Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Interview with Edith Maxwell on Her Tenth Book Birthday

Today we're pleased to host prolific author Edith Maxwell on a glorious occasion – her tenth novel releases today: the third Country Store mystery!

Her writing is so good, she also has a clutch of Agatha Award nominations: two this year, one for a novel, and another for a short story.

Because Edith has so many series going, she has a number of aliases, but not because she commits crimes and runs from the law- at least nothing has been proven yet (apart from one tiny murder in Boothbay, Maine, last Summer, but let's move on). She can get away with anything, because she's so nice.

So let's find out more about her and her work...

Q. With so many series, how do these novels come to be? Envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or do they expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origins.

A. I envision the setting and the protagonist for a series first. The setting and even era, now that I also write historical mysteries, really govern so much of the storytelling. A farm in northeastern Massachusetts is a very different milieu than a cozy restaurant in a small town in southern Indiana. And of course, a Quaker midwife going about her business of delivering babies and caring for pregnant women in an 1888 Massachusetts mill town is different in so many other ways. So I get to know my setting, I learn all I can (that is, make it up) about my main character, and then get to work.

For the Local Foods Mysteries, I owned and farmed the smallest certified organic farm in my county almost thirty years ago, which is when I started writing fiction as an adult. With the Quaker Midwife series – well, I am a Quaker, I live in the historic town where the books take place, and I formerly worked as a childbirth educator and doula, so it made sense to put my knowledge of the birth experience to work as I wrote a midwife protagonist. The Country Store mysteries came out of my years earning a PhD near the series setting. I loved southern Indiana and wanted to bring a fictional version to life in a set of books. My new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries actually was a suggestion from my Kensington editor, who wanted to see a new Maddie Day series about a book club. I decided to set it on Cape Cod and he liked the idea.

Q. Do you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it goes, or do you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. By preference I don't outline, although my Kensington editor asks for a prose synopsis of the next book as soon as I turn one in. But the story can and does change as I'm writing it. How I get the idea for a book varies. A few times it came out of a newspaper article, like when I read about the Great Fire of 1888 that burned down many of the carriage factories in my town. That produced Delivering the Truth, my first Quaker Midwife mystery. Other times I might want to use a particular murder weapon, like rosary peas, or I think of the victim and then I set up a story with three or four suspects who would want that person gone from the world.

Q. What do you feel are the main theme(s)?

A. Essentially I write about how people get along, what drives an ordinary person to cross the line and kill a fellow human, and how justice is restored. I have also touched on background themes of views toward immigrants, mistreated farm animals, conflicts between academics and townspeople, climate change, and racism. But these subthemes lurk behind the main story, which is murder in a village setting and how a regular citizen figures out how to solve it, at least in part.

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading these books?

A. It's important not to let a hobbyhorse or passionate political belief of my own take over my storytelling. Nobody wants to be preached at, and I don't want to preach. At root I want my readers to be transported into the world I created, to believe that the people I invented could be real, and to forget their own daily issues and stresses for a while. If they delight in the language, laugh at a piece of dialect, or gasp at a suspenseful turn, all the better.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story? 

A. Good characters make the book. If you don't feel strongly about the characters, in my view it doesn't matter how good the plot is. I want to write a protagonist whom I want to spend time with and whom my readers will, too.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. All my fellow cozy mystery authors, including the WickedCozy Authors, write about similar themes and settings. Not the details, of course, but the village setting, the amateur sleuth, the family dynamics, the occasional romance, the best friends and always thorny antagonists. Even the historicals I write fall under the same umbrella of the traditional mystery – they are basically cozies set a hundred thirty years ago. I think we authors all influence each other to an extent, and I know many of them inspire me.

Q. Do you have any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. Some of my cozy author friends want to branch out and write the “big book,” a blockbuster, a big multi-point-of-view suspense novel or thriller. At this time I don't have any plans for that. I love writing the three series I have in hand – two contemporaries and a historical - and so far my publishers want me to keep doing just that!

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. I write faster than some of my author pals – I can turn out a first draft in two months when I am working steadily. But I also revise for the next two months, so I'm both! And If I weren't happy with the book when I send it off, I wouldn't send it.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. Yes. All my books get a pre-edit from one of two independent editors. By now these ladies know my series, and will catch things like my protagonist acting snarkier than she usually does. They notice when I forget to actually write stuff down. Because I write fast, often I'll know something about a character's reactions or thoughts but I just forget to put it on the page. Then my editor at my publisher gives the manuscript a read and also suggest those kinds of higher-level changes. After that a copyeditor gives it the once-over, and I've been lucky to get thorough copyeditors who check every proper noun in the book, keep me conformed to the house style, and make sure all the details are addressed. Finally, each book gets a proofreader from the publisher.  Of course, I have given the manuscript many repetitions of my own edits and have printed it out and read it cover to cover at least three times.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. It would depend on the advice sought. Here's my basic advice: The most important thing for beginning writers to do is to write the best book you can. You can’t revise words you haven’t written. And keep studying your craft – take workshops, read books on writing, and study writers in your genre whose books you admire. Then find your tribe – join Sisters in Crime if you write crime fiction, or the online or local group in your genre. Their counsel and friendship will be invaluable.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your books as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?
A. My Country Store Mysteries are all on audio, but I don't alter the writing with that in mind. Quite a few people have suggested that my Quaker Midwife stories would make a great movie or television series, but we have yet to accomplish that! And in that case, a screenwriter would be brought in. I don't know the first thing about writing for the screen medium.

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. I have to launch two books in ten days time under two names from two publishers!  And then finish the first Cape Cod mystery.

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. I hold a long-dusty black belt in Okinawan karate and am a fourth-generation Californian, even though I've now lived in Massachusetts longer than I lived in the west.

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart? 

A. I hope readers will check out all my series on my web site. I'd love to hear from you if you like my stories, and you know, a positive review on Amazon and Goodreads really helps an author! 
Thanks so much for asking me over today, Dale.


National best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to served as President of Sisters in Crime New England.

A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.
Find her at www.edithmaxwell.com and elsewhere.

When the Grits Hit the Fan

Despite the bitter winter in South Lick, Indiana, business is still hot at Robbie Jordan’s Country Store restaurant. But when another murder rattles the small town, can Robbie defrost the motives of a cold-blooded killer? Robbie and her friend Lou go snowshoeing and find a contentious academic frozen under the ice. Police suspect Lou might have killed him after their public tiff in Pans ‘N Pancakes the night before. To prove her friend’s innocence, Robbie absorbs local gossip about the professor’s past and develops her own thesis on the homicide—even if that means stirring up terrible danger for herself along the way.

Called to Justice

Quaker midwife Rose Carroll is enjoying the 1888 Independence Day evening fireworks with her beau when a teenaged Quaker mill girl is found shot dead. After a former slave and fellow Quaker is accused of the murder, Rose delves into the crime, convinced of the man's innocence. An ill-mannered mill manager, an Irish immigrant, and the victim's young boyfriend come under suspicion even as Rose's future with her handsome doctor suitor becomes unsure. Rose continues to deliver babies and listen to secrets, finally figuring out one criminal―only to be threatened by the murderer, with three lives at stake. Can she rescue herself, a baby, and her elderly midwifery teacher in time?

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