About Edith Maxwell

Agatha- and Macavity-nominated and national bestsetlling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing) and the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries (Midnight Ink). As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries series and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries (both from Kensington Publishing). Edith has also published award-winning short crime fiction. She lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.

Guest: Nancy Herriman

Edith here, on vacation in DC but delighted to welcome my fellow historical novelist Nancy Herriman to the blog. Nancy has several mysteries in her A Mystery of Old San Francisco series, which I love, but this is a new book in a new era – seventeenth century – in a new series, and I can’t wait to read it (it arrived on my Kindle three days ago…)! Take it away, Nancy.

Thanks to the Wickeds for having me on their blog again. It’s always an honor. And I’ll be giving away a copy of Searcher of the Dead to one of the commenters on this post.

CLB_searcherforthedead_final_3 copyFirst off, here’s a bit about Book 1 in my newest series:

Herbalist Bess Ellyott flees London after her husband is murdered, but the peace she has found in the quiet Wiltshire countryside is short-lived. Her brother-in-law, a prosperous merchant, is himself found dead—dangling from a tree, a rope about his neck. A supposed suicide. Clues suggest otherwise to Bess. Was he the victim of a rival wool merchant, jealous of her brother-in-law’s success? Or worse, had he become entangled in traitorous schemes to undermine the Church of England? 

Bess is uncertain that she can trust the town constable to help her find the truth. Christopher Harwoode will cross members of his own family to uncover the killer…whose next target may very well be Queen Elizabeth I herself.

In my writing, I have two passions. One is setting my books in historical times. I have tried numerous times to write a contemporary novel and, so far, failed. I vow to keep trying, though! The other is an interest in how medicine is practiced, especially in the past. This is no surprise to anyone who has ever read one of my books. My heroines, my sleuths are always healers of some sort. In my San Francisco series, Celia Davies is a nurse. In my new Bess Ellyott books, which are set in Tudor England, my sleuth is an herbalist.

I’m far from alone in combining these two interests in a mystery novel. In the Father Cadfael books, which are set in Medieval England, the clever monk is also an herbalist. Ruth Downie’s Medicus series employs a doctor as sleuth in ancient Roman-occupied Britain. And, of course, we have Edith Maxwell’s wonderful Quaker Midwife mysteries! Just to name a few.

Medical professionals make good sleuths, in my opinion. I suppose I’d better have that opinion, as I make such regular use of them! Trained to observe symptoms of disease, they’re also well-equipped to identify when a death might be suspicious. Furthermore, my historical heroines exist in times and places that limited what they, as women, could do. Being an herbalist or a midwife or a nurse provides more opportunities than what other women of their worlds might possess.

My greatest joy, though, is what I learn while I’m researching my novels. For instance, medieval practitioners attempted more surgeries than I’d ever imagined (and without anesthesia, of course). I pity their desperate patients. Also, the ancient belief in the four humors—blood, yellow bile, black bile, phlegm—dictated what cures to use, and that balancing ‘hot/cold’ and ‘dry/wet’ was the solution to every problem. It’s an idea reflected in the saying, which dates to the 1570s, that people should ‘feed a cold, starve a fever.’

Frau mit Kind in einem Garten bei der Anisernte.

Woman and child harvesting anise. Photo credit to Austrian National Library

For my latest series, I’ve been studying old herbals so I can write accurately about the sorts of cures Bess Ellyott would have made. Some, such as those that used honey, might have actually worked (pure honey is a natural antiseptic). A much better recommendation than to slap cow or sheep dung on a wound. Well into the late 19th-century it was still easy to buy quack remedies, and nearly every one sold by the corner apothecary contained opiates. You might not get better, but you might be so sedated you wouldn’t notice.

As for the grossest research I’ve done, well, that involved reading up on the process of decay in corpses. Not something that should be done while eating. There was also the time I reviewed articles and photographs to be able to describe what happens to a body after a fall from a great height. The stuff you can find on the internet. Amazing. And icky.

In the end, I’m grateful to be able to tell the stories of healers, especially the women who worked (and sometimes continue to work) in the shadows of their male counterparts. Brave and intriguing women. Who also make excellent sleuths.

