Friday, December 14, 2012

Guest Post: Edith Maxwell, on Learning to Write


Today my guest is Edith Maxwell. I've known Edith the early 1990s when she joined a writers' group in my home. I loved learning about her varied interests, and now I get to read about some of them in her novels. Her first book appeared this year, and brings together several of her interests.

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I’m so pleased to be a guest on Susan’s blog today.

 
I just spent three days alone on Cape Cod on a solo writing retreat, and am extremely happy to report that I cranked out more than 15,000 words on my work-in-progress, the second book in my Local Foods Mystery series. This is the fourth book of mystery fiction I have written. It’s getting easier, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. But I do like to think that my writing gets better with each book, and I wanted to share the story of when I started writing book-length fiction.

Almost twenty years ago my younger son went off to kindergarten. I was home with my boys at the time, running a small organic farm, teaching independent prepared childbirth classes, and doing some free-lance editing. For the first time since my older son was born, I had every morning to myself.

I loved reading traditional mysteries and spent many happy hours with Sue Grafton, Susan Wittig Albert, Katherine Hall Page, Sara Paretsky, and more. So I decided to see if I could write one myself. I knew the world of farming very well by then and created a geek -turned-organic farmer named Cameron Flaherty. She found a body in her hoophouse and we went from there.

Let me clarify right now that I had never studied creative writing. I’d been writing since I was a child but had NO formal instruction in writing fiction. I didn’t know anything about point of view, avoiding adverbs, writing suspense, bringing setting and environment in as an intimate part of the story. Nothing, even though I had a PhD in linguistics and had written news stories, academic articles, fun essays.

After a few months, my neighbor across the street, also a budding writer, suggested in casual conversation that I might benefit from attending a writing class that several of her friends were part of. This was the group that Susan still conducts in her home all these years later.

I contacted Susan and submitted a couple of creative non-fiction essays I had written for a local paper. I guess they were good enough for me to make the cut. I started riding down to Beverly with others in the group every Wednesday evening to read scenes to the class.

Man, did I learn fast how much I had to learn! I basically rewrote everything I had written up to that point, which was about 70 pages. And then I went from there. We followed each others’ progress and offered critiques. I learned not only how to write better, bit by bit, but also how to offer constructive criticism. And I especially looked forward to those moments when Susan would say, “Now that’s very nice.” Those comments weren’t thrown out with abandon—you had to earn them.

I didn’t quite finish the book before the farming season started up again. Since that time I have resumed a regular day job, gotten divorced, discovered Sisters in Crime, had several short stories published, and taken my share of writing workshops. I have one book out (Speaking of Murder, under the pen name Tace Baker) and a three-book contract for that very same organic farming story I started so long ago, although I rerewrote it all from scratch, retaining only the world I had created and adding a Locavore Club.

I owe so much to Susan and her expert and gentle teaching. I’m really pleased to see the success of her Anita Ray series as well as the publication of another Joe Silva book, a series I still think is one of the best I have read. Thanks, Susan!
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Tace Baker, the pen name of author Edith Maxwell, is the author of Speaking of Murder (Barking Rain Press) featuring Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau. Edith holds a PhD in linguistics and is a member of Amesbury Monthly Meeting of Friends. 

Edith also writes the Local Foods Mysteries.  A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die introduces organic farmer Cam Flaherty and a Locavore Club (Kensington Publishing, May 2013). 

A mother and technical writer, Edith is a fourth-generation Californian but lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.




9 comments:

  1. Hi, Edith and Susan,

    I did both study and teach creative writing. However, the one thing I've learned is that there's no substitute for actually sitting down and writing--and then rewriting. Persistence and hard work matter most as with most crafts. No secret formulas. Congrats on the publication of your first novel. May there be many more!

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    1. Thank you, Jacqueline! I agree completely.

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  2. Great story, Edith, thank you! Inspiring as well. My path is similar. We had moved back to the family farm in Illinois. I jumped into cow farming. My three children would go to school and I kept the mornings for writing. Didn't know a thing. Wrote No Woman Is An Island. Got divorced. Moved to Pensacola. Got a job. Retired. Wrote Bleeding Green. Keep churning out the wonderful books!

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    1. Thanks, Anne! I will look for your books (so many books, so little time...).

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  3. What a nice story about how you became a writer, then a better writer, Edith. Good luck with everything you write.

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    1. Thank you, Jan. I appreciate the luck - we can always use a little extra.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your story, Edith. I'm always interested in authors' paths to publication. It sounds like you're lucky to have a supportive writing group nearby.

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    1. I appreciate your stopping by to read it, Beth. I am very fortunate in many respects!

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  5. You know what they say, Writers write. Good story.

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