Writing Real Stuff

Edith here, north of Boston, and packing for Malice Domestic!

We Wickeds are fiction writers. We make stuff up. We are goddesses of our story worlds. Don’t like that guy? Knock him off. Discover the hint of a new romance between two characters? Make it blossom.

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One of my series, the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, is set here in my Massachusetts town of Amesbury, which sits on the New Hampshire border one town in from the coast. So I use a real setting – but the action takes place back in the late 1880s. We have a thriving Amesbury Carriage Museum, which has been focusing in recent years on all of Amesbury’s industrial history.350thsquare

This year is Amesbury’s 350th birthday and the ACM is sponsoring a series of lectures about various aspects of the past.

JohnMayerThe ACM’s dynamic director, John Mayer, asked me this winter if I would give a talk on the lives of Amesbury’s women in the past. I didn’t have to think long to respond, “You know, John, the historical woman I know best is FICTIONAL.” He laughed and assured me that was okay. I gulped and said yes. I really like what John is doing for our town and wanted to contribute. We decided I would focus on the twenty years surrounding 1900. But write about real people instead of made-up ones? I had my work cut out for me.

For a couple of months I’ve been interviewing our town’s elders, sharp-minded women in their late eighties and nineties, plus some of their children. I’ve poured over old diaries of farm women, learned about the lives of more well-known women, heard stories about immigrant families, traced the charitable activities of the wives of the factory and mill owners. Every bit of it was fascinating.

And what hit me in the face again and again? Women are absent from the history books, even the three local histories written by women! The ladies were working behind the scenes just as hard as – or harder than – the men. Their stories deserve to be told, even though they didn’t end up with their names on buildings or in the town reports.

I presented my talk last week to a standing room only crowd.

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I had a slide show, extensive notes, the privilege of seating some of my primary sources in the front row – and more nerves than I’ve had in a while.

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How a mystery author saves front-row seats for her honored guests. Photo by Christine Green

In one of my first slides, I made sure everybody knew I am an amateur historian. That I love delving into the past, but have no professional credentials to back me up other than an award-winning historical mystery series. Nobody seemed to care.

Here are some of the women I interviewed. Clockwise from top left, Betty Goodwin, Jodie Rundlett Perkins, Pam Bailey Johnson Fenner, and Sally Blake Lavery, treasures all.

And here are some the strong, hardworking women from all economic classes I showcased – the women absent from the history books.

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Josephine Blake at left, Jessie Blake at right, whose detailed memoir of her childhood I drew on.

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Mina and Florence Blanchard. Mina became a teacher, Florence a nurse.

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Lydia Crowell Bailey, very much of the well-off class, who nevertheless lost two young children. (Blemishes on the photo, not her skin.)

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Mary Jewell Little, left, and Annie Little Woodsom, far right

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Marie Tremblay, French-Canadian immigrant, and daughter Rosanna. Neither ever spoke English.

The evening was fun. The audience seemed to love it. Our local cable TV filmed it and I’ll post a link in a couple of weeks to the video on the ACM cable channel. And I sold a lot of books afterwards. For now? I’m glad to get back to making stuff up!

Readers: Who are your local or family elders you hear stories from? Which of their and your own stories have you shared with the next generations?

Wicked Wednesday — Celebrating Turning the Tide

We are celebrating the release of Turning the Tide, the third book in Edith’s Quaker Midwife Mysteries series. Here is a little bit about the book:

A suffragist is murdered in Quaker midwife Rose Carroll’s Massachusetts town

Excitement runs high during Presidential election week in 1888. The Woman Suffrage Association plans a demonstration and movement leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton comes to town to rally the troops. When Quaker midwife Rose Carroll finds the body of the group’s local organizer the next morning, she can’t help but wonder who could have committed the murder.

Rose quickly discovers several people who have motives. The victim had planned to leave her controlling husband, and a recent promotion had cost a male colleague his job. She had also recently spurned a fellow suffragist’s affections. After Rose’s own life is threatened, identifying the killer takes on a personal sense of urgency.

Riding in carriages was commonplace during the late 1800s. Wickeds, have you ever ridden in a carriage? Where was it and where did you go? If not is there one you wish you could have ridden in?

Barb: My husband and I took a lovely carriage tour of Charleston, South Carolina. It was a marvelous way to view the narrow, colonial streets, and so quiet with only the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves.

