About Edith Maxwell

Agatha-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: Triss Stein, Inspired by Facts

Edith here, happy to welcome Triss Stein back to the blog! She has a new mystery out – Brooklyn Wars – in a series I love. And she’s giving away a copy of either this book or Brooklyn Bones, the first book in the series, to one commenter here today.BrooklynWarsCover-ONLINE

From the earliest days of the Republic until the administration of LBJ, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was, proudly, both an arsenal of democracy, in FDR’s words, and the creator of 70,000 local jobs. In time it became best known as the scary place New Yorkers had to locate to rescue their impounded cars. And then it came back to life, but not without a war.
 
Erica Donato, under pressure to complete her dissertation about changes in Brooklyn neighborhoods, watches as a community meeting becomes a battleground over plans to redevelop the once-proud Yard. That night, on the Yard’s condemned Admirals’ Row, she witnesses the shocking murder of a power-broker.
 
 Erica once again discovers “what’s past is prologue” to both murder and to her life.

 

INSPIRED BY FACTS

What do these random items have in common?

  • A flock of bright green tropical parrots live on a chilly northeastern urban college campus. No one knows where they came from. Sometimes they take a little trip over to a nearby park-like cemetery
  • A long-rumored, legendary underground tunnel at a major transportation hub was rediscovered found some years ago. Pirates? Bootleggers? John Wilkes Booth? All are suspected
  • Valuable stained glass windows have been stolen from old cemeteries and churches.
  • During World War II, damaged ships brought to a huge navy yard sometimes still held the bodies of sailors trapped below when the ship was hit
  • Before the Civil War there was a flourishing hamlet of freed slaves. Then it vanished into the growing city.BrooklynSign

Have you guessed? They are all about Brooklyn and they are one of the reasons I write mysteries that take place in different Brooklyn neighborhoods. How can I resist making these odd bits of history part of a story?

One of them made it into a book (in fact, inspired one), one made it into a story in my publisher’s anniversary anthology, Bound by Mystery, and three, well, I haven’t figured out how to use them. Yet.

TreeWhere did they come from? One was a story an old man remembered hearing as a boy, and two were in newspapers, and I am the person who remembered and looked for more. I worked for awhile in the neighborhood near a third. Those parrots? I’ve seen them in Green-Wood Cemetery, sitting all over the huge Gothic entrance and making quite a racket.  But I found out there are conflicting stories about their origins by researching online.

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Photograph by Anthony Russell, used with permission.

For the brand new book Brooklyn Wars, I did much research the old fashioned way. In the library. The book is set against the history of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, a large piece of real estate, and, at different times, a source of Brooklyn pride, of politics and of contention. I went in to Brooklyn history room and said, “Give me everything you have on the Navy Yard. ”  I spent a day taking notes, making copies and jotting down the names of books I might be able to buy on used books sites.

I looked for inspiring photos that captured a moment. Did I find them?? How about Senator Truman and his family, dedicating the USS  Missouri? How about some of the first women workers there, striding proudly out the gate?  I even found an old dissertation about the heated politics of the closing of the Yard.  Dry academia? There were dozens of possible plots in those pages.

poster3I love spending a day like that, looking for that one odd fact that focuses  a whole story. I always find one and sometimes several. My protagonist, Erica Donato, is a history grad student still working on her dissertation. She loves spending a day that way too.

It’s not impossible that writing these mysteries is an excuse to indulge my inner history geek . At least it gives me a reason to explore odd facts and odd places.

The next book, just getting started, will be about Brooklyn Heights, one of the oldest parts of Brooklyn and the very first official Historic District in New York city. And this is, after all, Brooklyn, a place where people have opinions. It was quite a battle.

Here is a Brooklyn Heights urban legend I was told by a colleague many decades ago, when I lived at the corner of Orange Street. It turns out to be, probably, true: an elderly descendant of an old Brooklyn family objected to streets being named for other old families. She objected so much she would take the street signs down late at night. The city finally gave in and renamed them for fruits.

Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

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Do you know a surprising or fun fact about your town? And if you are a writer, have you ever felt compelled to write about it? Remember, Triss is giving away a copy of either the new book or the first book in the series to one commenter!

Triss Stein grew up in northernmost NY state but has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. This gives her a useful double perspective for writing mysteries about the neighborhoods of her constantly changing adopted home. In Brooklyn Wars, her heroine Erica Donato witnesses a murder at the famous Brooklyn Navy Yard and finds herself drawn deep into both old and current conflicts.

