April 2021/By Connie Berry
When I want to impress a fellow mystery writer, I tell them Edith Maxwell and I are cousins. It’s perfectly true, although in the interest of full disclosure, the connection on my side runs through my husband’s brother’s wife’s family and on Edith’s side, through some distant Maxwell relatives. I’m not sure we could map it out on paper if we tried.
Nevertheless, I’ve loved getting to know this talented and prolific writer. Edith is the author of five series (I’m impressed!). In 2020, Charity’s Burden, fourth in her Quaker Midwife series, won the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel. She’s a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.
Recently I had an opportunity to ask Edith a few questions about her journey to publication and her writing process.
CONNIE: Welcome to Buckeye Crime Writers, Edith. Thanks for taking the time to chat. The first thing I’d like to know is how long you’ve been writing. When was your first book published, and has your writing changed over the years?
EDITH: First, thank you, Connie, for inviting me to be the Buckeye Crime Writers’ guest today!
The long answer is that I’ve been writing since I was a child churning out short stories. I even won a two-dollar prize for “The Viking Girl” from the Pasadena Star News when I was nine. I kept writing as an adult, but not fiction. I didn’t start writing mysteries until 1994 when my younger son went off to kindergarten and for the first time in a long time I had every morning to myself.
My first mystery was published in 2012, two months before my sixtieth birthday. Since then I hope (and believe) my writing has improved. I have a better sense of pacing, of writing more eloquently, of being more sensitive to my characters’ secrets and paths. My novels tend to be fairly upbeat, but I like to go darker in short stories with stories of murderous revenge and villainous narrators.
I’m a bit stunned that I just sent in my twenty-eighth mystery (Batter Off Dead, written as Maddie Day) and that my twenty-fourth, the historical A Changing Light, releases this month. What a wonderful ride I’m on.
CONNIE: Twenty-eight books is quite an achievement. I’m interested in your process. Do you plot out your books in advance? If you do, is there a particular method you use?
EDITH: By nature I write into the headlights, but my Kensington editor wants a synopsis before I start the next book. I never send him as much as he wants, but it can be helpful if I ever lose my way as I’m writing. That’s rare, but it does happen. I write in Scrivener, and the most plotting I do is setting up the next two or three scenes.
CONNIE: Have you ever self-published a book? Do you have advice for writers who would like to go in that direction?
EDITH: I self-reissued a few short stories that had been published in juried anthologies and to which I had the rights back. Then my first four Quaker Midwife mysteries were orphaned by Midnight Ink, with the rights reverting to me in September. I realized this winter the ebooks had also gone poof. I found a good but affordable cover artist and self-published them. I haven’t yet done the print editions and am not sure I will.
Self-publishing involves mechanics, distribution, and getting the news out. I went through Smashwords, but authors can go directly to KDP or elsewhere. It’s important to have a cleanly formatted manuscript.
For my books, I already had an audience. At this point in my career, I wouldn’t consider self-publishing a new series. My first and third books came out from a micro-press, and it was very hard to get those books in front of readers’ eyes. Bigger publishers help with publicity, their pre-press catalogs are widely seen, and they ship the books to every bookstore in the country on or before release day. This can make or break a book.
CONNIE: How did you get the idea for your Quaker Midwife series? I know you and your protagonist, Rose Carroll, both live in Amesbury, Massachusetts (although 130+ years apart). How much of you is in Rose?
EDITH: I love my town’s rich history, and I have a background in teaching independent childbirth classes and doing labor support. It made sense to put all that together. Rose gets her Quaker practice and beliefs from me. Otherwise, she’s taller, younger, and way calmer than I am. And I was a never a midwife, by choice.
CONNIE: What is the one thing you wish you’d known starting out?
EDITH: I wish someone had told me not to settle. If you’re having trouble finding an agent or a publisher for a book, the book probably isn’t ready. It might be time to start writing a new book rather than trying to sell (or self-publish) one that no one wants.
CONNIE: What advice would you give to emerging writers?
EDITH: Just write. You can’t fix what you haven’t written. Write your best book and make it better. To do that, find your tribe – like Sisters in Crime. Learn from them (especially the Guppies), take classes, revise, polish, and revise some more. And never stop writing, fitting it into your life where and when you can.
CONNIE: Excellent advice, Edith. I agree. Learning craft is key. Today, especially in the Age of Zoom, we have so many free or near-free opportunities to learn and grow as a writer. Best of luck with the April launch of A Changing Light. I hope we can catch up some day in person—maybe at New England Crime Bake or Malice Domestic. Thanks so much for visiting Buckeye Crime Writers.
ABOUT EDITH MAXWELL: Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she pens the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Maxwell is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. She lives with her beau and energizer kitten north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook, and hopes you’ll find her at Edith M. Maxwell and Maddie Day. Please find me (and Maddie) at EdithMaxwell.com, wickedauthors.com, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, and on social media.