March 18, 2021

Writing Life into 2021

M. K. Graff

There’s no question 2020 was a tough year for everyone, writers and readers alike. With Covid canceling writing festivals and personal appearances, and libraries closed for long periods, the distraction reading provides made eBook figures soar. I was in the midst of revising my fifth Nora Tierney English Mystery, when I realized I could slow down my pace as there would be no book tour coming at the end of it—at least not any time soon.

It turned out to be a good thing I’d decided to postpone the publication date. Alongside worry about family and friends getting the dreaded illness, I found out in early summer I had breast cancer just a few weeks after my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I told him at the time that after thirty-five years as a couple, almost thirty of them married, I knew we liked to do things together, but this was bit much! Fortunately, we were both diagnosed at an early stage without spread. Various tests, surgeries, and radiation were complicated by Covid, but we’re on the road to wellness with a critical eye to watching for recurrence. In between all of these events, working on the manuscripts kept me sane. On days I couldn’t sit at my computer, reading proved my best distraction. By early December I had the manuscript out to beta readers, and started a final revision soon after the new year.

What did I learn about writing a novel while in the throes of a nationwide pandemic and cancer treatment?

I learned that writing is still the solace I also find in reading. I learned that I’ve been a writer long enough that when I couldn’t write for long stretches, I found myself yearning to get back to it. I also learned that I gain much from reading other authors good writing that informs and educates me.

While my hours at my desk were shortened, and some days entirely absent, I’m happy to report that the manuscript is at the copyeditors and being read by the authors who will give me cover blurbs to entice readers to read the book. After another round of edits and the layout and design process, I hope to see The Evening’s Amethyst in print by the end of May or early June. But I also know that this rollout will be vastly different from my other six mysteries.

I’ve always been a big believer in what I can accomplish, not what I can’t. I might not be able to schedule the kind of book tour I like to use to kick off a new book, but there are other ways to bring a new book to a reader.

I’ve decided this time I’m having the front cover art completed much earlier than usual so I can give readers a glimpse of what’s to come as I use it to give former readers a preview and perhaps entice new ones. I’ll also let readers in on my process in bringing this book to publication as things get closer. And I’ll reduce the price on my books already in print for those who (like me) who prefer to read a series from the first book.

I have a love-hate relationship with social media, but it’s necessary to reach readers when I can’t see them in person. So I’ll be upping my presence on Facebook and Twitter, the two I choose to use.

I’ll also be giving hints about the content to catch reader’s attention. The series is a mix of amateur sleuth and police procedural that takes place in different parts of the UK. In keeping the books fresh and different, I’ve written one that revolved around murder in Oxford, another in the Lake District, and one that focuses on a threatre troupe, with chapter epigrams from the play they are producing, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. There’s even one with a psychopath. This new one has a subplot set in 1992 that runs through it and has ramifications set in the current time. See, you have just received the first hint!

If you’re a reader, follow your favorite authors on their social media, and sign up to follow them on their Amazon author page or newsletter. New books will still be appearing by your favorites. Many authors are participating in Zoom conferences you can tune into, which are often free. Now you can see your favorite sitting at their desk while trying to keep their child/dog/cat at bay. Great fun and a relaxing time.

But perhaps the biggest thing I learned is to do one thing a day for myself that somehow pertains toward my writing project, whether I could write or not. To that end, each day I watch an episode of an older UK show called Escape to the Country that we DVR. People looking to move are shown houses in their chosen UK county, which is itself interesting, but I enjoy this show because it’s not just a house-hunt. The presenters open the show with the history of the particular county being visited, and then bring the house-hunters to several different focal sites within that county. While I learn about the first female blacksmith in Cornwall, I also hear accents from different areas in my ear, keep up with current Brit slang, and glimpse new settings for my gal Nora to explore in another book down the road. Because there’s always another book in the works.

Marni Graff, author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries, and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. She writes the weekly crime review blog Auntie M Writes Crime Review ( and is a member of Sisters in Crime, the International Association of Crime Writers, and the NC Writers Network.