Edith: As part of my research for this series I’ve ridden in several carriages. (I wrote a blog post about it here.) My favorite ride was on carriage trails through woods and pastures in Ipswich, Massachusetts, scenery that wouldn’t have looked any different in the late 1880s. And it was bumpy! No seat belts! I wore my long full linen skirt to get the feel of climbing in and out – not easy. But the experience helped me write about it more accurately.

Sherry: I have some distant memory of a stagecoach ride as a child. My husband and I took an open carriage ride on our tenth anniversary in New Orleans. It sounded so romantic however it was in the middle of the day, it was in the 90s with a gazillion percent humidity. The sun beat down on us and we leaned away from each other on the small seat because we were so sweaty. The only good thing was my hair formed these lovely curls that I’ve never had since. Sadly, we had a similar experience (sans beautiful curls) on a later anniversary on a duck boat in Boston.

Jessie: I don’t believe I have ever ridden in a carriage. The closest thing I can think of was a pedicab ride I took with my husband one evening in Old Orchard Beach, ME. It sounds like something to add to my adventures list!

Julie: I don’t think I have ever ridden in a carriage. But I’ve always wanted to. Have you ever seen the Dancing in the Dark number from The Bandwagon? That’s my kind of carriage ride!

Readers: Have you ever take a carriage ride?

Bringing History to Life

NEWS FLASH: Melinda is the randomly selected winner! Please send your snail mail address to me at edith at edithmaxwell.com. Congratulations!

Edith here, delighted that Turning the Tide came out from Midnight Ink yesterday!

This is my third Quaker Midwife mystery, and my fourteenth published novel, in which Rose Carroll, midwife, becomes involved in murder once again. I’m so grateful for my editors at Midnight Ink for believing in my stories and making them better: Amy Glaser, Terri Bischoff, and Nicole Nugent. And to talented cover artist Greg Newbold for rocking cover number three.

In celebration, I’m most pleased to give away a signed copy of the book to one commenter here today.

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The story has a background theme, as every book in the series does. In book time the season was rolling around to the fall, so I decided to explore issues of women’s suffrage in 1888. The Amesbury Woman Suffrage Association (fictional as far as I know, but it could have existed) turns out in force across from the polling place on Election Day to protest not having the vote. Here’s one of the placards I found online, and it’s my favorite. WomenbringallvotersIn a book featuring a midwife, you can see why I love this sign.

I read that proponents of women’s suffrage wore sunflower yellow sashes, to represent hope. Quaker women were in the forefront of the movement for decades, both before and after this book takes place. Rose’s mother is an ardent suffragist, and in Turning the Tide she comes to town to support the protest.

I love slipping bits of my own family history into the books. Rose’s mother Dorothy Henderson Carroll is named after my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Henderson Maxwell. We called her Momma Dot, and Rose’s nieces and nephews call the fictional Dorothy Granny Dot. My grandmother was the first woman to drive an automobile halfway across the United States in 1918, and I imagine she didn’t hesitate to vote the following year.

I decided to bring Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Amesbury, too. Historically I don’t know if she did, but she might have, and writing fiction gives me permission to portray her rallying the women, with her white curls and comfortable, corset-free figure.

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Stanton was a real intellectual. In the book I took the liberty of paraphrasing a few sentences from her essay, “The Solitude of Self,” which was not published until 1892, for her to speak in person in this book (at Rose’s friends’ salon gathering). I couched it as Stanton developing her thoughts on the topic, and I trust her departed soul will approve.

So, dear readers, who is your favorite suffragist? Any family stories about your feminist foremothers, or the first time you yourself voted?

Poetry & Literature – Mine!

PoetryMonthEdith here, still basking in yesterday’s wonderful afternoon celebration.

Here in Amesbury in the northeast corner of Massachusetts, we have a Poet Laureate. She is the multi-talented Lainie Senechal, a native of the town, who not only writes poetry and paints, but has worked tirelessly to spread poetry through the populace. April is National Poetry Month, and Lainie, with the help of Amesbury’s Cultural Council and the Whittier Home Museum, set up seven events. Poetry and Film. Poetry and Yoga. Poetry and History. You get the picture, and there were others, too. The list also included two poetry contests for young people in the area.

Yesterday was was reserved for Poetry and Literature, and the literature was my second Quaker Midwife Mystery, Called to Justice! I was delighted and honored when Lainie suggested the event, and I thought I’d share the highlights here.

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Me and Lainie Senechal. Photo courtesy Christine Green.

We held the gathering at a lovely crepe (and other delicacies) restaurant, The Noshery, so folks ordered food and drink to enjoy during the readings and discussion. Jon Mooers is the very generous and talented owner and chef, a keen supporter of Amesbury’s history.

