Barbara Graham & Imaginary Friends

This morning, my guest is mystery author Barbara Graham who is celebrating the hardcover release of her third Quilted Mystery, Murder by Music: The Wedding Quilt.

Barbara is a self-described quilting addict and an enthusiastic, but dreadful, gardener. She and I became acquainted by discussing imaginary friends—you know, those people who live inside your head if you're a writer.

Take it away, Barbara!

Imaginary Friends
by Barbara Graham

I do have imaginary friends. Part of the joy of writing series characters, at least for me, is learning what’s new with them in their world, an imaginary county in East Tennessee.

There are many how-to books available for writers, laden with charts, lists, fill in the blank interviews, lists of vital statistics like height, weight, scars, hair color and favorite movies. However, what works for one, may not work for everyone. I don’t follow any particular plan, preferring to pick and choose and run off on my own tangent.

What's New With Old Characters

Starting a new book begins with me (and a dog) on the couch, armed with pen and paper and coffee (none for the dog). We, the dog and imaginary people and I, have informal conversations like those of old friends chatting over coffee. Questions like—how’s your mom? How are the kids? Are you still working at the same place? What’s your new job like? Have you lost weight? Don’t you think you should?

My job is to take notes, sympathize, make gentle suggestions or observations—maybe offer to kill off the problem thus coming up with a suitable victim. Occasionally I find myself asking one of them “are you nuts?” even as they provide clues and insight into their community. It is a bit disconcerting when I realize I’m listening to their conversations, not writing. I think I’ve told them what to do—and say—but I’m not always sure. Where does Blossom get those ideas?

Meet Blossom Flowers

My imaginary friend who most often wins the “reader’s favorite” vote is Blossom Flowers. I like her a lot too and love finding out what’s new in her life. She first waddled onstage in Murder by Serpents and proceeded to insist on being part of every book in the series.

Blossom is fat, has very thin bright orange hair, bakes a divine apple pie from a secret family recipe—she won’t even share the secret ingredient with me—and is the youngest of myriad other Flowers. She’s also very sweet, single and a royal pain.

A pie delivered by her to the sheriff’s desk can only mean she needs his help, or thinks she might. Her own fascinating love life doesn’t stop her blatant adoration of the sheriff making him a rare breed, a sheriff with a groupie.

Characters Justify Existence

I can see them in my head, as clear as in a photograph, Blossom, and the bald, good looking sheriff separated by his desk, his wife and a warm pie. She cannot just come to talk. On some level, she has to add to the problems in the story otherwise she doesn’t need to be there.

Everyone needs a role, even nameless characters passing through, whether it’s to supply information, distraction, history or hint at the future. As in any mystery, there are required elements of plot, sleuthing, denouement but it’s really about the lives of imaginary friends (or enemies) and they must provide the clues and insight about their own community.

Takeaway Truth

I am humbled by the generosity of authors who share their expertise. I hope you will thank Barbara and the other authors who guest star on SlingWords by purchasing one of their books.


  1. Hi, Barbara and Joan,

    I've never thought of my book characters as "imaginary friends" but that's a good way to describe them. Mine also live in my head for a long time before I commit their lives to a written version.
    I think a book tends to develop best in that manner. Good luck with the new novel. It really looks interesting!

  2. Thank you Jacqueline--it's nice to know I'm not the only one entertained by people no one else can see.

  3. Enjoyed the interview. Creating the characters and their histories is one of my favorite steps in my process. I find their dialogue flows so much better the more developed their background is.

  4. Imaginary friends can be far scarier than the real thing.

  5. Ah, but it's not illegal or immoral to do away with an imaginary person.

    I agree with Popi--the better you know your imaginary friends--the more real they become to the readers as well.

  6. Barbara, thanks for guest blogging. I like the concept of imaginary friends. I'm playing around with an idea for a Christmas short story featuring characters I created in one of my books. You're right. It's kind of like visiting old friends and finding out what they've been doing since you last saw them.