 

Guest: Alexia Gordon

Edith here, loving the smells of summer, and delighted to welcome mystery author Alexia Gordon as our guest today! Her second Gethsemane Brown mystery released this month. I read Murder in G Major, the first Gethsemane Brown mystery (nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, I might add), and loved it. I can’t wait to read the new one. Here’s what Death in D Minor is about:

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Gethsemane Brown, an African-American classical musician a living in an Irish village, scrambles to call her vanished spectral roomie back from beyond and find a way to save her cottage from being sold. When her visiting brother-in-law is accused of stealing a valuable antique, Gethsemane strikes a deal with a garda investigator to go undercover as a musician at a charity ball and snoop for evidence linking antiques to a forgery/theft ring in exchange for the investigator’s help clearing her brother-in-law. At the party, she accidentally conjures the ghost of an eighteenth-century sea captain, then ends up the prime suspect in the party host’s murder. With the captain’s help, she races to untangle a web of phony art and stolen antiques to exonerate herself and her brother-in-law – until the killer targets her. Will she bring a thief and murderer to justice, or will her encore investigation become her swan song?

Doesn’t that just sound delicious? And Alexia is giving away the audio book (on CDs) of Death in D Minor to one lucky commenter here today.

A Method To My Madness

I’m used to doing things without giving much conscious thought to the steps involved in execution. I’m like Nike, I “just do it”. I have a process, of course, and it’s a logical process but it’s an unconscious one, like those programs always running in the background on your laptop. I think it’s hereditary. I never learned to cook from my mother because she’s a “some-bit cook”. I’d watch her in the kitchen, far enough away to not be underfoot, and ask how much of a particular ingredient she added to the pot. “Some,” she’d answer, or, “A bit.” I’ve had to become more aware of those processes since becoming a published author, however, because one of the questions I’m often asked is, “What is your writing process?” I’m forced to come up with a better answer than, “Um.”

I go through several phases as I write a book: brainstorming (a.k.a. daydreaming), researching, plotting, outlining, developing characters, writing, rewriting. Not necessarily in that order. Definitely, not in a linear order. Multi-phase execution occurs simultaneously. I may develop characters while I research. I flip back and forth between outlining and writing.

Brainstorming and research are two of my favorite phases. I love to play the “What if?” game. I read the recent article about a company offering to implant a microchip in employees’ hands to allow them the convenience of unlocking doors and turning on the copy machine with a key card. Instead of thinking, “Wow, that would be convenient, what a great idea,” I thought, “What if?” What if someone wanted to access a secured building? Would they cut off someone’s hand to get the chip? Kidnap the chipped employee and force them to do the dirty work so only their fingerprints were left at the scene? And what if a chipped employee quit? How far would the company go to retrieve it’s data? All sorts of criminal possibilities flooded my brain.

I also love to people watch (and to eavesdrop), all in the name of research. Several days ago I needed a model for a character. I won’t say which one. I went out to eat and kept my eyes and ears open. Before I finished my coffee, I spotted diners at a nearby table who exhibited behavior that begged to be fictionalized. This week, I’m at a conference related to my day job. I attend the sessions and listen to the speakers to get the information I need for work but a tiny part of my brain stays alert for some tidbit that could work its way into fiction someday, like a robotic vehicle that recovers casualties from a building in midtown Manhattan that’s under attack by aliens. (None of the speakers mentioned aliens. I made that up.)

So, there’s a partial answer, my attempt to quantify “a bit”. I’ll keep “just doing it” because that’s how my brain works. But I’ll be more mindful of the how. Because “Um” isn’t a good answer.

Readers: Do you map your processes? Or do you just do it and sort out how later? Remember, your comment could win you the audio book (on CDs) of Death in D Minor!

AlexiaGordonA writer since childhood, Alexia Gordon continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Her medical career established, she returned to writing fiction. She completed SMU’s Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published her first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, premiered July 2017. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Writers’ League of Texas. She listens to classical music, drinks whiskey, and blogs at http://www.missdemeanors.com.

Wicked Wednesday: National Aunts & Uncles Day and National Coffee Milkshake Day

 

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By Rick from San Francisco, USA

Okay kids, it’s the last Wednesday in July, and today is National Aunts & Uncles Day AND National Coffee Milkshake Day! Take it away, Wickeds and readers, in any direction you choose.

Liz: I LOVE anything coffee flavored, as you may have guessed. Coffee ice cream is right at the top of the list. Here’s an awesome recipe for a coffee milkshake (and you can use vanilla-flavored cashew or almond milk instead of regular milk). Enjoy!

