Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Murder at the Breakers - An Interview with Alyssa Maxwell

I'm pleased to welcome Alyssa Maxwell to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Alyssa writes the Gilded Newport Mystery series. MURDER AT THE BREAKERS, the first book the series, has just been adapted into a Hallmark movie that will be premiering this Friday!

Kathy: Before you started writing the Gilded Newport Mystery series, were you interested in the Gilded Age?

AM: Yes! But not exclusively. I’m a history fan and interested in lots of different time periods. But writing this series has deepened my understanding and appreciation of the period and the people who lived during it. I’ve learned about the huge strides in technology, in business and industry, and even in social norms, which were gradually becoming less restrictive. But the most significant thing I learned, which helped me in presenting historical figures as characters in the series, was how much like the rest of us people like the Vanderbilts and Astors were. Yes, they had unimaginable resources at their disposal, but they still experienced many of the same issues as the rest of us, such as poor health, family divisions and estrangement, divorce, rebellious children, addiction, etc. Their wealth didn’t make them invulnerable, and this made them much more human to me, rather than historical icons. Emma is fond of her Vanderbilt relatives. So am I.

Kathy: I’m intrigued by so many different aspects of this era of American history, the huge discrepancies between the have and have nots, those amazing parties, and more. What's your favorite bit about this time in history, or the part that interests you the most?

AM: Again, it’s the people. Each story takes place in a different mansion, but it’s the families who owned them that help shape each plot. For instance, in the book I’ve just completed, MURDER AT VINLAND, the house was owned by Hamilton and Florence Twombly (a Vanderbilt). In my research Florence struck me as a very strong woman with set opinions on the proper way to do things. This led me to focus on her, rather than her husband, as the owner of Vinland, and from there, I built a story almost entirely around women, as both victims and suspects. As I’ve discovered, the Gilded Age fostered some remarkable personalities.

Kathy: When first writing MURDER AT THE BREAKERS, did you see it as a film? Did you think of certain actors in the various roles?

AM: Other than all authors hoping one of their books might someday be made into a movie, no, I never envisioned this specifically.

Kathy: Who had the idea of actually turning your series into a Hallmark Mystery Movie?

AM: This is a story of luck! One of the executive producers on the project happened to tour The Breakers right before the pandemic and spotted MURDER AT THE BREAKERS in the gift shop. He had been hoping for a while to find a good Newport project, so he bought the book, read it, and soon after approached my agent.

Kathy: How much of a role did you play in its inception and production? Did you get to work on the screenplay at all? Did the screenwriter, or anyone involved in the film ask you for details or your own thoughts?

AM: I’ve been asked this a lot! And the answer is no, I wasn’t consulted at all. Once an author sells the film rights to a production company, she no longer has any control over what happens. Some authors like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King might be consulted, but that’s actually rare. I like to say my creative input was in writing the book.

Kathy: The movie version is always different than the book, in some cases more than others. How close is the Hallmark Mysteries and Movies version to your original story?

AM: Although they had to pare it down to fit into a 90-minute time slot, I feel they’ve done a good job with the main story, changing a few things but basically sticking to the plot I wrote.

Kathy: What's the scariest thing about having your book turned into a film?

AM: Having no control over the finished product!

Kathy: What's the best thing about having your book turned into a film?

AM: The best thing—so wonderful it’s almost surreal—is seeing my characters brought to life and hearing words I wrote spoken by those characters. It’s both thrilling and a bit humbling to think this is happening because of my efforts as an author (working away at home in scrubby clothes, drinking coffee and munching on pretzels or whatever to keep myself going) and that SO many people (producers, actors, writers, cameramen, lighting techs, costumers, etc.) have come together to produce this movie. It’s also exciting to know that this is Hallmark’s first period-set mystery.

Kathy: Are there plans for other books in your series to be adapted to film?

AM: That’s getting a bit ahead of things. We’ll have to see how the first one does, but I’ll say they certainly set it up to be a series of movies.

Kathy: Will you share any upcoming books?

AM: At the moment I just finished up copyedits and a readthrough of MURDER AT VINLAND, the 12th book in the Gilded Newport Mysteries, to be released on August 20th; and I’m in the middle of writing TWO WEDDINGS AND A MURDER, the 9th book in my Lady & Lady’s Maid Mysteries, which should come out early in 2025.



Newport, Rhode Island, August 1895: She may be a less well-heeled relation, but as second cousin to millionaire patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt, twenty-one-year-old Emma Cross is on the guest list for a grand ball at the Breakers, the Vanderbilts’ summer home. She also has a job to do—report on the event for the society page of the Newport Observer.
But Emma observes much more than glitz and gaiety when she witnesses a murder. The victim is Cornelius Vanderbilt’s financial secretary, who plunges off a balcony faster than falling stock prices. Emma’s black sheep brother Brady is found in Cornelius’s bedroom passed out next to a bottle of bourbon and stolen plans for a new railroad line. Brady has barely come to before the police have arrested him for the murder. But Emma is sure someone is trying to railroad her brother and resolves to find the real killer at any cost . . . 

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