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(Some years past he painted two fabulous murals on brick walls on Main Street that evoke the era when I set my books.)

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Jon suggested we set up an antique-look corner for my books, so I borrowed a table from the Friends Meetinghouse.

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As always, I reference a couple of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poems in the book, since he’s a supporting character in the series, so we interspersed portions of those works.  I shared the background of Called to Justice and read several short passages to introduce the poems. Our readers included Lainie, Chris Bryant (President of the Whittier Home Museum), and me. Whittier’s friend Lucy Larcom makes an appearance in the book, so Lainie read one poem about Larcom and another by the well-known New England author, a former mill girl herself.

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Chris Bryant reading Whittier’s  “One of the Signers,” quoted in the book

Poet Carla Panciera wrote a midwifery poem especially for me – “Midwife in the Barn” – and she came to read it herself!

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The questions were many and varied, and I sold and signed books afterward. It was a sweet way to launch my book in the town where it’s set (and where I live) and to celebrate poetry of all kinds at the same time. Thanks to fan Gerry Morenski who volunteered to take pictures while I was up front!

Readers: How do you feel about poetry? What’s your favorite one?

 

Meeting Myself

Edith here, half high (no, not THAT kind of high…) and half exhausted north of Boston.

My eleventh mystery officially released on Saturday. Called to Justice is my second Quaker Midwife Mystery and I’m delighted by the reviews and cheers it has received so far. Any regular reader here knows that my tenth mystery came out only two weeks ago, and I was confronted with how to celebrate two books (under two names in two series from two publishers) at once.

So I held a double launch party at my fabulous local independent bookstore, Jabberywocky Bookshop in Newburyport, MA on Friday night. To top off the celebration, I’ll give away an advance copy of my third spring book, Mulch Ado About Murder, to one commenter today!

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Owner Sue Little is super supportive of local authors and readers everywhere. When I mentioned I wanted to interview my alter ego Maddie Day  – and vice versa – she thought it was a great idea.

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With Sue Little

I found an Indiana cap, and brought my Quaker bonnet. I baked gingersnaps from the late 1800s (Fanny Farmer helped with the recipe) as well as Kahlua Brownies Robbie Jordan might serve in her country store restaurant (recipe in Flipped for Murder). I assembled a few door prizes. And I wrote up a number of questions for Maddie and me to ask each other.

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The audience kept building. I spied local writer pals, a bunch of Quakers, fans I’d met at previous library events, and more.

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Writers Connie Hambley, Mary Schaefer, Nancy Langmeyer, me, Laurie Mendoza, and Holly Robinson

My darling son JD helped dole out raffle tickets.

I’d started speaking when two Wicked Cozys slipped in – Julie Hennrikus and Barb Ross, having battled traffic all the way up from the Boston area (we three slipped out for a drink and a late dinner afterwards, too).

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It was one of the more fun launch parties I’ve held. People seemed to like the alter egos talking to each other.

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After my script was done, I read a short first scene from each book, and then entertained lively audience questions.

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Afterwards? Wine, dessert, and signing books, of course.

And if anyone not local to north of Boston wants to order a signed copy of Called to Justice, please consider doing it via Jabberywocky! Just make sure to request a signed copy in the comments when you check out.mulch-ado-about-murder

Readers: Thanks to everybody for helping me celebrate! Which authors have you helped celebrate launches – or wished you had? Writers, favorite launch parties? Tips and downfalls? Remember, I’m giving away an advance copy of my third spring book, Mulch Ado About Murder, to one commenter today!

Romantic Gestures — What Does Your Protagonist Think?

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We are having a “We Love Our Readers” giveaway every Wednesday in February. Leave a comment for a chance to win no later than midnight the Thursday after the post. This week one reader has a chance to win a book from Liz and Edith.

Last week we talked about romance in cozies and this week we focus on how it impacts our protagonist. Is your protagonist a romantic? Is there someone special in her life who is? Has your protagonist created a romantic moment or has the love in her life? Was it a big thing or a little thing? How did it impact them?