NancyHerrimanPhotoReaders: it’s your turn. Please share something that interests or fascinates you.

Nancy Herriman retired from an engineering career to take up the pen. She hasn’t looked back. Her work has won the RWA Daphne du Maurier award, and Publishers Weekly calls the first in her Bess Ellyott mysteries, Searcher of the Dead, “satisfying” and “fascinating,” and says “readers who relish details of daily life in a Tudor town…will enjoy this story.” When not writing, she enjoys singing, gabbing about writing, and eating dark chocolate. She currently lives in Central Ohio. You can learn more at www.nancyherriman.com

Wicked Wednesday: I Know What You Bid Last Summer

News Flash – Marla B wins Leslie Karst’s new book! Leslie will be contacting you, Marla.

It’s another Happy Book Release Wicked Wednesday! We’re so happy Sherry’s fifth Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery came out yesterday. Here’s the blurb for I Know What You Bid Last Summer:

When it comes to running a successful garage sale, Sarah Winston believes in doing her homework. She also believes in giving back. But when she agrees to manage an athletic equipment swap, she doesn’t bargain on an uncharitable killer. The day of the event, the school superintendent is found dead in the gymnasium. Suddenly the murder suspects are the school board members—including the husband of a very difficult client who’s hired Sarah to run a high-end sale and demands she do her bidding. In between tagging and haggling, Sarah studies the clues to see who wanted to teach the superintendent a lesson. But as she closes in on the truth, the killer intends to give her a crash course on minding her own business . . .

In I Know What You Bid Last Summer, Sarah’s sleuthing takes her to a bowling alley. The bowling alley has candlepin lanes along with the more common ten pin bowling. And much to Sarah’s dismay, it is also Cosmic bowling night with strobe lights, loud music, and a disco ball. Wickeds, have you ever bowled? Candlepin? Ten pin? Or, gulp, Cosmic?

Edith: I have bowled a few times. Big balls in California in high school, candlepin up here on the North Shore. I am NOT good at ball sports. Too much enthusiasm, too little aim and control. So we won’t talk scores, not that I remember them. And these days the lights and sound of Cosmic anything? No thank you! That said, I can’t wait to read about Sarah’s next adventure.

Barb: Congratulations, Sherry! I can’t wait to read I Know What You Bid Last Summer. I have bowled when the opportunity presented, or more accurately when it couldn’t be avoided. I don’t know why I’m reluctant. I’ve enjoyed it whenever I’ve done it. There was a bowling alley with both ten pin and candle pins one town over from us when my kids were growing up. Lots of fun birthday parties for their friends there. Happy memories.

Jessie: Congratulations, Sherry on another release! I am not really an enthusiastic  bowler. Maybe it is because the shoes don’t have heels… I have done it as a kid for birthday parties and that sort of thing. When my own children were small we went on occasion. One of my kids bowled a great game once when he was very small by tossing the ball down the lane with glee and landing on his backside each turn. It was a delight to watch!

Julie: Huge congratulations Sherry! I can’t wait to read the book! I have bowled. I am not good at the big balls, but I used to be pretty good at candlepin. I really enjoy the social aspects of bowling, and have a few friends on leagues. If I had the time, I might be tempted. And yes, I’ve bowled in neon alleys, and with rock and roll. Is that cosmic?

Sherry: Thanks everyone! I have never been candlepin bowling. The first time I went bowling when I was about ten I dropped the ball, it rolled down the middle, and I got my first strike! I did a bowling league one year with the Spouses Club and my team took first place. I practiced a lot so I didn’t let down the general’s wife who was an ace bowler!

Readers: Bowling experiences? Thumbs up or down on the sport?

Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, delighted my buddy Leslie Karst has a new mystery coming out next month!Death al Fresco cover

Death Al Fresco is the next in Leslie’s Sally Solari Mysteries. I loved the first two and can’t wait to read this one, too. Her publisher, Crooked Lane, will give away a hardcover copy to one commenter here today.

