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.

Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery 2017

Edith here. Last week we hosted the Agatha nominees for Best Short Story and Best First Novel. Today we’re lucky enough to have the nominees for Best Historical Mystery! Jessica Estevao (otherwise known as Jessie Crockett) and I, also nominees, are delighted to welcome D.E.Ireland (also known as Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta), Catriona McPherson, and Victoria Thompson to the Wicked Cozys. Here are (imagine me wearing my Oscar Ceremony gown here) the nominated books, in author-alphabetical order:

  • Jessica Estevao: Whispers Beyond the Veil
  • D.E. Ireland: Get Me to the Grave on Time
  • Edith Maxwell: Delivering the Truth
  • Catriona McPherson: The Reek of Red Herrings
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder in Morningside Heights

First, Jessica asks: In which time period do you set your books and how did you come to choose that era?

WhispersbeyondtheveilJessica:A few years ago my family purchased a vacation home in Old Orchard Beach Maine. By the end of our first summer there I knew I wanted to start a mystery series set in that town. The biggest question was when it should take place. After all, in a town as steeped in fascinating history as Old Orchard, a writer is spoilt for choice!  are So, I decided to begin at what was the beginning of the town’s real fame, 1898 when the original pier was built.  Between the cultural shifts, the technological developments and the architecture it proved to be a fertile time period to explore!

DE: Our Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins series features the main characters from Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, and begins mere weeks after the action of the play concludes. We couldn’t have chosen a better historical setting than 1913 London. Although the Edwardian era technically ended when King Edward VI died in 1910, the four years between his death and the outbreak of war is a fascinating mélange of old world traditions coming up against an upheaval in politics, culture and technology. In other words, a perfect time in history for an iconoclastic phonetics teacher to partner with a former Cockney flower girl turned lady. But a lady who demands to be regarded as an equal.

Of course, Eliza Doolittle may have learned to speak and act like a lady in the earlier Victorian era, but her prospects for respectable employment would have been limited. But 1913 is a perfect time for Eliza to become a teacher like Higgins, allowing her to help others to better themselves as she has done. While Shaw made Higgins something of a careless misogynist, we’ve let readers occasionally glimpse a warmer side to the arrogant professor – all thanks to a newly independent, modern Eliza. We are also far less inclined to rush Eliza into marriage with her ardent suitor Freddy, as Shaw intended. Instead, we decided our characters need to take full advantage of these tumultuous and exciting years before the war. It is a new, uncertain century, one suited for a pair as rebellious and resourceful as Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins.

Edith: My choice of era came about accidentally. I had moved to Amesbury , Massaschusetts in 2012, having bought a modest home built for the textile mill workers in 1880, but I had been in the area and a member of Amesbury Friends Meeting (Quaker) since 1989. In April of 2013 I read a local newspaper article about the Great Fire of 1888, which burned down many of the factories which made Amesbury’s world-famous carriages. A few days later I was walking to worship on Sunday morning, as Friends have over the centuries in Amesbury, and a story popped into my head about a 17-year-old Quaker mill girl who solved the mystery of the arson. (Historically it wasn’t arson, but hey, I write fiction.) After the short story was published in a juried anthology, the characters and setting refused to go away, so I invented the mill girl’s aunt Rose, an independent midwife.

As it turns out , 1888 is a really interesting time to write about! So much is in flux – electricity and telephones are starting to come in but aren’t widespread, midwives still predominate but physicians are starting to edge into the birthing world, and even women’s clothing is changing with the new emphasis on bicycling and physical fitness, leading to looser garments and fewer corsets.

Catriona: I don’t really set mine in a real historical era. Dandy Gilver lives in a corner of our culture that’s half the 1920s (eek – except I’m up to 1934 now!) and half the Golden Age of British detective fiction, where gently-born amateur sleuths solved murders. It’s never happened in real life, but in between the wars in the UK it seems normal.

MorningsideVictoria: The Gaslight Mysteries are set in turn-of-the-century New York City.  The series starts in 1896 and the most recent, MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, is set in 1899. Oddly enough, the original concept was generated by Berkley.  They did that a lot in the early days at Berkley Prime Crime.  My agent called me one day to tell me she’d just had lunch with a Prime Crime editor who was looking for someone to write a series set in turn-of-the-century New York  City where the heroine was a midwife.  My agent thought of me, since I’d recently written a book set in that time period and I had been putting mystery subplots in my historical romances for a while.  They sent me their ideas for the series.  I liked some of them and threw out a few others.  Then I realized that my midwife, Sarah, would need a male cohort, preferably someone who would logically be solving murder mysteries, so I created Police Detective Frank Malloy. Berkley had suggested that Sarah be a poor relation of a rich family, but I made her the rebellious daughter of a rich family, which would give her entré into all levels of society.

