Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Unsettling of a Mystery Writer @EdithMaxwell


JRW: A big farmgirl welcome today to our good friend, Edith Maxwell! She's had such interesting past lives--you'll love reading about how she's woven these experiences into her mysteries...
 EDITH MAXWELL: I’m delighted to be back on my favorite blog as a guest. Since I left my day job as a technical writer a year ago, I’ve been spending much more time with my characters and my stories. This is a good thing! I’m writing constantly and living my dream. There is a down side, however. Life just isn’t the same anymore.  

When I was an organic farmer twenty years ago and turned the compost pile, it didn’t occur to me to worry about whether a body part might surface in it. But now, what if I uncovered a foot in there among the decomposing leaves, coffee grounds, and broccoli being broken down by soil micro organisms and worms? I wonder what I’d do. Run screaming, most likely. But maybe I’d snag a second careful look and take notes. Or throw up.

Back on the farm I spent long hours in every imaginable kind of weather. I knelt to press a thousand cloves of garlic into long beds of compost. I hoed out weed after weed and then hilled up the clear soil onto the potato stalks. I harvested quarts of blueberries into a bucket slung around my neck, snapped off pounds of asparagus, cut perfect heads of lettuce well into the fall. I never imagined a killer lurking in the woods just beyond my fields.
 

Now, though – without a moment’s hesitation I can conjure up all kinds of mayhem on the farm, even in my small home garden. And it’s quite unsettling. I met some pigs recently at the organic farm where my son works. They’re funny and make goofy noises, and made me laugh as they poked their snouts into the dirt to get grubs or dug into some kitchen scraps. I happen to know, however, that if they were hungry, from either temporary or long-term malnourishment, I would not want to be helpless in their pen with skin exposed. You wouldn’t either. 

And then you have your basic haystack. The old fashioned ones built on a platform in the salt marsh, like still exist in Newbury, Massachusetts. Or the new ones, with the hay rolled tight into a six-foot wide cylinder and then wrapped in white or pink plastic. They look like a good place to hide a body. And what about the classic New England barn, with all manner of old horse stalls and hay lofts? Just think what you could hide up there, or find, when you least expected it. 

Even local chickens, those sweet, tiny-brained, personality-laden birds that give us rich delicious breakfasts and tasty winter stews – that tiny brain can do some serious pecking. Chickens have been known to peck at their owner’s eyes. What if a victim was unconscious and trapped with an attack rooster? Or the hens had been fed a plant that made the eggs poisonous, or their meat? You get my drift.

I’ll keep writing about murder and mayhem down on the farm, but I’m a lot more wary when I’m strolling around one of the many local farms in my area.

And you, dear Reds and Reds-fans? Do you see murderous possibilities where others don’t? What kind of mayhem do you imagine lurks at your local farm, farm stand, or farmers’ market? Or have you heard of actual locally sourced murder on a farm? (Edith will be giving away a copy of 'Til Dirt Do Us Part to one commenter today...)



The produce is local--and so is the crime--when long-simmering tensions lead to murder following a festive dinner on Cam Flaherty's organic farm. It'll take a sleuth who knows the lay of the land to catch this killer. But no one ever said Cam wasn't willing to get her hands dirty...
Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing), the Speaking of Mystery series under the pseudonym Tace Baker, featuring Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau (Barking Rain Press), and the historical Carriagetown Mysteries, as well as award-winning short crime fiction.


A mother, world traveler, and former technical writer, Edith lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the Wicked Cozy Authors. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter @edithmaxwell

41 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Well, I must admit that, until I read this, I hadn't thought about farms in quite that way. And I can't honestly say I've heard of murders happening on the farms around here. Of course, I suppose we'd just dump the body in the cranberry bog . . . .

Mark Baker said...

After reading this, I'm glad I don't live on a farm. I'd much rather live in the city where it's safer.

Edith Maxwell said...

Ooh, a cranberry bog. Perfect place for a body, Joan.

Don't even get me started on cities, Mark!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

And there is all that farm equipment to tangle a body up in besides the hay bailer -- oh, say, a manure spreader that gets clogged with body parts, or that brush hog that gets jammed while clearing a field. And of course there are the hungry catfish in the pond that need to be fed...

Gosh you're being productive now that you've "retired." ~ Jim

Edith Maxwell said...

Equipment, yes, Jim. Of course, the title of the first book in the series, A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE, was used for a reason... ;^)

Reine said...

