Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Edith Maxwell--Breaking a Rule for her Mom

DEBORAH CROMBIE: There's no bigger treat for us here on Jungle Red than to welcome one of our faithful regular readers and commenters! We have the pleasure of Edith's company almost every day on the blog, but perhaps some of our readers don't know that Edith writes not one, but THREE mystery series! The latest in her Local Foods series, FARMED AND DANGEROUS, featuring organic farmer Cameron Flaherty is just out, and it is a treat. Having just finished the book, I was so pleased to gain a little insight on the inspiration for the characters. I have more to say on that, but first, here's Edith:

On Breaking a Rule for My Mom

I’m so delighted to be back on my favorite blog again – thanks, Debs!

I wanted to talk about breaking a rule, and why. You know that “rule” about not using real people in your stories, except for real historical characters? I’ve always thought it made sense, because as authors we need to give our fictional characters the freedom to do anything the story requires.

But I did just that, in my new book. I wanted my organic farmer’s Great Uncle Albert to have a girlfriend in the assisted living residence where he now lives. My mother died three years ago before getting a chance to read any of my books, and she spent her last decade in assisted living. So I decided Marilyn Muller was going to be Albert’s new lady friend. And today I’m going to tell you a bit about who the real Marilyn was.

Marilyn Flaherty was a shy girl who grew up near San Francisco. Already a third-generation Californian, she went sailing in the bay and in the Pacific with her father, roller-skated down steep hills, and put on gloves and a hat to go shopping in the city with her mother and younger sister. As an undergraduate at the UC Berkeley, she met Allan Maxwell at a sorority dance, a shy WW II Army recruit. After he returned from the far reaches of India, they were married.

She gave birth to four children, all less than two years apart (I'm #3). Mommy participated in a playgroup cooperative associated with a local college. She was home with us until we were in high school, and was a devoted Girl Scout leader (Leader of the Year in 1963) and Cub Scout den mother for my younger brother.

Our home was filled with books of all kinds. Mommy loved to read mysteries and my first Agatha Christie reads were her books. As a child when I couldn't sleep, I would sometimes make my way back into the living room where she sat reading, and if I was lucky (or if she chose to let me, more likely) I'd get some cherished time reading my own book next to her. She also gave me my first boost as a writer. When I was in third grade, she said, “Edie, you’re a good writer.” I thought, “Oh! I guess I am.” And look where I ended up.

My mother was always creative. She made a puppet theater for us by painting a refrigerator box, sewing and mounting a curtain, and fabricating puppets out of old socks, buttons, paint, and fabric. She sewed intricate ballet costumes for my two older
sisters and me every spring, four per girl, and taught the other mothers the patterns. She took a cake-decorating class and made roses (roses!) out of frosting. She sewed most of our clothes and knit us sweaters.

She also paid attention to our nutrition. Although she never really enjoyed cooking apart from baking – and boy, could she bake - we always had balanced meals. She read Adele Davis and tossed things like dried milk into the Bisquik to give it more protein.

On our annual two-week camping vacations in the Sierras, she taught us about birds and plants. We'd lie on our backs at night in an open area with her and learn about the stars. She let us run loose within certain boundaries, and we were free-range kids at home, too. We kids made our own breakfasts and lunches as soon as we went to school. She wasn't into short-order prep for four picky eaters.

She was outwardly sweet with a layer of iron underneath that served her well. Despite never being without her red lipstick and her face powder, my mom didn’t spend money on getting her hair “done,” other makeup, or manicures. As a teenager, I had the scorn of the young for this. As a adult – well, heck, I’m just the same (minus her ever-present powder compact and mirror).

In their fifties my parents divorced and both of them remarried happily. My stepfather, Fred Muller, and my mother moved north out of the LA smog to Ventura, California, where they spent many sweet years together. Mommy took up quilting, making numerous beautiful quilts for her children nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. She won awards at the County Fair and made  good friends in her quilt group, Stitch and Bitch. She and Fred played games every afternoon: Scrabble, cribbage, cards. I didn't beat her at Scrabble until I was 50.

