Alyssa Maxwell is the author of the Gilded Newport Mysteries and A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries. She lives in South Florida in the current year, but confesses to spending most of her time in the Victorian, Edwardian, and post WWI eras. If she only had a TARDIS...(Think, Doctor Who!) In addition to fantasizing about wearing Worth gowns and strolling the gardens of her manor house, she loves to watch BBC and other period productions and sip tea in the afternoons.
Thank you, Alyssa for doing this. I'm a big fan of yours. Your main character in Gilded Newport Mysteries, Emma is one of the most likable heroines I've read, and I love her way of reasoning out the problems she faces.
You have a new book in the Gilded Newport Mysteries with Emma coming out, MURDER AT ROUGH POINT. Can you tell us about it?
Since I first discovered Newport, I’ve been fascinated with Rough Point. In those days it was still owned by tobacco heiress Doris Duke, hidden behind high walls and solid iron doors at the end of the driveway, and somewhat isolated at the southern end of Bellevue Avenue. I found it mysterious and intriguing. But before Doris Duke, the house was originally owned by Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt. They quickly grew tired of Newport, though, and began renting the house out for the summers. I took advantage of that fact to create a scenario where a group of assorted artists from Europe have come to conduct a retreat. There’s a Russian ballet choreographer, an American opera singer, a French stage director, an English sculptor, an Italian cellist, and an American painter – who also happens to be sleuth Emma Cross’s father. Somewhat channeling Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a storm traps our group at the house and one by one, the occupants fall prey to a killer, each in a unique way. Emma must work with police detective Jesse Whyte to uncover the secrets of each member of the group to find the killer.
Is there pressure knowing that readers are eagerly awaiting your book's release?
To some extent yes, but that’s something I have to put out of my mind in order to concentrate on each project. If I let pressures like that get to me, I’ll find it impossible to write the best, most focused book I can. But that pressure is also a source of pride and encouragement for me. It’s an honor to know readers are waiting for each book. It means I’ve done my best job to create compelling characters that readers want to follow from book to book.
Emma, it seems to me, has two love interests, Detective Jesse Whyte, who she as known all her life; and the rich and good looking, Derrick Andrews. Though I'm not asking you who Emma will finally end up with, BUT have you already decided which man Emma picks?
No, I haven’t! An influencing factor may just turn out to be reader feedback. I’d assumed everyone would want to see Emma with the handsome, rich, and exciting Derrick Andrews. But in chatting with a book club, I discovered there is indeed a “Team Jesse.” And we’ll see more of the relationship between Emma and Jesse, along with its potential to develop, in MURDER AT ROUGH POINT. True, Emma says that although Jesse is the better fit socially, and someone she respects and feels at ease with, he doesn’t make her heart race the way Derrick does. But that doesn’t mean feelings can’t change. It also doesn’t mean Emma feels compelled to make any decision in the near future. Remember, she’s not your typical Gilded Age lady. She’s had the influence of her Suffragette and independent-minded “Aunt Sadie,” and she believes women have a right to work and make their own decisions in life. She’s not looking to be dependent on anyone for her well-being – not her Vanderbilt relatives and not a man.
Which of your heroines from your two book series is most like you; Emma, or from your A Lady and Lady's Maid Mysteries, Lady Phoebe Renshaw? And let's add Phoebe's lady's maid, Eva Huntford?
I have to admit they all have a part of me in them. I don’t think a writer can help that. But I hope I’ve given them all their own personalities independent of mine, so that each feels like a wholly developed individual. Emma is forging new territory for women, while at the same time basically acting as the “head” of her little family: housekeeper and surrogate grandmother Nanny, maid Katie, and her half-brother, Brady. Phoebe is also forging ahead into the modern era, but within the framework of her aristocratic station and in ways that won’t distress her grandparents too much. Despite feeling that many of the old traditions are outdated, she loves her grandparents very much and doesn’t with to alienate them. Eva, on the other hand, is very much a traditionalist. She’s the one that maintains the boundaries between her and Phoebe, and strives to preserve her lady’s good name and reputation. She knows Phoebe will travel far in life, but she is careful to prevent Phoebe from overstepping too many bounds too quickly. Really, these are all ideals I believe in. Balance for me is the key to a happy and successful life.
How long does it usually take you to write one of your stories from your first idea to finishing the book?
It used to take me about a year. But now that I’m writing two series, I’m writing two books a year – so six months each. It keeps me at a brisk schedule. Sometimes I feel a little pressured, but it’s a good problem to have.
Where did you realize you were a storyteller?