It’s early autumn in Santa Cruz and restaurateur Sally Solari, inspired by the eye-popping canvases of Paul Gauguin, the artist for whom her restaurant is named, enrolls in a plein air painting class. But the beauty of the Monterey Bay coastline is shattered during one of their outings when Sally’s dog sniffs out a corpse entangled in a pile of kelp.

The body is identified as Gino, a local fisherman and a regular at Sally’s father’s restaurant, Solari’s, until he disappeared after dining there a few nights before. But after witnesses claim he left reeling drunk, fingers begin to point at Sally’s dad for negligently allowing the old man to walk home alone at night. From a long menu of suspects, including a cast of colorful characters who frequent the historic Santa Cruz fisherman’s wharf, Sally must serve up a tall order in order to clear her father’s name.

Here’s Leslie talking about how she channeled a recent brush with fear into creativity.

Channeling Your Fear

Every murder mystery requires at least one high-tension scene—a situation where the protagonist feels at risk, and where the reader experiences the fear along with that person. It could be a danger or threat to either the main character herself or to someone she cares for, but there has to be a point in the story where the hero’s heart starts to pound and her hands sweat (though hopefully not in those exact words), and where she feels utterly helpless and alone.

I’ve now written a fair share of these suspenseful scenes, and every time I do so I find myself growing anxious and tense along with my protagonist, Sally Solari. My pulse will quicken and sometimes my hands will even begin to shake as I type the words onto my laptop.

photo 1

Perhaps the fact that I write the series in the first person makes the telling more, well, personal than it would be if done in the third person. But I suspect most writers have a similar experience when crafting these scenes. And it seems to me that unless you can indeed put yourself in the mental state of your character, the tension you attempt to create will likely fall flat.

As I considered what to discuss in this blog post, I thought back to the times I’ve been frightened in my own life. Because it’s from such experiences that we writers can mine our past feelings and emotions and insert them into our characters.

There weren’t, however, many moments I could come up with. Being scared by lightening storms or tornado warnings during my early years in Columbus, Ohio. And that summer as a college student in Barcelona when I’d found myself running from the Guardia Civil, ducking into a small shop to avoid the rubber bullets being fired at the protest I’d unwittingly walked into. But nothing truly terrifying had ever happened to me.

Nothing, that is, until that “incoming ballistic missile” alert last month.

photo 2

I was on my Saturday morning bike ride in Hilo, Hawai‘i, sweating and pumping up a steep hill, when a car suddenly pulled over right in front of me and the two young people jumped out. “Stop!” they shouted.

I stopped as directed. What the heck were they in such a tizzy about?

“A missile alert was just sent out for the entire state!”

In response my dumbfounded stare, they stepped forward to show me their phones: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.


In a Mister Toad’s Wild Ride kind of drive across town, they transported me and my bicycle back home so I could get my dog, and I gathered a few things as fast as I could and took her down to the grocery store a few blocks away—the nearest place that’s a concrete structure. I tried calling my wife, who was in Honolulu, but the call wouldn’t go through.

photo 3

Thirty-nine minutes after the original alert, we finally got another text saying there was in fact no bomb threat—that the message had been sent out in error. But during that time I was as frightened as I’ve ever been in my life.

Later, I tried to identify the emotions that had swept over me and remember exactly how I’d acted during those few minutes during which I’d believed, “This might be the end.” Heart pounding and body shaking, yes. But I was also surprisingly calm—at least on the outside. My mind had immediately gone into “Okay, what do I need to do” mode, and I proceeded accordingly.

Interesting, I thought as I jotted down notes about the event. Unsettled and jittery though I was still feeling, I recognized that what I’d gone through had provided me with invaluable information. So, although I would never wish such an experience on anyone, there was a silver lining to having lived through this horrific scare: I can use it in my writing!

Readers: What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you? If you’re a writer, how have you channeled the emotions from fear into your work? Remember, you can win a copy of the new book!

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family karst headshotdinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. She now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. The next in the series, Death al Fresco, releases March 13th.

You can visit Leslie on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lesliekarstauthor/ , and you can go to her author website http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/ to sign up for her newsletter—full of recipes and fun Italian facts!—and to purchase all her books.

What’s Wrong with Genre Fiction?