I’m so grateful I had time to tell her over and over how much I loved her and appreciated her as a mother and grandmother, since she lived to be 86. My sisters and I were all at her side as she died. We sang Girl Scout songs, told funny stories, held her hands as her spirit “slipped the surly bonds of earth and sailed away.”

In Farmed and Dangerous, Marilyn Muller is Mommy – right down to the embroidered sweatshirts and velcro tennies. She beats everyone at Scrabble and at word-finding games, likes her sugary desserts, and is sweet to all with a layer of iron underneath. But like any good character, she’s already changed. Unlike my mom, the Marilyn in the book has an iPhone and takes a little wine now and then.

Thanks for letting me share these memories. Who else has put a version of a real person into a book? And what was your mom like?

DEBS: Edith, I can't even begin to list all the reasons I loved this post. I love your characters, and Marilyn especially seemed so real to me, and that was before I read this essay. My mom died two years ago this August. I thought I would miss her less as time went on, but that hasn't turned out to be the case. Just last week I found a wonderful photo of her taken in 2001, and I've been looking at it every day. My mom read Adele Davis, too, and became a middle-aged hippie foodie!!! My daughter still laughs about her grandmother's healthy bran muffins... They were a bit rock-like, I have to admit, but then Mom lived to be ninety-two so you really can't argue.  But enough from me--I want to hear from everyone else.

Edith will give away one of the Local Foods mysteries to a commenter - book one, A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE, book two, 'TIL DIRT DO US PART, or the new one. Winner's choice.

And here's more about Edith, and FARMED AND DANGEROUS.  Marilyn Muller would be very proud.

Organic farmer Cam Flaherty is struggling to provide the promised amount of food to her customers in her first winter in Westbury, Massachusetts, and her new greenhouse might just collapse from the weight of the snow. Supplying fresh ingredients for a dinner at the local assisted living facility seems like the least of her worries—until a cantankerous resident with a lot of enemies dies after eating the meal.
But while the motives in this case may be plentiful, the trail of poisoned produce leads straight back to Cam. Not even her budding romance with police detective Pete Pappas will keep him from investigating her.
As the suspects gather, a blizzard buries the scene of the crime under a blanket of snow, leaving Cam stranded in the dark with a killer who gives new meaning to the phrase “dead of winter.”

Bio: 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 (, and you can find her at, @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest and Instagram, and at


Joan Emerson said...

What special memories and what a lovely tribute to your mom, Edith. I'm sure she'd be so proud to be the inspiration for Marilyn Muller in your book.

Reine said...

Edith… this is so beautiful about your mother. I'm glad you based a character on her in your books.

I have often wished my mother was like that. She wasn't. But as different as she was from the mummy I dreamed of and cried for, she gave me other things by her living out her own life in her own way. She and her boyfriend built a canoe and went duck hunting… actually on a river not far from where you live now. She was unafraid to look at a stack of lumber and say, "That's tongue-in-groove cedar. I could make a kitchen table with this and have enough left over for a storage cabinet to set it on." Then she did it. She was unafraid to take off and do things. That's what got us separated, I think, but I learned to take risks and go do it, whatever it was. It was dangerous living like that. No arguing there. But I learned from her to be ready to do new things and not be afraid. Because of her example and lack of supervision, I have done a lot of things in many places. I have been unafraid to say that's not itand move along to something else. If I had the mother I dreamed about, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be me. I had Auntie-Mom, her mom, and my great-grandmother Troy to raise me. Other people, too. Mummy just wasn't able to be a mother.

Edith Maxwell said...

Thank you, Joan. I hope so!

Edith Maxwell said...

I guess we have to accept that there are mothers like that, Reine. So pleased that you had maternal-minded backup, though, and that you took the best of what your mom had to offer.

Ramona said...

You had me at red lipstick!

As you know, Edith, a comment about your mother inspired one of my stories, too. My own mother has had many challenges in her life, and in some ways they have defined her, but she's lived with courage. I still cherish the long Monday morning, plot-deconstruction phone calls my mom and I share after new episodes of Downton Abbey. I will miss that very much when she is gone.