My new series, The Counterfeit Lady Series which launches in November, starts in 1917.  I purposely chose this era because so much was happening in the world at that time.  Women were demonstrating for the right to vote, which finally came in 1920.  The US had just entered World War I.  The flu epidemic that killed millions is looming on the horizon.  Most importantly, for both my series, the issues people were concerned about then are the same issues we are concerned about today, which makes these books a lot of fun to write.

Great answers! Now, how about this one from me (Edith):

What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done as research for your series? How about the hardest or most risky?

Jessica: This past summer I spent several days in Lily Dale, NY which is the world’s largest Spiritualist enclave. It dates to the Victorian era and was a delightful place to work and to conduct research. I atttended open air platform readings by a wide variety of mediums. I attended talks, visited the library and booked a private consultation with a medium. All in all it was a fascinating trip and it taught me a lot about what it would be like to live and work in the fictional world I have created for my characters to inhabit.

FinalGetMeToGraveFullCoverDE: Although learning about the Edwardian era is always fun, neither of us have done anything hard or risky regarding research for this particular series. However research was responsible for the plot of the first book in our series, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, where a Hungarian linguist blackmails his students. In the process of researching Pygmalion, we discovered Shaw later wrote updated versions of the play, including screenplays and revisions to the 1912 text. One of the revised versions of Pygmalion contains a scene between Higgins and this Hungarian language expert, who boasts that he makes all his students pay, “and not just for lessons.” Voila! Researching Shaw’s revisions gave us our first murderer, with a motive already provided.

A similar serendipitous moment occurred in our second book, Move Your Blooming Corpse. Because the novel opens at Royal Ascot in 1913, we knew the real life Harold Hewitt would run onto the racetrack and be trampled by horses – in a copycat of Emily Davison at the Derby. While creating a colorful cast of suspects who would attend this deadly Ascot race, we learned Harold Hewitt survived being trampled and was sent to a mental hospital. Soon after, Hewitt escaped and was never captured. This true event allowed us to make Hewitt one of our murder suspects. We’ve never been happier to discover how correct Mark Twain was when he wrote, “truth is stranger than fiction.” All it took was a little research to prove it.

Edith: The most fun has to be riding in a real carriage (buggy, actually) drawn by a real horse on real outdoor trails. I wore my long linen skirt and hung on tight. The side of the carriage are low, there are no seat belts, and it’s bumpy! I fully understood what women as old as me and with knees as creaky as mine went through to relieve themselves in the middle of the night back then.

Called to JusticeIn one of my past lives as a childbirth educator and doula, I did attend a number of births, first as an observer and then as a support person (but not a midwife – I never wanted the responsibility a midwife carries). I know firsthand the risks of any birth, as well as the normal, healthy process that it is in the absence of risk factors. It wasn’t dangerous to me personally to be part of the miracle of these births, but I was present at more than one where things went seriously wrong due to no fault of the caregivers or the birthing mother. Those experiences have enriched my fictional descriptions of childbirth, both easy and otherwise.

 

Catriona: I’ve never put myself in danger. But fun, now? The way I do research it’s a 7b98a5ff-fdcb-478d-b41c-62517b4f7e22stretch to call it working. I go to castles, palaces, manor houses and various other stately piles in Scotland and I ask awkward questions until one of the docents demands to know why. Then I reveal that I’m writing a book (and produce an earlier one to prove it). And without fail, at that point they fetch an enormous bunch of keys and take me to my favourite place – “round the back”, aka the attics and dungeons where the public don’t get to go.  Bliss for a nosey parker!

 

Victoria: Funny you should ask. I did one thing, completely inadvertently, that really helped with my Gaslight research into what a midwife does.  I arrived at my daughter’s house for the birth of grandchild #3 to discover that, after two C-sections, she intended to have a natural home birth with a midwife and a doula. My duties included a trip to the hardware store for an adapter so we could fill the inflatable tub for a water birth (which didn’t happen) and keeping the two older boys, ages 6 and not-quite 2, occupied during her labor.

We were all present when Keira Jane made her dramatic entrance into the world and when she didn’t realize she was supposed to start breathing right away. A little oxygen and an unnecessary visit from the fire department paramedics set her on the right path, though, and I got way more information than I needed about how a midwife works.  I even got to see a placenta up close and personal (while the midwife explained its function to my oldest grandson and the younger paramedic) and watch as my oldest grandson cut the cord. Was it fun?  Oh, yes, when it was all over.  Was it hard?  Let’s just say explaining the situation to the 911 operator while my newborn granddaughter turned blue was pretty difficult.  Was it risky? Not for me, since I didn’t actually have heart failure and it all turned out fine. Keira is now 7 and just as feisty as you’d expect. I’ll never forget the 911 operator asking me if she was breathing, and when I looked over the midwife’s shoulder to see, Keira was staring up at me, all pink, as if to say, “What’s all the fuss about?”

