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Marni Graff, author of The Blue Virgin and The Green Remains

Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney mystery series – which falls somewhere between a police procedural and a cozy. The second book in this very interesting series just came out, and I wanted to find out more. One lucky commenter will win a copy of The Green Remains.

Before we start talking to Marni, let me catch you up on the series. In The Blue Virgin, American writer Nora Tierney travels to Oxford, England. Her good friend has been wrongfully accused of murdering her partner. But is the accusation wrong?

In The Green Remains, Nora is living at Ramsey Lodge in England’s Lake District, anticipating the birth of her first child and the publication of her first children’s book. But when she finds a body by Lake Windemere, her illustrator, Simon Ramsey is implicated. As the body count rises, Nora and her unborn child will face risks and perils she could never anticipate.

Pretty riveting stuff, huh? Now, I’m a big fan of stories that take me to other countries, so I decided to ask Marni about setting her books in England rather than the U.S.

Author Marni Graff

Esri:

Setting is such a great way to add a tone or feeling to a story, especially if the setting has a strong “personality.” I’m trying to imagine a chipper comedy set in a place where it rains all the time – it’s difficult. I’m assuming you didn’t finish the books during your visits to the UK. Do you ever look at photos to get yourself back in a certain mood?

Marni:

I keep my photo albums of my last trip to Oxford and to the Lake District on my desk. As a matter of fact, we used a photo I took on Lake Windermere as the basis for the cover of The Green Remains. Cumbria is a place of such natural beauty, as opposed to Oxford, which has beauty of a very different kind, all of those golden ancient buildings and bustling crowded streets. It’s town vs country for sure; both strong in personality, as you mention, but of a very different kind.

When I read Elizabeth George’s newest (Believing the Lie) I wasn’t surprised to see she’d taken Lynley to a visit to Cumbria. But then I don’t have a lock on that place, as evidenced by Reginald Hill’s The Woodcutter, and one entire series by Martin Edwards, aptly called The Lake District Series. It’s one of my favorite places, and anyone who has seen the natural beauty of Cumbria comes away impressed. Beatrix Potter and Wordsworth and Ruskin all reveled in the tarns and becks, the fleecy clouds reflected in the many lakes’ surface.

Esri:

After I leave a remote book location, I sometimes have a logistical question about it. I once used Google Earth to find out if a parking lot had a convenient bush beside it, for my sleuths to hide behind (it did). Have you ever had this happen, and what did you do about it?

Marni:

Ah, yes, the challenges of setting …  since my books are set so far away, I use a local contact to answer email questions and keep my photograph albums out for reference. But Google came into play when my copyeditor was going over The Blue Virgin. I’d set a character on a walk from his flat to the Covered Market, past Magdalen College, and it sounded like he’s arrived in about three minutes. Turns out Google told her the distance was a mile and a half, so we changed the text to show it took Davey a bit longer to get there!

Esri:

Any funny stories about travel or other experiences you had in the UK?

Marni:

When I studied at Oxford as an adult, I kept buying books and souvenirs, things I fell in love with because I knew it would be a while before I could go back and I loved the town. But I ran out of suitcase space and ended up having to mail myself a two cartons home … don’t ask about the postage. Since the cost was based on weight, I packed the boxes mostly with dirty clothes and put the books in my suitcase! Then I went through the security check on my way home, and this was before 9/11 and they did random baggage checks. Of course, mine was pulled and when the woman opened my suitcase, it was mostly all books. She looked at my passport, saw I’d been there over a month, then looked at my bag and said, “Lor, lass, where’s your knickers?”

Esri:

Nora is writing an illustrated children’s book in the same area where famed Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter lived. Did you (and Nora) take the tour? Buy any souvenirs?

Marni:

I’ve taken the tour (lovely) to Hill Top, and Nora will in a future book with her child. The World of Beatrix Potter attraction (think All Things Peter and Friends) is in the village where The Green Remains is set, right near Windermere. Potter’s influence in the area is enormous; she bought up 14 farms and over 4,000 acres of land and left it to The National Trust in her will so that it would never be developed. In this book, Nora is name-hunting for her child and considers a few Potter favorites, which she ultimately discards. But she does use Peter Rabbit and friends to decorate her son’s nursery.

Esri:

Good for her. You can’t go wrong with the classics. A non-location question: Each of your titles mentions a color. Do you remember what brought that about?

Marni:

The first book, The Blue Virgin, was my original title, based on a club that’s mentioned in the first chapter but is actually metaphor for the young woman whose murder sets Nora on her initial investigation. I work with an outstanding book designer, Giordana Segneri, and it was her idea when she designed the cover, to use the blue wash. We liked the effect so much I made certain I worked color into the title for The Green Remains. This one refers to the appearance of the dead body Nora stumbles over at the edge of the lake but is also a metaphor for what remains at the end of the book: new lives to be molded from the aftermath of tragedy. Right now I’m working on The Scarlet Wench, which is the name of the local pub already mentioned in Bowness in The Green Remains, and is a metaphor for …  you’ll have to read it and find out! The fourth book’s working title is The Golden Hour.
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If you’d like to read excerpts of Marni’s books (and who wouldn’t?), they’re below. And don’t forget to comment for the chance to win a copy of her newest!

Excerpt – The Blue Virgin

Excerpt – The Green Remains

Marni Graff, also known as Auntie M,  M.K., and Marnette, grew up in Floral Park, NY. She currently resides in rural North Carolina, living on the Pungo River, part of the coast’s Intracoastal Waterway. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, and runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. Graff is the author of screenplays, stories, essays and poetry, and writes two mystery series. Her creative nonfiction was most recently seen in Southern Women’s Review. She is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques. Visit her at her blog, which has fab weekly book reviews, AuntiEmWrites.

Bonus link: A great guest post by Marni on Motherhoot, about her interesting journey to writing.


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