This is a beautiful testimonial to a mother. Good for you, and thank you, for sharing your mother's specialness with us.

Edith Maxwell said...

And Debs, I love that both our moms were Adele Davis fans. Yeah, the missing just keeps on keeping on, doesn't it? Thanks so much for having me on the blog today. It's a real treat.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

That's really lovely Edith--what a legacy your mother left! She deserved to be a character--just sorry she couldn't be around to read all the wonderful books you're producing.

Reine, thanks for your description too. One of the gifts of getting older is being wise about what our parents could and couldn't do for us--you've got that nailed. When I used to sit in psychology case conferences and we heard about someone who'd had a difficult life but weathered it well, the gurus would always say: "Look for the grandmother."

Edith Maxwell said...

Ramona, you're going to have to remind me of that story, and what bit about my mom that prompted it. I love the idea of deconstructing the show with your own mom.

Roberta - I'm sorry, too!

FChurch said...

Sometimes on Saturday mornings, I find myself returning again and again to the phone, as if I need to make a call. This continues until I realize that it's my mom I want to call and she's been gone 17 years. Yep, the missing part keeps on coming. A testament, I think, to the power of that relationship. My mom had a taste for little luxuries--not something she could indulge in often. One of my sweetest memories is saving my babysitting money and gifting her with a bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Edith, your mom lives on and not just in your fictional character, but in your character--and your sisters. And so, too, you, Reine. Mothers give us the best of themselves, and if we are wise enough, we come to realize that, and give to the next generation the best of who we are.

And Lucy, that includes grandmothers. Each of my grandmothers brought something different into my life. I wouldn't be the person I am today without that long line of strong women behind me.

Kristopher said...

It's always a delight to see one of the "regular" commenters having a guest post on JRW. This blog really is like a family and I love it.

I had the pleasure of finally meeting Edith in person at this year's Malice Domestic. She is as genuine in person as she is her on the blog.

I love this insight into the character and your Mom. She sounds like a terrific lady. I am sure that she and I could have discussed quilting for hours. Even more so if she had baked me a great treat to eat during the discussion.

Keep me out of the drawing, as I have the books. But one lucky winner will get to meet Cam Flaherty soon.

Edith Maxwell said...

Wonderful words, FChurch.

And waving hi to Kristopher! We should have talked quilting at Malice. Mommy was terrific - but she would have been terribly embarrassed by all of you complimenting her. She was very much a demurer about herself.

Brenda Buchanan said...

This is a lovely post, Edith. What a tribute to your Mom to memorialize her sweet ways in a book.

Hallie Ephron said...

This is the sweetest post ever, Edith! Your mom sounds like she was pretty amazing. Not "larger than life" but exactly as large as life. I hope she'll be a continuing character... Can't wait to get my hands on the new book. You're pretty amazing yourself!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

That line up photo is priceless -- so of the time! And so sweet--there are days some thing happens and I know Mom would have been the only person I could tell.
Her favorite line: I'm not criticizing, I'm just observing.
I have a box of memorabila and papers from her--and when I open the box, a waft of her perfume comes out!

congratulations Edith!

Mary Sutton said...

Thanks for the memories of your mom, Edith and congrats on the new book.

My mother died of breast cancer in 2001 at the relatively young age of 54. Just as she was getting to do the thing she wanted to do most in life - be a grandmother (my daughter was 15 months old and I had just learned I was pregnant with my son). She didn't cook at all (she was a nurse who worked the 3-11 shift - no time), but she did bake, although she despaired of ever making pies. She sewed her own wedding dress and all her clothes until kids and a nursing job meant she didn't have time. Her father once told her he'd never believe it if she got accepted to college. She went on to have more college education than any of her siblings and she spent the rest of her life proving herself to a man who died in 1975. She also never indulged in makeup or jewelry, but man, she loved her football tickets and she had a new car every five years (three when she started leasing them). She took up needlepoint as a hobby to replace sewing.