Thanks, ladies. See you all in Bethesda at the end of April! Below, left to right: Catriona McPherson, Victoria Thompson, Sharon Pisacreta, Meg Mims. You can find Jessica and Edith in the Wicked Cozy banner.

Readers: What era do you like your fiction set in? What risks would you take – or not take – in the name of research?

Wicked New England: Spring Outings

Okay, gang, Spring has officially arrived. We all know it takes its sweet time here in New England. But when the weather does finally warm and the last ice is melted, where are your favorite places to wander about and catch glimpses of new life? Where do you like to spy early daffodils and carpets of tulips? See birds building nests? Hear choruses of spring peepers? Smell garden or farm soil being turned to warm in the lengthening days? Finally walk without being totally bundled up in scarves, boots, and ear warmers? Dish about your favorite early spring outing.

Jessie: I love to head for Old Orchard Beach. As soon as I possibly can stand it I peel off my shoes and socks and roll up my pant cuffs in order to walk barefooted along the sand. There is something so wonderful about feeling the sand between your toes after a long, cold winter!

Liz: The beach – any beach! Like Jessie, I feel completely at home with my toes in the sand, and I look so forward to the first visit each year when it’s warm enough to peel off some layers. This really is my happy place.

IMG_3754Edith: I head out to my garden and watch my garlic come up. Not much of an outing, I know, but it’s a marvel every spring to see the crop I planted in the fall pop its green shoots through the hay mulch and start to reach skyward. Getting the rest of the garden ready for planting is a treat, too. We also like to take walks on streets where there are lots of bulbs blooming.

Barb: For the last several years, spring has meant the ritual of opening our house in Maine. Checking out which restaurants and businesses survived the winter, what new places are popping up. Putting out the porch furniture, inspecting the basement and attic for signs of winter “guests.” That’s spring for me.

Sherry: When I lived in Massachusetts I always loved to drive up to Rockport, Massachusetts. It’s an old historic town with lots of shops and stunning scenery! I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves!

Julie: Chalk up another beach goer as soon as I can get there. I also LOVE walking through the Public Gardens in Boston, and watching the morph from winter to spring. As Edith said, it comes late here in New England, but it is greatly cherished by us all.

Readers: What are your favorite spring outings, wherever you live?

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Wicked Wednesday: Marching in SinC

Edith here, on March Wednesday number four. All the Wickeds are members of Sisters in Crime, and among us we have three past presidents of the New England chapter (Sheila, Barb,and Julie) and a current president (Edith).  In addition, Sherry is President of the Chesapeake chapter where Kim is also a member, Julie serves on the National board, Jane and Jessie are current board members of the New England chapter, and Liz is a former board member.

National is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and the New England chapter is hosting a gala luncheon this Saturday, with many of our chapter luminaries attending. We are so fortunate to have an active, thriving advocacy organization supporting us, pushing for a more equitable distribution of reviews, award nominations and publishing contracts, and spreading information on all aspects of writing and making it as an author.

bookssogooditsacrime

So let’s talk about what Sisters in Crime has meant to you over the years, both when you were getting started and now.

Liz: Sisters in Crime is the reason I’m published, plain and simple. If I hadn’t had that network and made those connections, I wouldn’t have been part of the group who received the opportunity to write a proposal for our now-agent, John Talbot – the proposal that became the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries. And that’s just one part of it. The members of Sisters in Crime are truly my tribe, and I’m grateful to know them all.

The Wickeds all met through Sisters in Crime!

Edith: Same here, Liz. Not only from the connections I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned through our fabulous New England chapter, but I also wouldn’t be published if not for National. I’m a long-time member of the Guppies (Great Unpublished) online chapter. I learned so much about the publishing field, about writing a query letter, about finding a small press, and about supporting each other. I stayed on even after I was published because it’s still a source of much shared knowledge. National also puts out an invaluable monthly compilation of links to articles about the field and of contract announcements from members, and does yearly initiatives to further our mission.

Sherry: The night I met Julie at the Malice banquet in 2005 she told me “you have to join Sisters in Crime and the New England chapter when you move to Massachusetts.” A couple of months later we moved and I joined both. Those two actions have been like the stone dropped in the middle of the lake that keeps rippling out in widening circles of friends and opportunities. By joining I found my tribe — people who understand the weird stories swirling in my head. I  wholeheartedly believe that it’s the only reason I’m published. When we moved back to Virginia I joined the Chesapeake Chapter and I’m honored to now serve as their president. Who knew that chance meeting would be so life changing? Thank you to those who started SinC and those who keep it going. I’m forever indebted.

Nancy Parra, Leslie Budewitz, Jessie Crockett, Sheila Connolly, and Julie Hennrikus at the fabulous SinC Hollywood conference last April.

