm deadline means it’s easy for me to postpone putting my butt in the chair at times. And while I love research, I can get sidelined in it to the degree that goes beyond what I probably need for a particular book. My writing group meet yearly, and do our entire novels, so I do have a long term deadline, but it’s easy for me to be distracted . . . Me: What was your high point as a writer—a time when you were happiest, on cloud nine, flying high? What happened? Marni: My Cloud Nine moment came when I was invited to P. D. James memorial service in London. I’d thought the church would be filled with tons of authors I’d recognize and was shocked to see her family and friends and only about twelve writers, those she considered her closest friends. It was a moment when despite being terribly sad at losing Phyllis from my life, it was revealed to me that the depth of our friendship had always been reciprocated, and that she saw me as a serious writer. It gave me tremendous confidence and extreme gratefulness. That day I met two other author friends of hers whom she’d talked about with me frequently, and apparently me to them, but we’d never met in person. We’ve become great friends sharing our friendship with Phyllis, and helping to promote each other’s work. Me: What was your low point as a writer—a time when questioned your path, a time when you felt really crappy about your writing? What happened? How did you get over it? Marni: I was signed with a New York agent from the wonderful agency of Curtis Brown, Ltd, and was over the moon. He was very encouraging and had me start book 2 as he sent out book 1, The Blue Virgin. My low point came after a year of him trying to sell my book and being unsuccessful. The rejection letters all loved my writing and mystery, but their sticking point was from their marketing departments, which all had concerns about taking on an unknown American writing a British mystery. I was discouraged and almost gave up the idea of having a novel in print. I shoved the manuscripts in a drawer and got on with life, but kept being drawn back to the writing. I decided to give it one more try and went to the University of Iowa one more time for a novel writing course in their Summer Writing Festival. I had studied there several times and knew the town and that the courses were well done. It was in that class that I met the four women who would eventually form my current writing group—we’ve been working together for 14 years now—and one of the women started Bridle Path Press, which publishes my books. And all without an agent~ Me: How did you know you wanted to be a writer? Marni: I had a mother who read to me every day from the Childcraft series nursery rhymes book until the words became familiar and I started to recognize them. I could read at a second grade level when I started kindergarten, and have always been a voracious reader. But I also sang in choirs and acted in school plays and thought I would be the American Julie Andrews. I wrote stories and poetry all through school and loved writing, but in a quirk of circumstances, ended up going to nursing school. Then as reality set in, I realized I didn’t want to be the person performing, but rather the one writing the words they said. …