I often look at my kids and wish she'd gotten to know them. Her birthday would have been this month.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Congratulations on the new book, Edith and thank you for this post. We are also still mourning Miss Edna. It's just hard. I wish I had something more profound to say than that...

Denise Ann said...

Congratulations, Edith, on another great book -- you have accomplished so much! No wonder -- you had a great role model in your mother! I am hosting a 90th birthday party for my mother on June 14th -- she is definitely made of the same stuff! Here is a piece of the tribute I wrote for the party:

I learned from my mother to make lemonade from lemons,
To gather “drops” in the apple orchard, cut out the bruises and make applesauce,
To pick Concord grapes at a local vineyard for grape jelly and grape juice.

I learned from my mother to shop at Nearly New, and wear classic tweed skirts with pride,
To select patterns and fabric for sewing projects,
To run the washing machine, hang the clothes outdoors, and iron my father’s and brothers’ shirts.

Libby Dodd said...

I have all the Adele Davis books on the shelf above me as I type! They are well used paperbacks from many years ago.
Your mother's quilt is beautiful! Some of my favorite colors.
Thanks for sharing it all.

Karen in Ohio said...

Edith, what a gift your mother was to you and your siblings. And, may I say, to all the other Girl Scouts she led, who, I suspect, would tell you how much they appreciated having her in their lives, as well. My own mother was the opposite of yours, but fortunately I had other "moms" in my life who filled in the gaps, much as your mother may have done.

Because my mom was so different from yours, I tried really hard to be more hands-on, and I hope my own girls feel compelled, some future day, to give tribute as you've done here. So knowing how proud I would feel if they did, I feel sure your mother is beaming in Heaven, knowing her job was well done.

Vickie Fee said...

Thanks for sharing your mom's story with us, Edith! Stitch and Bitch Quilters -- love it :-)

Edith Maxwell said...

Thank you, Brenda. I hesitated for a moment before including her, but it just felt right.

Hallie - I appreciated my mother more and more the older I got, and especially after I became a mother myself. I didn't even mention what an awesome grandmother she was. She and my older son used to work all kinds of hilarious side deals during Monopoly games and try to pull bluffs during Scrabble, and he still does.

I love that line, Hank! In our later years, Mommy used to say, "I'm just going to say a motherly thing, but you can ignore it." I still have a bottle of Woodhue with a few drops in it, and when I smell it I smell her.

Edith Maxwell said...

I know that feeling, Mary. My dad died when I was pregnant with my first son, who actually is very much like him. I tried to keep his memory alive for my sons by talking about him a lot. Not the same, though.

Thank you, Susan. Yes, it's just hard.

Congrats on your mom getting to 90, Denise. Happy birthday to her!

Libby - it's my pleasure. I have two more quilts that she never finished, and one of these days...

Edith Maxwell said...

Karen, you are so right about Girl Scouts. There's a whole group of girls I grew up with in California who I'm now Facebook friends with, and they always say how much they liked my mom and coming to our house. It's very sweet.

Edith Maxwell said...

Vickie - yes. I'd have to check but I think I included that name in the book. If not, I will in the next one!

Mark Baker said...

Wow, Edith. What I loving tribute to a remarkable woman. I'll look forward to getting to know her better when I read this book.

Edith Maxwell said...

Thanks, Mark! She was remarkable in her very modest way.

Pat D said...

I'm glad Great Uncle Albert is getting such a wonderful girl friend. I've been waiting impatiently to see what Cam is going to do about her jealous chef and her new potential interest. I know who I'm voting for! Your mom sounds like she was a true wonder, Edith. My mom is 95 now and still cracks me up with some of her stories and observations. Thank God she is in pretty good shape. I lost my dad in November, and my father-in-law 2 weeks ago, so I'm not in the best place right now. My mother-in-law has dementia and it has worsened so quickly since her true love died. No short term memory at all. But she was quite a character in her day and it just hurts so bad to see the shape she's in now.

Mary Kasper said...