Barb: I first joined the New England chapter back in the 90s, when I was the newsletter editor. (Back when the newsletter had to be laid out in Quark, printed, folded, put in an envelope, and stamped.) I took a long hiatus when I wasn’t writing, then finally produced a short story that got an honorable mention that was presented at Crime Bake, where I sat at a table across from Julie, and…the rest is history. Novel writing is a difficult skill to master, and the publishing business is inscrutable, so between the two, becoming a published mystery author is a difficult hill to climb. I couldn’t have done it without the classes and support I found at SinCNE.

Jessie: I agree with everyone else about how much SinC has helped to make a writing career possible. If it weren’t for the Guppies I would not have heard about the publisher who published my first mystery, Live Free or Die. If it weren’t for SinCNE I would not have had the opportunity to work with my agent. If it weren’t for the mentorship and education provided by SinC I would not have had the skills or the savvy to take advantage of either opportunity. I am deeply indebted to this organization and cannot recommend it enough to other writers.

Julie: I echo my friends raves about Sisters in Crime, especially the New England chapter. I went to my first Malice in 2001 or 2002, and my friend stood in line to send her books back. She started chatting up Dana Cameron, who was then the Vice President of SinCNE. Dana said “you must join”, so Regina came back and informed me that we had to join. So we did. My first meeting was at Hallie Ephron’s house. I was a wreck, but she was very nice, as was everyone else. We grew out of house meetings a few years later. Not only would I not be published, I would not have my wonderful community if I had not joined this organization. I was pleased to serve on the board of SinCNE for a number of years, and to be serving on the national board. It is an amazing group, and highly recommended for folks at any stage of their crime writing life.

Friends, are you a member of Sisters in Crime? What does the organization mean to you?

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Agatha Best Short Stories 2017

Edith here, super delighted to welcome my fellow nominees for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

Greenteapots

Let’s have a Hip-Hip-Hooray for:

  • Gretchen Archer for “Jinx” (Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story)
  • Barb Goffman for “The Best-Laid Plans” (Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional)
  • Edith Maxwell (that’s me!) for “The Mayor and the Midwife” (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016)
  • BK Stevens for “The Last Blue Glass” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
  • Art Taylor for “Parallel Play” (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning)

Because it’s also St. Patrick’s Day today, let’s dish on an Irish connection in your story.

Gretchen: In my Agatha nominated short story “Double Jinx,” the luck of the Irish is with July Jackson, Holiday Host at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, as she tries to locate the missing body of a previously undead zombie, foils a thief trying to make off with three million of the casino’s dollars, and meets the man of her dreams.

“Double Jinx,” is a Halloween story, complete with Asylum, the Musical playing to a sold-out audience in the theater, a Spooky Rich slot tournament in full swing, and a Black and Orange Ball after a Biohazard Buffet. Chances are if we could visit with July today, she’d be hosting the casino’s Lucky Leprechaun poker extravaganza, where her players would be shamrocked from too many Four Leaf Clover martinis, and the pot of gold at the end of the tournament rainbow has gone missing.

What a great idea! I’m off to write it. Read “Double Jinx” here: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/uQrJO

BK Stevens: Around the end of the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadores came home from South America with plundered Incan gold and also with a strange new vegetable—the potato. In Ireland, potatoes soon became the staple crop, star ingredients in dishes ranging from colcannon to stew. But when the 1840s brought the potato famine, over a million Irish people died, and a million and a half more had to leave their homes, mostly for the United States. Apparently, some Irish-Americans still observe the tradition of defying the weather to plant potatoes in their gardens on Saint Patrick’s Day. So, in good times and bad, potatoes have played a role in Irish history. They also play a role in my Agatha-nominated story, “The Last Blue Glass.” Until Edith challenged us to link our stories to Ireland, I didn’t really realize that —I’d never thought of my characters as having any particular ethnicity, and I’d definitely never thought of potatoes as symbols. But they do crop up (horrible pun) at crucial points in the story.

“The Last Blue Glass” is framed by two dinner parties. At the first, newlyweds Cathy and Frank entertain four guests. A novice cook, Cathy has to call her mother long-distance for advice on how to keep peeled potatoes from turning brown—and to endure her mother-in-law’s snide remarks when the potatoes are underdone. Cathy becomes a far more skilled cook after Frank suddenly decides to ditch his insurance job and buy a bar. She labors to create a bar snack called Spud Balls—scooped-out spheres of potato browned in butter and carefully spiced, designed to draw in customers and support Frank’s dream. It’s a labor-intensive dish, reflecting Cathy’s devotion to her charming, impulsive husband. But their marriage is undermined by Frank’s weaknesses and by the manipulations and betrayals of people he trusts. At the end of the story, the newly widowed Cathy invites the same four people to dinner again. As she cooks up a final batch of Spud Balls, she thinks about the revenge she’s planning to take on one of her guests, the one she sees as most responsible for Frank’s death. You can read “The Last Blue Glass” at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/book/the-last-blue-glass/ ; and if you’d like to try the recipe for Spud Balls, you can find it at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/recipes-from-the-stories/.

