Sarah Ward: In Bitter Chill Tuesday, Oct 13 2015 

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England’s rural Derbyshire is the setting for Sarah Ward’s debut mystery, In Bitter Chill, introducing introspective DI Francis Sadler, DC Connie Childs and their team. It promises to be the best of police procedurals, where the mystery is strong and setting as stark as the killings being investigated.

Thirty years ago two young children were kidnapped on their way to school. Rachel Jones was found wandering hours later, but her companion, Sophie Jenkins, never surfaced and no trace of her body was ever found.

On the 30th anniversary of what is surely Sophie’s death, her mother commits suicide, which reopens the cold case in hopes the original team overlooked something that might lead to resolution of the case.

Rachel has become a genealogist and a local history expert who lives quietly and would continue to do so but this reopening of the case on the heels of Mrs. Jenkins suicide disrupts the peace Rachel has created, bringing reporters at her door. Worst of all are her efforts to remember details of that horrific day, when the girls were coaxed by a woman into a car with disastrous results.

Then a former teacher of Rachel’s is found strangled in the same woods where the girls went missing, and suddenly no one in the area feels safe, least of all, Rachel Jones. As Sadler and Connie investigate the new and old cases, they uncover secrets long kept buried as the threat rises.

Ward does a nice job of letting the setting become another character, and gives us enough of the inner lives of Sadler and Connie, as well as Connie’s closest competition in the team, the almost-married Palmer, to make readers look for the next installment of this team. Destined to be a series readers will seek out.

Auntie M had the pleasure this past week to meet with Sarah Ward at the Bouchercon Mystery Convention. A blogger for Crimepieces, Ward’s love of crime fiction kept us talking about our favorites and how In Bitter Chill came to be written:

Sarah Ward: I was living and Greece at the time I wrote the book and having a bout of homesickness. It was incredibly hot, and I kept myself cool by thinking of the Derbyshire winter. It seemed natural to use that area, but Stephen Booth has stolen a lot of the popular places! So I made up a fictional town surrounded by the real ones and that’s worked well. I think being at some remove helped me write it, too, although having lived there I obviously know the area well. In the winter the tourists have gone and it’s deserted and feels isolated but very beautiful.

Auntie M: That certainly comes through, the majesty of the area as well as its bleak isolation. What about the sequel, which I hear is written and will be out next year? What it easier or tougher to write?

SW: I was back in Derbyshire by then and it seemed a bit harder to remove myself from the area as I wrote. It’s such a lovely area, with the Peak District National Park owned by private landowners. I’m quite proud of the fact that it was the first national park, this jewel of nature surrounded by South Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham, great industrial areas.

AM: After you chose the setting, what prompted this particular storyline?

SW: I had a very similar incident happen to me when I was twelve and walking to school. A woman stopped and asked me to post a letter for her, which I did, and then wanted to drive me the rest of the way to school. I didn’t get in her car, but she was persistent until she finally drove off. I never told my parents about it, either. But years later I wondered what would have happened if I HAD gotten into that car . . . so I made the story revolve around two younger girls who had gotten into the car with the woman.

AM: Was there a kind of release in writing it down, exploring that episode?

SW: To a degree, but the most surprising thing about exposing secrets, which the book revolves around, is that people come up to me all the time at signings and tell me their secrets, completely without prompting. It’s usually family secrets of some kind, so I suppose the book has struck a chord with them.

AM: What about the relationships of Sadler, Connie and Palmer?

SW: I have a story arc planned, oh yes, but I’m not giving away secrets except to say there’s a surprise there–you’ll just have to read the next one to see what’s happening!

Edith Maxwell: Farmed and Dangerous Sunday, May 31 2015 

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Auntie M thoroughly enjoyed Edith Maxwell’s newest Local Foods mystery, Farmed and Dangerous.

The mystery follows the latest adventure of organic farmer Cameron Flaherty. Moran Manor Assisted Living is now home to the man who raised her, Great-Uncle Albert, and his new romantic interest, Marilyn. But it’s much more to Cam, trying to establish herself as an organic farmer. She’s hoping to get the contract to provide produce for the Manor and to that end has dropped off some of her delicious greens, root veggies, squash, herbs and even homemade pesto for a trial meal. With her rescued chickens, including the recalcitrant TopKnot slow to lay eggs in the cold weather, Cam works hard alone at her farm with only occasional help.

With her detective beau Pete Pappas making her a fabulous Greek meal that night, Cam’s fingers are crossed that dinner at Moran Manor is going well. Then Pete gets a call that changes everything: one of the Manor’s patients has died, poisoned after eating the meal based on Cam’s produce. And Pete must step back from their relationship until she’s cleared.

Since no one else at the Manor who ate the same meal was poisoned, the question soon becomes: Who would want Bev Montgomery to die? Surely not the handsome opera singer/farmer Richard Broadhurst, seen taking Bev out to dinner recently. Could it be her own daughter, Ginger, who wants to use Bev’s farmland for luxury condos? And what is Cam’s friend’s ex husband doing at the Manor? Ruth Dodge’s husband, Frank, hasn’t been seen or heard from in months, yet it suddenly appears his photographs are being featured at the Manor.

You’ll learn about the intricacies of organic farming while Cam unearths a killer in this second Local Foods mystery. But wait–there’s more!

Auntie M had the pleasure of interviewing fellow Sister in Crime, author Edith Maxwell. This is not the only series Edith writes. Let’s hear from her in her own words about how she juggles writing.

