Wednesday, August 26, 2015
An Interview with Alyssa Maxwell & GIVEAWAY
INTERVIEW WITH ALYSSA MAXWELL:
By Pamela James
MM2: Alyssa, let start by giving us some backstory on you as an author. How, when where and why did you become an author?
I’m sure you hear this a lot, but I’ve been writing stories since I first learned how to put words together on paper. And I’ve also always been a pretty avid reader. I always knew I wanted a career in some kind of writing, but I thought I’d go more practical, like editing. Right out of college, I worked as an assistant editor for a reference book publisher. Then, when a friend of mine first became published, it struck a resounding chord in me. Until then I’d idolized my favorite authors, but now I realized writers were just people – like me – with vivid imaginations and the desire to tell stories. I began writing historical romance first and was published in that genre for several years, but the switch to historical mystery was absolutely the right move. I was always a bit too “plotty” for the romance genre where the focus is much more on emotions, but now I can plot to my heart’s content. Mysteries are like a puzzle (and I’m a puzzle person – Sudoku, word search, mazes, jigsaw, etc.). I first have to make all the pieces and put them together, and then disassemble them and mix them up so the reader can try to solve whodunit. I adore the process, and I’ll admit that being able to “kill” off certain character types can be cathartic!
MM2: Where is your favorite place to write?
Nowhere particularly exciting, really. I have a desk at home where I do the majority of my writing. Sometimes in the cooler months (I live in Florida) I’ll take my laptop out onto our screened-in porch. I like quiet when I write, and an empty house, which, now that our daughters are grown, is attainable every day. I’m not that author who can sit at Starbucks all day inhaling coffee and writing in the midst of controlled chaos. I’d be too distracted.
MM2: Take us thru and typical writing day?
On the surface, my day is pretty boring. Beneath the surface, of course, inside my head, is where all the exciting things happen – like murder and danger and yes, a little romance. On my best days, I’ll read while having my morning coffee on the porch, and then get on the exercise bike for twenty minutes or so or do a little yoga. That way I’ve energized both my body and my mind, and I tend to be at my most creative and focused. But nobody’s perfect, and I don’t always stick to that routine. Emails and social media can sometimes keep me busy for the better part of the morning, and I’ll find myself working late into the afternoon. That’s ok, though. With two series now and two books due each year (The Gilded Newport Mysteries and A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries), I have no choice but to make time to write every day. Except for extenuating circumstances, I do not believe in missing a deadline.
MM2: Let's talk about your latest book?
In MURDER AT BEECHWOOD, my sleuth, Emma Cross, is dealing with crises on several levels. First, a baby is abandoned on her doorstep, and may be connected with a carriage driver found shot not far from her home. Her attempts to discover the child’s identity lead her to the season-opening gala at Mrs. Caroline Astor’s house, Beechwood, where Emma tries to learn if any wealthy young miss might recently have given birth. When one of Mrs. Astor’s guests falls overboard in a yacht race, the police cry foul play and the man Emma is falling in love with becomes the main suspect. Meanwhile, it becomes more and more apparent that the child is somehow connected to these events, and it falls to Emma to unravel the secrets of two formidable families in order to find both the mother and the culprit.
MM2: What comes first the plot, setting or characters?
Characters!!! I might start with a basic premise first, such as who is murdered and who the prime suspect will be, but I cannot – absolutely CANNOT – begin to plot until I’ve fleshed out my characters. Knowing who they are will supply me with motives, opportunities, and capabilities. I need to know them to know how they will behave in any given situation, and that, in turn, guides my plot.
MM2: Do you rewrite your books? In other word how do you set up your books? With outlines, main plot etc..?
After establishing my characters, I begin outlining. I’ll make a list of events leading up to the murder, then a step by step framework for the investigation, and finally the climax and resolution. Usually, this all involves pen and paper and setting up visuals on my dry erase boards. Something about diagramming things out this way helps me visualize the plot and piece it together. Then, I sit down and write the synopsis. I would never just start writing the book. My synopsis serves as a roadmap so that I don’t confuse myself in the course of writing (I’m easily confused!), and also helps me keep me on schedule. I never have to sit down and say, “Well, what next?” I also edit as I go, so I’m constantly making changes and tweaks. By the time I’ve finished the first draft, it’s pretty complete, but I still make a couple more passes through before turning it in to my editor.
MM2: What was the best writing advice you ever received?
It’s ok for the first draft to suck! You can fix bad writing. You can’t fix a blank screen. So just write, and worry about polishing and perfecting later.
MM2: What would you like us to know about where you live?