Barb: “May the luck of the Irish be with you.” That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s debatable whether the sentiment truly is. Some say the phrase stems from the Irish people being lucky—having overcome so much adversity. But others think it’s a sarcastic saying—something you’d say to someone you don’t like. My main character in “The Best-Laid Plans,” Eloise Nickel, would run with the latter meaning when it came to her nemesis, Kimberly Siger.

Both Eloise and Kim are mystery authors, and both are about to be honored at this year’s Malice International convention, Eloise as the lifetime achievement honoree and Kim as guest of honor. They once were friends, but Kim long ago moved on to friendships with more useful authors. Now, with the convention looming, Kim has been rude to Eloise in a big magazine article. Eloise vows revenge—a series of mishaps to occur at the convention to poor down-on-her-luck Kim. But to her dismay, it seems the luck of the Irish might really be with Eloise.

We mystery authors like to make our characters suffer. It keeps things interesting, and boy does Eloise suffer during the convention. Yet she soldiers on despite multiple setbacks. As she does, the reader gets a good glimpse into her psyche and even, at times, her humanity. But is the luck of the Irish with her or not? You’ll have to read the story to find out. It’s available at http://www.barbgoffman.com/The_Best_Laid_Plans.html. Happy reading and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Art: When my dad reached the question about ancestry in the 1980 U.S. Census, he read me the list of suggested answers, and when one or the other of us said, “Irish. Let’s be Irish,” he marked it down and made it official. The odds are good that we do indeed have Irish background; North Carolina is rich with Scotch-Irish heritage, and one of the earliest Scotch-Irish communities in the state was founded in the same small county where my parents were born some two hundred years later. Plus, given that my birthday is the day before St. Patrick’s Day (yesterday as you’re reading this!), I’ve always felt an additional kinship here—always on the lookout for any potential Irish ties, whether they’re really there or not.

Given the question on the blog today, I’ve found myself in a similar situation—since there’s nothing Irish in my story “Parallel Play,” which follows a young mother and her son through a perilous afternoon in Northern Virginia. It was pointed out to me that there’s lots of rain in my story, since folks often think of Ireland’s rainy weather, and in one scene, that young mother and the father of another child in the same play group share a pot of tea, which I could probably call Irish Breakfast (one of my own favorite flavors) except for the fact that I already called it Lapsang Souchong in a post on the story at Mystery Playground a few weeks back.

So I was basically at a loss here… until circling back to that image of my father and me tackling the census: the two of us teasing through, at some fundamental level, who we were, our family, our larger connections—not just by birth but literally, in our case, by choice. To a degree, that’s what “Parallel Play” is about: what it means to be a family, the choices you make for your family, and in my story at least, the consequences too. That’s a loose connection to something Irish, I know—but it’s the one for me that stands out most. “Parallel Play” is linked here: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/

Edith: First – happy birthday, Art! But I now realize what a silly idea this was, to ask my fellow nominees to link their stories to something – anything – Irish. I am hard-pressed to do so with my own story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” No, I’ve got it! Amesbury Detective Kevin Donovan is definitely Irish. When the mayor of New Orleans comes to the northeast corner of Massachusetts in 1888 to visit his pregnant daughter, he meets Quaker midwife Rose. He tells her he had also arranged a meeting with the town’s bigwigs – but none of them would have a drink with him. Rose takes him to meet Irish Kevin, who she is quite sure would be happy to discuss crime-fighting with the mayor over a tankard of ale. But when the mayor’s son-in-law is murdered, he and Kevin – and Rose – end up working a lot more closely to solve the crime. You can read the story here: https://edithmaxwell.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/the-mayor-and-the-midwife.pdf

Who we are:

DOUBLEJINXfrontGretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She’s the bestselling author of the Davis Way Crime Caper series by Henery Press. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, her son, and a Yorkie named Bently.

Malice 11 front cover proof 2 - FINALBarb Goffman edits mysteries by day and writes them by night. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national crime-writing awards nineteen times. Her newest story, “Whose Wine Is It Anyway,” appears in the mystery anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was published earlier this week. When not writing, Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service. She blogs every third Tuesday at www.SleuthSayers.org. In her spare time, she reads, reads, reads and plays with her dog.

cover-herren-blood-on-the-bayou-200x300pxNational 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. Maxwell writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston where she lives with her beau and three cats. She blogs here at WickedCozyAuthors.com, at Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.

last-blue-glass-hitchcock

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens is the author of Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), a traditional whodunit offering insights into deaf culture, and Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press), a martial arts mystery for young adults. She’s also published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of her stories are collected in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime (Wildside Press).