This is such a beautiful tribute to your mother. I also lost my mother last year in August and I know I will always feel this loss but at the same time as time goes by I feel so comforted by the time she was with me and always in awe by what a wonderful person she was. My mother had an incredible courage and intelligent resourcefulness, always guided by her education in a strict Basque school, her sense of protocol and diplomacy, and a natural grace, always doing what is correct, thoughtful and kind. She taught me to be understand others, to be forgiving, to be strong, to always present myself well. My mother was always dressed with care and elegance, and had an elegance and graciousness of manner that was ingrained and sincere. Day-to-day we spoke on the phone and shared thoughts and news, I, in North America and she, in South America. The visits I made to see her are such treasured memories of outings, and lengthy conversations, I wish had never ended.

Edith Maxwell said...

Pat, how wonderful you still have a mom who is thriving. Yes, dementia is a tough, tough thing. My mom's second husband developed Alzheimer's, and after he was in a care facility and she went to see him, every time he'd take her hand and say, "Marilyn, will you marry me?" She always said, yes, of course.

Mary - sounds like you had a great mom. A Basque school - incredible! So glad you had such wonderful conversations with her.

Kathy Reel said...

Edith, what a beautifully written love letter to your mommy. I called my mother "mommy," too, and I still do when talking about her with my siblings. Your mother, like mine, was a fully involved participant in her children's lives, and I think that there's a certain sense of love and security gained from that which lies a foundation for us in being able to love others, too. Like you, I remember the girl scouts with my mother there and the boy scout meetings at our house when Mommy was a Den Mother. There are so many ordinary things that mothers can do to make a child feel loved and safe, things that we remember as adults as the acts of unconditional love. I just had a memory of my mother putting Mercurochrome on a scraped knee and covering it with a bandaid as I sat in a chair on our front porch whimpering. Her loving touch was so gentle and her voice so soothing, the very essence of what my mother was to me. My mother has been gone for 20 years this past February, and I still long to hear her voice and talk to her. I wish that she could have seen my children grown and now my grandchildren, but the disadvantage of being the youngest child born to parents who were 44 (mother) and 53 (father) is that you don't have them as long as you'd like.

I have the first two books in this series, Edith, and although I've been remiss in reading them, yet, I will definitely have read them by Bouchercon this fall. I loook forward to meeting you in Raleigh and chatting. Putting your mother in your books as a character is a great idea and way to honor her importance and influence in your life. Congratulations on the new book!

Edith Maxwell said...

Aw, thanks so much, Kathy. I so agree about all the little everyday things. I hope you find time to get to the Local Foods mysteries, and I look forward to seeing you down south in the fall.

storytellermary said...

What a lovely way to honor and share your mother! I did enjoy meeting her in Farmed and Dangerous, and will now have to take a second look.
When I began teaching, and became aware of some of my students' lives, I would periodically thank my mother for the "boring" life I took for granted, and she would proudly tell her friends. Mom was always there to hear about our days at school, offering advice sometimes, but mostly listening. A cousin once skipped school and walked the two miles to our house to talk with my mom. Mom, of course, immediately called her home to reassure my aunt, and then listened my cousin's trouble out. I didn't hear about it until much later, when Mom was in assisted living. I visited her almost every day, knowing I was storing up memories for later.
I'm going to paste in a poem I wrote for her, if I can:

Sitting by Mary Garrett

We spent so much time sitting,
Sitting in doctors’ offices,
Sitting in medical labs,
Sitting in hospital rooms.

During better times we sat in your kitchen, talking;
Then in the dining room at Harvester, both talking;
As you tired, me talking and knitting, you listening;
As you became too tired to even listen, just sitting.

You sat in your wheelchair to visit restaurants,
Shaw’s Garden, the art museum, the zoo,
(where I nearly lost you on a steep hill),
the Goldenrod Showboat,
(where Mr. Yamamoto taught me to back down steep hills).
Doug called you “love on wheels.”

Returning from the doctor’s one day,
We visited the mama killdeer
Who built her nest next to a parking lot.
You could sit in the car and see her through your window:
Drive-through bird watching!

