Tomorrow is the release of Murder at Kingscote, the eighth book in The Gilded Newport Mystery series by Alyssa Maxwell. I was able to get her to take a few minutes out of her busy schedule to answer some questions regarding her books, her life and her writing. Continue reading to get to know her and her books.....
1. Why do you write during the time period, the nineteenth century, that you do ?
Don’t forget, I also write post-WWI in my Lady & Lady’s Maid series. But for the Newport series, the late 19th--early 20th century made the most sense. I knew I wanted to set a series in my beloved Newport, and what is the most visible, famous thing about Newport? The Gilded Age mansions, of course. Maybe I could have set my mysteries in those houses as museums in the current time, but I much prefer to read and write historicals. I enjoy the challenge of a sleuth having to rely on her wits and personal resources such as friends and family, her knowledge of the city, etc., than on modern forensics. She also has the challenge of overcoming the obstacles women faced at the time, so she has to be twice as clever as a man would. And then there’s the challenge I set myself to learn more about Newport’s rich history. Sometimes my search for information is like a treasure hunt, and that keeps the series fun and fresh for me.
2. How much research goes into writing one of your books ?
Quite a lot! But now that I’ve done the initial research on the two periods I write about, a lot of the research for each individual book takes place as I’m writing, as the need arises. I’m especially fond of poring through old newspapers to find tidbits that help me shape each plot. For instance, in Murder at Kingscote, I found information about the first-ever automobile parade in Newport, organized by Alva Belmont, which took place in the summer of 1899. That sent my plot off and running. News articles from the period have also helped me pinpoint specific facts I couldn’t find elsewhere. Of course, my favorite kind of research is actually being in Newport, where I can experience details firsthand. Every trip up is an adventure!
3. What draws/drew you to that time period ?
I love so much about the Gilded Age. I’m not blind to its problems. People were not treated equally. Many suffered while others exploited them and profited as a result. Although women’s roles were expanding both socially and civically, there were still many restrictions on their lives. But there was also such beauty created during that time. Architecture and craftsmanship reached incredible heights and became a testament to what human beings are capable of under the right circumstances. One of my favorite artists, John Singer Sargent, painted countless portraits during this time that revealed not only the wealth of his subjects, but something of their personalities and even private thoughts. One of them, a portrait of a little girl names Beatrice Goelet, so enchanted me I made the child a character in Murder at Ochre Court. Even clothes were works of art, with designers such as Charles Frederick Worth bringing women converging on Paris each spring to spend tens of thousands on their yearly wardrobes.
4. What is your favorite thing(s) about that time period ?
One of my very favorite things about the period is my husband’s family’s connection to the Gilded Age. No, they weren’t robber barons. But they owned a moving company and transported furnishings in and out of the mansions each season, along with props and equipment for the Newport Opera House. In the 20th century they also diversified into demolition and reclamation. As mansions became considered white elephants, before knocking them down the company would reclaim much of the woodwork to be used in the building of new houses. One mansion we know they took down belonged to Reginald Vanderbilt. Another fun fact is that my husband’s great grandmother, from Ireland, worked as a maid in one of the mansions, although we haven’t yet discovered which one.
5. You have 8 (so far) books in the Gilded Newport Mystery series and 6 (so far) in the A Lady & Lady's Maid Mystery series, is the Gilded Mystery series your favorite series to write about ?
I think initially I did favor Gilded Newport over A Lady and Lady’s Maid, but characters have a way of burrowing into a writer’s heart so that they very quickly feel like part of your family. As much as I love Emma and her cohorts, I love Phoebe and Eva and the rest just as much. It’s been a journey with all of my characters as they’ve grown and developed, sometimes in ways I didn’t anticipate, but that’s part of the fun and part of my journey as a writer.
6. Is it hard writing 2 different series set back in time ?
Oddly, I don’t find this difficult at all. I’m able to separate the two, spending six months writing a book in each series, and focusing on only one at a time. If I tried to write them consecutively, I think I’d completely lose track of everything. But the system I have is working, and it’s always a pleasure to settle back into one world or the other.
7. Do you think you will even write a book during current times ?
I would never say never, but at the moment I have no plans to do so. I enjoy immersing myself in history too much to leave it, for now.
8. How big of an influence is your husband on your writing ?
Huge! Yet a lot of his influence is indirect in that all of his childhood memories and points of reference are of Newport. Through him, I’ve learned about Newport and the people who live there – the real people, not the summer residents and transplants – from an insider’s perspective rather than that of a tourist. I’ve gotten to see the Newport most tourists don’t necessarily bother to explore. When we go back to visit, it’s both a vacation and a homecoming for both of us. Knowing him and his family has helped shape many of the characters, such as Nanny, Jesse, Great Aunt Sadie, and even Emma herself.
9. Does your husband read your books ?
He does! My busy guy is a little behind, but he’s reading Murder at Chateau sur Mer right now. One thing he doesn’t do is read my drafts. I know a lot of husband’s do, but I feel that’s what my trusted and long-time critique partners are for.
10. What can readers expect in the future from you and your writing ?
I recently signed a new contract for three more Lady and Lady’s Maid books, and my fingers are crossed that I’ll soon be signing another for Gilded Newport. That will keep me busy and out of trouble until 2023!
11. What is something that you wish your readers knew about you ?
Hmm… I don’t have a lot of secrets! If you follow me on Facebook, you already know a lot about me. You’ll know I love antiquing and consignment shopping, and that my house is mostly furnished in what I consider secondhand treasures. I love miniatures and dollhouses and have made it a hobby. I’ve been self-educating myself about monarchs and other butterflies, and my husband and I make sure our yard is butterfly-friendly. And you know my husband and I consider Newport our home away from home. I guess one thing I do want people to know is that I’m very approachable and just a regular person. It always surprises me so much when I meet a reader at a booksigning, and they seem a little nervous. I’m so not a person anyone needs to be nervous about meeting. If anything, I’m the nervous one, but I always enjoy it and I’m looking forward to getting out there again, especially in Rhode Island.
Yes most authors are down to earth and very approachable people but to readers who are diehard fans, authors are celebrities to us, we are amazed by your ability to write in such a way that we can get lost into another world while sitting in our living rooms. Alyssa and I am have never met, however, we talk via the internet and I have read all of her books to date but if I were to have the pleasure of meeting her, I would be like a kid meeting Superman, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny........
Get to know her and her books at : https://www.alyssamaxwell.com/
And make sure you come back tomorrow to check out my thoughts on her latest book in The Gilded Newport Mystery series, Murder at Kingscote.