Edith Maxwell



Woman's portrait.

Mystery writer Edith Maxwell. Photo by Meg Manion Silliker

Twenty years ago, because I loved reading cozy mysteries a la Agatha Christie, I began writing one. I’d had past careers as a journalist, academic, and editor, among others, but hadn’t written fiction since I was a child. I went on to have an additional career as a software technical writer but kept writing crime fiction. Now I have three multi-book cozy mystery contracts with major publishers and am a full-time fiction writer.

Cozies, many including recipes, are still my favorite kind of mystery. Reading through the puzzles in village-based crime stories takes me out of everyday life. I’ve always been able to lose myself in books, but mysteries are the best. Now I find writing them does the same. This morning, for example, I put the sprinkler on my garden and began to write a scene with my fictional 1888 Quaker midwife. Two hours, one birth, and one post-partum hemorrhage later, I realized the garden was oversoaked.

One magical part of writing is when words pour out of my fingers onto the page and I had no idea a particular piece of action was going to happen. Once I was writing a scene in a restaurant and a woman in the party fell off her chair. Instantly I thought: why did she fall down? Did someone slip poison into her wine? Did she have a heart attack? Did she faint? And I’m the one who WROTE it!

The even more magical part of being a published author is readers telling me they loved learning about organic farming. Or life in southern Indiana. Or details about home birth, which all births were in 1888. Most important, they write that they loved the story, and—when is the next one coming out? I’m always delighted to be able to tell them that yes, there will be another installment. People in my town are starting to recognize me at the bank, at the market, and at town events. I do as much as I can to give back, and never turn down an invitation to speak at a public library, even when they can’t afford an honorarium.

My life as an author now holds both less stress and more. I no longer commute an hour each way in Boston-area traffic to a day job in the hi-tech industry. I wear extremely casual clothes most days. I sit upstairs in my home office imagining stories, pounding out word count, making stuff up. And yes, killing people off, but not graphically or gratuitously.

Promotion, publicity, marketing—that all takes quite a bit of time, which is what I do in the afternoons. I reserve my mornings for the creativity of writing and revising. I cyber-join author Ramona DeFelice Long and others around the world for a seven o’clock Writing Hour. We all “sprint” for an uninterrupted 60 minutes. Some go off to their day jobs or other obligations afterwards. Me, I take a break and then focus on writing for another hour. And another and another, until I achieve my word count goal for the day—usually 1,500 words—or just run out of steam. So far it’s working.

While I haven’t been directly associated with the National Endowment for the Arts, it’s been a important force in supporting creative pursuits in our country for my entire adult life. I’ve always appreciated its presence in bringing images, thoughts, and words to the forefront that take us both out of our everyday lives and more deeply into them.