At the end, we sat by your bed,
Holding your hand, smoothing your brow,
Saying I love you.
Then we were sitting by your still form,
But you? Surely not still sitting --
Soaring, flying free
From this world to another,
Released from all bonds,
Too full of joy to sit.

Verna Fussner October 8, 1924 - August 14, 1999

Judy Alter said...

LOvely tribute, Edith. My mom was an Adele Davis fan too, so we had wheat germ and lecithin and similar things. A doctor once said to me, "Now I know you're mom has some strange ideas about food...." They weren't strange ideas, and I've carried them on--but no lecithin or wheat germ, thank you.
Glad you have such wonderful memories to share with us and to bring your mom to live in a novel.

Julia said...

Edith, what a wonderful tribute to your mother. It struck me, reading about her, how some of the most important things we will ever experience in life aren't valued by the powers-that-be, aren't for pay, don't garner anyone acclaim or prestige.

I'm sure every mom reading your account today hopes she'll be remembered as lovingly as Marilyn Flaherty!

Edith Maxwell said...

Mary, your poem made me cry. It's lovely.

Judy - I still put wheat germ on my cottage cheese and in my homemade granola (although that recipe is from Diet for a Small Planet).

Julia, thank you. I so agree.

Deborah Crombie said...

Edith, sorry to be so tardy today! It has finally quit raining here, and the landscapers showed up first thing this morning to finish all the big month-delayed projects. I am just now getting a chance to sit down at the computer. (And boy am I dirty and sweaty...)

Thanks everyone for the lovely tributes. Mary, your poem made me cry, too. I spent lots of time just sitting with my mom.

Judy, I'd forgotten about the wheat germ on cottage cheese! Not doing that anymore, thank goodness, but the healthy eating thing is still very much ingrained.

So interesting to hear how different everyone's mothers were, and what different gifts they had to offer. My mom and dad had their own business, so I grew up with my mom working. She had NO interest in crafts, or Girl Scouts, or gardening, or camping. But she loved to travel and to try new things. She spent her whole adult life diligently studying Spanish--although her accent was always atrocious. She had a great gift for making friends. She was always interested in people--she'd talk to complete strangers anywhere--so I think I probably own my novelist's curiosity to her.

Here's to Mary, and Marilyn, and all those moms out there.

Edith Maxwell said...

Here's to them all, Debs. And thanks again for having me to visit - we've had quite the day of stories here!

Reine said...

Lucy/Roberta, thank you. My mother had a lot of good. In our case conferences where I did my post-master's field placement, we were told to look for a mémère. :-)

On rereading my original comment, I realised it wasn't as positive as I had thought and meant it to be. I wish that it looked more positive. When my mother was able, she was great. She just wasn't able. xoxxo

Edith Maxwell said...

Xoxxo to you, too, Reine. I got the positive in your post.

Mar (aka mar annabelle jacob) said...


I enjoyed your memories of your Mom - she sounds like the Mom all your friends would want...I'd have loved if my Mom had been so active in my life

The pictures are wonderful and OMG the quilt is beyond Impressive, just gorgeous. What a treasure for all of you to have one of her works of art from her Heart.

She sounds like an amazing, Mom, wife, gram and have some very lovely memories

Thanks for sharing your Mom with us


I love the bronze statue - was that done of your Mom ?

Grandma Cootie said...

Thanks so much for sharing. I always put my mom in my school stories about my favorite person, the most brave person I knew, anytime we had to write she was my subject. She raised 4 of us (one born after my father died) with a very domineering mother of her own hovering around. I did not realize how brave she was until I was an adult and had some perspective.

She was a feisty little person and a lot of fun. I remember when my family took her to DL and she was like just another little girl wanting to get near Minnie and standing on a chair (she was very short!) to see the parade.

Edith Maxwell said...

Mar - that was her Girl Scout Leader of the Year statue - not of her. More like a trophy. All her quilts were that gorgeous, and I have a book of photographs of at least fifty.

Grandma - Love your description of your mom! I'm pretty short, myself.