This week’s Author on the Couch is…
*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.Enter to win a signed copy of The Golden Hour by @GraffMarni. #books #giveaway Click To Tweet
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!The facial expression of someone; a personal tick; a way of speaking—all add resonance to characters. @GraffMarni #AmWriting #AuthorontheCouch Click To Tweet
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. I dabbled in screenplays for a while before settling on crime novels, because that is what I enjoy reading the most, and studied writing for years as I worked at being a nurse. To be able to tell a story that captivates someone and transfers them to a different place and setting is what I aim to achieve. It’s a blessing to me to be able to write full time.I sang in choirs,acted in school plays and thought I would be the American Julie Andrews.Then, I realized I didn’t want to be the person performing, but rather the one writing the words they said. @GraffMarni #AmWriting… Click To Tweet
Me: What book do you wish you’d written?
Marni: I’d have liked to have written REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier. To me it’s the perfect combination of that gothic feel of suspense and mystery, along with a hint of romance. At it’s heart, it’s about identity and trust. The second Mrs. DeWinter, whose first name we never learn, is an unformed young girl who impetuously falls in love with a wealthy man, Max DeWinter, who pays her attention and falls for her naivete`. She trusts him implicitly, and those around him, which is her downfall when she meets the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who has remained faithful to Rebecca, the first Mrs. DeWinter. Max eventually comes to see he could never trust Rebecca but he can trust his current wife. She learns he isn’t still in love with Rebecca’s memory, but rather loathed her, and Max learns to trust in his love for her. It’s a full-circle book that has always captured my imagination. And of course, there is that lovely Manderlay, which is destroyed in the end, but their love isn’t.
Me: What do you collect? Why? What personal meaning does this item have for you?
Marni: I collect vintage platters, creamers and jugs. I like thinking of the different families who have used those items for family meals and holiday gatherings. I think of the love they put into using them when I take a platter off our Welsh dresser to use for the meal we are creating together. My husband is a good cook and we often cook together. Our home is where the family congregates for special occasion meals, too, on a lovely long table he made for us. That table sits 12 and we often have friends join us for holidays who don’t have local family to visit. When I see those platters of turkey or prime rib on the table, a jug filled with gravy, I feel like I’m continuing a tradition started years ago in someone else’s family, and I like that sense of connection to the past.
Me: Tell me about your mystery The Golden Hour: A Nora Tierney English Mystery.
Nora Tierney can’t shake the feeling she had a stalker. While she’s house hunting in Oxford, her partner, DI Declan Barnes, untangles the death of an art conservator under suspicious circumstances that have international implications. When these situations collide, Nora finds herself fighting to save her child and the family she’s trying to create. From the award-winning author of three previous Nora Tierney English Mysteries comes her most chilling novel to date.
Me: Share with us a favorite paragraph or two from The Golden Hour.
Marni: This was the first time I’d written a psychopath. The first 3 books were classic Whodunits? but I didn’t want my readers to feel they were reading the same book over and over, so I deliberately went darker and this one is a Cantheystophim?. The maniac, Viktor Garanin, is half Russian, half-British, and has hatched a scheme to kill most of the British people, whom he loathes. Raised by an abusive father who terrorized his mother, she abandoned him when he was young by committing suicide. He has come to hate her weakness and become even more abusive than his father. This passage describes the inciting incident that turned his personality:
Viktor Garanin brought up the back of his first class seat as the British Airways flight from Moscow started its descent to London’s Heathrow Airport. Despite the added width and comfortable leather of the pricey accommodation, the large man was ready to deplane after a nearly 4-hour flight. He’d been well-fed and offered drinks and wine, but at this time in the day, Viktor needed to keep his head about him. There was still border control to get through, and that was always a sticking point.
The flight attendants had been solicitous to his every need, although that one young man had looked Viktor fully in the eyes and hastily looked away when he saw the malice reflected there. They disgusted him equally, male or female, and he hadn’t been able to hide how he really felt. They were British, and that was enough for Viktor to consider them no more than dirt beneath his bespoke leather shoes.
He glanced out the window at the azure sky and woolly clouds that surrounded them. Viktor remembered his mother had a robe in just that shade of blue. The plane suddenly plunged into the clouds; the window became white and foggy without a view, and the unbidden memory came rushing back before he could distract himself.
Viktor had been sent home from school early with a head cold. It was the housekeeper’s day off, and when the nurse couldn’t raise his mother on the telephone to pick him up, he’d played on her sympathies to walk the short distance home. All he’d wanted was to crawl into his own bed and pull the covers over his head. He would eventually do that when he arrived home, but not because of his cold.
The house was quiet, too quiet. He assumed his mother was picking his younger brother up from nursery school, which explained why the nurse couldn’t reach her. Viktor went to the kitchen to sneak a bottle of juice to take with him to his room. He heard the sound of an engine, and when he looked out the kitchen door, he saw white clouds filling the garage, swirling around, at the same time he became aware of a noxious odor.
He remembered instinctively knowing he shouldn’t open the kitchen door, and instead had run outside and around to the garage, pulling open the doors wide. The fumes spilled out, choking him. He recognized the sound of his mother’s car engine, and saw the hose that ran from the exhaust pipe into the driver’s window.
Viktor coughed deeply, the vapors making his chest hurt even as the cool air rushed in and they started to clear. He had to turn the motor off. The exhaust continued to leak out as he looked around wildly for something to cover his face and found a gas-soaked rag the gardener used on their lawn mower.
Covering his nose and mouth, ignoring the sharp smell of the gasoline on the rag, he opened the driver’s door and reached across his mother to shut off the ignition. Blessed silence.
Then Viktor looked at his mother. She wore her blue and white robe. Her skin was bright pink, her lips cherry red, but not from lipstick. Her tongue protruded from between her clenched lips and he saw she’d grabbed the steering wheel tightly, both hands grasping it in a rictus of death to keep herself from turning the key off.
He felt warmth as his urine ran down his leg and into his shoe before his knees buckled. He collapsed on the floor of their garage, where a neighbor found him after noticing the dissipating cloud.
Viktor shook memory off and roused himself. He rarely allowed his thoughts to stray to that day, and refused to wallow in the feelings it brought back. The bitch had made him feel weak, transferring her own weakness in the face of his father’s repeated abuse over to him. He hated her then for abandoning him, a rage that grew over the years. It became cemented in his feelings toward her native country, and now he was going to do something about it.
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