Edith: What great questions! How our protagonists react to things like romance is just as called-to-justiceimportant as what she carries in her handbag and what’s in her fridge. I will focus on my midwife Rose Carroll. I built the romance into book one. Despite being a practical independent midwife, she’s a romantic, too, but she’s conflicted about committing to David Dodge because of a painful (highly abusive, actually) experience when she was a teenager. There’s a very romantic scene in Called to Justice (out April 8!) where David takes her in his buggy out to the wide Merrimack River on a full moon night. (“The full moon splashed a silver path from the distant bank across to ours.”) You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.

custombakedmurderLiz: Stan Connor came to Frog Ledge with a token boyfriend. She’d totally forgotten what it was like to really feel in love or even romance. In fact, she snickered at all the sappy love stories or songs when she heard them and chalked it up to unrealistic people who would eventually find their bubble burst. Then she met Jake McGee. Once she’d lost the loser boyfriend, it took them a couple of books to get things right, but Stan has now turned into one of those people who sighs over love songs, delights in sappy movies, and generally thinks her life is better because of Jake.

Sherry: Sarah has had a rocky romantic life since she is A good Day to BuyCoverrecently divorced in the first book Tagged for Death. In the third book, All Murders Final!, she does go on one romantic date with Seth Anderson to the historic Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. And Sarah does like to be wooed. It was fun to go to the Wayside Inn with the Wickeds in December after our Books and Bagels event in Sudbury. The pictures below are from the Wayside Inn. The one on the left is the tavern.

IcedunderfrontcoverBarb: My amateur sleuth, Julia Snowden, is the product of a great romance–the marriage of a lonely girl who spent her summers on a private island and a local boy who delivered groceries in his skiff. Julia thinks her mother is the romantic and she is the pragmatist. I’m not so sure. Certainly Julia fell into the arms of Chris Durand when he appeared on her family’s tour boat to clear up some misunderstandings and confess his interest in her.

Jessie: There is at least a touch of romance in each of my series. That being said, none of my protagonists are romantics. They are all independent women with a lot WhispersBeyond_Fixgoing on in their lives whether or not they have a romantic partner. None of them are looking for romance; in fact, Gwen Fifield from Live Free or Die and Dani Greene from the Sugar Grove series are more interested in dodging matchmaking efforts by their friends and families.

Julie: Ruth Clagan is recently divorced in Clock Shop Mystery series, so she isn’t looking for romance. That said, Ben the handsome barber from next door is a dish, so there’s that. Her feelings for Ben throw her off a bit. She takes it slow, and finds it hard to trust. But did I mention that he’s handsome? Think Robert Redford in the early 70’s. That handsome. More chimeimportantly, he’s a good guy. That makes all the difference for her.

Readers: Do you have a favorite romantic moment from a book?

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Wicked Wednesday: Writing Goals for 2017

writing-goalsWickeds, we all have deadlines, series, proposals, and blog posts that are keeping us busy. What are your writing goals for 2017?

Sherry: Since I went to the Sisters In Crime conference on Adapting Your Work To Hollywood in Los Angeles last April I’ve wanted to write a story to try and sell to the Hallmark channel. I’ve pondered and discarded many ideas and think I’m finally on to one. I’m also writing a couple of new proposals. And working on what is next for Sarah!

Barb: For the first time in years, I don’t know what my writing year holds. Maine Clambake #6, Stowed Away is due in March. Then I’ll work on the proposal for the next three, along with a short story I’ve promised to an anthology. The rest of the year is a blank. Fingers crossed for a series renewal, but if not, there are plenty of things I want to accomplish.

Edith: I’ll be writing three books: Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery #1, capewaterfreestockcropQuaker Midwife Mystery # 4 (IF my contract is extended…), and Country Store Mystery #5. <gulp>  Oh, yeah, and keeping up with blog posts, book releases (three in three months), two short story anthology releases (bringing total releases to FIVE in three months), and every other writing task. But I’m living my dream and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Liz: Lots on the horizon! Like Barb, I’m working on book six in the Pawsitively Organic series, due April 1. After that, will also be writing a proposal for three more (so more finger crossing!). I will also be working on book two in the Cat Cafe series by Cate Conte. And I have another passion project that’s been in various stages of editing for a long time. This is the year that I want to get it finished and sold. And who knows what other fabulous opportunities will come along??

Julie: I am working on copyedits for CHIME AND PUNISHMENT, and then have two more novels to write. So I am working on a plan for the year that allows time for writing, and for editing. I love Sherry’s goal of thinking Hollywood. If I can figure out the time, I need to try and write a screenplay, or a stageplay, and learn how that works.

Jessie: I am plotting away on my next mystery in my Beryl and Edwina series. I have a proposal to write, revisions for one book to complete and copyedits coming up for Whispers of Warning, the next Change of Fortune mystery. It looks like it will be a busy year!

Writers, friends, and fans: What are your work goals for the year? How about hobby goals, or other pursuits?