Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Visit with Barbara Graham

Cody, Wyoming, novelist Barbara Graham writes mysteries featuring her favorite pastime: quilting. The former dance instructor and travel agent has a varied background.

Barbara, why do you bill yourself as a “mystery writer, quilter and village idiot"? You also call yourself a “flake.” Is that your funny bone running amok?

I think the first two are obvious and accurate. I feel like a flake. I have trouble holding my focus sometimes because I am trying to do several things at one time. I can lose my coffee cup while holding it in my hand or I put it down some odd place. I spend a lot of time retracing my steps. The “village idiot” goes back to the time my friend Michelle and I were used to diffuse a difficult situation at a meeting. We looked at each other and said something about being “the village idiot”. When we briefly had a pattern company the natural name for it was Village Idiot Quilters.

You’ve lived in various places, including Texas, Louisiana and Colorado. Why did you decide to settle in Wyoming?

It is really quite simple. My husband was offered a job in Wyoming. We moved here over 25 years ago and love it here. (The wind, not so much)

What is a mystery quilt and what are the clues planted in your books?

It’s really an extra for quilters. It has nothing to do with the solution to the book’s mystery. A mystery quilt is a pattern followed blindly, not knowing what the finished top is supposed to look like. It’s a bit like a treasure map. The “clues” tell the quilter how much fabric is needed of different values (dark, medium or light). More clues explain how to cut it and how to sew it together. No pictures. It does assume some familiarity with quilt construction.

I love it when someone shows me the quilt they made from one of the books.

How did you get into quilting and is it strictly a hobby or avocation?

I have done needlework since I was a child. While buying embroidery floss at a local shop I signed up for a basic quilt class. I was totally hooked and find I have no patience for some of my earlier crafts. I am addicted to quilting and enjoy not only the colors and patterns but the tactile nature of it. I find it very soothing. If everyone quilted, there would be no wars.

Do you plan to incorporate your former professions of dance teacher and travel agent into future novels?

Not really. The nature of the travel industry has changed since I left it. I can imagine killing off some passengers on recent airplane flights but that’s another story. As for teaching dance, I use the skills I used for choreography every day. Every move a dancer makes, position of the head, arms, hands, is not random but carefully choreographed. So when I send a character skidding down a hill, they obey my rules.

What’s your writing schedule like and do you outline your books?

I wish I was an outliner. I’m sure it would save me time and angst. I try to work every morning but sometimes I am distracted into playing in the garden or being slave to the dogs. Especially in spring, I am lured outside and end up playing in the dirt.

As far as working on the books, I consider my characters imaginary friends and sometimes we just sit and chat about what’s happening in their lives. What’s changed since I saw them last? What’s the gossip in Silersville? I do percolate the story line for quite a long time before writing much.

Why do you write?

I write because I cannot not write. I have plenty of other things I could be doing but when I go too long without writing I feel ill and edgy.

What are you working on now?

The third book in the series, Murder by Music: The Wedding Quilt will release next October and I am working on Murder by Vegetable: The Baby Quilt now. I also am trying to find a home for a suspense novel not connected to the series.

Advice to aspiring writers.

My best advice is, if you have to write, keep writing. Finish the book, story or poem. Only after it is finished and you step away from it for a while will you'll be able to assess what improvements it needs. Books require rewriting.

Thanks, Barbara, for stopping by.

Barbara's website:, which she's in the process of updating and redesigning.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Barbara. It's good to have you join us here. That's a gorgeous quilt, btw.

Camille Minichino said...

It was great to meet Barbara at Bouchercon where she led a great crafts session! Thanks Barbara.

Cindy Sample said...

Hi Barbara. It was great to meet you at B'Con. I'm looking forward to starting your series. And that is one beautiful quilt you're holding.

Hope you can make it to Left Coast Crime in Sacramento in 2012.

Helen Ginger said...

I have an aunt who makes beautiful quilt tops. I, however, have never tried. But I could try reading a book that includes quilting clues!

Sheila Deeth said...

Fun interview. I'm definitely not a quilter but the mystery quilt idea sounds intriguing.

Nancy Naigle said...

I've never heard of the mystery quilt thing either .. but how cool. So glad to hear you have another book out. We met a few years back at a Sleuthfest were as much fun there as you were here today ...

Thanks for sharing~
Nancy Naigle
Drewryville, VA

Peg Herring said...

Barbara is NOT a flake! She's a great person who faces life with humor and courage. And I love her books even though tackling a quilt is far down my list of things I will ever get around to. I appreciate the talent it takes and the beauty that results.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I think the idea of a "mystery quilt" is fascinating. I've always admired those who could create quilts. I know you write an excellent mystery series.

Leslie Wheeler said...

Great interview, Barbara. Liked the way you kept your answers brief and to the point. A lot of what you said resonated with me (as a fellow flake!) I'm not a quilter either, but admire those who are, and both the premise of your series and the "mystery quilt" idea fascinate me.
Recently saw a wonderful exhibit of quilts (my favorites are the crazy quilts) at the Shelburne Museum in Burlington, VT.

Other Lisa said...

Well, shoot! I was at Bouchercon but didn't have the pleasure of meeting Barbara. At least reading this interview is the next best thing...

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