Always. I’ve always loved making up stories, and as soon as I could write, I did. Creative writing was always my favorite part of school. And if I could write my way through a test, I tended to do very well. Give me a math problem, however, and it was all over.
What drew you to write mysteries?
The challenge of creating and then solving the puzzle. I love puzzles of all kinds, so mystery is a perfect fit. I especially love the challenge of reading or setting mysteries in historical time periods, there the sleuths have to rely on their wits to solve the crime, rather than on modern forensics. Emma, Phoebe and Eva make full use of the technology available to them, but brainpower is their best tool.
Was there any particular book or author who influenced you?
Although as a child I read my share of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, I believe it was authors like Daphne du Maurier, the Brontes, and Mary Stewart who most influenced me as a writer early on. Though not mysteries in the strictest sense, their books are powerful, atmospheric and suspenseful, and feature female characters who must find their inner strength and courage in order to prevail. Among them, my favorites are Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, and Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic. But really I love them all.
What is your advice on writing a book series to other authors thinking about it?
Delve head first into your subject matter, and be passionate about it. I think that makes all the difference to a story, because readers will feel your enthusiasm. Newport has been part of my life for over thirty-five years, since I first started visiting there. My husband is from Newport, so I have something of an insider’s view that has helped shape the books and fueled my passion for them. Even so, I’ve still had so much to learn about the city during the Gilded Age and before. I’ve come to know the city and the people who lived there on so much more intimate terms than I could have imagined when I started.
With the Lady’s and Lady’s Maid series, I chose a pivotal time in England’s history – just after WWI. Women over 30 who were married or owned property were given the vote, class divisions were just beginning to become blurred, and the upper classes were realizing they were no longer as wealthy as they had been in previous eras. It was a time of change and innovation – England’s stride into the modern world, and I find it fascinating and exciting.
So don’t just write something because it’s the current trend. You need to find something that captures your imagination and demands that you write about it.
Right now do you have any plans to branch out into other genres?
Not at the moment. With two series, I’m very happy right now writing historical mystery. I’d never say never, but so far I haven’t been tempted to write a contemporary story.
What is your next project?
Having just finished A PINCH OF POISON, the second Lady and Lady’s Mystery, I’ve started on MURDER AT CHATEAU SUR MER, the fifth scheduled book in the Gilded Newport Mysteries. Chateau sur Mer is one of the smaller “cottages” along Newport’s Bellevue Avenue, especially in comparison to The Breakers or The Elms, but loved by everyone who visits. The house was owned by the Wetmore family from the middle of the 19th century until the 1960s when the last remaining family member passed away. In 1897, we’ll meet the owners, George and Edith Wetmore and their two daughters, Maude and Edith. George Peabody Wetmore was a governor of Rhode Island, and, at the time of the story, a U.S. senator. The Wetmores were year-round residents of Newport, which set them apart from the other Gilded Age families, and were known for being upstanding, respectable citizens – which also set them apart from many of the others known for their eccentricities and antics. The story opens with a polo match on the property, but soon the shadow of foul play comes over the estate. Politics, land development, sporting rivalries, and Newport’s hidden “underbelly” will all come into play, and Emma will be called in to investigate by Mrs. Wetmore herself, because in her mind, only another woman is capable of getting at the truth.
Alyssa, what authors do you read?
Too many to name! Although I always make a point of reading the releases of a talented group of mystery authors with whom I cross promote: Tessa Arlen, Susanna Calkins, Anna Lee Huber, D.E. Ireland, Anna Loan-Wilsey, Christine Trent, and Ashley Weaver . We call our group Sleuths in Time, and you can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SleuthsInTime/.
Thank you so much, Alyssa for coming on my blog. I'm eagerly awaiting reading Emma's next adventure!
Alyssa Maxwell's books are: in the Gilded Newport Mysteries -Murder at the Breakers #1 www.amazon.com/Murder-at-Breakers-Alyssa-Maxwell/dp/0758290829, Murder at Marble House #2 www.amazon.com/Murder-Marble-Gilded-Newport-Mystery/dp/0758290845, Murder at Beechwood #3 www.amazon.com/Murder-Beechwood-Gilded-Newport-Mystery/dp/0758290861 and coming out in August this year, MURDER AT ROUGH POINT
In A Lady and Lady's Maid Mysteries - Murder Most Malicious www.amazon.com/Murder-Most-Malicious-Alyssa-Maxwell/dp/1617738301
You can find out more about Alyssa Maxwell on her site: www.alyssamaxwell.com/
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