before dotting back to the future?
Catriona writes: at Malice Domestic a year or two back, I sat down at a table at the new authors' breakfast, which I was attending as a vampire. No, not in a cloak and fake teeth - I mean I attended hoping to drink deep from the pulsing veins of debut authors. But not in a creepy way.
Aaaanyway, I turned to a table-mate and had one of those conversations: Writer? Me too. Mysteries? Yup. Historical? Again, yes. Historical and modern? Check. And when you're not writing? Gardening, eh? Likewise. And before you wrote? Linguistics PhD??? Get outta here. Am I a Quaker? No. Phew. That was getting spooky.
It's a delight to be hosting that nearly me-but-with-better-hair author at Femmes Fatales today, talking about the research for her upcoming historical and giving away a copy of FARMED AND DANGEROUS to a commenter. Ladies and gentlemen: Edith Maxwell.
I’m so delighted to be a guest on this fabulous blog today. Thanks for asking me over, Catriona. [Twas naught - being historical in your honour, Edith - CMcP]
Until recently I have been writing mysteries set in contemporary times. My third Local Foods mystery, Farmed and Dangerous, for example, comes out in late May [and is our giveaway today - thanks, Edith]!, and the first Country Store mystery (written as Maddie Day) will be out in November. Both are set within a couple of years of whenever you’re reading them, at least for now.
But then I wrote an Amazon-bestselling historical short crime story whose characters didn’t want to go away (“A Fire in Carriagetown”), so I wrote a novel set in the same year, 1888, and then sold the Quaker Midwife Mysteries to Midnight Ink. Still buzzing with excitement about that! Delivering the Truth will release in April, 2016. [Congratulations. And welcome to midnight Ink! CMcP]
And now I have to go back and forth between today and 1888. I try to work on only one series at a time, but sometimes, like when editorial revisions come in, it’s unavoidable. So how do I make the shift from writing about the present to telling stories about the long ago?
I set the Quaker Midwife Mysteries in Amesbury, Massachusetts, a former mill town tucked into the northeastern corner of the state. I also happen to live there, so walking the streets of my town can plunge me right back into the story. Many historic buildings remain, from brick mill buildings to grand Victorian homes. Also still standing and now a thriving museum is the home of the Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier just a few blocks away – and he’s a secondary character in the books. The wide Merrimac River hasn’t changed, nor has Lowell’s Boat Shop, the oldest continually operating boat shop in the country.
I’ve researched what life was like in the late 1800s, pouring over the 1890 Sears and Roebuck catalog, old maps, and local newspapers. I spent a weekend at a living history center in Maine living the life of an 1870s family, right down to chamberpot. If I need to get back in the mood for working on the historical, I just pick up Ruth Goodman’s How to Be a Victorian, or Miss Parola’s New Cookbook and Marketing Guide and leaf through the pages, learning about everything from underwear to kitchen furnishings.
[Sorry to lower the tone - although see below - but good idea on the books. One has to be very careful googling anything to do with underwear, I've found. "Nun's underwear" as a search terms gets you more than you wanted.]
I have to be careful when I write how people talked and how I describe things. Since my protagonist, Rose Carroll, is a Friend, she and the other Quakers in the book use thee and thy instead of you and yours. I’ve made good use of etymology web sites like the Online Etymology Dictionary. I wanted to describe my detective as a gumshoe, but when I looked it up, the first occurrence of the word was in 1906. Oops. In an earlier draft I had described Rose as “centering” in Friends Meeting for Worship. My keen-eyed adult son Allan read it and said, “Mom, I bet they didn’t say that then.” Good catch. And on and on.
Some aspects are hard to research. Up until this week I was still trying to determine if my 1880 house, which is Rose’s house, too, had indoor plumbing. I know some institutions and homes of well-off owners could have had toilets and plumbing at that time, but a modest house? Then my beau Hugh, tearing apart layer by layer the last room in our house to be renovated, came across evidence of the bathroom that the room had been before it became a bedroom. And in that layer was also a 1920 newspaper. So now I can add chamberpots and an outhouse into the story.
I’ve heard other authors say they wouldn’t want to write an historical novel because of all the research. Every novel requires some degree of research, of course, but I’m finding that I love digging into the past, more than I’d ever expected. The trick, to be sure, is to include just enough historical detail to bring the setting and characters alive without beating readers over the head with too much fact. Catriona, you’re my role model for that! [Ta, CMcP] Sliding back into the past after writing in the present is refreshing, too. I never have to worry about modern technology.
Readers: What do you want to know about life in 1888? Got a favorite historical mystery series?
[With apologies, I want to know about the lack of plumbing. You just don't read about the chamber pots and outhouses in the contemporary literature of the time, do you? where did you do your research into vocabulary, for instance. CMcP]
Agatha-nominated and Amazon-bestselling author Edith Maxwell taught childbirth classes and worked as a doula in the early nineties. She has belonged to the Society of Friends (Quaker) for many years, lives in an antique house north of Boston, and attends the same Friends Meeting as John Greenleaf Whittier did. She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries (Kensington Publishing), the Country Store Mysteries, written as Maddie Day, and, as Tace Baker, the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (Barking Rain Press), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Maxwell, a doctorate in linguistics, is a former organic farmer and technical writer. She blogs at wickedcozyauthors.com. You can find her at www.edithmaxwell.com, @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest, and at www.facebook.com/EdithMaxwellAuthor.
In Delivering the Truth (Midnight Ink, 2016), Quaker midwife Rose Carroll becomes a prime suspect when her stolen knitting needle is used to kill a difficult carriage factory manager, son of the owner, after the factory itself has been hit by an arsonist in April of 1888. Struggling with the strictures of her faith, Rose delivers the baby of the factory owner’s mistress even while the owner’s wife is also seven months pregnant. The mistress’s baby becomes an orphan a week later when his mother is also stabbed to death. Rose’s strengths as a counselor and problem solver help bring the murderers to justice before they destroy the town’s carriage industry and the people who run it.