Friday, January 15, 2016

A Conversation with Mystery Author Alyssa Maxwell

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Alyssa Maxwell

We are delighted to welcome author Alyssa Maxwell to Omnimystery News today, courtesy of Great Escapes Book Tours, which is coordinating her current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find her schedule here.

Alyssa begins a new historical mystery series with Murder Most Malicious (Kensington; December 2015 hardcover, audiobook and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time with her talking about it.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to your new series characters.

Alyssa Maxwell
Photo provided courtesy of
Alyssa Maxwell

Alyssa Maxwell: Murder Most Malicious features two sleuths, Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady's maid, Eva Huntford. In many ways, they are very much opposites. Phoebe, being the younger of the two at 19, is eager to see changes in the old social order that would allow for greater equality among the classes and more opportunities for women to live independent, productive lives. She's excited about the future and happy to see class and gender restrictions falling by the wayside. While Eva might agree with these ideals in theory, traditional values are still vitally important to her. She is fiercely loyal to Phoebe, her sisters, and the Renshaw family, and at all costs will protect her mistress's honor and virtue. In working together as sleuths, Phoebe often invites Eva into a kind of intimacy that makes Eva uncomfortable. It is not for her to share a settee with an earl's granddaughter or speak out of turn. Working with this kind of push and pull between the characters made for some interesting relationship conflicts, and I believe they balance each other out quite nicely.

OMN: How do you expect them to develop in future books?

AM: Phoebe and Eva will of course do a lot of growing and changing during the course of the series. Otherwise they would become static, or like cardboard cutouts. Phoebe, being so young, is just beginning to form her own ideas about the world and her place in it. While she might seem confident at times, she's still questioning her abilities and finding her talents. On the other hand, as I said above, Eva is very much caught up in the old traditions and values. Her growth will also involve discovering her role as an independent woman, as well as learning to trust in the changing world and the new attitudes it brings about.

OMN: Into which genre would you place this series?

AM: I consider A Lady and Lady's Maid series to be historical mysteries, of course, but they also fall into the category of cozy mystery. Although the general political and social climate of the Post WWI era plays into the storylines, the setting is a closed one — in other words, they take place in a rural village and involve a limited number of characters. There are no graphic descriptions of gore, no sex, and the motives for the crimes will typically be personal ones, such as greed, revenge, jealousy, etc. In addition, the crimes are solved the old fashioned way — by deduction, following clues, asking questions, and double checking alibis, rather than through any kind of scientific forensics.

OMN: Tell us a little more about your writing process.

AM: I usually begin with a basic premise — often no more than a sentence or two about the how and why of the murder. From there I begin developing the characters. Until I know who each of them is, I can't go on to plot the story. I need to know each character's desires, fears, goals, secrets, etc., in order to understand how each will behave in any given situation. Then I consider possible motives for each character, along with alibis and opportunities. Now I can begin to plot, and I write a very detailed synopsis that basically covers every major scene. My synopsis is my guide map, so that when I sit down to write every day, I know where I'm taking the story. That doesn't mean things don't change, or that surprises don't pop up along the way. Sometimes what seemed logical in a synopsis just doesn't quite work, so I need to be flexible. Sometimes my characters have other ideas, and I've learned to listen to them.

OMN: How true are you to the historical backdrop of the series?

AM: In this series, the characters and situations are completely fictional. However, the historical backdrop is that of Post-WWI, and this directly influences both the characters and events. The war drew a line between the old, traditional world and the modern world. Prior to 1914, England's class distinctions and roles for both men and women had been clearly defined. The war years saw more and more women entering the workforce to take the place of the men who went to fight. For the first time, women were earning enough money to live independently — and they began doing things and going places on their own, whereas previously, "decent" women had always been chaperoned. Hem lengths rose, women over thirty finally won the vote, and many began to consider occupations that would have been barred to them before the war. The war had another consequence that affected many women. It's said a generation of men were lost. This created a "surplus" of women in England, for whom marriage would never be a possibility. Such women had no choice but to earn their own way. All of these factors play a subtle role in the series, as do issues such as shell shock and permanent disability, and this presents my characters with circumstances that wouldn't have existed without the war.

