Edith Maxwell, aka Maddie Day, is the Agatha-award winning author of six cozy mystery series (thirty-one published books), as well as three novellas and two dozen short stories. Her newest series debuts October 24, 2023, with the book Murder Uncorked. The series features protagonist Cece Barton, the manager of a California wine bar who is forced to play amateur sleuth when she becomes a suspect in a local murder.
Edith is a longtime friend and neighbor of mine on Boston’s North Shore. In our interview, she offers insights into how she manages to juggle multiple series and be so darn prolific.
Nancy: You live in New England. What made you choose to set this new series in California?
Edith: First let me say thank you, Nancy, for inviting me over!
As for California: my editor asked me to write a new series set on the west coast. I’m a fourth-generation Californian, despite my decades in Massachusetts, and I was excited to say yes.
I love that your protagonist, Cece Barton, manages a wine bar. The description of her pouring different varietals had me longing to pull up a stool. What made you choose that setting?
An author friend suggested that job for Cece. It meshed perfectly with the Alexander Valley setting, which is a fertile wine-producing region—Napa’s lesser-known little sister.
Cece has a twin sister who is a real estate agent. Tell us about that choice, to make your protagonist a twin.
A cozy mystery always needs a cast of core characters who continue in each book. Allie and Cece are fraternal twins and are different in many ways, which can cause conflict, but as twins, they remain fundamentally close. Allie’s two sons, also fraternal twins, add a fun note.
You include a lot of description of food, which made this reader’s mouth water. Is this a particular strength or interest?
My two other mystery series written as Maddie Day have recipes in the back. I love to cook and to eat. While the Cece Barton mysteries don’t include recipes, I can’t help writing about food!
The novel has a delightfully diverse cast of characters. Did that ethnic diversity factor into where you’ve set your fictional town of Colinas?
California in general has a rich multi-cultural heritage and population. I wanted to reflect that in this series and include people from all kinds of backgrounds. Ko, who owns the Japanese restaurant, is multi-racial. Single mom Beulah, the woman who delivers wine to Cece’s wine bar, is of Pomo Indian heritage, as is her daughter. Diner owner Ed Ramirez is Latino, and Allie’s husband Fuller is a descendant of one of the Black families who came to the valley in the late nineteenth century.
You write three books a year—is that right? How do you accomplish so much? What is your daily work schedule?
Yes, three and sometimes four. Writing fiction is my full-time job and I treat it as such. I’m at my desk usually by six every day, and once I get in touch with the world (reading email, Facebook, and a couple of blogs, plus doing my daily Wordle), I start work at seven.
I usually work until around eleven, then go for my walk (which is a talk-out-loud plotting walk when I’m in the middle of a first draft), have lunch, and do other authorly business things (like answer interview questions) in the afternoon.
When you begin a cozy, do you know who has committed the murder?
Hmm. Not always. Or sometimes I think I know, but realize halfway through that I’ve picked the wrong suspect. That’s what comes of “writing into the headlights,” otherwise known as writing by the seat of one’s pants. I’m not someone who plots my book before I write it and I only plan a few scenes ahead as I’m writing it.
How do you find new and unusual ways to kill off characters?
If I don’t sound too gruesome, that’s one of the really fun parts of writing fictional murder. I’m oddly proud that nobody in my books has ever died from a gunshot; that’s just too easy. One great source for interesting poisons is Luci Zahray, a Texas pharmacologist also known as The Poison Lady, who makes the mystery conference circuit and speaks to authors about poisons. She knows everything. And then there’s always the sharpened knitting needle, the garroting, the pen full of malnourished pigs. You know…
You’re a long-time member of a group called the Wicked Authors. How did that form, and what does the group do?
We were six New England Authors all starting out, all friends, all with contracts for cozy mystery series. We started a group blog we originally called the Wicked Cozy Authors, because “wicked” is such a classic New England intensifier. After about five years, some of us (including me) were also writing historical and traditional mysteries and we rebranded to Wicked Authors. We are much more than a blog, providing moral support, celebration, and a shoulder to cry on behind the scenes, but the every-weekday blog is now eleven years old and going strong.
You’re also very active in a number of crime-writing groups. Can you tell us a bit about what that involves and how that aids your writing?
I’m a member of Mystery Writers of America and a proud lifetime member of Sisters in Crime, plus a member and past President of the New England chapter. I can honestly say I would not be a multi-published author if it weren’t for these groups, especially Sisters in Crime. As I was coming up, I learned so much through workshops, chapter meetings, and conferences. I met generous mentors and peers who offered valuable critiques and great information about agents, publishers, marketing, and just plain writing. And that’s how my blogmates and I knew each other in the beginning, too–all through Sisters in Crime.
Do you have any advice for writers interested in writing cozy mysteries?
Join Sisters in Crime! Also, study your craft. Read widely in the genre. Learn the guidelines. And mostly, the classic butt in chair, fingers on keyboard advice: write the best book you can write. Revise it. Read it out loud to yourself. Revise some more. Polish some more. And then start the process of getting it published, by whatever method you choose.
What is next for Edith Maxwell and Maddie Day?
Deep Fried Death, my twelfth Country Store mystery, releases the day after Christmas, and Murder at the Rusty Anchor will be out in late June. I’m writing Deadly Crush now, the second Cece Barton mystery. There’s no rest for the busy author, or even the Wicked one.
Maddie Day pens the Country Store Mysteries, the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, and the new Cece Barton Mysteries. As Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell, she writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and short crime fiction. Day/Maxwell lives with her beau and her cat, Martin, north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook. Find her at EdithMaxwell.com, wickedauthors.com, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.