Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Interview with Marni Graff, Author of DEATH UNSCRIPTED

What made you decide to be an author? I’ve always been a voracious reader and was drawn to crime and mystery early on, from Nancy Drew to the Golden Agers to Conan Doyle. During my 30 yr. nursing career I wrote on the side, and as that was winding down, I started studying writing in earnest. I chose mysteries because that’s the genre I enjoy reading the most. 

What do you like best about being a writer? I enjoy the entire process: deciding on a setting and characters, choosing plot lines, playing the What If? game, doing research.  I think writers can work out things on the page, and in my mysteries, I’m exploring in all of them what would push a seemingly average person to cross that fine line to feel it’s reasonable to murder someone. It fascinates me. 
What do you like the least? There’s not much I don’t like. I waited a long time to be able to write full time so it’s a blessing. I would rather write than do marketing but if you don’t do that, how will readers know about your books? And I enjoy talking to readers and answering questions about the books very much.  

How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing? Being a nurse taught me to be organized, so I try to use that approach when setting up a new book. I know the steps I need to take to form characters and do my research before plunging into the writing. I also write a crime review blog and read about three books a week to review, so I have to budget my time and that’s another thing that nursing taught me, time management. 

Have you ever felt as if you were being dictated to while you wrote a book--as if the words came of their own accord? If yes, which book did that happen with? It happened at least once during each of the Nora Tierney’s, usually with dialogue between two characters where it felt as if the conversation between them just flew from my fingers as I typed. With Death Unscripted it happened in conversations between Trudy and Ned O’Malley, the NYPD detective, on several occasions, when their banter took on a life of its own. 
You’ve written four novels and are working on a fifth novel, THE GOLDEN HOUR, the next Nora Tierney. What’s your favorite time management tip? I have a folder for each book in progress as I may be collecting information towards a future one. So I have a full folder for Golden Hour as that’s the one I’m working on now but also a folder for the next Trudy Genova, Death of an Heiress, where I’ll throw in bits of notes on scenes I think I’ll need, a torn photo from a magazine with an interesting face that would spur a character description, maybe an article about a place Trudy or Nora might visit. When I actually sit down to write the book, I cull from this folder for inspiration and starting points. It saves time and helps me get down to business faster. 

Are you a plotter or a pantser, i.e., do you outline your books ahead of time or are you an “organic” writer?  Both! Once I choose the setting, I figure out who gets murdered and why. The motive is a powerful thing. Then I backtrack and build a bit of plot around that situation and character, adding in other characters who would also have a motive. But I leave what I call the “muddled middle” alone to allow for happenstance, where the creative process takes over.

If you had one take away piece of advice for authors, what would it be? Find your own process. Each writer has to learn what works for him or her. For instance, so many writers I heard about wrote first thing each morning, but I stay up late reading every night and I found that my mind is most alert and my writing at its best in the afternoons, so that’s when I write. I also trained myself to tune out background noise so I can write at home with the television on as my desk is in the library end of our great room. Each person has to find their own rhythm and writing style that works. 

Did music help you find your muse with this book? If yes, which song did you find yourself going back to over and over again as you wrote? Actually Trudy plays music in the background when she’s being interviewed by detectives after the actor she’s working with has been murdered, and that ranges from soothing Jack Johnson to standards like Chris Botti playing “Embraceable You.” But in one pivotal, emotional scene, the theme from Schindler’s List brings Trudy back to a sad time in her life and I found myself playing that over and over whenever I needed to get down deep into a character’s emotions.
Tell me more about Death Unscripted
After writing a series set in England, I wanted to fulfill a promise I’d made to P. D. James, a mentor and friend for 15 years until her death last year. She enjoyed the Nora Tierney series but insisted I had to write a mystery about a nurse who worked as a medical consultant for a studio once she found out that I’d done that near the end of my career. She felt readers would enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at what that job entailed and weaving it into a mystery would be fun for readers. I tell the story about the book’s genesis in the Acknowledgments of DU, and it’s dedicated to James. So Trudy Genova is my fulfillment of that promise to a great woman I was privileged to know
Blurb: Trudy’s job is a nurse’s dream: no vomit on her white shoes, no sickness, no death--until the actor Trudy’s been coaching, womanizer Griff Kennedy, drops dead during the taping on an online soap opera on the same day she’s dumped pie on his head—but not before pointing his finger accusingly at Trudy. Determined to clear her name, Trudy gets in the way of NYPD detectives with her snooping, until a second death occurs and she realizes she’s put herself in jeopardy.

How about an excerpt from Death Unscripted?
“Yes, Sal."
The doorman’s voice boomed from the speaker. “Trudy, two men here with badges want to talk witchu.” The doorman’s voice boomed over the speaker.
 “Okay, send them up.” Hmm. I took a deep breath and blew it out. Two policemen here to see me? I didn’t own a car in the city so it certainly wasn’t about parking tickets. I doubted they were here to collect for the policeman’s ball. I took a comb from my backpack and ran it through my hair. I didn’t even jump subway turnstiles.
Even though I expected it, I still started when the knock came. After my father’s death, I wasn’t a fan of police at the best of times. I peered out the peephole and saw two plainclothes officers. Detectives? What was going on?

