Debby Grahl

Award-Winning Local Author Has an Inspirational Story of Her Own

January 2024 IssueDebbyGrahl0124

by Lesley Kyle
Photography by Lisa Staff Photography

Debby Grahl developed a passion and talent for storytelling at a young age.

As a child, Debby experienced problems with her vision and was a slow reader. Debby was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a rare genetic and degenerative eye disease with no cure. While growing up in Michigan, she began making up stories to entertain herself and her friends around the age of 13. She lost her ability to see print in her early twenties, but her medical condition hasn’t deterred her from sharing her romantic mystery stories with many happy readers.

Debby met her husband, David, in 1988 and began visiting Hilton Head Island regularly with four other couples. Like many Hilton Head residents, Debby and David lived in Ohio prior to moving to the Lowcountry. They lived in an area of Dayton called the Oregon Historic District. Homes in this charming area have been rehabbed and are mostly constructed of brick. At Christmastime the homes open for tours, and Debby was a member of the tour planning committee. During a planning meeting, another committee member passed a joke that the only thing missing from these tours were dead bodies. That comment, paired with some disdain for a difficult neighbor, later became the basis for her novel, Decorated to Death (2017).

After falling in love with the Hilton Head area, Debby and David bought a home here in 2004. When David retired in 2011, the couple became permanent residents. Locations are particularly important to Debby as a writer. She selects locations with which she is familiar for her novels: Michigan, Ohio, New Orleans, and New York City among them. As an aspiring novelist, Debby submitted an excerpt from a mystery novel she was writing to an editor for a free critique. While the response she received was favorable, she learned that she needed to write romance novels to sell books. Competition was fierce in the field of mystery fiction, so the editor advised her to pair her mystery with romantic themes. Debby’s storyline—and expectations—took a detour as she aligned her love for a good mystery with a romantic storyline. Based on the editor’s feedback, she also took some online courses to hone her writing skills. Debby’s first published novel, The Silver Crescent (2013), won the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewers' Choice Award.

Even though Debby relies on familiar locations, research is critical to the success of her widely acclaimed romance/mystery novels. Since she is visually impaired, Debby depends on screen reading software to research and write her award-winning books. The software—which reads aloud the results to queries she enters—enables her to efficiently conduct her research. Debby affectionately refers to her husband, David, as her “Seeing Eye Husband.” Using Google Earth, Debby and David are able to pinpoint specifics of the locations she cites in her books without physically being there. “If a specific location in a book is incorrect, you’ll hear about it from a reader.” David also describes what he sees to Debby, and since she had some vision as a child, she can recall what she saw then.

Debby first identifies the location for a new novel and then begins working on the plot. A self-defined “by-the-seat-of-her-pants” writer, Debby finds that her characters develop themselves as the plot unfolds. Sometimes, however, the plot takes an unexpected hard right turn. “I never know where the book is going to end up when I first start,” said Debby. She enjoys reading old school romance novels and likes the idea of two people falling in love. Her books always deliver a happy ending. “I don’t kill off nice people,” she added., “it’s always the nasty ones who will go.” Early this year, she begins work on her next novel, a part of her Carolina series of books. While the title is unconfirmed, the book will be set in Charleston. Even though the books are part of a series, they also stand by themselves as solo reads. In addition to romantic mysteries, Debby has written short stories for three different anthologies on witches and ghosts—favorite subjects of hers as well.

Once an aspiring author herself, Debby encourages budding novelists to do their own research before starting out. “From my experience, find out what editors and publishers want, and know what they’re looking for in a story before you begin.” She took online writing classes in dialog, punctuation, and grammar, and her husband reads everything she writes. Debby recommends critique groups for feedback and knocking ideas around. “You have to get thick skinned, and that can be difficult when your book is your baby,” she explained. She also encourages writers to enter writing contests to improve their skills and fine-tune their stories. “It’s the feedback that can be really helpful.”

Learn more about Debby and her work at