Edith writing north of Boston, not quite sure what season it is.

(Warning: /Rant ON/.) My answer to this post’s title question is, NOTHING!

So I was one of three authors on a cross-genre panel at a local library two weeks ago. I know and love both of the other women on the panel, and I love their writing, too. Someone in the audience asked about pros and cons of having a publisher vs. self-publishing.

We authors get this question a lot. I feel a little bit qualified to answer it, because I have books out with big publishing houses as well as a small press, and I’ve also self-published reprints of some of my short stories that originally appeared in juried anthologies.



(In order, the preceding covers represent big press, self-pubbed, and small press, with two different pen names.)

The other authors and I talked about what a big house does for us in terms of editing, cover art, and distribution – and sometimes publicity. The author has to all of this herself – or hire it out – with self-publishing, but she also keeps all the money a publisher and an agent claim in the traditional model. I chimed in on how Kensington Publishing gets my books in every Barnes & Noble in the country by the release date, and does things like place ads in national puzzle magazines.

One of my fellow authors mentioned a writer friend of hers who has been very successful self-publishing her series of mystery novels. She added that the friend had to hire people to do editing and covers, and “of course, the writing is formulaic,” but that she had made a lot of money from the books.

I about blew my stack at her offhand comment but I kept my reaction in check for the evening. because I respect my friend and I very much enjoy her books (which are not mysteries). Our event was not the venue to get into a discussion of  genre fiction being “of course … formulaic.” Unlike most times we’re together, none of us was free to go out for wine afterwards and talk books, publishing, kids, and whatever else comes up. So I didn’t get a chance to challenge her on her view, and now she’s off on a vacation in some far-flung place.

I don’t understand how someone thinks that any of us “genre” writers – all the Wicked Cozys included – have a formula for our novels. Does she really believe that I follow a recipe for a mystery? That I don’t work and imagine and despair over and craft my writing like she does just because she imagines she is writing women’s literary fiction and I’m not?

literary: 1. Of or relating to books. 2.  Of or relating to authors

Literary? Don’t I qualify? Of course we mystery authors have a plot. We have a puzzle to solve. We have the very sticky problem of tricking the reader until the end while still playing fair. If anybody can come up with a recipe for that, I’d like to see it. And sure, those of us who write cozies play within certain parameters of language and setting. Our stories share certain surface similarities. But it ain’t a formula, folks. (And definitely not a formula for strychnine – shown here.)


In late 2016 all the Wickeds were on a Books and Bagels panel hosted by our good friend Ray Daniel at his temple west of Boston. Someone asked a question about literary as opposed to genre fiction. I remember saying I was proud of my work. “I write the best book I can with the most elegant language I can use that still serves the story. And if people don’t want to read it because it’s genre fiction, then I don’t need them as readers” – or something to that effect.

/Rant OFF./ Whew! I’m glad I got that off my chest. I also plan to talk to my friend about her “formulaic” comment and do a little consciousness raising after she gets back from her trip.

Readers and fellow authors – what’s your take? Do you read both “literary” fiction and enthralling mysteries? What do you like about one vs. the other? Writers – do you write by a formula? (Yeah, didn’t think so…)

Wicked Wednesday: Heart-Healthy Habits

It’s Edith hosting Wicked Wednesday again. We’ve been riffing on hearts all month, so let’s talk today about heart-healthy habits. Some of you know that my sister’s heart stopped without warning on Christmas night. By some miracle of modern medicine (and hundreds of people praying for her), she recovered with her brain and body intact. She went home from the hospital nine days later and is now doing cardio rehab, so you can bet I’m thinking about my own heart-healthy habits.

THree sisters

My sisters Janet and Barbara and me, two days before Barbara was released home.

AmerHeartAssnThe American Heart Association has some sensible guidelines for heart health that won’t be a surprise to most readers: exercise; eat your veggies, nuts, whole grains, and lean meats; don’t smoke; drink alcohol in moderation; and limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. So let’s dish, Wickeds – what’s your favorite heart-healthy habit and which do you wish you could ignore?