The eeriest and most frightening drive I've ever made was up north to Maine from my apartment in Boston where I had a summer job at the Ogunquit Playhouse.

I had to leave early in the morning. It was many years ago, but I clearly remember feeling relaxed and happy as I walked out of the brownstone before dawn. I waved good-bye to the swan boats in the Public Garden as I left my apartment and made the turn to leave the city. It was headed for my summer theatre dream job.

There was very little traffic, so it didn't take long for the drive to get quiet and very rural. In the distance I saw a creeping white cloud moving along the ground. Just as it surrounded my car I noticed a sign. I tried to read it, but I could only pick out a few words. CAUTION CRANBERRY BOG... BOTH SIDES. Then nothing.

I could see nothing. Alone in a car. No other cars on the road. I could hear nothing. Fog is a great insulator. I sat parked on the road until the sun burned off the fog. Other cars started to pass me, and I made it to Ogunquit. I can still feel the fog and fear that I was not going to make it out of the bog.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Welcome Edith and congrats on the new book!

Reine, wow, that is some story. It sounds like a scene out of Ray Bradbury...

KB Inglee said...

Then there is the cute fuzzy sheep who looks so sweet, but can knock a person down and do serious harm. I have the bruises to prove it.

Edith Maxwell said...

Thanks, Lucy!

Fog can be really, really creepy, Reine. Agree.

KB, I'm sure of it. Goats, too.

Claire said...

You've given us an interesting new way to look at farms, Edith. I'm sure I'll mention some of this to Pat next time we stop at a farm stand!

I'm delighted that you are able to write full time now, as I do enjoy your characters and settings. I want to see/read more of them!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Welcome, Edith! Congratulations on the new book! (And I think I'll happily stay a city gal...)

Mary Sutton said...

Can't say as I've heard of a murder on a farm. But I did write a story where a murder occurred in a horse barn. Had to call a friend and ask, "What's a good horse-related implement for murder?" Turns out there were more than I thought!

Congrats on the book!

Edith Maxwell said...

Thanks, Susan. Such a treat to be here.

Mary - I can imagine there would be plenty in a horse barn, starting with those sharp things they use to pick out the horse's hooves.

Mary Sutton said...

Edith, I though hoof picks would be a prime weapon. But no, they're actually too blunt and not long enough. I used a baling hook.

More field research in case Cam ever goes into a horse barn. =)

Ramona said...

Once you start writing mysteries, you are never free from the macabre possibilities. My "civilian" friends think it's weird. My writer friends think it's normal.

Great post, Edith! Love the haystack, and the big farmgirl welcome. LOL, Reds.

Edith Maxwell said...

Claire, let me know what Pat thinks! And I'm writing just as fast as I can.

Edith Maxwell said...

Ramona, one of my favorite experiences with fellow authors is sitting in a restaurant talking about murder weapons or settings, and watching diners at nearby tables back away slowly...

Mark Baker said...

I was trying to be funny when I made that comment on being safe in the city....

Hallie Ephron said...

I don't think I'll ever see a farm again in quite the same light. Pitchforks. Haylofts. Silos. Pigs. Tractors.

Hmmm. So I'm thinking: a new version of Clue? In the Hayloft with the pitchfork...

Congratulations on 'Til Dirt... Edith! We're ALL rooting for you and we all LOVE having you on Jungle Red.

Sandy Cody said...

Next time there's a missing person in our area, I think I'll call the police and suggest that they check out the local farms.

Rhonda Lane said...

A hoof pick wouldn't work as a murder weapon. Too short, too shallow, but one could be part of a rage killing or hate crime. Reading a synopsis of the play "Equus" (brace yourself first because it's disturbing and sad) will give you a better idea.

See why people, after they think mystery writing is cool, look askance at us once they realize what we have to think about? ;)

Great post, Edith.

Edith Maxwell said...

I knew that, Mark!

Thanks so very much, Hallie. It's really special to be here with this fabulous blog community.

Edith Maxwell said...

Right, Sandy!

Rhonda, at an author event the other night, someone in the audience said, "But you seem so nice!"

Karen in Ohio said...

My grandson is visiting, and playing a game on his iPad. Apparently, random chickens are exploding. So, there's that potential scenario. :-)

Our farm has three regular ponds, and two septic lagoons, which would make dandy spots for mayhem. Also, and these really terrify me, two old wells that have just had random rocks thrown into them to keep them "safe". I'm always afraid I'll accidentally stumble onto one and fall in.