Sherry: My closest aunt and uncle aren’t blood but close college friends of my parents. My Aunt Pat and Uncle John were glamorous, generous, and funny. Everyone loved being around them. As for coffee flavored anything, I will pass. I like tea.

Edith: My closest aunt and uncle are/were my aunt Joan and uncle Richard Reinhardt. Jo was my father’s baby sister and Dick her handsome devoted husband. She, always with a tinkling laugh and complete attention on anything you said, passed away a few years ago in her early eighties.

 

Dick, a San Francisco author and intellectual, missed her terribly, but has found a way to carry on, healthy and traveling at ninety with a new companion. Jo and Dick were my role models for a long-lasting relationship fueled by good food, conversation, and affection. My sister Janet has been a fabulous aunt to my sons, too. What a blessing.

As for coffee milkshakes, bring it. Hundreds of miles of solo driving are made possible by chocolate milkshakes with instant coffee stirred in. Try it. You’ll be good until Albuquerque.

Jessie: I live near to my sisters and they, and their spouses, have been wonderful aunts and uncles to my children. I also have been so lucky that my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ted are passionate geneologists and have generously shared so much information, memorabilia and memories. I can’t remember the last time I had any sort of milkshake but perhaps today would be a good dy to try a coffee flavored one!

Julie: I LOVE coffee milkshakes, aka frappes here in New England. It used to be a flavor option at McDonalds (maybe still is at some of them). I don’t drink many frappes these days. I do have an occasional frappachino, though calorie counts at Starbucks gives me pause. As to aunt and uncle day, my favorite role in this world is being Aunt Julie. Truly a blessing on so many levels.

Barb: Aunts and uncles are the best. All children should have adults who are not their parents in their lives. As for milkshakes, I don’t have them often, so when I do, I always go with my favorite–vanilla.

Readers: Share your fave aunt and uncle, and your memorable coffee milkshake!

 

 

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Easing into the Future

Edith here, roasting north of Boston.

I’m in that stage of revisions on my work-in progress (Quaker Midwife Mystery #4) where I print out the manuscript and spend a couple of days at the dining table with a colored pen and words on paper. Last week Ramona DeFelice Long, my dear friend, editor, and writer, wrote a blog post about how she no longer prints out her manuscripts.

Even though using expensive ink smarts, and watching all that paper crank through my printer does, too, I can’t abandon my paper readthroughs. I do it three times during my writing/revision process. Right now is the first time, after I have finished the first draft and addressed all my self-queries I had saved for later (things like, Did the Meetinghouse have a furnace in the basement? Did the post office have lockable individual post boxes? What went on during the winter on the frozen river? And so on). Paper readthrough

Reading straight through shows me continuity issues, weak plot points, and the flow of the book. I see the words differently on paper, too. I’ll do it again just before I send it off to be edited, and again before I send it to my publisher.

I don’t, however, write original content on paper (unless I am absolutely stuck somewhere with time on my hands and no laptop), and would never go back to that.

In other areas I also have a foot in both the paper and the digital worlds. We pay almost all our bills by writing an actual, old-fashioned check and sending it in an envelope with a stamp on it. I know I could do it all online, but there’s something about sitting down with the checkbook that feels safer, and is also a link to the past. I can picture my father doing the exact same thing.

calendarI’m a convert to Google calendar. I love it! It’s on both my computers and on my phone., and it sends me handy reminders. I don’t even need the appointment card from the doctor any more – I just poke the appointment into my phone and we’re done. But I also use a paper calendar at my desk, and we keep one downstairs, too. I like that visual reminder of what’s coming up and what has already happened.

I prefer to read books on paper. That said, having a Kindle is a boon for traveling or for trying out a book from a new author I can’t get from the library or am not sure I want to own.

A couple parts of my life that are reassuringly old-fashioned are cooking and gardening. I just don’t see those going digital any time soon (although I do often find recipes online, so there’s that).

Readers: what about you? Are you all digital all the time, or straddling the worlds as I am? What’s your favorite analog thing, and your favorite digital?

Summer Reads 2017

NEWS FLASH: Meg is the winner of Peg’s book for commenting yesterday. Congratulations, Meg! Peg will be contacting you by email.

It’s full summer in New England – sun-kissed tomatoes, sun-pinked skin from the beach, sunny yellow flowers abloom. So what are we reading, Wickeds and friends? Share your favorite kick-back-and-lose-yourself-in-a-story choices.

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Edith: I have the great honor of being nominated for a Macavity Award, the Sue FederMemorial Award for Best Historical Novel, along with Catriona McPherson, Ann Parker, James Ziskin, Lyndsay Faye, and Susanna Calkins (in no particular order). I’m reading each of their nominated books before I head to Toronto for Bouchercon in October. So far I’ve loved Catriona’s The Reek of Red Herrings and Lynsday’s Jane Steele. Next up is Ann’s What Gold Buys, which I’m eagerly anticipating.