Liz: So glad your sister is healing, Edith. What a great topic. I try to do all the basics. I haven’t eaten meat in years, don’t drink soda, eat a lot of veggies, do different types of workouts – boxing, weights, yoga – and I do a lot of meditation, which really helps reduce stress. I also drink black Pu’er tea that I get from my Chinese healer, Dr. Wu, which is great for blood pressure and cholesterol. And though I’m trying to give up sugar altogether, I (usually) only eat sweets with organic cane sugar.

Sherry: My dog, Lily, and I take daily walks. We take a long one in the morning and a shorter one late afternoon. Since we don’t have a fenced yard we are out in all types of weather. And I’ve been working hard on not sitting for more than thirty minutes without getting up and moving around.

Jessie: I am a big believer in the mind-body connection. As more and more research has come out proving the impact of strong, meaningful relationships on longevity and overall health I have been making sure to keep my connections with friends and family a priority in my life. I feel so lucky to count the Wickeds and our readers here on the blog as part of that social connection and support!

Edith: I agree about the Wickeds and our readers, Jessie! I’m very attached to my daily power walk. I know it doesn’t get my heart rate up as much as when I used to run, but it’s something. And has the added benefit of letting me talk out loud about what my characters need to do next! Otherwise I eat pretty healthy, although I’m perhaps overly fond of sweets.  And wine. And butter…. (I’m also relieved to know that my recent echocardiogram stress test came back normal.)

Julie: Welp, heart issues run in my family, so I take medication for cholesterol. Even at my thinnest and healthiest my numbers were very high, so modern medicine to the rescue. I also walk at least 7500 steps a day (working toward 10000), try to eat well, and am working on stress reduction methods. I am also mindfully exploring the joy of life–seeing people, loving the writing, making plans that include having fun. All of that said, I am far from perfect. Far from it. Aspiring to be better, but I like red wine, desserts, red meat and butter. Carpe Diem.

Readers: What about you? Heart-healthy habits? Not-so-healthy ones it’s hard to let go of?

Guest: Krista Davis

Edith here, honored to host Krista Davis as our guest today. She may not be wicked, Color Me Murder hi resbut she definitely writes cozy! She has a fabulous new series coming out – featuring adult coloring books – and is joining us at Kensington Publishing. She’ll give away a copy of Color Me Murder to one commenter here today.

Here’s a blurb:

Includes A Front and Back Cover for You to Color!
By day, Florrie Fox manages Color Me Read bookstore in Georgetown, Washington D.C. By night, she creates her own intricately detailed coloring books for adults, filling the pages with objects that catch her eye. There’s plenty of inspiration in her new apartment—a beautiful carriage house belonging to Professor John Maxwell, Florrie’s boss. He offers the property to Florrie rent-free with one condition—she must move in immediately to prevent his covetous sister and nephew from trying to claim it.
When the professor’s nephew, Delbert, arrives, he proves just as sketchy as Florrie feared. But the following morning, Delbert has vanished. It’s not until she visits the third floor of the store that Florrie makes a tragic discovery—there’s a trap door in the landing, and a dead Delbert inside. The esteemed Professor Maxwell is an obvious suspect, but Florrie is certain this case isn’t so black and white. Doodling clues, she begins to consider other colorful characters on the scene, all with a motive for murder. With a killer drawing closer, Florrie will need to think outside the lines . . . before death makes his mark again.

Krista: I confess that I am not an artist. I realized this in grade school. While other kids were thrilled with art class, I knew it wasn’t for me. Even at that age, some of them had amazing abilities while I was still drawing crooked houses.

Oddly enough, I do like crafts. I crocheted what is very likely the biggest bedspread in the world. Alas, it is so big and heavy that no one wants it. Not even me! My mother was an extraordinary knitter. You know the gorgeous fluffy angora sweaters that are sold by high end shops? Yup. That’s the sort of thing my mother knitted.

Why am I telling you this? Because I blame my lack of artistic ability on my genes. There’s not a single member of my immediate family who can draw. Some of you probably think I’m joking. I am completely serious when I say that we can barely draw stick figures for Pictionary. It’s not my fault! I am genetically incapable of drawing anything that doesn’t look like a second grader drew it.