OMN: And what about the setting?

AM: The village where Murder Most Malicious takes place is fictional, but I do establish that Little Barton is located in south central England's Cotswolds Hills. The region is known for its rolling hills, picturesque villages, and the honey or golden-toned limestone, known as Cotswolds stone, that had been used in much of the building. To help ground the reader, I use some real place names such as Gloucester, Bristol, Bath, and Cheltenham. Even fictional places need to feel real to the reader, so it's important to capture the flavor of a region to make it believable.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

AM: My husband and I love to travel, especially to places with a strong history. We love touring old houses and poking around in old graveyards (which may sound weird but you can learn quite a lot about the history of a place by studying gravestones). So this definitely helps fuel my love of writing stories set in history. I'm also a puzzle person — I do Sudoku, crossword, mazes, jigsaw puzzles, and word search. Writing mysteries is a lot like putting together a puzzle, one where I also have to make all the pieces first. To keep myself fit and limber, which is so important when it comes to creativity, we ride our bikes on the weekends and I enjoy doing gentle yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong (pronounced chi-gong).

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?

AM: The very best advice I ever received came early on, long before I sold my first book. It was to decide what you want as a writer, envision your goal, and never take your eye off it. And I never did, in spite of rejections and the ups and downs that are part of nearly every writer's career. Which brings me to another invaluable piece of advice. It's to resist envying other authors or resenting them for their success. We can't know what others have gone through before their success came, and we have to realize that their path isn't our path, because we each have our own path to follow. That just resonated with me, and suddenly the ups and downs of this business became much easier to handle. And by the way, both pieces of advice came from authors who have experienced both failure and success in their careers.

OMN: What's next for you?

AM: I'm currently finishing up A Pinch of Poison, book two of A Lady and Lady's Maid Mysteries. Once that's done, I'll start Murder at Chateau sur Mer, book five of my other series, The Gilded Newport Mysteries. So for the foreseeable future, I have my work cut out for me. I'll be speaking at three conferences so far in 2016: The Florida Romance Writers Fun in the Sun Conference on Jan. 16; SleuthFest the weekend of Feb. 26th, and the Malice Domestic Conference the weekend of April 29th.

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Alyssa Maxwell Book Tour

Alyssa Maxwell has worked in publishing as an assistant editor and a ghost writer, but knew from an early age that being a novelist was what she wanted most. Growing up in New England and traveling to Great Britain fueled a passion for history, while a love of puzzles of all kinds drew her to the mystery genre. She lives in South Florida in the current year, but confesses to spending most of her time in the Victorian, Edwardian, and post WWI eras. In addition to fantasizing about wearing Worth gowns while strolling manor house gardens, she loves to watch BBC and other period productions and sip tea in the afternoons.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at AlyssaMaxwell.com and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell

Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell

A Lady and Lady's Maid Mystery

Publisher: Kensington

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)iTunes iBook FormatKobo eBook Format

In post World War I England, Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady's maid, Eva Huntford, step outside of their social roles and put their lives at risk to apprehend a vicious killer …

December 1918: As a difficult year draws to a close, there is much to celebrate for nineteen-year-old Phoebe Renshaw and her three siblings at their beloved family estate of Foxwood Hall. The dreadful war is finally over; eldest daughter Julia's engagement to their houseguest, the Marquis of Allerton, appears imminent; and all have gathered to enjoy peace on earth, good will toward men.

But the peace of Foxwood Hall is shattered on the morning of Boxing Day, when the Marquis goes missing. Not entirely missing, however, as macabre evidence of foul play turns up in gift boxes given to lady's maid Eva Huntford and a handful of others. Having overheard her sister and the Marquis in a heated exchange the night before, Lady Phoebe takes a personal interest in solving the mystery.

As the local constable suspects a footman at Foxwood Hall, Phoebe and Eva follow the clues to a different conclusion. But both young women will need to think outside the box to wrap up this case — before a cornered killer lashes out with ill will toward them …

Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell

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