Horses can be mean, too. Just saying.

Edith Maxwell said...

Exploding chickens, oh my. 'TIL DIRT DO US PART does have rescue chickens, but not a one has exploded yet! And septic lagoons, hmmm.

Grandma Cootie said...

Oh good, I feel better now. Seriously. I sometimes think it's only me that sees gruesome possibilities in everyday things. I live in the SF Bay area and can never drive through the Caldecott tunnel without thinking of 'The Stand' and how we could be trapped in there because of a deadly flu?

Great blog. I was nodding while reading . . . yes, the barn, the pigs, it could all happen. And so many more things to be wary of identified in the comments. I love it though, must be why I love mysteries. The ordinary can become so exciting.

Just discovered this series recently, really enjoying it.

Libby Dodd said...

Isn't it marvelous where your imagination can take you? And we complain about children and their Imagined beasts under the bed! They are just mystery writers in the making!

Pat D said...

Discussing murder at a café? Fun!
My grandparents had a goat ranch when I was a kid, in central Texas. There were ravines erosion had created that would be perfect for bodies. In the barn was a large wooden open square (enough adjectives?) bin full of oats for the horses. You could easily bury a body in there. Nowadays we have roaming gangs of feral hogs that could be blamed for all kinds of mayhem. I like the way you think, Edith!

Kathy Reel said...

Edith, what a great post today! I admit that I sometimes let my imagination run wild with possibilities of hidden bodies and murderous plots. Being a mystery reader opens up one's mind to looking at the world that way, too.

Through your gracious efforts I have 'Til Death Do Us Part in print and A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die on my Kindle. I didn't want to read the second without reading the first, and I am just about to get to them. Looking forward to it very much. And, you have indeed led an interesting life.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

You had me at attack rooster.

xoxoo

Edith Maxwell said...

Grandma, so glad you're enjoying the series.

Libby, imagination is the Queen of Life, in my view.

Pat - Feral hogs! Yikes. Although there is a scene toward the end of 'TIL DIRT DO US PART where Cam is running away from something, which might include the porcine species...

Kathy, so fun to connect!

And Hank - I met the attack rooster in Maine and his name is...Ruffles. Really!

Edith Maxwell said...

Ruffles doesn't make his apperance until book three, FARMED AND DANGEROUS. Watch for it next May...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Really!Ruffles? I LOVE it. Cannot wait. Will you come back and --maybe do an interview with Ruffles for Jungle Red?

Deb Romano said...

Although I don't write mysteries, I have a wild imagination, so I'll believe any THING can be used as a weapon or any PLACE can be used to hide a body! I've been watching DVDs of old "Bones" episodes. Nothing would surprise me any more!

Denise Ann said...

Think of the poisonous herbs you can grow in those greenhouses!

Happy to see you, Edith, and congratulations on your books.

Here on Cape Cod, there are many isolated coves and rocky shores, unpopulated islands, and abandoned sheds.

Denise Ann said...

Think of the poisonous herbs you can grow in those greenhouses!

Happy to see you, Edith, and congratulations on your books.

Here on Cape Cod, there are many isolated coves and rocky shores, unpopulated islands, and abandoned sheds.

Edith Maxwell said...

So, true, Deb.

And Denise Ann - what's creepier than an abandoned shed on a rocky cove?

Kait said...

As a woman with a farm girl past, I must say farms are fertile ground - pun intended - for murder and mayhem. What looks so innocent can be deadly, in the right hands, and with the right mindset. Love your mysteries, Edith - always great reads.

Michelle F. said...

I like the pictures, especially the haystack. Could there be a body inside? I've heard of this series before but haven't read any of your books. I'm a city girl.

Edith Maxwell said...

Kait, so pleased you like my books. What a treat.

Michelle - I don't know. What do you think?

Everybody - thanks SO much for stopping by and making this such a fun conversation today!

JudyinBoston said...

The hayloft is a great place to stash a body or spy on others or hide stuff! And farm machines and implements can be fatal! Someone could drown in in the windmill pond. I lived in a farming community for years and the number of accidents was always astonishing. You've got some great ideas for mayhem. Had no idea chickens might peck people's eyes out. Roosters, of course, can be very fierce and agressive. Mad dogs, coyotes, yikes, the list of creepy stuff is endless. Great post!