And yet, I took on a mystery series about a coloring book artist. A woman who can doodle recognizable things! A woman who draws intricate images!

You can imagine my angst about this. I was a little wary when I started the Domestic Diva Mysteries. After all, I’m no Martha. But I’m okay with cooking and baking. And some of my friends seem to think I have abilities they don’t possess. I’m also a crystal and china piggy. Pretty dishes go a long way in making people think you’ve cooked something great.

The Paws & Claws Mysteries came naturally to me. I’m surrounded by dogs and cats. I dote on them and observe their antics. I read recently that dogs and cats should be perfect in books. Hah! They aren’t perfect in real life. Not any more than we are. At the moment, I’m dealing with the remnants of Baron’s up close and personal encounter with a skunk. That will surely make it into a book.

Colored pencilsBut art? Could I pull it off? Was it too far outside of my comfort zone? I did some research on the mind of the artist. After all, they must see things differently than I do, right? Unfortunately, that was a bomb.

I do love color. The brighter the better. I’m always impressed when designers on Project Runway mix patterns (I wouldn’t dare!) and they go together so beautifully. Even I know there are different shades of black. And who among us hasn’t  bought a navy blue skirt only to find that it didn’t match anything else in our closets that was navy blue? Even I can appreciate those nuances.

So in the end, I took a deep breath and jumped into Florrie’s character. So I didn’t have her artistic skill. I could imagine how wonderful it would be to doodle and sketch images. If I had that talent, I would draw all the time.

Adult coloring books have come a long way. They are gorgeous and intricate. It takes a real artist to be able to sketch those images. Even if I can’t draw worth a hoot, I can appreciate the unbelievable talent of those who can. I’m living vicariously through Florrie, and loving every minute of it.

Readers: How about you? Have you written about something that is way out of your comfort zone? Remember, I’m giving away a copy of the new book to one lucky commenter!

Krista Davis writes three mystery series. Color Me Murder will be the first book in the Krista_Buttercup1 smallPen & Ink mystery series. Krista’s longest running series is the Domestic Diva Mysteries. After a one year hiatus, the eleventh book, The Diva Cooks Up a Storm, will be out in May. If dogs and cats are your thing, you might enjoy Krista’s Paws & Claws Mysteries featuring Trixie the Jack Russell with a nose for trouble (or more precisely—dead people) and Twinkletoes, the long-haired calico cat.

Wicked Wednesday: Hearts and Candy

Edith here, wishing you all a Happy Valentine’s Day from the Wicked Cozys! You might think this is a silly over commercialized holiday, and that we should express our love every day. But for me today marks 14 years ago that I first met my Hugh, so it’s an extra special day.


Photo by Chrys Omori from Sao Paulo, Brazil

So let’s talk heart-shaped candy. Do you give or receive chocolates today? How do you feel about heart-shaped boxes? Do you long for the little boxes of candy hearts with the goofy sayings on them? Go!

Liz: I’ll never say no to chocolates…

Sherry: I love a heart-shaped box full of chocolates. As a kid I loved the candy hearts but now they taste like chalk.

Jessie: I don’t particularly care for chocolates myself but I love Valentine’s Day! I really enjoy gifting the people I love with tokens that show them I care whether it is candy or a book or hand knit socks!

Barb: We never developed the tradition of Valentine’s candy in our house, though it would have plugged the long dry spell between Christmas stocking candy and Easter baskets. We do, however, have a tradition of a nice dinner out on or near the day and, sometimes, roses.

Julie: I am a huge conversation heart fan, though since NECCO stopped making them they aren’t as good. I don’t “celebrate” the holiday myself (my cats are lousy at shopping), but I do love the sentiment of the day, since it was my grandparents’ anniversary. They were married in 1931 in a living room by a Justice of the Peace. No pictures, but lots of romance according to the stories my grandmother told us.

Edith: I give him fine dark chocolates and he gives me flowers, and we go out for a special dinner. I think this year I’ll get some of the heart candy with the sayings – maybe they have updated them by now!

Readers: Heart-shaped candy or boxes? Other treats to express your love?