Writing Mystery Fiction with Edith Maxwell

Is there a perfect place in which to set your  mystery novels?  If so, Ipswich, Massachusetts has got to be in the top five of  fictional locations.  Ipswich has historic homes. It’s got salt marshes. It’s got the best beach in greater Boston. Oh, and for a true legacy of mystery and mayhem, throw in some Colonial era witch hunts.

Ipswich (named after its counterpart town in suffolk, U.K.)  is also home to a great mystery writer, Edith Maxwell, who has set her mystery series right in her local town and, lucky for us, has taken the time to share her writing process with us here.

Edith Maxwell’s novels feature Quaker linguistics professor, Lauren Rousseau. The first book, Speaking of Murder, is in search of publication. 

Her short stories have appeared in Thin Ice and Riptide by Level Best Books, the Larcom Review, and the North Shore Weekly, as well as the forthcoming Fish Nets anthology.

Edith holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics and she’s a member of Sisters in Crime (she serves on the board of the New England chapter).  She’s also the proud mother of two adult sons who are excellent writers in their own right.

Edith blogs weekly on topics relating to Speaking of Murder at Speaking of Mystery. Look for her as Edith M. Maxwell on Facebook and @edithmaxwell on Twitter. 


I’m so pleased to be a guest here. When I went to our local bookstore for Aine’s signing of her novel, Dance Lessons, I was encouraged to find that she managed to publish a couple of books while holding down an unrelated day job. It felt like a hopeful omen.

I am fortunate, as a writer, to work a day job only four-fifths time, and to live in a beautiful corner of the world–Ipswich, Massachusetts.

That is, I don’t work Fridays and I don’t work 10-hour days the other days.

My office is in Boston, though, so the consequence of living in a lovely spot is that I get  out of bed before 5 AM every day to make the hour drive into the city in my Prius, trying to avoid traffic on both ends of my commute. And I’m also a  writer during my day job, documenting software and hardware for a small company
that sells project-sharing solutions for video editors.

As much as I wish I were disciplined enough to write every day, I am not and so I don’t. I really can’t get up any earlier than I already do. Even when I have a little energy in the evenings, I’ve already spent eight hours sitting in front of a computer and an additional two hours in the car, so I’m toast for sitting down and writing. After reading Aine’s excellent book, “Writer with a Day Job,”  though, I’m starting to think I should get a little digital voice recorder to take in the car. I could dictate a scene instead of listening to the news from NPR.

I have the option of taking the commuter rail into work (one hour, plus) followed by an hour of subway and walking each way. When I take the train, I can write for almost two hours a day on my netbook. But that makes for a Really Long Day, and uses up my afternoon slot for exercise (the bits of city walking don’t quite count for getting the heart rate up). So I rarely do it.

Writing fiction at work is not part of my job description, although I do admit to checking email from potential publishers and networking on Facebook and Twitter for a few minutes several times during the day.

But on Fridays, my non-work day, I sit at my writer’s desk at home and write fiction. I don’t schedule doctor or massage appointments, I don’t clean or shop, I don’t leave the house. I just write. I try to write steadily from early morning until I run out of steam, which is usually early afternoon, taking breaks only to stretch, grab a snack, or throw a load of laundry on the line.

When I’m writing a first draft, I read over the last scene I wrote and then I try to write at least 1000 new words. Some days I get even more on the page.

I can also write on cross-continental flights, which I take several times a year to visit family in California. I have occasionally written in the passenger seat on a long car trip, and sometimes on weekends I’ll squeeze in more time on the book if gardening, errands, and socializing don’t fill up the hours. I always write when I wait the 90 minutes for my car to be serviced, too.

When I’m at home, I sit in my lovely upstairs office and write at a desktop computer. When I’m traveling, I usually write on my trusty lightweight netbook, the one with the 9-hour battery life. I have, though, been able to write quite well in other locations with a good pen and a nice white pad of lined paper.

The Internet is a big distraction while writing, so I simply don’t open a browser on the desktop system. Instead I leave the netbook downstairs and use that for email. If I need to check a fact in the book, I type [CHECK THIS] so I can find it later, after the creative surge is over, and follow up then. It seems very important not to let myself interrupt the muse
when she’s flowing. After all, it’s Writing Friday, my cherished break from the
day job.


About Aine Greaney

I'm an Irish writer living in greater Boston. I've published four books--two novels, a small collection of short stories and a how-to writing book, "Writer with a Day Job" (Writers Digest Books). I've also published lots of short stories, essays and feature articles. My latest project, "What Brought You Here" is a non-fiction narrative about being an expatriate in America. Find me on Twitter @ainegreaney. Or at my author web page, www.ainegreaney.com. As well as creative writing, I am the communications director for a healthcare non-profit. I also lead creative writing workshops at various libraries, schools and arts programs. At my workshops, I've been inspired by lots of wonderful writers--most of whom work a day job!
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