Friday, January 8, 2016
A Most Malicious Interview With Review & Giveaway
I'm pleased to welcome Alyssa Maxwell to the blog today. Alyssa writes the Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery series which made its debut December 29th with Murder Most Malicious.
Kathy: Murder Most Malicious marks the start of a new series. What made you decide to set your series in post World War I England?
AM: I love transitional periods in history, when traditional ways of thinking and doing things fly out the window and people are forced to scramble to redefine themselves. At the beginning of WWI, class distinctions in England and views about women hadn’t changed much since the previous century. Though class distinctions and gender biases wouldn’t suddenly melt away overnight, the casualties suffered equally by aristocratic officers and common soldiers did have a sobering and equalizing effect. Likewise, the absence of working men during the war opened up employment opportunities that had been denied to women previously. While some segments of society believed these should have been temporary changes, once new notions took hold there was no going back to the old ways. Modern inventions had been slowly developing since the turn of the century, but the war effort accelerated advances in technology, and, with it, the opportunities open to both men and women. Electricity, automobiles, airplanes – these helped usher society into the modern world and modern ideas. For my characters, all this presents challenges as they struggle to understand and adapt to their changing roles in society.
Kathy: Historical mysteries require an extra special brand of research. What's your favorite method to research this time period?
AM: Everything! And by that I mean all forms of media. I like to begin with a stack of books, usually from our inter-library loan system. This is where I learn not only the history of an era, but the attitudes and philosophies. I also hunt down sources from used book networks. The internet provides pictures which can be especially useful when it comes to houses, clothing, and scenery. We use Roku at our house, so I also seek out period specific shows on channels like History, Smithsonian, PBS, etc. Archived newspapers and other primary sources help spark ideas as well.
Kathy: Murder Most Malicious takes place at Christmas time. When it comes to magazines I know that articles are prepared during opposite seasons-summer issues in the midst of winter and Christmas during the dog days of summer. I imagine its the same with books. You may have worked in some of it during the holiday season, but, odds are you were working on it well after Christmas as well. How did you get in the spirit to write a mystery set at Christmastime?
AM: I wrote Murder Most Malicious in the fall of 2014, so it was actually in the months leading up to Christmas, which helped. But I simply went there in my imagination. Living here in Florida I sometimes miss snowy holidays, but I do have vivid memories from living up north, so it was a treat for me to revisit cold temps and white landscapes. Pictures helped, of course, but there are some experiences so ingrained in my mind that it’s easy to conjure them. The creaking of snow-laden tree limbs, the hush of newly fallen snow, the sharpness of a wintry breeze against your cheeks, and the coziness of warm house. These are all fond memories!
Kathy: Since your series involves Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady's maid Eva, it is the Lady and Lady's Maid Mystery series after all, you examine societal roles. Although perhaps not as obvious, do you think these roles exist today in some form?
AM: If you’re talking about class divisions, I believe they do, but, like Phoebe, I wish they didn’t. There will always be people who for one reason or another believe they’re intrinsically better than others. I find that sad. In my mind, what sets people apart are things like educational and economic opportunities – things not always in our control. There but for the grace of God – we’re not better than anyone, but we’ve had more advantages and opportunities to reach our goals. But I believe in treating all people with equal respect whether they serve food or wash floors for a living, or head a major corporation. I admit to being a “Royal Watcher,” but it’s because I’m fascinated with the history and tradition behind the royal family. In my heart of hearts, I find it a ridiculous notion that anyone can be born “royal,” i.e., better than anyone else. We’re all necessary to the running of this world.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
AM: I’m a puzzle person! I love puzzles. In fact I’ve got a jigsaw puzzle going now, and I do Sudoku, crossword, word search, and mazes. Mysteries are puzzles, and as a writer I get to make the pieces and fit them together, before mixing them up to let the reader figure out the solution. Fun!
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
AM: Not presently. I have written historical romance in the past under the pseudonym Allison Chase, but those books also contained strong mystery or suspense threads, so I’ve been a closet mystery writer all along. I feel I’ve found my true niche in mystery writing, and I’ve never been happier in my career as I am now.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
AM: In A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries, two sleuths work together – an earl’s granddaughter and her maid – to solve murders on the estate and the nearby village. While Lady Phoebe investigates the “toffs” as the aristocracy was often called, Eva can move among the servants and villagers to track down clues.