Sherry: I’ve read a lot of great books over the past few weeks. First up was Identity by Ingrid Thoft. I love this series and have to keep myself from binge reading it. Second I was delighted to read my friend Kim Stockley’s YA fantasy A Shattered Moon the first in a trilogy with the concept: There is still an Eden but it’s no longer paradise. I read an early version and loved it even more now. Then I read Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen. What a plot and full of his usual quirks. I just started Murder with Chicken and Waffles by A.L. Herbert who I met at an event on Saturday. When a book starts with cornbread you know it’s  going to be good.

Liz: I have so many books on my list! I just finished World Gone By by Dennis Lehane, and Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein. Next on my list is Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz.

Julie: Diane Vallere and I were on a panel together at Malice. She mentioned that she will read through an entire series at a time–both to enjoy and to learn from. With that as an inspiration, and with a vacation coming up, I’ve decided to read Louise Penny’s series. She is a favorite of so many, and I am already glad I’m diving in.

Barb: I feel like a broken record, because I think every time we do this I’m reading William Kent Krueger. However, I am almost caught up to the present. Currently reading Manitou Canyon. Like Julie, I have vacation coming up. I’m planning to bring Paul Doiron’s latest, Knife Creek, and Bruce Robert Coffin’s second novel, Beneath the Depths. And, like every year, the last week in August, I’ll be at Sherman’s in Boothbay Harbor, picking up a copy of Louise Penny’s latest, Glass Houses this year, for my Labor Day weekend reading pleasure.

Jessie: I am currently reading Radha Vatsal’s A Front Page Affair and am enjoying it immensely! I recently finished Cold Comfort by Quentin Bates and Herbie’s Game by Timothy Hallinan. For non-fiction I am savoring Naturalists in Paradise: Wallace, Bates and Spruce in the Amazon by John Hemming.

Readers: Share your summer reads!

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Guest: Peg Cochran

Edith here, happy to welcome Peg Cochran, a fellow cozy author who also writes about murder related to farming! Here’s the blurb for her newest mystery,  SowedtoDeathSowed to Death:

The county fair is the highlight of the year for the small town of Lovett, Michigan—especially for food-and-lifestyle blogger Shelby McDonald, who writes as the Farmer’s Daughter. She’s submitting jams and jellies she’s created from the produce she grows at Love Blossom Farm in hopes of harvesting a blue ribbon. But the townspeople get more than just the excitement of hayrides, tractor pulls, and cotton candy when Shelby’s neighbor and volunteer fireman, Jake Taylor, extricates the body of Zeke Barnstable instead of a dummy during a demonstration of the Jaws of Life. The fact that Jake and Zeke were known to be at odds plants suspicion in the minds of the police. As evidence against Jake grows, Shelby knows she has to plow through the clues to weed out the true killer and save her friend.

Doesn’t that sound fun? And she’s giving away a copy to one commenter here today. Take it away, Peg!

An Agent by Any Other Name…

When I first starting looking into getting an agent for my work, I had a fairly limited view of what an agent does—they sell your book and make sure the contract isn’t entirely in the publishing house’s favor.

JessicaFaustI was thrilled when agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds agreed to take me on, and I quickly learned that an agent does so much more than get you a book deal and vet your contracts.

An agent—a good one anyway—is a collaborator, editor, nag, supporter, career coach and someone who forces you to write the dreaded synopsis even when you don’t want to.

My newest series, The Farmer’s Daughter Mysteries, is a case in point.  It started with our annual “what are your plans for this year?” conversation (career coach) wherein I indicated a desire to take on a new cozy series.

From there, we tossed around possibilities (collaborator) and Jessica mentioned her idea for a cozy series revolving around a lifestyle blogger who lives on a farm. I liked the idea despite the fact that a) I’ve never lived on a farm or even near one and b) I can’t grow anything and can barely keep a plastic plant alive.

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Peg’s only plant

But I was game so I ran with the concept and put my own spin on it. I made the blogger a widow with two children, added a couple of possible romantic interests, complicated things with a brother-in-law who reminds my protagonist a little too much of her late husband, and then tossed in a dead body.

From there, I submitted three chapters, which I rewrote with Jessica’s subsequent feedback (editor) and then created the series overview and synopsis for the first book (synopsis enforcer).