CC_StormWarning_FINALArt Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has also won two Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

Readers: What’s your favorite short story of all time? Do you prefer reading short or long crime fiction?

 

Wicked Wednesday: Marching Out of Step

Edith here, on the Ides of March. But instead of talking about seers’ warnings, assassinations, or the start of civil wars (which Caesar’s killing kicked off), let’s talk about one way in which we have always marched out of step with our peers, with the rest of society, or with our families. I take it as a positive trait when a person is out of the ordinary, but it can also cause problems, even bullying. Sometimes we need a great deal of strength to keep our heads up and march to the drummer we feel led by, not that of everyone around us.

Dance to the Beat of Your Own Drum

Sherry: Thinking over this topic made me realize what a middle of the road person I am. I reached out to some long-time friends to ask them  if they thought there was any way I’d marched out of step with my peers. They had nothing. I’m just a normal, middle-aged woman, who lives in the suburbs, dresses conservatively (other than the occasional animal print), and loves my family and friends. I know, I know, I’m boring. Wait — I married a younger, shorter man — strictly against social norms. There you go.

Drums

Liz: What a great topic. I’ve always been just a bit out of step in so many places – especially my family! We just didn’t see eye to eye on most (important) things. But I find that even in my day job, while I enjoy the people I work with, I seem to think just a bit differently than most other people. Not surprisingly, it’s the few creative folks in the environment toward whom I gravitate. So I’ll blame it on having a creative brain. Or really, maybe I’m just weird?

Edith: I think I’ve pretty much always been a little out of step. I was always the shortest and youngest in my grade (yay, Bob Harris!), and felt a great injustice that I wasn’t asked to carry the books (with the boys) from the book room. As a young adult, I rejected social norms of women’s beauty (all that shaving, all that makeup, all those heels). In some sense I was in step with my (early 1970s) cohort, but pretty much out of step with the rest of society. And I have other examples. But I like Liz’s analysis of blaming it on the creative brain. Or maybe we’re just weird?

Barb: It’s hard to see my own life through any prism that tells me what was usual and what was un. I did what I did. I came to a variety of crossroads and took the path I thought was best based on what I knew at the time. Sometimes I was right, sometimes wrong. My sense is that’s the way it is for most people. I was never consciously swayed by fears or hopes about what other people would think of my choices, but my parents’ very American, very middle-class values are wound tightly around my soul, so I’m sure they play a part. I guess the most unusual thing I’ve ever done is write that novel I kept talking about.

Julie: As I get older I realize that I have chosen my own path for my entire life, though quietly. I have always been a daydreamer, for example, and just assumed everyone else was. Not so, I came to realize. My daydreams, alternate realities, were part of the forming writer’s brain. I work in the arts, and am surrounded by folks who create the beat of life. I’m thrilled to be along for the ride–marching out of step helps me notice who else is in the parade, what the scenery looks like. It also makes me aware of who isn’t keeping up, so I can lend a hand.

Jessie: I found this to be a difficult topic. Painful even. Those who have met me as an adult  may find it difficult to believe, but as a child and a teenager I always felt completely out of step. My family moved very often in my early years and I always felt like an outsider with every new school, each new town. I was excruciatingly shy and found the experience harrowing every single time. I became entirely used to the idea that others belonged and I was foreign. As an adult I have settled down in one place for many years but still find that I often think of myself as an observer on the fringes. Fortunately, a witnessing role on the outskirts is a perfect place for a writer to be!

Edith: I’m sorry to have proposed a painful topic, Jessie. We moved our kids twice to West Africa (but then back to their home town after a year), and I saw how excruciating it was for my shy, introverted son. I’m so pleased you have found your one place now, and that you can use your observer role to such good ends – being a brilliant writer. And I love how we are all different from each other on this topic, and yet have found common ground in our friendship and our writing goals.

Readers: How do you march with the rest of your cohort, your culture, your peers, and where have you struck out on your own path? Has being out of step – or in step – been easy, painful, useful?

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Happy Cruel Winter Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday to Sheila Connolly. Her fifth County Cork Mystery, Cruel Winter, is cruelwinterout!

Snow is a rarity in Maura Donovan’s small village in County Cork, Ireland, so she wasn’t sure what to expect when a major snowstorm rolled in around Sullivan’s pub. But now she’s stranded in a bar full of patrons–and a suspected killer in a long-ago murder. Over the next few hours, the informal court in Sullivan’s reviews the facts and theories about the case–and comes to some surprising conclusions. But is it enough to convince the police to take a new look at an old case?

To celebrate, I (Edith) decided to make one of Sheila’s many Irish recipes from her other group blog, Mystery Lover’s Kitchen. She’s over there most Fridays sharing dishes, both savory and sweet, that she has concocted. I’ve adapted the following recipe slightly, but what follows isn’t too far from her Feb 7 post of three years ago. As you can see, I didn’t have Irish whiskey, but figured I couldn’t go too far wrong with using bourbon, instead.