Auntie M: Edith, you have such an interesting background. Could you tell readers how you came to write crime fiction?

Edith Maxwell: I love reading mysteries, especially cozy and traditional mysteries. It just made sense that I would write in that genre, too. I started my first book when my younger son went off to kindergarten while I was home with the kids for a few years and being an organic farmer. It was the first time I’d had every morning to myself since my older son was born, and I jumped into mystery writing feet first, knowing nothing much about creative writing except my urge to do exactly that.
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AM: You juggle writing FOUR different mystery series! It boggles my mind how busy you must be with The Local Foods Mysteries; The Quaker Midwife Mysteries; The Country Store Mysteries; The Lauren Rousseau Mysteries. What made you decide to go in these very different directions?

EM: It was a pretty organic process. I will say that, for now, I have no plans for additional Lauren Rousseau books after Bluffing is Murder, which came out last November. Three series is enough to keep me more than busy, even though Speaking of Murder was my very first completed mystery novel and dear to my heart.

The Local Foods series was my first contract with a major publisher. After I turned in the third book, I wasn’t sure if they were going to extend the contract, so I created the Country Store series set in southern Indiana, where I used to live. Lo and behold, my editor at Kensington bought it, AND continued the Local Foods series for at least two more books. Delivering the Truth, the first in the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries, which is set in my town in 1888, was a book I simply had to write, combining my love of local history with the legacy of independent and courageous Quaker women. I feel so privileged that Midnight Ink acquired it and awarded me a three-book contract. I’m just starting to write the second book now.

AM: How do you keep four different series straight? Talk about juggling—what’s your routine for writing and keeping things straight and organized?

EM: I write every morning, starting by seven. I do my very best to be working on only one book at a time. While I’m working on the first draft in one series, a draft in a different series might be sitting. Seasoning, as Quakers call it, and giving me some distance before I plunge into revisions. Sometimes, of course, the system blows up a little, like when copyedits come in on one book, a synopsis is due for a different book, and all I really want to be doing is creating the story of a third. But usually it works pretty well. Mind you, I am a complete failure at juggling actual balls.

AM: And while we’re on the subject of juggling, you also have a short story that was nominated for an Agatha –how did you fit that in?

EM: Once I get the idea for a short story, it doesn’t take me that long to write. Short works also go through their own seasoning and polishing process, but it’s all so abbreviated I can fit it in around the edges of my other work. I took Amtrak to Bethesda for the Malice Domestic conference, for example, and most of my work time down and back was working on a Poe-themed short story.

AM: Could you compare writing short fiction to a full-length novel for readers?

EM: Sometimes a short story plot just isn’t big enough for a novel. And the complexity of a novel-length work would overwhelm a 4000-word short. For example, the seed of Delivering the Truth was a short story I wrote, “Breaking the Silence,” which was published in a Level Best Anthology (and which I have reissued as an ebook called “Fire in Carriagetown”). But its story of malicious arson wasn’t big enough for a book, and the protagonist, a seventeen-year old mill girl, wasn’t strong enough to carry a series. So I invented her midwife aunt, Rose Carroll, who is the sleuth in the books, and added a couple of murders.

AM: When you have down time, which I suspect there isn’t much of, what else besides writing interests you?

EM: I love gardening, once the snow has stopped. Which took a long time this year! I cook, I read, I go for long walks, and we love to see movies on the big screen at our local Screening Room.

AM: When you squeeze in reading time, what’s waiting on your To Be Read Pile?

EM: I still pretty much read only in the genre. Right now next up is two of the Wicked Cozy authors’ new releases: The Icing on the Corpse by Liz Mugavero, and Musseled Out by Barb Ross. Then I’m dying to read Catriona McPherson’s new thriller, Come to Harm, and Victoria Thompson’s latest Gaslight Mystery, Murder on Amsterdam Avenue, also an historical featuring a midwife-sleuth. But I’ve also agreed to blurb a collection of short stories by fabulous Quaker author Chuck Fager, so that’s going to bump the novels. So many books, so little time!
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AM: Finally, what’s one thing readers would never guess about Edith Maxwell?

EM: I’ve said before publically that I hold a long-dusty black belt in karate as well as a long-unused doctorate in linguistics, so those won’t work. Okay, here’s one. When I was twenty-two, traveling cross- country on a Greyhound pass for a month, I sometimes climbed up and stretched out in the overhead luggage rack on long nighttime rides between far-flung western cities. No, I didn’t tell my parents. And if you actually know me, this won’t surprise you all that much. Also, see the last line in my answer to question 4…

MaxwellCrop Agatha-nominated and Amazon-bestselling author Edith Maxwell writes four murder mystery series, most with recipes, as well as award-winning short stories. Farmed and Dangerous is the latest in Maxwell’s Local Foods Mysteries series (Kensington Publishing). The latest book in the Lauren Rousseau mysteries, under the pseudonym Tace Baker (Barking Rain Press), is Bluffing is Murder. Maxwell’s Country Store Mysteries, written as Maddie Day (also from Kensington), will debut with Flipped for Murder in November, 2015. Her Quaker Midwife Mysteries series features Quaker midwife Rose Carroll solving mysteries in 1888 Amesbury with John Greenleaf Whittier’s help, and will debut in March, 2016 with Delivering the Truth.

A fourth-generation Californian, Maxwell lives in an antique house north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the other Wicked Cozy Authors (http://wickedcozyauthors.com), and you can find her at http://www.edithmaxwell.com, @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest and Instagram, and at http://www.facebook.com/EdithMaxwellAuthor.