I also write the Gilded Newport Mysteries. Sleuth Emma Cross is a distant Vanderbilt cousin and a native-born Newporter, as well as a society columnist for a local newspaper. With entre into the worlds of both elite and ordinary society, she solves murders in Newport’s opulent “summer cottages.” This series has special meaning for me, as my husband was born and raised in Newport, and both sides of his family have been there for generations.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
AM: If you’re talking about my own characters, then you’re asking me to choose a favorite among my children. Sorry, can’t do it! But Lily Bart, the heroine of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, haunts me. On the surface she’s a spoiled, self-centered, hot mess of an individual. But upon closer inspection, we realize her innate sense of honor and her honest heart clashes with her upbringing and the society she’s trapped within, and this is what ultimately destroys her. We at times despise her, want to shake her, and love her. To me she’s one of the most brilliant characters ever written.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
AM: I love all things British. A lot of what I read is set in England, and I’m an eager connoisseur of BBC period productions including, of course, Downton Abbey.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
AM: I once heard an editor say that writers are a curious blend of introversion and ego. So true. We not only want to pour our hearts out in the written word (because we’d rather write than speak—it’s safer, lol), we think whole world should read our innermost thoughts. I have stories to tell and I want to share them. This is a dream I’ve had for nearly as long as I can remember. I believe I was in fifth grade when I told my mother I wanted to write books. So imagine my delight when my publisher, Kensington, agreed!
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
AM: Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie. Wouldn’t that be an awesome dinner party!
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
AM: Death at the Abbey by Christine Trent, immediately following Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver and Move Your Blooming Corpse by D.E. Ireland. Incidentally, all three are members of a group I belong to called Sleuths in Time. We’re eight mystery authors who co-promote and support each other. I adore my fellow Sleuths! You can find us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/SleuthsInTime) and Twitter (@sleuthsintime). And most, if not all of us, will be at the Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda in the spring.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
AM: Besides those puzzles I mentioned, my hubby and I ride our bikes every Sunday morning, often to one of our local farmer’s markets. Florida’s natural environment is really quite beautiful. We love taking walks along Everglades trails and in parks when the weather cools down, if it ever does! And I do Tai Chi three times a week, which helps keep me limber and relaxed. Physical activities are so important for writers, who spend way too much time sitting hunched over their keyboards. And need I mention reading as my number one hobby?
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
AM: Pasta and canned tomato products – always! Bread. Apples. Chunky peanut butter.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
AM: I’m currently finishing up A Pinch of Poison, the 2nd Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery. Then I’ll start on Murder at Chateau Sur Mer, book 5 of my Gilded Newport Mysteries, followed by a third Lady and Lady’s Maid mystery. I’m going to have a very busy 2016, and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
AM: Meeting readers and other writers. I’ve made so many wonderful friends, and the bonds are strong and lasting. The writing and reading community, as large as it is, remains a tight-knit one. We all get each other in ways no one else really can. In a tough business, we keep each other sane.
Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell
The First Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery
It's December 1918, just after Christmas in England. Everyone is still feeling the effects of the war, those above as well as below stairs. When Henry, the Marquess of Allerton, and houseguest at Foxwood Hall doesn't arrive for breakfast on Boxing Day the rest of the household is surprised. However, several of the servants receive an even bigger surprise when they open presents from their employer. Lady Phoebe and her maid Eva are not convinced the police will investigate properly and start looking into the situation themselves. Could Pheobe's elder sister Julia have something to do with it? Or Henry's younger brother?
Changing times and changing social mores are crucial aspects to Murder Most Malicious, indeed to the whole concept of the Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery series. Upstairs and Downstairs, each has its own perception and its own reality. Lady Phoebe and her maid, Eva, are able to bring these two frames of reference together to solve the mystery. At this time in history class structure is starting to blur and Lady Phoebe is young enough, dare I say modern enough, to want to work together with the person she's closest with, her maid. Eva, slightly older and, being from the "lower" class less inclined to trust equality is still willing to confide and help her charge...if only to keep her out of more trouble.
I really enjoy historical mysteries and the Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries is a great addition to this subgenre. I was transported back to a time with which I was not too familiar and made to feel at home. While the times may be a changin' in England in 1918, there are still class and workplace distinctions creating a challenging atmosphere above, below, and between stairs. Characters and their motives are intriguing and full of surprises. Maxwell is able to combine historical fact with interesting characters to create a captivating mystery in Murder Most Malicious.
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