Irish Chicken and Cabbage

Ingredients

1/2 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 bone-in chicken breast halves, with skin on
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic,  minced
2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
1 T dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
2 cups shredded cabbage
1-1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade/canned/from a bouillon cube)
Sheila’s twist—a tablespoon or two of Irish whiskey (Edith’s substitution—an equal amount of bourbon)

irishchickingred

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or pie pan and dredge the chicken pieces in it, shaking off the excess.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken pieces and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Tuck the garlic cloves, carrots, onions and rosemary around and between the chicken pieces. Lay the cabbage in an even layer on top and season with salt and pepper.

Mix the whiskey into the broth and pour the liquid over the chicken and vegetables. Cover the contents of the Dutch oven with its oven-proof lid, or with foil (press it against the contents to make a fairly close seal), then place the pot in the oven and cook for 75 (remember, the heat is low). Peek once or twice and baste the top with the pan juices.

irishchickTo serve, place a piece of chicken on the plate and spoon the vegetables and sauce over it. I urge you to check Sheila’s original recipe for pix of the entire process and for the few ingredients I left out (because, oops, I didn’t have them in the house).

I wanted to serve the dish with new potatoes steamed and then lightly sauteed in olive oil and herbs – except somebody in my house used the last potato and didn’t put them them on the shopping list. So instead I made quick whole-wheat soda biscuits. Which went almost better with the dish than the potatoes would have.

Readers: Who has read the County Cork series up to now and can’t wait to get your hands on this one?  [Me! Me!] Anybody been to Ireland and, if so, what was your favorite meal? Your favorite Irish pub near where you live?

Guest: Wendy Tyson

This is Edith, wondering what New England will give us for weather next! And happy to BitterHarvest fronthave the talented Wendy Tyson back as my guest. Her newest Greenhouse Mystery, Bitter Harvest, came out this week, and to celebrate she’s giving away an audiobook (on CDs) of the book to one commenter today. Wendy was kind enough to consent to an interview, so let’s go (my questions are in boldface)!

You wrote a darker standalone, plus the Allison Campbell series for Henery, about an image consultant. I haven’t read either the standalone or the series, but even the series seems a bit darker than the cozy Greenhouse Mysteries. Do you prefer one style over the other?

I’m a huge fan of crime fiction—from small-town cozy mysteries to great, sprawling international thrillers and everything in between. The Greenhouse Mystery Series is very dear to me because I love organic gardening, and I feel passionate about the regenerative farming movement. Plus, I’ve fallen quite in love with some of the characters.  And these days, when you turn on the news and you’re constantly confronted by some tragedy or another, it’s nice to return to a place that’s welcoming and just a little isolated from some of the world’s misery (even if that place is fictional). That’s how I feel about Winsome, PA, the setting of Bitter Harvest.

That said, I also enjoy writing darker mysteries and thrillers. These books provide a different kind of outlet as a writer, and it’s exciting to sink into an edgier, more complex novel. I guess the answer is no, I really don’t prefer one over the other. I like to think there is the flexibility for me to write and publish both.

Our readers are always curious about our writing schedules and habits. Do you have a day job in addition to writing fiction? When and where do you write your mysteries?

Vermont Respite

Vermont

I do! I’m an attorney and I work full-time as a consultant at a mutual fund company. (I practice ERISA law. Bonus points for Wicked readers familiar with that area of the law.) I have a husband, three sons, and three dogs, and I split my time between Vermont and Pennsylvania. Life is hectic, but writing provides me with the quiet time I need to recharge. Making time for writing isn’t always easy, though.

A schedule? I get up early—around 5:30 am—and write every day before work, until about 7. If I’m up against a deadline, I’ll also write during my lunch break. I try to reserve evenings for my family and for any social media/marketing I need to do. That all sounds very disciplined, doesn’t it? The truth is, while I do stick to that schedule, it’s often not enough to meet my deadlines, and so I tend to be a binge writer. I write for hours during family vacations, on my days off from work, at soccer and lacrosse tournaments, in waiting rooms. I’ve learned the art of writing wherever and whenever. To do that without sacrificing family time, I integrate writing with my life. This means I can write at the kitchen island while the boys do homework or play and a meal is simmering on the stove. I’ve had to learn to block out distractions. (If only I had mastered that skill in college!)

I know you are an avid gardener, as is Megan Sawyer, your Greenhouse series protagonist. What’s your favorite crop to grow, and which give you the most problems? (I’ll add my own answers after yours!)Yard mico farm Tyson

Red peppers are a favorite crop. We plant red bell peppers and Hungarian peppers, and we eat the bells like apples (the kids love them). Peppers grow very well in our climate. Potatoes do as well, and we generally have excellent crops of red and Yukon potatoes. Homegrown potatoes are delicious—earthy and flavorful, even without butter.