Jessica was excited about the idea and occasionally emailed to ask how it was going (nag). Finally it was done and on submission. The first publishing house we approached turned it down, but Jessica assured me that it would find a home (supporter).

Jessica then did the two things I knew an agent did: sold it to Berkley Prime Crime and made sure the contract was in order.

I don’t know if I’m just lucky and Jessica is exceptional (which I suspect she is) or if this is the industry norm. Either way, I can’t imagine negotiating the tricky waters of a writing career without someone like her!mlc 9-15

Mystery writing lets Peg Cochran indulge her curiosity under the guise of “work” (aka research).  She put pen to paper at age seven when she wrote plays and forced her cousins to perform them at Christmas dinner.   She switched to mysteries when she discovered the perfect hiding place for a body down the street from her house.  

When she’s not writing, she spends her time reading, cooking, spoiling her granddaughter and checking her books’ stats on Amazon.  Peg resides in Michigan with her husband and Westhighland white terrier, Reg.  She is the author of the Sweet Nothings Lingerie series (written as Meg London), the Gourmet De-Lite series, the Lucille series, the Cranberry Cove series, The Farmer’s Daughter series, and the Reluctant Debutante series debuting in the fall of 2018 from Random House. You can find her at www.facebook.com/pegcochran, @pegcochran (twitter), pegcochran (Instagram), and www.pegcochran.com.

Readers: Have you ever lived on a farm and/or would you like to? Do you have a green thumb or a black one like mine? Remember, Peg is giving away a copy of Sowed to Death to one commenter here today!

Wicked Wednesday: National Daquiri and Hot Dog Days

Another corny July Wednesday for you. Did you know today was National Daquiri Day AND National Hot Dog Day? Have you ever paired those two? Who has a favorite Daquiri recipe? And how do you take your hot dogs? Dish, Wicked and readers!HotDog

Edith: Here’s a Daquiri recipe from the Food Network.

  • 2 cups crushed ice, plus extra for chilling glass
  • 2 ounces light rum
  • 1-ounce freshly squeezed lime juice, strained of pulp
  • 1/2-ounce Simple Syrup, recipe follows

Liz: I can’t comment on the hot dogs… but I do love daiquiris! I found the best recipe for  a blueberry mint daiquiri on Boulder Locavore. Perfect for summer!

Barb: Let’s see. I love hotdogs. I always have trouble at barbecues with the “burger or dog?” question. I’m also partial to Nathan’s when on the road. Mustard and relish, please. My warm weather drinks are margaritas and mojitos, so not so much on the daquiris.

Jessie: With the exception of caipirinhas, I don’t care for sweet cocktails. I much prefer very dry martinis or Scotch. My husband, however, loves all sorts of sweet drinks that come with umbrellas and fruit garnishes. Whenever we order drinks when we are out the server invariably hands us the other person’s drink. Apparently there is gender attached to beverages.

Edith: Right with you there, Jessie – those fruity drinks taste too good and I forget they’re alcoholic. Give me my maxi-proof  straight up every time. Well, except for caipirinhas, the first mixed drink I ever had. It was in southern Brazil at the tender and untested age of seventeen – and wow!

Barb: That is so funny, Jessie. A few nights ago, after a long day of packing, my husband I and went to a local watering hole. I ordered a bourbon milkshake and Bill ordered a shot and a beer. The server who brought our drinks was not the person who took our order. He approached our table cautiously, took a big, deep breath and gave me the milkshake and Bill the shot and beer. “What if it had been the other way around?” I teased. “I don’t like this gender stereotyping.” We were all laughing by the end.

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Photo by Aaron Gustafson from Hamden, CT, USA (Daiquiri) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sherry: I don’t have a favorite daiquiri recipe. But one of my favorite places I ever drank one was in Aspen, Colorado. I haven’t been there in years, but loved sitting outside on a lovely summer day watching people pass and looking at the mountains. The air is so fresh there unlike the heavy summer air of the East Coast. I love hot dogs but don’t eat them very often. I like them grilled, slightly burnt, on a bun with as many toppings as possible.

Edith: Sherry, what a lovely setting. And funny , Jessie and Barb, about the gender expectations (or not so funny?). I grew up with fried hot dogs with yellow mustard. Despite a number of years as a vegetarian and recent years as a minimal red-meat consumer — give me a great grilled dog with mustard and I’m yours.

Julie: Not a daiquiri girl. I stick with beer and wine. But I do love hotdogs. Like Barb, Nathan’s on the road. But the best hotdogs? At Fenway Park, naturally. Not sure how they pull it off, but nothing tastes better on a warm summer night. Relish and mustard, please.

Readers: Tell us what you like!

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