August’s Spotlight On……
*** Alyssa Maxwell ***
Hi Alyssa, thank you for taking to us, can you tell us what inspired you to become an author and what motivates you to continue?
You could say that since I first learned to write, I’ve been a writer. Stories, diaries, letters to friends, even a bit of poetry, I spent many happy hours of my childhood with curled up with pen and notebook, pouring out my thoughts and feelings and dreams. For a basically shy and introverted kid, it was a haven. I wrote my way through high school and college – if I could compose an answer in writing, I tended to excel, as long as spelling didn’t count because in that area, I was the worst and still am. But I also tried to be practical about my writing because everyone told me I needed to be, except for one insightful college professor who asked if I ever considered writing fiction. Hmmm… After working in non-fiction publishing and ghost writing for a number of years, a friend who had just been published inspired me to give it a try. It took me several manuscripts and close to eight years before being offered that first contract.
In the beginning, before I was published, just a love of writing kept me going, along with fellow writers, especially my critique partners. Once those contracts started coming, I had to learn to treat writing as a job, but inspiration comes from finding themes and settings that fascinate me and make me excited to write those stories. And of course there are the readers. I want to do my best work for them and not let them down.
Can you tell our readers about your novels and which story is your personal favourite and why?
I have two series going right now. The first is The Gilded Newport Mysteries. These take place in – you guessed it – Gilded Age Newport, RI, and feature a female sleuth who is a cousin of the Vanderbilts. Emma isn’t a wealthy member of the family, and has just enough of an inheritance to allow her to maintain an independent lifestyle. She works as a journalist and writes her Fancies and Fashions column for a local newspaper, but her heart’s desire is to report on hard news like real life Gilded Age journalist, Nellie Bly. In each book, Emma solves murders that take place in the various summer “cottages” belonging to Newport’s summer socialites. The published titles so far are Murder at the Breakers, Murder at Marble House, and Murder at Beechwood. I’m currently working on Murder at Rough Point. My husband was born and raised in Newport, and his family on both sides have been there for generations, true Newporters. A combination of my own experiences and his memories have fostered such a love for this city that writing about it is pure joy.
The second series, which will debut this December, is called A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries. Set in England just after WWI, they feature an earl’s granddaughter and her lady’s maid, who together solve murders on the estate and the nearby village. The first is Murder Most Malicious, to be followed by Murder Most Poisonous, which I’m plotting out now. It’s exciting for me because this was such a pivotal time for women. The war changed society in so many ways, and women were experiencing freedoms they had never enjoyed before, including, in England, the right to vote. This gives me an opportunity to write Lady Phoebe Renshaw as a forward thinking, adventurous young woman, while her maid, Eva Huntford, is continually trying to protect her and maintain more traditional propriety. Together they create a fun and lively balance for the stories. Which of my books is my favorite? It’s hard to choose between one’s children, but I suppose whichever one I happen to be working on is my favorite, because that’s the one I’m putting my whole heart and soul into at that moment.
As a mystery writer, what interested you in exploring and pursuing this genre?
I LOVE puzzles. Jigsaw, Sudoku, word search, mazes, crossword, etc. Writing mysteries is like solving a giant puzzle, one where you also have to create each individual piece first. I compile motives, suspects, murder weapons, red herrings, etc. and then present the puzzle for the reader to try to solve before reaching the end. The experience of mystery novels is, in many ways, a collaborative effort between readers and the author. It’s a fun challenge authors and readers share.
What advice have you got for any budding authors?
Read, read, read, write, write, write. Rinse and repeat. I’d also encourage all new writers to join a writers’ organization, whether it’s the Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, etc. These organizations offer a wealth of information about craft and business, and some offer online chapters for people who can’t meet regularly. I’ve been working with a critique group for over 20 years now, and I cannot stress how helpful that has been in helping me grow as a writer. Networking also helps establish friends and connections that will be helpful once you’re published. As I like to say, it takes a village to write a book.
Any tips for writer’s block?
I don’t really believe in writer’s block per say. If the words aren’t coming, there are reasons, such as the writer doesn’t have a good grasp yet on the characters. The more you know your characters, the more their actions will take shape in an authentic and believable way. I CANNOT plot a story until I’ve fleshed out the characters. I’ve tried, it doesn’t work. Other times, a writer might feel stuck because they’ve gotten into a rut. In that case, add something else to your day to break up the writing monotony. Go for a morning walk. Take exercise breaks throughout the day. Take yourself out for a midmorning coffee or tea. Just get up and away from the computer so you feel like a whole human being rather than a brain and a pair of hands. But not too often! Don’t make excuses for not writing.
What is your greatest ambition?
Um, New York Times bestselling author? Or, “This series/movie is based on the novels of Alyssa Maxwell.”
Favourite things (quick-fire questions):
Favourite time of year?
Autumn, crisp and clear.
Favourite way to spend a weekend?
With hubby, poolside, with fabulous things on the grill and a good bottle of wine.
Sloth! They’re so Zen! They put it all in perspective.
The complete works of Shakespeare – can I say that? It’s all very poetic and…just so wonderful.
I’m of Italian descent so…anything Italian. It’s my soul food and my comfort food.
Alyssa’s website can be found here: http://www.alyssamaxwell.com/