Most problematic? That changes to some extent every year. Last summer, we had a tough time with tomatoes (another favorite crop), and mid-way through the summer our basil died for no apparent reason. The year before we had more tomatoes than we could possibly eat, and fresh, fragrant basil until well into fall. We almost always get aphids on our spring kale and spinach eventually…something you learn to live with when you’re planting an organic garden on a small piece of property.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

E: Oh, man, broccoli was such a pain. It’s good to plant, because it’s healthy and doesn’t mind cold weather. But when the cabbage moth lays its eggs in the head and you’re in the kitchen getting ready to chop one up for your dinner and there are MOVING CREATURES hidden in the florets? Gah! Forget it. I’ll buy broccoli at the farm stand. When I was selling my own produce, the tiny holes the flea beetles chew in arugula and other leafy green crops was a big pain but not harmful, just cosmetically unpleasing. But I love growing my Sun Gold cherry tomatoes every year. I used to start those from seed before hardly anybody knew about them – now all the garden centers sell seedlings.

Bitter Harvest takes place in the fall. Here in New England more and more family farms are putting up hoop houses and nurturing crops like hardy greens all winter long. Do you try to grow year round? 

Absolutely. We were inspired some years back after reading Eliot Coleman’s book, The Winter Harvest Handbook, and my husband built an unheated hoop house and low tunnels in our yard. It’s been a little bit of heaven to go out into a snowy yard and pick fresh spinach or kale. We’ve also grown arugula and pak choi in the low tunnels with decent success.

E: I’ve seen Coleman speak! And still own my copy of Four Season Harvest.

Other than writing about murders and growing food (and being a wife, mom, and dog owner…), what else do you do for fun in your “free” time? Believe me, I’ve been there except for the dog part, which is why I put free in quotes!

Free time…you’re right, there isn’t much left over. I love, love, love to travel. The entire part of a trip, from planning to execution, is great fun, and we’ve managed some interesting trips over the last five years or so. We drove to Montana from Pennsylvania one summer, another summer we did a “road trip” through parts of Western Europe and

Corfu, Greece

Corfu

Slovenia, and we spent three weeks in a house on the Greek island of Corfu a few years back. These trips provide family time and writing time, and I find that a new locale always offers novel ideas and a fresh perspective. Aside from travel, I enjoy hiking and swimming with my kids, especially in our adopted state of Vermont.

Since this year is Sisters in Crime’s 30th anniversary, tell us how the organization has benefited you and helped you along as an author. Are you active in any chapters?

I value Sisters in Crime and the networking opportunities it provides. I’ve met so many inspiring authors through the organization, and I’ve learned a great deal about marketing and the writing industry in general. I’m also a member of International Thriller Writers, and I’ve been an editor and columnist for their two publications, The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins. I highly recommend that new and aspiring authors join SinC or ITW or another writing organization. Absolutely invaluable.

What’s one thing hardly anyone knows about you? 

I don’t own an e-reader. While I applaud the advent of the e-book, and I see the great value of e-readers for so many reasons, I’m hopelessly attached to paper books. My husband built me a wall of bookshelves, and even so we don’t have enough room for them all. I love the smell, the feel of a new book, the comfort of an old favorite. I am addicted. (There, I admitted it for all the world to see.)

You could do a lot worse with addictions, my friend! What’s next for you on the writing front?

My fourth Allison Campbell Mystery, Fatal Façade, launches on June 13, 2017. I just turned in Seeds of Revenge, Greenhouse Mystery No. 3, and that comes out in late 2017. This year promises to be a busy one!

Readers: Who has an e-reader and who doesn’t? How do you feel about gardening? Favorite vacation travel story? Remember,  Wendy is giving away an audiobook (on CD) of the book to one commenter today.

In Bitter Harvest, Megan Sawyer should be shouting from the barn roof. Washington Acres survived its first year, the café has become a hotspot for locals, and Winsome’s sexy Scottish veterinarian is making house calls—only not for the animals. But as summer slips into fall and Winsome prepares for its grand Oktoberfest celebration, beer isn’t the only thing brewing. When the town’s pub owner is killed in a freak accident, Megan suspects something sinister is afoot in Winsome—but no one is listening. As nights grow longer and temperatures chill, Megan must plow through Winsome’s fixation with autumn festivities to harvest the truth—before another dead body marks the season.Wendy Tyson

Wendy Tyson’s background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Wendy has returned to her roots and lives there again on a micro-farm with her husband, three sons and three dogs.  Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins, International Thriller Writers’ online magazines. Wendy is the author of the Allison Campbell Mystery Series and the Greenhouse Mystery Series.