Interesting question. Where I live is nothing like the places I write about. I live in South Florida where everything is relatively new and flat and hot. Don’t get me wrong – I love living in Florida. We have a wonderful year-round lifestyle of being able to go places and be outdoors, and my husband and I have learned to find the natural beauty of our subtropical state. Florida has some spectacular wetlands teeming with exotic birds, butterflies, and don’t forget the alligators! One of my most moving experiences was visiting a Civil War section of the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee, and St. Augustine presents fascinating examples of Spanish colonialism, so we have our share of history as well. But when I sit down to write, I have to transport myself to the briny cliffs of Newport or the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, very different environments from where I live.
MM2: After reading one of your books. What do you want the reader to walk away with?
With my Newport books, I want readers to feel like the doors of the mansions have been flung open to welcome them inside, and that they’ve gotten to know the owners a bit, as well as experiencing a little of what life was like in Newport – and how it still is in some ways. There is something so special and enduring in Newport, so that not a lot changes as time passes. For me, what I loved about Newport the first time I visited over thirty years ago is still what I love about it today.
I also want readers to feel like they’ve experienced the adventures, the challenges, the danger, and the ultimate sense of triumph along with the characters, and that goes for both series. In A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries, I want readers to experience the swiftly changing times of post WWI England, where the old traditions – many of which upheld the unfairness of restrictive social classes – were giving way to forward thinking, more personal freedom for all individuals, and newfound liberties and possibilities for women. I feel so passionate about the positive changes brought about by the war, while at the same time understanding the sorrow of losing nearly an entire generation of men, and even sympathizing with the traditionalists who didn’t understand what was happening to their world and were unable to change with the times. Through it all, my dual heroines remain intrepid and devoted to one another, and I want to the reader to share in a friendship that couldn’t have existed in an earlier time in Britain’s history.
MM2: Do you reread your favorite books?
Rarely, since there are fabulous books being released all the time, and as I meet authors I always want to read their books. Every few years I do reread all of Jane Austin’s books, and the Harry Potters.
MM2: Is there an up and coming author you would like to endorse? Maybe even have us interview?
Nancy Herriman is definitely an author to watch. Her debut historical mystery, NO COMFORT FOR THE LOST, received a starred review in Library Journal. She’s got a beautiful writing style and is a very talented mystery author. Also, I belong to a group of historical mystery authors called Sleuths In Time – maybe you’ve seen us on Facebook or Twitter. If not, please check us out at facebook.com/sleuthsintime. I’m absolutely honored to be part of this talented group. They are Tessa Arlen, Susanna Calkins, Anna Lee Huber, D.E. Ireland, Anna Loan-Wilsey, Christine Trent, and Ashley Weaver.
MM2: How much attention do you pay to reviews?
I try to pay very little attention to them these days. I used to check pretty regularly, but I’ve learned that good or bad, reviews are only one person’s opinion and shouldn’t be taken too much to heart. What I do pay attention to are the emails I receive from readers. Some of their observations and questions have been invaluable in helping me figure out what’s working and what needs tweaking in my writing. I’ve also gotten some fabulous information and made enduring connections and friendships through correspondence with Newporters who knew my husband’s family.
MM2: What would you like to say to your readers?
First, I would like to thank all the readers who have emailed me over the past year and a half or contacted me via social media. Hearing from readers means the world to me, especially when they’re writing to tell me about their own connections to Newport and how my Gilded Newport Mysteries mean something special to them. The support I’ve been shown for these books has become my number one motivating factor, and it’s so important to me to do my best work and never let readers down.
MM2: Okay for some fun questions. What is your favorite meal, place to vacation, dessert, song, and movie/s?
Meal: Lasagna. I make it every Christmas. It’s the ultimate comfort good. But if we’re going healthy, Dijon salmon and a nice salad.
Vacation: Newport! And New York City! Although my husband and I love to travel. As long as we’re somewhere with a sense of history and beautiful scenery we’re happy. Also, good restaurants are a must.
Dessert: My husband’s grilled plantains! He cuts the plantains (ones that look like very overripe bananas) lengthwise, leaving the skin on, coats both sides with olive oil, sprinkles the sliced sides with cinnamon, and grills them until they’re soft and sweet. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and you’ve got a heavenly dessert!
Song: Do I even have a favorite song? Oh wait, I do. Somewhere Over the Rainbow & It’s a Wonderful World, the version by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. It’s the happiest song ever. The Ray Charles versions are great, too.
Movies: Gone with the Wind; Dr. Shivago; All three Lord of the Rings movies; Most of the Star Trek movies (including the new ones); Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version); Shakespeare in Love – to name a few.
MM2: Lastly what would your characters tell us about you?
That despite my best laid plans, sometimes they know better and luckily I’m smart enough to listen to them and let them do things their way.
Now for the
Alyssa is generously donating a three book set of her Gilded Newport Mysteries!
So leave a comment with an email address and we will select a winner on September 3, 2015!
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