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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Maxwell

Monday Blog Hop: Four Questions about My Writing Process

Every Monday authors blog about their own writing process, using a standard format and answering the same questions. This is definitely a multi-genre hop; there have been mystery, paranormal, young adult, and romance. Follow the links to “meet” more writers....

Thanks to Susan Holmes and Rae Davies for tagging me!

If you're a reader and a cozy mystery lover, I hope my answers tweak your curiosity to find out more about my books. If you're an aspiring writer, I hope something here sparks an idea or helps you along with your own writing process. So.....

What am I working on?

Right now I'm in the middle of my third Gilded Newport Mystery, Murder at Beechwood. This will follow Murder at The Breakers, which comes out on the 25th of this month (so excited), and Murder at Marble House, which releases at the end of September. Like this blog hop that takes you from author to author, murder takes my sleuth hopping from one Bellevue Avenue "summer cottage" to another in Gilded Age Newport. Emma Cross is part native Newporter, which makes her stubborn, determined, and hearty, but she's also a second cousin of the Vanderbilts, which gives her entree into high society when she needs it—as does her job as a society reporter for a local newspaper.

I'm fascinated with family dynamics, so family plays a big part of these stories. Emma's parents are living abroad in Paris with other expatriated, starving artists, and there are times she feels a bit abandoned. Her Vanderbilt relatives help fill the gap, and while they can drive her crazy with their somewhat skewed view of the world, she also appreciates their generosity towards her and genuinely cares about each of them. As I researched the Vanderbilts, I also came to appreciate them as individuals, rather than symbols of a bygone era, and I can honestly say I've developed a fondness for them that I believe shows on the page.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I've been told my settings are so vivid the reader feels as if she's there. I treat setting as another character in the book, one which can directly affect the plot. Setting is never arbitrary to me - there are specific reasons I choose one location over another. With these books, I have a personal connection to Newport through my husband and his family, who are Newporters going back several generations. But the fact that Newport is on small Aquidneck Island, and that in the 1890s the only way on or off was by boat, makes it especially appealing as a cozy mystery setting. That kind of close environment creates an intimate society where everyone knows everyone else—and their business—and to me that's an essential part of a cozy.

Why do I write what I do?

I write historicals for the simple reason that I love them, and because for some reason when I put my fingers to the keyboard, my words take on a historical tone. Can't help it. I suppose it's a direct result of the kind of reading I've done since a pretty young age. I always gravitated toward historical stories, and grew up on authors like Louisa May Alcott, the Brontes, Jane Austen, and Daphne Du Maurier. I also love the challenge of finding ways to solve a crime without modern forensics. This means paying especially close attention to what's present at the crime scene and where it's placed, as well as having my sleuth piece together information through questioning people and then verifying their alibis through her various "sources." Added to that is the fact that as a young woman, she also has to work around the social restrictions of the times in order to preserve her reputation and not shock the bejesus out of her Vanderbilt relatives, who are highly shockable.

How does my writing process work?

With this series, I took a lot of time developing the characters before I did any writing. Recurring characters are important—they help create a sense of familiarity for the reader—so you need to build a strong foundation for them. History helped me quite a bit when it came to the wealthy families like the Vanderbilts and the Astors, but Emma's immediate family and friends are fictional, so I spent a lot of time "getting to know them" and how they fit into Emma's life.

Next, I turn to the victim. Who will be murdered, where, and how? History helps in this decision process, too. I look for a significant event at the time of the book and build around that. In the summer of 1895 the Vanderbilts held a ball and coming-out party for their daughter, Gertrude, in their newly rebuilt Breakers, which had burned down three years prior. It was THE event of that summer, and everyone in society was there that night—including cousin Emma, of course. What better time to stage a murder, right? The second book is built around the engagement of young Consuelo Vanderbilt to the ninth Duke of Marlborough. The poor girl wanted no part of being this man's wife (she was in love with someone else), but her mother was so determined she even (perhaps) faked ill health to persuade her daughter. Consuelo becomes an integral part of the mystery in that book, although the victim is a fictional person. For the current work in progress, I chose Mrs. Astor's Beechwood because historically, Caroline Astor was THE queen of society and as such, she officially kicked off each summer's festivities with a ball and entertainments on her lawns overlooking the ocean. Can you imagine how dismayed the poor woman would be to have such sordid business linked to her good name?

Clues, motives, secrets and red herrings come next. For me, writing a mystery is like solving a giant puzzle, and I need to know what the pieces are before I can put them together. Once I have everything in place, I begin writing the actual story. Things usually change a bit along the way, because sometimes the characters have different or better ideas than I had, but my synopsis still serves as a guide to keep me from becoming utterly lost. And having planned well, writing the book becomes a pleasure.

So there you have it!

Thanks so much for stopping by! Be sure to check out AJ Waines, who is also blogging today, and next week visit Kristin Wallace, author of Marry Me, and Victoria Pinder, author of The Zoastra Affair and Mything You. Happy Hopping!

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