I yanked open the door, practicing creating characters for my future mystery. I think I’m a good judge of people, like the profilers I read about, and quickly appraised the two men to see if either one of them could be a model for my project. The shorter one was olive-skinned with black curly hair, and wore an off-the-rack dark blue suit with a red and blue striped tie. I’d bet Meg a vodka gimlet his last name ended in a vowel. The taller man carried a folder. He had a craggy squared face, light brown hair and dressed his lanky frame in an immaculate grey suit with a subtle plaid tie. Definitely a few pay grades and years of experience over the shorter man.

“Can I help you?”

"Gertrude Genova?” The taller man spoke up.
“Trudy.” I kept on a wide smile and felt like a grinning Cheshire cat.

“Detective Ned O’Malley, and this is Detective Tony Borelli from the 2-0. We’d like to ask you a few questions about Griff Kennedy.”

“Of course. Please come in.” I pointed the way to the living room and followed the men in. With Borelli right in front of me, I noticed his pants were a little shiny; time for a new blue suit. I pictured two others hanging in his closet, tan and black, with a few sports jackets he alternated with chinos and an assortment of solid shirts and striped ties. The thoughts distracted me from my inner voice, which was shocked and yelling at me: THIS IS NOT GOOD. But then Griff had died suddenly. They probably just want my take on his condition. I decided to plunge in and take the lead. “I’m actually glad you’re here.” I didn’t miss the look Borelli threw O’Malley. “I’ve been going over Griff’s death and I’m not sure it was natural.” I watched them take in my grandfather’s oak desk and the vintage movie posters on the walls. Pointing to the futon, covered in a bright quilt my mother had made, I plunked down in a wide tiger oak rocker I’d refinished myself and curled one leg under me to appear relaxed.

“Why do you think something wasn’t right about his death?” Borelli asked, taking out his notebook and choosing to sit with one hip on the wide windowsill.

I counted off the reasons on my fingers. “First, his gestures were off from what we’d rehearsed. I’d told him to picture an elephant sitting in the middle of his chest, squeezing the air out, but instead he seemed to be rubbing his stomach. Second, he was touching the window almost as if he were hallucinating. Third, there was his skin: profuse diaphoresis—sweating—in spite of the cool feel of his skin, and red patches on his chest and neck. Fourth, his excessive drooling, and fifth … he just acted weird. I thought about the eye drops I used being tainted, but I’d broken the seal myself.”
O’Malley tented his fingers and sat silently throughout this recitation. Now he tapped them together as though making up his mind on a point.

“The medical examiner seems to agree with you, Miss Genova. He’s running toxicology tests, but thinks Mr. Kennedy might have been poisoned. We’ll know more after the autopsy later today.”

“Poisoned?” I raised my eyebrows in surprise, then nodded. That actually made sense. “That would fit his symptoms more. I’ve been doing my own research. But who would have poisoned him, and why?”

“We were hoping you could tell us that, Miss Genova,” said Borelli.
Wasn’t he the smug one. “Trudy. It wasn’t me, if that’s what you’re implying,” I said in a crisp tone, but inside I felt stunned. Then the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. I was the professional who’d tried to save Griff’s life and shouldn’t be treated as a suspect. This stopped now. I sat up straighter and directed my question to O’Malley.

“When will you identify the poison?”

“How about we ask the questions, Miss Genova?” O’Malley frowned. “So you didn’t like Mr. Kennedy?”

I shifted in my seat before answering. This guy was tricky. “I wasn’t paid to like him. Yesterday I was paid to teach him how to act like he was having a heart attack.”

O’Malley glanced at his watch. “It would appear he flowered under your tutelage, Miss Genova.”

Where can readers find more about your stories, books and you on the Internet?
My crime review blog, Auntie M Writes, has a personal history and events pages, talks about the books, and is also a great resource for readers looking for crime novels. And there’s plenty about me and the books on the Bridle Path Press page (www.bridlepathpress.com).I’m always happy to talk to readers about my work. All my books are available as signed copies and can be personalized to anyone if ordered through Bridle Path Press. They are also on Amazon.com where you’ll find trade paperbacks and eBooks. The Nora Tierney books are being narrated by a wonderful British actress for Audible and The Blue Virgin is up for sale now with The Green Remains to follow by Christmas and in early spring, The Scarlet Wench.

Website Links:
Twitter: @GraffMarni


Marni, thank you so much for being with us here today. I know my readers will enjoy your work and your interview.
Thanks very much for hosting me!


  1. Just to let readers know ALL three of the English Nora Tierney Mysteries are now on Audible books! And thanks again, Sharon, for hosting me~ Happy Holidays to all!