Saturday, November 15, 2014

Marni Graff: Giving Life to a Series Character

Frankie’s guest blogger this weekend is Marni Graff. She asked me to publish this for her because she’s off galavanting at Bouchercon this weekend — the lucky stiff! —Rick

Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in England. The Blue Virgin introduces Nora, an American writer living in Oxford. The Green Remains and The Scarlet Wench trace Nora’s move to the Lake District where murder follows her. In process is The Golden Hour, set in Bath, and premiering in Spring 2015 will be Graff’s new Manhattan series, Death Unscripted, featuring nurse Trudy Genova, a medical consultant for a New York movie studio. Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques. She writes crime book reviews at and is Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press. A member of Sisters in Crime, Graff runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. All of Graff’s books can be bought at or at and are available as eBooks.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and because I also read for a crime review blog, there is always a stack of books on my TBR pile. Once I find a writer whose work I enjoy, it’s my habit to go back and read his or her books in the order they were written to see the expansion of the continuing characters. When I decided to write mysteries, I knew a series would allow me to stretch and grow my characters in the same way I’ve enjoyed the growth of those readers whose books I reach for again and again.

When I developed the character of Nora Tierney, an American writer living in England, I made her reasonably young to allow for years of change as I decided on her “bible—” the history of her life that may or may not make it to the page. This background helps me know Nora better, and gives me a feel for how she would react in certain situations. I’ve found the two most important things I have to know for any character are: what they want the most, and what they fear the most. And sometimes it’s the same thing.

As a former journalist now writing children’s books, Nora loves research of any kind and is an information gatherer. I gave her an insatiable curiosity, which leads to her snooping, and a strong sense of fairness and justice, both of which contribute to her tendency to become involved in murder investigations. Nora has been known to lie at the drop of a hat if it will further her gathering of what she considers important or necessary information. She sees these fabrications as harmless. The detectives whose investigations she runs across don’t necessarily agree.

While there is a specific theme for each mystery, the underlying thread of all the books is how the choices we make affect our lives, and Nora’s background had to have some kind of kink in it that has ramifications for her now. Nora still suffers guilt from her father’s death in a sailing accident. A teenager at the time, she’d turned down his offer for an evening sail in favor of a date, a reasonable thing for anyone of that age, until a squall capsized his boat. She carries the unreasonable idea that if she’d gone with him, he would have survived. This has had an impact on her relationships with men. She’s often confused about her feelings for those she cares about and has difficulty becoming too attached, shying away from commitment.

I threw in a real kicker in the first book, The Blue Virgin, one that has had ramifications for me as a writer and obviously for Nora. Her back-story had her unhappily engaged to a workaholic scientist. Nora was on the verge of calling the engagement off when her fiancé was killed in an accident. Fast-forward to the current action in the book weeks later, and she discovers she’s pregnant and has to decide whether to keep the baby as a single parent—those choices we make who decide who we are, hitting her full force. This is in the midst of trying to prove her best friend, artist Val Rogan, is innocent of a murder charge in the death of Val’s partner, Bryn Wallace. The book is set in Oxford, where Nora is packing up to move to Cumbria. But first, she is determined to clear Val.

Saddling Nora with a child to raise alone in the future gave her many challenges and responsibilities that thwart her natural desires as her instinct to strike out has been seriously curbed. During the second book, The Green Remains, Nora is living in the Lake District and heavily pregnant. I had to keep in mind Nora’s physical condition and how that would impact and interfere with her ability to snoop actively when she stumbles across a body at the edge of Lake Windermere. The theme here is the depth of a mother’s love, and as Nora faces her impending fears of motherhood, that is echoed in the plot that unfolds.

In The Scarlet Wench, with her son six months old, a theatre troupe takes over the lodge where she’s temporarily living with her illustrator and his sister. While the troupe are there to stage Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, a series of escalating pranks will result in a murder Nora is determined to solve. I had a time writing this one as I needed to always account for the normal demands of a new mother with an infant, as Nora tries to solve a murder with her baby on the premises. The theme here is how different people have different levels of commitment to relationships, part of the plot that is echoed in Nora’s budding relationship with Detective Inspector Declan Barnes. As always, I’m looking for readers to see growth and development in Nora as she makes her way in the world I’ve created for her.

I’m writing The Golden Hour this fall, which takes Nora and her son to stay with a friend for a week in Bath for her to attend an author event at Mr. B’s Reading Emporium, a real bookstore in the heart of the city where Jane Austen once lived. The theme here is: “Where is home?” as Nora must decide where she will put down roots. On this trip she’ll have the help of her friend to take Sean for walks when she’s busy, but where will the mystery come from? I can promise it won’t be the usual three-murder cozy format, but you’ll have to read it to find out what I’ve planned for Nora’s next adventure.

1 comment:

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I cannot WAIT for the Golden Hour!