Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Barbara Graham

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Barbara Graham is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Above is the cover photo for Murder By Music: The Wedding Quilt, the third book in her quilting mystery series.

In the book, autumn brings cooler temperatures to the Smoky Mountains. While the weather may be cooling down in tiny Park County, Tennessee, crime is heating up. Weevil Beasley, the county's loan shark, is found dead and the body count begins. Sheriff Tony Abernathy is soon up to the top of his bald head in murder and mayhem.

Tony's quiltmaker wife Theo is in the thick of it. When she leads her quilting group on a retreat, a killer follows. While dealing with cranky quilters, distraught hotel owners and unfinished projects, Theo has to keep track of gossip for her husband and barely has time to hand out the pattern for her new mystery quilt.

Below are Barbara's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for Barbara, and if you have a question of your own for her, ask it!

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

I didn’t write anything down but I remember making up stories in the third grade and at the same time, I stopped learning math. My early stories usually involved my getting a horse or saving the world or my horse and I saving the world. I also told lies if they would keep me out of trouble.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

I like to visualize the whole person. My characters are very real to me no matter if they are irritating, lovable, stupid, bright, or killers. Because most of them are series people, it is a bit like sitting down with old friends and catching up—what’s new? Have you lost weight? Don’t tell me you’re talking to so-and-so again. Have you met the new teacher? What do you think about him?

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I would love to outline—but—it’s not possible for me without a brain transplant. My writing style is more like the weather map view of a hurricane. I start with the victim and everything swirls around it. The characters totally control the story—an intricate plot without people is less interesting to me. A linear search for the solution is unlikely to hold me and real people have multiple facets to their lives.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing?

Absolutely character.


Because I believe in a mystery the victim is the most important character in the book. Without a fully conceived victim, I cannot imagine creating the plot. Why does this person die, on this day, in this manner? From there I can find the killer.

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

The challenge of finding an agent—so far I’m still failing at that one.
Followed by finding a traditional publisher without an agent—achieved. This was very important to me. I am waaaaay too stubborn to self-publish and my books definitely are better after being edited.

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

My workdays are different according to the season. In the winter, when I get the most work done, I hang out on the couch with pen, notebook and a dog. I think. I play with ideas. I take the time to listen to the voices. Then I spend hours at the keyboard, stopping about four o’clock. In the summer, I walk the dogs before it gets too hot, work in the garden and hope I can still remember the ideas that come to me there when I get back inside.

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Write. Write more and more. Nothing is more valuable for any art form than practice. Musicians play scales. Artists have sketchbooks. Dancers take technique classes. Genius is rare, the rest of us require conferences, classes and critiques. Don’t rely on spell check. Don’t give up. Almost all of us have three to twenty unpublished books behind us.

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

I love Big Bang Theory!

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I’m doing publicity for Murder by Music: The Wedding Quilt which has on-sale date of 11/11/11 (how cool is that?). I’m doing rewrites for next year’s release Murder by Vegetable: The Baby Quilt and am plotting another in the series.

I am still searching for an agent, especially to represent a non-cozy suspense I have written.

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

Visit my website please! I rarely blog, so thank you Beth for letting me chat on yours. I love to talk to readers, writers and quilters—although I realize I am geographically challenged by living where I do (think Yellowstone National Park)—I do enjoy traveling.

Thanks, Barbara! Now, who has a comment or question for her?


Author Peg Herring said...

Nice interview, Barbara. You seem quite sane and everything!
Actually, I should say for those who don't know her that Ms. Graham writes absorbing mysteries, even for those of us to whom a quilt is simply something you grab when your feet are cold.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hah, Barbara sane?! You must not know her very well, Peg. ;-)

(just kidding)

Anonymous said...

I met Barbara briefly at Sleuthfest a couple of years ago so I can attest to her sanity (or lack thereof, depending on how much she's willing to pay!!!). But mostly I can attest to how great her books are.

This interview has inspired me to throw my protag into a hurricane and see what happens. Looking forward to your next book on 11-11-11.

Karen Duxbury

Barbara Graham said...

Sane? I'm not sure I've been called that--certainly not this week! Thank you for the kind words though. I'm in the midst of rewrites on book four while trying to launch Murder by Music. Plus, my garden is begging to be cleaned out. I do have an Easter lily that is finally blooming--we had snow yesterday and the poor lily looks a bit shell-shocked.

Judy Bausch said...

I have certainly enjoyed the two books I've read and I can attest that Barbara is a joy to meet and talk with. She even got me to start a grandmother's flower garden quilt in the craft room at San Francisco Bouchercon. A lovely lady.

Barbara Graham said...

Thank you Peg, Karen and Judy--I have enjoyed meeting all of you. Peg and Karen at Sleuthfest (which is a great conference I hope to get back there again)

My favorite of Peg's books are the historical mysteries about Elizabeth the First--she really knows her stuff.

Karen, I hope you only have to deal with paper hurricanes--none of the real thing.

And Judy, how's that quilt top coming? You were great fun at Bouchercon SFO.

TiffanyLawsonInmanIsNakedEditor said...

Any advice or how-to books you rec for a girl trying to restore a 50-60 year old quilt?

Ohh, you want writing questions? :)

What steps do you take to show vulnerability in your villain? Do you think it's important to have any vulerability in the villain?

Great Post!


Barbara Graham said...

Well, Tiffany, I am not the one to ask about restoring antiques--however, the source I would go to would be quilt museums like the Museum of the American Quilters Society in Paducah, KY or the University of Nebraska. I like to wear my quilts down to the last thread.

As for villains, I don't build monsters. I do believe in evil--but a bad guy who saves kittens is more human, and readable and writable, than a total waste of skin. I write whodunits as opposed to howarewegoingtostopthismonster stories so the killer has to at least blend in with society. With the right motivation, any of us could be the killer.

Nice question.

Patricia Stoltey said...

The only thing better than reading an interview with Barbara is talking to her in person. Very nice post, Beth and Barbara.

Barbara Graham said...

Thanks, Pat! I like talking to you too. I hope you're enjoying working on that new book.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments, and thank YOU, Barbara, for visiting!