Edith Maxwell is an Agatha-nominated and national best-selling author who is the writer of not one but four mystery series who receives inspiration for her written work from her spiritual background as Quaker, as well as her Quaker community in New England. Get to know Edith in this month's Words by Friends.
Note: This interview originally appeared in BookMusings, QuakerBooks & More's monthly eNewsletter.
What inspired you to write a historical mystery series starring a heroine who is Quaker?
I've been a member of Amesbury Friends Meeting for nearly thirty years. Amesbury, a small city tucked in the northeast corner of Massachusetts, is rich in history, and I love discovering more and more about the former businesses and residents that occupied the buildings I walk past daily. Being a Friend is a big part of who I am, and another part is writing novels. When I can dovetail parts of my life, so much the better. And when I don my sales-and-marketing hat, I know that while Amish mysteries are very popular, mysteries featuring a Friendly sleuth are rare, and I know of no others set in the past. So I chose to set a series beginning in spring of 1888, a very fertile time for change in New England. It's a particular pleasure to set scenes in every book in our beautiful historic Meetinghouse, which was built in 1851 with John Greenleaf Whittier on the building committee. He guided the structure and decor to be simple and full of light. He worshiped there, as does my fictional midwife - and as do I on First Day mornings.
Interior of Amesbury Friends Meeting by Edward Mair Gerrish
How did you come to write mystery novels?
I started writing a mystery more than twenty years ago when I co-owned and operated a small certified organic farm (and taught prepared childbirth classes to couples in my living room). I loved then, and still love, to read mysteries written by women with female protagonists. So why not write what you love to read? I've now completed my sixteenth novel, with at least six more under contract, and writing what I love to read turned out to be a good choice. I spend six mornings a week with these stories, so I'd better love them. I take First Day off, but that doesn't mean the characters aren't still talking to me.
Where do your ideas for books come from? Who/what inspires you most?
Since childhood I have been gifted (plagued?) by a vivid imagination. I never, ever run out of ideas. I can catch a snippet of conversation in a restaurant, see an unusual-looking person walk by on a sidewalk, or read a news clipping, and I'm off. Other ideas come to me as I'm writing or out on my daily power/plotting walk.
I'm inspired to keep going by readers telling me that they can't wait for my next book. I've heard that bringing my mystery to the hospital helped someone get through their husband's surgery or as they sat vigil at their dying mother's side. I'm kept going by other authors who have successful twenty-book series. By beginning writers who refused to give up (as I also refused). By beautiful lyrical language I find in the oddest places. And by the love and support of Amesbury Friends Meeting. Nobody could be happier with my modest successes than them, my second family.
Who are your favorite writers, Quaker or otherwise?
I've read and loved books by Brent Bill, Philip Gulley, Parker Palmer, and Chuck Fager, and novels about historical Friends by Amy Brill and and Tracy Chevalier. Of course I learned from the masters: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle. These days mostly I read mysteries by author pals and acquaintances like Hallie Ephron, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Sheila Connolly, Louise Penny, and so many more. I'm blessed by being part of the Wicked Cozy Authors, a six-author group blog. All of these talented women write one or more series and are my lifeboat, my support network, and my dear friends. Please visit wickedcozyauthors.com and see what we're all up to - you won't regret it.
What projects are you working on now? What can readers expect to see from you next?
The second Quaker Midwife Mystery, Called to Justice, came out in April to rave reviews. Turning the Tide, Quaker Midwife Mystery #3, is in production and releases in April 2018. It has a women's suffrage sub-theme and is set during presidential election week of 1888. I'm in the process of revising and polishing #4, which will delve into contraception and abortion in the late 1880s, but only as it serves the mystery.
Because I also write two contemporary mystery series, my next book to release is Biscuits and Slashed Browns, the fourth Country Store Mystery, set in a country store breakfast and lunch restaurant in southern Indiana. And the book after that debuts the first Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery, set on Cape Cod. (Both those are written as Maddie Day.) There's never a quiet moment at the Maxwell household, but I'm living my dream - and I love it.
Update: Edith will be attending New England Yearly Meeting's Annual Sessions in Castleton, VT from August 6th to 9th. Friends can meet Edith in-person at her book signing during sessions on Monday, August 7th at 12 noon or at her presentation about the Quaker Midwife Mysteries at 3:30pm.