Marni Graff, author of The Blue Virgin
"In her stunning, debut mystery novel set in Oxford, England, Marni Graff keeps the reader guessing who-done-it. Her sophisticated literary style together with her compelling plot and cast of characters made the book impossible to put down. P.D. James step aside...."
--Joan Seliger Sidney, Body of Diminishing Motion
Marni (Marnette) Graff
Marni Graff was born on Long Island and lived there for most of her life before moving with her husband and youngest son of three to North Carolina fourteen years ago. Buying property on the Intracoastal Waterway in rural Hyde County, Graff’s family was looking for a change from the fast pace they were used to, and found that on the shore of the Pungo River.
For the first two years at Montgomery Point in northeastern NC, Graff wrote a column for the Beaufort-Hyde News called “Southern Exposure,” about a Yankee’s adjustment
to living in the south.
Graff started writing poetry in junior high and kept on writing. A registered nurse from the age of nineteen, she wrote throughout that career for several journals while studying writing. She completed her degree in Literature and studied writing extensively: Poetry at Harvard and Radcliffe Universities, Screenwriting at New York University, and Literarture at Oxford University in England. Twice the recipient of month-long writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, Graff has studied at five different sessions at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Her influences from early on after the usual Nancy Drew run and Agatha Christie’s were Dickens, Lewis Carroll, and Wilkie Collins.
Graff met the four other women in her writing group at the U of Iowa in the summer of 2003. They started their own unique workshop method after Iowa turned their idea down. The Screw Iowa! Writing Group keep in contact by email and meet yearly for a week to critique their work. You can learn more about the group and their unusual workshop methodology by visiting their website: www.screwiowa.com.
For eight years Graff conducted interviews and wrote articles for Mystery Review magazine. “I was able to pick the brains of my favorite authors and learn about their creative processes, which were all different. My favorite interview was with one of my idols, P. D. James, whose psychological novels I adore, and those with Scottish authors Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, two gritty crime writers.”
Graff has also had poetry and creative non-fiction published in multiple journals, most recently an essay in Southern Women’s Review. She also co-authored a non-fiction book with the SI group, Writing in a Changing World, which is available on the group’s website as an ebook and will published in October by Bridle Path Press.
Graff is the author of two mystery series. Her Manhattan series features nurse Trudy Genova, who works as a medical consultant on soap opera sets, mirroring Graff’s own favorite nursing job. Death Unscripted is currently making editorial rounds through Graff’s agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Her second series features American writer Nora Tierney, who lives and writes in England. The Blue Virgin is the first of that series, set in Oxford, and was published in April 2010 by Bridle Path Press. Graff talks about the creative process that led to this first published novel.
“I’ve always wanted to write mysteries because it’s the genre I enjoy reading the most. I suspect it’s the idea of a puzzle to be solved, and the triumph of good over evil that I enjoy. The Blue Virgin was originally set in the Lake District in its first draft. After I’d traveled to Oxford, I knew I had to start Nora off there. The feel of the city fit my story, and the setting became almost a character itself. It’s one of my favorite places in the UK, with its history, the Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera reading room, and the mix of ancient and modern colleges that make up Oxford U. It’s really small town with a big city feel.”
The book was re-written to reflect the change of setting in 2004-5. Over the next four years Graff polished and revised it numerous times while starting the Trudy Genova series and working on the craft book with the SI women.
“A writer can always look at her work and see something that she wants to change, tweak or strengthen. Since this is the first of a series, I took care in crafting the main recurring characters, especially Nora Tierney. She’s someone I knew I would be spending a lot of time with over the next years, so I had to make her a person I wouldn’t grow tired of quickly. A journalist who’s traded that job to write children’s books, she’s nosy (in a most charming way), lies easily (ditto), and if fiercely protective of those she loves.
“She’s also pregnant with her dead fiancé’s baby when the novel opens, and has decided to raise the child alone. So she has lot going on her life when she gets involved in clearing her best friend of a murder charge, to the chagrin of Detective Declan Hughes.”
Graff has always loved reading, a trait she credits to her mother, who taught her to read at an early age. “She’s still a big reader and we trade books back and forth. I read between three and four novels a week, depending on my time. I am never so happy as when I have a stack of books waiting to be read.” Her current list of authors she stays up reading at night includes Louise Penny, Reginald Hill, France Fyfield, Ruth Rendell and Denise Mina.
Graff started the Writers Read program in 2007, giving writers of all ages an opportunity to read from their works-in-progress and to receive immediate feedback, while providing them with experience reading in front of a group. She also writes a weekly blog with book reviews on www.auntiemwrites.wordpress.com. and appears on the blog EcoWomen,(www.ecowomen.wordpress.com), an environmental group that passes along information and tips for home use. “I write monthly for them; my area is pets and I discuss information on pets from organic beds and toys to poisonus plants.” The Graff’s currently own Murray, a 14 yr-old rescue mutt, and Radar, a 3 yr-old Italian Spinone.
Graff and her husband raised three sons and have four grandchildren. “My husband Arthur has been my biggest supporter and fan.” He’ll be holding down the fort in October when she goes on a signing tour that will take her all the way to Maine and end with a workshop on “Creating Killer Characters” in Baltimore. However she adds: “Nothing beats sitting on our screened-in porch, watching the river and working on my laptop. The wildlife and birds we see every day, the soothing atmosphere and changing water, my dogs swimming in the river—it’s all heavenly and I’m very fortunate.”
The Blue Virgin can be purchased on www.bridlepathpress.com and www.amazon.com.