Guest Blogger Marni Graff: A SHARP RIGHT TURN: How one writer changed careers and followed her heart

Growing up on Long Island in New York, I was an early reader and libraries were filled with my best friends: books. They captured my imagination and the habit of reading anything I could lay my hands on has never stopped. Just ask my husband. Some women are happiest buying clothes and makeup, and while I admit to a weakness for shoes, books are still my guilty indulgence.

Although I thought I’d teach English and write novels, Life intervened and I ended up in nursing school. Throughout a successful nursing career that I embraced, I always knew that someday I would be a writer.

So I studied writing as the years passed, in all its forms: poetry, fiction, non-fiction, classic literature and criticism. I wrote in all the forms I learned, even producing a screenplay that will never see the light of day, and kept my eyes open for ways to further my writing. As my skills grew, I started writing for a nursing magazine, and edited another journal. I took classes at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival in different genres, and I kept on reading and never lost sight of my dream.

These experiences led me to my favorite nursing job, as a medical consultant for television and films produced in Manhattan. Here was a world where no one was really sick or dying. I corrected medical scenes in scripts and worked onset with actors and directors for realism, although I learned early on that the phrase “artistic license” would get around my protests that there were no purple IV fluids.

By now my copious reading had coalesced into a desire to write a mystery, as those were the books I enjoyed reading the most. I focused on the genre by writing interview articles for Mystery Review magazine, which gave me a publishing history, and allowed me to pick the brains of authors whose work I read and admired. Some I met in person at Bouchercon, such as Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Deborah Crombie. Others, like Anne Perry and Jill McGown, I interviewed via email. The pinnacle for me came in an opportunity to study mystery masters one summer at Oxford, combined with a visit to P. D. James’ London townhouse for a delightful interview. I’ve always loved England and knew then that my books would be set there.

By the time I retired from my nursing career, I was ready to start my own mystery. I got in the habit of carrying a notebook everywhere I went to jot down ideas. I applied for a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center, and spent a month there writing the beginning chapters of my first mystery novel. A turning point came from a novel writing class in Iowa, when out of a class of twelve, four other women and myself decided to form a long-distance writing group for critique feedback and support. When we met months later, I had the first draft of my mystery completed. I had decided it would be a series with a continuing character, set in England.

The Blue Virgin was published by Bridle Path Press in April of 2010. Set in Oxford, it introduces Nora Tierney, an American writer living in the UK. Nora is working at a magazine when she wins an essay contest that will allow her to work in Cumbria with illustrator Simon Ramsey, giving her the chance to work on the children’s books she’s yearned to write. But before she can leave Oxford, she finds herself involved in a murder investigation. She must clear her best friend of a murder charge, to the chagrin of the Detective Inspector on the case, Declan Barnes. And she finds out she’s carrying the child of her fiancé, who has died a few weeks before in a plane crash.

The Green Remains follows Nora to the Lake District, where she’s living at Ramsey Lodge, awaiting the publication of her first children’s book and the birth of her child. When she literally stumbles across the corpse of the heir to Clarendon Hall, she becomes involved in a chain of events that will have devastating effects on people she’s come to love and admire.

The series is a mix of police procedural and cozy, written in the traditional English mystery style. Chapter epigraphs are a nod to many Golden Age writers, and to Colin Dexter’s Morse series.

Today I’m busy with the things modern writers face: marketing and publicizing your books, whilst trying to write the next one. I have met many wonderful people through my travels, and understand how fortunate I am to see my dreams come alive. Most of all, I will never forget the day I opened a carton and pulled out my first published novel.

Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney mystery series, set in the UK and co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques. She writes a weekly mystery book review on

A member Sisters in Crime, Graff runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven, and has published creative nonfiction and poetry. You can order her books on or through



One thought on “Guest Blogger Marni Graff: A SHARP RIGHT TURN: How one writer changed careers and followed her heart

  1. Pingback: 50 Books: The Blue Virgin by MK Graff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *